Soteriology

What is the "New Perspective on Paul"? A Basic Explanation (Part 1)

Reprinted with permission.

Introduction

The influence of this movement is increasing within evangelicalism, and I believe many people are in the dark about it. The subject is important also because we tend to view Scripture through the lens of the Reformation instead of the other way round. Although the Reformers got the gospel right, their successors have sometimes appealed to them and not the Bible. At least the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), whatever its merits or demerits, has directed us back to the Bible again.

The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” would be better called “New Perspectives on Paul.” But in whatever variation, and whatever its problems, the New Perspective offers an important and robust challenge to traditional Reformation views of justification and Pauline theology. I should say that I do not dismiss everything the New Perspective has to say. While I am completely in agreement with the Reformers on justification by grace through faith, I am not ready to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

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Justification by Faith

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Fundamentals Vol. 2

CHAPTER VI. JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH.

BY H. C. G. MOULE, D. D., BISHOP OF DURHAM, ENGLAND.

“Justification by Faith”; the phrase is weighty alike with Scripture and with history. In Holy Scripture it is the main theme of two great dogmatic epistles, Romans and Galatians. In Christian history it was the potent watchword of the Reformation movement in its aspect as a vast spiritual upheaval of the church. It is not by any means the only great truth considered in the two epistles; we should woefully misread them if we allowed their message about Justification by Faith to obscure their message about the Holy Ghost, and the strong relation between the two messages. It was not the only great truth which moved and animated the spiritual leaders of the Reformation. Nevertheless, such is the depth and dignity of this truth, and so central in some respects is its reference to other truths of our salvation, that we may fairly say that it was the message of St. Paul, and the truth that lay at the heart of the distinctive messages of the non-Pauline epistles too, and that it was the truth of the great Reformation of the Western church.

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The Importance of Justification

solafide.jpgFrom Faith Pulpit, Summer 2012. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How is a person justified before God? That was the question that ignited the Reformation. Beyond that foundational question, theologians have debated additional questions, such as “What is the importance of justification in relation to the other benefits of salvation?” and “Where does justification fit logically in relation to saving faith?” In this article Dr. Myron Houghton, senior professor and chair of the Systematic Theology Department at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, guides us in an in-depth consideration of these significant questions.

To answer these questions about justification, we must first explore the exact nature of justification. Theologians have held two main positions: infusion and imputation.

Roman Catholic Position: Infusion

At the time of the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants differed greatly in their understanding of justification and grace. The Catholic position defined justification to include all of the benefits of salvation, making it a process. Grace was understood as a God-given ability to do good works which was infused into the person. This Catholic view is sometimes described by the words, “Christ IN us.”

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Romans, Isaiah and Justification by Faith Alone

peace

In my quest to discover New Testament midrash (“Second Testament” teachings which are expositions of, or expansions upon, “First Testament” texts), I was perusing Paul’s Use of Isaiah in Romans by Shiu-Lun Shum. Though Shum did not claim as much, I believe we can (and that Paul did) deduce the concept of salvation by faith apart from works from the originating Isaiah passages.

Shum points to Isaiah 32:17 as the foundation for Romans 5:1.

Romans 5:1 reads,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

Isaiah 32:17 reads,

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

I am beginning with the assumption that Romans 5:1 is indeed a midrash (explanation and expansion) upon Isaiah 32:17. The closer we look at the two passages, the more clear it becomes that they are connected.

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A Ransom for Many

Reprinted with permission from Paraklesis, Spring 2007.

Three times, Mark records Jesus’ predictions of His coming passion (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). In His explanation of the third of those prophecies, Jesus tells His followers that He is going to give His life as a ransom (λύτρον): “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

The concept of a ransom doesn’t connect with western culture in the 21st century. The only common use of that word today is in reference to kidnapping—usually by terrorists. But this was a very common word in the first century Greco-Roman world. Although it is used only twice in the New Testament, this word aroused immediate associations in the minds of those who read Mark’s gospel. It comes from the culture of slavery: sacral manumission, the ceremony by which a slave is set free.1 In the case of a polytheistic Greco-Roman,2 the slave owner takes the slave being freed to the temple of his god and sells the slave to the god. He is reimbursed for the slave from the pagan temple treasury.

The ceremony takes place in the presence of witnesses, and the manumission record is often recorded in stone—typically on the temple wall or pillar. This transaction is somewhat of a legal fiction, because it is not really temple money that is involved. Rather the slave himself (or his family or friends) have previously paid the specified amount into the temple treasury. Once the slave owner received the money, the slave became the property of the god. Ownership has been transferred. He does not become a slave of the temple, however, but a protégé of the god. In respect to his former owner, he is now a free man.

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