Another Look At The New Perspective On Paul
By Terry L. Pruitt
Table Of Contents
* Method of Study
* Syllogism: The Method Of Systematic Theology
* Description: The Method Of Biblical Theology
* Questions Asked and Answered
* Issues of the New Perspective
* Who Are The Judaizers?
* What Does Paul Mean By Justification?
An anachronism is something or an idea that is placed outside its time. In recent years, re-enactors of medieval history have developed an organization called the Society for Creative Anachronisms. This society purposely creates hand made items and events (i.e. jousts) from another time. At other times people stumble in writing a story and place an anachronism in it unintentionally. Some classical scholars believe that some of the cultural items written in Homer's Odyssey are anachronisms. One history scholar claims to find it difficult to enjoy the mystery books and subsequent television series Brother Cadfael because of the anachronistic use of the scientific methods, especially forensic science, which would have been out of character and world view of a medieval monastery. Examples of unintentional anachronisms abound. At one Bible conference the speaker constantly referred to his trip to Israel, and then made the mistake of calling the Jewish civil government of Jesus' day Israel. His loops of mentioning the days of the kingdom period then backtracking to the patriarchal period then the New Testament period and equating them all to the modern nation-state of Israel probably confused anyone there who lacked a clear understanding of the time-line of biblical history. While he may have made some blunders in his terminology, no heresy was propagated, nor was anyone truly misinformed about history. It is just a blunder in terminology that could use some clarification. One recent issue in Pauline studies claims an anachronism developed during the Reformation that the reformers read into Paul's letters the problems of the church during the Reformation era. That is the issue of justification by faith alone, sola feda . The proponents of this view are not merely correcting terminology; they actually are discounting the theological underpinnings of the Reformation. This school of thought in biblical studies, though not unified in its theological outlook, has become known as the New Pauline Perspective. The New Pauline Perspective is diverse in its theological backgrounds and includes those who are self-professed liberals to those who are evangelicals. There are few, if any, who would be considered staunch conservatives in the camp. Often debate about the issue dissipates into name-calling and accusations that a person defending the New Perspective is a liberal, a heretic or a papist. While the labels may or may not be accurate, this paper will examine the merits and flaws of the New Pauline Perspective based on the exegesis of the principle passages addressing justification in Paul's writings. This paper will attempt to show that Paul wrote on two levels, one addressing the local context of the audience and another addressing transcending and universal issues in the Christian life. Finally, the New Pauline Perspective has done a good job of highlighting some cultural and historical issues in Paul's writings, but they have over simplified that culture resulting in their own reading into the text meaning that were not present for the original readers. While the New Perspective has some interesting insights, it fails as a whole to understand a central teaching of the New Testament, justification.
Method of Study
Syllogism: The Method Of Systematic Theology
Assumptions of the nature of New Testament study are the starting points of the conflict between the New Perspective and those who hold to a traditional Reformed position. The traditional Reformed position recognizes the discipline of systematic theology. Systematic theology rightly understood is a culminating academic discipline that unifies the other means of examining the scripture such as examining chronology, historical background, textual criticism, linguistic study, exegesis and simply outlining a passage. It gives a global, unified view of the message and content of scripture. Systematic theology is a discipline that looks at scripture and using the thought processes of deductive reasoning, puts all scripture in one coherent picture. Deductive reasoning relies on clear definitions and logical syllogisms to build this coherent picture. The Westminster Confession affirms deduction as a means of fully understanding scripture by saying, ”6. The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.” A subtle danger area is that systematic theology makes assessments about the importance of one passage of scripture over another. Because the line of reasoning starts with foundational principles, one must ask what are those foundational principles. When one asks this question, one must then identify the passage of scripture the principle is articulated within. Are the genealogies of Christ more important than the story of the crucifixion or is it the other way around? The origins of the Christ are important, but so is his purpose. The Reformation held that the doctrine of justification is a foundational doctrine for systematic theology.
Description: The Method Of Biblical Theology
The average laymen who act as biblical interpreters would find it hard to place themselves in either role of systematic theologian or biblical theologian. But inevitably as they read and interpret the scripture, they in fact do the work of both a systematic theologian and a biblical theologian. The juxtaposition of the systematic and biblical theologian is somewhat artificial, however, in examining the New Perspective, the academic disciplines emphasized by the various parties involved in the debate make unable to hear what each other are saying. Those who adhere to the New Perspective often are using a biblical theology model for discussion while adherents of the traditional Reformed view by and large are using a systematic theology model. What are the contrasting methods and pictures? Biblical theology as expressed in the later half of the twentieth century, and by the advocates of the New Perspective, is somewhat of a means of stepping back from theological conflicts of the past. Instead of articulating a unified picture of the whole scripture, the biblical theologian attempts to articulate a picture of a particular author, period, genre, or prophet. For instance, the biblical author John continually compares the heavenly realm and the earthly realm in his writings. A biblical theologian will attempt to articulate the school of thought of John and his way of thinking about the heavenly and earthly. Rather than build a coherent, unified picture, many will build a collage that is faithful to the complexity that the biblical text portrays. Rather than focusing on establishing clear definitions, there is an emphasis on description. Rather than ranking passages and looking for foundational passages, there is an emphasis on letting the text speak for its self. The same methods of linguistic study, textual criticism, gathering historical background, and biblical exegesis are used. The main difference between a systematic theologian and a biblical theologian is the scope of picture they attempt to picture. The mere fact that someone would attempt to describe Paul's thinking independent of the whole counsel of scripture becomes a subtle but important issue. The assumption is whether Paul's thinking should be looked at in contrast or in conjunction with other biblical writers. If we contrast Paul with Moses, Isaiah, John, and Peter, we end up with a different picture than if we unify them all.
Questions Asked and Answered
The two approaches to the discussion frame different debates, not just different answers. The issue at question for the New Perspective seems to be more intellectual honesty and that we should not read into a passage theology that is not there. The issue at question for the traditional Reformed position seems to be faithfulness and accuracy in interpretation. Regardless of the approach whether systemizing in a unified way or describing the contents of a passage, the questions raised by the New Perspective must be answered. The New Perspective on Paul questions who were Paul's opponents. According to Sanders, Paul was objecting to Second Temple Judaism. Also under question is the meaning of "justification" as used by Paul. Whether we want to unify the answers under the whole of scripture or merely describe the thoughts of Paul, we must look the language and historical context of the passages to accurately interpret them. Rather than attempt to pick one school or the other, this paper will focus on the grammatical-historical method of examining the passages key to understanding Paul's teaching on justification.
Issues of the New Perspective
Who Are The Judaizers?
In Paul's day, there were advocates that said a new Gentile Christian should be circumcised. Paul argues against this position in Galatians 1-3 and one could say this was the occasion of his writing. Sanders claims that Paul was actually attacking a straw man in his arguments against circumcision since Second Temple Judaism actually did not advocate a gospel of entering the covenant with God through works.
Second Temple Geographic Limits
Sanders claims that under Second Temple Judaism one entered the covenant by grace but remained in the covenant by being faithful to that covenant.  While Sanders has a point about the nature of his description of the Second Temple Judaism, there are two assumptions regarding the nature of Paul's opponents. The first assumption is that the religion described as Second Temple Judaism is the same with which Paul is debating in Galatia and in Rome. The Jewish religion in the Roman world was not a homogenous religion in Palestine; let a lone in the Diaspora. Jewish religion, in Asia Minor in particular, had a component that was mystical and magical. The religion practiced near the institutional center often is close to that same institution position. However, the Galatia and Rome are far from the institutional center in Jerusalem. Such variety is not isolated to historical situations.I had first hand experience by growing up in The Cumberland Presbyterian Church that has its institutional center in Memphis, Tennessee. The institution is urban and neo-orthodox (or even liberal). The vast majority of the rural congregations in Missouri, where I grew up, have traditionally been evangelical in outlook. I eventually distanced myself from the denomination because of the differences. Another example, today in the Middle East components of Islam, which are tied to the Islamic Institutions of higher learning (i.e. Al-Azhar University in Cairo), are dubbed to be high Islam while the Islam from more rural areas are dubbed folk Islam by some scholars. The adherents of high Islam view Allah as very philosophical while the adherents of low Islam combine the religion of the Koran with a type of animism that believes in a spiritual world that is mystical and must be dealt with through spells, talismans and incantations. Some archeological evidence point to the Jewish community in Asia Minor being of a more a folk religion than the formal religion as found in Jerusalem.  This is especially true of the church at Colossia. While Galatia and Colossia are two different locations within Asia Minor, both are distant from the institutional center of Jewish religion to which both would have connections and distinctions. While Sanders argues that the position of the Jewish community is not that which Paul portrays , it is quite possible that the Judiazers do not hold to the official position held by the leadership in Jerusalem. We don't know the connections and distinctions between the two, but it is likely that the phenomena of disconnection of distant community from the institutional center existed.
Galatian Church Both Jewish and Gentile
Sanders sees Paul's opponents as Jewish, but the Galatian church was a mixture of both Jews and Gentiles. (Galatians 4:8-11) While we do not know the background of the Judiazers for sure in Galatia, we do know that the book of Titus identifies the Judiazers in Crete as Gentile. (Titus 1:10-12) These Gentile converts not only teach circumcision for impure motives, but they also have a fascination with Jewish myths. (Titus 1: 14) Of course many who come from the New Perspective school of thought also doubt the veracity of Paul being the author of the book of Titus. While this is a different debate and centers on the higher criticism of Titus, one cannot deny that the book of Titus, Pauline or Pseudo-Pauline, indicates that the Judiazers in Crete were Gentile. Even if one does not hold that Titus is Pauline, one must answer the question as to why a Pseudo-Pauline document would identify the Judiazers as Gentile. Through out the NT Paul had his adversaries. Some who taught, taught heresy; others simply taught from false motives. (Philippians 1:15-18) Regardless, the competition between preachers was an ugly reality, possibly connected with teaching practices from both Jewish and Roman civilization. The competitive spirit between teachers would naturally cause some to show distinction in their teaching. Esoteric teachings, mystical teachings, myths and complicated ceremonial law seems to be the distinction that some sought to use to build their own following. (1 Timothy 1:3-7, 4:7; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 1:14) Some Gentiles, those in Crete, were responsible for teaching on circumcision as requirement for Gentile believers. It is often the case that a new competitor will attempt to out do his opponent at his opponent's own game. Gentiles being the social force to embrace circumcision explains the disconnect between the institutional position of Second Temple Judaism and also the errors Paul sought to correct.
Transcendent Issue – Folly Of Human Works
All Paul's letters have a decidedly earthly occasion. Paul's writings are woven into a fabric of what was the here and now; feasts, leadership development, family relationships, inter-cultural relationships, worship services, or worldview. That is not to say that the way Paul dealt with these issues that were earth bound. The assumption that Paul was merely wrestling with institutional doctrine speaks of only an earthly occasion for the writings and fails to see the revelatory divine occasion for the letter. The nature of revelation as recorded in the scripture shows the God who is sovereign over history and shows his glory in and over history. Just as the events of the Exodus and the Resurrection speak through and over history, so the struggle against the Judiazers was and is a part of God's revelation. In some sense, the Exodus and Resurrection are more foundational in revealing the saving nature of God, but Paul's struggle against the Judiazers is not merely about earthly institutional clashes. If one sees Paul's struggles with Judiazers as a mere earthly power struggle, the writings of Paul are reduced to merely a record of history (or worse as fable). While Second Temple Judaism might have emphasized grace as a means of getting into the covenant community, the error of the Judiazers speaks of a universal problem. While we may speak about grace, it is the human condition to want to justify ourselves using works, regardless of our institutional doctrines. Many conservative Christians today know the doctrines of grace, and yet outward signs of piety still abound as a means of earning merit for the Christian. For instance, the discipline of personal devotions is a great means of grace. For myself, this means of grace became a work. My perceived standing with God became contingent upon my faithfulness as to whether I had participated in my devotions or not. This type of thinking did not originate with my teachers at church, any book or any person, but within my heart's desire to be sufficient and worthy. In other words, institutions were not the cause; my sinful heart was the cause. Likewise, pitting Paul against the institution of Second Temple Judaism fails to see the struggle of each heart to be self-righteous. Some institutions do articulate doctrines which reinforce the hearts desire to earn merit, however there is a tendency of the human heart to seek merit even when the institution articulates doctrines of grace. It is not unusual though for the institutional teaching to be grace and yet at the same time an emphasis on outward signs of piety coming into conflict with the grace being taught. The deceit of the human heart always embraces duplicity and often shows up in our human institutions. While the Reformers had the luxury of opposing an institution which overtly taught works mixed with grace, most of the time, preachers of the gospel must come in conflict with a subtler mixing of works and grace. Paul may have been opposing some institutional teaching, but there is evidence that it was more of an inadvertent mixing of works and grace. In Galatians 1:6-12 Paul takes a considerable amount of time to convince his hearers that the gospel they have embraced is a different gospel from the one he preached. In Galatians 2:12 Paul does not declare an error in Peter's institutional teaching but that fear of man had influenced him to not eat with the Gentiles. This personal issue of the heart was in conflict with the gospel. (Galatians 2:13) While it could be argued that Paul is arguing "against the party of the circumcision”, it seems more likely that Paul is pointing out the destructive subtlety of acquiescing to them. (Galatians 2:15,16) His opposition is not against an overt teaching but against an undetected slipping into a logical inconsistency between teaching and practice. The teaching was the gospel of grace and the practice was separation of Jewish believers from uncircumcised Gentile believers. If Paul was justified in his opposition to this unintentional, subtle mixing of grace and works, surely the Reformers were justified in opposing an overt mixing of grace and works. The transcending issue of human merit deposing the rightful place of grace in the Christians walk makes Paul's writing universal for every age and cultural context. Surely the Reformers addressed their own context with passages from books of Galatians and Romans in regard to justification, but in no age should one dissect the meaning of the passage from the application. In a sense, the Reformers saw the message as a message for themselves, and not one merely limited to the context of Paul and the congregations to which he wrote.
The Judaizers were most likely teachers who were not tightly bound with Second Temple Judaism. These teachers were likely to have been Christians from a Gentile, Jewish proselyte, or a Folk-Jewish background. They quite possibly were not trying to be logically consistent in their teaching but were using an outward sign of piety, circumcision, to build a merit system into Christian practice. While precise identification is not explicit in Galatians or Romans, the human tendency to mix works with grace transcends the 1st century context, the context of the Reformation or our own context. While the historical evidence shows significant disconnections between Second Temple Judaism and the Judaizers, particularly in Galatia, the historical context is less important than the universal, transcendent issue of human depravity.
What Does Paul Mean By Justification?
More Than Consulting The Right Dictionary
The language of the New Testament (NT) is not the technical language of modern science or systematic theology. That is not to say the language used in the NT is imprecise or that it is not theological in content. However, when one looks at the usage of the word "justification" in the books of Romans or Galatians, there is no simple technical definition that comes to us in an authorized glossary of the NT. Frequently theological discourse, both conservative through liberal, falls into the fallacy of quoting definitions from lexicons and Bible dictionaries to find define the terms which are useful for debunking the opposition. (The most well known is those who hold to immersion as the only mode of baptism say baptism means immersion. And there is some truth in their argument, however, is their mode of immersion the type of immersion meant in the NT.) So if there is no magical dictionary to solve these battles, how does one address the issue of word meaning without digressing into vague generalities about lack of precision? The context of the passage, the historical usage, and the ways that ancient translators translated a word help lexographers come to solid definitions in their dictionaries. While a proper treatment of examining the words "justify" and "justification" would have to be exhaustive, this paper will merely touch upon the context and historical usage of these words in biblical times. The words "justify" and "justification" both are translated the same in both in the New International Version (NIV) and King James Version (KJV). Justify appears in Romans 3:30, Galatians 3:8 while justification appears in Romans 4:25, 5:16, & 5:18. These verses are not exclusively the ones that deal with the topic of justification. One must not overlook the dozens of verses that have the words "just”, "righteousness”, "righteous” or "righteousness of God”. But again for the sake of brevity, this paper merely deals with the words "justify" and "justification”.
Justification In The Context Of Galatians 3:8
"The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." Galatians 3:8 (NIV)
N.T. Wright looks at this passage and sees the faith as a means of entry into the covenant community.  Obviously, the passage gives reference to Genesis 12:3 where Abraham is called into covenant with God. While one must acknowledge that Paul is saying that the Gentiles have entered into the same covenant as Abraham had with God (Galatians 3:7), but that does not mean that the Reformers were wrong saying that justification meant obtaining a right standing with God. N.T. Wright may be right in pointing out the covenant nature of justification, but in saying that faith is a badge into the covenant community puts the primary relationship between the person with faith and the community of faith. Paul was not oblivious to the relationship between believers, but the primary relationship is between the believer and God. He even starts out Galatians by saying he is not merely repeating what men have taught him. As an apostle, his responsibility and message comes from God (Galatians 1:1). In fact, by his example, he would have the Gentile believers not seek the approval of men (Galatians 1:10). He did not want to be without the accountability of the leaders of the community (Galatians 2:2), but they were a check against self-deception, not the primary entities to which he had a relationship. While there is a comparison of Jewish and Gentile in Galatians 2:11-16, the question is never community membership, but "works of the Law”. The "works of the Law" is a phrase that has been a topic of debate as to its meaning, and therefore colors the meaning of "justify" as used by Paul. Martin Abegg points out one of the few usages of this term in ancient Jewish literature as being in the Miqsat Ma'ase Ha-Torah –MMT from the Dead Sea Scrolls.  In the MMT, the phrase "works of the Law” means obtaining ceremonial righteousness through the ceremonial law. Paul is not explicit in his letter to the Galatians that "works of the Law" means fulfilling the ceremonial law but is alluded to through issue of circumcision (Galatians 2:7-12, 5:6, 5:11, 6:15) and Jewish ceremonial cleanness practiced during meals (Galatians 2:11). The phrase "works of the Law" gives way to simply the "law" (Galatians 3:15-24). The transition is from addressing their particular context to a more universal context. Transcending of particular cultural mix (Jewish and Gentile for the Galatians), period of history (1st Century), and geographic area (Asia Minor) is particularly important in aspect of interpreting the letter to the Galatians or any other scripture. Community membership is dealt with as an issue that is seen as a distracter (Galatians 3:26-29) from the transcending and primary issue: one's status before God. The issue of the law is also dealt with as a transcending issue because of the human predisposition, due to the sin nature, to gravitate to a merit system which is in contrast with God's answer. God's answer is the work of Christ on the cross (Galatians 2:20). The right standing with God is what determines community membership, not the ability to fulfill the ceremonial law or other law. N.T. Wright and other proponents of the New Perspective may have some relevant points to make, however, reading the modern emphasis on religious tolerance into Galatians actually obscures the passage. In fact, the New Perspective accuses the Reformers of reading their own context into the works of Paul, the New Perspective has read the context of the Post-modern world into the 1st Century document. The word "justify”, as in Galatians, is linked with faith because faith is how one receives justification. Faith is contrasted with "works of the law" (KJV) or the alternate translation of "observing the law" (NIV). The primary issue again is one's standing with God in contrast to one's standing to a particular community. That right standing with God comes through the gift of faith.
The Context of Justify and Justification In The Letter To The Romans
"since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith." Romans 3:30 (NIV)
"He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Romans 4:25 (NIV)
"Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.” Romans 5:16 (NIV)
"Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” Romans 5:18 (NIV)
The New Perspective believes that "community boundaries" are the main issue that Paul is addressing in Romans 4 and 5. While it is indeed true that differences between Jew and Gentile are a major theme, Paul works to show a level playing field between Jew and Gentile, both stand sinful before God (Romans 3:23). In fact much the first three chapters of Romans is dedicated to describing this universal need for salvation due to human depravity. The starting point for both Jew and Gentile is just that, showing their need, not the answer to that need. A lot of discussions about tolerance during our current generation points toward a level playing field as the answer. Recognizing that both Paul and our post-modern discussion on equality have similar themes, it is easy to see how Paul's set-up and question are over-interpreted as his main theme. The need of mankind is expressed as a universal need, (Romans 3:23) and the answer to that need is justification based on grace, the atoning work of Jesus Christ (Romans 2:24). Clearly the atonement is meant to show God's justice. He is just in punishing sin (Romans 3:25-26). Starting in chapter four, Paul points out how Abraham was justified by faith, not by works. We can safely connect the solution of faith to the problem of sin. Some of the New Perspective see the problem as a lack of unity in the church. Again we must determine whether Paul is addressing a universal issue, like sin and atonement or if he is addressing a local contextual issue. Since Paul has a limited knowledge of the Roman believers having never been to Rome, and in other letters when Paul is addressing local contextual issues, he is explicit. He does have some knowledge of the Roman church through news and through his prayers. The arguments in chapter four are proposed more as a means of examining an issue rather than addressing someone's personal question. All of Paul's other letters are written after he had ministered in the church. Certainly when Paul "What shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?” (Romans 3:1) Paul is not directly addressing someone else's teaching but is looking to Abraham as the beginning of Abrahamic covenant. He looks at the foundation in order to deal with a universal principle. This justification is clearly seen in terms of the sin problem (Romans 3:5) and not a lack of unity. The blessing of God's solution is also in terms of the sin problem, not in terms of a "community boundary  ”. Paul re-addresses a universal issue again, this time though it is the blessing that comes through faith. Instead of universally applying the blessing of faith on both Jew and Gentile, he now applies it to both circumcised and uncircumcised. There is at least one reason he choose this new category. He argues from Abraham's uncircumcised state. Abraham received the covenant blessing while uncircumcised. In Romans 4:13-15, Paul is arguing not against Jewish or Gentile discrimination, rather that the law is not the means of the covenant. The law brings transgression and wrath (Romans 4:14,15). The contrast is between the law and faith. Faith is the example that is portrayed in the life of Abraham (Romans 4:18-25). The ideas of righteousness and justification are tightly linked in Romans 4:24,25. The concept of righteousness is clearly something that we do not possess and yet God "will credit" (Romans 4:24) us as having it. Jesus is delivered for our sin (Romans 4:25). If Jesus' work on the cross brings us into righteousness from Romans 4:25 clearly teaches that justification is in relation to sin, not a "community boundary”. Right standing before God is primary; right standing with the community of faith is incidental. Romans 5:1 addresses this primary relationship by saying that we have "peace with God" vice the "wrath” (Romans 4:15) brought by the law. Since we have peace with God, we should not misinterpret that this will cease all suffering. Rather, we transcend suffering, it becomes an aid in our growth of character (Romans 5:2-5). Paul returns to the concept of right standing before God by saying we were powerless to restore the relationship and in fact we were enemies of God. At that time God reconciled us to himself (Romans 5:6-11). Of course, building a community is a part of God's plan, but we come together in the "one man, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17). Adam's trespass (of the law) is contrasted with Christ's grace. This state of grace is described in terms that contrast it with the law. By saying it is the "provision of grace" it shows that he grace is the work and plan of God. By saying it is the "gift of righteousness” it shows that it is not righteousness inherent in man himself. The overwhelming theme is the nature of justification.
While the Reformers may have failed to be explicit about the differences between their own context and that of Paul, the universal principles discussed in Paul's letter did address both situations. When Paul addresses issues with a complex contextual background, he describes the problem and addresses it fairly directly. But on the issue of justification by faith and not by the law, he transcends the immediate context by talking about how we obtain a right standing with God by the work of Christ on the cross. The work of Christ on the cross is realized in our lives through the gift of faith. The New Perspective On Paul, while being difficult to tie down in a formative stance, their general contention is that the Reformers misread Paul and have caused much of the church after them to misread Paul, too. The idea that Second Temple Judaism was the competitor that Paul faced misreads the audience of Galatia and Rome. His audience was far from Jerusalem, and besides that, he was not battling an institution but a tendency of the human heart.
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