If anyone has read the comments recently, you know that I wasn’t planning on taking this topic. I had been thinking about the Pentateuch authorship issue, as noted a few days ago. But, over the past couple of weeks I’ve had several people email me out of the blue with this, including a couple that seemed pretty disturbed by it. So I’m thinking I should take that as a divine nudge!
For those unacquainted with the “new perspective on Paul, it’s hard to define succinctly — bot because definitions aren’t possible, but because the issue has sort of taken on a life of its own. The NP has an original context, that dealt with how Paul’s view of the law was best understood. On one hand, Paul says very negative things about the Law (“by the works of the law shall no one be justified”); on the other, every time he defends some point of biblical morality — even to non-Jews (Gentiles) — he justifies his position by quoting the Mosaic Law. What gives? Nowadays, the NP gets blamed for entirely overhauling the gospel. I think that’s overstated.
In my view, the “new perspective on Paul” is more accurately labeled “the first century Jewish perspective on Paul.” It does not redefine the gospel (but it can certainly be used to make it sound like it does, since the core issue with all of this is “what is the relationship of faith and works?”) I’ll explain why I say that when we get into it.
My goal, then, is to study the issue beginning where it began, not in the form of responding to what’s been done with it. Once you understand the issues, then you can judge the hysteria, separating the real questions from the contrived ones. To that end, here is perhaps the best essay I’ve found on the subject. It’s the essay on “Law” from IVP’s Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. It’s as clear a piece of theological writing as you’re likely to find. It’s 21 pages, but worth every word. It starts with the history of the question over how to understand Paul and the Law, then it moves into Paul’s letters. I’ll give you all a few days to read through it before posting some summary thoughts on it here.
Good description of the controversy surrounding the NP. I think it has done more good than harm.
Great! Looking forward to this – although I am interested in the JEDP as well.
You post some of the best articles I have read on the internet. Thank you again. This one is no exception, and is incredibly helpful. It is odd to me how long it seems to take for these kinds of things to trickle down into the pulpit. I have spent a great deal of my christian life with a certain perplexity toward the law until more recently. But I think this article helps to hone that edge a lot better. I like how he points out Paul’s specific disdain toward the aspects of law that place barriers in front of Gentiles.
thanks – glad it helped. You make an interesting observation about the “filtering down.” I tend to take these sorts of things for granted since pretty much all I read is academic material. The problem there isn’t very often “has anyone tackled this?” but “how do I sift all this information and get to something really good?” My cynical side says that a significant part of the problem is the unwillingness of publishers to publish anything for the non-specialist except Amish romances and end times pablum. But that’s a bit over the top. There is a LOT of good material in recent reference works, like the IVP dictionary series. I can’t recommend the volumes highly enough (and no, it’s not because I’ve contributed to them — they’re just filled with good stuff).
I have them bookmarked for a future consideration. Thanks for the tip.
As a matter of fact I just bought the Dictionary of the Pentateuch. I am really looking forward to getting it in the mail. Which dictionaries did you contribute to?
The Wisdom and Poetry one (divine council). I will also have three essays in the upcoming prophets volume (divine council; chaos; destruction). I know what some of you are thinking…
I have been reading through the “Hermeneutic” section in the Pentateuch Dictionary tonight. Lots of good stuff to consider and think about for the teaching of scripture. Thank you for the recommendation. I am thinking I just may collect them all.