What Saint Paul Really Said

Discussion in 'Free-For-All Archives' started by Carson Weber, May 28, 2003.

  1. Carson Weber

    Carson Weber
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    Since I discovered The New Perspective through my Biblical studies in my graduate program, reading St. Paul has really been quite different. This is a new way of reading Paul that began with E.P. Sanders in 1977 (Paul and Palestinian Judaism), which was refined by James D.G. Dunn, and is currently being promulgated at the hands of N.T. Wright, among others.

    N.T. Wright, in What Saint Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 1997), has given a fascinating summary and survey of this new way of reading Paul through 20th c. discoveries of the plurality among first century Judaism, esp. through reading the scrolls found at Qumran (such as the scroll 4QMMT).

    Check out what he writes on pp. 131-133:

    "Let me sum up Paul's doctrine of justification. We had better take this carefully, step by step, according to the three key categories I mentioned earlier, namely, the covenant, the law court, and eschatology.

    "1. Covenant. Justification is the covenant declaration, which will be issued on the last day, in which the true people of God will be vindicated and those who insist on worshipping false gods will be shown to be in the wrong.

    "2. Law court. Justification functions like the verdict in the law court: by acquitting someone, it confers on that person the status 'righteous'. This is the forensic dimension of the future covenantal vindication.

    "3. Eschatology. This declaration, this verdict, is ultimately to be made at the end of history. Through Jesus, however, God has done in the middle of history what he had been expected to do - and, indeed, will still do - at the end; so that the declaration, the verdict, can be issued already in the present, in anticipation. The events of the last days were anticipated when Jesus died on the cross, as the representative Messiah of Israel, and rose again. (This was Paul's own theological starting-point.) The verdict of the last day is therefore now also anticipated in the present, whenever someone believes in the gospel message about Jesus.

    "4. Therefore - and this is the vital thrust of the argument of Galatians in particular, but it plays a central role in Philippians and Romans as well - all who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ are already demarcated as members of the true family of Abraham, with their sins being forgiven.

    "They are demarcated by their faith - specifically, by their believing of the 'gospel' message of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of the crucial term, 'justification apart from works of the law'. The badges of membership by which some Jews had sought to demarcate themselves in the present time, ahead of the eschatological verdict, were focused upon the works of the law - the works, that is, which marked them out as covenant-keepers, as true Israel. The 'works of the law' - sabbath, food laws, circumcision - thus enabled them to attain a measure of what scholars have called 'inaugurated eschatology', the anticipation in the present of what is to come in the future. The verdict of the future (God's vindication of his true Israel over the rest of the world) was anticipated in the present, in Jesus Christ.

    "Paul, as usual, retains the shape of Jewish doctrine, while filling it with new content. For him, covenant membership was defined by the gospel itself, that is, by Jesus Christ. The badge of membership, the thing because of which one can tell in the present who is within the eschatological covenant people, was of course faith, the confession that Jesus is Lord and the belief that God raised him from the (Romans 10:9). 'Faith', for Paul, is therefore not a substitute 'work' in a moralistic sense. It is not something one does in order to gain admittance into the covenant people. It is the badge that proclaims that one is already a member. Likewise, 'faith' for Paul is not a general religious awareness, or a general romantic opposition to moralism and preference for a religion of inward feeling. It is very precise and specific. It is faith in the gospel message, the announcement of the true God as defined in and through Jesus Christ.

    "Two conclusions to this discussion suggest themselves, in relation to some current discussions of the subject.

    "First, it becomes apparent that Sanders has not carried his reform far enough; but that, when it is carried as far as it should be, it turns out not to undermine, but rather to flesh out more fully, a thoroughly orthodox reading of Paul. The false antitheses of Wrede, Schweitzer, Bultmann, Davies, Kasemann, Sanders and many others, by which Paul has been dismembered in the search for coherence, must be put aside. A covenantal reading of Paul, such as I have suggested, holds together the otherwise disparate elements of his thought, allowing each aspect, not least Christology and the cross, to appear more clearly, not less, than before.

    "Second, I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by 'the gospel'. It is implied by the gospel; when the gospel is proclaimed, people come to faith and so are regarded by God as members of his people. But 'the gospel' is not an account of how people get saved. It is, as we saw in an earlier chapter, the proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ. If we could only get that clear in current debates, a lot of other false antitheses, not least in thinking about the mission of the church, would quietly unravel before our eyes. Let us be quite clear. 'The gospel' is the announcement of Jesus' lordship, which works with power to bring people into the family of Abraham, now redefined around Jesus Christ and characterized solely by faith in him. 'Justification' is the doctrine which insists that all those who have this faith belong as full members of his family, on this basis and no other.

    "The sketch I have given of several aspects of Paul's gospel and theology thus points quite directly to the question: what is the effect of this gospel, and this doctrine, in terms of the actual life of actual people. The next two chapters address this, first in terms of Paul's own contemporaries and then in terms of today."


    If anyone is interested in pursuing and studying further this New Perspective by reading Paul through a covenantal lens, I wholly suggest What Saint Paul Really Said - Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (click here) by N.T. Wright. He provides an excellent bibliography, which serves the reader with more than a sufficient base to continue further research.

    If anyone has read Wright or others promulgating this way of reading Paul in light of God's covenant faithfulness (i.e., the righteousness of God), I would like to hear your comments.

    Here is a key quote from the book that I have set aside for future use, whether it be for Bible study or a paper:

    "'Where then is boasting?' asks Paul in [Romans] 3:27. 'It is excluded!' This 'boasting' which is excluded is not the boasting of the successful moralist; it is the racial boast of the Jew, as in 2:17-24. If this is not so, 3:29 ('Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not of Gentiles also?') is a non sequitur. Paul has no thought in this passage of warding off a proto-Pelagianism, of which in any case his contemporaries were not guilty. He is here, as in Galatians and Philippians, declaring that there is no road into covenant membership on the grounds of Jewish racial privilege."
     
  2. BobRyan

    BobRyan
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    I was surprised to find agreement with the author for the first half of that post above. There are in fact "TWO" justifications. As Paul points out in Romans 2 - the FUTURE justification is a legal, external, future pronouncement - objective and verifiable.

    But the Romans 5 justification-that-is-past is subjective - internal and immediate.

    However I strongly disagree with the "Gospel Nugget" model of the following quote
    That is simply not true.

    Rev 14:6-7 "shows" the eternal Gospel to "include" the doctrine taught in Exodus 20:8-11 AND to include the Judgment.

    Romans 2:15-16 "Shows" the future judgment to part of Paul's Gospel "according to my gospel".

    1Cor 15:1-11 "shows" a wide array of events to "be included in the gospel" as well.

    The Gospel "nugget" model proposed above - doesn't work.

    In Christ,

    Bob
     

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