Further Commentary on the New Perspective

Posted By on June 21, 2011

I thought I’d post some comment questions / statements produced by the initial NPP post that I said I’d return to. Here goes. My take at MSH.

Q: What about the Romans 5 – ’sin is not counted where there is no law?’ That can’t mean that pre-Moses people were ‘let off the the hook’ in light of the rest of the passage, but it’s confusing. Any ideas?

MSH:  I take this as “sin is not known” without the law; that doesn’t mean they aren’t guilty; it means they didn’t know they had done something God disapproved of.

Q: Paul’s message is to declare an end of the Law “in Christ”. But this happens in real time, as we live and breath, not outside or beyond time as Calvinists would have it.

MSH: The law is “at an end” in terms of its ability to bring wrath. Those in Christ are no longer under the wrath of God. But Paul still argues his morality on the basis of the law. So it’s still relevant for believers.  There’s really no other way to look at Paul’s constant use of it when writing to Gentiles no less on matters of morality for believers in Jesus.

Q: I’m just wondering how much your views on Monergism and Synergisim has on what you think with regards to the issues raised by NPP.

MSH: For those reading, monergism is the view that conversion or salvation is accomplished exclusively by God, as opposed to synergism, which holds that humans participate (“work”) with God in salvation / conversion.  I believe Scripture is clear that for anyone to believe, they must be enabled to believe (“quickened” in KJV parlance; cf. Eph 2:5). That is necessary since we are spiritually dead (Eph 2:1 again). I consequently reject “Princess Bride” theology — that we are “mostly dead” :-).  Being truly dead in trespasses and sin means we need to be made alive – enabled to respond.  But God does not believe for us. We must believe. God ultimately therefore gets credit for anyone and everyone’s salvation. But he does not believe for us.  We must respond. A related question is whether all who are quickened inevitably believe (“respond”). I am not convinced that is the case. And so this is where I’m at: all who believe were quickened; but all who are quickened do not necessarily believe.

How does this relate to NPP? I think this depends on whether a Jew would assert that merely *being* a Jew (being part of the believing community) = salvation (in which case, there would be no need for quickening — you’re born in).  Paul rejects this (Romans 2-4) for both (obviously) Gentiles and Jews. And I wonder how many Jews would buy it. Certainly salvation was “of the Jews” in their mind, but it is difficult for me to believe that a Jew who had any acquaintance with his Bible would say being born into the community *nullified* the need for belief in Yahweh and his promises or that it *replaced* that need. After all, many Jews were apostate, so many so that Yahweh rejected the nation, sent them to exile, and began anew with the believing remnant.  But I suppose there would be Jews who missed something that obvious. Paul of course asserted that Gentiles (not members of the Israelite community) could be saved, and were, once they believed in the message of Christ. For Paul (as a commenter pointed out), the “true Israel” = believers, and Gentile believers were, well, believers — and so membership in national Israel wasn’t necessary to be a member of believing Israel, which was the real Israel after all (Gal 3).

Q: Still, on the question of ethical and moral obligations (the NPP view of “Law”), if I understand the problem right, I think Paul was properly wary of the problem of believing that ‘doing good’ as simple rule-following behavior was not salvific – at least not the same as doing good ‘from Christ’ i.e. from love.

Paul would say (since he did!) that the law showed us God’s morality, and that it is a matter of the heart. To quote from the essay I originally posted:

Paul then turns to the Jewish world where God’s impartiality (Rom 2:11) requires that the same standard of judgment hold true: “It is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous in God’s eyes, but the doers of the Law who will be declared righteous” (Rom 2:13). This standard is so firm, says Paul, that in God’s eyes it is appropriate for a Gentile who keeps the Law in spirit but violates its letter by remaining uncircumcised (Rom 2:26, 29) to sit in judgment upon a Jew who boasts (Rom 2:23) in the possession of the Law but does not obey it (Rom 2:14–29). Although this is a complex passage, its fundamental point is clear: it is no use for Jewish Christians to impose a standard upon Gentile Christians which the Jews themselves have historically not been able to keep (cf. Rom 2:24 and Acts 15:10–11). The reason for this is that doing the “just requirements of the Law” (Rom 2:26) and keeping it “inwardly” and “spiritually” (Rom 2:28–29) are what matters before God, not boasting in the possession of the Law (Rom 2:23) and in outward marks like circumcision (Rom 2:25–26).

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13 Responses to “Further Commentary on the New Perspective”

  1. Benjamin Smith says:

    You’re a great example of a scholar using his knowledge to serve the church, Mike.

    The inevitable two:

    1) If the church is the ‘New Israel’ is it okay then to read, say, 1 Peter, which is addressed to Jewish Christians, and apply it to myself as a gentile? Some of the more extreme exponents of the NPP have gone on to say that much of the NT is only for Jews and that Jesus died only for their sins. Ridiculous, I know, but it does introduce a splinter of doubt when I read stuff seemingly addressed only to Jews.

    2) The million-dollar issue is the j-word, of course. I’m pretty sold on the idea that it can mean different things in different contexts for Paul: i.e. a forensic declaration or covenant membership. But for James? Is he using it purely in a ‘covenant membership’ sense? The passages before are actually very clear on God’s initiative in salvation, so I can only assume that this is what he argues for.

  2. Ed Roberts says:

    I like your view on Monergism and Synergisim…. I believe what you said was correct… when it says that “Christ died for the world” I John 2:2… that freed us (the whole world) without any action from us, from being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1)… and allowed us to respond to God… but we still have to respond to God… the issue I have with the Monergism position is that they believe Christ being “propitiation for our sins” is the whole deal… but I believe a more consistent Biblical view is that it freed us from our death in sin… but we still have to believe in the Resurrection…

    • MSH says:

      I didn’t exactly apply the death of Christ the way you did here — the act of crucifixion being what quickens (“frees” to use your word) us. Standard “calvinistic” approaches to quickening say it’s an act of the Spirit that does that (to the elect), which would disconnect it from the work of Christ in a “chronological” sense. 1 Peter 3:18 is usually the (pardon the pun) justification for that view, along with Rom 8:11 (but the latter seems to clearly speak of the resurrection). But your approach also has merit (another pun – sorry for the spasm). Here’s what I mean. For the calvinists in the room who would oppose what Ed suggests, consider this passage:

      1 Cor 15:45 – Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

      The “quickening” in Eph 2:5 is the lemma suzwopoiew; the lemma above referring to the last Adam (Jesus) is the same except for the prefixed preposition. Naturally, there are other ways to take this besides what Ed is suggesting, but I think it’s fair to say his approach is on the table.

  3. Areadymind says:

    When you say, “all who believe were quickened; but all who are quickened do not necessarily believe.” Do you have Hebrews 6 in mind here? Or, if you do not have it in mind particularly, do you think that is what Hebrews 6:4-6 means?

    • MSH says:

      In the post, I took Eph 2:5 and it’s “quickening” as enablement (spiritual awakening). That is the most familiar view to most readers, I’d suspect. But the word also seems to refer to the act of being put in Christ (see the rest of the wording of Eph 2:5 and also Col 2:13). That would seem to suggest that enablement and belief are simultaneous. I do think Hebrews 6 (potentially) presents problems for the that, as do the warning to not fall into unbelief. Then again, they may be separate but related issues.

      • Areadymind says:

        Hebrews 6 seems to imply quickening as opposed to “coming upon,” or being “indwelt” by the Spirit. Which would, if that is true, mean that quickening and placement are separate events. Unless “Tasting” is a third type of event.

  4. Patrick says:

    I think 2cd temple Judaism came to the point where many Jews DID think being related to Abraham was “the deal”. You can see it in the Gospel of John especially.

    I think the reaction of the early Jewish believers in Acts when told Jesus/Messiah was also for the Gentiles and they replied(my vernacular), “well, I reckon God’s Grace is also for the Gentiles then”!

    Which tells me they thought salvation was of God’s Grace, but, only for Jews.

    To the point about Paul having different view of what is a Jew that Benjamin Smith mentions above.

    Paul had a whole lot to say on that issue in Philippians, Romans, Ephesians and Galatians.

    He clearly states over and over there are “Jews after the flesh”(Corinthians&Philippians where chapter 3 Paul makes his “I am the Jew of Jews case and shows how useless that is) and authentic “God’s Jews”(my vernacular again) based on faith, not first birth assets.

    In fact, in Romans chapter 11:25-26 Paul states this is part of “the mystery”, how bringing Gentiles “in” is part of the mystery of “all Israel being saved”.

    Ephesians chapter 2 explains what “bringing in” means in detail. Into the commonwealth of Israel.
    “once you were alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and the “promises”, but now………….

    “All Israel is not Israel” Romans 9:6 seems to help with the Israel after the flesh, Israel of faith paradigm.

    I think The Israel of God of Galatians 6:16 is us as well. In Romans, Paul uses the word in both ways often.

    • Benjamin Smith says:

      That’s my thinking too. Therefore, it’s legitimate to see Isaiah 53, a passage originally only for Israel, as for all believers in light of Christ and 1 Peter’s application.

  5. haibane13 says:

    Following Ed’s input . When God establishes a covenant does God not enable them to be a part of that covenant ? The Old Testament covenant was for Jews but gentiles could share in it if they joined up . Did God enable ONLY Jews or the whole world ?

  6. Patrick says:

    haibane13,

    I think God enabled the entire world of believers and considers all of them, Jew&Gentile alike as authentic Israel so long as we believe.

    In the OT ethnic Jews were (it seems to me anyway) God’s “type of believing people” based on the pattern of the patriarchs, Abraham, Issac and Jacob.

    However, the ancient Jew had to believe as he would today. Once one deviated form faith, he was inauthentic Israel.

    There is an obscure verse in Exodus that states any Gentile who wanted to observe the Passover was to be considered a “part of the congregation(Ekklesia in Greek) of Israel”.

    IMO, this indicates from the OT the idea of faith being the true measure of authentic Israel, not the first birth asset of being related to Abraham via genetics.

    The Church isn’t the “new Israel”, the Church IS Israel. Authentic Israel of God, Galatians 6:16. In a sense, this was always true alluding to the obscure Exodus passage.

    There is Israel after the flesh(Paul used that term in Corinthians) and Israel after faith.

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