Posted By MSH on June 5, 2011
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.