10 February 2008

NPP: 7 Pillars

Though I'm still new to the discussion, I see seven broad characteristics uniting those advocating the "New Perspective on Paul," better labeled either the New Perspective on Judaism or the New Perspectives on Paul.

1. Against a widely accepted reading of Second Temple Judaism as a religion of legalistic works’ righteousness, Second Temple Judaism is understood as fundamentally a religion of grace, inducting one into the people of God solely by God’s merciful election and thereafter providing means of atonement for transgressions.
2. An appreciation for Paul’s burden for unity among Jews and gentiles rather than Jewish exclusivism must be renewed.
3. Misplaced reliance upon Jewish social identity markers are the heart of what Paul sees as problematic with the Judaism by which he is surrounded and to which he responds (especially in Romans and Galatians).
4. The Reformation provided and promulgated an unsatisfactory reading of Paul, mistakenly viewing Paul either in light of existential anguish over a stricken conscience or through the lens of sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism rather than that of true first-century Judaism.
5. Interpreters of Paul must assiduously avoid reading both Paul and ancient Judaism through modern Western society’s over-individualized bias rather than in the strongly corporate categories in which Paul and his fellow-countrymen actually thought.
6. Romans 9-11 is reestablished as integral, if not climactically central, to Romans.
7. Post-Holocaust ethnic sensitivities must be kept in mind when reading Paul, especially in light of some anti-Semitic pre-Holocaust Pauline interpretation.


Andrew said...

Seems like an averagely reasonable list. The difficulty of defining the NPP is somewhat renowned since its really a collection of distinct writers all of whom partially agree and disagree with each other. (So, for example, as a sample NPPer I'd personally mostly reject 1, 6 & 7, and mostly agree with 2-5 in your list).

Your number 4 makes the most crucial points I think: Anyone who is part of the recent wave of scholarly interest in the study of Paul and Judaism in their ancient context, and who subsequently thinks that Reformation theology contains serious misunderstandings of these holds a New Perspective viewpoint.

In practice, I find that the quickest and easiest way to tell if someone holds the NPP or not is whether they think that "works of the law" means "any kind of human effort to be right with God" (old perspective) or "Jewish customs" (new perspective).

Eric said...

Thanks, Dane, for the helpful list. Which do you agree with? I can't help but conclude that Luther read his own perspective/experience (to some extent, anyway) into the Bible, coming up with a kind of law/grace dichotomy. Would you agree?

Dane Ortlund said...

So much to say, and with more time everything would be carefully qualified, but essentially: I think the Reformers (and myself for the past several years) have not given sufficient attention to the social dynamic of Rom and Gal. But I think they got it essentially right. I may eat these words in the eyars to come, and if I find myself wrong I hope I'll be man enough to admit it, and I'm still learning--but at this point, I find the exegesis of Rom, Gal, and Philp by some writers associated with the NP hopelessly anthropologically naive. The natural human bent toward earning since the Fall is simply too clear, both in the Bible, OT and New, and my own heart. This the Reformers recognized, in RomCath and in themselves. I would love someone to do a historical theology dissertaion comparing and contrasting 16th cent RC and second temple Jud, b/c the more I learn the more it seems that while of course they were not equivalent, the overlap between the 2 was much greater than is generally acknowledged.

Moreover, though authorship issues come into play here, 2 Tim 1:9, Titus 3:5 and Eph 2:8-9 are simply not given thr weight they should be, in the contrast they each set up between "works" (not, here, works of law) and God's grace/gift/his own purpose and call etc. In these contexts, it is clearly a human doing vs. divine gift dichotomy.

Among others, Gathercole has convinced me that second temp. jud. was simply not "a religion of grace" as EPS et al have portrayed it, but rather that obed. did indeed play a vital role in final justification according to the majority if the intertest. writings.

I see 9-11 as integral, but neither central, nor peripheral, to Rom. I follow Mike Bird here.

I think the Holocaust has influenced Pauline interp more than we realize.

I do think we Westerners need to think in more corporate categories than we are used to, but Paul's fundamental concern is an individual one--I recalcitrantly persist in this--with enormous communal ramifications. I follow the way D Moo presents the balance between the 2 in his Rom comm.

So much more to say but I'll leave it at that for now.

Dane Ortlund said...

Eric – I never answered your question. Yes, I think Luther read his existiential concerns into his interp. of Paul. Just as I think some NP advocates are reading their social concerns into their interp. of Paul (post-Holocaust anti-anti-Semitism etc). The question, then, is: who provides a more satisfying interp? Though I wouldn’t make a very good Lutheran for a host of reasons, I believe the former does.

Anonymous said...

Two thoughts. One, it seems to me that the gospel is intended, in the Bible, to create a whole culture of non-self-righteous people forever dignified with the glory of Someone Else. They not only enjoy acceptance before the all-holy God for themselves but also break down traditional boundaries of exclusion that God forbids in his Word and frolic lovingly together in the environment of a perfect righteousness external to themselves. Note where the arguments of the New Testament letters eventuate -- how little discussion is devoted to evangelizing one's neighbors compared with the lengthy discussions of how we should treat each other within our churches. Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from works both liberates individuals and creates a new world, a foretaste of Revelation 7:9-10.

Two, I myself grew up with an emotional mixture of (1) a commitment to grace -- I argued for it forcefully -- with (2) a sense of superiority, aloofness and disdain for both unbelievers and other believers who were unlike me in secondary matters. I could talk grace with the best of 'em. But I failed to grasp both its personal implications for me and its social power for creating God's new community. I identify easily with ancient rabbis who could use "grace"-language and at the same time live in unconscious "law"-socialization. Islam, the most uppity, insecure, self-pitying, legalistic and puritanical religion in history, cannot open its mouth without the standard phrase, "In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful" -- and then slaughter innocent people. We are capable of astonishing internal contradictions.

Dane Ortlund said...

Pop: your 2nd paragraph is worth the price of . . . well, something expensive. I find the same internal contradiction in myself: grace coming out of my mouth, law coming out of my heart.

Andrew said...

The natural human bent toward earning since the Fall is simply too clear, both in the Bible, OT and New, and my own heart.
I'm afraid I've just never understood why some Christians have so much horror towards "earning". The OT, the NT and the ECFs all endorse and demand human effort and striving to obey God. The NT is choc full of moral exhortation, demanding Christians make an effort and strive to live righteously and so meet the standards God requires of them.

2 Tim 1:9, Titus 3:5
These passages talk of how we were living unrighteously and God graciously sent Christ to help us. They do not at all say that no effort is required of us as we respond to Christ's call.

Eph 2:8-9
This passage has been misunderstood also due to a lack of understanding of the Greco-Roman reciprocity system (Charis) that Paul is referring to throughout. It is talking about Jewish customs, not about human effort, as is made clear by the context of Eph 2:11-14.

obed. did indeed play a vital role in final justification according to the majority if the intertest. writings.
I agree. It also is in NT Christianity and the ECFs. If you examine the instances in the New Testament where final eternal judgment is described in any detail (there are about 30 such instances) the criteria of the judgment is always good/evil works. (eg Romans 2:6-10 is a clear example) This has led many NPP writers (eg Sanders, Dunn, Wright, Garlington, Yinger etc) to argue that the NT church held an Augustinian model of salvation (named so because it was invented/advocated by Augustine) whereby God graciously acts to send Jesus and the holy spirit to people empowering Christians to live righteous lives that are pleasing to him and thus causing them to meet his standards when he does his final eternal judgment that is according to works. In the ECFs right from the very beginning of the second century onward, final judgment is always viewed as according to works and they see a corresponding need for Christians to live a righteous life in order to meet God's standards.

Gavin Ortlund said...

Your posts on NPP seem to generate an unusually high number of responses - a sure sign you are on to something! Thanks for teaching me about this.

Eric said...

Andrew - I don't think anyone's denying that early Judaism had a sense (even a profound one) of the grace and mercy of God, nor that the NT has a sense of obligation and the need to live righteously. The question is what these terms and ideas mean; I cannot escape the conviction that, although a lot of the same language is used, Paul is simply in a different universe, talking a different language, from the Rabbis or the Qumran folks. I was reading the Damascus document yesterday - a lot of language that is used in the NT crops up, but in a completely different context.

I've been debating whether or not to say anything about this, because it might sound like an attack . . . but you don't understand the horror some Christians feel at the very thought of earning anything with God? Really? You've never been gloriously, humiliatingly stripped in God's presence and reduced to pure grace?

Please understand - this is not a personal attack on you. I am not questioning your spirituality just because you understand the NT a certain way! OK, friend? I really don't want to start an argument. But I think a horror of anything even coming close to falling outside of pure justification by grace through faith is an entirely appropriate and natural response - and one which the Judaism of Paul's day just didn't get.

And yes, I'm thankful for the many insights of the NP.


Eric said...

Dad - On the second paragraph of your post - I've noticed exactly the same tendency in myself, and I think they're related. A full, deep sense of God's grace means I can get close to other sinners without having to be nervous about being infected by something I don't like about them or even reminded about something I don't like about myself. On the other hand, lacking such a confidence implies a vulnerability - so you have to separate yourself.

I'm most struck by how this tendency shows up in the Qumran texts. On the one hand, it isn't hard to find texts extolling God's grace and mercy for sinners - but they have dozens of texts listing elaborate ritual cleansings, and the Rule of the Congregation demands that all sect members cut off contact with the rest of the Jews. They actually even penalize people for talking out of turn in the assembly or falling asleep or "guffawing loudly" by being excluded for 10 days. I wouldn't last long!

Andrew said...

No I haven't, and most Christians I know have not had such experiences and would not consider such experiences usual. I wonder if you have read Stendahl's paper, widely hailed as a precursor to the NPP, in which he argued that the Reformation interpretation of Paul was fundamentally (mis)shaped due to some people reading their own feelings about their short-comings into the writings of Paul. One of the issues that NPP writers often have with the Augustine-Luther reading of Paul is that its interpreters have a tendency to read their own unusual extreme-negative anthropological ideas from their experiences into the writings of Paul, whereas most NPP exegetes would argue that Paul does not hold such views and has a vastly less pessimistic anthropology.

As Stendahl points out, prior to Augustine the post-NT church had an extremely positive anthropology. During this period Christian writers around the world endorsed man's free will and ability to do good in the strongest possible terms. I was reading from the second century Christian work Shepherd of Hermas last night and there was a passage that expresses a viewpoint typical of the pre-Nicene church:

"I do not know if these commandments can be kept by man, because they are exceeding hard." [The Angel became extremely angry] and said to me, "If you lay it down as certain that they can be kept, then you will easily keep them, and they will not be hard. But if you come to imagine that they cannot be kept by man, then you will not keep them. Now I say to you, If you do not keep them, but neglect them, you will not be saved, nor your children, nor your house, since you have already determined for yourself that these commandments cannot be kept by man." (Herm. Comm. 12.3-4)

Anonymous said...

I think, Eric, that you and I would consider it an honor to get booted from that outfit!

Dane Ortlund said...

Andrew, thanks for the comments. You and I must run in quite different Christian circles, because I don't think I know anyone who has been born again who would not testify to the experience Eric describes and which I myself have been granted, by God's grace--to be reduced to utter moral destitution, in total and absolute need of mercy--the kind of cry for mercy that meets Jesus at every corner in the Gospels. So I suspect you are significantly more obedient that I am, because not a day goes by that it is a wonder God has not struck me down in my arrogance and apathy. But I can see from your self-description on your blog that you and I are probably poles apart on these kinds of questions. Regardless, I appreciate your reflections and they are welcome here any time! God bless you my friend.

Eric, I hope you will continue to help me think through NP issues; your comments are very helpful.