Another Look At The New Perspective -- By: Thomas R. Schreiner

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 14:3 (Fall 2010)
Article: Another Look At The New Perspective
Author: Thomas R. Schreiner


Another Look At The New Perspective

Thomas R. Schreiner

My goal in this essay is to defend a traditional Reformed view of justification in light of the challenges of the “new perspective on Paul.” Before I launch into such a defense I want to raise a fundamental question. Does one’s view of the new perspective on Paul matter? Luther rightly saw that the most important question in life is whether we can find a gracious God, and our understanding of the law and justification play a central role in our quest. A right view of the law and justification, according to the Reformers, is inextricably tied to a right view of the gospel. Hence, the issues before us must not be relegated to the realm of academic jousting. They impinge upon the very heart of the gospel and directly relate to the issue of our eternal salvation. How we answer the questions before us will affect what church we join and whether and how we proclaim the gospel to unbelievers. The Reformers believed the issues before us were matters of life and death, and I will argue here that they were right to think so.

The Sanders Revolution And The New Perspective On Paul

A “Lutheran” or “Reformed” view of Paul dominated Protestant biblical scholarship up until the publication of E. P. Sanders’s massive Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977.1 Sanders vigorously dissented from the standard view of Judaism promulgated in NT studies, arguing that the notion that Judaism was a legalistic religion was a myth. Other voices preceded Sanders. Both Claude Montefiore and George Foote Moore argued for a kinder and gentler Judaism, but their contributions, though appreciated, did nothing to change the prevailing consensus.2 Krister Stendahl wrote his influential “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” before Sanders’s major opus.3 This essay had an influence that outstripped its size, especially post-Sanders. Stendahl argued that the notion that Paul suffered from a guilty conscience was the product of reading him through the lenses of the experience of Augustine and Luther. A careful reading of the Pauline literature

demonstrates, says Stendahl, that Paul had a robust conscience. Indeed, Paul was not converted to a new religion. He was called as the apostle to the Gentiles. Not surprisingly, then, justification was not central in his theology; what truly animated Paul was the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God.

The view of Judaism defended by Sanders in 1977 was an idea whose time had co...

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