The Overstated “New” Perspective? Review Essay -- By: G. K. Beale

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 19:1 (NA 2009)
Article: The Overstated “New” Perspective? Review Essay
Author: G. K. Beale


The Overstated “New” Perspective?
Review Essay

G. K. Beale

Wheaton College Graduate School

Justification and Variegated Nomism: A Fresh Appraisal of Paul and Second Temple Judaism, vol. 2: The Paradoxes of Paul. Ed. D. A. Carson, P. T. O’Brien, and M. A. Seifrid. WUNT 2/181. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck / Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

This book represents volume two of a major evaluation of the so-called new perspective. The first volume attempted a reassessment of Second Temple literature upon which E. P. Sanders had based his view of “covenantal nomism.”1 That Sanders’s work still holds much sway after 30 years is a tribute to the paradigm-changing nature of his view. Though his position has been repeatedly summarized, it may help some readers to do so again. Sanders claimed to have found an underlying pattern of religion in the writings of Second Temple Judaism, which he summarized as “covenantal nomism.” This pattern was twofold: (1) all Israelites found themselves to be members of a covenant community that had been mercifully elected by God in fulfillment of the patriarchal promises, which had come to pass in the exodus and Israel’s possession of the promised land; (2) all Israelites maintained their status as God’s elect people by being obedient to God’s law, violation of which could be atoned for by the sacrificial system. Sanders summarized this broad twofold pattern of religion as “getting in” and “staying in.” A significant interpretation of this pattern “is that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God’s mercy rather than human achievement.”2 There was no dominant Jewish structure of thought that held that salvation was earned by human effort through keeping works of the law.

This second volume of Justification and Variegated Nomism is an effort to reevaluate the application of Sanders’s view to Paul. Sanders had said that, though Paul represents “a different type of religiousness from any found in Palestinian Judaism,”3 the twofold pattern of “getting in” and “staying in” that he

had found in Judaism was also, in essence, to be found in Paul: it was by grace through election that a person was found to be in the covenant and one stayed in the covenant by obedience; while there would be judgment for disobedience, works did not earn salvation but were a condition for maintaining membership in the covenant community. Because the Judaism of Paul’s day was not consumed with the notion of meriting salvation by keeping th...

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