Gaining Perspective On The New Perspective On Paul -- By: James E. Allman

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 170:677 (Jan 2013)
Article: Gaining Perspective On The New Perspective On Paul
Author: James E. Allman


Gaining Perspective On The New Perspective On Paul

James E. Allman

James E. Allman is Professor of Bible Exposition, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

The New Perspective on Paul encompasses a range of ideas that have permeated Pauline studies and created controversy in both the academic and the ecclesial world. The purpose of this study is to survey the work of the initial leaders of the New Perspective on Paul, E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright, and James D. G. Dunn.1 The ideas these writers propose relate to the gospel and the spiritual life. While the average church attender may never hear of the New Perspective (though N. T. Wright figures prominently in popular programs about New Testament themes), yet the discussion within academic circles is ongoing. This means that with the next generation of seminary-trained pastors, the ideas may filter into the church. Stenschke says, “No serious student of Paul can afford to ignore this new perspective and the various discussions it engendered—be it in agreement or disagreement.”2

Historical Background

In 1963 Krister Stendahl launched the ideas that culminated in the New Perspective on Paul.3 He warned against imposing modern Western ideas on the Bible, and especially on the works of Paul.

Stendahl noted that “especially in Protestant Christianity—which, however, at this point has its roots in Augustine and in the piety of the Middle Ages—the Pauline awareness of sin has been interpreted in the light of Luther’s struggle with his conscience.”4 Stendahl continued, “A fresh look at the Pauline writings themselves shows that Paul was equipped with what in our eyes must be called a rather ‘robust’ conscience.”5 He cites Philippians 3 and 1 Corinthians 4:4 to support his position. This important article led to the movement that has become known as the New Perspective on Paul.

E. P. Sanders—Covenantal Nomism6

Ed Parish Sanders retired in 2005 from Duke University, where he was Arts and Sciences Professor of Religion. His massive Paul and Palestinian Judaism touched off a revolution in Pauline studies. Before Sanders the common view was that Judaism was thoroughly legalistic. But then “E. P....

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