The New Perspective on Paul: A Survey and Critique Part I -- By: Douglas C. Bozung

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 09:2 (Fall 2005)
Article: The New Perspective on Paul: A Survey and Critique Part I
Author: Douglas C. Bozung

The New Perspective on Paul:
A Survey and Critique
Part I

Douglas C. Bozung

Director of Missionary Preparation
Greater Europe Mission, Monument, Colorado

The “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP), a phrase coined by James D. G. Dunn,1 is a theological innovation that challenges not only the traditional understanding of key doctrines such as justification by faith but also the common perception of first-century Judaism as a merit-based religion. That is, not only does the NPP represent a new perspective on Paul, it also represents a new perspective on Second Temple Judaism. Furthermore, the NPP represents a new perspective on the Reformation because it charges the Reformers, especially Luther, with fundamentally misreading Paul.

If this perspective were merely an insignificant curiosity, ostensibly it could be ignored. However, D. A. Carson notes that “a sizeable proportion of the New Testament guild” has been persuaded of its validity with the result that “few serious students of Paul say much about his writings without interacting with the ‘new perspective.’”2 Indeed, at least in the English-speaking world, the NPP appears to be the reigning paradigm.3 However, as will be seen, the NPP does not represent a monolithic viewpoint. Rather it presents a basic paradigm within which the various proponents of the NPP sometimes disagree.

Fundamental to this paradigm is the contention that the long-accepted portrayal of Judaism in Paul’s time as a works-righteousness, merit-based religion is a caricature based in part upon an anachronistic reading of Paul through the eyes of the Reformers. Proceeding upon this basis, the NPP makes the following major assertions:

Paul had no real quarrel with Judaism as conceived and practiced in his day.

Paul did not “convert” to Christianity; rather he responded to a call to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.

Paul was misunderstood by Luther (and, by implication, by subsequent generations of evangelicals, who have read Paul with Lutheran lenses), who incorrectly imposed his struggles with personal guilt and Catholicism upon his exegesis of Paul.

Paul’s primary concern in his exposition of “justification by faith” was to address the issue of Jew-Gentile relations, not the universal problem of human sin.

Correspondingly, Paul’s arguments against “works of the law” do not concern the issue of righteousness gained by obedience to the la...

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