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

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 10:1 (Spring 2006)
Article: The New Perspective on Paul: A Survey and Critique Part II
Author: Douglas C. Bozung


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

Douglas C. Bozung

Director of Missionary Preparation
Greater Europe Mission, Monument, Colorado

The New Perspective on Paul Critiqued

There are two primary assertions of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). First, Second Temple Judaism presents a monolithic covenantal nomism that is the basis for Paul’s soteriology. Second, Paul presents justification primarily as an ecclesiastical doctrine by which Gentiles are granted equal access to God with Jews. The following critique focuses upon these two NPP pillars. Subsequently, brief consideration is given to some of the secondary assertions of the NPP.

Covenantal Nomism

Peter Stuhlmacher welcomes E. P. Sanders’s re-evaluation of the view of ancient Judaism as a works-righteousness religion as “an idea whose time had come.”1 Similarly, Guy Waters affirms that “Sanders has provided a more balanced picture than prevailed in earlier German scholarship. … [He] correctly reminds us that the rabbis were conversant with the language of grace and forgiveness, and were certainly aware of their own sinfulness, and at times, of God’s holiness.”2

However, both Stuhlmacher and Walters find considerable fault with Sanders’s overall analysis of the rabbinic literature. For example, Stuhlmacher charges Sanders with presenting a “one-sided picture of the soteriology of ancient Judaism.” Specifically, he points to “important rabbinic texts about the final judgment that do not allow us to speak simplistically about the principle of grace [such as] … the end-time significance of (a treasure of) good works, which the faithful should store up during their lives.”3 Likewise, Waters accuses Sanders of “unwarranted restrictions” in which discussion of “such doctrines as original sin and native (in)ability are ruled out of court” and consideration is given only “to the so-called functional dimensions of religion (e.g., getting in and staying in).”4

Donald Hagner also notes a number of difficulties with Sanders’s assessment of ancient rabbinic literature.5 First, it is difficult if not impossible to know to what extent the rabbinic literature reflects the thinking of the first century. Second, there is in the rabbinic literature both a lack of systematic thinking and the presence of, and even delight in, contradictory opini...

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