Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JOTGES 7:1 (Spring 94) p. 81
“We Who Are by Inheritance Jews; Not from the Gentiles, Sinners,” Hendrikus Boers, Journal of Biblical Literature, April-June 1992, pp. 273–81.
In two influential works (Paul and Palestinian Judaism [Fortress, 1977] and Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People [Fortress, 1983]), E.P. Sanders has argued that Paul developed his Gospel of justification by faith, not in answer to any alleged Jewish doctrine of works righteousness, but in answer to Jewish exclusivism. As Sanders explains, in the Pauline phrase “not by works of the law” the emphasis is on “law” (i.e., Jewish law), not on “works” abstractly conceived. The Judaism of Paul’s day held to what Sanders calls “covenantal nomism,” the belief that God bestows his favor on a particular community and that individuals gain that favor by joining up. In the case of ancient Judaism, one became a member by circumcision and then maintained membership by the observance of Torah (including its provisions for atonement). Paul, says Sanders, objected to this because he wanted to offer a Christian version of the same thing: one joined the Christian community by faith (which Sanders equates with baptism) and maintained membership by good works (coupled with repentance as needed).
In this article Boers attempts to take Sanders’s work a step further. Sanders, says Boers, has correctly discerned Paul’s rejection of a narrow Judaism, but he has failed to appreciate the implications of his “discovery.” In rejecting Jewish exclusivism, Paul in principle rejected all exclusivism, and that includes Christian exclusivism too. Pace Sanders, Christian faith (=baptism) can no more be an “entry requirement” than can circumcision. Indeed, there are no entry requirements, if by that one means (as Sanders does) requirements to enter an elect community. For salvation is not the property of any group. On the contrary, salvation is a radically individual matter, obtained, says Boers, by one’s own good works-of which faith (pious trust) is but one kind.
There is much wrong with Boers’s article. I can mention only a few things. The first is Boers’s inheritance from Sanders. Like Sand-
JOTGES 7:1 (Spring 94) p. 82
ers, Boers makes a big deal out of the fact that in the polemical phrase, “not by works of the law,” the emphasis is on “law” and not on “works.” But it doesn’t follow from this, as Boers argues, that Paul allowed for justification by works not tied to the Mosaic law. Does Boers really think that Paul conceived of works pleasing to God other than those commanded in the Torah? For Paul the law of Moses was the law of God. He even says so in You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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