An Overview and Critique of the New Perspective On Paul’s Doctrine of Justification: Part Two-The New Perspective Critiqued (1) -- By: Jeffery Smith

Journal: Reformed Baptist Theological Review
Volume: RBTR 03:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: An Overview and Critique of the New Perspective On Paul’s Doctrine of Justification: Part Two-The New Perspective Critiqued (1)
Author: Jeffery Smith


An Overview and Critique of the New Perspective
On Paul’s Doctrine of Justification:
Part Two-The New Perspective Critiqued (1)

Jeffery Smith

Jeffery Smith is one of the pastors of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Easley SC. He is also an instructor in Soteriology and Pastoral Theology for the newly formed Reformed Baptist Seminary. These articles on the new perspective are edited excerpts of lectures that were given to the Midwest Reformed Baptist Pastors’ Fraternal in Grand Rapids, March 29–30, 2005.

In a previous article I sought to give an overview of what has been called “The New Perspective on Paul”1 . Specific focus was given to those aspects of the New Perspective (NP) that most directly touch on the doctrine of justification by faith. We considered its leading proponents, primary tenets, growing influence, subtle appeal, and alarming implications. In this and following articles, we will take up a summary critique of the NP. This article will address historical and hermeneutical problems with the NP. Those to follow will take up some of its exegetical problems.

The Historical Problem with the New Perspective:
Was 2nd Temple Judaism Really a Religion of Grace?

As we saw in the previous article, much of the NP approach to Paul is based on the assertion that 2nd Temple Judaism was a religion of grace. One might argue that this assertion is the lynchpin, the keystone, the foundation, the cornerstone, the bedrock of the NP. This assertion (or assumption) is primarily based on the conclusions of E.P. Sanders in his Paul and Palestinian Judaism. It all starts with Sanders. James Dunn puts it this way:

Judaism is first and foremost a religion of grace…Somewhat surprisingly, the picture Sanders painted of what he called covenant nomism is remarkably like the classic Reformation theology of works….that good works are the consequence and outworking of divine grace, not the means by which that grace is first attained….the Judaism of what Sanders christened as ‘covenantal nomism’ can now

be seen to preach good Protestant doctrine: that grace is always prior; that human effort is ever the response to divine initiative; that good works are fruit and not the root of salvation.2

Based on Sanders’ work we are to believe that Judaism was a religion of grace and that what the Jews of Paul’s day believed and practiced was good Protestant doctrine after all. There are several problems with this. First, even if one accepts Sanders’ survey as a balanced overview of the relevant l...

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