An Overview And Critique Of The New Perspective On Paul’s Doctrine Of Justification: -- By: Jeffery Smith

Journal: Reformed Baptist Theological Review
Volume: RBTR 04:1 (Jan 2007)
Article: An Overview And Critique Of The New Perspective On Paul’s Doctrine Of Justification:
Author: Jeffery Smith


An Overview And Critique Of The New Perspective On Paul’s Doctrine Of Justification:

Part Three–The New Perspective Critiqued (2)

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 Reformed Baptist Seminary (www.rbseminary.org).

In the last article we considered some of the historical and hermeneutical problems with the New Perspective (NP). Of course ultimately the question of whether the NP provides a valid interpretation of Paul must be determined on the basis of exegesis. Are the viewpoints of the NP supported by what Paul actually says in his epistles? In a limited amount of space there is no way to give a detailed exposition of every relevant passage of Scripture. But we can take up some of the major categories of NP reinterpretation of Paul and point to some of the exegetical problems with these reinterpretations. The first problem will be discussed in this article.

Problem One: “The Works of the Law”

It is good to remind ourselves that one of the major tenets of the NP is its peculiar understanding of Paul’s references to the “works of the law” in connection with justification. What did Paul mean, for example, when he says that we are “justified by faith and not by the works of the law”? The phrase “the works [or deeds] of the law” (ἔργων νόμου) is found in Romans and Galatians eight or nine times. It is found at Rom. 3:20 and 3:28. Some manuscripts have it at Rom. 9:32 (while others simply have the more general term “works”). And it is found three times at Gal. 2:15 and once each at Gal. 3:2, 3:5, and 3:10.

In the traditional Reformed understanding, when Paul speaks of being justified by faith and not by the works of the law, he refers to the impossibility of being justified on the basis of one’s efforts to do what the law commands. Since no sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, has obeyed, or is able to obey, the law of God perfectly, or genuinely, no one can be justified before God by their works. The Reformed view has, therefore, also understood Paul’s polemic against justification by works to be

directed toward Jewish or Jewish-Christian legalists who taught that we are justified either in whole or in part ...

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