The New Perspective On Paul: Its Basic Tenets, History, And Presuppositions -- By: F. David Farnell

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 16:2 (Fall 2005)
Article: The New Perspective On Paul: Its Basic Tenets, History, And Presuppositions
Author: F. David Farnell


The New Perspective On Paul: Its Basic Tenets, History, And Presuppositions

F. David Farnell

Associate Professor of New Testament

Recent decades have witnessed a change in views of Pauline theology. A growing number of evangelicals have endorsed a view called the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) which significantly departs from the Reformation emphasis on justification by faith alone. The NPP has followed in the path of historical criticism’s rejection of an orthodox view of biblical inspiration, and has adopted an existential view of biblical interpretation. The best-known spokesmen for the NPP are E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright. With only slight differences in their defenses of the NPP, all three have adopted “covenantal nomism,” which essentially gives a role in salvation to works of the law of Moses. A survey of historical elements leading up to the NPP isolates several influences: Jewish opposition to the Jesus of the Gospels and Pauline literature, Luther’s alleged antisemitism, and historical-criticism. The NPP is not actually new; it is simply a simultaneous convergence of a number of old aberrations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

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When discussing the rise of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), few theologians carefully scrutinize its historical and presuppositional antecedents. Many treat it merely as a 20th-century phenomenon; something that is relatively “new” arising within the last thirty or forty years. They erroneously isolate it from its long history of development. The NPP, however, is not new but is the revival of an old ideology that has been around for the many centuries of church history: the revival of works as efficacious for salvation. One should emphasize that the NPP is the direct offspring of historical-critical ideologies. The same ideologies that destroyed orthodox views of inspiration and the trustworthiness of the Scriptures gave rise to the NPP. Historical critics first questioned the inspiration and integrity of the Gospels and then moved with the same intent in the letters of Paul. The

historical-critical search for the “historical Jesus” has led to the “search for the real Paul.” Though many historical critics nominally maintained a Reformed perspective on Pauline literature, their work provided the fodder for the eventual confluence of ideologies that emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century as the NPP. Sadly, historical criticism has provided not only the avenue to produce the unorthodox concepts of the “historical Jesus” but also an unorthodox concept of the “historical Paul,” a Paul that bears little resemblance to the letters he wrote. For the ...

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