Blind Alleys In The Controversy Over The Paul Of History -- By: Mark A. Seifrid

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 45:1 (NA 1994)
Article: Blind Alleys In The Controversy Over The Paul Of History
Author: Mark A. Seifrid

Blind Alleys In The Controversy Over The Paul Of History

Mark A. Seifrid


E.P. Sanders’ reading of Paul against the backdrop of ‘covenantal nomism’ is badly flawed, since it obscures Paul’s coming to understand the cross as working the justification of the ungodly. Two important extensions of Sanders’ paradigm also fail to illumine Paul in his context. ‘Works of the Law’ are not simply ethnic boundaries, as J.D.G. Dunn claims, but marks of piety as well. N.T. Wright’s proposal that Christ provided the solution to Paul’s experience of exile reverses the manner in which exilic language appears in Paul’s letters. Contrary to the common assumption, Luther’s theology of the cross and justification is not barren or irrelevant, and more closely accords with Paul than recent attempts to understand him.

If Ernst Käsemann were to re-enter the current debate over Paul’s Jewish background and theology, I imagine that he might choose a title along the lines of the one I have given this essay.1 His stentorian voice might do some good. Other voices which have dissented from the ‘new perspective’ on Paul in its various forms since the ushering in of the ‘post-Sanders era’ have not been heard sufficiently, drowned out perhaps by a chorus of affirmation. That is not to suggest that the ‘new perspective’ has been entirely deleterious in its effects. It should be viewed as part of a recent impulse across the discipline of theology to come to terms with the Reformers’ article of justification in this generation, a necessary task. And it has called attention to the social

dimension of justification by faith, a central facet of Paul’s arguments which must not lie neglected. Yet while providing fresh impulses, many advocates of the newer reading of Paul have failed to wrestle with the character of the Reformation debate. A so-called ‘Lutheran’ reading of Paul has been dismissed, even by exegetes within the Lutheran tradition, without an adequate acknowledgement —or perhaps in some cases knowledge—of what moved Luther and other Reformers to regard justification by faith alone as the ‘first and chief’ article of confession of the Gospel. Ever increasing specialisation within the field of biblical studies has made us strangers to large stretches of the Christian tradition. We simply must find our way to a critical appropriation of the past, particularly in regard to this topic.

In this instance the recommendation to retrace our steps holds not merely in a theological sense, but also in an exegetical and historical one. Current efforts at massive revision of our understanding of Paul have misse...

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