Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The New Perspective and Resurrection

posted by Scot McKnight

I get asked this about once a week, often in an e-mail: “What is the New Perspective on Paul?” Let me answer that question with three brief lines, but first I provide what inspired me to think through the NPP so I could get it to three lines. I was in Lubbock TX and heard Randy Harris summarize the message of the Book of Revelation in three lines:

1. God’s team wins.
2. Choose your team.
3. Don’t be stupid.

Yep, the whole message of Revelation in three lines. Now the New Perspective in three lines, though mine are not as funny or clever:

1. Judaism was not a works-earns-salvation religion.
2. Paul was therefore not opposing a works-earns-salvation religion.
3. Therefore, the Reformation’s way of framing the entire message of the New Testament as humans seeking to earn their own redemption rests on shaky historical grounds.

What do you know about the New Perspective? How do you summarize it? Do you think my three lines gets to the heart of it? What light has the NPP shed for you? What do you think are its major weaknesses?


Another way of summing up the NPP is this: the Augustinian anthropology that
undergirds much of Reformed theology (humans as depraved and totally
dead and in need of grace and humans, in true Pelagian fashion, want to
prove themselves before God) may well be true but it is not what Paul
was talking about.

There are so many good books about the NPP today, and one simply has to mention the writings of EP Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright. Recently, many in the Reformed tradition, including John Piper, have criticized the NPP, especially Tom Wright, so there is quite a dust-up about this at work today. A recent book that shows how resurrection theology is connected to the NPP is by Daniel Kirk.

Daniel Kirk’s dissertation has been published and the thing is readable
and important. His concern is resurrection theology at work in the book
of Romans. His contention is that Easter really matters. Many of us
have observed from time to time that the gospel is reduced too often to
Good Friday. But the gospel Peter and Paul preached included the cross
and the resurrection. I think the problem for many, tragically, is what
to make of the resurrection. Indeed, everyone knows resurrection was
part of the earliest Christian preaching, but the question we ask today
seems to be: What are the implications of the resurrection? It’s got to
be more than a major element of our apologetics. This is why I’m happy
to commend your study of Daniel Kirk’s new book: Unlocking Romans:
Resurrection and the Justification of God .

 Here are some highlights: Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God
.

Here are some highlights:

First, Judaism had at least four themes of the significance of resurrection: (1) it would vindicate God’s people and prove God faithful; (2) it buttressed the appeal to do what is right — yes, if there is a resurrection, there is a judgment; if there is a judgment, we better be ready; (3) it promised a future restoration of earth and body and cosmos; and (4) Israel would be restored.

 In Romans we see the people of God redefined by a resurrected Messiah and participation in that resurrection. Jesus’ own resurrection sets the restoration process into motion. And here’s a big point for Kirk: the people of God must be defined in light of the Christ event — life, death and resurrection. This means, Kirk argues, the litmus test for association with brothers and sisters in Christ is Calvary and the Empty Grave. This leads to proper church unity, and Kirk pushes back against some of the attempts to find doctrinal unity as the proper basis for church unity.

 Yes, Kirk gets into the justification debate and he leans toward Tom Wright’s stuff. Here’s one of his points: “grace” vs. “works” is not two principles humans use– we either use the grace principle or the works principle — but instead two particulars: “grace comes in Christ” and “works” is connected to Mosaic Torah.



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Tim Peck

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:35 am


I like what you have but it seems to need something about cultural imperialism, which is what Paul is grappling with in his letters. If the Reformers were wrong (at least partly) on what Paul was saying, then what WAS he saying? I’d think this would have to do with who the people of God consist of and how they enculturate their practices.



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Georgetta

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:44 am


I’d like to hear more about how Judiasm wasn’t a works-based religion. The Law certainly made it sound like one. The Pharisees made it seem like one.



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Mike Clawson

posted April 20, 2009 at 2:15 am


Georgetta- I’ve done a fair bit of reading on the New Perspective. As I understand it, the claim is that first century Jews (as with most Jews today) understood Torah-observance as a response to God’s freely given grace to Israel, not as a means for earning God’s grace.
Just read the Hebrew scriptures, especially Genesis or Deuteronomy. You’ll clearly see that God’s gracious action in initiating a covenant with Abraham and Israel comes first and was unmerited by anything they had done to deserve it (Exodus came before Sinai). The Torah is simply Israel’s way of responding in faith to the graciousness of God. This is how Paul understood it, and how other Jews of his day would have also understood it.
(Please correct me if I’ve gotten any of this wrong Scot.)



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Matt K

posted April 20, 2009 at 2:29 am


I think what also needs to be said about the new perspective is the “horizontal” emphasis that can be read in Paul’s theology once the reader can set aside the lenses of the Lutheran perspective. Particularly as this relates to class and ethnicity: Paul’s fierce critique of things like circumcision/sabbath/kosher laws was not so much because of works-righteousness but because he understood the Christ-event to be universal and egalitarian so the elevation of Jewish cultural norms ran counter to the idea that both Gentiles and Jews were heirs to God’s promise.
Like its been said, this doesn’t necessarily change what has been orthodox theological anthropology, but it does mean new applications of Pauline theology.



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DJ - Dan Jones

posted April 20, 2009 at 3:05 am


I think I like what I’m reading hear, but I’m having trouble understanding the last paragraph. I think I’m getting tripped up by some grammar there. Can you translate, please Scot?
DJ
AMDG



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RJS

posted April 20, 2009 at 6:34 am


Tim (#1),
What do you mean by cultural imperialism? If you mean Roman imperialism – cultural and otherwise, certainly this is part of the perspective on Paul in some of this writing. The emphasis on Roman imperialism in the message of Paul is one place where I find myself in disagreement with Wright. I think that he overdoes this massively – reading not just between, but into the lines of the text. Paul was preaching the gospel of Christ crucified and risen. Any subversion of Rome was incidental, a consequence of the message but not the intent of the message on any level.
Scot,
I don’t quite understand what you mean by your third point.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 20, 2009 at 7:08 am


The emphasis on Roman imperialism and the gospel/church as subversive is the distinct, later contribution of Tom Wright to this discussion and not part of the New Perspective. When Tom added that dimension to his Pauline studies, he called it the “Fresh” perspective.
RJS,
Third point: the Reformed gospel works by getting humans to admit and confess and repent from their attempts at self-justification. That whole theory is rooted in the Reformation’s reading of “works of the law” as works motivated to earn favor with God. When “works of the law” is not seen that way, and that’s the view of the New Perspective, then the entire fabric of self-justification is changed. In some versions of “works of the law” the meaning is the things Jews held up as distinctive to themselves, as boundary markers, and therefore things that blocked Gentile inclusion. In the New Perspective, inclusion of Gentiles is inherent to what “justification” means.
DJ,
I had trouble with that last paragraph, too, and I tried to rephrase it in a way that was clear to me and now I’m not quite sure. I believe it is the Augustinian anthropological principle.
Maybe Daniel will weigh in and help us out.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 20, 2009 at 7:10 am


Now I forgot to write what I originally sat down to write: “works” in the New Perspective, as Mike Clawson states, is what Israelites do to “maintain” their covenant status and not things they do to “gain” covenant status. Works, then, is a response to inclusion in the covenant, a response to election, and a response to grace. Sanders called this “covenantal nomism.”



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Eric

posted April 20, 2009 at 7:36 am


There is more than one New Perspective on Paul; the one I am most familiar with is N.T. Wright’s. To answer Scot’s question about how I would summarize it, I would say Wright’s New Perspective is:
1. The New and Old Testaments are part of one single story: God’s single plan to bring restoration to His good creation, which he elected to implement through the covenant with Abraham and his people.
2. It appeared that God’s single plan would be stymied by Israel’s unfaithfulness, but God was faithful even though Israel was not: In Christ, He Himself became the faithful Israel, subjecting Himself to the curse, winning victory over death and sin in his resurrection, which is a foretaste of the end, when he will reconcile all creation in a new heavens and new earth.
3. In this victory, God reconstituted his people not as the bioligical descendants of Abraham, but instead as the people who put their faith in Christ, and who therefore become God’s true people — i.e., the church.
I started reading Wright’s books on the New Perspective with a lot of skepticism, but came away believing that his understanding makes a lot more sense of Paul (and other parts of the OT and NT) than the “old” perspective.



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Eric

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:06 am


Regarding “works,” one way for a traditional Calvinist to appreciate the New Perspective is this: God elected/called/chose Israel in the same way that God elected/called/chose Christians today. (He did both to carry out his mission of reconciliation and redemption to the greater world). Its the same election, and same family! Membership in God’s family in the OT was also by grace — i.e., by God’s sovreign choice of Abraham’s family. When Paul refers to works of law in Judaism, he is referring to the things that mark out the family of God *after* their calling — *after* they were already members of the family.
Yes, some of them “boasted” in their law, and works of law, and turned their faith into something that they believed made them “better.” But that doesn’t mean they all believed they were part of God’s family by works. They were part of God’s family by sovreign election and calling.



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Brian McLaughlin

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:11 am


Scot, you asked about your 3 points. They aren’t bad, but I wonder if they’ve missed the emphasis (or perhaps I have!). NPP to me seems to be at its core an exegetical issue: what is Paul dealing with in Romans/Galatians and the words/concepts he uses to react against those situations. This exegetical issue has obvious theological consequences. However, you framed NPP as a theological issue. In my reading between Piper and NT Wright, it seems that Wright focuses more on exegetical issues and Piper focuses on theological issues. Because of this, they often talk past one another.
But, I think Piper and Wright can agree on a lot. NPP (and Wright) correctly says that the first-century Jews were not trying to earn their salvation. However, Piper is right that there was a component of self-righteousness in their system. This is because they thought Torah was necessary for a right relationship with God (Gal. 3:1-3). This is similar to the Pharisees in the Gospels. So while Romans/Gal do not deal with legalism as Luther thought (and Piper thinks), they do deal with self-righteousness (a form of fundamentalism). Therefore, self-righteousness remains the issue. Is that right?
Also, I personally think Gordon Fee (esp God’s Empowering Presence) is too often left out of this debate. When the arguments about the Spirit are brought into Galatians a whole new light is shed!!



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Mason

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:16 am


Though I too approached Wright with a deep skepticism at first, I have come to find his writings (and other NPP authors) to do far more justice to the text itself and its historical/social context.
Though not even the proponents of the New Perspective all agree with each other, I do find myself wishing that we could at least acknowledge some of the basic foundations of the movement as more or less proven concepts.
Some of the responses, especially Reformed responses, seem to take issue with points, like the nature of Second Temple Judaism, in a way which really sets aside the historical evidence and reverts to tradition because it works with their system.



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Travis Greene

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:25 am


RJS, “Paul was preaching the gospel of Christ crucified and risen. Any subversion of Rome was incidental, a consequence of the message but not the intent of the message on any level.”
To declare that Jesus is Lord is to declare that Caesar is not. The subversion of Rome is a consequence of commitment to the risen Jesus, yes, but it’s not at all incidental or minor. The things that went along with the gospel, like forgiveness, nonviolence, sexual ethics, etc, were subversive to the culture of Rome as well. We can’t get away from the political aspects of what Paul (& Jesus) were up to.



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John W Frye

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:37 am


With the convergence of serious historical studies of 1st century Judaism, a shedding of the atomization of the biblical Story by systematics, and a skillful exegetical reexamination of Pauline theology as a convert from 1st Judaism, the NPP makes good sense.
1. First century Judaism held to God’s delivering *grace* that made them a people; their obedience was not to earn favor, but to express gratitude. Their error was their fierce nationalism and exclusivism. Jesus came in and prophetically denounced their errors by *actions* as well as words that got him crucified.
2. The *works of the law* were not salvific in the Jewish mind, but marks of genuine faith. Jesus fulfilled and made obsolete those “boundary markers” for authentic faith (in the line of Abraham, e.g., Galatians).
3. The hard pill for the current Reformed sectarians to swallow is that the first Reformers read their 16th century issues with Roman Caltholism into the ist century, i.e., into the life and teachings of both Paul and Jesus–the “law versus grace” issue. This was not Paul’s issue.
4. What is amazing to me is that those who so oppose N. T. Wright will not face these things and deal with the whole current “ball of wax” –the history, the culture, the 1st century-ness of Jesus as well as with the exegesis and biblical theology. They seem obsessed with defending a tradition, their systematics of “justification by faith.”
None are so blind as those who *will* not see.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:44 am


Travis,
Well, yes, I say: Paul preached one God; all the Roman gods were idols. Therefore, Paul was subversive. Well, yes. But…
It is one thing to have Paul say something in general about God and have implications for all other gods. It is quite another to have Paul say something specific about God that has specific subversive intent. The recent anti-imperial readings of Paul have used the first bit of logic but they need the second bit.
And here’s what amazes me about this: everything Paul says about Rome directly is positive. Everything that is anti-imperial has to be read into Paul. So we find words like “gospel” and “Savior” and “Lord” and “image.” Yes, indeed, those were terms that were used in the imperial cult. But they were used as well in the Hebrew Bible and in the Septuagint and throughout 2d Temple Judaism with rarely even a passing glance at Rome or the imperial gods. How does one prove that Paul had anti-imperial subversive intents apart from something a little more direct? Have you seen the new book by Seyoon Kim on this? He seriously critiques the entire hypothesis.
The best scholars of the previous generations, and I’m thinking of folks like FF Bruce and JB Lightfoot etc, were educated in the Roman and Greek classics and they did not see this as central to what Paul was about. I suspect that many today have been caught napping; they don’t know the Roman and Greek sources and therefore they can be pushed around.
My read is that most of this anti-imperialism in Paul is anti-capitalism imposed on the NT texts, and the irony is that these are the folks who think the Reformers imposed Catholicism on the Jews of the first century in order to find a good sparring partner.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:48 am


Brian,
The self-righteousness stuff is what I’m calling the Augustinian anthropological principle. Piper sees anthropology at the core of Paul’s conflict with the Judaizers etc. The NPP sees covenantal, ethnic pride. There is a huge difference in this. The self-righteousness (not a term I’d use) then is defined in completely different ways.



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Scott Eaton

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:54 am


Scot,
So if Paul was not opposing a “works-earns-salvation” view, do works earn salvation? It sure seems that is what you (and other NPP advocates) are saying.



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bryonm

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:59 am


I like your summarized points. I wish Tom Wright did it concisely. I love what he has to say, but I never know how to explain it to people.
Love your blog.



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RJS

posted April 20, 2009 at 9:01 am


Travis,
I think that both Jesus and Paul were constructive and formative not destructive and subversive. Jesus preached the kingdom of God – a consequence of this was subversion of some aspects of the current regime, but the intent was not to overthrow the current regime. Isn’t this the essence of the call of Jesus to “repent and believe in me” – give up your ways and follow me for my way of being and forming the people of God.
I don’t think that Paul changed the message – Paul preached the message of Christ crucified and risen. The intent was to form a people of God, not to subvert the imperial power structure.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 20, 2009 at 9:01 am


Scott W Eaton,
At one level, the question emerges from the Old Perspective paradigm because it assumes a meaning for “works” that is not NPP. See the point?
But, no, NPP folks don’t say works earn salvation; they are how covenant people are to live. Paul questions the Jewish use of “works” to fence out Gentiles from the church.



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Paul Johnston

posted April 20, 2009 at 9:15 am


The NPP reading does a good job of reminding us about grace in the OT covenants, but it does not explain the reason for God’s judgment of Israel very will. Dunn’s focus on ethnic privilege and not allowing the Gentiles into the covenant people is right in the particulars but very limp as an overall description of the sin which brought Jesus to the cross.
Eric (9)mentions covenant unfaithfulness, which I agree is the core problem for Israel. Who among the NPP writers develops this idea of Israel’s disloyalty to God as the cause of judgment?



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Scott M

posted April 20, 2009 at 9:16 am


I’ve yet to encounter any church tradition that has nothing to say about how the covenant people of God are to live. Paul himself had a lot to say about it. He just rejected the works of Torah as an appropriate measure.



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Brian McLaughlin

posted April 20, 2009 at 9:19 am


Scot, you said “Piper sees anthropology at the core of Paul’s conflict with the Judaizers etc. The NPP sees covenantal, ethnic pride. There is a huge difference in this.” Here is Piper’s statement about ethnic pride. It seems like he is on to something:
?the root of ethnic pride is the same root as legalism, namely, self-righteousness, and that this root can produce branches that boast in God?s grace?The issue was that the Jewish badge itself (circumcision, diet laws, etc) had become the trust of many Jews (like the Pharisee in the parable of Jesus) and was thus a means of exalting self, not God and had therefore led to contempt for others, and was therefore a morally unrighteous form of legalism.? (Chap 10).



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Brian McLaughlin

posted April 20, 2009 at 9:27 am


Paul (21). Dunn is certainly not limp on sin. Consider his Romans commentary on the oft used passage Romans 3:23: “In effect v. 23 gives a concise summary of Paul’s analysis of humankind’s plight “under sin”: man’s attempt to escape his creatureliness has resulted in his forfeiting that which most distinguished him from the other creatures and has resulted in his falling short of his intended role as a companion of God. It is the catastrophe and continuing hopelessness of man’s self-achievements which have made it indispensable that God himself should take the initiative and that his offer of restoration should come to effect only to faith and through faith” (pp. 178-179).



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Eric

posted April 20, 2009 at 10:11 am


Paul Johnston (#21) — Wright develops the idea of Israel’s lack of faithfulness to the convenant as the cause of judgment in various places, including his latest book (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision). As I recall, he agrees with your point that some of the NPP writers have under-emphasized the point about God’s dealing with sin (and Israel’s sin in particular) by emphasizing only inclusion of Gentiles in the covenant people. He says we need a combined perspective, just as Paul had a combined (old and new) perspective: In one fell swoop, at the cross and in resurrection, Christ dealt with the curse, the problem of Israel’s lack of faithfulness to the covenant, and broadened the family of God to include Gentiles. They go hand in hand.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 10:22 am


Scot #15
?It is one thing to have Paul say something in general about God and have implications for all other gods. It is quite another to have Paul say something specific about God that has specific subversive intent.?
The subtlety here is difficult yet profoundly important. I get tripped up on this every now and then. To me it is the difference between saying ?Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God? and saying ?Jesus came to disestablish the Roman (or any other) empire.?
The first makes God?s Kingdom the focal point and the second makes that which we oppose the focal point. The first says ?Whatever is in accord with the Kingdom is good and worthy of our embrace.? The second says ?Whatever is in accord the empire warrants our opposition.? The danger is that those aspects of the empire which may be godly (and every culture is a mixture light and darkness, of truth and distortion) become reviled simply because ?the empire? exhibits them.
?My read is that most of this anti-imperialism in Paul is anti-capitalism imposed on the NT texts, and the irony is that these are the folks who think the Reformers imposed Catholicism on the Jews of the first century in order to find a good sparring partner.?
Bingo!



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John W Frye

posted April 20, 2009 at 10:26 am


In Philippians 3:4 I do not think Paul’s confession that he does “not put confidence in himself” means the same as “boasting” or being self-righteous. Why? Because Paul dismisses the very idea. It would do no good to boast in these things. While the Judaizers may boast, boasting is quite beside the point according to Paul. Confidence in himself as a true, credentialed Jew is meaningless in view of faith in Jesus the Messiah. Confidence in himself with all his Jewish boundary markers intact made him a good Jew according to the Torah (he was “blameless”). But it was, pardon my Greek, “sh*t” according to Paul—NOTHING to boast about. To turn the argument as Piper does toward human, sinful *motivation* is wide of Paul’s concern. It’s not motivation primarily, it the national exclusion of Gentiles unless Gentiles become like Jews.
I agree with Scot that Paul is not arguing anthropology and hamartiology (a tip of the hand toward individualism), but covenant/Jewish communal/national/identity realities which the Jews found extremely difficult to give up. The Jerusalem Council was NOT about boasting, it was about what did believing Gentiles have to DO to be recognized as authentic people of God.



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T

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:00 am


On the ‘subverting Rome’ issue: I think that this can be overstated (and has been, IMO, in Colossians Remixed, for example), but I want to pushback against the naysayers on this. Many folks rightly argue that Paul and the early church were nigh obsessed with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the central story to be heard and told. To whatever extent we think this is true (as born out in their preaching, in the communion meal, in their hopes, ethics, etc.), we need to acknowledge how much anyone in that world would have heard, very clearly, maybe even primarily, a victory over Rome’s biggest weapon in that story, regardless of what other, even greater things, they may have heard. The cross wasn’t just a judicial sentence by Rome, it was propoganda, written in flesh and blood in every city, about Rome’s ultimate power on the earth. We can’t think God didn’t know this all too well. He used the Roman cross just like he used Pharoah’s fame (and other OT pagan kings in Israel’s history)–as a stepping stool for the fame of his power over the most powerful of human governments. He was calling all (even kings) to repentance through a public display of real power. God’s government had come and was not ignoring Rome as I grew up hearing. God put the world on notice through Rome’s propaganda machine that Jesus had been given “all authority in heaven and on the earth” and all would do well to govern themselves accordingly. How could Paul have a story about a king and a resurrection from a Roman cross and not know he was “directly” talking about Rome on the most vital of issues for an empire: power? He knew it, saw it in Israel’s history, and rejoiced about the good news it contained.
In fact, I think this aspect of the message of the cross and resurrection was so strong, Paul had to tell people in his letters to (still) submit to Rome–he had to actually give reasons!–because the story seemed to take them all away. The cross and resurrection, as anyone at that time would have understood, created a genuine question as to whether Rome and it’s governors were to be obeyed or respected at all, which Paul had to answer theologically. That’s how much the story of the cross and resurrection of the Jewish messiah subverted Roman authority. We tend to start with Paul’s theological re-authorizing of Rome, when we ought to start with the core narrative stripping away all its power in favor of Jesus, the true king.



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John W Frye

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:03 am


Scot (#15) and Michael (#26),
NT Wright in *What Saint Paul Really Said* references Sanders as one who believes that 16th century Catholicism was read into the New Testament texts and Wright, while he does not endorse all that Sanders argues, seems to agree with Sanders about reading the Reformers’ meaning of “justification by faith” into Paul?
So, why this comment “My read is that most of this anti-imperialism in Paul is anti-capitalism imposed on the NT texts, and the irony is that these are the folks who think the Reformers imposed Catholicism on the Jews of the first century in order to find a good sparring partner”?
Am I missing something?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:03 am


A helpful resource on the NPP is a booklet called The New Perspective on Paul by Michael B. Thompson. It is 29 pages long, including footnotes. Thompson hits the major themes and differentiates the subtleties that exist between Sanders, Dunn, and Wright. He circulated a draft to each of the three scholars to get their blessing he had accurately represented their views before publishing it. It is like a ?Cliff?s Notes? on the whole debate.
Thompson writes that to understand the new perspective it is helpful to understand what these scholars saw as the problems with the old perspective. He lists six issues (and admits he runs the risk of caricature and oversimplification.)
Old perspective:
1. Judaism was a religion of merit.
2. Judaism did not resolve Paul?s burden of guilt.
3. Justification by faith was a new revelation.
4. Paul?s focus was on the individual?s relationship to God.
5. Faith replaced works.
6. Law stood in opposition to grace.
The new perspective reads Paul in light of Second Temple Judaism and the centrality of being a covenant people, and that significantly challenges each of these six perspectives.



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Scott M

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:07 am


On the kingdom/empire themes, I start at the place that jumped out at me early on when I read it. In the opening to Romans, Paul is explicitly giving his euvangelion or gospel. It is structured remarkably like some of the euvangelions of the emperors, including lineage and titles. When he reaches ‘declared to be Son of God’ it’s hard not to think of the coins of, for example, Tiberius who, having divinized Augustus had stamped on coins with his image ‘son of the god’. It’s just not credible to me that the highly educated Paul, himself a Roman citizen, writing to the church in Rome, accidentally or even incidentally structured his opening proclamation of the gospel, the euvangelion of Jesus, in just that way.
The focal point is always the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. Neither Paul nor anyone else is focusing on the other kingdoms and powers. But Paul (and I would say Jesus earlier) is certainly contrasting all other powers, kingdoms, principalities, and empires to the true kingdom of Jesus. As Jesus said, all power on heaven and earth has been given to him. Every competing euvangelion is a shadow of a shadow and a lie. Their power has been broken.
The narratives are full of quiet subversion. How is Zaccheus going to function anymore within the graft and corruption of the Roman tax system if he refuses to take more than the tax due? Even though it does not appear to have yet occurred to him in the moment, the answer is that he won’t. He’ll be kicked out of it. And maybe worse. Paul doesn’t speak against slavery, a linchpin of the empire, directly. But what does it mean for Philemon that Onesimus is now his brother? As Christianity became dominant, it became the rule of the church that a baptized human being could not be held as a slave. That was not a modern finding. We fell backwards horribly around the 16th century (hmmm – what else was going on then?), but however imperfectly applied and used, the prior moves of the church were against slavery.
The list goes on and on. Yes, the focus is proclaiming the Kingdom of the Crucified and Risen Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Lord of Heaven and Earth, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But there will always be contrasts to competing powers. And by its very nature, it must and will always act to subvert the improper use of every other power.
And yes, that means that where the economic and political application of the power derived from a system of capitalism runs counter to the rule of life of the Kingdom of the Christ, it will subvert those applications. Just as it will subvert all applications of power of Marxist socialism that run counter to it. Is the gospel of Christ ‘anti-capitalism’? Sure. To the extent that any given instance of the application of ‘capitalism’ fails to conform to the Kingdom.



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ChrisB

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:13 am


Alas, the NPP seems to be twisted often into:
1. Judaism was not a works-earns-salvation religion.
2. Paul was therefore not opposing a works-earns-salvation religion.
3. Therefore, works do earn salvation.
That is how many have (mis?)understood the movement.
The problem seems to be that most people read about this and ask, as someone did above, “so how are people saved (or ‘go to heaven’)?” The NPP people too often reply, “That’s beside the point.” Which may be technically true, but it’s not terribly helpful if it is what the people in the pews are worrying about.
In the midst of scholarship, hopefully we can remember to be pastoral as well.



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T

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:19 am


Scott M., good stuff.
A one-sentence version of my comment at 28, which got too long:
Paul and his central story about a Jewish king was only as specifically and directly subversive of Rome’s authority as the pre-Jesus cross was specifically and directly supportive of Rome’s authority.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:27 am


#29 John
My read was that Scot wasn’t referring in the quoted sentence to everyone who holds to the NPP or the three scholars promoting the idea. (Maybe Wright, but I’m not sure Scot was leveling this critique at him. I probably would to a degree.) I understood it to be directed toward a significant number of scholars and activists who use the anti-Empire motif as a buttress to their political/ideological predilections that may or may not have anything to do with being the Kingdom of God. There is an appropriation of the NPP for political purposes that I’m not sure Sanders, Dunn, and maybe (maybe not) Wright would agree with.



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John W Frye

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:37 am


ChrisB (#32),
I, too, am concerned about the pastoral implications of the NPP. But I believe that people are saved in NPP the same as in the Old Perspective—by grace through faith. With this caveat repeatedly mentioned by NT Wright…we are saved by faith in Jesus the Messiah and not by faith in justification by faith. So, we are saved by faith in a Person, not by faith in a Reformed system of salvation.
I suggest that those who think the NPP proposes a works earned salvation are woefully uninformed about the NPP.



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John W Frye

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:41 am


Michael (#34),
Thanks for that clarification. It seems Scot was saying that those who read anti-capitalism into the text (i.e., anti-imperialism) are the same as those who read 16th century Roman Catholicism into the text. I have never made that correlation.



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T

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:47 am


John (35),
Yes! I would go further, too, that the NT use of the word “saved” is much broader than rescue from hell alone, despite our common usage. And we are “saved” in this broader sense through becoming more and more trusting of Jesus, the person, which includes (isn’t limited to) what he accomplished on the cross, his resurrection, his ideas, his agendas, etc.
I’m excited just thinking about it! :D



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Travis Greene

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:48 am


T @ 28,
Well said.
Scot & RJS,
Good points, and yes, sometimes the anti-imperialist readings are overblown, and too simplistically applied to present-day situations. I’m not trying to give Paul a little green Fidel hat and put him on a T-shirt with Che Guevara, or to suggest that Jesus & Paul were advocating revolt or regime change, or trying to take over political power. That’s not subversion, that’s rebellion.
But Jesus telling his listeners to carry the Roman soldier’s pack for the extra mile is subversion. Paul telling women they don’t have to get married and have babies when the Imperial order depends on it is subversive. The radical submission to the governing authorities is part of the gospel’s subversive power.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 11:57 am


#31 Scott M
I think I fully agree with everything you say here.
There is a adage that says the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. The Kingdom of God is the iceberg to the Titanic of the world’s idolatries and ideologies. I don’t want to overstate the case, but I don’t think the primary way the Kingdom of God functions is by being an adversary to culture. It is by “being,” period.
If we are art connoisseurs looking for a great painting, and someone holds up a Rembrandt in the midst of a bunch of stick figures, then little critique of the stick figures is needed. Obsession with critiquing stick figures becomes counterproductive. Objecting to the inclusion of human images in paintings because stick figure paintings contain human images becomes outright destructive. That is why the central focus must be on who we should be not what we should oppose.
Paul (and others) does critique the empire in a variety of clever ways but I suggest that he sees the ultimate and most powerful critique as the simple presence of Kingdom of God.



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Eric

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:00 pm


I should clarify my post No. 9, because I described Wright’s story line, and wasn’t clear about what about it was “new” — i.e., what differed from the Reformers: Wright says that when Paul talks about “justification,” he is talking about who is in the family of God; so to Wright justification is in part what I described in No. 3. The Reformers obviously said that “justification” means something quite different. I included the story line in my description, even though it technically isn’t part of the “newness” or controversy, because I think the new aspects make more sense when you put them in context of the story.



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Travis Greene

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:10 pm


ChrisB @ 32,
“Which may be technically true, but it’s not terribly helpful if it is what the people in the pews are worrying about. In the midst of scholarship, hopefully we can remember to be pastoral as well.”
I would echo the thoughts of others that “good works earn salvation” is emphatically not what the NPP folks are saying.
But, you raise a good warning. A shift in thinking like this has to be approached carefully, and pastorally. One way, I’d suggest, is that those of us with a high view of Scripture are always (or should be) willing to let the Bible itself critique our own traditions, even those about what Scripture itself says.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:14 pm


We?ve kinda wandered away from the topic NPP and Resurrection. Here is a question I?ve had that gets back closer to the topic (but not exactly.)
In Surprised by Hope, Wright writes:
?? No first-century Jew prior to Easter expected the resurrection to be anything other than a large-scale event happening to all God?s people, or perhaps to the entire human race, as part of the sudden event in which God?s kingdom would finally come on earth. There is no suggestion that one person would rise from the dead in advance of all the rest. The exceptions sometimes quoted (Enoch and Elijah) do not count precisely because (a) they were held not to have died and so resurrection (new life after bodily death) would not be relevant and (b) they were in heaven, not in a new body on earth.? (45)
What about Jarius? daughter, or Lazarus? I?m still trying to get a grip on precisely how Jesus? resurrection was unexpected from within Second Temple Judaism, particularly for his followers who had seen resurrections.



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J. R. Daniel Kirk

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:20 pm


Sorry to be jumping in late to comments 5 & 7. One of the down sides of living on the West Coast is that I wake up 3 hours behind the power curve!
The last paragraph was talking about how we define “works” and “faith.” One traditional way of reading these is to see “works” as anything we might do to try to earn favor with God. Over against this is the idea that what God wants rather than our works is a certain quality of the heart: faith.
The argument in the book is that “works” in Romans (Paul!) are not typically any old thing we might come up with to do, but rather “the works of the law.” And again, “law” doesn’t mean stuff we come up with to try to please God. It means the Torah–what God gave the people of Israel to do, the Law of Moses. This specific reference is important: if God gave this law, and if (as many New Perspective folks will argue) Jews could actually keep this law (as Paul claims for himself in Philippians 3), then it raises afresh the question: why would a Jewish person in upstanding covenant relationship with God still need Christ?
On the other side of the works/faith divide, I also argue for particularity. God is not after “faith” as a disposition, he’s after faith in Christ which, I’d argue, exemplifies the faith of Christ.
What does all this mean for reading Romans? Israel’s “problem” is not that they have this driving compunction to work, and can’t stand the thought of God receiving them freely. The problem is that they read the Law as giving them laws to keep rather than reading the Law as pointing forward in history to something else God was going to do in the coming, death, and resurrection of Jesus.



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Travis Greene

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:22 pm


Michael @ 42,
I always got the sense that Lazarus and other people coming back to life were more like resuscitations. The Resurrection of Jesus, where he comes back seemly with the ability to teleport and enter locked rooms and such, and yet still remain bodily, is a different thing that Lazarus, who just kind of gets up. Also, presumably, Lazarus dies again. He isn’t wandering around somewhere in a perfected, glorified body. So far as we know…



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J. R. Daniel Kirk

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:30 pm


On “Nomism” vs. “legalism”: here’s where my summary in my last comment ties into that question (Brian, post 23): is it legalistic to say that someone has to confess Christ as Lord in order to be saved? Is this not something that the Bible says is necessary to be included into the people of God?
Part of the force of the NP reading of Paul is that the things which Jews are saying demarcate the people of God (circumcision, food laws, Sabbath keeping) are not only symbols of ethnic identity but God-given markers of who is faithfully within the covenant people of God. And, according to scripture, the flip-side is also true: anyone who doesn’t get circumcised, especially, is cut off from the people of God.
Early Jews weren’t legalistic, they were conservative readers of scripture.



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BenB

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:52 pm


Michael (#42)
I think that where they become surprised, even though they see resurrections, is in what those resurrections which they had seen were meant to signify and, on the other hand, what Jesus’ resurrection signified.
As far as Mark’s reference to Jarius’ daughter, Jesus specifically says that she is “not dead.” Therefore, it’s not necessarily a resurrection. That all depends on what Jesus means by this, was this a way of explaining what he was causing to be (she is not dead because he is raising her), or is she seriously not dead, just drastically ill, and thus “asleep” as Jesus tells the crowd. So, then it would be a healing and not a resurrection. Scot, You’d be a better opinion on exactly what is going on there.
However, these types of miracles in the Synoptic and Q sources signify the in-breaking power of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, Jesus’ healing of the girl only signifies what is happening in and through his ministry, it is not a statement of what will necessarily happen to him, or to anyone else for that matter, until the eschaton had fully come. Thus Jesus’ isolated resurrection of the girl would only show them that God’s rule is beginning, but other resurrections would be reserved for the consummation of this rule.
In John’s Gospel, the “signs” such as raising Lazarus, function as identity markers for who Jesus is. They don’t really have anything to do with the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is set as an eschatological passage which fits uniquely into the Fourth Evangelist’s uniquely realized eschatological beliefs… The promises of salvation have come to us presently in the person of Christ and are realized in our lives through the presence of his spirit, the Paraclete. Thus, the dialogue between Jesus and Martha, culminating in the resurrection of Lazarus, is uniquely written to set up the Johannine community’s belief that those promises which we expect in the future are being realized now in Christ. So, the historical reality of the situation leaves more with the identity of who Jesus is, that he is the Son of God and thus has the power to raise people from the dead. That doesn’t leave any reason to believe that he himself would be raised from the dead.
I guess the point here is that these resurrections have nothing to do with final vindication for the righteous, and are likewise very unexpected. So on the same level, Jesus’ resurrection would remain unexpected. Likewise, why would Jesus be raised in this sort of resurrection (vindication) if that were not to come until the last day?
I could be off here, just some of my rambling thoughts.



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ChrisB

posted April 20, 2009 at 12:55 pm


Michael Kruse said: “I?m still trying to get a grip on precisely how Jesus? resurrection was unexpected from within Second Temple Judaism”
There are OT examples of people being raised from the dead, too, but in all of these cases, this is a temporary state. They will die again. Jesus had a resurrected body that would never die again.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 1:08 pm


“He isn’t wandering around somewhere in a perfected, glorified body. So far as we know…”
Actually, I ran into Laz the other day at Walmart and he was the one who raised this question. :-)
Seriously, “…more like resuscitations” I suspect nails it. Important distinction.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 1:19 pm


So Scot wrote:
“And here’s a big point for Kirk: the people of God must be defined in light of the Christ event — life, death and resurrection.”
Wright says the resurrection of the Christ apart from a general resurrection, was totally unexpected. Would it have been unexpected to Jesus prior to his death and resurrection? If it was unexpected to his followers, what shift did it cause for them once it happened?



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Travis Greene

posted April 20, 2009 at 1:38 pm


“If it was unexpected to his followers, what shift did it cause for them once it happened?”
I think the aftermath of that shift is summed up in the book of Acts. Indeed, all Christian theology is ultimately an attempt to grapple with what happened on Easter.
It seems clear that Jesus expected it, or at least suspected it enough to bet his life on.
On the other hand, I seem to remember recently hearing about the discovery of a pre-Jesus document that did imply a specific prophecy that the Messiah would die and then rise 3 days later. Anybody know what I’m talking about?



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Brian McLaughlin

posted April 20, 2009 at 1:41 pm


Daniel (45). I think that’s the point. No, the Jews were legalistic. That, in my opinion, is the valuable contribution of the NPP. The Jews were, however, conservative as you say. I might say that they were fundamentalists. They were so conservative/fundamentalist that they did not allow access to God without Torah (not in a legalistic sense, but in a fundamentalist sense that you are not part of the community or totally “right/sanctified” without Torah: “anyone who doesn’t get circumcised, especially, is cut off from the people of God”).
If that is the case…Paul still lands on justification by faith in Christ alone as the solution. The starting point (exegetically) is different, but isn’t the landing point the same? Dunn seems close to this in his “The Theology of Paul the Apostle” chapter 14. Dunn also seems to have a mediating view between Piper and Wright on God’s righteousness and imputation. My point is this: the NPP seems correct in understanding the context/situation of Paul, but the theological implications (justification by faith in Christ alone) are the same in both the OPP and NPP. Am I wrong?
This also seems to be why Wright is a little less antagonistic than Piper. Wright continues to affirm justification by faith, etc, etc, but for some reason Piper just doesn’t like how he gets there (not to mention his dislike for his understanding of imputation).



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mike

posted April 20, 2009 at 1:41 pm


i’m definitely not anti-NPP or anything, but it does leave some questions unanswered. why did paul emphasize so often and so emphatically that salvation is not by works (e.g. ephesians 2)? if the jews didn’t have a works-based salvation, it seems someone did (the world in general?). if so, then the reformers’ framework still stands, but needs a little tweaking to make work-based salvation more general than just judaism. and, why did paul insist right works and right living coming after salvation? it just seems that what paul was arguing against was indeed some form of works-salvation. considering that covenant faithfulness in the OT meant, in part, adhering to the law, and considering that after the exile even the most miniscule observances and sub-rules of the law were scrutinized, i can’t make the full jump to the NPP.
still, i think it’s within the bounds of orthodoxy. i get a little fed up seeing my denomination (SBC) host conferences to attack it like a straw man without any adherents there to share their thoughts.
good post



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Brian McLaughlin

posted April 20, 2009 at 1:42 pm


OOPS!!! In 51 I meant to say the Jews were NOT legalistic. I agree with NPP on this. I think the rest of my post still holds…



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Peggy

posted April 20, 2009 at 1:58 pm


Michael…sorry, dude, but I had to movie scenes pop into my head:
From The Princess Bride and Miracle Max and the whole “He is only mostly-dead. Mostly-dead is not all dead” …
And from The Guardian: “there’s dead and then there’s DEAD” concerning Coast Guard rescue swimmers and their attempts to resuscitate someone they have rescued.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 20, 2009 at 2:08 pm


John Frye, way back up there,….
The irony is that those who are accusing the Reformers of imposing their concerns onto the Jewish opponents of Paul are doing the same thing with anti-imperial theme (imposing their beef with America or capitalism or George Bush) onto Paul.
Others…
No one is questioning that Paul’s message has implications for the imperial cult, for it has lordship implications for everything. The issue is whether or not Paul had the imperial cult in mind everytime he used a word that was also used by the imperial cult.
Example: Paul uses “gospel.” Caesar uses “gospel.” Therefore Paul is opposing him. The odd thing here is that in no other gospel word — report, word, message, etc — is Paul using a term that the Roman cult used for its messages and declarations. Implication: maybe that isn’t in view at all when Paul uses “gospel.”
My beef here is “reading into” Paul seems the only kind of evidence we have. I do think there are implications — see Acts 17 — but to think these terms are intentional, but highly coded, anti-imperial subversive words, when Paul was hardly afraid to say what he thought regardless of what it meant for safety, is to press evidence I don’t think can be established.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 2:11 pm


#54 Peggy
LOL
And “true love” is the only thing can bring us back from being dead.



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Eric

posted April 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm


mike (#52) — I think that in most instances Paul usually says that “justification” — not salvation — is by faith, not works of law. In fact, if I recall correctly, he only makes that point as to salvation once in the entire NT. And what he means by “justification” is different from salvation, if you believe NPP (even though they are related). Not that salvation isn’t by faith — its just not the key point Paul was making when he was talking about faith and works of Torah in Romans, for example — again if you believe NPP.
I wouldn’t be able to persuade you (or anybody) of this in a short (or long) post — I’d suggest reading Wright’s latest book about justification, and then reading Galatians and Romans again using his proposed perspective. Things that didn’t make much sense before start to make a lot of sense using Wright’s version of NPP, at least from where I sit.



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T

posted April 20, 2009 at 3:32 pm


Scot,
I agree there is some definite attempted high-jacking of Paul being attempted by the anti-American, anti-Bush, etc. camp going on, with which I disagree, and I find the “code” arguments largely unpursuasive. I like the main and plain. But in that vein, the terms for “gospel” aside, can the story of a jewish king rising from the dead after a Roman crucifixion (the content of the gospel) be accurately read as not specifically targeting Caesar in the same way that God did with Pharoah at the Exodus? It’s the core content that seems to disarm Rome in favor of Jesus. Not only does that seem similar to an oft repeated pattern for God vis a vis the world’s kings that get particularly prideful, I honestly don’t know how a person in the Roman empire (even one unaware of God’s pattern) could hear Jesus’ story, however titled, and not see it as Jesus rising to be king of the world, and stepping on Ceasar–the biggest earthly king–to do it. It might be the equivelent today of a person overcoming a nuclear bomb–any “king” who could do that would change the power structure of the whole world. It seems like God intended exaclty that. What do you think?



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Scot McKnight

posted April 20, 2009 at 3:37 pm


T,
First, I can think of plenty of Jews who didn’t give two rips about Caesar and wouldn’t have thought of him with the resurrection. To whom did Peter speak in Acts 2 when he clearly offered his resurrection/vindication theology? The Romans or the local opponents of Jesus? (Not the former.)
Second, why don’t they just come out and say these things in the NT?
Third, I’m doing work on the early gospel preaching in Acts — nothing in Acts 2, 10, 13, 14 and 17 makes me think they were preaching a subversive-intent but instead a Story about Israel.



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John W Frye

posted April 20, 2009 at 3:40 pm


Scot (#55),
Ah ha! Now I get it. Duh.



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Dave

posted April 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm


I have a question for those who take the NPP view within this thread. Is it possible to come to this New Perspective on Paul by simply reading the text of scripture or is this a view one can arrive at only after having started with other sources related to Second Temple Judaism and proceeding from there?



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Travis Greene

posted April 20, 2009 at 4:25 pm


Scot, “I can think of plenty of Jews who didn’t give two rips about Caesar”
Well, yes. But surely the Gentiles, to whom Paul is largely writing, did. Right?
When the gospel moves out of the context of Jerusalem into the context of Rome, and in particular the context of Gentile Christians, it inherently confronts the powers that claim the lordship that belongs to Jesus. The story of Israel comes first, but that story is about the knowledge of God filling the earth as the waters do the sea. Like the Exodus story, it is about a God who does now know borders, who is not beholden to a particular mountaintop or valley. It’s about nonviolent suffering being victorious against the violence of rulers and authorities.
I know this isn’t Paul, but how do you read Revelation, Scot? Aren’t some of the anti-imperial undertones pretty clear there, properly understood?



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Travis Greene

posted April 20, 2009 at 4:27 pm


Whoops. A God who does NOT know borders is what I meant to say.



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Eric

posted April 20, 2009 at 4:49 pm


Dave (#61) — Wright’s NPP argument is based on the text of Scripture, reading Paul with the OT. He looks at other sources that he believes corroborate him, but doesn’t need them for his conclusions. He, in fact, asserts that it is the Reformed types opposed to him who are insisting on an extra-Biblical approach (relying on tradition) in opposition to what the text actually says, in his view.



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T

posted April 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm


Scot,
Well, we may not see this one the same way, and given our respective areas of study, you’re probably the better bet!
In terms of coming out and saying these things plainly, I think of Col. 2:15, the Great Commission, and all the many passages that talk about Jesus as Christ or Lord (not merely in the abstract, but over and against all other lords, or over “the nations”), about all people bowing (including kings) and giving an account to him, and even the central reign of God theme in the OT and NT. And Rome’s involvement in Jesus’ story–even from the beginning with the census and Herod’s murders, as with the Jewish leaders, is explicit. In evangelical circles, what these passages have in common that they all tend to be almost totally spiritualized or otherwise marginalized. It was the NPP, among other sources, that started to convince me that these passages and others weren’t heard/read that way initially, that they were both political and spiritual.
As for Acts, what about the apostles’ opening question about then restoring the kingdom to Israel? Jesus rises from the dead, and the political rise of Israel (over and against Roman rule), with Jesus leading, is on their mind, to start the book off. And I agree with Wright there that I think Jesus’ indirect answer to their question wasn’t “no” but “yes, but not like you thought.” And you’re right, Peter does go “to the Jews first.” But I also tend to think the plot line of Acts–climaxing with Paul testifying about Jesus “to [gentile] kings” like Agrippa and Festus on his way to Caesar himself, where the story ends–is indicative of the conflict of competing claims inherently posed in the narrative of King Jesus, not only with the existing Jewish authorities, but to Caesar as well.
Again, I don’t like the way this theme is being hijacked for current political leanings, but the NPP has convinced me that the cross (& resurrection from it) was about making a spectacle of Rome, the dominant human authority, as well as demons.



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Randy

posted April 20, 2009 at 5:30 pm


On the issue of imperial subversion: I would appreciate guidance.
When I first began reading Wright 12 years ago (Victory of God, What St. Paul Really Said) the anti-imperial aspect was what brought me back to reading Paul again after 10 years of refusing to read Paul because of the Reformed gymnastics/scholastics about him on various issues. The gospel narratives seemed to make much more sense.
Using Newbigin’s insight here (The gospel will be subversive of any culture where it is preached) and my training as a historian, the anti-imperial implications gave historical traction to the epistles that I did not find in the previous Reformed scholarship. Reduce or remove the historically specific anti-imperial connotations and most of what is left seems once again to be a set of willy-nilly rules about how to build the church.
Peace,
Randy



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 5:30 pm


Dave #61
In addition to Eric’s observation in #64, I think I read in your comment an assumption that the text can be understood apart from the context of the author writing it and the audience to whom it was targeted. The failure to appreciate context and to attempt to read a text as though it were disembodied from any context is futile. Nearly always it is an exercise in which we unconsciously substitute our unexamined assumptions about context and then believe we have read the scripture plainly without outside influence.
So while I agree with Eric that NPP is firmly grounded in reading the scripture, considerable extra-biblical work has been done to understand the context of Second Temple Judaism as well. Indeed I think it is the scholarship over the last half century that has given us windows into the context that gave birth to the NPP.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted April 20, 2009 at 6:09 pm


#65, 66 T and Randy
Which do you think is a better a characterization?
1. God’s mission in the world is to unmask idolatrous empires and in pursuit of that mission he seeks to establish his Kingdom.
2. God’ mission is to establish his Kingdom and pursuit of that Kingdom unmasks idolatrous empires.
I say 2. Is there a better characterization?
To say that “Jesus is Lord” is to simply state an objective truth. It is said because it is true, not as tactic for challenging the empire. But by its very nature, it will challenge the empire.
The oneness of the church resulted in jews, greeks, slaves, free persons, people of different classes, women and men, all worshiping together. This was not a tactical challenge to the empire. It was the people of God simply being the people of God. Yet it deeply disturbed Roman authorities. I’m sure Paul and the others were well aware that it would do just that but that was not their motivation in behaving that way. The driving energy was to be the Kingdom of God, not combat empires. Yet being the Kingdom of God would expose the idolatry of empires.
Therefore:
“Reduce or remove the historically specific anti-imperial connotations and most of what is left seems once again to be a set of willy-nilly rules about how to build the church.”
I haven’t seen anyone here denying the anti-imperial connoatations and implications. But anti-imperialism is not mission of the gospel. Building Kingdom of God is the mission of the church and confronting imperialism is a frequent obstacle to be addressed, not the mission.



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Dave

posted April 20, 2009 at 6:20 pm


Michael,
“So while I agree with Eric that NPP is firmly grounded in reading the scripture, considerable extra-biblical work has been done to understand the context of Second Temple Judaism as well. Indeed I think it is the scholarship over the last half century that has given us windows into the context that gave birth to the NPP.”
This is exactly what concerns me. It seems as though there is an assertion on the part of NPPer’s that only scholars, well versed in the literature of Second Temple Judaism (whatever that is exactly) can truly understand Paul. At times it seems like they’re saying, “We’ve read the Second Temple stuff. Take our word for it…Paul was definately not attacking Judaism as a works based religion.” And then off they go from there reading the text in light of that assertion.
I got saved and began reading the bible (very much apart from any reformed traditions I might add) and never would have come to the same conclusions. I’d like to believe that any Spirit-guided believer should be able to read the text without scholarly opinion, and trust what they’ve read.



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Scott M

posted April 20, 2009 at 7:06 pm


Dave, unless you are a product of one of the involved ancient cultures and read/speak/understand the Greek of that era, you can’t simply read any text. What you are reading in English (or any other language) is the best historical work of a group of scholars, who are not themselves ever free from interpretive bias, to understand what the texts meant in their original language and then find an appropriate english counterpart. It’s not even enough to know modern Greek, though that’s a better start. Languages change and evolve. Think about how much trouble people today have understanding both the grammatical structures and the word pictures in Elizabethan english in, for example, Shakespeare. And that was a mere four hundred years ago or so, not two thousand years. How many native english speakers today can even read an uninterpreted Canterbury Tales or Beowulf?
You can’t interpret any language without grasping the historical and cultural context. You simply can’t. And even then it’s dicey and sometimes hard to get right. This idea that anyone can pick up a translation of Holy Scripture, simply read it (even discounting the work of translation and assuming a proper translation), and somehow reach the ‘correct’ interpretation (and by that I mean the way the church interpreted and applied through the mix of a host of heretical competing interpretations) is simply not a reasonable idea.
Nor, frankly, is the idea that these are somehow ‘easy’ texts even in the culture and context in which they were written. I tend to go along with Peter writing 2 Peter. But even if you don’t, the statement at the end that Paul can be hard to understand pretty accurately describes Paul. Period. Brilliant mind. Hard to understand at times. John’s theological gospel is a masterpiece of theology. I’ve been trying to peel back the layers of the onion of that one for years. It’s always been my favorite. But I feel like I’ve barely scratched its surface. And frankly, I think even those at the time who already understood Jewish apocalyptic imagery would find at least parts of Revelation challenging.
A native english speaking believer probably can’t read the text at all without scholarly opinion, even if the only opinions they seek are in the various translations. Those all express interpretive opinions. But beyond that, without further guidance a typical person is at least as likely to wind up in utterly heterodox territory as they are otherwise. At least, that seems to be the lesson of history. The idea that the Holy Scriptures can be simply read and correctly understood in isolation by anyone is a myth.



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Dave

posted April 20, 2009 at 7:28 pm


Scott M,
I would be discouraged as a pastor/evangelist to think that when I give a new Christ-follower a bible I must first give him volumes of secondary literature before he can begin to read and understand the scriptures. Is it possible that we’ve elevated scholarship too high when your basic, church going, Spirit-filled person can’t possibly understand without the help of the educated ones?
I personally think that any 12 year old Christian can sit down and read Paul or John and understand what the Spirit intends for him to understand. And if he happens to read it in a language where there are no translations of Second Temple sources (primary or secondary) he won’t miss anything in the book of Romans that he needs to understand.



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RJS

posted April 20, 2009 at 7:37 pm


Dave,
Any 12 year old Christian can sit down and read Paul or John and understand what the Spirit intends for him to understand.
But it will not be everything present in the document and more importantly it will not be enough for most of those same kids at 24 years or at 36 years.
A faith with a 12 year old’s sophistication is great for a 12 year old – it doesn’t cut it when the same kid grows up and is faced with the environment of the University for example.



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Scott M

posted April 20, 2009 at 7:46 pm


We need scholarship because we are so divorced from the context, culture, and language. At any era, however, we needed a church. And even before that, we needed Jesus to open the minds and explain how it fit together. And that’s true today. I imagine when that 12 year old read John and decided that there are three ‘gods’ named the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, you would then gently correct him. And the same with a host of other ways scripture could be misread. Of course, it’s doubtful that he’s reading any of the Scripture without context that you, his parents, and others have already provided him in depth and over the course of years. At twelve – right, wrong, or indifferent – he will largely read the text through the lens that those closest to him have given him.
I’m sorry if that discourages you. I’m not sure why it would. It’s just reality. You can refuse to accept it, of course, but then you’re just rejecting the way language and human beings actually operate. I’m not sure I see the benefit in doing that.



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Dave

posted April 20, 2009 at 7:48 pm


“A faith with a 12 year old’s sophistication is great for a 12 year old – it doesn’t cut it when the same kid grows up and is faced with the environment of the University for example.”
I’m not sure I believe this. Jesus Himself encouraged a child like faith. I Corinthians 1:22ff seems to me to be a warning against seeking sophistication. I’ve known many teenagers whose desire for sophistication led to them denying the faith.
Am I all alone on this one? Anyone?



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Scott M

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:05 pm


Now don’t get me wrong. The Spirit moves where and how the Spirit will and that most certainly includes the Holy Scriptures. In my case I was captivated from the moment I first read it, heck from the moment I first read its opening, even though I really didn’t have much of a clue what John was saying or doing. I knew I didn’t know, but it awakened a thirst in me that has never waned. All I can really say with certainty is that I understand it better now than I did fifteen years ago. But I certainly wouldn’t say I understood it. Similarly, Romans forms one of the densest, richest, and most complex treatises we have from the ancient world. Paul wasn’t just a little smart. He was wicked smart. But if you don’t understand what he was arguing, you can take bits and pieces all over the place and miss the arc. Frankly, I agree with the NPP criticism that that’s exactly what happened during the Reformation. I could tell that much almost right away. The flow of the document simply doesn’t go the way they want it to go. I used those examples because they are particularly applicable or at least meaningful to me. But you can pull examples from anywhere.
And once again, Dave, when you simply hand that 12 year old a bible in English (any translation), you are relying on a massive foundation of accumulated scholarship, historical studies, archaeology, and much more. Without a lot of scholarship and scholarly work, we wouldn’t even have a bible to read. That’s always been true. It was true when the church translated the Holy Scriptures into Latin in the early centuries. It was true when they first created a written language for some of the Slavs and then translated the Holy Scriptures into that written language later in the first millenium. And it’s continued to be true every time the church has done that work, even if they had to create the written language first. We’re still doing it today.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:08 pm


OK, let me step in here because the perspicacity of Scripture is another debate altogether. Yes, Jesus taught a child-like faith; he did not thereby teach that a child’s faith doesn’t need to grow. That text in Matt 18 pars teaches the attribute of humility.
Another text shows development: “11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Cor 13.



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Wonders for Oyarsa

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:16 pm


Hi Dave,
The other side is present as well. One could also cite the need for solid food rather than milk, and putting away childish things. I’ve known far more teenagers and college students who have lost their faith because they had nothing but a childish understanding that couldn’t stand up to the grown-up assault of the university.
I think, as is true with most things in the faith, there is both sides at play. Yes the core of the faith is simple enough and intuitive enough that even a child can encounter God in it. That child may even encounter God more profoundly and fully than an adult. But it’s also not shallow and simplistic – the truth of God runs as deep as God himself – and the wisest of scholars may spend a lifetime and never exhaust its insights and subtleties.
I don’t think we ever approach the Bible just by itself. “Where two or three are gathered in my name” – we come to God in the context of the Church. When Christians are isolated from the Church, we can and do fall into error. We need the body. And this is true in time as well. If Christians are not reading scripture with other Christians in other times, we can and will fall prey to the spirit of the age. We need the witness of the great theologians, pastors, and church fathers from ages past to guide us. If Christians are only reading scripture with other Christians of the same educational background or vocation, we can and will fall into subtle errors. We need the witness of people coming at it from different angles (including the help of the historians – or the help of, say, farmers).
None of this is to slight what the Holy Spirit will do with the single earnest man who seeks God in the scriptures with faith. God will meet any one of us as we are, but to guide us into the fullness of truth, he unites us with his body, his bride. That’s his way.



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Eric

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:21 pm


Scott M and Dave,
Interesting debate, but I’d respectfully suggest it is somewhat of a red herring in this context, at least to me. I suspect that Dave would agree that context, translation, etc., are important in understanding scripture — he is just concerned that if we need to rely on 15 extra-Biblical sources and the mere wave of the hand by an expert to even get the basic point, maybe there is something wrong.
My interpretative method is like Scott M’s, RJS’s, and Michael Kruse’s, and I think anything that historical study can bring to bear on the issue is very useful. But, if you agree with Wright, we don’t need all of that here: Dave’s standard is met. If you take as context only what we know from the OT and the total of Paul’s writings, plus the usual translations (save a couple of disputed points), exegesis suggests that Wright’s interpretative framework makes much more sense than the traditional Reformed one (at least to me, a non-expert). You don’t need to read 15 extra-Biblical sources to reach his conclusions. (Of course, it helps that those sources also support him, but again, you don’t even need to get to them if you don’t want to).
Dave — I’d suggest that you read Wright’s book on justification (the one that is new this year), and see for yourself what you think.



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T

posted April 20, 2009 at 8:29 pm


Michael (68),
I agree with you, and Scot, that the biblical narrative is not chiefly about political, human empires, though their humbling is much more inherent to Jesus’ story than I realized before the NPP. I think the issue in our conversation is one of emphasis and degree, as your characterizations make clear. I am grateful for the NPP because they’ve made me realize that Paul and the entire NT aren’t nearly as dualistic as I was taught in evangelicalism growing up. I like your characterization 2, but today I see in the statement “Jesus is Lord” much more of an intended challenge to all other powers–including the earthly ones–than I ever did before; I see a victory in the cross & resurrection, not merely over the spiritual powers, but the oppressive human authorities as well. I hear in the transformation of the Roman cross into the symbol of Christ’s power a resounding echo of God’s action against similar human powers in Israel’s past–turning another would be god-king of the gentiles into a footstool to announce God’s superior power to the known world.
Having said that, I think the chief weakness of the NPP is overreaching, or trying for too much of a good thing. I see more of a challenge to human powers in the biblical narrative thanks to the NPP, but not so much that the entire book of Colossians or Philippians becomes a coded narrative about empire. And I don’t see much emphasis in the NPP on the spiritual powers of the kind that Paul and Jesus dealt with via old-fashioned exorcisms and the like. But that seems more like a Western flaw more than specific to the NPP. Hope that makes sense.



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Ann

posted April 20, 2009 at 9:37 pm


I agree with Dan Kirk heartily, insofar as Scot summarized his work well:
“And here’s a big point for Kirk: the people of God must be defined in light of the Christ event — life, death and resurrection. This means, Kirk argues, the litmus test for association with brothers and sisters in Christ is Calvary and the Empty Grave. This leads to proper church unity, and Kirk pushes back against some of the attempts to find doctrinal unity as the proper basis for church unity.”
Working in reconciliation ministry one sees that allowing our flesh to die must precede our unity in Christ. A sure fire way to deep-six reconciliation in our culture’s churches and denominations is human(s) refusal to admit that our intellect is part of our flesh. That refusal, IMHO, evidences incipient gnosticism as well as human pride. We’re taught this methodology of criticism at every level in our schools, and moreso at every level of graduate and postgrad work. The better we are at researching, dissecting and criticizing one another’s work, the greater the success academically. It’s painful, spiritual work to remain humble in our understanding after all that effort to build it up in the world’s eyes! “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart and a humble mind.” (1 Pet. 3:8)



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Matt Edwards

posted April 21, 2009 at 12:50 pm


I am way late to this discussion, but the post asked about the weaknesses of the New Perspective.
I have recently “converted” to the New Perspective, and in writing a lengthy defense of it, I was surprised how difficult it is to defend Scot’s first premise. I could not find an example from the writings of Second Temple Judaism that clearly advocates covenental nomism over “works righteousness.” There is no Ephesians 2:8?9 passage outside of the NT. Further, the only first century document written by a Pharisee describing the beliefs of the Pharisees (that we have) is Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Philippians 3 seems more concerned about “boasting” than it does “ethnic exclusion.” So, while I remain an advocate of the New Perspective, it all hinges on the belief that “Second Temple Jews were not trying to earn their salvation.” I don’t think the NPP has sufficiently proven that this is the case.
Further, I think Dunn goes too far in his making the Gospel primarily about exclusion/inclusion. Certainly, there is an element of that, but I think Christology is the real issue to Paul. Francis Watson’s Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective brings some needed correctives to Dunn’s views. Watson argues that Paul’s problem with Judaism is not that it is exclusive (after all, Christianity is just as exclusive), but that the Jews rejected his preaching about Christ. Why was Paul against “works of the law”? Because the same people who advocated “works of the law” also rejected Christ.



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