Today we will look at the second phase of the New Perspective on Paul. The first phase is the work of E.P. Sanders in 1977. The second phase was the work of Jimmy Dunn, and that began in 1982 and came to full fruition with his pumpkin book, The Theology of the Apostle Paul, in 20001998.
Dunn basically agrees with Sanders on Judaism: election-based, covenant-shaped relationship for Israel with God to whom God gives the Torah to know how to live as God’s people.

Where Dunn shifted things was with Paul, and he argued at first that Paul’s problem with his Judaizing opponents (not the same as “Judaism” as a whole) was that they were constructing a nation-based righteousness, a nationalistic righteousness, that kept Gentiles out because it was simply a nation’s faith.
Over time Jimmy shifted his language to the “sociological markers” of a community so that “works of the Torah” were not “merit-seeking works” but “boundary-marking works.” That is, the Judaizers were trying to make the Gentile Christians become Jews. The “works of the Law,” then, were not merit-shaped works but specific things like sabbath, food laws and circumcision. Think concretely, Jimmy was asking us to do, when we get to this expression “works of the Law.” Avoid thinking of the expression the way Augustine and Luther and Calvin do.
For Paul, one was a member of the Church, the people of God, by faith and not by works (by adhering to such things as circumcision, sabbath, and food laws — the works that separated Jews from Gentiles). So, Paul’s idea of faith was the way all people — Jews and Gentiles — could gain access to and enjoy the saving work of God in Christ.
Fundamentally, Paul’s mission was to form a new people of God, the Church, on the basis of faith and because it was by faith and not works (boundary markers) it was a people of God that could include Jews and Gentiles. Justification was God’s work of declaring and making righteous those who had faith in Jesus Christ; one might say then that justification was declaring who was the people of God.
Much more could be said, but our focus this week is on the core issues that are causing a stir for so many.
More from Beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad