Is the New Perspective on Paul a Product of the West’s Cultural Moment

The NPP is less driven by historical exegesis than it is with communitarian projects.

The NPP developed in the 1990s in light of the shadow of violent acts of ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and the Balkans. So, is the NPP shaped by certain ethnic issues or oriented towards certain religious matters? Undoubtedly! Is that a bad thing or does it explain away the NPP’s insights? Certainly not!

 

Over at Canon Fodder, Michael Kruger asks: Is the New Perspective on Paul a Product of Our Current Cultural Moment?

Kruger wonders if the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) – with its denial by some proponents that Paul was not interested in the problem of individual sin and guilt, but with nationalism and ethnocentrism – is a somewhat culturally contingent view developed in the post-holocaust era. In which case, the NPP is less driven by historical exegesis than it is with communitarian projects like racial reconciliation and finding a Pauline platform for responsible Jewish-Christian relations. I’d add too that the NPP developed in the 1990s in light of the shadow of violent acts of ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and the Balkans. So, is the NPP shaped by certain ethnic issues or oriented towards certain religious matters? Undoubtedly! Is that a bad thing or does it explain away the NPP’s insights? Certainly not!

I think it was I. Howard Marshall who said that many NPP proponents are correct in what they affirm, but sometimes wrong in what they deny.

Yes, it is wrong to think of Judaism as an incipient form of medieval catholicsm with its synergistic sacramental view of salvation. You only have to read 1QH, Philo’s discussion of Deuteronomy 9, and m.Sanh. 10.1 to observe that many forms of Judaism had not lost sight of the concept of God’s grace. However, the perceived role of the law and human agency in salvation was widely “variegated” (D.A. Carson) and there were different “perfections” of grace in Judaism (John Barclay). Moreover, Judaism could become nomistic under certain conditions: (1) Eschatology – When there is a focus on the necessary conditions for entering the age to come; (2) Proselytism – When there is a debate about rites of entry for outsiders; and (3) Sectarianism – When there is debate over whose view of the covenant/law avails before God.

That said, there are some absolutely essential insights gained from the NPP which are much needed in churches.

First, if you want to get excited about the doctrine of imputation, remember, the first thing imputed to believers in Romans is not Jesus’s active obedience, rather, it is covenant membership, being regarded as a righteous Jew before God (Rom 2.26): “Meanwhile, if uncircumcised people keep the law’s requirements, their uncircumcision will be regarded as circumcision, won’t it?” (NTE). Paul is hinting at the argument that he’ll unpack later, namely, that God imputes circumcision to Gentiles, i.e., membership in Israel’s chosenness.

Second, whenever I’m assailed by some enthusiastically reformed seminary student with a beef against the NPP, I always ask them a couple of questions.

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