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The New Perspective on Paul Perfect Paperback – December 18, 2007
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"James Dunn is one of the most prominent representatives of British New Testament scholarship. He has contributed to many debates of the last four decades. Dunn will certainly be remembered for his contributions to what has become known and widely accepted as the ‘new perspective on Paul,' which he has described, developed, and shaped to this day. . . No serious student of Paul can afford to ignore this new perspective and the various discussions it has engendered."
European Journal of Theology
"This book is a wonderful resource for anyone wishing to become acquainted in particular with the work of James Dunn, and in general with the so-called ‘new perspective' on Paul."
"James Dunn's contribution to the so-called ‘new perspective' on Paul is both well-known and voluminous — literally, as this book demonstrates! . . . A number of these [essays] have had a strong impact on Pauline studies. To have them assembled into a single volume is a useful addition to one's library. For those who have many of these articles in previous publications, it is well worth reading the introduction to gain a new perspective on the new perspective."
About the Author
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He wrote in the Preface to this 2005 book (revised edition published in 2008), “I chose this title … with some misgivings. I do so, in the first place, since my article of the same name … is regularly regarded as signaling a new phase in Pauline studies or a fresh way of looking at Paul’s gospel and theology… the title ‘the New Perspective’ seems to have struck a chord with many, and to have become established as the most obvious referent for this different or fresh way of looking at Paul… the volume is intended as my attempt to respond to the debate on the ‘new perspective’… The title simply indicates my continuing belief that ‘the new perspective’ has provided fresh and valuable insights into Paul’s theology and continues to contribute to a more rounded appreciation of the mission and theology of Saul the Pharisee become Paul the Christian apostle… My aim in all my writing is always to offer a contribution to a collegial and developing appreciation of what is… a much richer and fuller theology than any one person can formulate…”
In the first chapter, he explains the influence of E.P. Sanders’ book Paul and Palestinian Judaism on him: “the puzzle became a question which I could no longer push to one side. It had to be answered: what was it that Paul was reacting against?... Crucial to Sanders’ new perspective on Judaism was the recognition that in this ‘pattern of religion’ God did not require perfection, but allowed for failure, by providing a means of atonement and forgiveness for those who repented of their sin… I took Sanders to have made his case… Unfortunately… his treatment of Paul failed to answer my own key question… If the Judaism of Paul’s day also gave such a place to divine election, atonement and forgiveness, then what was Paul objecting to?... did not Sanders’ own new perspective … require a more substantial reconfiguring of the issue which crystallized Paul’s exposition of the gospel?” (Pg. 6-7)
He summarizes the New Perspective: “1. It builds on Sanders’ new perspective on Second Temple Judaism… 2. It observes that a social function of the law was an integral aspect of Israel’s covenantal nomism, where separateness to God (holiness) was understood to require separation from the (other) nations… 3. It notes that Paul’s own teaching on justification focuses largely… on the need to overcome the barrier which the law was seen to interposes between Jew and Gentile… 4. It suggests that ‘works of law’ became a key slogan in Paul’s exposition of his justification gospel… 5. It protests that failure to recognize this major dimension of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith may have ignored or excluded a vital factor in combating the nationalism and racialism which has so distorted and diminished Christianity past and present.” (Pg. 16-17)
He clarifies, “Luther’s fundamental distinction between gospel and law was too completely focused on the danger of self-achieved works-righteousness and too quickly transposed into an antithesis between Christianity and Judaism… I affirm as a central point of Christian faith that God’s acceptance of any and every. Person is by his grace alone and through faith alone… I am astonished by and repudiate entirely the charge that ‘the new perspective on Paul[ constitutes an attack on and denial of that Lutheran fundamental… The point I am trying to make is simply that there is another dimension … of the biblical doctrine of God’s justice and of Paul’s teaching on justification which have been overlooked and neglected… I see NOT to diminish let alone repudiate the doctrine of justification… but to bring more fully to light its still greater riches.” (Pg. 23) Later, he adds, “[the new perspective] does NOT set this understanding of justification by faith in antithesis to the justification of the individual by faith. It is NOT opposed to the classic Reformed doctrine of justification. It simply observes that a social and ethnic dimension was part of the doctrine from its first formulation, was indeed integral to the first recorded exposition and defense of the doctrine---Jew first but also Greek’…” (Pg. 36)
He argues, “Justification by faith alone needs to be reasserted as strongly as ever it was by Paul or by Augustine or by Luther… But its full scope needs to be reappreciated. For justification by faith speaks against all attempts to add ANYTHING to the gospel as essential to salvation or to require ANYTHING additional to the gospel as the basis for believers to eat and work together---not excluding particular definitions of apostolic succession, eucharistic exclusivity, denial of women’s ministry, assertions of biblical inerrancy, and such EXTRAS. Even the INSISTENCE on a particular formulation of the doctrine … can become one of the ‘works’ by which a self-perceived orthodoxy clouds the truth of the gospel.” (Pg. 96)
He notes, “The recognition that what Paul is attacking is a particular and restrictive understanding of the law provides the key to many of the tensions perceived in Paul’s writing on the law… the Jewish Christian (and Gentile) is able to recognize that the law has a continuing positive role, to be fulfilled in love of neighbor… the other priorities which emphasize national distinctiveness can be seen to be false priorities, and the ritual practices involved set on one side as matters of indifference…” (Pg. 140)
He explains, “The common ground we seek… [is] some measure of consensus on what was the common ground between Paul and his fellow Christian Jews with whom he was in dispute. Or… what was the continuity/discontinuity between Paul and his Gentile converts (won by Paul’s gospel) on the one hand, and those Jews who, like Paul, had believed in Jesus as the Messiah of Israel on the other? The more clarity we can gain on this point, the greater we may find the common ground to be among ourselves.” (Pg. 285)
He suggests, “Could it be then that the Christian claim that Jesus was Messiah was not quite so contentious after all in Jewish circles? How otherwise could the Jewish believers in Messiah Jesus have been left in Jerusalem as undisturbed as they seem to have been? It was evidently NOT the claim for Jesus’ Messiahship which occasioned the persecution in which Paul was a leading player… In other words, the claim that the crucified Jesus was Messiah was not in principle objectionable for a Jew to hold... It was more the Christian claim that other, indeed all Jews should also accept this Jesus as Messiah which was likely to have proved offensive.” (Pg. 352-353)
He summarizes, “In what sense… can we say that Paul’s doctrine of ‘justification by faith’ was part of the impact of Paul’s conversion? Not in the sense that Paul as an individual long searching for peace with God at least found peace for his troubled conscience. Not in the sense that he turned there from a legalistic Judaism which had lost all sense and sight of divine grace and found it exclusively in Christ and Christianity. But rather in the sense that on the Damascus road he discovered afresh the roots of his ancestral faith, based in the acknowledgement of God as Creator, rooted in the call of and promise to Abraham, and growing out of God’s saving act in the deliverance of the no-people Israel from slavery in Egypt. Rather in the sense that [it]… brought home to him how much his people’s and his own preoccupation with maintaining their set-apartness from the nations had become a perversion of that original call and promise and choice… as an act of free grace.” (Pg. 380)
He argues, “The clear implication of [Galatians] 2:16 is that Paul saw the traditionalists as requiring ‘works of the law’ in addition to faith in Jesus Christ… in formulating the phrase ‘works of the law’ he had in mind particularly circumcision and food laws… The point…is that these two laws IN PARTICULAR had brought the issued summed up in Gal 2:16 to clarity… Whatever else he had in mind when he wrote of ‘works of the law’ in 2:16, Paul certainly had in mind circumcision and food laws. I would hope that that observation is beyond reasonable dispute.” (Pg. 415-416)
He observes, “Does Paul have a covenant theology?... Paul’s use of the term ‘covenant’ is surprisingly casual when we consider the weight of significance subsequent theology invested in it… in Romans he used the term twice, both references within his exposition of Israel, but never in the earlier exposition of the gospel. In other words, the theme of ‘covenant’ was not a central or major category within his own theologizing.” (Pg. 444)
He states, “so well might [Paul] ask the question: in that case, ‘why the law?’ Paul’s answer to that question… seems to be that the law was given for two pre-eminent reasons: (1) to protect Israel… (2) until the promise could be fulfilled in Christ.” (Pg. 451)
He summarizes, “Paul’s differentiated view of the law could hold together both the affirmation that final justification will not be ‘from works of law’ and the thought that the final judgment will be according to ‘works (of the law)’… We are therefore driven to a twofold conclusion in regard to Paul’s theology of ‘works’: (1) the principle of justification by faith does not exclude the obligation to works, even works of the law; and (2) when Paul denies that justification depends on works of the law, he had a more limited target in mind, particularly his fellow Jewish believers’ insistence that the practices which traditionally defined Israel must continue to be practiced by all those wanting to claim descent from Abraham.” (Pg. 466-467) He ends the book, “Still clearer is Paul’s emphasis that salvation was an ongoing process and that the goal of salvation… was still to be attained.” (Pg. 490)
This is a very detailed and complex work, that will be “must reading” for anyone seriously studying the New Perspective on Paul.
I.L. Brittle Jr.