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Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics Paperback – December 30, 2003
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"A thorough and very illuminating study of Pauline interpretation, with particular emphasis on the longstanding debate over whether the Pauline teaching on justification through faith alone should stand at the heart of Pauline theology."
"Wit and humor make this weighty volume an excellent source for the novice and for the seasoned scholar. Recommended."
Thomas R. Schreiner
"Stephen Westerholm's book is the ideal entr?e into the discussion on Paul, the law, and justification. Only here will readers find both contemporary and historic contributions to the debate explained. Westerholm reminds us that Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley must be reckoned with seriously as profound interpreters of Paul. He also provides his own incisive and insightful contribution to the biblical text, repristinating the perspective of Luther for our day. Throughout, Westerholm writes with the sparkling clarity and wit that is characteristic of all his work."
"This eagerly awaited volume is a gem. After years of debate about the 'new perspective,' a debate bogged down with multiple confusions, Stephen Westerholm describes and analyzes all the main viewpoints on Paul's theology of law, grace, and justification from Augustine onward. With enviable clarity, incisive observation, and shafts of humor, Westerholm reaffirms and refines the 'old perspective' while also incorporating the strong points of the new. This is the book we all have needed, both scholars and students. It will surely help us escape the impasse in our current debates."
Bruce W. Longenecker
"Since its publication in 1988, Stephen Westerholm's book Israel's Law and the Church's Faith has served as one of the best explorations of Paul's view of justification by faith. That book is now superseded by Perspectives Old and New on Paul. Westerholm here elongates the temporal parameters of his earlier work, reconstructing the views of Paul's most significant interpreters from the distant past to the turn of the twenty-first century. Against the backdrop of his fair and principled survey of scholarship, Westerholm's own examination of Paul's texts is characterized by a depth of analytical and theological perception rarely found in scholarly studies. For those with time to read only one book about Paul's view of justification by faith, this should be the book. And for those with time to read more, this is the book to start with."
Simon J. Gathercole
"Written with sparkling humor, this book is a landmark work both in its treatment of the vast scholarly literature and in its crisp exegesis of Paul himself. Perspectives Old and New on Paul is proof again, if proof were needed, that Stephen Westerholm is still head and shoulders above almost everyone else as an interpreter of Paul."
"Stephen Westerholm's most recent missive from the battlefield of Pauline studies will enliven the most dazed student and cheer the crustiest scholar. With his clear head and winsome sense of humor, Westerholm has once again produced one of the most insightful and readable studies available on the role of the Mosaic law, divine grace, and Christian faith in Pauline theology."
From the Back Cover
Here, finally, is a much-needed review and analysis of the divergent interpretations of Paul. With a clear head and winsome sense of humor, Stephen Westerholm compares the traditional understanding of Paul to more recent readings, drawing on the writings of key figures in the debate both past and present.
Westerholm first offers a detailed portrait of the "Lutheran" Paul, including the way such theologians as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley have traditionally interpreted "justification by faith" to mean that God declares sinners "righteous" by his grace apart from "works." Westerholm then explores how Paul has fared in the twentieth century, in which "New Perspective" readings of Paul see him teaching that Gentiles need not become Jews or observe Jewish law to be God's people. The final section of the book looks anew at disputed areas of Paul's theological language and offers compelling discussion on the place of both justification by faith and Mosaic law in divine redemption.
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Westerholm sets out to evaluate the “Perspectives Old and New on Paul” and also offers his own perspective on the key matters of debate and discussion. This is the only book I have ever read which begins with a “whimsical introduction” wherein Luther is imagined to be in a contemporary theological library and ends up reading the works of his current critics. This introduction was also one of the best book introductions I have ever read, serving to whet the appetitive for the content ahead.
Part one of the book is broken into five chapters showing four ‘old’ perspectives on Paul followed by a summary of the similarities and differences of the four perspectives. The four old perspectives are that of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. I think he did a good job of portraying the views of each of these honestly and fairly. Discussing the views of these four set the stage for chapter five’s discussion of the ‘Lutheran’ Paul. Westerholm uses this (admittedly) anachronistic terminology throughout to show the commonalities in these four perspectives as over against the recent proposals. He discusses the similarities and differences between the four by way of seven Theses he proposes. It was fairly easy to see the similarities between Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Wesley on the other hand goes against the grain at times. Some notable similarities include: humans are so corrupted by sin so as not to be able to please God; justification includes the forgiveness of sinners and is by grace through faith not by works; humans cannot contribute to their justification, leaving no room for boasting; believers do good works; part of the purpose of the Mosaic law is the awareness of the necessity of grace. Notable differences include: election for Wesley lies ultimately in human choice, whereas for the other three it lies in the divine choice; Wesley sees sin as no longer a present reality in the life of a believer and was somewhat fond of Pelagius (64) in this regard, the other three see sin remaining in the lives of believers in this regard; Wesley considered God’s divine grace for salvation resistible, the other three saw God’s salvific grace as irresistible.
Part two of the book includes nine chapters of “Twentieth Century responses to the ‘Lutheran’ Paul.” In this part he goes through the views of many significant interpretations of Paul which have arisen since the turn of the twentieth century and summarizes their views. In this portion, like part one, Westerholm seems to do a great job of being even handed and fair in his portrayals of the views presented. I will not discuss all of the summaries of part two because the views of twenty-three different interpreters are summarized. The three which are arguably the most popular proponents of the new perspective(s) are E. P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn.
Westerholm summarizes the view of Sanders in two sections. The first section discusses Sanders attempt to understand Paul and Palestinian Judaism each in their own terms. (129) Sanders suggests ‘covenantal nomism’ view which emphasizes the gracious origin of the covenant and notes that works were just a means oaf maintaining that covenant position. (130) Sanders saw Paul in agreement with Palestinian Judaism in this regard, covenant entry is by grace and covenant maintenance requires obedience. (131-132) When Paul opposes reliance upon ‘righteousness of the law’ Sanders interprets this to mean that Jews are relying on their national privilege as Jews and does not see the reference to self-righteousness. For Sanders, Paul does not have a major critique of the law, there is simply a new and better way. (159-163) Kind of like getting the 2014 civic, there was no major critique of the 2010 model, it is just outdated and something better has arrived.
Westerholm’s summaries of the views of Wright and Dunn are lumped together a views against the ‘Lutheran’ reading of Paul because they both posit that first century Judaism was not legalistic and focused on earning salvation, therefore either Paul or his interpreters must be wrong. (179) Wright argues that in the sections about justification by faith Paul is arguing about Gentiles being included into the people of God without the need for Jewish ‘ethnic badges’ such as circumcision and food laws. (180) For Wright, Justification by faith was not central in Paul’s thought but is a part of the whole theme of God putting the world to rights and including Gentiles into his people. Dunn took the findings of Sanders a step further asserting essentially that first century Judaism was already good Protestant doctrine, seeing human obedience as a response to divine grace. (183-184) So what was Paul arguing against? Paul was arguing about the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God, not about salvation and forgiveness.
Part three contains six chapters wherein Westerholm now switches from detailing the views of others to discussing his own views. Chapter fifteen evaluates Paul’s use of the dik stem words, finding three groups of usage: ordinary righteousness, which is the typical use and refers to what people ought to do as dependent creatures in God’s world; extraordinary righteousness, which is an ‘emergency measure’ for those who could not achieve ordinary righteousness, whereby sinners are given the status of one who has ‘done what they ought’; divine dikaiosness, simlar to the Wright’s idea of God putting the world to rights, is a reference to God’s salvation and his vindication of what is right.
Chapter sixteen summarizes Paul’s use of vomos. Paul can use law to refer to the Pentateuch, the OT writings as a whole, or most often the Mosaic legal requirements. It is shown how Paul contrasts faith and deeds, law and grace. This was uncommon for first century Jews but Paul does it anyway (contra James). In this chapter Westerholm also refutes the suggestion of justification by faith as referring to covenant membership.
Chapter seventeen opposes the view that first century Judaism had the same view of grace as Paul. Westerholm shows that though Sanders provided a corrective in that first century Jews were not simply self-righteous deed weighers, he did not prove that Paul had the same view of grace and works as them. (350) The problem remains that first century Jews understood deeds to play a role in soteriology, whereas Paul’s radical view leaves them out, humans cannot contribute to their salvation, and this difference between Paul and his opponents remains. (351)
Chapter eighteen summarizes the content related to justification by faith found in Paul’s letters. Chapter nineteen discusses Paul’s view of the law in God’s divine plan and its role within history. Westerholm does this by articulating nine theses in which he proposes certain points of Paul’s doctrine of the law. I will not describe it all here but I will say that this section is well argued and worth having around for future reference when thinking through Pauline material. Westerholm ends the book with a short chapter which asks the question “Grace abounding to sinners or Erasing ethnic boundaries?” He concludes that in a sense it is actually both, the ‘Lutheran’ views captured Paul’s rationale and basic point and the modern critics have shown the social and contextual reasons why Paul’s doctrine was formulated as it is. (445)
Overall this was a well-argued book that is worth the price. The summaries of various views are great and the arguments that Westerholm puts forth in part three appear to be rather convincing and level-headed. The book is fun to read and no overly technical. He uses no Hebrew and a small amount of Greek. If you have done more than about two or three hours of Greek work you will be fine. This should be a must read for those interested in understanding the current state of Pauline studies. The work is unique in its nice blend of historical Pauline theology summaries which are followed by a good perspective to read from Westerholm himself.
a) It had been distorted into a form of hyper-legalism resulting in despair and condemnation,
b) It had erected a barrier of ethnocentrism that led to exclusivism and boasting,
c) Some of a) and b) but there is more to the story,
d) Paul's "thorn in the flesh" just made him cranky.
If you chose a) or b) this book will help you explore each of these issues and expand your horizons. If you answered c) then you will identify with the author, but you should read the book to follow his analysis and conclusions. On the other hand, if you picked d) you should write your own book and add it to the ever-growing list of new perspectives on Paul!
For a survey and objective evaluation of the many perspectives on Paul, from Augustine to Wright, this is an excellent place to start. The first section presents a comparison, contrast, and overview of the pertinent positions formulated by the so-called "Lutheran" giants--Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. The second section provides numerous viewpoints on the newer thinking about Paul from a wide range of contributors, roughly in chronological order, and includes a few "Lutheran" responses. In the final section, the author carefully develops definitions and terminology so he can frame arguments precisely to reach conclusions that, while drawing from the combined reasoning and wisdom of all the previous contributors, ultimately submit to scripture rather than tradition or fashion--even if it means stepping on the toes of giants. Thankfully, he does it without the rancor and strident polemics that unfortunately accompany much of the material on this topic, especially in the blogosphere. In fact, if you are paying attention, you will find yourself laughing out loud along the way.
In addition to being informative and insightful, the design and presentation of this book are excellent. The overall organization is superb, and each individual section and chapter presents its information and arguments in a cogent and systematic fashion. Some of the subjects are of necessity simplified, as this is a survey, but there is more than enough here to provide not only an initial understanding, but also a foundation on which to assemble the big picture, with plenty of sources to follow for more information on subjects that pique the interest. The bibliography alone makes this book worth owning as a reference.
In his "Whimsical Introduction" Dr. Westerholm states his intent to stretch our thinking and "learn much of the history of Pauline scholarship in the process," and even "discover an insight or two into the apostolic object of all the wrangling." Mission accomplished.