A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Some Helpful Thoughts on the "New" Perspective on Paul

The "new" perspective has thrown a spanner into theology, and it is such a powerful, paradigm-shifting perspective that at times things seem incomprehensible. The writings of Paul, which used to be so clear in the "old" perspective, are suddenly no longer so clear. Actually, for those of us who think EP Sanders, JDG Dunn, and NT Wright (and others) got us closer to the meaning of the NT things did get clearer, it’s just that the old view got confusing.

In my view the foundation of the "old" perspective was human depravity, and I often say the foundation is an Augustinian anthropology, though I don't mean to say it's not NT but invented by Augustine. What I mean to say is that humans are seen as depraved and dead and in need of grace. From the old perspective, that is the issue Paul is specifically addressing in Romans and Galatians (mind you, it's hard to find that issue in the other of Paul's letters, which ought to be a clue to something being amiss, but that’s for another post). So, the old perspective thinks the driving issue was "how do I, a sinner, get saved and find righteousness before a holy, wrathful but gracious God?"

The new perspective says,"Well, yes, but not quite yet." For the new perspective, Paul — and just read Colossians or Ephesians from start to finish — is facing a slightly different set of issues: How do we incorporate Gentiles into the Israel of God? And on what basis? And what about the law? And what does that say about personal salvation? That’s about the order of things for this new view on Paul, and Tim Gombis, who isn't here offering a brief for the new perspective but trying to help us all see Paul with 1st Century eyes, helpfully gives us some ideas for understanding Paul.

I am in agreement with Scot. My doctoral thesis on Colossians argued for a "new" perspective reading.

The rest of Scot's post, which is on Tim Gombis' very helpful "The Paul We Think We Knew," is here. The link to Gombis' entire article is at the end of Scot's post.


John Meunier said...

If the Old Perspective is flawed, then how do we read Luther, Wesley, Augustine and all those who share their "old" perspective reading?

Allan R. Bevere said...


A good question-- I think we need to keep in mind Scot's comment in his post on the "old" perspective: The new perspective says,"Well, yes, but not quite yet. To say that the "old" perspective is flawed is different from arguing that it's completely wrong. The "new" perspective sets Paul in his Jewish context and his focus on Gentile incorporation into the people of God. Then from this corporate perspective we can better answer the question as to what is meant by individual salvation.

PamBG said...

I very much appreciate Tom Wright's new perspective as well as Luke Timothy Johnson's - the only new perspectives I'm familiar with. It makes a HECK of a lot more sense to me than the old one.

The comment about Augustinian anthropology is helpful because I actually find that alien as well. Which explains a lot!