The Paul Page: Dedicated to the New Perspective on Paul


Well… I think my summer reading list is out:

“Over the last three decades, a revolutionary breakthrough in New Testament scholarship has been rocking the academic Christian world. The scholars at the forefront of the revolution — E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, N.T. Wright, and others — have been pioneering a new approach to the letters of the first-century apostle to the Gentiles, Paul of Tarsus.

These Protestants are engaging first-century Judaism on its own terms, not in the context of the Protestant-Catholic debates of the sixteenth century. The result: A new historical perspective on the meaning of Paul’s polemic against the Judaizers which occupies so much of his recorded correspondence.

What is this new perspective? At its core is the recognition that Judaism is not a religion of self-righteousness whereby humankind seeks to merit salvation before God. Paul’s argument with the Judaizers was not about Christian grace versus Jewish legalism. His argument was rather about the status of Gentiles in the church. Paul’s doctrine of justification, therefore, had far more to do with Jewish-Gentile issues than with questions of the individual’s status before God.”

Having had the chance to study with Richard Hayes in seminary, and being influenced by his own thinking on this subject, I find this developing theological line of inquiry very interesting.

Thanks to Stand Firm for the pointer!

Read the rest here: The Paul Page: Dedicated to the New Perspective on Paul

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. I recommend Francis Watson’s “Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith”, a heavy read, but the only one that I’ve seen place Paul within a huge Jewish context alongside the Qumran texts, etc., though JT Sanders, whom I studied under, has done some of this as well.
    I’m not so sure that these two, the Gentile-Jewish question and individual status before God, are so neatly separable.
    Personally, I find all of these scholars interesting until the get to the Great Unpleasantness and then a knee jerk response comes into play that makes clear that our scholarship is never simply pure reason.

  2. Thanks Christopher. I’ll add Watson’s work to the pile.
    I was quite impressed with Martyn’s commentary on Galatians that I used as the primary text for the Lenten bible study here. So too were the people who took the class… I thought Martyn did an excellent job of doing what you describe, putting Paul’s thinking firmly into Jewish contexts – especially in the analysis of who Paul’s argument uses Jewish forms in a way that defeat’s the arguments of the “Circumcision Party” that he’s railing against.
    And yes – I find your observation about knee-jerk responses particularly true with Wright. So much of what he says is incredibly helpful. But then…
    Of course I suppose he could accuse me of doing the same thing that he does.
    The good news I guess is that such “blindness” is not unique to theologians. Some of the greatest astronomers and physicists have some pretty extraordinarily stupid ideas that they defend with just as much passion as they do the seminal ideas of theirs that redefined their fields. Perhaps we all get to be right just some of the time. And our reputations are made on the instances when we are found to be correct in-spite of ourselves. Grin.

  3. I’ve also heard some good things about Garry Wills’ latest book, which some have described as an effort to “rehabilitate Paul.” (I think this is the one.)
    I love the things I’ve read by Wills – his book on the Rosary is really fascinating – although they are not really theology, I suppose.

  4. I read Wills’ book a couple of months ago. It’s a decent read, but as you point out bls, it’s really written for the mass market.

  5. Well, nothing wrong with that. Lots of us are part of the mass!
    I really do think it’s good to have something to read from somebody who’s devout and accessible at the same time; his book on the Rosary actually touched on many other topics, and I read things there I’ve never seen anywhere else.

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