So lately, among many, many other things, I have been trying to get a handle on this thing called the “New Perspective on Paul” (hereafter, “the NPP”). I know very little about it, and what I do know, I’m not sure I understand all that well.
I am not going to spend time and energy right here and now trying to explain it very much. Anyone reading this post is certainly capable of doing their own search to find out more about it. But so that what I write here will make a certain amount of self-evident sense, I’ll jot a few sentences to give only the crudest picture of the NPP.
Basically, certain scholars in the last 20-30 years+ have come to read the writings of the apostle Paul in a very different way from the way Protestant Evangelicals have been understanding them since the time of Martin Luther and the other Reformers. James D. G. Dunn and N. T. Wright, as I understand things, say that Luther and others misunderstood what Paul was actually talking about in his writing against the Jewish religion of his day. They say that his theology of justification by faith simply is not addressing the issues Luther assumed it was. Luther, they claim, was reading his own rather troublesome setting of the 16th century Roman Catholic world into the writings of Paul. A bit earlier than Dunn and Wright, E.P. Sanders apparently went so far as to say that Paul was, himself, in error about the 1st century Judaism against which he wrote.
Throughout the work of these scholars and others, there are discussions of what Paul really meant when he wrote about “justification,” “law,” “grace,” “covenant,” “salvation” and more. In the end, there seems to be little question that what is at stake in this discussion is the very nature of the gospel according to Paul.
Okay, so here’s what I’m wondering: Much of the battle between proponents and opponents of the NPP seems to take for granted a Literal-Grammtical-Historical (LGH) hermeneutic. But what of a Literary-Canonical guy like me? It is of little concern to me just what 1st century Judaism was like, except as it is presented within the context of Scripture itself. I am not particularly interested in figuring out how Paul’s (or any other biblical writer’s) understanding of Judaism (or any other subject) compares to that which historical scholars have decided was the actual nature of 1st-century Judaism. My concern is with the world of the text. I begin with the world of text and then ask how it informs this world of time-space-history in which I live, not the other way around.
I have developed my own picture of the apostle Paul by way of the Literary-Canonical approach to Scripture that I have had for the past 15+ years. I am not actually seeking to blaze new trails in Pauline studies, but to be perfectly honest, I do think that my own work on Paul is as deserving of the tag “new perspective on Paul” as that discussion which is widely traveling under that banner these days.
I’m wondering what bearing my work on Paul might have on this discussion.
More to come later… (I hope)…