Aug 12, 2012

James D.G. Dunn & N.T. Wright

*this is my 3rd post in this specific series on the NEW PERSPECTIVE ON PAUL
James D.G. Dunn pushed the NPP further along.[1] Dunn’s work included the notion that Paul was attacking the ceremonial and nationalistic aspects of Jewish custom and not the overall theology of Second Temple Judaism itself. Dunn believes these “works of the law” functioned as “boundary markers” between Jews and Gentiles.[2] This means Paul was fighting Jewish prejudice and anti-Gentile bigotry; not a supposed merit theology or moralistic legalism embedded in Second Temple Judaism. This means Paul’s doctrine of justification was not focused on the repentance of the sinner for his sin; rather Paul’s doctrine of justification was about including Gentiles into the covenant community. In Dunn’s words, “The leading edge of Paul’s theological thinking was the conviction that God’s purpose embraced Gentile as well as Jew, not the question of how a guilty man might find a gracious God” (italics mine).[3] Dunn’s development of the NPP built on the foundation Sanders laid and (if I may) his ideas organically sprang out of Sanders’ scholastic soil. The same can be said for N.T. Wright.
N.T. Wright is probably the most influential NPP scholar. He is more conservative than either Sanders or Dunn and therefore has more sway in evangelical circles. Further, he writes books aimed at a broader (more popular) demographic, has an engaging communication style, is incredibly prolific in his output and is clearly a brilliant man. These factors combine to make him both extremely formidable and extremely interesting. Wright is even willing (and able!?) to almost single-handedly take on both the Reformers and their would-be heirs.  

[1] James D.G. Dunn, “The New Perspective on Paul,” in Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1990), 183-214.
[2] See Dunn’s 1982 lectures on the NPP and his article “Works of the Law and the Curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10-14),” New Testament Studies 31 (1985): 523-542.
[3] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 232.


  1. Wow!! Although Write would object to your comment regarding that his ideas "organically sprang out of Sanders’ scholastic soil", since he wrote his essay "The Paul of History and the Paul of Faith" before Sanders published his book.

    On the other hand, you are spot on on your other comment, "Wright is even willing (and able!?) to almost single-handedly take on both the Reformers and their would-be heirs." This is so true!! He indeed is formidable, that's why he is hated so much within Reformed circles.

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  3. Thank you for your comment ... I think my own vanity enjoys seeing something I wrote in "quotes" - I think it makes me feel like a real writer (so thanks for quoting me LOL)!

    Part of Wright's work is foundationally tied to Sanders' work on Second Temple Judaism. In one of my other posts on this, I quote Wright as saying,

    “Sanders … dominates the landscape” … “until a major refutation of his central thesis is produced” … “I do not myself believe such a refutation can or will be offered…”. N.T. Wright (What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? page 20)

    I am Reformed and do not hate Wright - I just think he is incorrect on some major issues. This does not mean I do not respect his gifts - I do. And I am not so sure you can show me some examples of real hate coming from the major Reformed works refuting Wright's writings ... remember that disagreement does not equal hate!


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