Aug 8, 2012

WHAT IS THE NEW PERSPECTIVE ON PAUL

INTRODUCTION (the first in a series of articles on the NPP)
The New Perspective on Paul[1] is a general set of positions which have gained credence in Pauline and New Testament studies over the last 30 years.[2] The NPP touches a variety of historical and theological fields: Second Temple Judaism, the Reformation, ecclesiology, soteriology – to name a few. The NPP answers some big New Testament questions differently than the traditional Reformation understanding. For example, is Paul’s message one of grace by faith over against works-righteousness? The Reformers said ‘yes’, the NPP says ‘no’. Is the concept of imputed righteousness biblically valid? The Reformers said ‘yes’, the NPP says ‘no’. These types of questions could be multiplied many times over but these are some things at stake in this debate. Is it truly the case that NPP advocates have a superior reading of Paul than did the Reformers? In general, this reply must be in the negative and this paper is an introductory exploration into these questions.
The NPP is a paradigm-altering view that began in the academy and trickled into the pew. Prominent figures who give the NPP its push are men such as Krister Stendahl (recently deceased), Don Garlington, Michael Bird, Robert Gundry, and Bruce Longenecker. There have been many contributors but no list is complete without three names: E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright.


[1] NPP from here.
[2] There are notable differences among advocates of this viewpoint so it is sometimes referred to as “the new perspectives on Paul” or even “a fresh perspective on Paul”. Since there are many varieties of the New Perspective, it is a daunting task to summarize the core beliefs. John Gager writes that “there is no absolute unamnimity among defenders of the new Paul” in Reinventing Paul (New York: Oxford, 2001), 146. The following articles by Jeffrey Smith present a comprehensive summary of the NPP: “An Overview and Critique of the New Perspective on Paul’s Doctrine of Justification: Part 1,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 3 (Jan 2006): 77-108; and “An Overview and Critique of the New Perspective on Paul’s Doctrine of Justification: Part 2 – The New Perspective Critiqued (1),” Reformed Theological Review 3 (July 2006): 118-133.

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