Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The "New Perspective" on Paul

A member of a film forum I'm on asked me my opinion on the theological and historical fad concerning Paul the Apostle, called "the new perspective on Paul".

In sum, the "new perspective" is the realization that Paul was Jewish and that as such he did not stand against all things Jewish, as the church, for many centuries seem to portray him. This perspective was initiated by E.P. Sanders in his book Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and expanded into full theologies by J.D. Dunn and N.T. Wright.

The main insight by Sanders is absolutely correct-- Paul was Jewish and we have every indication that he continued to teach in synagogues throughout his life. In Acts, Paul is said to have obeyed the law completely in every aspect (Acts 21:24). He was a Jew in good standing, and although he caused controversy, he was never excluded from the Temple, and, if church tradition is correct, he was killed as a Roman citizen, in accord with Roman law, not as a Jewish citizen. I also think that it is the church's, especially the Protestants', interpretation of Paul that has caused him such disrepute, not what he actually wrote.

However, for me, I think that the "new perspective" theology is still pretty young and not fully developed. I've read a number of commentaries on Romans, including the one by Wright and a good portion of the one by Dunn, and I have yet to read one that made sense of the arguments in the book. I think that Richard Hays explains the book of Galatians adequately (although his book is almost incomprehensible) and I wish he would do some solid work on Romans in the same light.

Okay, now that I've gotten all technical, these are my conclusions as a reflection on the new perspective on Paul:
1. The early Christian church were more persecuted by the second Temple Jews because they considered the temple unnecessary and the priesthood corrupt and not worth obedience rather than their view on the law.

2. I think that Paul was not speaking of law or moral principle in general when he said it was superseded by faith. I think he was speaking specifically about the law of Moses and how it was superseded by Jesus' principles. Paul was still a strong proponent of moral code as being essential for salvation, as seen in I Corinthians 5-6.

3. That Paul was not one who dismissed Judaism, but was one who attempted to reform Judaism, even as Jesus did, even as Luther tried for the Catholic church. In all of these cases, it was the systems of power that rejected the reforms, thus causing new religions to be formed.

4. That what really got Paul rejected was his insistence of the acceptance of Gentiles by God into a Jesus-reformed Judaism. Although many have accused Paul of prejudice, I think that it was his tolerance that got him rejected. And I think that both Galatians and especially Romans are defenses of Paul's "gospel", which is, namely, the welcoming of Gentiles into God's kingdom.

Sorry for getting all technical and stuff. Perhaps my "great learning has driven" me "mad"

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