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Sanders, Paul, and the New Perspective: The Circle is Now Complete
Scot McKnight brings glad tidings to all who are interested in the so-called “new perspective on Paul”:
In 1977 E.P. Sanders wrote Paul and Palestinian Judaism and unleashed what, in the expression originally of N.T. Wright and then more forcefully J.D.G. Dunn, is called “the new perspective.” Sanders, however, put far more pressure on how we understand Judaism than how we understand either Jesus (he did wrote Jesus and Judaism) or Paul (only a small book on Paul, and a long section in P&PJ)….
What we needed from Sanders was something more than the last sections of P&PJ and more than we got in his little book on Paul in the Past Masters series. I’m happy to announce we have that book now. To use the words of my father in law, it’s a “ming” (his term for something big and heavy). It’s got to be connected to the Ming dynasty but I don’t find this meaning in urban dictionaries. Anyway, E.P. Sanders now has a book called Paul: The Apostle’s Life, Letters, and Thought (Fortress, 2015).
Ian Paul offers an interesting line of defense of Luke’s general historicity with regard to the census in Luke’s birth narrative. Commenting on the historiographical tendencies of both Luke and Josephus, he suggests an alternative translation of Luke 2:2 that seems to account for the historical and linguistic peculiarities of the text:
Marshall notes that ‘the form of the sentence is in any case odd’ (p 104); why say something was ‘first’ when there is nothing to compare it with? Stephen Carlson has looked even more closely, and also noted that the verb egeneto also seems strange; why suggest the census ‘became’ something, rather than that it simply ‘was’? Carlson suggests that prote, rather than ‘first’ numerically, should be read as ‘of most importance’—much as we might say ‘so-and-so is Arsenal’s Number One player.’ This would then give the translation as:
This registration became most prominent when Quirinius was governing Syria.
This [decree to get registered] became the/a most important registration when Quirinius was governing Syria.
In the end, the mystery of the conflict between Luke and Josephus remains unsolved and (as Marshall puts it) ‘can hardly be solved without the discovery of fresh evidence.’ But these arguments at least offer a plausible explanation—and when considering questions of history, proof is rarely possible, but plausibility is an important measure. It certainly offers no grounds to write off Luke’s account, think it unhistorical or a fabrication, or see it as in conflict with Matthew.
“…for There Was No Room in the Marital Chamber”
I somehow missed this article when it came out in New Testament Studies a few years back, but Brice C. Jones has the scoop on Stephen Carlson’s interpretation of the κατάλυμα (katalyma) in Luke 2:7, traditionally—yet erroneously—rendered “inn.”
I don’t know of any adult Bible readers who think of this space as the Bethlehem equivalent of a Motel 6. I’ve usually heard it explained as the guest room of a private home. Carlson’s interpretation takes it one step further by paying close attention to the marital and living customs of first-century Judaism:
“Luke’s infancy narrative therefore presupposes the following events. Joseph took his betrothed Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem (2.5). Bethlehem was his hometown (v. 3) and, in accordance with the patrilocal marital customs of the day, it must also have been the place where they finalized their matrimonial arrangements by bringing her into his home. As a newly married man, he no longer would have to sleep in the main room of the village house with his other relatives, but he and his bride could stay in a marital chamber attached to the house until they could get a place of their own. They stayed there for some time until she came to full term (v. 6), and she gave birth to Jesus in the main room of the house rather than in her marital apartment because it was too small, and she laid the newborn in one of those mangers (v. 7) common to the main room of an ancient farmhouse. After staying at least another forty days in Bethlehem (v. 22; cf. Lev 12.2–8), Joseph and Mary eventually moved to Nazareth to make their home together in her family’s town (v. 39; cf. 1.26–27). To be sure, this scenario as presupposed in Luke’s infancy account diverges greatly from the conventional Christmas story. There is no inn, no innkeeper, and no stable. But it is grounded in a careful exegesis of the text.”
The whole article can be accessed from Carlson’s website (PDF).
Sanders Explains Sanders
Not Bernie, but Ed. Here’s a great summary of what E. P. Sanders considered the gist of his monumental Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Astute Bible readers—and students from my CHR 150 classes—will know that this book was a watershed in the history of Pauline research: a study with which one must be acquainted.
I shall now give a summary of the principal arguments, beginning with a negative point:
(1) The book is not about the sources of Paul’s thought. I granted that many or most topics in Paul could be paralleled in Jewish literature, but I was not pursuing an argument about where Paul got his ideas. Failure to note this point has misled several readers, some of whom have criticized me for using Jewish material later than Paul, while some have even imagined that in proposing that Paul had a different “pattern of religion” I meant that he had no connection with Judaism.
(2) In most of Palestinian literature, the “pattern” of “getting in and staying in” is simple: one is in by virtue of the election (or covenant); one stays in by remaining loyal to the Jewish law. These two basic convictions gave rise to the term covenantal nomism.”
(3) In Paul, all are “out” of the people of God and may enter only by faith in Christ.
(4) The two sets of terminology summarized by the phrases “being justified [righteoused] by faith” and “becom ing one person with Christ” essentially mean the same thing: these are the terms that indicate entry into the people of God: one “dies” with Christ or is righteoused by faith and thus transfers into the in-group.
(5) Once in, the member of the body of Christ should behave appropriately. In detail, this usually means the adoption of Jewish rules of ethics and other forms of behavior.
(6) In both Judaism and Paul, people in the in-group are punished rewarded depending on how well they adhere to the standards. Punishment and reward, however, are not “salvation”; people are saved, rather, by being in the in-group, and punishment is construed as keeping them in (as in 1 Cor 11:27-32).
(7) Paul does not accept the adequacy of the Jewish election for getting in; he begins the process of a theological rupture with Judaism by requiring faith in Christ.
(8) Formally, Paul sometimes accepts the whole law,” but it turns out that his Gentile converts do not actually have to keep all parts of the Jewish law, and that sometimes even Jewish Christians should depart from Jewish practice (as in the case of Peter in Antioch).
(9) Consequently, Paul’s “pattern” of religion is not the same as “covenantal nomism.” The efficacy of the election is rejected, and the law is accepted with qualifications.
(10) Paul’s pattern is, however, like covenantal nomism in that admission depends on the grace of God, while behavior is the responsibility of the individual—who, of course, is supported in his or her efforts by God’s love and mercy.
(11) Since one gets in by dying with Christ, and since Pauls outlook is strongly eschatological, I dubbed his pattern “participationist eschatology,” though “eschatological participationism” might have been better.
(H/T: Jesus Creed)
Beauty and the Beast and the Workers in the Vineyard
Wisdom from Damaris Zehner regarding Matthew 20:1-16:
Why is it that we identify ourselves with the hard workers and not with the latecomers? Do we really think we have achieved enough through our efforts to dictate to God how he should reward everyone? I wonder why it takes so long to occur to most of us that we are really the ones who deserve nothing and are rewarded with grace.
She then goes on to apply this same insight to a certain Disney movie.
Wednesday night Bible study tonight delved into Matthew’s version of the genealogy of Jesus. This got me thinking about a series of posts I wrote a few years back about this topic, which I thought I’d link to again for those who either missed it the first time around or wanted a refresher.
I’m pleased to announce that commentary on Galatians in which I had a part has now been published.
Marty Soards did a fantastic job on the biblical exegesis, and I provided supplemental materials to connect the message of Galatians to contemporary life for the sake of teachers and preachers who will strive to bring this important Pauline letter to life in the church.
In his seventh letter to Lucilius, the philosopher Seneca observed that people learn while they teach. Perhaps it should be added that people learn a lot while they try to write biblical commentaries!
I’m also incredibly grateful for this fine endorsement from my Doktorvater, Dr. John Polhill:
In their Galatian commentary, Soards and Pursiful present a fresh and comprehensive exposition of the epistle. They set forth a careful exegesis of the Greek text that is accomplished in clear language, easily understandable to the non-specialist. Although thoroughly acquainted with the best scholarship, they stick to the text itself and avoid the excessive speculation and over-emphasis on theology so characteristic of many Galatian commentaries. I rank this right at the top of commentaries I have read on Galatians.
So, there you have it. Why not buy one for the whole family?
The Radical Perspective on Paul
Michael F. Bird has a post up (with another promised) on “The Radical Perspective on Paul.” To get everybody up to speed, here is his introduction:
At the moment the state of Pauline scholarship could be divided into four basic camps:
(1) Traditional Protestant. Paul was preacher of grace that stands in contrasts to the legalism/nomism of second temple Judaism. In some versions, this is accompanied with an implied or even explicit supersessionist view of the church as replacing Israel.
(2) The New Perspective on Paul. The problem with Judaism was not legalism, but ethnocentrism. Paul was arguing that Jews need to accept that God has acted in Christ to bring Jews and Gentiles into the new saving event ahead of an eschatological consummation.
(3) The Apocalyptic/Barthian Paul. Paul proclaimed God’s invasive and cosmic act of salvation to rectify and renew the whole creation rendering the old order with its religion as obsolete.
(4) The Radical Perspective on Paul. Paul was Jewish and Torah-observant. He tried to bring Gentile communities into closer fellowship with Jewish communities while protecting them from proselytism. Paul believes that Jesus saves Gentiles, but Jews are saved under the auspices of the Mosaic covenant.
In this post I’m going to describe the origins of the Radical Perspective (RP), give a brief description of its reading of Paul, and note its relative strengths. In a subsequent blog post, I will offer a critique of contestable elements.
New at The Bible and Interpretation: Isaac W. Oliver, “Do Christians Have to Keep the Torah? The Cases of Matthew and Luke-Acts.”
For a long time it was not uncommon to posit that Jesus was responsible for the dispensation of such practices [as kosher rules, the Sabbath, etc.]. Jesus was the first “Christian,” who had come to announce the end of the Torah and Judaism. Draining Jesus of his Jewishness reached its unfortunate peak with the rise of Nazism when Jesus was even cast by some as an Aryan! However, ever since the end of World War II, the Jewishness of Jesus has been gradually resurfacing. “Blame” for the Christian distancing from Jewish practice has shifted instead to Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles. Traditionally, Paul has been viewed as an “apostate” from Judaism who founded a new religion, Christianity. Yet even Paul’s relationship to his Jewish heritage, including the complex question of his attitude toward the Torah, is being revisited and intensely debated among scholars of early Judaism and Christianity. It is also becoming clearer that many early Christians continued to conceive of their faith in Jewish terms and even identify themselves with the Jewish people and story for longer than previously thought. Social scientific analysis of early Christianity and Judaism further reminds us that the social reality on the ground was always more complicated than the idealist and often polemical depictions found in some of the early Christian literature that has survived history. Many of the early Christian works that have been preserved were written by Christian intellectuals—often opposed to Judaism and the observance of Jewish custom—who tried to assert their theological ideals and norms upon other Christians. The average Christian on the street, however, might have cared little about what some of these church fathers wrote or preached from the pulpit. As late as the fourth century of the Common Era, John Chrysostom, was vociferously (and in some ways helplessly) trying to convince his Christian parishioners in Antioch not to attend services at synagogues and observe Jewish festivals (see his work, Against the Jews). Certainly, the surviving literature does not tell us the whole story about the complex history of Jewish-Christian relations.
This will definitely be on my syllabus the next time I teach New Testament.