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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 nowTo 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).

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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)