A Response to The New Perspective of Paul (NPP)


The New Perspective of Paul (NPP):
A scholarly re-interpretation of Paul’s thought concerning justification by faith which has been held by Protestants since the reformation. The new interpretation is that justification is not a legal status of one’s standing before God but rather filial declaration by God that Jesus is the messiah of God’s people.

Main Points of NPP:
– Judaism was a religion of grace and inclusivism rather exclusivistic communal competition and striving for individual righteousness with God.
– Law was not something one used to earn favor with God but was merely a Jew’s identity mark as being a people of God.
– Jews boasting that they were elect/favored/chosen was the main problem Paul is addressing in Romans.
– Justification does not have to do with one’s standing before God but one’s identity with a people group of God.
– Jesus does not satisfy the wrath of God and then transfer that acquired righteousness to us.
– A person does not need to individually put faith in Jesus but just realize God accepts them as they are and join the community of God.

Main Proponents of NPP:
– Dr. James D.G. Dunn
– Dr. E.P. Sanders
– Dr. N.T. Wright

My Contentions:
– Judaism was clearly one of exclusivism and religious competition both according to Jesus and Paul and this is not eisogesis (Mat 5:17-20, Phil 3:4-8 ). Notice Jesus distinction of the individual [“whoever” vs. “others” and what they are called] and notice Paul’s use of “I” and “myself.”
– “Law” is used in three different ways in Romans. To minimalize these contextual and exegetical observations and to reduce them to merely being a “boundary marker” is to do violence to the text.

    1) universal moral law > ex. Rom 2:14-15
    2) Jewish Torah > ex. Rom 7:1-6
    3) principle of the way sin works > ex. Rom 7:21-23.

– The main problem Paul is addressing in Romans is sin, idolatry deep in mankind’s heart, not boasting (Rom 1:18-:24).
– A thorough study of the Greek word, dikaisune clearly shows that righteousness is not merely communal identity. Here is a link to my work on the diakio word group in Romans 1-8: dikaiosune.pdf
– A study of the word “propitation” in Rom 3:25 and a study of the word “counts” in Rom 4:23-24 clearly teach the imputed righteousness of Christ. Here are links to my work dealing with these passages: propitiation.pdf and imputation.pdf
– Propenents of NPP utilize a form of “chronological snobbery” as C.S. Lewis once described it. Basically this means they caricaturize the classical reformed view of
justication by faith as being primitive and scholastically unwarranted and that if one was to believe this “new” theory, only then could they claim intellectual warrant.
– I believe NPP is self-refuting in its charges against cultural eisogesis. NPP reeks of the postmodern virtue of pluralistic inclusivism and is not the result of solid exegesis but rather the attempt to force Paul and Romans into a postmodern framework.
– I believe that NPP is dangerous and is heresy because it eliminates not only the Jew’s need for Jesus but as a result all other’s need. Faith is not merely a realization of what you already are. This is a serious conflagration between the doctrines of justification and sanctification.
– An acceptance of this doctrine will set the church back to a pre-reformation setting and the gospel will be lost. As Martin Luther said, “justification by faith” is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.

Below is a brief bibliography on the subject:

In favor of NPP:
_ James Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians.
(Louisville:Westminster/John Knox, 1990) ISBN 0664250955
_ E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. (Fortress, 1977) ISBN 0800618998
_ N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of
Christianity?. (Eerdmans, 1997) ISBN 0802844456

Refuting NPP:

_ D.A. Carson, Peter O’Brien, and Mark Seifrid (eds.), Justification And Variegated Nomism. 2 volumes (Baker Academic, 2001 & 2004) vol. 1 – ISBN 080102272X / vol. 2 – ISBN 0801027411
_ Piper, John. The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright. (Crossway, 2007) ISBN 9781581349641

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2 comments for “A Response to The New Perspective of Paul (NPP)

  1. Thomas
    August 7, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    It seems that “chronological snobbery” is most appropriately applied to those who insist on Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Protestant Scholastic categories when reading a First Century Palestinian text.

    The trouble with those who attack NPP is that – from what I can tell – they are all animated by confessionalist investment. NPP scholars do not agree with one another on much of the detail concerning Paul in his historical context. This is to be expected given the nature of scientific exegesis and the limited knowledge we have outside the biblical text of the religious culture of First Century Jews.

    It is comparing apples and oranges to oppose a confessional statement against a critical theory like NPP. Whereas the latter is a judgment based upon advanced modern methods of textual analysis, the former is based upon a reading of the text within and subject to the authority of the faith tradition of a particular community. Faith matters. And higher criticism does not replace theological reflection on the biblical sources. However, a first reading of the biblical text that substitutes late medieval theology (i.e., Reformation Theology) for an objective historical-contextual/literary-critical reading is indistinguishable from fundamentalism.

    Where are the opponents of NPP from within the scientific exegetical community? Why is it all coming from the traditionalist confessional theologians?

  2. August 16, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Hello Thomas,

    Thank you for your response. I’ll give you some hermeneutical responses and then a more pastoral response.

    I’m am not sure what part of “My Contentions” that you see as confessional and not exegetical? They are most assuredly overtly exegetical. Confessionalism is a red herring in this discussion as it has been presented. You ask who opponents of NPP are within the scientific exegetical community. I did cite D.A. Carson’s work “Justification and Varigated Nomism.” You will be hard pressed to find a more well established and world renowed and respected scientific exegete. So that make me wonder what you mean by scientific exegesis and who belongs to this world of scientific exegetes. If you mean only people who subscribe to higher criticism, then you prove my point of chronological snobbery. Another red herring in your response is Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism both historically and thematically has nothing to do with this discussion unless you mean it to be objectivity, in which case if you are against such a thing you’re whole comment is self-refuting as an attempt at objective statement.

    Thomas, what is it about justification as substitutionary atonement that you don’t like honestly? What are your affections and heart motivations wrapped up in this discussion? I’ll tell you mine. I know I am a guilty sinner who deserves the wrathful anger and punishment of holy and just God for my sin. My only hope is a Jesus who can take on that wrath in my place. Jesus gives me hope for a transformation of the rebellion of my heart and satisfaction for eternity. NPP can’t give me that but leaves me stuck in my sin.

    Much love,

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