A Serious Challenge to the New Perspective on Paul

NPP advocates are facing a new and robust challenge from Lee Irons’ recent volume, The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation

One of the major flash points in this debate is the term “righteousness of God.” Paul uses this phrase in a number of places, but it takes center stage particularly in Romans. Indeed, one might suggest that the “righteousness of God” is the theme of the entire book: “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Rom 1:17). So, what does this phrase mean? NPP advocates say it refers simply to God’s covenantal faithfulness. Reformed theologians have argued that it refers to a righteous status received from God.

 

As most readers know, there has been a long scholarly debate over what is known as the New Perspective(s) on Paul (NPP). This approach argues that “justification” in Paul does not mean what many Christians (especially Reformed folks) have always believed.

In short, NPP advocates (e.g., N.T. Wright, James D.G. Dunn) argue that (a) first-century Judaism was not a works-oriented religion, and (b) “justification by faith” is not referring to the acquisition of a righteous status before God, but instead refers to the fact that membership in the covenant community can be obtained without the standard Jewish boundary markers laid out in the law of Moses (inset is a picture of Mt. Sinai).

One of the major flash points in this debate is the term “righteousness of God.” Paul uses this phrase in a number of places, but it takes center stage particularly in Romans. Indeed, one might suggest that the “righteousness of God” is the theme of the entire book:

For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Rom 1:17).

So, what does this phrase mean? NPP advocates say it refers simply to God’s covenantal faithfulness. Reformed theologians have argued that it refers to a righteous status received fromGod.

It is on this very question that NPP advocates are facing a new and robust challenge from Lee Irons’ recent volume, The Righteousness of God: A Lexical Examination of the Covenant-Faithfulness Interpretation (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015). The volume is part of the prestigious Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament (WUNT) series.

This volume is a revised version of Irons’ Ph.D. dissertation at Fuller Theological Seminary.

I am slowly working my way through the book and have not yet finished it. But, my assessment thus far is that this volume presents one of the most thorough and cogent rebuttals to the NPP in quite a while.

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