The Foundation of the New Perspective

The NPP movement is wide and varied and it would take and indeed has taken multitudes of tomes to address it.

One of the most recent, and I would suggest, best interactions with the NPP is Robert Cara’s Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul. I believe Cara succeeds on many levels. Before I get to my assessment I want to describe what Cara has done.

 

Admittedly the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) isn’t so new anymore. As a significant scholarly hermeneutical movement, it goes back at least as far as the late 1970s with the groundbreaking work of E. P. Sanders. It goes back even further if we take into consideration the endeavors of a Montefiore and a Moore. The NPP is old enough now to have had a plethora of erudite nuanced critical responses (one thinks of Newman, Gathercole, Westerholm, Kim, Carson, Waters, and the like). As I write this review, my scanning of the web has revealed several new studies slated for forthcoming release. One of the most recent, and I would suggest, best interactions with the NPP is Robert Cara’s Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul. I believe Cara succeeds on many levels. Before I get to my assessment I want to describe what Cara has done.

Cracking the Foundation is divided into four chapters, followed by a concluding summary and an appendix on Jewish literary sources. The first chapter (19-36) is a fine introduction to the NPP and its relation to the doctrine of justification and the question which is a bug-a-bear for any serious interaction with the NPP: is it a unified movement, therefore justifying the appellation New Perspective or is the movement a conglomeration of different perspectives whose only unity is in the rejection of the traditional Lutheran and Reformed reading of Paul and the Second Temple Judaism that lay behind him? In looking at this question Dr. Cara seeks to focus his attention on E. P. (Ed) Sanders’ argument that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not a legalistic works-righteousness based religion but was a grace-based faith and that this perspective was nearly universal across the spectrum of views representative of Second Temple Judaism. In a nutshell, covenantal nomism is the view that one gains entrance to the people of God by election (i.e., grace) and stays in by obedience to the Law (i.e., works).

The second chapter (37-75) is devoted to providing clarifying definition (one is tempted to say the author provides 4K or Ultra HD clarification) as to what works-righteousness is and what it entails. Cara sets the two hermeneutical-theological systems of covenantal nomism and the classic Reformed bi-covenantal framework side by side. This is a wise move since there is some formal similarity between the two views that could be and indeed has been confused for substantial agreement. The author first looks at classic Reformed covenant theology with its covenant of works and covenant of grace and the traditional distinction between uses of the Law (specifically the second and third uses of the Law involving the Law as schoolmaster which leads us to Christ and the Law as a guide to the Christian life) and Cara concludes the first half of this chapter with the burning question about the final judgement and justification and their relationship to one another. Cara is to be commended for his clarity of expression and explanations of what can be very technical material. The second half of the chapter is devoted to the history of the covenantal nomism idea in the work of Sanders and his precursors (C. G. Montefiore, George Foote Moore, and Krister Stendahl) and successors (specifically James D. G. Dunn and Nicholas Thomas [Tom]Wright). The author then delineates the features of covenantal nomism and offers an initial critique. At the very least, these two systems of thought are neither identical nor similar. To use somewhat anachronistic systematic terms (which are nevertheless very accurate), Second Temple Judaism, variegated as it really was, included at least semi-Pelagian sentiments. Neither full-scale Pelagianism nor semi-Pelagianism are healthy or biblical.

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