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June 4, 2007 / Daniel

Better Righteousness Again?

I’ve been doing some more thinking about what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when He said that your righteousness needs to be better than the Pharisees if you’re going to get into the kingdom.  This is a hard statement for some folks. 

 Probably the main reason why this bothers some folks is because they read this passage in light of the debate between Luther and the Catholic Church or in light of the debate between Augustine and Peligius.    We know that we can’t earn our salvation.  It’s a stupid idea.  So what’s Jesus saying here? 

Here’s where the NPP comes in.  I seriously doubt that the Pharisees believed that they could earn their salvation.  They knew about sin.  They knew that they couldn’t be perfect.  Most folks have got that figured out.  The very foundation of the Jews’ religious beliefs was the concept of election.  God had graciously chosen to make a covenant with Abraham and his family.  So what was the Pharisees’ problem?  I think that it was the opposite extreme.  They were presuming on God’s grace (Look at Romans 2:17-3:8).  They thought that God would save Israel no matter what they did.  Grace covered their covenant misbehavior.  So it didn’t matter how they lived their lives.

 They knew that they didn’t follow the intentions of God’s Torah (i.e. the covenant).  But they tried to make it more manageable for them.  They changed the laws to focus on the externals, and not the heart.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is saying that the behavior of His kingdom people must be better than that.  Kingdom people should follow God’s laws with their whole heart.  That’s what makes their righteousness better than that of the Pharisees.    



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  1. Jon Petersen / Jun 4 2007 7:23 am

    Alright, enlighten me. What’s NPP?
    So you think this is a case of licentiousness?

  2. fiester25 / Jun 4 2007 1:48 pm

    The NPP abbreviates the New Perspective on Paul. The NPP says that when Luther read Romans and Galatians, he assumed that the Judaizers were just like the Catholic Church. So since that time, most folks have thought that Judaism was an earn-your-salvation religion just like 16th century Catholicism.

    Well, in the 1970’s, a scholar by the name of E.P. Sanders started doing a lot of research on Judaism during the time of Jesus and Paul. Based on his research, he found that Judaism wasn’t an “earn-your-salvation” religion.

    He argued that the Jews believed that God had chosen them by his grace and given them the Torah by his grace. So their salvation was also by God’s grace. Following the Torah marked out Israel as God’s chosen people.

    The more that I read the OT, I think that it makes sense. The Law had sacrifices and offerings to cover sin.

    So here’s my take on it. The Jews assume that God graciously loved them no matter what. They were His unconditionally elected people. But they knew that God wanted them to follow the Torah, but they didn’t exactly do that. So they adjusted the Torah to make it focus on externals so it was more manageable.

  3. Jon Petersen / Jun 4 2007 7:55 pm

    so where can I read about this New Perspective on Paul? I think we’ve talked about it before.

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