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August 9, 2007 / Daniel

New Perspective

Scot McKnight has posted again on the NPP. The first time that I heard about the New Perspective on Paul was when I bought Doug Moo’s NICNT volume on Romans. For the most part, I accepted Moo’s Lutheran perspective.

What made me look at the issue again was when I started teaching Galatians for a small group Bible study. Things just didn’t jive quite right. It was hard for me to see how things fit together. In the Galatians, it was pretty obvious that the “works of the law” were primarily things like circumcision and kosher food. And it seem kind of weird that the Judiazers would be requiring Gentiles to earn their salvation by doing these sort of things.

Then it hit me than Galatians was more about the collision of two ethnic groups. How could Jews and Gentiles co-exist as the people of God? This made me reread the book to see how Paul was wrestling with this issue. After all, reading Galatians as a polemic against Catholicism has its problems.

For instance, does Paul think that you need to be baptized to be saved? If you read Galatians looking for an order of salvation, Galatians 3:27 might seem like a burr under your saddle. But if Galatians isn’t about fighting Pelagianism, then this verse isn’t nearly so troublesome.

Another question that I had was this: If Paul has such a problem with the Law, then why does he give so many rules at the end of his letters? Does that mean that you need the Fruit of the Spirit in order to be saved?

But Galatians isn’t about fighting Luther’s enemies. Paul is wrestling with a different foe. That means that these verses need to be read in a different light. For one thing, we tend to read Paul in a highly individualist manner. “How do I get right with God?” Instead, the question is, “How do people from vastly different cultures get right with God and come together as His people?”

The more we understand Paul’s world, the better we will understand how his writings apply to ours.



Leave a Comment
  1. derek4messiah / Aug 10 2007 2:34 am


    Great thoughts. I’m glad to see people figuring this out. I think traditional systematic theologies have been throwing a veil over scripture for far too long.

    I am a Messianic Jewish leader in Atlanta. We are excited to see people integrating the whole Bible for a change and reading Paul in light of Jesus and the Old Testament. Almost sounds like a radical idea!

    Derek Leman

  2. fiester25 / Aug 11 2007 4:48 am


    Thanks for checking out my blog. It sounds like we’re interested in some of the same stuff.


  3. Mike / Aug 31 2007 1:24 am

    I was starting to buy in to the NPP, I like the “newness” of it, and I like spending more time looking at the original cultural aspect of the teaching, then I hit Romans 9:30-33, or it hit me. No matter hows I twisted it and tried to look at it as a 1st century Jew – it says what it says- in greek, hebrew, aramic, whatever – they- the Jews – pursued righteousness by works.

    That does not work with the idea that Paul did not view the Jewish religion as works religion.

    But you are right, the more we understand Paul’s world, the better we understand his writings.

    I just stumbled on your page tonight trying to understand better the NPP, I have been leaning towards it, but, as for me, I have been convinced otherwise by scripture.

  4. fiester25 / Aug 31 2007 1:36 am


    Thanks for visiting my site. I would encourage you to find and read a discussion of Romans 9:30-33 by NT Wright.

    The question is, “What did Paul mean when he said that the Jews pursued righteousness by works?” Did it mean that they tried to earn their salvation by doing good things? Or did it mean that they tried to be accepted as God’s covenant people by having certain ethnic markers (ie circumcision, kosher food, etc)?

    I’ll post some more on this passage in a little bit. I would be interested in hearing your response.


  5. Mike / Aug 31 2007 8:14 pm

    I think it’s a stretch to try to get works to mean ethnic markers.

    I am reading NT Wright’s work on Romans, I first read the section on Romans 9, but it refers to a lot of content in the previous chapters, so I am now reading the whole thing – might be a weekend project.

    In response to what you asked – I think that they (the Jewish religion in general) tried to be accepted as God’s covenant people by doing good things, and they took all of those works to the nth degree. For example, not working on the sabbath meaning that they couldn’t help someone, or do something for someone, or only walking a certain distance. That’s not about a ethnic marker, that is about trying to “do” your way into pleasing God.

    So far, what I have gained from NPP is a new focus on the culture that the bible was written in, and many of the westernized views I hold have been called into question, and that is good.

    All of this is of course in my opinion, meaning subject to error.

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