perjantai 17. huhtikuuta 2009

Kuukauden kirja: Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics

Westerholm, Stephen,
Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 471 pages.


Apostle Paul has been the most intriguing figure after Jesus in the biblical scholarship since the early church. The numerous books have been written, dissertations have been published, and papers delivered. The interest has always been extremely high. A systematic, yet still occasional, way to describe the meaning of Jesus Christ death and resurrection is the main point found in the epistles of Paul. Many churchmen and scholars, confessing Christians and not, alike, have penned abundant number of articles, books, and dissertations in relation of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is Paul’s Gospel? For centuries, theologians had agreed that it could be described that sinners find God’s approval not by anything they do, but by God’s grace though faith in Christ’s substitionary atonement on their behalf on the cross.

Since the groundbreaking study of E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), a traditional understanding of Pauline theology of salvation has been challenged by various writers and scholars. Sanders criticized that the “Lutheran” understanding of first century Judaism was misguided and therefore, Luther, and all of those who had held the similar views of justification by faith alone, were wrong in their understanding of Paul and his view of what justification by faith mean. This new way to see Paul’s Gospel called, The New Perspective, claims that Paul did not merely talk about sinners being justified by faith alone in Christ, but mainly that Gentiles are included in the people of God by faith without the bother of becoming Jews.

In his book Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics, Stephen Westerholm[1] defines the core understanding of the New Perspective and its claims, and then compares it to 1) the historic understanding of many theologians of the Christian church, and 2) to the Pauline texts themselves. Westerholm defines “Lutheran” not by denominational structure or commitment, but by the readers, who consider Paul’s understanding of salvation to be the doctrine of justification by faith excluding any human “works”.

Westerholm defines the issue at stake well by paraphrasing: “Whether justification by faith, not by works of the law means ‘sinners find God’s approval by grace, through faith, not by anything they do, or whether its thrust is that Gentiles are included in the people of God by faith without the bother if becoming Jews” (p. 445). According to Westerholm, the New Perspective emphasizes that Judaism was not “legalistic” in the first century. Jews did not think that they earned salvation; rather, God’s goodness was in their life because they had a covenant with God and they wanted to respond by fulfilling God’s covenant requirements.

The book can be divided into three parts. In part one, he describes the doctrine of Paul as proclaimed and written by Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley. In part two, he briefly summarizes the responses of the scholars who question the traditional understanding of Paul’s Gospel and the Law. He also gives some counter-positions to these critics. In part three, he gives his own assessment of justification and law in Pauline texts.

The Content

Historical understanding

The first part observes historical understanding of Paul’s soteriology. The choice of the historic theologians itself is quite interesting. Certainly, Augustine is a well-respected theologian in the Catholic Church. But he is also the master and pater of Protestant theology. Luther was an Augustinian monk and was well learned in Augustine writings. Similarly, John Calvin used Augustine more and more extensively as he edited the Institutes. Obviously, he grew to discover many doctrines from Augustine.

Where Augustine, Luther, and Calvin are well-respected theologians in the reformed-side of churches and scholarship, Wesley’s reputation is more questionable. This preacher, who proclaimed in different kinds of meetings many nights a week, and started “Methodist” groups in England, is of course well-known for his evangelistic fervor. However, his theology was more “arminian” emphasizing the free will of a man. Whereas Augustine, Luther and Calvin spent considerable time refuting free-will people (Pelagius, Erasmus, Anabaptist), Wesley saw people having an ability to turn to Christ with their own. Despite of this drastic difference in soteriology, Westerholm wants to show, that their understanding of Paul and justification by faith is similar, if not identical. I suppose, Westerholm does this intentionally in order to show the more universal historic church position on the issue, within the larger scale of Christian church.

According to Westerholm there are at least seven fundamental similarities that these famous church theologians agree and what are the core issues of the Gospel in their theology (p.88-97).

1) Human nature, created good, has been so corrupted by sin that human beings are incapable of God-pleasing action. They are rightly subject to God’s condemnation.
2) Human beings must be justified by divine grace, responded to in faith, and not by any works of their own.
3) Justification by grace through faith leaves human beings with nothing of which they may boast in God’s presence. The false notion that human beings can contribute to their justification opens the door to a presumption that ill suits creatures in the presence of their Creator.
4) Those justified by faith apart from works must nonetheless do good works as believers.
5) The Mosaic Law was given, in part, to awaken in human beings as awareness of their need of divine grace. Believers are delivered from its condemnation and need not observe its ceremonial prescriptions. The gift of God’s Spirit enables them (in some measure) to fulfill its moral demands.
6) Whether sin remains a reality in the lives of justified believers is an issue that “Lutherans” cannot but confront, though they disagree in their assessment of it.
7) Whether the divine grace to which salvation is to be attributed must be deemed the irresistible source of the believer’s faith is an issue that “Lutherans” cannot but confront, though they disagree in their assessment of it.

20th Century Critics of "Lutheran" Paul

After the older assessment of these reformers, Westerholm moves to the 20th century critics of the Lutheran position. Westerholm gives a concise and well-understood summary of many exegetes contribution to the recent discussion in relations to Paul’s understanding of salvation. The developments of the critics are lead by E.P. Sanders and his influential book: Paul and Palestinian Judaism. According to Westerholm, Sanders wanted “to destroy the view of Rabbinic Judaism which is still prevalent in much, perhaps most, New Testament scholarship”, namely, “legalistic works-righteousness.” Sanders emphasized the following things: application-orientation, God is faithful even Israel would disobey and no doctrine of original sin exists in Pauline theology “despite the tendency to disobey, man is free to obey or disobey.” Therefore, righteous is “the one who accepts the covenant and remains within it” and obedience is a “condition for remaining in the covenant, but they do not earn it” – This what salvation by grace means. Sanders is trying to convey that Paul is not distinct from the rabbinic thinking – except that salvation is eventually found in Christ. Thus: 1) The traditional Lutheran view, namely, the doctrine of justification, not by works (rabbinic thought) is wrong. 2) Doctrine of justification is correct in that it is not by works. It is Paul, who misinterpreted the Judaism, the faith of his fathers.

Another significant study that has lead to the rise of New Perspective is Kummel’s work on Paul. Westerholms describes well Kummel’s argumentation on the identity of εγω in Romans 7. Kummel is the first modern scholar who argues for non-Pauline identity of εγω in Romans 7. Since that many scholars have considered this as a norm in scholarship and followed Kummel’s argumentation (see Appendix 2 for argumentation).

Following Kummel, Krister Standahl (The Apostle Paul and the Intropective Conscience of the West, 1972) has tried to persuade that Paul cannot talk about himself in Romans 7. The consciousness of Paul prior to conversion was not sin struggling. He did not seem to have a personal problem as have been suggested based on Phil 3, 1 Cor. 4:4, 2 Cor. 12:7; Gal 4:13. Therefore, the problem of Lutheran Paul discussion “How can I find a gracious God” is not a Pauline question. So Christians have asked the wrong question.

I do not find Kummel’s argument fully compelling since Paul did not have a sinful understanding of himself prior to his conversion. Therefore, he can say that he was “blameless when it comes to law”. This does not prove is sinlessness, but his self-righteousness.

Then Westerholm discusses other noteworthy scholars and their input the conversation. For example: Wrede says that justification is a “polemical doctrine” where Schweiter states that “The doctrine of righteousness by faith is therefore a subsidiary crater, which has formed within the rim of the main crater – mystical doctrine of redemption through the being-in-Christ.

Next, Westerholm discusses the understanding of “the righteousness of the law” in current scholarship showing by numerous examples that there is no scholarly consensus on Paul’s view of the law. For Rudolf Bultmann “righteousness of the Law” is ”bad” because it is based on Jewish self-focused recognition on his own accomplishments. Opposite to Bultmann, Ulrich Wilckens, righteousness of the Law is ”good” because the law was positive to Jews but they failed to keep it. For E.P. Sanders “righteousness of law” is indifferent because he claims quite uncaringly ”the supposed objection to Jewish self-righteousness is as absent from Paul’s letters as self-righteousness itself is from Jewish literature” (Law, 156).

John W. Drane thinks Paul’s thinking changed between Galatians and Romans. Paul was a ”libertinist” in Galatians and ”legalist” in 1 Corinthians, but more balanced in 2 Corinthians and in Romans. Hans Hubner saw Galatians view on law negative, but in Romans a positive view on law. The change happened because of the Jerusalem apostles. Heikki Räisänen says that Paul’s view on law was not consistent even in Romans: ”contradictions and tensions have to be accepted as constant features of Paul’s theology of the law” (Law, 11). He says that Paul’s personal theological problem required ”a historical and psychological explanation” (12). According to Räisänen, Paul is trying to defend impossible situation, namely ”that a divine institution has been abolished through what God has done in Christ Unanswerable, yet real Pauline statement: Christians dispense the law that they believe is from a divine origin.” (264-265). Kuula follows Räisänen by saying that Paul is trying to defend this with forced interpretations of the Scripture and artificial arguments.

Next, Westerholm moves to the other New Perspective advocates. These scholars do not question as much Paul’s consistency. Unlike the scholars mentioned above, who say that Paul missed the point, these scholars say that Luther missed the point. The 1st century Judaism was not righteous by works oriented.

James D.G. Dunn (Jesus, Paul and the Law, 1990; Theology of Paul the Apostle, 1998), another energetic defender and the person who coined the New Perspective says: ”Judaism is first and foremost a religion of grace.” For Dunn, the works of the law does not mean that good works would gain salvation. Rather, they mean “boundary markers” (e.g. circumcision, Sabbath, food laws, cleanness laws) that marked out the Jews as God’s covenant people. He does not consider justification as an act of legal pronouncement by God, but as an ongoing process done by God.

One of the clearest advocates of the New Perspective, N.T. Wright (The Climax of the Covenant, 1991; Christian Origins and the Question of God, 1992-), has become one of the most influential NT scholars of today. He says that the core of Pauls’s Gospel was not justification, but Jesus death, resurrection and exaltation as Lord. claims that for Paul God’s righteousness, namely, covenant faithfulness, was climactically at work in Jesus (”The real Judaism was not a religion or legalistic works-righteousness”, rather it was ”based on a clear understanding of grace” (History, 79-80). Justification means primaraly that all who have faith in Jesus belong as full member of God’s family.

“Lutheran” responses to the New Perspective

C.E.B. Cranfield, an eminent British scholar, follows the reformed understanding of the law that is in the perfect harmony of the Gospel (though the term is used only an aspect of it).

Thomas Schreiner, an American Pauline scholar, holds the Reformed understanding of the law. Even though his arguments are based on same material as Sanders’, the conclusions are different. The difference between Lutheran and Reformed understanding of the law is that the Lutherans stress the discontinuity between the Old and New covenant, while for the Reformed ”the two covenants are basically continues in principle, but recognize the difference in salvation history” and therefore a regenerate person can obey the law.

Mark Seifrid, one of the staunchest critics of the New Perspective, has written a lot about the topic. He argues that in Adam we are all sinners, in Christ we are righteous. Not simply to provide additional justification but full justification (read=Justification by faith alone).

Westerholm also mentiones other perspectives to consider including two Finnish scholars, Timo Laato and Lauri Thuren. According to Laato, the greatest weakness of Sanders’ argumentation is his inadequate coverage of the question of the capacity of humankind. Humanity is in “wretched state of calamity” and therefore no one can do right from pure motives. Jewish understanding is based on human free will; Pauline anthropology is in the state of depravity.

Lauri Thuren focuses on Paul’s rhetoric and how we cannot read Paul as static way but understand that he was trying to affect his readers. An ancient Judaism was more diverse than Sanders portrays.

Grace in Sanders’s Judaism

According to Westerholm, Sanders claims that Paul and Palestinian Judaism did not distinguish between grace and works. Getting in is by grace and staying in is by works. Sanders says that protestant view that Judaism was to get saved by works is misguided because Israel was elected to be the covenant community by “covenant nomism”, that is divine grace. Westerholm however, argues against it that the historic texts do not speak for it. Moreover, many old Pauline scholars are frustrated with Sanders because he seems to portray Judaism as Pelagius type religion, where humans are not totally depraved.

Exegetical Analysis

In the third part of his book, Westerholm discusses with the Pauline texts. He goes through all the Pauline texts in the light of explicit and implicit justification language.

dikaiosune in Pauline texts

Ordinary dikaiosune (Romans 2:13)

· Contrast to sin, what one ought to do (Rom 3:9; 6:18,19)
· The dikaios is the one who does dikaiosune
· To dikaiosify is to declare innocent
· The definition of undikaiosness is described in Romans 1:18 ff
· The doers of the law are deemed dikaios
· The law us understood to prescribe what people ought to do, and those who behave accordingly are dikaios
· The fundamental requirement to do good and avoid the evil (dikaiosune) is same for all human beings.
· One’s dikaiosune is acknowledged by God at the last judgment

Extraordinary dikaiosune (Romans 5:9)

· Treat as one ought to treat the dikaios
· Acquit
· The bane is directed on Jesus
· Ireneus: ”Christ become what we are, in order that we might become what he is”
· Hooker: ”Interchange in Christ”
· Sinners are rightfully dikaiosified by God because what Christ has done for them
· People are moral beings who are required to do good and not evil

Divine Dikaiosune

· God’s right to uphold good and vindicate at the same time sinner and declare them righteous

Dikaiosness and ”covenant”

· Paul never connects a covenant and dikaiosune
· The book of Proverbs compares righteous and wicked, yet never mentions covenant
· Sodom would have been avoided destruction if they were righteous
· In the Hebrew and Greek (LXX) Scriptures righteous and wicked are found side by side
· Righteousness is what sinners need and lack. Gentile do not lack it by definition (because they are not part of the covenant) only because people are sinners
· God’s righteousness is not directly connected to God’s promises in Pauline texts, though it could be so
· Sanders is not correct the way he understands dikaiosune, namely, salvation or life
· But Jews said not the problem of essential sinfulness of each man.
· It is Judaism that links dikaio terminology with a process of outsiders coming to belong to God’s people.

1. Thessalonians. Nothing gives evidence that Paul would have considered that loyalty to Jewish covenant provided a option for salvation. It is true that “justification by faith” term does not occur. However, the concept is seen here as the reformers articulated it: faith itself works. The Paul of Thessalonians says nothing to offend his “Lutheran” readers, but neither does he articulate a distinctively “Lutheran” position.

1. & 2. Corinthians. The plight to be solved in Corinthians is people’s sins (1. Cor. 15:3, 7). Only option for salvation is the apostolic kerygma. God’s elect and those who believe is made effective through the proclamation of the Gospel and human response of faith. The language of justification is not prominent but present. The divine exchange: Christ’s righteousness for human sins. (2. Cor 5:21) Does Corinthians affirm “Justification by faith and apart from works”? Essentially yes, formulaically not.

Galatians. The righteousness language is prominent. According to Westerholm “the fundamental question addressed by Galatians thus is not “What is wrong with Judaism (or the Sinaitic law)” but “what is wrong with humanity that Judaism (and the Sinaitic law) cannot remedy?” (p. 381)

Romans. The problem of human being is that they have exchanged God’s glory for images. All the humans should recognize God and give him honor and thanks. The first section does not talk about Jews, but hardly exclude them. The entire humanity is under the sin which makes them unrighteous. Rom 3:21-26 is the primary text on God’s righteousness. Sinners are freely declared righteous by his grace through the redemption brought about by Christ. Christ’s death vindicates God’s righteousness and satisfies his peace. This is not based on the observance of the law but by the principle of faith. Romans is “Lutheran” because it emphasizes the righteousness gained by grace through faith. It is true that the Reformers may emphasize certain parts more than Paul, yet the idea is same. Paul doe not necessary talk as clearly about the role of the law as Luther, yet still he emphasizes the total depravity of the human person.

Philippians. (Primarily 3:2-11). Salvation is from God, away from crooked generation, started by God, finished by God, granted by God to believe, resulting believers to please God and enable to do so. The believers need to work out the salvation, yet God is doing it behind the scenes. While Paul was “blameless” before the conversion, he considered all the things done before Christ as “the realm of the flesh”.

Ephesians, Pastorals, and James. Not saved by good works but for them. Eph 2:8-9 is in line with Romans and Galatians. It is unfortunate that scholars as dismissing these letters from discussion whether they are Pauline or post-Pauline. He claims to see the theme of justification by faith from the sinfulness by the work of Christ in all letters, some more explicit than others.

The Law in God’s scheme

According to Westerholm, a seeming paradox shadows the Pauline understanding of the law: Believers are not under the law, but they fulfill it. If one focuses solely on the former, he becomes an antinomian, if only the latter, a legalist!

1. Thesis: Human beings find themselves in an ordered world not of their making, with the capacity to acknowledge or deny their dependency on the Creator, to conform or to defy the wise ordering of his creation. Life and divine favor are enjoyed by those who fear the Lord and do good. Those who reject what is good and do what is “wise in their eyes” court disaster. (Rom 1:18-2:11)

2. Thesis: The law of Moses articulates the appropriate human response to life in God’s creation. It is a divine gift to Israel, a signal token of God’s favor to his people. (Rom 2:12-29)

3. Thesis: The law of Moses contains ordinances binding only on Jews; their observance has marked Jews off from other nations as God’s people.

4. Thesis: Adamic humanity does not, and cannot, submit to God’s law.

5. Thesis: For Adamic human beings the law cannot serve as the path to righteousness and life (Only after we see Christ, we see our own depravity.

6. Thesis: The giving of the law served to highlight, at the same time as it exacerbated, human bondage to sin.

7. Thesis: The righteousness of God revealed in Christ Jesus is operative apart from law. Those who continue to pursue the righteousness of the law mistakenly attribute to the works of their unredeemed flesh a role in securing divine approval.

8. Thesis: Believers in Christ are not under law.

9. Thesis: Christian righteousness nonetheless fulfills the law (though love). Describing not prescribing believers’ behavior.

The Closing remarks: Grace abounding to Sinners, erasing Ethnic Boundaries, or something else?

The New perspective emphasizes that Judaism was not “legalistic” in the first century. Jews did not think that they earned salvation; rather, God’s goodness was in their life because they had a covenant with God and they wanted to respond by fulfilling those requirements. Westerholm defines the issues as “whether justification by faith, not by works of the law means sinners find God’s approval by grace, through faith, not by anything they do, or whether its thrust is that Gentiles are included in the people of God by faith without the bother if becoming Jews” (p. 445).

In his writing, it becomes quite apparent that he is trying to convince his readers that the Old Perspective to read Paul is the correct one. He does this first by describing different scholars’ views on the topic and then arguing from the text for the traditional understanding. This book is very informative and includes and capitalizes a plethora of scholars and their understanding of Pauline Gospel. The assessment of the scholars seem to be balanced, not overly critical, yet constructive most of the times.

In his exegetical part, he discusses all the relevant Pauline text and tries to persuade his reader with the Old perspective. I think that he is quite successful.

The conversation still continues still. At the moment N.T. Wright and John Piper are dialoging about it. Piper wrote a book: A future of justification as a direct response to Wright. Wright's response to this, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision was published in February 2009.

The book caused me to have one central question: what is the core of Paul’s theology. Is it God’s grace to save totally corrupted sinners or God’s grace to erase ethnic boundaries? The recent conversation in past decades has focused on so much on this issue that one may wonder if indeed the nucleus is indeed somewhere else. When I read constantly Paul’s epistles through, I have started asking the question: Maybe Paul’s central thought is God’s glory in Christ. Could it be that the entire conversation is a little misguided from the beginning? After doing initial research on this topic, I noticed that virtually no research has been done on this topic.[2] I will investigate this possibility.

I will warmly recommend this book to everyone who wants read himself into the discussion on New Perspective on Paul.

[1] Stephen Westerholm (born in 1949) is a Canadian scholar and associate professor of biblical studies at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. He received BA and MA degrees from the University of Toronto and a ThD from the University of Lund (Sweden). He has has recently contributed an article to The Nordic Paul. Finnish Approaches to Pauline Theology (eds. Lars Aejmelaeus and Antti Mustakallio, 2008).
[2] Two exceptions are Thomas Schreiner, Paul – Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ (IVP, 2002) and Carey Newton, Paul’s Glory – Christology (Brill, 1992).

keskiviikko 8. huhtikuuta 2009

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