Douglas Campbell and the perspectives on Paul

Douglas Campbell, a professor at Duke Divinity School, has stirred up the discussion of Paul the Apostle and the doctrine of justification.  He wrote a book called The Deliverance of God: an Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul.  This book is apparently shaking up the discussion.  However, Deliverance is a massive (900 page), complex, expensive tome of a book.  So I haven’t read it.  But I feel I need be in on the arguments.

I have decided that my next reading project will be Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul:Reflections on the Work of Douglas Campbell.  This book is a series of articles edited by Chris Tilling.  After each of the articles, Douglas Campbell writes a response.  So I think this will be the best way for me to get in on this important discussion.

The “old perspective on Paul” usually refers to the understanding of Paul that came out of the Protestant Reformation.  From his letters to the Galatians and Romans it was argued that Paul set a notion of salvation through God’s grace over against a Jewish idea of salvation through human works and obedience.

The “new perspective on Paul” is a misleading term.  It is really a new perspective on Judaism that denies Judaism was ever about salvation by works.  This new perspective spawned several new theories about Paul.  E. P. Sanders wrote Paul and Palestinian Judaism in the 1970s.

You will often read that this book was the beginning of a change in our understanding of Judaism’s relation to Paul. Certainly Sanders was very influential on the folks who put forward the “new perspective” theories. But, for what it is worth, I graduated from seminary before Sanders book and already believed that Judaism was not a religion of works. I had read the old scholar, George Foot Moore, who insisted that rabbinic Judaism was a religion of grace.

Most of the “new perspective” theories were about how the problem with Judaism for Paul was not legalism but nationalism and the idea of exclusive election.

To point to a specific New Testament issue, a central question is what Paul meant in Galatians 2:16 by “works of the law.” The older perspective was that Paul meant the idea that by keeping the Torah, you could merit a right relationship with God.

But most of the new-perspective scholars say that “works of the law” refers to what they call “covenental nomism”. The keeping of the law was like a badge showing that you were part of the covenant people. In other words, “works of the law” defined a Jew over against a non-Jew. Circumsision, kosher food, and such were boundary markers between Judaism and paganism.

Paul was an advocate for Gentile inclusion within the people of God without the need for them to use distinctively Jewish boundary markers.

By attacking Jewish nationalism and ethnic exclusivity, some new-perspective proponents run the risk of bringing modern politics into the discussion and come perilously close to saying that Paul’s version of religion has replaced Judaism (supercessionism).

But the implications can be more than that. A local scholar, here in Kansas City, is Mark Nanos. He strongly argues that Paul never broke with Judaism at all. Paul’s mission was not to found a new religion, but to open up Judaism to Gentiles. Of course, Judaism has always been open to Gentiles who became proselytes

Paul, however, argued that Gentiles could join Judaism, specifically the Synagogue, without becoming proselytes because a new situation existed after the death and resurrection of the Messiah. But Jewish Christians, including Paul, were not freed from the Torah, according to Nanos.

That has been the discussion.

But there has also been a separate apocalyptic perspective. I am familiar with this through the book Paul the Apostle by J. Christian Beker.  Beker’s claim that Romans 8, especially verses 19-21, is in the background of most of Paul’s thought has influenced me. The new creation was Paul’s central concept.

I am not sure how much Campbell’s apocalyptic interpretation of Paul coincides with Beker’s. But I offer this post as a way to show where I am as I begin to read and reflect on Campbell



About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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