I am trying to acquaint myself (and you) with the discussion of Paul the Apostle’s thought that comes from a new proposal by Douglas Campbell. So I am reading the series of papers by and about Campbell in Beyond Old and New Perspectives on Paul.
Before getting into his proposal about Romans, Douglas Campbell contributes a chapter about Galatians 2:15-16. This illustrates his problem with a “forward” reading of Paul’s notion of salvation. The passage has two key phrases. One is often translated “works of the law” and the other is often translated “faith in (or of) Christ.” Here is the KJV of v. 16:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified .
A “forward” reading interprets “works of the law” as the problem and “faith of Christ” as the solution. This is the idea Campbell is criticizing. It implies that Judaism is a negative, inadequate, legalistic religion. It implies that Paul is arguing that any right thinking Jew will come to agree that it is self-evident that the Torah, even though given by God, is a flawed system and Jews need to “trade up” to a new system based on faith.
This idea of a “Plan A” and a “Plan B” has unsustainable consequences.
“God in his wisdom would have placed humanity in a system that does not work and yet go on to hold them accountable for its failure.”
Campbell calls this view “foundational” in the negative sense that term has in postmodern thought. It depends on people seeing the problem on their own. It devolves into an argument about the nature of Judaism. The gospel then rests on a historical judgment about what the Torah meant to first-century Jews. Campbell says that this is a dead-end and even that it makes orthodox theology impossible.
He says that this reading of the text is unnecessary. He reads the text as mere antithesis. Paul is declaring his adherence to a gospel of faith not works, but he is not saying that he or other Jews used to follow a gospel of works. Campbell compares it to a man saying he is a Catholic, not a Communist. This statement does not imply that he used to be a Communist.
So what is the meaning of Paul’s negative use of “works of the law”? In Galatians, as in many of his letters, Paul takes a stand over against false teachers. So Paul’s statement arose within a conflict, not with the religion of Judaism, but with whoever the false teachers at Galatia were.
The view that Campbell stands against is the view that the basis (foundation) for Paul’s gospel is the failure of Jewish works. He spends some pages citing many Christian interpreters who held this mistaken view. And he shows how they used Romans 1:16-4:25 to explicate this view. This is what makes that text key.
Campbell’s chapter is called “Connecting the Dots”. He intends it to show how it is not enough to reinterpret Galatians 2:15-16. The new-perspective scholars for the most part agree with him about that text. They would also oppose the view that sees it as a dissing of Judaism. But, for Campbell, the anti-Judaism “forward” reading of Galatians ties in with the way we have also read Romans as a systematic problem-solution statement of Paul’s gospel.
So he thinks we need a more radical re-reading of Romans.