Given Mike Bird’s very interesting portrayal of four ‘camps’ in Pauline scholarship, I thought I’d give a brief comment on what I think is right and wrong about each perspective. The quotes are from Mike’s post:
(1) Traditional Protestant. Paul was preacher of grace that stands in contrasts to the legalism/nomism of second temple Judaism. In some versions, this is accompanied with an implied or even explicit supersessionist view of the church as replacing Israel.
What’s right about this perspective is that it acknowledges Paul’s relentless emphasis on grace, and frequent denial of human boasting. What’s wrong about this perspective – at least as it’s framed here – is that it sees Paul’s critique as being against what second temple Judaism was actually like, rather than being against human devotion, as theologically reconceived in the light of the Christ event. In other words, it is not that Paul thinks all Jews were desperately trying to earn their way to God by doing good enough works; it is rather the case that, in the light of the astonishing solution God has provided in Christ, it becomes necessary to reconceive what had once been pursued in good conscience. Now that Christ has come, the law is necessarily reconceived as a foil for him, and the mediatory functions of Israel are seen as fulfilled in him (e.g. high priesthood, sacrifice, kingship). But it does not follow at all that the church replaces Israel. Israel remains as the people of God, into which Gentiles have been grafted.
(2) The New Perspective on Paul. The problem with Judaism was not legalism, but ethnocentrism. Paul was arguing that Jews need to accept that God has acted in Christ to bring Jews and Gentiles into the new saving event ahead of an eschatological consummation.
What’s right about this perspective is that Paul was indeed concerned to bring Jews and Gentiles together, and to see them as relating to God by faith, rather than by exclusive works of the law. What’s wrong about this perspective is that it also fails to take into account the point above: that it is not second temple Judaism, as it actually exists, that Paul is opposing. Rather, he is configuring any way of relating to God outside of Christ as now – and even retrospectively – being effectively insufficient. Indeed, Paul himself, though being blameless according to the law, became exposed by the Christ event as in (literal) need of gracious enlightenment.
(3) The Apocalyptic/Barthian Paul. Paul proclaimed God’s invasive and cosmic act of salvation to rectify and renew the whole creation rendering the old order with its religion as obsolete.
This is right, though only one aspect of Paul’s conception of God’s work in Christ. This perspective rightly emphasises discontinuity: God steps in and provides a shocking apocalyptic ‘solution’ in Christ; but there is also strong continuity with the Hebrew heritage that preceded Christ’s coming. The Christ event represents the death and resurrection of this Hebrew heritage.
(4) The Radical [Perspective] on Paul. Paul was Jewish and Torah-observant. He tried to bring Gentile communities into closer fellowship with Jewish communities while protecting them from proselytism. Paul believes that Jesus saves Gentiles, but Jews are saved under the auspices of the Mosaic covenant.
What’s right about this perspective is that it acknowledges that Paul was in no way ashamed or regretful of his Jewish identity or practice. What’s wrong with it is that Paul puts Christ at the centre of all human relating to God, in a way that effectively relativizes every other human obligation. Now even what had formerly been noble and right can effectively become ‘boasting’ if it displaces the sufficiency of Christ.
Anyway, them’s my thoughts.