As an undergraduate, I read a lot of Martin Luther, and his emphasis on sin and grace has been very influential for my own personal development. (Click here for a list of the books that have impacted me the most.)
At the same time I studied and was very impressed by E. P. Sanders, who argues that the traditional, Lutheran understanding of Paul is based on a misunderstanding of the Jewish sources. Judaism, with its focus on election and the covenant, was grace-based, he maintains, just like Paul's theology. One might be excused for concluding that I was predestined to do my own doctoral work on Paul's theology of the cross and the relationship between Paul and Judaism.
Sanders's work has precipitated a long range of studies on Paul and the law (click here for my list of the best of them). James Dunn has coined the expression “the new perspective on Paul” to describe the many approaches to Paul that have rejected the conviction that the apostle primarily writes against legalism and self-righteousness.
In my own studies, I have tried to find out why Paul rejected his own past and disagreed with his fellow Jews. In my dissertation (click here for a popular summary), I have argued that Paul's theology is transformed and determined by the cross of Christ. The conviction that God's glory is revealed in the humiliated, crucified Christ has a profound impact on his thinking. This conviction changes the way he understands what it means to be elected by God and belong to his chosen people. It is not a question of being lifted up to a superior status, but a question of being united with Christ in his humiliation.
The Jewish confidence that they are God's people because of his election is therefore not a commendable trust in God's grace, according to Paul. When they understood God's election as conferring a superior status, they were not in conformity with God's revelation, the theology of the cross.
I appreciate many aspects of the new perspective on Paul, the concern to read the Jewish sources without Christian prejudice, the emphasis on Paul as a Jewish theologian, and the focus on the community building nature of Paul's theology.
Nevertheless, as do many others, I believe that the new perspective underestimates the fundamental change that the cross of Christ made in Paul's thinking. While the cross represents for Paul the fulfillment of the Scriptures of Israel, it also represents the condemnation of all self-righteousness, for Jews and Gentiles alike, and reveals the righteousness that is found in Jesus Christ.
Some of My Publications
Introducing Biblical Theology (London: T & T Clark, 2013).
Christology in the Synoptic Gospels: God or God’ Servant? (London: T & T Clark, 2012).
God’s Equal: What Can We Know About Jesus’ Self-Understanding? Library of New Testament Studies 446 (London: T & T Clark, 2011).
The Crux of Election: Paul’s Critique of the Jewish Confidence in the Election of Israel, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament II/202 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005). Buy it here (comparison shopping). Read a popular summary.
“What the OT Prophets Did Not Know: The Mystery of the Church in Eph 3,2-13,” Biblica 84 (2003): 531-553.
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