Lutheran / Traditional Perspective
The “New Perspective”
Justification: how can sinners be made right before God?
Gentile inclusion: on what terms may Gentiles join God’s people?
State of 1st c. Judaism
Burdened by the Law; dead in sin; marked by hypocrisy and legalism; bound up with sin, death & law (in contrast to grace, life & faith).
Vibrant, dynamic, diverse; a religion of grace; pattern of religion: “covenantal nomism*” (Sanders); in (spiritual) exile (Wright)
*"Covenantal Nomism” (according to Sanders): the notion that the Israelite’s place in God’s plan is determined by the covenant which God established with Israel, and that obedience to the law is Israel’s proper response to God’s initial act of grace.
The Law in Judaism
Onerous burden for those who broke it; cause of boasting for those who kept it.
A gracious, delightful gift from God, “holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12; Ps 119:97)
Paul’s problem with Judaism
Legalism: it promotes legalistic works righteousness; merit theology; pride in accomplishments; faulty view of grace and works
Nationalism / racism / exclusivism / particularism: the role of the Law in establishing boundary markers, Jewish privilege (Dunn); “It is not Christianity” (Sanders)
Paul’s condition prior to conversion
A frustrated, guilt-ridden sinner who valued works over faith, and who struggled unsuccessfully to measure up to the Law’s demands (Rom 7:14-24).
A Law-keeping (blameless) Pharisee who denied Jesus was God’s Messiah (Gal 1:14; Phil 3:4-8). Images of a distressed Paul are projections of the West’s “introspective conscience.”
Paul leaves his now-dead ancestral religion and its Law to trust and follow Christ. Paul rejects Law-keeping as impossible and/or pride-producing.
Paul is not “converted” from Judaism but “called” within it to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Stendahl). Paul didn’t so much convert from Judaism but to Christianity (Sanders). See 2 Cor 3:4-18; Phil 3:3-11.
Justification by faith
The center / organizing principle of Paul’s Gospel: God’s gracious declaration that a sinner is right before God through his faith in Christ’s work. God’s response to human failure / pride.
A “subsidiary crater” in Paul’s thought (Schweitzer); a polemical / apologetic doctrine developed to defend the full status of Gentile converts and to refute Jewish-Christian efforts to impose circumcision, etc. on them.
Repent of dead works and trust in Christ’s atoning work to be justified / saved (
Jesus is the anointed, risen and exalted Lord over all nations (Wright; Rom 1:1-5). Salvation comes by transfer to the realm of his lordship, by union with / participation in Christ (Sanders; 2 Cor 5:17; Rom 6:3-7).
Forward: from plight to solution: Law-sin-guilt à faith in Christ à justification apart from Law
Backward: from solution to plight (Sanders): Christ à various (unsystematic, inconsistent, incompatible) assessments of sin & Law (Gal 2:21; 3:19, 24-25; Rom 3:20; 4:15; 10:4)
Or: From plight to solution to plight (Wright): exile à Christ à sin / law
Theme of Romans
A “compendium of Christian doctrine” (Melancthon).
A theological treatise on justification by grace through faith.
Romans 9-11 are a parenthesis.
An occasional document defending the faithfulness of God (to the nations, to
Romans 9-11 are the climax of the letter.
Works of the Law (erga nomou, e.g. Rom.3:28)
Striving to do good; good works performed for salvation
Observing Torah; what pious Jews do; only bad when imposed on Gentiles; passé because it excludes Gentiles.
Pistis Christou (e.g., Ga.2:16)
Faith in Christ (objective genitive; anthropological reading) (Dunn)
Faith(fulness) of Christ = subjective genitive; Christological reading (Hays)