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Review Essay of “Cracking the Foundation of The New Perspective on Paul: Covenantal Nomism Versus Reformed Theology” by Robert J. Cara

Robert J. Cara, Cracking the Foundation of The New Perspective on Paul: Covenantal Nomism Versus Reformed Theology. Reformed, Exegetical and Doctrinal Studies. London: Mentor (Christian Focus Publications), 2017.

by Don Garlington

This book is the most recent endeavor on the part of Reformed theologians to rebuff the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). The title says it all: the intention is to undermine the NPP by removing its moorings or “cracking its foundation.”

Chapter One commences with a brief summary of the NPP and justification. Quoting Frank Matera, Second Temple Judaism (hereafter 2TJ) “was centered upon the gracious aspect of God’s covenant with Israel” and was not legalistic works righteousness oriented as the traditional-Protestant view held (pp. 20–21). This “new conclusion” is then related to justification in Paul as an aid to understanding better Paul’s opponents and Paul himself. In a note, Cara contends that NPP authors tend to allow their view of 2TJ to control (italics original) their exegesis of Scripture (p. 21, n. 3).

The NPP, writes Cara, rejects the traditional Protestant view that Paul is opposing two soteriological systems: justification by works of the law (works righteousness soteriology) versus justification by grace/Christ’s work/faith (grace soteriology). “Why? Because a works righteousness soteriology did not exist during the first-century A.D” (p. 21), in line with E. P. Sanders’ reading of 2TJ. It is in such terms that NPP authors define “works of the law” as technically the whole Torah, but primarily the Jewish boundary markers of Sabbath, circumcision, and food laws. Paul, therefore, is contrasting grace with those who trust in their Jewish identity or, according to N. T. Wright, a “national righteousness,” the belief that fleshly Jewish descent guarantees membership of God’s true covenant people. Cara interweaves a quotation from Kent Yinger to the same effect. The result is that NPP authors agree that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles is the context for his teaching on justification, not that some wanted to be justified by works-righteousness (p. 23).

Then comes the allegation that the NPP is unclear and disunified about what justification actually means. In so doing, Cara poses a number of questions that are apparently intended to portray the NPP as a mixed bag of conflicting opinions as pertains to justification. That said, it is true enough that justification, on the NPP understanding, entails two components: initial and final justification. The problem is that Cara’s characterization effectively imposes a false dichotomy between the “Already” and “Net Yet” structure of biblical soteriology as pertains to justification.

Thereafter, the chapter carries on with yet another précis of Sanders and covenantal nomism as the foundation of the NPP. In any event, Cara appropriately cites Alistair McGrath to the effect that if Sanders is right, then the traditional interpretation of the Pauline doctrine of justification, from Augustine through Luther and beyond, requires revision (p. 27).

Not surprisingly, the “Focus and Thesis” of the book is stated in terms of a traditional Reformed view of justification, with the expected correlation that the NPP, as least as it concerns justification, is “substantially wrong” (27). But because of the “imbalance” of books delving into the details of the Jewish background of the debate, this volume seeks to fill a void. In Cara’s own words (p. 28):

My view is not that every document or Jewish group was works righteousness oriented. I am simply trying to prove that some were. Once given this, then there is no need to deny that Paul’s opponents had these views since this seems to be the straightforward way to take Paul’s statements. In sum, if works righteousness views did exist in the first century A.D., then the core belief of NPP crumbles and the logic for a re-interpretation of Paul disappears.

Stated otherwise (p. 29):

The primary thesis of this book, then, is that there are many examples of works righteousness (Pelagian and semi-Pelagian versions) in Second Temple Judaism literature and, therefore, Sanders’ uniform covenantal nomism is mistaken. Hence, the new-perspective-on-Judaism foundation crumbles and the NPP house comes crashing down. The secondary thesis is that the NPP is especially vulnerable in its explanations and/or avoidance of Eph. 2:810, Titus 3:47, and 2 Tim. 1:810 (italics original).

If we wish a further grounding for the purpose of this undertaking, it is provided on p. 34:

From my perspective as an anti-NPP author, significant progress in refuting the NPP has been made in the Reformed Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist pastor/church worlds; however, there are still many evangelicals who are attracted to the NPP. A major reason I wrote this book is to clarify NPP issues for evangelicals especially as they relate to Sanders’ covenantal nomism. Of course, I hope that all readers conclude that Sanders and the resulting NPP view of justification is misguided.

Chapter Two is entitled “Works Righteousness: Reformed and Covenantal-Nomism Frameworks.” The thesis is not that every document or Jewish group was works-righteousness oriented; only some were. That granted, there is no need to deny that Paul’s opponents embraced a theology of works-righteousness, since this seems to be the straightforward way of understanding Paul’s own statements. Consequently, if works-righteousness did exist in the first century, the core belief of the NPP crumbles and the logic for a reinterpretation of Paul disappears (p. 38). The chapter then proceeds to outline define the various theological terms and the competing frameworks. Undergirding the presentation is the author’s traditional Reformed convictions.

The phrase “works righteousness” is employed in the sense of “legalistic works righteousness,” with “legalistic” used as it relates to laws and a law court. Thus:

Legalistic works righteousness refers to works done to fulfill a law and works that are declared righteous by a judge. More specifically in our context, a works righteousness theology means that one’s works are, in part or the whole, the ground by which God the Judge declares one righteous (justification) and qualified to enter the afterlife (p. 40. Italics original).

Cara then recounts the terms “Semi-Pelagianism” and “Pelagianism,” with the decided implication that the NPP is an instance of the former. In a note (p. 41, n. 11), he cites my work and that of Dunn as an attack on the Reformation, for two reasons: a denial of imputed righteousness and a perceived downplay of the doctrine of justification. To these allegations there are two replies. The first is that a denial of imputation is not an assertion of Semi-Pelagianism and certainly is not an “attack” on the Reformation. Cara appears to be unaware that the Heidelberg Catechism, a “well-known creed” (p. 42), takes a deliberate stance over against Westminster as regards imputation. One wonders, Does Cara consider Heidelberg to be Semi-Pelagian?1 Second, the doctrine of justification has not been downplayed, only contextualized. In Paul’s letters, justification serves the primary purpose of demolishing the barrier between Jew and Gentile in the eschatological/soteriological plan of God for the ages. Outside of Romans and Galatians, two distinctly missionary letters, justification is hardly mentioned in the NT. That said, we are not surprised that that Cara considers 2TJ to be Semi-Pelagian, forming a parallel with Roman Catholic theology (p. 43).

Next ensues a review of the Westminster position concerning “the covenant of works” versus “the covenant of grace.” That is to say, Adam and his posterity were promised life “upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.”

Therefore, this is a works righteousness covenant. Adam subsequently sins and all mankind falls with him. After Adam’s sin, God makes a Covenant of Grace ‘whereby [the Lord] freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith In him’ (WCF 7.3) (p. 45).

A bit later (p. 46), it is qualified that in a secondary sense the covenant of grace contains a works-principle.

Then there is a discussion of the second and third uses of the law. By way of reminder, Cara writes that the three uses are traditionally numbered as: (1st) magistrate or external restraint, (2nd) pedagogical or revealing sin (with the hope of driving one to Christ), and (3rd) guide to the Christian life (p. 47). The author notes similarities between the Reformed tradition and the NPP, but complains that without a clear view of justification, the agreement between the Reformed tradition and the NPP will not be at a deep level.

Thereafter, the chapter carries on with the rubric of final judgment and justification. The premise of the discussion is that “the Reformed and traditional-Protestant view includes Christ’s work as the sole basis for the declaration by God that a believer is justified” (p. 53). Then it is baldly stated that NPP authors do not agree with this view of justification and that these authors differ among themselves as to what exactly justification is. However, in the end Sanders and the others do include human works as part of what Paul terms justification in the final judgment.

Cara’s comeback is that the Reformed view believes that the legal requirement to enter the new heavens and earth is perfect righteousness as required by the covenant of works. For believers, this legal requirement was accomplished by Christ’s life and death and is applied to the believer when he comes to faith. “To repeat, believers can be declared justified now rather than at the final judgment because the legal basis is Christ’s work, not ours. If it was ours, a legal decision by a judge would not be made until our lives were completed” (p. 54). It is conceded that the NT does speak of God making declarations about believers’ works being evaluated at the final judgment. Yet such works are written off only as evidence that Christians were truly connected to Christ. On the other hand, unbelievers are still under the requirement of the covenant of works and will be judged on the basis of their works.

The argumentation continues to be flawed, first of all, by the classic Reformed categories of “covenant of works” and “covenant of grace.” In biblical terms, both are artificial, as rooted in confessional formulae rather than exegesis. As for the characterization of the NPP in relation to final justification, it is Paul himself who writes that “the doers of the will be justified” (Rom 2:13) and that those who live according to the flesh will die, but if by the Spirit they put to death the deeds of the body, they will live (Rom 8:13). This is far more than mere evidence of one’s connection to Christ: death to the flesh and life in the Spirit are the sine qua non of a favorable verdict in the judgment. Granted, NPP scholars differ on various details,2 but the fact remains that there is a clear consensus that the Judaism of the Second Temple Period was not “legalistic” but “nomistic” and that the covenant-oriented works of the believer are a precondition of vindication in the last judgment.3 Cara should be reminded again of the discrepancy between the Westminster Confession and the Heidelberg Confession regarding imputation.

Chapter Two continues with a survey of the “Covenant Nomism Framework,” a survey of the precursors of Sanders. The sketch is accurate as far as it goes, but is conspicuously incomplete. One is better served by Sanders’s own overview in Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Then ensues “Paul and Palestinian Judaism and Covenantal Nomism,” consisting of a distillation of Sanders, whose premises are well-known by this time. Of more direct interest is Cara’s “Broad-Brush Critiques of Covenantal nomism.” The premise is that both “Pelagian and semi-Pelagian systems of works-righteousness existed in the Second Temple Period. “As a good Protestant,” Cara believes that “all humans, not simply those within Judaism, are infected with the desire to justify themselves” (p. 65).

The discussion then carries on with “Covenantal Nomism as Defined Appears to Include Works Righteousness.” Cara agrees with Timo Eskola: “If legalism means that keeping the law effects eschatological salvation, then covenantal nomism is legalistic by definition” (p. 66). Others invoked in this assessment are Guy Walters, Moisés Silva, and Simon Gathercole. Not surprisingly, the notion of merit is adduced as evidence of legalism. However, Cara has failed to distinguish between Second Temple and later Rabbinic sources. Sanders states that in most instances merit in the latter has to do not with salvation but “God’s gifts in biblical history” (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 189–90).4 Consistent with the foregoing is the claim that “Halakah Emphasis Tends Toward Works Righteousness.” The premise is that “This emphasis on laws without a clear and consistent call within these documents toward grace, in my perspective, would tend to move one toward legalism” (p. 70). Cara cites Thomas Schreiner to the same effect: “Any theology that claims to stress God’s grace but rarely mentions it and that elaborates human responsibility in detail inevitably becomes legalistic in practice, if not theory” (p. 70). But both overlook the reality that Jewish authors worked with a set of assumptions, the covenant and its provision for grace. By the nature of the case, presuppositions are taken for granted and are stated explicitly only when it becomes necessary to do so. In such instances, these writers were not shy about stating their assumptions openly. For example, the author of 1 Maccabees singles out the Jewish apostates who abandoned “the holy covenant” (1 Macc. 1:15).

The chapter concludes with a consideration of the reliability of the NT in its assessment of 2TJ. In this regard, I would agree with Cara that the NT represents an accurate portrayal of the sources.

Chapter Three bears the title, “Works Righteousness in Jewish Literature”? The endeavor is to demonstrate that Second Temple literature displays elements of Pelagian or semi-Pelagian works-righteousness. To cut to the chase, for one, the documents surveyed are highly selective, especially given the enormity of the extant sources. Second, the reading of the materials is tendentious, meaning that Cara sees in them what he want to see. Third, the element of the covenant is consistently downplayed. For authors of the Second Temple Period, the covenant made with Moses was the underlying assumption; and by the nature of the case, assumptions are rarely mentioned, except when they are called into question. “For me,” writes Cara, “Sanders’ analysis overplays his assumed covenant background and ignores the category of semi Pelagian” (p. 88). My response is that the covenant background is indispensable to understanding Second Temple (and beyond) literature and that the very terms Pelagian and semi-Pelagian are anachronistic and have been read into the texts in question. Fourth, the secondary literature under examination is highly selective and hardly does justice to the mass of materials available. Cara cites Bruce Longenecker’s two books on 4 Ezra but ignores Richard Bauckham’s essay.5 Sanders did concede that 4 Ezra, as a conspicuous exception to the “rule” of covenantal nomism, lapses into out-and-out legalism, although 2 Baruch already undertakes to correct the outlook of its author (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 427–28). Bauckham, by contrast, thinks that these two documents represent a variety of covenantal nomism that places extra stress on law-obedience. With regard to 4 Ezra, Bauckham makes several points. (1) Salvation is not represented as the result of weighing an individual’s deeds, but as the reward for the kind of life the righteous person has led in faithfulness to God and the Torah. (2) It is a false alternative to posit that there is an inconsistency between God’s grace and keeping the law. God gives salvation to those members of his elect people who have kept the terms of the covenant. (3) 4 Ezra illustrates how the basic and flexible pattern of covenantal nomism could take forms in which the emphasis is overwhelmingly on salvation by obedience to the law. 2 Baruch endorses essentially the same outlook. My only qualification is that Bauckham applies the term “merit” to the process of keeping the terms of the covenant. I would say, rather, that keeping the terms of the covenant is “righteousness.”

As regards the later Tannaitic literature, the same thesis is forwarded. Predictably, Cara singles out the factors of free will, merit, and the relation of good deeds to the final judgment. In keeping with Sanders’ own assessment, some allowance may be made for individual Rabbis who may have embraced a notion of “works-righteousness” in relation to the judgment. But it is a question of what was characteristic of these authors, and it is entirely possible to read them quite in keeping with a covenantal nomism model. As stated above, merit in the Rabbis mainly has to do with “God’s gifts in biblical history” (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, pp. 189–90). But the more pressing question pertains to the dating of these sources. Paul could hardly have read the Mishnah, Talmud, Tosefta and related literature, and to argue that the ideology of these volumes was extant in the first century serves to beg the question. At least some allowance must be made for the factor of development in the history of Judaism. In a nutshell, Cara culls passages here and there from these texts and then imposes on them an assumed framework. As ever, Reformed theology is the Procrustean Bed to which every text must conform. Moreover, Cara has fallen into the trap of what Samuel Sandmel once called “Parallelomania.”6

Chapter Four, “Works Righteousness in ‘Deutero-Paul’?, starts off with Pauline authorship pertaining to Eph. 2:8–10; Titus 3:4–7; 2 Tim. 1:8–10. The point is that these passages do reflect a works-righteousness mentality, but they are not from the pen of Paul the apostle. Thereafter we are presented with a list of scholars who are unsympathetic with the NPP: Howard Marshall, Michael Wolter, and John Barclay, with footnote references to the likes of Francis Watson (to whom more attention could have been paid). To clarify, I, for one, do embrace the Pauline authorship of these letters, and, as such, I do think they can be understood perfectly well from the vantage point of the NPP.

The first passage is Eph 2:8–10. Generally, the discussion is exegetically sound and useful. It is noted that “salvation” can have reference to justification, sanctification, or glorification, or all three. More accurately, “salvation” would include all aspects of the ordo salutis (p. 152, n. 76).7 In this passage, Cara opts for salvation as referring to justification solely. It is correctly observed that “this” in 8b looks to the entire clause of 8a. However, the argument entails the assumption that “works” are tantamount to “merit.” One may grant that “works” pertain to a “negative soteriological system” (p. 153). But in what sense? In answering, Cara falls back on the covenant of works (p. 153, n. 78). Then it is asserted that “Although Jew/Gentile concerns are not totally absent from Ephesians, the emphasis on Gentiles (Eph. 2:11) and their ‘works’ surely means general moral works as opposed to Jewish nationality markers” (p. 153).

This line of argumentation is flawed in four regards. The first is the artificial restriction of “salvation” to justification, because salvation always transpires in three tenses: I have been saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. It is only for the sake of polemics that Cara has to limit the term to justification in Eph. 2. Second, the Torah itself does not distinguish between “general moral works” and “Jewish nationality markers.” It was just as “moral” for the members of Moses’ covenant to adhere to the purity, dietary, and sacrificial laws as to keep the Ten Commandments. Third, to write that Jew/Gentile concerns are not totally absent from Ephesians is a palpable understatement. The entire section of 2:11–3:6 is devoted to Jew/Gentile equality in Christ. At one time, it was “the dividing wall of hostility,” i.e., “the law of commandments and ordinances” (the Torah) that stood in the way of that equality and presented a roadblock to the unity of “the one new man” in Christ. Moreover, the “mystery of Christ” is nothing other than the way in which Gentiles are now fellow heirs with believing Jews, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ (3:4–6). These data have a definite bearing on the claim that Paul has in mind “general moral works as opposed to Jewish nationality markers,” simply because the Torah, with its “commandments and ordinances,” was preeminently the “boundary marker” that distinguished Israel from the nations. Paul’s precise argument is that Christ has removed the erstwhile barriers that stood in the way of the creation of the one new man in place of the two (v. 15), whose effect was reconciliation, peace, and access in one Spirit to the Father (vv. 16–18). Fourth, the proposition of 8b that salvation is “not from you” applies very well to Israel’s “willing and running” (Rom 9:16) to be the faithful people of God (= covenantal nomism). The problem was the nation was seeking to maintain (stēsai) its own covenant righteousness (tēn idian dikaiosynēn) and for that reason would not submit to God’s righteousness as eschatologically revealed in Christ (Rom 10:3–4).

But what about those who were never under Israel’s Torah? Paul and the NT at large is clear that pagan civilization was characterized by the darkness of idolatry. The Gentile world was enmeshed in the worship of nonexistent deities, and within the various belief-systems of the day individuals may very well have striven to earn the favor of the divinities in question. But even so, the root-problem was idolatry, which in human history has indeed manifested itself as various schemes of autosoterism. But underlying all such forms of endeavor is bondage to beings that by nature are not gods (Gal 4:8). It is the gospel that delivers all idolaters, Jewish or Gentile, from the consequences of their idolatrous inclinations. Even Israel’s ongoing devotion to the Torah is denounced by Paul as idolatry (Rom. 2:21–22; Gal. 4:8–11).8

The second text is Titus 3:4–7. The analysis of the context again is of use. Likewise, it is correct that the crux of the issue is: “he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (3:5). Predictably, the “deeds done by us in righteousness” are taken to be “works as human actions within a works righteousness soteriology” (p. 160). It is then argued that given that part of the context of the letter is some type of Jewish-Christian false teaching, it follows that even if “works” here were related primarily to Jewish nationality markers, the context of Titus 3:3-7 makes clear that nationality markers would still be within the works righteousness framework. It is conceded that the sins listed in Titus 3:9 do include Jewish issues and it is certainly possible that a part of the broad “works” in context included Jewish nationality markers and Jewish works-righteousness. Added to this is the consideration that the verb dikaioō must be contrasted with “works done in righteousness.” The sum is that Paul first contrasts human “works” and “mercy” (vv. 5a and5b). He then connects “[God] saved us” (v. 5c) to “mercy” (v. 5b) and to “having been justified by grace” (v. 7a). Hence, human works are the soteriological opposite of God’s salvation-mercy-justification-grace; that is, human effort is here considered works-righteousness. The contrast of works and mercy/grace matches that of Rom. 11:6.

In reply, as Cara himself points out, Titus 1:10 singles out the circumcision party and 1:14 makes mention of “Jewish myths,” while in 3:9 there are “genealogies” “quarrels about the law.” These data suggest very strongly that Paul has in mind a decidedly Jewish alternative to his gospel. As such, a very Jewish-sounding phrase like “works of righteousness” is best taken as works that are tantamount to righteousness or amount to righteousness within the parameters of the covenant. As such, these works are hardly meritorious or undertaken to earn salvation. Rather, any Jew of the period would have understood the covenant as the given or the presupposition of “works of righteousness.” Cara is thus obliged to wrench the works in question from the covenant and assign to them a works-righteousness meaning. As applied to non-Jews, the same observations pertain as in the case of Eph, 2:8–10.

The handling of 2 Tim. 1:8–10 proceeds along the same lines as the other passages. The nub of the argument pertains to 1:9: “who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” It may well be, as Cara maintains, that “works” here are used in the broad sense of any kind of human effort. But even so, as applied to Israel, these works are easily understood along the lines of covenantal nomism. It is an assumption on Cara’s part that the Apostle has in view “works-righteousness.” Moreover, the pronouncement of 1:10 is decidedly eschatological: “and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” The reasoning is salvation-historical: it is the appearance of Christ that has rendered obsolete any and all forms of “works”—of whatever variety—that preceded his coming. As always, Paul’s thought is Christocentric.

Certainly I would resist Cara’s bottom line: “All this to say, Eph. 2:1-10, Titus 3:4-7, and 2 Tim. 1:1-10 crack the NPP’s foundation of Sanders’ covenantal nomism by showing that works righteousness did exist in Second Temple Judaism and Christian church contexts” (p. 195; cf. p. 38). It could be added that Reformed authors also allow their understanding of 2TJ to control their exegesis. It is assumed that this Judaism was “legalistic,” and then this perception is submitted as the paradigm for understanding the various enclaves of this Judaism.

This broad division of the book concludes with critiques of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright. Cara notes that these authors either do not accept Pauline authorship of Ephesians and the Pastorals or give them very short shrift. Numerous similar treatments of these scholars are available in any number of sources. From my personal perspective, the criticisms are, for the most part, lame and ineffective. To cut to the chase, the Sanders/Dunn/Wright trajectory is unacceptable because it is not Reformed theology.

To relate some closing reflections: For one, Cara’s argumentation is circular. It begins and ends with Reformed theology. In so saying, the purpose is not to cast aspersions on the Reformation, but rather to avow that the Reformation per se is not the paradigm of truth; it is, rather, Scripture, which has to be interpreted by every generation. Hopefully, that program of hermeneutics will take into account the authentic context in which the NT was written. After all, one of the great slogans of the Reformation was ad fontes—to the sources.

Second, there is the insistence that “works” of any sort necessarily entail works-righteousness. According to p. 101: “Whether one is referencing justification related to ‘getting in,’ ‘staying in,’ or the final judgment, if it involves works, it is works righteousness theology.” This is one of Cara’s broad, sweeping, and polemical generalizations that will not stand up to exegetical scrutiny. And in reply to p. 101, n. 60, I would agree with Martin Abegg (and Tom Wright) that Cara’s is a kneejerk reaction to the NPP.

Third, the question of a final or eschatological justification (vindication) is integral to this whole debate.9 In lieu of anything like a full discussion, suffice it to say that the prima facie meaning of texts like Rom. 2:13 and 2 Cor. 5:10 is that the works demanded by the new covenant are the sine qua non of a favorable verdict in the last judgment. In terms of the former passage, there is to be a latter-day vindication of “the doers of the law.” Commenting on the latter, it is G. K. Beale who writes that although this verse does not speak of justification as such, it does exhibit a “manifestive justification.” That is to say, the last judgment for believers, which is according to works, is “reflective of and further attesting their justification that has been openly manifested in their bodily resurrection.”10

Fourth, there is the entirely correct affirmation that “The only sure foundation for justification is the work of Christ, and Him alone” (p. 125). No one I know disagrees with this, and to assert this of the NPP is a gross injustice. Yet the necessity of the perseverance of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:26) is as much a part of the work of Christ as any aspect of soteriology. Ours is a salvation to be “worked out” with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:13), because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). These pronouncements of Paul find a parallel in “the good fight of faith.” Faith must fight in order to lay hold of eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12). Another matter of agreement is that salvation is both forensic and existential, and is connected to our union with Christ (p. 169). Fairly and correctly understood, the NPP is in no way inimical to such an outlook on grace.

Fifth, so much of argumentation hinges on categories like the covenant of works, the covenant of grace, imputation, and the ordo salutis, all of which are artificial in exegetical terms. It is because of such presuppositions that the author casts aspersions on evangelicals who are not in accord with his own set of commitments.

So, has Cara’s book cracked the foundations of the NPP? I, for one, would say not in the least. The foundations remain firmly intact.


1I might add that Jonathan Edwards embraced a future dimension of justification, not dissimilar to proponents of the NPP.

2In an essay entitled “The New Perspective on Paul: An Appraisal Two Decades Later” (Criswell Theological Review 2 [2005], 18), I have made this very point: “What goes by the moniker of the ‘New Perspective’ is actually more like variations on a theme; and, in point of fact, this generic title is flexible enough to allow for individual thought and refinement of convictions.”

3The work of Chris Vanlandingham, Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006) is not actually representative of the NPP. It is simply not Pauline that after initial justification one is “on one’s own” to keep the law perfectly. Cara, therefore, wrongly lumps Vanlandingham together with scholars who would distance themselves from his rather radical position.

4See my ‘The Obedience of Faith’: A Pauline Phrase in Historical Context (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/38;Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991), 120.

5Richard Bauckham, “Apocalypses,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism. Volume 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism (eds. D. A Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 135–87. It is of interest that Carson, in the Introduction and Summaries and Conclusions of the book, claims that most, if not all, of its authors agree with his assessment of 2TJ, when, in fact, most agree with Sanders! See Pamela Eisenbaum, Review of Biblical Literature 12 (2002). As Eisenbaum comments, the incongruity is most apparent when Carson calls covenantal nomism “reductionistic” and “misleading”—a charge that might well be leveled against him in relation to the body of work he purports to be summarizing! James Dunn, with considerable justification queries, “Was Carson reading a different version of the essays he then published” (Trinity Journal ns 25 (2004), 113)? It is to be noted as well that Cara bypasses altogether Richard Longenecker’s Paul: Apostle of Liberty (Grand Rapids: Baker, rep. 1976), 65–85. Longenecker distinguishes between “hard” and “soft” legalism. “Soft legalism” is also termed “reacting nomism,” which amounts to Sanders’ “covenantal nomism.”

6Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962), 1–13.

7In the case of the ordo salutis, Cara invokes an established category of Reformed theology. However, in the NT itself there is no ordo salutis but a historia salutis, as rightly argued by Richard Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (2nd ed.; Phillipsburg: P & R, 1987).

8See my Faith, Obedience, and Perseverance: Aspects of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 79; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1994, 32–43; An Exposition of Galatians: A Reading From the New Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 244–51.

9See my Faith, Obedience, and Perseverance, 44–71; Nigel M. Watson, “Justified by Faith, Judged by Works—an Antinomy?,” New Testament Studies 29 (1983): 209–21; Klyne R. Snodgrass, “Justification by Grace—to the Doers: an Analysis of the Place of Romans 2 in the Theology of Paul,” New Testament Studies 32 (1986): 72–93.

10G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 509, quoting Richard Gaffin.

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