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Book Review: The New Perspective on Paul by Thompson

book review

This article was originally part of The Paul Page, a site dedicated to academic study of the apostle, with special focus on the work of N.T. Wright.

Michael B. Thompson (Cambridge: Grove Books Unlimited), 2002, 28 pp.

This little booklet from the Grove Biblical Series is probably the best introduction to the new perspective published to date in evangelical circles. Thorough yet accessible, Thompson’s book surveys nearly all of the relevant issues.

Like most treatments of the new perspective, Thompson begins with a description of the “old” (primarily “Lutheran”) perspective on Paul (pp. 4-7), followed by a description of the work of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright (pp. 8-12). To this point, Thompson’s study reads like a hundred others (including several on the Paul Page). However, at the heart of his booklet (pp. 13-17) Thompson presents his own plausible synthesis, followed by a discussion of potential concerns and theological pitfalls (pp. 18-21) and finally practical benefits of the new perspective (pp. 22-24).

Several concerns are dismissed as unfounded: The concern, for instance, that the new perspective compromises the doctrine of justification by faith (pp. 18ff) or the doctrine of the atonement (p. 19). However, Thompson addresses more substantive concerns as well. He provides a brief critique of the “two-covenant” approach to Judaism and Christianity (pp. 20,21), albeit with sensitivity to the problems posed by the Holocaust (pp. 21, 28, n. 29). He also admits shortcomings in the areas of anthropology and eschatology (p. 21) in a balanced, nuanced assessment.

Thompson addresses the issues of Protestant-Catholic dialogue (p. 19) and Jewish-Christian dialogue (p. 22) in a way consistent with the approach of N.T. Wright. Finally, a stellar bibliography of significant books and articles rounds out this highly informed little volume.

It’s easily read, and the layout is pleasant. The text is broken up by several well-placed pull quotes. One pull quote on page 14 is a little puzzling, taking on an entirely different meaning when pulled out of context, but the other quotations are well chosen.

As an introduction and explanation of the new perspective for evangelical Christians, this booklet is invaluable.

Written by
Mark M. Mattison

Mark M. Mattison is an independent scholar of early Christianity and Christian origins, with particular interests in the historical Jesus, Paul, extracanonical Gospels, feminist-liberationist theology, Christian mysticism, and Kabbalah.

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Written by Mark M. Mattison