The now-familiar “new perspective” asserts that the “covenantal nomism” characteristic of second-temple Judaism softened the Mosaic law’s requirement of perfect obedience. Because of God’s gracious covenant with Israel, manifested in election and in the provision of atoning sacrifices, one could be righteous under the law despite occasional failures to obey the law perfectly. This view concludes that Paul, as a first-century Jew, could not have been troubled by the law’s stringent demands, because it was generally understood that the gracious framework of the covenant provided a way of dealing with occasional lapses. Consequently, it is claimed that Paul’s problem with the law must have to do with its misuse as a means of enforcing ethnic boundaries and excluding Gentile believers.
However, as Das demonstrates in this book, whenever the gracious framework of covenantal nomism is called into question, the law’s demands take on central importance. Das traces this development in a number of second-temple Jewish works and especially in the writings of Paul. “Covenantal nomism” is probably an apt characterization of Paul’s opponents, and indeed of Paul’s past life; thus, he can assert that formerly he was “blameless” under the law. But now Paul sees God’s grace as active only in Christ. He emphatically denies that God will show special grace in his judgment of Jews; to do so would be favoritism. Similarly, Paul sees no atoning benefit to the sacrificial system. In effect, Paul is no longer a “covenantal nomist.” Since the gracious framework of the covenant has collapsed, all that remains for Paul is the law, with its oppressive requirement of perfect obedience and ethnic exclusivism. Contra the “new perspective,” the “works of the law” should not be construed so narrowly as only the law’s ethnic exclusivity. Christ is “the end” of the law in general, both in the sense that he is the goal to which the law always pointed, and in that he is the sole agent of God’s grace apart from which the law’s demands would be impossible.
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This is a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion of the place of the Jewish law in the theology of the Apostle Paul. Aware of the ‘new look’ in Pauline studies, and of the view of ’works-righteousness’ to which it is opposed, Dr. Das offers observations on a third way to view the law from the Pauline perspective. The argument is presented in a measured and judicious manner, and will repay careful reading.
—Paul J. Achtemeier, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Interpretation, Union Theological Seminary
This book is an important exploration of the current debate about Paul’s understanding of the Jewish Law in the light of the reevaluation of the issue connected especially with the scholarship of E. P. Sanders. Andrew Das reexamines the Jewish and Pauline texts and explores the nooks and crannies of the recent debates with a sharp eye for dubious arguments. He makes a good case that it is time to move beyond the ‘covenantal nomism’ theory and combine Sanders’ new perspective with a realization that Paul, after all, was concerned about self-righteousness.
—David M. Hay, Joseph E. McCabe Emeritus Professor of Religion, Coe College
Andrew Das has written an ambitious and wide-ranging study that offers a serious sustained critique of the ‘new perspective’ on Paul’s teaching about the Law. He joins Schreiner and Westerholm in challenging the currently popular view of Dunn, Wright, and others that Paul’s critique of Law is aimed primarily at Jewish particularistic nationalism. Das has done an impressive job of sifting through the voluminous secondary literature on Paul and the Law, forming intelligent critical judgments, and maintaining a consistent position of his own while engaging most of the key passages in Paul’s letters. This book is a solid and professional piece of work that needs to be heeded in contemporary debates about Paul and the Law. I have certainly learned in reading it to be more nuanced in some of my own formulations.
—Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament, Duke University
The work offers a sustained critique of the so-called ‘new perspective’ on Paul’s teaching about the Law. Das joins Thomas Schreiner and Stephen Westerholm in challenging the currently popular view of James Dunn, N. T. Wright, and others that Paul’s critique of the Law is aimed primarily at Jewish particularistic nationalism.
—International Review of Biblical Studies
Anyone interested in Pauline studies, and in the New Testament texts examined by Das, will find his study both stimulating and beneficial and might breathe a sigh of relief that a ‘newer perspective’ on Paul has dawned.
—Southwestern Journal of Theology
This book is a detailed and careful study that takes into consideration the main line of thought in recent Pauline scholarship. However, it refuses to be ‘uncritical,’ accepting its findings as final. For that reason, Das offers a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate. . . . However, while reading this book we are reminded that Sanders’ Covenantal Nomism is still waiting for a ‘newer perspective,’ that will look at the ‘patterns of religion of both Judaism and Paul from 30 years of distance.’ Whoever will have the depth and breadth to undertake that project would be well served by consulting Paul, the Law, and the Covenant.
—Ashland Theological Journal
A. Andrew Das is a Niebuhr Distinguished Chair and professor of religious studies at Elmhurst College in Illinois. He is the author of several books, including Paul and the Jews.