This important work challenges the validity of the “New Perspective” on Paul and Judaism. Working with new data from Jewish literature and a fresh reading of Romans 1–5, Simon Gathercole produces a far-reaching criticism of the current approach to Paul and points a new way forward. Building on a detailed examination of the past generation of scholarship on Paul and early Judaism, Gathercole’s work follows two paths.
First, he shows that while early Judaism was not truly oriented around legalistic works-righteousness, it did consider obedience to the Law to be an important criterion at the final judgment. On the basis of this reconstruction of Jewish thought and a rereading of Romans 1–5, Gathercole advances his main argument–that Paul did indeed combat a Jewish perspective that saw obedience to the Law both as possible and as a criterion for vindication at the final judgment. Paul’s reply is that obedience to the Law is not a criterion for the final judgment because human nature makes obedience to the Law impossible. His doctrine of justification can therefore be properly viewed in its Jewish context, yet anthropological issues also take center stage.
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Interested in more? Be sure to check out the Eerdmans Pauline Studies Collection (15 vols.)
“So, three elements can be affirmed as to the identity of the interlocutor in Romans 2: he is a Jew; he is a Jew who has not believed the gospel; and he is a representative of the nation as a whole.” (Page 200)
“Yet the most controversial issue that divides scholars is this: On what is Jewish confidence based—election or obedience?” (Page 10)
“The good of the addressees and of all Israel also embraces prosperity in the ‘near’ future as well, but that is not in dispute. This is one of the clearest texts that shows that what is at stake is also life in the future age, which is predicated on future justification. As L. Schiffmann writes: ‘His repentance will be considered as a righteous deed, beneficial both for him and all Israel, presumably in the eschatological sense.’11 Eschatological rejoicing is a familiar theme from Qumran12 accompanying the vindication of the righteous, and it signals entry into the life of the future age. The New Perspective’s emphasis on ‘works of Torah’ as boundary defining13 to the detriment of their role in final salvation is hard to sustain in the light of this eschatological focus.” (Pages 94–95)
“Paul is not saying here that justification becomes accessible to gentiles because it is not based on accepting the yoke of Torah; rather, he is talking about one who is within the covenant who can be righteous before God despite his sin and lack of works.” (Page 246)
“The Jewish answer to this was to read Genesis 15:6 in the light of Genesis 17 and 22. Paul’s radical break with this interpretive matrix led him to telescope Genesis 15:6 together with Genesis 12:1–4.” (Page 243)
Gathercole has offered a stimulating study that makes an important contribution to an ongoing debate that may perhaps, with the aid of commendable efforts like his own, enter into new and more fruitful stages of discussion.
—Journal of Biblical Literature
The volume is important for our understanding of the theology of early Judaism, for Pauline exegesis and theology and for New Testament theology in general. . . . Well written and persuasive.
Simon Gathercole is senior lecturer in New Testament studies in the faculty of divinity of the University of Cambridge and fellow and director of studies in theology at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. A leading British New Testament scholar, he has written hundreds of articles and several groundbreaking volumes, including The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, The Gospel of Judas: Rewriting Early Christianity, The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas, and The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary. He is also coauthor of How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response and Heaven on Earth. He also coedited Divine and Human Agency in Paul and His Cultural Environment.