What Is the New Perspective on Paul?

The New Perspective on Paul is an important shift in how scholars have understood Paul over the past 40 years. This movement reads and interprets Paul primarily through the lens of first-century Judaism’s cultural context. New Perspective scholars have reacted to a reading of Paul through the lens of the Reformation—especially Luther, Calvin, and their followers.

Who are the important figures of the New Perspective?

  • The movement began with E. P. Sanders, who wrote Paul and Palestinian Judaism in the 1970s. This book emphasized the importance of rabbinic writings in understanding Paul. Sanders argued that Paul’s concept of becoming part of the people of God had more to do with covenantal participation, and he argued against the prevailing Lutheran understanding of the atonement.
  • In the early 1980s, James D. G. Dunn developed Sanders’ thesis and coined the term “The New Perspective.”
  • Since then, N. T. Wright has written extensively on Paul. His magnum opus on Paul will be released later this year.

The New Perspective is controversial. The emergence of Sanders, Dunn, and Wright on the scene upended the way Christians have read Paul for generations. For example:

  • The New Perspective deemphasizes a works-righteousness interpretation of the law in Pauline writings.
  • The New Perspective places the covenant in a prominent role in Pauline writings.
  • A classic reading of Paul favors a penal substitutionary theory of atonement, while the New Perspective doesn’t give this theory as much prominence

As you can see, this is a significant reframing of how Paul is read and understood. And whether or not you agree with the New Perspective, it’s undoubtedly important to understand—even if your goal is to understand why you may not agree with it. One of the benefits of having a large and robust digital library is that you have the resources and tools to adequately research both sides of controversial issues.

On the New Perspective in particular, there are books and collections to help you understand every angle:

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