Original Research - Special Collection: HTS 75th Anniversary Maake Masango Dedication

The New Perspective challenge to Luther

Bart Eriksson, Ernest van Eck
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 4 | a5244 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i4.5244 | © 2019 Ernest van Eck, Bart Eriksson | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 August 2018 | Published: 23 April 2019

About the author(s)

Bart Eriksson, Department of New Testament and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Ernest van Eck, Department of New Testament and Related Literature, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

New Perspective scholars challenge Protestant interpretations of Paul. It used to be the case, they state, that Protestants assumed that Paul was to Judaism as Luther was to Medieval Catholicism. Both men supposedly reacted against legalistic religions and championed grace-based faiths. However, in 1977, E.P. Sanders wrote Paul and Palestinian Judaism, arguing that Judaism is not a legalistic but a grace-based faith. Assuming that Sanders is correct, New Perspectivists claim that Paul’s and Luther’s theologies and experiences were thus not parallel. Hence, Luther misunderstood Paul. Additionally, New Perspectivists challenge Protestant understandings of ‘justification’. In New Perspective thought, Paul uses the term ‘justification’ primarily to describe how people, particularly Gentiles, join the church Christians without following Jewish ritual laws. ‘Justification’, then, does not describe how people ‘stay in’ the covenant and receive salvation, as Protestants think. However, this article maintains that while New Perspectivists have some knowledge of Paul and Judaism, they are much less knowledgeable regarding Luther, Medieval Catholicism and Luther’s reaction to it. Greater scrutiny of these latter areas reveals large difficulties with New Perspective arguments. In addition, a review of relevant passages from Paul’s letters demonstrates that Protestants have not misunderstood Paul’s use of the term ‘justification’. Many Pauline passages show that when Paul discusses justification he is also thinking about ‘staying in’, not just ‘getting in’ the covenant.

Keywords

Old Perspective; Ethnicity; New Perspective on Paul; Luther; Paul; Authentic letters of Paul

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