Saturday, April 21, 2007

Gathercole on Paul

I just finished reading Simon Gathercole’s Where is Boasting. Having read four major works on the New Perspective, plus numerous articles, I’m by no means an expert on second temple literature. (I’m not really an expert on anything.) All the same, here’s my take on things thus far.

The New Perspective stumbles when it tries to insist that second temple literature does not recognize a strong causative relationship between works and final vindication. Gathercole’s work, more so than the other’s I’ve read to date, demonstrates clearly that much of the second temple literature has a strong notion of merit—final vindication is directly tied to one’s adherence to Torah (see chapters 1-5). This is not to discount the second temple emphasis on election and grace. It’s there, as Gathercole acknowledges, but it doesn’t replace the merit language. This is the context Paul is responding both to, and against. So the “Lutheran” tradition is right after all? Not so fast.

As Augustine’s legacy should have already shown us, the standard Protestant interpretation of Paul stumbles when it fails to recognize a strong causative relationship between works and final vindication in the New Testament. The New Testament authors, Paul included, don’t shy away from a judgment according to works. And this judgment isn’t just for extra jewels in your crown—it’s for all the marbles. Gathercole explores the non-Pauline New Testament literature in much the same way that he explores the second temple literature, and concludes that it too ties together final vindication and works. So it’s not just Enoch, Wisdom of Solomon, and The Testament of Job etc., that affirms final vindication on the basis of works. So where does that leave us?

It is at this point that I found Gathercole a bit difficult to follow. In some instances he seems to posit a difference between Paul and second temple literature (and even between Paul and the other New Testament authors). But at other times he acknowledges that Paul also ties together works and final vindication. He sees this as a “tension” in Paul’s thought that needs further exploration. At the end of this book he states, "On the issue of justification, the relationship between final justification (Rom. 2:13) and present-past justification (Rom. 4:5) has still not been satisfactorily discussed in the secondary literature on Paul" (266).

So which is it? If Paul affirms final vindication on the basis of works, then the supposed discontinuity between Paul and the second temple literature dissolves (at least in the traditional Protestant version of second temple literature).

New Perspective scholars affirm continuity between Paul and the second temple literature by insisting that both reject final vindication according to works. “Lutheran” scholars maintain discontinuity between Paul and second temple literature by insisting that the former affirms final vindication on the basis of grace and faith, while the latter affirms final vindication on the basis of works. In the end, it seems that Gathercole strikes a third path, implicitly (though perhaps not intentionally?) affirming continuity between Paul and the second temple literature. But unlike the New Perspective, he does so by suggesting that they both affirm final vindication on the basis of works. But after reading Gathercole’s book, one is not left with the impression that his chief aim was to establish continuity between Paul and the Second Temple literature.

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