Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Justification and Variegated Nomism--Vol 2

Volume 2—The Paradoxes of Paul went down quite a bit better than volume 1. The book is wide ranging and generally a good read. An observations regarding the topic:

Many traditional interpreters of Paul view the merit language of Second Temple literature as proof-positive of its pervasive tendency toward legalism and works-righteousness. Sanders and those who follow his covenental nomism have tried to downplay this aspect of Second Temple literature, but it seems hard to suppress. Gathercole does a fine job of clearly demonstrating that many Jews viewed eschatological vindication as ultimately linked to deeds. Westerholm has a nice chapter in volume 2 in which he summarizes the views of the major contributors to the NP discussion. He wasn’t specifically addressing the question of merit, but from his chapter and my notes on the rest of the book, it seems that Das, Stualhmacher, Raisanen, Laato, Davies, O'brien, Bell, Smiles, and Gathercole, (Carson?) all work from the presupposition that merit language is a sure indication of legalism and works-righteousness. Some of these scholars find merit theology in Second Temple literature; others do not. There are a few such as Shriener, Wright, Hafemann, (Seifrid?) who do not view eschatological vindication according to deeds as necessarily contra to grace, faith and free justification.

The difficulty for “Lutheran” interpreters of Paul is that the OT as a whole, as well as the NT, affirms the connection between judgment and deeds. If judgment according to deeds impugns Second Temple Judaism, then it impugns Jesus, Paul and the other NT writers as well. It’s undoubtedly our Protestant lenses that prevents many traditional interpreters of Paul from seeing merit language within the canon. But historically, merit language has not been automatically been equated with Pelagianism or works-righteousness. Who better than Augustine to root out Pelagian tendencies? Yet even Augustine had a robust merit theology.

All of this is not to say that the Second Temple Judaism of Paul’s day was therefore devoid of works-righteousness; I think it’s clear that Paul is fighting the same battle (in many respects) that both Augustine and Luther fought. But it is to say that the merit theology within Second Temple Judaism is not the final proof that traditional interpreters of Paul are correct in their assessment of its literature. Protestants need to do a better job of articulating/understanding the connection between judgment and works, and stop viewing said connection as synonymous with work-righteousness.

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