Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Two New Books from Inter-Varsity Press on Paul, the Law, and Judaism

November is the month to which all biblical and theological scholars look forward with the greatest anticipation. It is the month of the annual convention of the Society of Biblical Literature—and, piggy-backing on it, the big gatherings of the Evangelical Theological Society and Institute for Biblical Research. And that means one thing: brand, spanking new books hot off the presses for perusal and purchase at the rows upon rows of tables set up by the various publishers. I have already written about this year's most anticipated new arrival, the massive, two-volume fourth installment of N. T. Wright's Christian Origins and the Question of God series, entitled Paul and the Faithfulness of God. My devouring of that work will have to wait until November. In the meantime, however, Inter-Varsity Press has done a good job whetting the appetite by publishing, in advance of the big conferences, two shorter volumes on the narrower subject of Paul, the Law, and Judaism: Preston Sprinkle's Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation, and Brian Rosner's Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God.

Preston Sprinkle
If there is one subject that has dominated Pauline studies, and at times New Testament studies as a discipline, over the past generation, it is that of Paul and the Law/Torah. This is due, of course, to E. P. Sanders's paradigm-busting 1977 tome, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, which immediately rendered obsolete, not only the Bultmannian and post-Bultmannian Pauls of the previous generations of German scholarship, but much "traditionalist" study of Paul as well, whether of the Lutheran or Reformed type. Exposing as he did the straw man Protestant scholars had erected of Judaism to be the foil for Paul, Sanders opened up what Jimmy Dunn referred to as the "New Perspective on Paul" now more than 30 years ago.

The "New Perspective" (or any of multiple variations of it that were proposed) never garnered unanimous assent, and it is now common to hear that we are now in a "post-New Perspective era" of Pauline scholarship. That may be, but that emphatically does not portend a triumphant return of the unreconstructed "Old Perpective," no matter how much many American confessionalist types might hope for such to happen. The New Perspective, it seems to me, simply has provided too many nonnegotiable insights that simply can't be jettisoned willy-nilly. But the last word has not been spoken on this subject, which is why these two fresh volumes are more than welcome.

Brian Rosner
Both authors are well-suited to write on the subject. Sprinkle, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Eternity Bible College, Simi Valley, California, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Aberdeen under the direction of Simon Gathercole on the strength of a thesis later published as Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and in Paul (WUNT 2.241; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008). Rosner, an old friend of mine when we attended Dallas Seminary and Trinity Fellowship Church together back in the late 1980s, and now Principal of Ridley Melbourne Mission and Ministry College, has an extensive track record on the subject, dating back to his own brilliant Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, published as Paul, Scripture, and Ethics: A Study of 1 Corinthians 5-7 (AGAJU 22; Leiden: Brill, 1994). 

As the titles of their works indicate, their foci differ. Sprinkle takes aim at Sanders and his New Perspective allies and attempts to reexamine the Judaism of the Dead Sea Scrolls in particular to determine whether Sanders's broad-brush portrait of Judaism as "covenantal nomism" remains persuasive. The answer to that question has potentially serious implications for the study of Paul. 

Rosner, on the other hand, deals with the issue of "Paul and the Law" in more comprehensive fashion. Study of this subject has at times led to the conclusion that the problem is intractable because the apostle seems at times to talk out of both sides of his mouth. In perhaps his earliest letter, the Apostle tells the Galatians, "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation!" (Gal 6:17, NET Bible). Yet he later writes to the Corinthians, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping God's commandments is what counts" (1 Cor 7:19, NET Bible). Of course, Paul's opponents in Galatia could have retorted, "Isn't circumcision one of God's commandments?" Therein lies the puzzle. I have long believed that understanding these two texts provides the key to understanding the Apostle's multifarious teaching about the Law. I suspect Rosner agrees.

Over the next few weeks I hope to have the time and strength to read these works and discuss them briefly in this platform. Now on to reading them!

1 comment:

  1. Also, check out Sprinkle's "macho" book for pacifism.

    mark mc, ephrata, pa