John Piper argues the same way as he considers who’s right about the nature of Pharisaism in the first century. Should we believe Jesus’ negative portrayal of the Pharisees that He confronted, or should we follow the contradictory picture drawn by E. P. Sanders, N. T. Wright and other proponents of the New Perspective on Paul?
N. T. Wright argues that,
The Jew keeps the law out of gratitude, as the proper response to graceâ€”not, in other words, in order to get into the covenant people, but to stay in. Being â€œinâ€ in the first place was Godâ€™s gift. This scheme Sanders famously labeled as â€œcovenantal nomismâ€ (What Saint Paul Really Said, pp. 18-19).
Yet Piper contends that Jesus does not affirm that the Pharisees were keeping the law as the “proper response of to grace.” Piper writes,
When Jesus addressed the Jewish leaders of his day (Pharisees, lawyers, elders, Sadducees, chief priests), his resounding conclusion was they do not even know God. And, not knowing God, their lived-out religion (the kind Jesus is concerned with) is not â€œout of gratitude,â€ nor is it a â€œproper response to grace.â€
When Jesus asked the Jewish leaders, â€œIf I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?â€ his answer was, â€œWhoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of Godâ€ (John 8:47). This is the claim of Jesus, . . . â€œI am from God and I am speaking the words of God. You are not seeing or hearing God, therefore you are not of God.â€ . . .
This is the root reason why the Jewish leaders do not come to Christ. Their will is governed not by gratitude to God, giving a â€œproper response to grace,â€ but by their fatherâ€™s will, and it is not the love of God. â€œYou refuse to come to me that you may have life. . . . I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive meâ€ (John 5:40-43). They simply do not know the true God: â€œYou have not known himâ€ (John 8:55).
It is incomprehensible to me that what Jesus says about the Jewish leadership of his day in general (not every individual) could be taken seriously and yet their true lived-out religion could be exonerated from â€œself-help moralismâ€ (Wrightâ€™s term). Why are they â€œsons of hellâ€ (Matthew 23:15)? People donâ€™t go to hell for â€œkeeping the law out of gratitudeâ€ as a â€œproper response to grace.â€ People go to hell for relying on themselves instead of grace.
As much as I appreciate N. T. Wright and his scholarship, I think I’ll go with Jesus on this one.
(HT: Justin Taylor)