Witherington on the New Perspective on Paul

Ben Witherington has a forthcoming two-volume work on New Testament theology and ethics, entitled The Indelible Image. Witherington has posted on his website a subsection of the chapter on Paul. Here’s an excerpt:

“There is something of a small war going on in Pauline circles on the issue of ‘the New Perspective on Paul’ . . .

“With the rise of ‘the New Perspective on Paul’ came in due course the rebuttal to the new perspective, mainly by conservative Evangelical scholars of a quite Reformed point of view, in two studies entitled Justification and Variegated Nomism. In the first of these volumes they were able to demonstrate that indeed Sanders had overplayed his hand, that there was not some monolithic covenantal nomistic view in early Judaism that characterized all early Jews thinking about the Law. Using Sanders own language, Law-keeping was not just about staying in, in some cases it was also about getting in, in the first place.”

Read the rest here:

“The New Perspective on Paul and the Law—Reviewed” – by Ben Witherington


  • Brett

    My goodness, is this guy prolific or what? Every time I hear about him he has a new book coming out. It’s hard to believe he’s a traveling speaker and professor as well. How in the world does he find time to be with his family? I have benefited from some of his works, but, my personal opinion is that his cranking out books every couple of months shows in their quality. There are still many good things in them though.

    Are there weaknesses in the NP? Sure. Are there strengths? Absolutely. It is our job to figure out both the strengths and weaknesses and in the process learn more about God and Pauline theology. To simply call it bogus and “anti-American” is just absurd. James Dunn is perhaps one of the greatest living scholars today, and is a man we can learn from.

    On a different note, I’m really getting tired of the “be weary if it’s new” or “If it’s new it ain’t true and if it’s true it ain’t new” speech. Give me a break! The church interpreted the parables as allegory for the first several centuries of church history, does that make it right? The Song of Solomon was interpreted as an allegory between Christ and the church or God and Israel until about 100 years ago, does that mean when we interpret it as a love poem that it’s wrong? The “antiquity is the answer to Christianity’s problems” card just doesn’t sit well with me. Does modern scholarship have Genesis 1 and 2 wrong because we have much evidence regarding creation stories in the Ancient Near East and read Genesis 1 and 2 as polemics against them and not a strict literal account even though throughout most of history they didn’t have access to these archaeological discoveries? Give me a break.

    I only say this because it’s a common thing to say and one that I hear quite often at my institution and from many reformed folk (not all, mainly younger guys).

  • Brett


    You basically did a whole series of posts over it. You might get technical and say that was the “fresh perspective” or just to refute N.T. Wright, but they are very much in the same league. In fact, you’re the only person I have heard this from and I am still completely baffled by it.

  • Denny Burk

    I think you’re confusing the New Perspective (associated with Sanders, Dunn, et. al.) with those who favor counter-imperial interpretations of Paul (like Horsley, Crossan, Wright, etc.). These two ways of reading Paul are not the same movements, though it can be confusing because N.T. Wright participates in both but calls the latter the “fresh perspective.”

  • Brett


    sorry for the misrepresentation. I am not as familiar with Wright as I am Dunn, and thought most of their line of thought was the same. I do have Wright’s “Fresh Perspective” book, but have only gotten around to reading about half of it. I totally didn’t see the anti-American theme though, and frankly don’t think it should concern us much. Jesus was anti-Jerusalem if you want to look at it through those lens, and America as much as any other country needs a prophetic voice to show us how evil, sinful, greedy, immoral, and power-driven we are. I certainly welcome all peoples’ criticisms of America because I probably share many of them…as I hope many of us do.

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