I am excited about our beginning of the study of Romans tonight. In his Commonitory (¶5), St. Vincent of Lérins (d.445) remarked that “owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations and there are interpreters.” This statement may be most true about Romans. Therefore, as we read through this letter, I will try to bring different perspectives on what Paul is actually teaching.
Over the last forty years, one area of controversy in the English-speaking (primarily evangelical) Protestant church, has concerned the “New Perspective on Paul.” This new perspective seeks to replace a Reformation understanding of Paul with (hopefully) a first-century understanding of Paul. Beginning with Martin Luther, protestant churches have taught that the primary theme of Paul’s letters, particularly Romans and Galatians, is Justification by Faith – that an individual is justified before God by having faith in Jesus Christ. The question Luther asked, is how am I to be saved? The Roman Catholic Church emphasized the necessity of various works (penance, pilgrimages, relics, etc.), and in Paul he found the answer to be our faith in Christ.
Alternatively, New Perspective theologians, such as N. T. Wright, teach that the focus of Paul’s letters is not us and our faith, but God and his faithfulness. The Greek phrase used by Paul is “pistis Christou” (see, Rom. 3:22, Gal. 2:16) which can be translated as either “Faith in Christ”, which is the standard protestant translation, or “Faithfulness of Christ.” The “new” about the perspective, is that Paul is not writing about us, and how we become right with God, or how we get into heaven. Rather, Paul is writing about God and God’s faithfulness through Jesus the Messiah. Paul is writing during a time of eschatological messianic expectation that God will finally put the world right. Paul’s message is that God is faithful to his covenant given to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15, that the whole world would be blessed through him, and that through that covenant God has reconciled all creation to himself through the faithful obedient death of Jesus. Through Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s faithfulness to his covenant, the Jewish eschatological expectation has been realized. The question Paul answers is not “What must I do to be saved?” but “How do the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus fit into God’s continuing faithfulness to the promises he made to Abraham to bless all people and all creation through his seed (Gen 12:3)?”
Attached is an excerpt from Wright’s book Justification (pp.177-83) where Wright applies the New Perspective to Romans 1. I’ll add more sections as we progress during the summer. A good short bullet point discussion about the New Perspective from The Gospel Coalition is HERE. And another good discussion but from an Orthodox point-of-view is HERE. I invite you to read through these sources to gain a broader understanding of what Paul may have intended. These readings are simply provided as background material and we probably won’t discuss these readings tonight.
Dinner at 6. The menu is taco salad. Discussion about 6:45. All you need to bring and all you need to read is your Bible. Hope to see you here.
God promised this good news about his Son ahead of time through his prophets in the holy scriptures. His Son was descended from David. He was publicly identified as God’s Son with power through his resurrection from the dead, which was based on the Spirit of holiness. This Son is Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we have received God’s grace and our appointment to be apostles.Romans 1:2-5 (CEB)