What’s the deal with this new perspective on Paul? Should we entertain this new perspective? How safe is this view and why is it causing some people to get upset? As if we didn’t need another “something” to tickle our ears, the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is a matter in which you and I must wrestle. The importance of this matter, for those who believe the Bible is the Word of God, is very important since Paul wrote much of the New Testament (NT) and was devoutly familiar with the Old Testament (OT) Scriptures. Thus, we are interested, as any good Bible student should, in knowing how and why Paul wrote.
First and foremost, we must mention our scholars: E.P. Sanders, James D. Dunn and N.T. Wright. These three guys have laid much of the groundwork for you and I in these matters. Sanders’, Dunn’s, and Wright’s knowledge, regarding the OT traditions and practices as well as NT culture, paint for us a very real – in your face – kind of Paul. Though each have complied and have published their fair share of writings, we will look only at Wright’s thoughts regarding this issue. I have chosen Wright because, of all three, my knowledge of Wright’s writing is far greater than the other two. That is not to say that Either Sanders or Dunn’s work is any less important. Let it be understood that this is only a very short survey of the issues in order to formulate conversations. The more reading and research one does, the more one will be able to intelligently assess the matter in a greater fashion. A final note regarding these three men: Much of their work you can find online. Simply insert their names along with “The New Perspective on Paul.” With that, we will begin our first post regarding the issue of the Gospel with several more to follow regarding other issues of the NPP.
Wright asserts, “When Paul refers to ‘the gospel,’ he is not referring to a system of salvation, though of course the gospel implies and contains this, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, but rather to the proclamation that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead and thereby demonstrated to be both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. ‘The gospel’ is not ‘you can be saved, and here’s how;’ the gospel, for Paul, is ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’”
I am not sure what denominational background you were brought up in, if any at all, but I had never heard this before. There is no doubt that the Gospel is, as the writer suggests, good news for all that hear the truth. What then would we call, what Wright calls, “you can be saved and here’s how” bit? Maybe, instead of calling that part the Gospel, we should rather call it a “hook” of sorts. Here’s what I mean: A good writer always has a hook. It is a statement or a thought that provokes the listener to listen to whatever is to come next. A hook therefore has a lot of power but only remains the hook. Alone the hook bears no weight or is able to really stand-alone. The message though is in need of a hook. Most speeches or papers are dull and/or boring without a good hook that will captivate and guarantee a listening audience. As the old cliché goes, “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Maybe we could relearn the Gospel message saying it in such a way as to say, “Hey there. I am really excited to share with you the best news I have ever heard. Jesus Christ is Lord. He also died on the cross for you and demonstrated through His acts that He is the Messiah the Jewish people have been patiently waiting for and what we have been waiting for too. Isn’t that great?” The message – the announcement – is Jesus is Lord. This is the Gospel message the NPP scholars would suggest to us.
A clear example to the NPP crew can be found in the book of Romans where Paul writes, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1: 1-4).
Do you see the announcement? Do you see the proclamation given by Paul concerning Jesus not only as the Son of God but also as Lord? What a powerful message!
To Wright, stating, “Jesus is Lord” is significant for two reasons: (1) It is an easy transition of OT language used in Isaiah and the other prophets regarding the promised Messiah and (2) it also bears an acknowledgement that “Jesus, not Caesar is Lord.” Paul is so passionate about this proclamation that he even writes, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-10).
Paul, borrowing the quote from Isaiah, stands firm in his position that Jesus is Lord. This is the Gospel – the message – that is the good news. As you read through Paul’s messages in the NT, make a mark where statements like, “Jesus is Lord” comes up, and try replacing it with the phrase, “the Gospel.” It is quite interesting to consider.
In closing I will give one example of how this would look through the eyes of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul writes, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” It is here we learn something new about this Gospel message – this “Jesus is Lord” message. Paul states that you and I are unable to proclaim the Gospel message – Jesus is Lord – without the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is truly significant both doctrinally and personally. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit in which you and I turn from us and from sin and turn to Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit is then a key instrument and ingredient in this mixture of the Gospel. Without the Holy Spirit, it would be like putting salt in a cake rather than sugar. The appearance of the cake might be fine, but the taste left in our mouths would be horrible. Therefore, let us not leave such a horrible taste in our mouths but let us leave a taste that encourages us to have even more. The Gospel – the message – the announcement that Jesus Christ is Lord is the first aspect of the NPP we have looked at here. Please feel free to leave any thoughts or questions you might have regarding the issue of the Gospel and the NPP. God bless.