Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics

Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics

Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics

Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics

Excerpt

A friend and I were perusing the literature on Paul in the World's Biggest Bookstore when we were joined, rather unexpectedly, by Martin Luther himself. Surprised and flustered, I started to greet him but was cut off by the Reformer, who clearly did not want to be known. “What's new on Paul?” he asked.

I began a frantic search to see if a reprint of Ridderbos's Paul might still be on the shelf. My friend, however, sizing up our guest as one who could use a good introduction, seized upon the Oxford Past Masters volume on Paul, written by E. P. Sanders. My attempts at distraction were futile.

“Here's just the thing,” my well-meaning friend explained. “A great scholar, Ed Sanders. The most influential scholar on Paul in the last quarter-century. And he sums it all up in this little book. You've got to read it.”

Luther started leafing through its pages. Not surprisingly, his eyes fell first on a reference to himself: “Martin Luther, whose influence on subsequent interpreters has been enormous, made Paul's statements central to his own quite different theology.” “Hmm,” hummed the Reformer. “I wonder what he means by that?”

He turned a couple pages and read some more. “Luther, plagued by guilt, read Paul's passages on ‘righteousness by faith’ as meaning that God reckoned a Christian to be righteous even though he or she was a sinner.… Luther's emphasis on fictional, imputed righteousness, though it has often been shown to be an incorrect interpretation of Paul, has been influential. … Luther sought and found relief from guilt. But Luther's problems were not Paul's, and we misunderstand him if we see him through Luther's eyes” (49).

1. Sanders, Paul, 44. Parenthetical numbers in the following text refer to pages from this
work.

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