Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective

Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective

Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective

Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective

Synopsis

In this new, completely rewritten edition of his major 1986 book, Francis Watson extends, updates, and clarifies his response to E.'?P. Sanders?'s view of Paul, in order to point the way beyond the polarization of "new" and "old" perspectives on the apostle. The Paul who comes to light in these pages is agent and thinker, apostle and theologian. He is a highly contextual figure, yet his account of Christian identity continues to shape the church's life to this day. He is the founder of mainly Gentile, Christ-believing communities, separated from the synagogue; and yet he can see this distinctive existence as an authentic response to Jewish scripture and tradition, as fulfilled in Christ. He is a many-sided figure, transcending all our attempts to categorize him or to co-opt him for our own favored causes.

Excerpt

During a recent meeting of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, I found myself seated next to a scholar well known for his contribution to the socalled “New Perspective on Paul.” We had not met for a number of years, and, on my part at least, there was a slight sense of awkwardness. the scholar in question had thought well of Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles, my first book, but much less well of my subsequent turn towards matters theological and hermeneutical. Indeed, he had expressed himself rather forcefully on this point, in print. in my first book (he opined), I had sought to liberate exegesis from the deadening control of dogma. This had been a most promising and worthwhile contribution to the great cause. Mysteriously and disappointingly, however, my later work seemed to be headed in precisely the opposite direction. Dogma was back with a vengeance, stridently reasserting its control over exegesis. What had happened? Whatever it was, it was very much to be regretted.

Against that background, there was unlikely to be a meeting of minds. After a bare minimum of polite pleasantry, my critic turned to me with the air of one about to say something he has long wanted to say. “I have just one question to ask you,” he said. “Do you still hold to the position you took in Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles?

It was a fair question, but a challenging one. Looming menacingly on the horizon was the further, unspoken question: What went wrong? Unable on the spur of the moment to engage the unspoken question, to deconstruct its assumptions or unmask its hidden agendas, I could only offer the blandest of replies. I said that I felt the basic position to be sound, but that I now had reservations about some aspects of the argument. It was the stock answer that al-

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