Mar 20, 2015

New Perspective on Paul

Quite interestingly, Paul’s gospel is one of the most divisive accounts in all of human history.

“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.  Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” – Romans 5:1-2 (NLT)

Before we can fully appreciate the new perspective on Paul, we must unpack the old perspective.  To begin, the term themselves are misleading. Paul preached salvation though the Grace of God to those who professed belief in Christ Jesus. From what we can tell, the original twelve apostles preached faith in Christ and a commitment to good works.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?James 2:14 (NLT)

From a Catholic perspective, these ideas were not so different. Good deeds, work coming from a Christ-like heart, result from faith.  Faith leads to good deeds.  No matter how you arrange these ideas they reconcile with each other easily.  The acceptance of this idea was seem in the early Church which endorsed both letters.  Paul himself encouraged all the faithful to be charitable in his Jerusalem collection.  In the 16th century Martin Luther, in an attempt to challenge the corruption in the Catholic hierarchy began a protest against the Church challenging among other things, the idea of salvation through faith and work. He held a very limited, somewhat narrow-minded view of Judaism in Paul’s time.  Luther viewed the Jews of being a legalistic works-based religion what left salvation to the actions of the believers.  This view, combined with his protest against the Church caused an overemphasis on the idea of salvation by faith alone.  This view became a driving force for the Protestant Reformation, which drew parallels between the Catholic Church and perceived Jewish Legalism.  Interestingly, this shift led to a type of religious/theological lawlessness among the incalculable Protestant/Spirit Churches of today. Both ideas were addressed by Paul in his letters.

This brings us to the “New Perspective” on Paul, though it is perhaps a re-emphasis on the original perspective.  In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s three Scripture scholars produced influential works on the topic.  Krister Stendahl put forth the idea that Paul was not denying righteous works to merit favor, he was condemning the legalism and labels displayed in the Roman, Galatian, and Colossian Churches. James Dunn argued that “works of the Law” were normal actions of a covenant people. The last challenge to the Lutheran-perspective is that Paul was arguing against Judaizers who demanded that gentile converts be circumcised and follow Jewish dietary laws.  Ultimately, this new perspective theory emphasizes life in the Spirit.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.  The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.  He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”

“God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.” – Romans 8:1-4, 29-30 (NLT)

For your consideration, I put forth that Romans chapter 8 can serve as a summary of Paul’s Gospel.

Parts in this Series
1. Paul’s Gospel is about Gospeling
2. Euro-Centric Christianity
3. Legalism
4. Lawlessness
5. Paul’s Gospel
6. The New Perspective on Paul is Catholic


  • Dunn, James D. G. The Gospel and the Gospels. Durham: University of Durham, 2013.
  • Hensell, Eugene, O. S. B. The New Perspective on St. Paul. n.d. (accessed March 15, 2015).
  • Longhenry, Ethan. A Study of Denominations. n.d. (accessed March 13, 2015).
  • Puskas, Charles B., and Mark Reasoner. The Letters of Paul: An Introduction. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1993.
  • Rocca, Francis X. "Pope: Catholic educators must share Gospel with multicultural society." Catholic News Servce/USCCB, February 2014.
  • Russle, Walt. Who Were Paul's Opponents in Galatia? Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1990.
  • "The New Living Translation Bible, Catholic Reference Edition." Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. , 2001.


Related Posts

New Perspective on Paul
4/ 5

Subscribe via email

Like the above article? Add your email to subscribe.

Thank you for visiting IN THE FRONT SEAT!