Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Galatians 1:13-17 and the New Perspective on Paul

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. (TNIV)
In my last post I summarized what the New Perspective on Paul is. Here I want to briefly look at one aspect of their claim, that Paul did not convert because of a tortured conscience (we will eventually look at the other major claim of the NPP but not for a while).

Commenting on verse 14, Dunn claims that, 'Not least in significance here is the fact that Paul recollects no pangs of conscience or Luther-like agonizings for peace prior to his conversion. The talk of 'my people' confirms that Paul's audience consisted (predominantly) of Gentiles, but confirms a further reminder that he spoke as an insider to those attracted by that status' (59-60). I think that Dunn is exactly right here. If Paul had been a legalist who had been striving to do good works to earn right status before God, you would expect a different spin here in verses 13-17. It seems that Paul's opinion of himself is that he was doing well! It's almost the opposite of a guilty conscience! Verse 15 gives on the impression that Paul would have happily continued along his way if God didn't intervene.

This, though, leaves me with a major question. If Paul wasn't looking for a problem for human sin when Christ revealed himself to him, what are the implications? Was Sanders right in suggesting that Paul worked from 'solution to plight?' Or should we think that Paul did work from plight to solution but from the plight of the people of God to the solution of the people of God? Or is there another perspective that I am overlooking? Does anyone know how Thielman handles this question in From Plight to Solution? It's been a long time since I've read it and I don't own a copy.


  1. Paul obviously thought he was doing fine at the time, but I think it's clear that he at this point disagreed with that assessment. His previous view that the works he was doing would satisfy God was gone, and his view at the time of Galatians is that he could never have done such a thing in his own power. So I'm not sure this really supports Dunn.

  2. Which part of the Dunn quote do you disagree with? Is it the last clause 'but confirms a further reminder that he spoke as an insider to those attracted by that status'? If so, I do think that the issue at stake in Galatians is, 'who are the people of God?' I think this is true for both perspectives. I guess the question is whether or not one should read in everything that Dunn believes on the NPP into that last sentence. I wasn't.

    I do think that you need to keep in mind that I'm not supporting all of the NPP in this post. I'm just picking up one piece of their critique of the traditional Lutheran view where I think that they get it right. I haven't made up my mind yet on the NPP as a whole.

    I do think that this passage does support Dunn's assertion that I quote. There's something about the Jewish law that the Galatians thought they had to do to ultimately be saved (whether you take it to be boundary defining works that keep you in the people of God or legalistic following of the law to earn right standing). Either way what we see is a rejection of that in retrospect, after meeting Christ on the Damascus Road. Paul had fully gone down that path and excelled, and now he sees that it doesn't end up at the right place. He is essentially telling the Galatians, 'been there done that.'

    Please let me know if I'm not actually answering your question.