Monday, May 21, 2012

The Deliverance of Paul: Problems for the NPP

In chapter 12, Campbell critiques key Pauline interpreters who at some key points reject Justification Theory. If you've read my Galatians posts you can tell that I rely heavily on the work of James Dunn, so I thought that I might address some (but not all) of the issues that Campbell raises for Dunn's interpretation of Paul here in this post.

The largest issue is the question of how to interpret the phrase 'works of the law.' Is Dunn correct in arguing that they should be understood as boundary markers, that Paul is essentially saying that one is not justified by being Jewish, or is the traditional understanding of works correct? Campbell argues that the traditional viewpoint is closer to the truth than Dunn. I will make this comment up front. Earlier, Campbell makes the point that we have to distinguish between an action and its sociological effect. The issue in Galatia could have been the sociological effect of a traditional legalism, and perhaps not boundary markers per say (perhaps they were convenient targets). So whether or not Campbell's critique below is right on or not, does not completely invalidate the insight of Dunn and others. Now onto the critique.

At the heart of Campbell's critique is that Dunn can't actually prove his case. Paul never clearly associates works of the law with boundary markers. Particularly key is Campbell's claim that 2:15-21 looks forward to the rest of the letter and that we can't use 2:1-14 to define works of the law in 2:15-21. Campbell also observes that boundary markers don't come into the discussion in 3:2, 5, and 10. (450)

He presses Dunn for this kind of iron clad proof because he does not see a Judaism that is obsessed with boundary markers as such. Additionally, he doesn't think that there is enough proof that Jewish Christians were opposed to Paul's mission because they were offended by the elimination of the boundary between Jew and Gentile and nothing else. (449).

To make matters worse, in Campbell's eyes, Dunn carries over this tenuous meaning of works of the law to Romans with no textual warrant. If anything, the discussion there comes during a discussion of judgment by dessert. Works in Romans seem to be meritorious good works. (450-1).

I'll briefly respond to some of what Campbell says here. The heart of Campbell's argument related to Galatians seems to rely on seeing a major break between 2:1-14 and 2:15-21, almost as if there's no tie. I don't think that is the case. Yes 2:15-21 does look forward, but why does that eliminate it looking backwards? 2:15-21 is Paul's response to the problems in 2:1-14. The question is, is Dunn's understanding of works of the law correct or is Paul getting fired up because of the really really bad implications of bad theology (of an understanding of justification that separates God's people)? In Galatians, at least, I lean towards the former, but then Romans is harder to integrate. However, if Romans 2 represents the Teacher's teaching to wayward Jewish Christians, then the problem may be solvable (it also may not be), but we will address that in more detail in a future post.

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