Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Francis Watson on the New Perspective

I have just read an unpublished paper of Francis Watson (Professor in New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen) entitled Not the New Perspective. Sections 3 and 4 were the most interesting, and are well worth reading for those who know something about the New Perspective. In section 3 he argues against one of five central tenants of the New Perspective that he identifies. He focuses on Sanders famous argument that Second Temple Jews believed themselves a people chosen by the grace of God (that is already saved), who simply need to respond by living righteously. I.e. there was no question of earning salvation, or ‘getting in’, for them, they only felt the need to obey the law (imperfectly) to ensure their ‘staying in’. Watson asserts that Second Temple Jews did not think like that at all; rather, they considered that ‘there is no act of divine election that establishes the basis of God’s relationship with Israel prior to and apart from the giving of the Law through Moses’. So, Watson argues, ‘covenant and law are indistinguishable from one another’ in the literature of Second Temple Judaism and this means that Sanders’ placing of the covenant as foundational and primary, and law as secondary, is entirely unwarranted. Because of this, his ideas on the beliefs of Second Temple Jews on the relation of divine and human agency in salvation, have to be seriously questioned. Paul, Watson argues, believed, contrary to the prevailing opinion of the time, that the covenant did come first and the law second. By divine grace the covenant was given to Abraham 430 years before the law came (Gal. 3:17), and so that ‘covenant of promise’ is foundational and primary, not the Sinai covenant. So Watson sees that Paul had a different hermeneutic, a different view of salvation history, than the Jews around him interpreting the same scriptures.


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