Friday, October 07, 2005

Old and New Perspectives...Oil and Water?

Bruce Longenecker reviewing Moo's commentary on Romans in 1998, says some interesting things regarding the New Perspective:

The remainder of this review will give consideration to one final matter: Moo's rhetoric against the 'new perspective on Paul'. From the first page of the 'Author's Preface' (p. viii), Moo advertises his concern to critique this perspective throughout the commentary proper, while espousing a more traditional view. This reviewer had the sense that, while the 'new perspective' receives some criticism, it has nonetheless helped to refine Moo's discussion considerably. The ethnic and covenantal dimension of the law is often discussed in a way that would please most advocates of the 'new perspective'. This is especially clear in Moo's work on Romans 2, for instance, where Paul is repeatedly shown to be countering covenantal nomism directly (e.g., pp. 126-27, I3I~33, 148, 155, 157-59, 166-67, 171. 181, 215); as Moo highlights, the law 'functioned, more than anything else, to give Israel its particular identity as a "people apart" (p. 145; cf. pp. 146, 166, 398). Dynamics of this sort are far more evident in Moo's commentary than in, say, C. E. B. Cranfield's commentary of 1975, evidencing that the more recent discussion has contributed significantly to the perception of issues, even among those who are unsympathetic to the 'new perspective'. While Moo polemizes against the 'new approach to first-century Judaism' that is largely indebted to the work of E. P. Sanders, finding it to be 'ultimately inadequate' (p. 208), he nonetheless seems unaware of the extent to which he himself has benefited from that approach.


In the light of this, I look forward to the day when commentaries on Romans move beyond the polemical 'either-or' that currently plagues the issue of 'Paul and the law'. The 'new perspective' has proved especially helpful in highlighting the social dimension of the matter, but may not have given enough attention to Paul's description of the desperate condition of humanity which frequently underlies his critique of Jewish covenantalism. On the other hand, while traditional views have made much of this 'anthropological' component of Paul's critique, they have not always been attuned to the significant 'social' dynamics that Paul seeks to address. Moo's commentary often attempts to do justice to both aspects, and on this he is to be applauded. But his polemic against the 'new perspective' reinforces a sense that the two perspectives are like oil and water. That is unnecessary and unhelpful, as even his own commentary shows. (Perhaps his attack on the 'new perspective' arises from an assumption that the traditional view has a more practical and pastoral cash value for contemporary Christians, serving to keep Christians dependent upon Christ alone; see, for instance, Moo's comments on the bottom of p. 216.) How might this unnecessary trap be avoided in the future? Perhaps the first thing to abandon is the perception of the new and traditional perspectives as two monolithic and mutually exclusive entities. In fact, there are many variations of position within both perspectives, with advocates of one perspective often articulating matters in a way that also includes elements of the other perspective. My hope is that the 'either-or' rhetoric of commentaries such as Moo's will come to be seen as the product of a particular era in scholarship, an era that quickly gave way to a more productive scholarly environment. Rather than going another round allowing the same dichotomizing agenda to determine the presentation of issues, perhaps we might hope for the appearance of commentaries that break out of the rhetorical constraints which mark out the current discussion. Whatever its other strengths might be, on this score Moo's commentary fails to set a constructive agenda for the future, being instead a product of its time.

(my italics, Longenecker, Bruce W. Review of The Epistle to the Romans, by Douglas J. Moo, Journal of Theological Studies 1998 49: 766-772)

It's not online I'm afraid, unless you have a subscription, which the Open University gives me despite the fact I don't study Theology...I love the OU.

Meanwhile, Ligion Duncan has a useful summary of Sinclair Ferguson's recent critical lecture on the NPP, which, while it made some good points, does nothing to overcome the 'either-or' impasse.


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