The New vs. The Old

If you don’t know what the New Perspective on Paul is read this article from Credenda/Agenda. Importantly, the New Perspective denies that Paul’s focus was on the individual’s relationship to God; that Judaism was a religion of merit; and that Judaism did not resolve Paul’s burden of guilt.

I converted to the New Perspective on Paul about two years back due to the writings of Bishop Tom Wright. What confirmed it was reading Galatians over and over again. I couldn’t make the traditional reading of Galatians fit with the text. I remember reading Wright echoing something similar. He could make the Reformational/Cranfield reading work with Romans, but not with Galatians. Paul’s concern in Galatians does seem to be with Jewish Christians forcing Gentile Christians to observe the Mosaic law, but does that necessarily imply works-righteousness? Tom Wright says not really. And there’s something to this point. Tim Gallant has pointed out that if the old Reformation reading of Galatians is correct, Paul argued incorrectly. He should have argued against the Galatians attitude towards circumcision instead of arguing against circumcision per se.

I still think the New Perspective reading of Galatians is correct, but I noticed a flaw in it last night. Galatians 4:8-11 reads:

8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

According to Tom Wright, Paul is referencing Judaism here. The weak and miserable principles are the Mosaic covenant (see v.10). Paul always has eschatology in mind when writing, and he sees that post-cross / resurrection, the Mosaic covenant has been fulfilled. To return to it is to ignore what God has done – creating one universal family defined by faith and not by Torah. So far so good.

Now look at verse 8. Paul is clear that those to whom he is speaking did not know God before they placed their faith in Christ. This is easy exegesis from an old perspective Reformation reading. Certain Jews thought they could merit God’s favour by trusting in their obedience to Torah.

A new perspective reading is much more difficult. How can Paul say that those Jews did not know God before Christ? What was keeping them from Him if it wasn’t works righteousness?

This is an honest question. I’m not sure where to go from here.