Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul (Robert J. Cara)

The New Perspective on Paul states that the real issue of Paul’s message of justification is not soteriology but ecclesiology and salvation-history. No longer are the boundaries of the people of God defined by circumcision, keeping of the sabbath and of food laws but by believing that Jesus is Lord. The New Perspective posits that a revised understanding of Judaism of the first century A.D. provides the foundation for an entirely new approach or perspective on Paul. It claims that the Reformed doctrine of justification is wrong as it is based on a faulty under­standing of the Judaism about which Paul wrote.

Robert J. Cara, an ordained minister of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, shows that the new interpretation of Judaism cannot be sustained in the light of a careful investigation of the primary sources. In a very useful appendix he gives an oversight of these sources. This overview shows there is a definite variegation in Judaism. This argues against a uniform covenantal nomism. But whatever form it takes covenantal nomism as defined by the defenders of the New Perspective includes a semi-Pelagian soteriology. Our final salvation is not exclusively based on grace. The claim of the defenders of the New Perspective that the Judaism of the Second Temple was not work righteousness orientated can only be made when a definition of work righteousness includes only crude forms of it.

Important is the observation of Cara that quite a lot of scholars who agree with the New Perspective have a deficient view on the authority of the Bible. Many (not all) of them consider the New Testament statements about the Pharisees inaccurate and do not accept the Pauline authorship of several letters that claim to be Pauline; for example Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles. By denying the Pauline authorship of these letters important evidence for the classical Reformed perspective on justification is excluded.

Neither in Ephesians not in the Pastoral Epistles is there any evidence for the view that salvation by faith has to do with other boundary markers than those under the Old Testament dispensation. Salvation by faith has to do with inheriting eternal life; receiving this inheritance is not based on our own works but on the grace of God revealed in Christ. Cara does full justice to statements on grace and justification we find in Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles.

I consider it a pity that he does not give attention to the letters to the Romans, Galatians, Corinthians and Philippians. On these letters the adherents of the New Perspective base their views. I am sure that dr. Cara fully agrees with me that also in these letters we have several strong indications for the Reformed perspective on justification. Perhaps he did not include the evidence of these letters to make his study not to voluminous.

The importance of the study of Cara is that he adds fresh arguments against the interpretation of Paul according to the New Perspective. Aspects that according to the New Perspective is the corn of the message of justification are fully compatible with the Reformed perspective when they are seen just as fruits are conse­quence of this message. Cara shows that the Reformed convictions about the second and third use of the law do full justice to the teaching of the apostle Paul. The law makes now our sin. A Christian has been redeemed from the curse of the law, but just for that reason has a delight to walk by the Spirit in the ways of the Lord. The greatest danger of the New Perspective is that it undermines the biblical message of God’s wrath resting by nature on every man and of being righteous for God’s judgment seat only because of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. Robert J. Cara.

Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul. Covenantal Nomism versus Reformed Covenantal Theology, Reformed Exegetical and Doctrinal Studies (Fearn: Mentor, 2017) paperback 312 pp., £12,99 (ISBN 9781781919798)

 

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