Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Circumcision is self-righteousness?

James McGrath has a good post on the New Perspective, in which he makes the highly worthwhile observation:
Paul keeps coming back to one particular work of the Law: circumcision. But few seem to notice that this is probably the least appropriate ‘work of the Law’ for him to choose to represent or symbolize self-justification and self-righteousness.
I have commented in the past on a similar thing with regard to Philippians 3:
When we look at the description of Judaism he gives we find that half of what he says has nothing whatsoever to do with human effort or striving to attain righteousness, but rather is about his Jewish birth
It's just so clear, time and again that what Paul is talking about is being Judean and following Judean customs, not attempts to gain favor with God through moral self-righteousness.

James McGrath goes on to note that in exegeting Galatians, the old perspective starts turning to custard when it gets to the last couple of chapters. There Paul, after writing his virulent attacks against works of the law, turns round and says "I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do [evil] things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (5:21), "so let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap [eternal life], if we do not give up." (6:9) After spending five chapters denying, attacking and lambasting works-righteousness (according to the old perspective), Paul suddenly turns round and not only endorses it, but buys the t-shirt as well.

Nor is this behavior confined to Galatians. In my post on Philippians 3 I noted:
Then when we look at the description of his Christian life that follows we find the entire passage is about striving to achieve righteousness and 'win' the race, and exerting all possible effort. So far from a Judaism of "effort" being contrasted with a Christian "lack of effort and reliance on grace". [Paul, in fact] discusses a Judaism that relies as much on grace as it does on effort and a Christianity that relies totally on effort.
Either Paul is schizophrenic or the old perspective is wrong, it's as simple as that.


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