Friday, December 07, 2007

The New Perspective is not so new

In Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians he accuses most of the church before him of holding New Perspective views:
Here again I warn that Paul is not speaking about the Ceremonial Law, as the sophists continually imagine. Origen and Jerome were the originators of this error. They were extremely dangerous teachers on this point; all the scholastics followed them, and in our day Erasmus approves and confirms their error. (1535 Commentary on Galatians, 2:21)
In his commentary, Luther pays a great deal of attention to dealing with this interpretation, and seems to see it as the traditional view. I am surprised that so little attention has been paid in the New Perspective on Paul debate to the presence of NPP views among the early church fathers. I have not seen any comprehensive analysis given by any scholar on the topic.

I have haphazardly over the course of time (and with the assistance of others) collected a list of relevant and semi-relevant references myself. Here's my far-from-comprehensive list:

Held 'New' Perspective on Paul:
Irenaeus, Against Heresy Book 4, Ch 13-16
Ambrosiater, Commentary on Romans
Pelagius, Commentary on Romans
(Less clear:)
Justin Martyr, Dialogue Ch 10-11
Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 6:6
Ignatius, Magnesians 8
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4:33

Held 'Old' Perspective on Paul:
Origen, Commentary on Romans
Jerome, Epistle 133, 8
John Chrysostom (He can seem quite pro-NPP sometimes though: eg Homilies on Galatians, ch 1)

Interestingly, from this list we can see that Luther's claim that Origen and Jerome taught this is incorrect. It seems that Luther simply disliked them so he pinned this 'error' on them.


Blogger Pontificator said...

Could you elaborate in what ways you find the old and new perspectives expressed in the Church Fathers.

Also, in your citation Luther criticizes Origin and Jerome, yet you have them listed as "old perspective."


Blogger James F. McGrath said...

Did Jerome change his mind on this topic? I seem to recall that he and Augustine disagreed on the topic at some point, with Augustine representing what would later be known as the Lutheran perspective...

Blogger Andrew said...

Could you elaborate in what ways you find the old and new perspectives expressed in the Church Fathers.

That's an important question, I suppose, given the wide variety of ideas people put under the heading "New Perspective". For me, what I see personally as the key element of the New Perspective of Paul is an interpretation of the phrase "works of the law" such that it primarily or only means "Judean customs" (or "Ceremonial Law") rather than "moral good works". Whereas anyone who reads Paul as opposing faith to good works is holding the Old Perspective.

So, for example, take the exegetes of the phrase "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom 3:28).
Origen, in his commentary on Romans, consistently sees "works of the law" as including moral good works. Therefore he exegetes this passage by pointing to the thief on the cross who he claims was justified by faith without yet having moral good works.
Ambrosiater, however, in his commentary limits the phrase "works of the law" to mean "eg circumcision or new moons or the veneration of the sabbath."
Likewise Pelagius in his commentary says "Some people misinterpret this verse to do away with works of righteousness... [but, interpreting it correctly] obviously, these are the works of circumcision, the sabbath and so on, and not the works of righteousness"
Such views are typical of their entire commentaries.

To pick a different example, here's Irenaeus on the difference between ritual law and moral law: "the Lord [Jesus] did not abrogate the natural [moral precepts] of the law, by which man, is justified, which also those who were justified by faith, and who pleased God, did observe previous to the giving of the law [but rather extended them]... [we must] not only abstain from evil deeds, but even from the desires after them. Now He did not teach us these things as being opposed to the law, but as fulfilling the law, and implanting in us the varied righteousness of the law... we learn from the Scripture itself, that God gave circumcision, not as the completer of righteousness, but as a sign, that the race of Abraham might continue recognisable [and Sabbaths too]... man was not justified by these things [Circumcision or Sabbaths], but that they were given as a sign to the people... all the rest of the multitude of those righteous men who lived before Abraham, and of those patriarchs who preceded Moses, were justified independently of the things above mentioned [Circumcision and Sabbaths], and without the law of Moses [because] the righteous fathers had the meaning of the Decalogue [the moral law] written in their hearts and souls" (AH 4.13-16)

Luther critizes Origin and Jerome as the 'originators of the error'. As far as I tell he's simply wrong. He's blaming them for doing it because he doesn't like them (the rest of his commentary on Galatians is full of rhetoric against Jerome), not because they were actually guilty of it.

Did Jerome change his mind on this topic?
That's certainly possible. If you can find a reference for this I would be interested in seeing it.

Blogger The Contextual Bible Team said...

Could you please tell me where in Luther's Commentary on Galatians do you find this quote? I haven't seen it in any of the copies. I have looked at his comments on Galatians 2:21 in the book but its not there.


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