Friday, August 10, 2007

Simon Gathercole on the New Perspective on Paul

There has been some discussion in the blogosphere about this article already from those who are ahead of the game and have access to the paper version, but for the rest of us, this article from Christianity Today is now available online:

What Did Paul Really Mean?
'New perspective' scholars argue that we need, well, a new perspective on justification by faith.
Simon Gathercole

There is an appended bibliography:

Further Reading on the New Perspective

In my opinion, this reading list is slanted much too heavily towards N. T. Wright and there is nowhere near enough E. P. Sanders. As well as Sanders's Paul and Palestinian Judaism, one must read Paul, the Law and the Jewish People. As far as I am concerned, those two books go at the top and everything else, including Wright and Dunn, is in dialogue with them. Under the "Short Introductions", I would place E. P. Sanders's Paul: A Very Short Introduction at the top, but it is not mentioned.


Doug said...

I would say, Mark, that out in the non-academic world, most people only encounter Wright's version of NPP, especially in the evangelical world. I would guess Gathercole has slanted his article accordingly. Those who get worked up theologically about the NPP have Wright in their sights, because he has evangelical respectability and attractiveness in the eyes of pastors in training, and so is perceived by the old guard as a menace sent to lead the Reformed church astray. They don't think their students are in any danger of following Sanders, or even Dunn. I would guess this may lie behing Gathercole's remit in this article.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Doug. I agree; and I think therein lies the problem. To appreciate the new perspective properly, or to engage with it properly, one has to work out the differences between Sanders, Wright and Dunn. I think Simon plays into the hands of opponents of the new perspective by a kind of grouping of them together. In the further reading, one has the chance to open up people's views a bit by encouraging them to encounter the varieties among new perspective scholarship (always for want of a better term).

Doug said...

You say he plays into the hands of the opponents of NPP, but don't you think this might be because he is one himself? (Even if not a vehement one, and one who can recognise some strengths in it). BTW, thanks for the link to the orginal article, I've updated my post accordingly. said...

The Epistle to the Romans is a heavily edited Pauline version of what once was an Epistle entirely about the Spirit of God.

I believe that the earliest Christianity that came out of Judea had nothing to do with justification by faith, but everything to do with cleansing of a person's spirit by the Spirit of God which could be heard and obeyed. It was a Jewish prophetic idea, with universalist application, that began to appeal to some Gentiles, particularly aristocratic Romans, before it was suppressed by the Flavian dynasty.

James F. McGrath said...

I knew Simon when I was in Durham, and I am still perplexed that on the one hand, we got along wonderfully well, and yet I think I've yet to agree with a conclusion he argues for in any of his publications! :)

Anyway, I've already posted my thoughts on his article (which I read on my last visit to the public library) on my blog at

This is an important topic, and it is good to see it getting some attention around the blogosphere.

Matt Page said...

Even Gathercole's title evokes Wright's "What St Paul Really Said" - probably the book most evangelicals are familiar with regarding the NPP.


Anonymous said...

I wrote to the CT Editor with a criticism from the non-academic world. To wit: The Editor-supplied information for the Article can easily leave the general impression that Dr. Gathercole is a rather casual observer who has gladly consented to render an unbiased evaluation of the NPP before he trots off to his new position at Cambridge. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Dr. Gathercole is an acknowledged and ardent anti-NPP scholar and it has been noted that his 2001 Durham dissertation is “a well-argued critique of the so-called “new perspective” on Paul.”

Advocating for the general public I added: In the interests of fair and open disclosure, the general readership of Christianity Today should have been made aware of Dr. Gathercole’s published anti-NPP opinion. It is disingenuous for the Editor to hide such an important fact that could, and likely would, have a significant bearing when casual readers weigh the Article’s offerings.

While those inside the academic 'beltway' are aware of ‘the players and the issues', those who are casual to the encounter need to be informed that the writer actually ‘wears a uniform’ and is neither disinterested nor impartial.