I have been reading a bit of J.D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright lately. While doing so I have been paying attention to their reading of the Pauline phrase ‘works of the law’ or ἔργων νόμου. Here is what I have concluded:

James D.G. Dunn see ‘works of the law’ as “covenant works, works related to the covenant, works done in obedience to the covenant” and more narrowly “particular observances of the law like circumcision and food laws” (see Dunn, James D. G. “The New Perspective on Paul.” BJRUL (Manchester, 1983). Pp. 95-122). Meanwhile, N.T. Wright sees works of the Law as meaning “‘works of Torah’, that is, those practices which mark Israel out from among the nations” (see Wright, N. T. “Romans and the Theology of Paul.” In Pauline Theology, vol. 3, pp. 30-67.).

Dunn and Wright do not see works = good deeds for merit as Luther did. Nevertheless, there appears to be some continuation. Dunn and Wright do seem to indicate that ‘works of the law’ are those actions–circumcision, food laws, Sabbath–that gave Jews the confidence that they were remaining in the covenant. These actions were ‘badges’ of the covenant. Would it be much of a leap to say that the Jews of Paul’s day felt confident that they were safe from God’s judgment not merely because of election, but because of actions that proved election? Therefore the confidence was not in election, per se, but in those “badges”?