Preston M. Sprinkle, Paul and Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013)
I am appreciative of and sympathetic to the New Perspective(s) on Paul (NPP). Scholars like E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn have provided me with a more nuanced reading of Paul’s language regarding faith in/faithfulness of Christ, the righteousness of God, works (of law), etc. That said, I have been a bit unsatisfied with any depiction of first century Jewish thought that is monolithic. It seems as if there is room for what some of the more traditional (in a Reformational sense) interpreters of Paul have called a “variegated nomism”.
One form of Judaism that does seem to open the door to revisiting the role of works as relates to initiation into a community and eschatological judgment is whatever practices and ideologies we find represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). This library does contain documents that do seem at first glance to present the sort of theology that older Reformed and Lutheran scholars thought Paul was rebuking. While Preston M. Sprinkle does not seek to return us to the world before the NPP he does think we may need to revisit the relationship between divine and human agency in salvation. In reading this book I find that he makes a case worth considering.
The book is nine chapters long. If his argument is a river the two banks that direct the flow are what he considers to be the Deuteronomic and Prophetic paradigms both found in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Deuteronomic paradigm is where Israel’s fidelity to the Covenant is necessary for God’s blessings and to avoid curses. When Israel rebels the means to restoration is to resume fidelity to the Law. The Prophetic paradigm found in the writings of prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah suggests that there does come a point where Israel has become so rebellious and has so broken the Covenant that their only hope is divine intervention: God will rescue them even though they cannot get themselves to return to fidelity to the Covenant. In other words, the Prophetic paradigm is far more unilateral than the Deuteronomistic paradigm could be.
Sprinkle shows how this juxtaposition relates to language regarding the curse of the Law in Torah. Then he explores the role of “the eschatological spirit” in Paul and the DSS. This is followed by a chapter comparing the “anthropological pessimism” of Paul (i.e., the “utter depravity” of humanity, if you will) in light of how various DSS depict humanity’s ability to obey Law. This is followed by comparisons between justification in Paul and Qumran and judgment according to works as well.
There is much to praise about this volume. I found Sprinkle’s discussion on pneumatology has me thinking deeply about what Paul and his contemporaries thought about the role of (holy) spirit in redeeming people. While there are many places that Paul and the DSS do seem to agree I find that Sprinkle does a good job of showing how slight variations in their theologies may have a large impact.
In the final chapters Sprinkle surveys more literature from Judaism and then provides his concluding remarks regarding Paul’s relationship to his contemporaries. While we shouldn’t go back to Lutheran language regarding Judaism being “legalistic” students of Paul may want to listen to what Sprinkle has to say about human and divine agency as it relates to the restoration of the people, entrance into the community, justification, judgment, etc. Paul may be more unique than recent portrayals of his theology have suggested.
This book was received from IVP Academic in exchange for a bias-free review. My apologies for a very delayed response to the book!
This review, and the book it covers is attention grabbing. You’ve piqued my interest.
At this point in its history, Christianity seems to be struggling (maybe grappling is a less negative word) with the relationship between Old and New covenant. There is tension between the idea that the New Covenant is ‘new’ as in novel, and the idea that the New Covenant is not novel at all, but the original covenant come into place, so new by degree of perfection or fullness.
The tension exists because in the first case, a ‘new/novel’ covenant means there was no need for the original covenant since it, as a foundation, was unnecessary. So too; why therefore Israel if henceforth ‘church’? In the second case, a ‘new/come into place’ begs the question how does the apparently new nomenclature fit upon the foundation of the old.
If the old covenant is a broken mirror, and the new covenant a perfect mirror, do we see the same reflection in both (but varying by degree of quality), or a different reflection (something else)?
The NPP starts to ask some of these questions for the benefit of hermeneutic consistency in seeing both covenants from the same lens. Understanding Paul’s Israelite outlook informed by old covenant scripture, and specific Pharisaic prejudice by training is certainly helpful, but it only addresses the writer side of the hermeneutic.
Sprinkle’s book appears to do a good job of contextualizing the hermeneutic terrain. The description of his argument being a river with two banks directing the flow, with one bank being the Deuteronomic paradigm, and the other being the Prophetic paradigms found in Hebrew Scriptures is a nice image.
The third hermeneutic piece that needs to be addressed is our own. We need to clearly define what we mean by ‘Israel’, ‘Jew’, ‘Judean’, etc historically. If we are going to presuppose historical consistency from when Paul used those terms (in their original language) until now, we need to make a case that verifies this presupposition as correct. If that wasn’t bad enough we need to verify it against the context of prophetic usage. This is tough because these words all play into people’s sense of identity, so are political. If we cannot do this, however, we need to allow history (and prophetic usage) to inform our meaning so if there are changes to meaning they inform our theology.
I’m very glad people are addressing Paul’s perspective. I’m also extremely glad people are addressing context and including DSS and other sources. I most await the third, however, for it more than the other two will cultivate revelation.
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