An Interview with Michael Bird on the New Perspective on Paul (2017)

Below is a sample of an interview by Paul Moldovan of ‘Overthinking Christian’ who asks Reformed NT scholar Michael F. Bird a few questions about the ‘New Perspective.’ The interview is very intriguing; for the full interview click here.

Many who are informed about the NPP seem to either outright reject it or embrace it wholeheartedly. You seem to fit neither mold. Can you describe your sentiment regarding the NPP, and do you feel it is in fact “new?”

Michael: Generally I think the NPP is correct in what it affirms, but often wrong in what it denies. To say that justification is not about being saved, or not about this, or not about that is genuinely harder to prove. However, where the NPP is right is highlighting the social context and ethnic texture of Paul’s discourse about justification. Remember, Paul was not fighting proto-pelagians or medieval Catholics. Paul’s point in places like Galatians 3-4 and Romans 1-4 was that Gentiles do not have to become Jews in order to be Christians.

I can make anyone sympathetic to the NPP just by asking them four questions: (1) What is the first thing imputed in Romans? It is not righteousness, faith, merit, or the active obedience of Jesus. Rather, look at Rom 2:26: “So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?” Paul is here giving a preview of the “A.D” period by talking about Gentiles who have experienced the renewal and blessings associated with the new covenant, and their obedience is such that they will have circumcision (i.e. covenant membership) imputed to them! In other words, Christian Gentiles can be reckoned part of God’s people by experiencing the renewing effects of the Holy Spirit.

(2) Complete this sentence from Roman 3:28-28: “We hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law, or …” Or what? Or, will the Catholics win? Or, will we become legalistic? What is the opposite of justification by faith? Well, listen to what Paul says: “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.” Note, the opposite of justification is ethnocentrism, the view that God has  limited his grace and favour to one group of people, the Jews. Works is ruled out on the basis of salvation because no mixture of effort or ethnicity can warrant salvation. Justification by faith is just as much about the scope of salvation (Jew and Gentile) as the instrument (faith rather than works).

(3) Let me ask, why was Christ cursed on the cross? Paul says this in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ — in order that …” Wait, “in order that” what? We would be saved, go to heaven, have peace with God, rest in his righteousness? Why was Christ cursed on the cross? Most Christians answer this by talking about personal individual soteriology, how do I get saved? But listen to Paul’s answer: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us … in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal 3:13-14). Paul’s answer here is not about the individual getting saved, rather, it is redemptive-historical, God’s plan to save the Gentiles, to have a multi-ethnic family of Abraham, to create a people for himself made up of Jews and Gentiles.

(4) You should know Eph 2:8-9, salvation by grace, through faith, a gift from God, rules out any kind of salvation-by-works theology you can imagine. But what does Paul shift to next? It is not sanctification, the doctrine of the church, or election. No, the rest of Ephesians 2-3 is all about how Jews and Gentiles have been united in Christ, and Gentiles, though aliens and covenant outsiders, have become co-heirs in the commonwealth of Israel. Again, note the emphasis, ecclesiology, ethnicity, Jews and Gentiles, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, united together. This emphasis has been lacking in Reformed theology if you ask me.

 

via “Is the ‘New Perspective’ Heretical?” Michael F. Bird Responds

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