Romans - Lesson 2

Introduction to the "New Perspective" on Paul

From this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the "New Perspective" on Paul's theology, particularly in the context of the book of Romans. It challenges the traditional reading of Romans, which focuses on justification by faith, by emphasizing the importance of considering the first-century context, where the central issue was the inclusion of Gentiles in the Messianic movement. This perspective seeks to balance theology, acknowledging the importance of both Jewish and Gentile Christians. The letter to the Romans is viewed as an attempt to heal divisions within the early Christian community and presents the Gospel as a unifying force that brings together Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ. As you engage with this lesson, you will gain insights into the complexities of interpreting Paul's writings and the relevance of his message for today's congregations.

Lesson 2
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Introduction to the "New Perspective" on Paul

Introduction to the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul

A. The New Perspective

B. It is not an either/or but a both/and situation

C. Setting the Tone of the Letter

D. Setting the Tone of the Letter

E. Applying Romans in our Congregations Today

  • This lesson offers a deep dive into Paul's Letter to the Romans, revealing its pastoral aims, Paul's intentions to visit Spain, Jerusalem, and Rome, and its relevance to early Christian dynamics and theological inquiries about the Law in Christ's time.
  • This lesson offers a fresh view of Paul's theology, focusing on Romans. It emphasizes the first-century context, highlighting Gentile inclusion and unity in Christ, challenging traditional views. Gain insights into Paul's message and its relevance today.
  • Explore the book of Romans for modern faith conflicts: balance tradition with contemporary practices, learn from history, and grasp Paul's ministry and Gospel's complexities.
  • Follow along with Dr. Moo as he begins a thorough review of Romans 1:2-5. You will learn how Paul emphasizes Jesus' earthly life, resurrection, and his appointment as the Son of God in power. This lesson examines the interconnectedness of faith and obedience, underscoring that while faith initiates salvation, genuine faith inherently entails obedience to Christ as Lord, maintaining a balanced Christian life.
  • By delving into Romans 1:16-17, you'll understand the Gospel extends beyond individual salvation, encompassing God's reign over creation and His establishment of justice. The Gospel challenges worldly powers, offering hope and transformation to all who embrace it.
  • Listen along as the class discusses questions and answers revolving around Romans 1:16-17.
  • In Romans 1:18-28, you learn that all people are held accountable by God, having knowledge of Him through natural revelation but some turn away. This passage highlights the manifestation of God's wrath against sin, the exchange of truth for falsehoods, and the absence of excuses for humanity's actions, ultimately emphasizing God's fair judgment.
  • Listen in as the class and Dr. Moo discuss aspects of Romans 1:18-28.
  • The lesson discusses Romans 2:1-11, it highlights the use of the diatribe device and the transition from focusing on Gentiles to Jews. It underscores the Jewish belief in their special status and their potential misunderstanding of God's judgment. The lesson reviews the focus of the text on key themes such as judgment, righteousness, and the relationship between faith and good deeds.
  • In this lesson, you'll review the significance of the Law, notably the Law of Moses, in God's judgment. Paul stresses that mere knowledge of the Law isn't sufficient for righteousness; obedience is key. The primary message is that salvation ultimately relies on God's grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as human efforts and consciences alone cannot secure salvation. This lesson highlights the importance of understanding these concepts in interactions with people of different religious beliefs.
  • The key takeaway in this lesson is that while being a Jew comes with a great heritage, it doesn't guarantee salvation. Obedience to God's law is crucial, and reliance on religious heritage or rituals won't save you. The lesson emphasizes the universal human condition of being under the power of sin, and people cannot be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the Law or by the works of the Law. Only through faith in Christ are we made righteous.
  • This lesson explores the New Perspective on Paul, emphasizing that the Law was for Jewish covenant status, not just salvation. It promotes a holistic faith view, balancing vertical and horizontal aspects, Spirit-led obedience, and 1st-century Judaism diversity, enriching Pauline teachings in the church.
  • In exploring Romans 3:21-26, you'll gain insights into the relationship between righteousness, faith, and salvation. Paul highlights God's righteousness, which is accessible to all through faith in Jesus Christ. By weaving together themes of righteousness, faith, and inclusivity, Paul challenges conventional Jewish and Gentile perspectives, emphasizing the continuity of God's salvation plan while underscoring the centrality of faith in Christ for all believers.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the potential challenge in translating Romans 3:23-24, particularly the term "all" and its connection to the debate on universalism in evangelicalism. Dr. Moo stresses the importance of coherence in biblical interpretation and explores the themes of God's righteousness, faith, and grace in justification. The lesson reviews the cultural background of redemption, drawing parallels with the Greco-Roman slave market and emphasizing the need to understand both the problem of sin and the Gospel solution.
  • Embarking on this lesson, you'll gain insight into the historical development and contemporary challenges surrounding the doctrine of justification. Through exploring classic Reformation principles and contemporary reassessments, you'll understand the tensions between Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives, particularly regarding the infusion of righteousness and the role of grace.
  • The lesson explores the intricate connection between faith and works, justification, and sanctification in contemporary theological discourse. It delineates divergent views on justification, with scholars like Piper advocating for the preservation of biblical distinctions amidst modern theological trends. The lesson examines key questions regarding the meaning, basis, time, and means of justification.
  • Students in Dr. Moo's class ask multiple questions about justification.
  • By studying Romans 3:27-4:25, you gain insight into Paul's theology, where faith, exemplified by Abraham's righteousness, transcends works and ethnicity, emphasizing the universal scope of salvation through Christ.
  • Hear the questions the students ask regarding Romans 3:27–4:25. And discover Dr. Moo's answers to the questions posed.
  • In Romans 5 – 8, you gain insights into profound theological concepts like justification, identity in Christ, and the tension between present reality and future hope, guiding you to embrace your changed identity and hope for future transformation amidst life's trials.
  • Students as deep questions about Romans 5-8. Hear what Dr. Moo presents as answers to their questions.
  • Through Romans 5:1-11, you'll review the contrast between the Old and New Realms, understanding the essence of living in grace, finding hope amid suffering, and experiencing the assurance of eternal security rooted in Christ's sacrifice and God's love poured into believers' hearts by the Holy Spirit.
  • In Romans 5:12-21, Paul contrasts Adam's sin with Christ's redemptive grace, emphasizing humanity's hope and victory over death through union with Christ, while various interpretations of original sin underscore the universal need for redemption and Christ's pivotal role in restoring humanity to God.
  • Listen to the thorough questions the students ask regarding Romans 5:12-21.
  • The students ask excellent questions of Dr. Moo in this insightful discussion on Romans 6:1-14.
  • Through this lesson, you will gain a deeper understanding of the theological implications of Christ's death and resurrection as explained in Romans 6. You will explore different interpretations of Paul's language regarding the old self and the new self, considering the implications for the Christian life. Ultimately, you will be challenged to recognize your identity in Christ and to actively live according to that identity, rejecting the slavery of sin and embracing servitude to God.
  • Hear the questions the students ask of Dr. Moo regarding Romans 6:1-23.
  • In diving into Romans 7, you'll explore the Law's role in Christian life. Paul's discourse clarifies the distinction between law and gospel, emphasizing the Torah's significance in understanding divine commandments.
  • Class discussion on Romans 7:1-6
  • In Romans 7:7-12, Paul explores the Law's role in intensifying sin and contrasts it with Christ's liberation. His narrative prompts reflection on individual experience and collective identity, enriching understanding of Christian faith.
  • The class discusses the previous lesson on Romans 7:7-12.
  • This lesson covers interpretations of Romans 7:13-25; whether Paul's description is of pre- or post-conversion struggle with the Law.
  • In Romans 8:1-22, discover the Spirit's transformative power over sin, leading to a life free from condemnation, intimacy with God, and anticipation of future glory amid present sufferings.
  • Explore the theological insights on environmental stewardship, emphasizing Christian responsibility in light of Romans 8:19-22.
  • Gain insights into Romans 8:23-27, understanding destined glory despite present suffering. The Spirit intercedes, bridging current and promised futures, offering assurance amid weakness.
  • Romans 8:28 offers profound insights into the nature of God's providence and the believer's journey of faith. Beyond its surface meaning, the verse challenges misconceptions about 'good' and underscores the transformative power of God's grace. It invites believers to trust in God's unfailing love amidst life's trials, anchoring their hope in the assurance of His sovereign care and redemptive purposes.
  • Romans 9:1-5 highlights Paul's profound concern for Israel's salvation and the theological complexities surrounding God's promises. Reviewing salvation history, you'll learn that God's offer of salvation for both Jew and Gentile, fits within the Old Testament narrative.
  • Paul discusses Israel's role in God's plan, emphasizing grace over race. He illustrates divine choices and sovereignty, sparking debates on salvation.
  • Discover diverse views on election, Israel's struggle with faith, and the significance of overcoming theological narrowness in Romans 9:30-10:21. Gain insights into law versus faith in attaining righteousness and the importance of engaging deeply with Scripture for a comprehensive understanding.
  • Gain insights into faith versus works, Christ as the culmination of the Law, and the inclusivity of righteousness through Him. Embrace unity in Christ, transcending cultural divisions, and embodying love and holiness.
  • Gain insight into contrasting righteousness by law vs. faith in Romans 10:5-13. Accessibility of salvation through Christ bridges Old and New Testament teachings, emphasizing unity and continuity.
  • Gain insights into Romans 10:14-21, emphasizing faith, preaching, and Israel's reception of the message. Dr. Moo highlights Paul's use of Old Testament quotes and God's ongoing relationship with Israel, revealing the significance of faith and salvation.
  • Gain insight into Romans 11:11-15. Paul discusses Jewish rejection, Gentile salvation, and Jewish inclusion, aiming to provoke Jewish envy. The phrase "life from the dead" hints at spiritual renewal or future resurrection.
  • Gain insights into the Olive Tree analogy in Romans 11:16-24. Understand humility, faithfulness, and the purpose of warning passages in Scripture.
  • Discover the mystery of Israel's salvation in Romans 11:25-32. Paul reveals unity of Jews and Gentiles, challenging arrogance and emphasizing God's inclusive love.
  • Gain deeper understanding of Christian-Jewish ties, navigate theological challenges, address Israel-Palestine tensions, and embrace God's inclusive grace.
  • Gain deep insights into Romans 12:1-2: True worship extends beyond rituals, urging sacrificial living and transformation in response to God's mercy.
  • In Romans 12:3-8, Paul stresses humility, unity, and diverse gifts within the body of Christ, urging faithful stewardship for the edification of the body of Christ.
  • Gain insights into love's complexity in Romans 12:9-21. Paul urges sincere affection, alludes to Jesus' teachings, and prompts contemplation on love and judgment.
  • Gain insights into balancing submission to authorities with obedience to God. Understand the context of Paul's exhortation to Roman Christians and the complexities of submission, emphasizing humility, unity, and love in the Christian life within God's sovereignty.

Dr. Douglas Moo, from Wheaton College Graduate School, offers an exegetical examination of the book of Romans. This course was recorded during a D.Min. seminar at the Carolina Graduate School of Divinity in May 2012.

Please note that the audio mp3 file numbers on downloaded files are two greater than each lecture number beginning with number 15.

Dr. Douglas Moo 
Introduction to the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul
Lesson Transcript


Introduction to the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul

A. The New Perspective:

There is a recent emphasis in interpretation that many of you will be familiar with, loosely called The New Perspective. This is a movement that is fairly well-known although it is very diverse and sometimes it can be very difficult to neatly describe it. But, when I talk about this, I am talking especially about the approach to Paul’s theology that is taken by two prominent scholars, N.T. Wright (Tom Wright) and James Dunn. These two men embody the heart of this so-called New Perspective on Paul.

We will discuss this at various times during the week, but for now, it is especially directed to this question that we were just talking about.  It is basically saying that we need to read Romans in light of the first century issues. The first century concern was about the relationship between Jew and Gentile; the inclusion of Gentiles in the New Messianic movement inaugurated by Jesus of Nazareth. That was the first century question.

This first century question wasn’t the sixteenth century question and both of the men mentioned above will frequently juxtapose their understanding of Romans against the first century context with a traditional Protestant reading of Romans which they claim is oriented more to the sixteenth century perspective. Luther’s question was how do I, a sinful human being find a relationship with a God of holiness and justice? Luther’s question was the vertical one and in that particular way of reading Romans then, traditionally, the emphasis was on understanding the Gospel in terms of how human beings can get right with God. So, the focus has been on justification by faith and chapters 1-4 of Romans especially, where Paul lays out the issues of human sin and God’s response in the Cross of Christ. But, again, the New Perspective folks come along and say that this is reading Romans not in its genuine Jewish first century context.  

So, this is a very simplistic understanding of the New Perspective; it is a movement that is insisting on trying to read Paul in light of a particular understanding of first century Judaism as the context out of which we have to understand it. Often set up deliberately and quite explicitly against the traditional and more vertical focus in the reading of Romans.  

B. It is not an either/or but a both/and situation:

We will talk about this during the week at a number of points in the commentary. You will know by now that for me, this is not an either/or but a both/and situation. I would like to say, I don’t so much quarrel with what the New Perspective people are saying because a lot of it is on target. But what I quarrel with is what they are denying. Their tendency to say Paul is concerned about integration of Jew and Gentile and he is not concerned about human beings in relationship with God. I just think that is a reading of Romans that ends up being too narrow. It focuses on one issue to the exclusion of another, both of which are present. So, when Paul sort of states the theme of Romans in Romans 1:16 where he says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, - there is the vertical emphasis: God / human being - but what does Paul go on to say?  The Jew first and then the Gentiles; both are there.

My view then as you may know from reading my introduction, I take it that the theme of Romans is the Gospel; if we’re going to try to focus on a single theme, let’s be careful about doing that. Let’s be careful not to reduce complex biblical books to one idea. Philippians is about joy, for example. Yes, joy is one theme of Philippians, even a prominent theme in Philippians but is it really accurate to say that Philippians is exclusively about joy? No, that is reductionistic. We would miss the richness of Philippians if we tried to do that. In Romans, I am aware that it is talking about the Gospel; there is a problem of perhaps reducing the letter to one idea. But my argument would be that the Gospel is a broad and fundamental topic which includes a lot of these other issues that we are talking about.  Here is the Gospel as Paul understands it, but with special relevance to the way it brings Gentiles into the kingdom without disenfranchising Israel. So, there it is in a nutshell; this is Romans. It is the Gospel that provides for human beings to be put in a relationship with Christ with special provision to include the Gentiles without disenfranchising Israel.

C. Balanced Theology

Because Paul is writing with both Jewish and Gentile Christians in view, Romans provides a very balanced theology on this point. That doesn’t mean that it is more valuable that the theology of Galatians, for example. It does provide more balance.  I like to think for instance about the letter to the Galatians by using the image of children playing on a ‘teeter totter’ on the playground. You see several children get on one end and in order to balance it out, you jump on the other end to get it back to even keel. In Galatians, you have Judaizers who have upset the balance. They are putting all the weight on the Law, on circumcision so it becomes badly imbalanced. For Paul to get it back to a firm balance again, he puts all of his weight on the other end. And so, in Galatians, Paul hardly has anything good to say about the Law because he is trying to balance the thing.

But in writing to the Romans, he is writing to a situation where there are Jewish Christians on one end and Gentile Christians on the other.  So, the balance is already there, and Paul wants to maintain that balance. I want to tell you Jewish Christians that you are right to be proud of your heritage and you’re right to claim that God is faithful to his promises to Israel. You are right to keep the Old Testament as part of the Christian canon, as part of the Christian Bible.

But he also wants to tell the Gentiles that they are right; they are now being allowed into the people of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. You are right to insist that you don’t have to be circumcised to be a Christian and to say that you don’t have to obey all these elements of the Law in order to be a member of the people of God.

Romans provides a very valuable balance in that  way, and as I tried to illustrate, meets some of the issues in terms of all of these locations  that Paul is talking about, e.g., Spain, what I am calling Paul’s Apologia, I’m using the Latin word there, since there are elements of Romans which look like the Latin Apologia or apologetic which would be one rough way we could translate this into English.   Here Paul is not only explaining his Gospel, but he is also defending it a bit. Paul was a very controversial figure in his day. We read that in Acts, and in the different letters; God used him as the point person to introduce this new theology that included the Gentiles, and it was very controversial. Paul well knows that when he writes to the Romans, they have heard things about him. He doesn’t only explain his Gospel, he also defends why he understands the Gospel the way he does.

He is writing to the Roman Christians healing the church split there between Jew and Gentile. He has in his mind the collection that he is taking to the Christians in Jerusalem, a collection from Gentile Christians for Jewish Christians, hoping to again heal some of the split between those two groups. And, of course, writing from Corinth where Paul can reflect back on the theology he has developed on these points over the years.

D. Setting the Tone of the Letter:

There is One more introductory point which we will be looking at throughout the week, as we develop the argument of Romans and look at how it unfolds. The Gospel is the frame of the letter, both the introduction and the conclusion where the language of Gospel is prominent.  This will be setting the tone for the letter as a whole. I have already mentioned Romans 1:16 as being a very important kind of theme statement for the letter itself. Then, in the body of the letter, 1:18-15:13, Paul is developing the Gospel as he understands it with both the vertical component, the Gospel as God’s power that brings salvation to human beings, and what we call the horizontal element, it is a Gospel that is inclusive, bringing Jew and Gentile together in one body of Christ.

E. Applying Romans in our Congregations Today

One of the challenges we will face this week is this: if Paul is really concerned, there in a number of places in Romans, about helping Jews and Gentiles to understand how they belong together in one body of Christ, what is the implication for the way we preach those chapters in our congregation today? Let us assume that you have what is probably a fairly typical congregation in which there are no Jews present at all. So, what does all this stuff about Jew and Gentile have to say to that congregation? How do you move from the situation Paul is addressing in the first century to the different context that we are addressing in our situation?

To me, the essence of effective biblical preaching is to build that bridge which has one pier solidly built in the text itself respecting what is actually going in the passage in its original context, but it has another pier that solidly founded on the bedrock of what is going on in your congregation; what issues your people are facing. We could talk about the mechanics of how to put a sermon outline together and how to illustrate the sermon, all of those things are important, but if you are not building that bridge, a bridge that is founded in the Scripture itself in its context and one that is equally founded in and addressing the actual needs of the people you are preaching to, that is the essence of what biblical preaching is about. That is the challenge that I always find myself facing in teaching or preaching any text of Scripture.

So, even though I have never been a full-time pastor, but I have preached hundreds and hundreds of times in many churches, I teach an adult Sunday school class at my church, and so, I have had some experience with trying to understand this and what it really means. Here is my academic work and my study of the text in the first centaury world and what it really means. Now how do I communicate that validly and relevantly to this particular group of people?  We’re dealing with the same text and how we communicate that to different audiences in different contexts.