Romans - Lesson 12

Romans 3:20

This lesson discusses the New Perspective and what it has to say about Paul's teaching especially in Romans 3:20. This theory, suggests that the Law was primarily a means for Jews to maintain their covenant status rather than obtaining salvation, which introduces a more communal and holistic view of faith. Advocates of the New Perspective emphasize the importance of reconciling both the vertical and horizontal aspects of faith, incorporating Spirit-produced obedience, and considering the diversity within 1st-century Judaism. This reevaluation aims to enrich the church's understanding of Paul's teachings and their practical implications.

Lesson 12
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Romans 3:20

II. The Heart of the Gospel: Justification by Faith (1:18–4:25)

A. The Universal Reign of Sin (1:18–3:20)

1. All Persons Are Accountable to God for Sin (1:18-32)

2. Jews Are Accountable to God for Sin (2:1–3:8)

a. The Jews and the Judgment of God (2:1-16)

b. The Limitations of the Covenant (2:17-29)

c. God's Faithfulness and the Judgment of Jews (3:1-8)

3. The Guilt of All Humanity (3:9-20)

B. Justification by Faith (3:21–4:25)

1. Justification and the Righteousness of God (3:21-26)

2. "By Faith Alone" (3:27–4:25)

a. "By Faith Alone": Initial Statement (3:27-31)

b. "By Faith Alone": Elaboration with Respect to Abraham (4:1-25)

  • 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.
  • In Romans 14:1-15:13, you learn about the division in the Roman Christian community, the concept of adiaphora, the balance between liberty and love, and Paul's emphasis on mutual acceptance and avoiding spiritual harm through personal conviction and respect for others' practices.
  • In Romans 15:14-16:27, you explore Paul's extended conclusion, his ministry to the Gentiles, his request for prayers regarding his journey to Jerusalem, the roles of Phoebe and Junias in ministry, and the diversity of the early Christian community.

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 
Romans 3:20  
Lesson Transcript

Romans 3:20

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.


A. The New Perspective: 

This gets us into this New Perspective thing. I’m hesitant to take us too far afield into this issue, but we need to be at least aware of this approach a little bit and understand its significance. We can boil it down in some ways to Romans 3:20 where Paul again says human beings - no one - can be justified before God by works of the Law. 

The Reformers emphasized the works part of that phrase. For them, this was a verse that ruled out human doing in our justification. We cannot get right with God by anything we do. It is faith alone; so, you have a very strong dichotomy between faith which alone enables us to be justified, and works, anything we do that never can get us into relationship with God; so, human doing, universal sinfulness, the performance of the law. 

Now, the New Perspective has come along and it’s based on a new view of Judaism. E.P. Sanders’ 1977 book was a very important transitional moment. In that book, E.P. Sanders took on what he felt was a traditional misunderstanding of the Law in Judaism. He argued that traditionally too often we have thought that Jews believed doing the Law was a means of getting saved. He argued that this wasn’t fair to the Jewish materials themselves. What Sanders did, he ransacked all of the Jewish sources from the New Testament period to determine what they were really saying. He argued that what they were really saying is that God had by His covenant entered into relationship with the Jewish people; God’s election was the basis for their salvation; and Jews then did the Law as a way of responding to God’s electing grace. As Sanders liked to say, the Law was then not a means of getting in, it was a means of staying in. This was the view found in Jewish sources. 

Now this was picked up by the so called “New Perspective” While in certain circles, particularly North American evangelical circles, the New Perspective has received a lot of strong criticism. Some of that criticism in my own view is justified, but some of it misunderstands the New Perspective. In a very real sense, the New Perspective was a quite conservative movement. Let me explain, if Sanders is right about 1st century Judaism, (again what Jews believed was that they had to do the Law as a means of staying in it, it wasn’t a means of getting in, there was no legalism there) the question becomes what is Paul talking about in a verse like Romans 3:20, when he says a person cannot be justified by works of the Law.


B. The Jewish Covenant, the Torah and Paul: 

The Problem is this: if no Jews believed that they could be justified by works of the Law, then how do we understand Paul? One way is simply to reject what Paul is saying, to view Paul as a typical political advertisement. If you are trying to figure out what Barak Obama (note: former American President) believes about something, you probably should not go to Republican Party advertisements. If you are trying to understand what Mitt Romney (note: American Political Person) believes about something, you’re probably not going to get a balanced, accurate perspective from a Democratic Party commercial. 

So, people like Heikki Räisänen whom I mention here, said that Paul is trying to make Christianity look really good. In order to do that he is trying to make Judaism look as bad as possible. So, he is deliberately distorting what Jews believe, claiming that they are legalistic when they aren’t. 

Now, James Dunn and Tom Wright entered into that situation and said we don’t want to do that to Paul. We want Paul to have integrity in what he is saying, but we also think that Sanders is right about Judaism. How do we bring those two together? 

One of the ways we can bring that together is by looking at this phrase, ‘works of the Law’ as talking not about doing in a general way but talking about a certain particular view of doing the Jewish law, the Torah. Basically, what Paul is saying in Romans 3:20 then, according to the New Perspective, a person cannot be justified by means of the Jewish covenant: works of the Law, things like circumcision, food laws, doing the Law as a way of maintaining Jewish covenant status. No longer is that a way of justification.

So, on this view that the New Perspective advocates take; Sanders’ view of Judaism could be agreed with and at the same time, you could then explain Paul adequately. What we have then is a significant reinterpretation of Paul, particularly in his relationship to Judaism and the Law. This is a kind of the New Perspective in a nutshell. It is changing some of the ways in which Paul is talking about the Law and Judaism and particularly affecting then Romans and Galatians, the letters where Paul most often talks about the Law and Judaism. 

Let me pause for a moment now.  I realize this is a lot to throw at some of you, and some of you are saying, I could care less, thank you. Understood. But what you realize, and I’m sure most of you as pastors already realize this, what goes on up here in academia filters down into the church, in these days very quickly because of the internet. These ideas that are first out there at the level of the academic conferences and discussions pretty quickly get popularized in various ways and by various people. And then they work their way from that level, down into the church, pretty rapidly. At least in the churches I am familiar with it is not at all unusual for an ordinary church member to come up to say What do you think of the New Perspective? No idea they would have ever heard of the New Perspective, but somehow, they have gotten wind of it. They don’t understand it all, but they are wanting to know how to react to it, is it a good thing? A bad thing? Sometimes we need to get up to speed with some of these developments.


C. What’s the Point: 

I would like to know how does this cash out in practical terms, and I’m not talking about super practical.  I’ve read this debate for the last six or seven years, and I still don’t get the point; I don’t see why they make such a bit deal about this. It seems to be that Piper gets at it in saying it is still works/righteousness. What is the fight? Why are they so intensely interested in imposing this on New Testament studies, Pauline studies? I don’t understand why. 

Dr. Moo:
Let me try to respond to that at least one way. I know both James Dunn and Tom Wright; I have a lot of respect for them, Tom Wright especially for a lot of the things he has done.  

Tom I know would say that he has a passion to get Paul right. It is my vocation as a Biblical scholar to understand Paul correctly in his own context. That has to be the foundation for any effective ministry that is Biblically based. If we don’t understand Paul correctly, if we don’t read Romans accurately, we could miss things that are important to him. We could import things into Paul that aren’t really there. So, that would be his response. 

Accurate knowledge for accurate knowledge’s sake? 

Dr. Moo:
Accurate knowledge of Scripture as the agreed upon foundation for effective Christian teaching and ministry. Tom wants to, in his view, interpret Romans and Galatians accurately in terms of what God calls Paul in his context to say because that is the Word we need to take our stand on; that’s the Word we need to preach, proclaim in all its balance, nuance, perspective and so forth. He thinks that part of the message has tended to be lost in the Reformation. 

If you read Tom Wright at his most relaxed, least polemical mode, you will hear him saying he isn’t trying to undo anything the Reformers said. Sometimes, he writes as if he is, but he would himself would say no I am not trying to undo anything the Reformers have said. But what I am trying to say is they have lost certain fundamental ideas in Paul about the inclusion of Gentiles that do need to be put into our perspective of Romans and Galatians and become the foundation for teaching and preaching, genuinely Biblical emphases.  

For instance, he would argue that the Reformation with its emphasis on the individual has tended to skew Christianity toward a very individualistic model and missed the social and communal elements of Paul’s teaching in Romans. Paul is concerned about an individual in relationship to God, but he is also very, very concerned about the integration of Gentiles into the new people of God; the community, the way in which Jew and Gentiles get along. He would argue that this would then become a model then for understanding Romans to be a book, not just about how I get right with God, but how I as a White get right with a Black. How Asians and Caucasians can get along together, and how rich and poor can get along together as a central element of what it means to be a church. In terms of the pay-off, a lot of them would argue that that the Reformers skewed Paul in a super individualistic direction that has wreaked havoc, some would say, in the Christian church.


D. The Individual Believer vs the Community: 

This is sort of the model of the individual believer who is right with God but who doesn’t care anything about their fellow brothers and sisters, has no view for racial or ethnic reconciliation. Those are the things that are lost, that they are trying to recapture as part of what Paul was intending. So that would be their response, I think. 

As far as it goes, I would say fair enough. Again, I respect them as people who are trying to get Paul right. I disagree a little bit about whether they have gotten Paul right, but I don’t question their motives. In talking about the New Perspective, it is a broad category. There are a lot of different people involved in what you might call the New Perspective, but I am talking about people like James Dunn, Tom Wright, and Don Garlington, people that I know, respect and have a heart for ministry, are motivated by a sincere desire to get Paul right as a basis for what the church should be. I don’t have a quarrel with them on that score; they are not just out there scoring academic points or trying to stir the pot up for the fun of stirring up the pot. They really have a genuine passion about what they think Paul is saying, that they think the church has sometimes missed.

If I convert to their position, what do I gain? So now I see Paul right.  What is beyond that? Are they teaching an ethical position that is superior here? Any claims that way?  You get the sense that Wright is saying it has let you guys off the hook, you’ve become really complacent about your faith, I don’t know if people are saying that, but it seems like they are saying you are almost ethically inferior somehow or r they want to change your attitude, or expand it in some way. Where are you trying to take us, other than accuracy?

Dr. Moo:
Maybe there are two prongs out of that, again speaking from the standpoint of Tom Wright who is arguably the most popular of the New Perspective folks, although, he doesn’t like that language anymore. I think he would again see two implications to what is being said. At his most rhetorical and polemical, Tom can sound as if everyone before him has been wrong, mired in sin and stupidity. I don’t think that is what he intends, but he does come across that way sometimes, no doubt about it. 

Wright would say two things; number one, the point I’ve already made, that understanding Paul from the New Perspective angle, brings in the communal side of things in a way that the Protestant Gospel has tended not to do. It’s a bit of a caricature, I understand. But nevertheless, most of us would probably have to admit, and I know my brothers and sisters from other parts of the world when they look at American Christianity can certainly see it. They say you people are so individualistic; it is me and God. The Gospel is about me getting right with God, and yes, I will go to church and worship with other people; but it is basically me and God. That is what Christianity is about. 

Wright wants to say no; if I have Paul right, then he is saying it’s yes about you and God, but it is equally about you and others. That whole commitment that you have to brothers and sisters in Christ, the importance of being a church that models reconciliation not just vertically but also horizontally. All of that is something that I’m trying to emphasize. By the way, that is one of the reasons why Tom Wright is so popular among the younger generation. It is because he is hitting all of those notes that are so popular among the younger group. They are looking for community, they are looking for social justice, they are looking for those kinds of things that Wright is emphasizing in his understanding of Paul.


E. Justification and Spirit Obedience: 

Now when it comes to his view of justification, Wright stands in a long line of people who are saying that the standard Protestant understanding of justification leads easily to an unconcern about Christian lifestyle. There is some truth in this accusation. If we argue, proclaim, preach, pound the pulpit and say that you are justified by faith alone, and the moment you place faith in Christ, you are right with God, in some forms of the Reformation, tradition, the reformed model for instant; once you genuinely place that faith in Christ, you are saved forever, it is irreversible, what is the basis for leading a faithful Christian life?  It becomes an option. Well, it is nice if you do it, but ultimately it doesn’t matter if you do, or you don’t, because you have already definitively been saved by your faith alone. 

So, Wright wants to say, let’s remember that there is a final justification as well and ultimately our justification hinges not just on our initial faith in Christ, but it also hinges on Spirit-produced obedience to Christ over a lifetime. Let us make that part of it a reality. He would say that he was just reading what Paul is saying in Romans 2:13 and I am reading James, which the church has tended to forget about ever since Luther’s day. James has sort of been swept under the carpet as such. He has become a bit of an embarrassment with all the stuff about works. That would be another place where the kind of view Wright is arguing, he would claim that this would make a difference in the way some of us view our Christian experience. 

If we put all of our weight on the initial conversion, he would say that we are missing part of what Paul wants to say in that there is an ultimate judgement that awaits us and that in that judgement, somehow, our works are going be significant. Wright himself has been very vague about what kind of role those works have to play where Piper has come along, and I think appropriately, criticized Wright for being imprecise there. Nevertheless, that is what I am trying to do, is to restore the balance I see in the New Testament on this matter of what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian isn’t just a matter of converted, done and over; it is a matter of conversion leading to a faithful Spirit-filled life that will then bring me vindication of the judgment of God. 

And again, as we look around at people in the churches, we have to admit there is some truth in the criticism. This isn’t necessarily the fault of Paul or the fault of our preaching necessarily; it is probably the sinful propensity for people to say to themselves, I’ve been saved by faith, I’ve walked up the aisle, I went through the Four Spiritual Laws, I’ve prayed the prayer, I’m set, don’t come bothering me with my lifestyle because it’s not finally all that important. Whether people say that out loud or just think it within, that attitude is there, it is all too prevalent.  

Other New Perspective questions on what they are saying. I am trying to create a balance here. I am trying to say on the one hand, Dunn and Wright are trying to be faithful expositors of Paul, and the New Perspective is in that sense, a very conservative movement in that sense, a very evangelical movement even. They are trying to have Paul speaking accurately. They are trying to vindicate Paul’s accuracy in terms of what he is teaching in his 1st century Jewish context.


F. E.P. Sanders and 1st Century Judaism: 

But my criticisms are these: when it comes to the law, the problem in traditional Protestantism often has been identified is well I’m using the Law to get saved. That wasn’t the problem. The problem in Paul’s day was that the Jews were using the Law to maintain their privileged status and keep the Gentiles out. The Law not as a barrier in a sense between God and humans, but the Law as a barrier between Jew and Gentile. So, when Paul talks against the Law, he talks against it in terms of this barrier between Jew and Gentile. 

Response to the New Perspective. Remember that this whole thing kind of starts with E.P. Sanders, a certain view of Judaism which says in light of that view of Judaism, let’s come back to Paul. There is a question about whether E.P. Sanders has got 1st century Judaism entirely right. A lot of things he says are probably good and accurate. But two points need to be made.  

First, people who have studied 1st century Judaism in the wake of Sanders will often emphasize the diversity of 1st century Judaism. We talk about what Jews in the 1st century believe. Just imagine the scenario – fill out this sentence of what professed Christians in North America believe. Is there anything you can generalize there, that you could say the whole universe of professed North American Christians believe. Perhaps that Christ is somehow important? Go around this room, a pretty small segment of North American Christians. What do you believe about baptism, election, the Lord’s Supper, the works and gifts of the Spirit, diversity? Isn’t it likely that 1st century Judaism was a little diverse also?  

So, when Sanders says that this is what 1st century Judaism believed; we have to qualify that. This is what some of the books I have indicated here have done. They show there is a lot of diversity out there in 1st century Judaism. I especially recommend the volume edited by Carson, O’Brien, and Seifrid Justification and Variegated Nomism. It’s not for the faint of heart, it’s pretty academic, but if you’re interested in pursuing it, that is a book I would recommend. 

A second point to make: even in Sanders’ terms, 1st century Judaism was synergistic. God by His grace chose Israel to be His people. But individual Jews are only saved ultimately to the degree that they follow the Torah. So, salvation in the last day ends up being a combination of God’s election and human effort. It could very well be that kind of synergism that Paul is contesting as we will see at some places in what he says. 

You have this large group, Israel, as a whole, an elect as members of the covenant by God’s grace. But then there becomes the question in 1st century Judaism as to who really is in. The people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls said that they were the ones who have it right while the rest of you have it wrong; we are saved, and you are not. The Pharisees came along and said that they were the ones who have it right; we understand the Law, we’re in, we are saved, while you are not.

So, within Judaism, you have all these discrepancies and arguments and diversity about who is really being saved and who isn’t. 

So, another response to the New Perspective here then is that it gets down to the question of individual election in both groups. For Judaism, doing the Law becomes the basis of election ultimately. For Paul, doing the Christ’s Law is the evidence of election. This is a very different way of looking at the Law. 

The either/or option. I have mentioned that Wright and Dunn can sometimes speak as if it’s a left-hand column only, the either/or option. Is Paul talking about being just before God? Is that the problem of the Law, or is the Law a problem of excluding the Gentiles? Often, they suggest that the issue is excluding Gentiles and not the other. I would argue that in faithfulness to Paul, it is better to see both involved; Paul is concerned at both levels. This is what I call the vertical and the horizontal as well. 

So, coming back to Romans 3:20, the New Perspective advocates say that Paul is saying that the works that Jewish people do to validate their covenant status, those cannot justify. What that does is open the door for other works. Here, I think the Reformers have it right. Clearly the phrase is talking about doing the Torah; works that people do in obedience to the Law of Moses, but that category of works of the Law is part of a larger category of works in general which Paul will talk about in Romans 4. That is his ultimate concern.