Learning about the New Perspective on Paul

For the past several years I have been heavily involved in Jesus and Gospel studies, first by choice because of my own interests and then by requirement as I have been asked to teach courses related to those fields. Change is in the air, though, as I am now working on Paul again, including writing a commentary on Galatians and teaching that book in the Fall of 2012. Consequently I need to get up to speed on current trends in Pauline scholarship, which puts the New Perspective on Paul front and center. Learning about the New Perspective on Paul is difficult because as a scholarly movement it is rather diffuse. It arose initially out of a reassessment of the nature of Judaism in the Second Temple Period, arguing that it was much more centered on grace than previously understood. Subsequently, since Paul himself lived within and interacted with that same Judaism, scholars reassessed his own writing and theology. Essentially the New Perspective is a reinterpretation of what Paul intended to communicate when he spoke about his Judaism, the Judaism of his contemporaries, and how his gospel changed the landscape. If Judaism was centered on grace and could not properly be understood as seeking to earn salvation through works, what then was Paul arguing about when he discussed the works of the law, his gospel, and the place of Christ in God's plan for salvation? Scholars who study Paul within the context of the New Perspective seek to answer this and other related questions.

A great book to use as an introduction to this topic is Kent L. Yinger, The New Perspective on Paul: An Introduction (also available for Kindle). Yinger is Professor of New Testament at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and generally favors the New Perspective. Even so, this book is a balanced, general introduction to the topic which helps the reader understand the basic issues at stake, the current players in the debate, and where to go next for more study. He covers history of the debate, exegetical issues, and theological issues evenly and fairly. The annotated bibliography is especially helpful. It is a quick read at about 100 pages, and the language is never too technical. I recommend it highly for those who want to learn what the debate is all about. The major difficulty with an introduction of this type is that more questions are raised than answered, but Yinger certainly can't be faulted for that, as the discussion is complex. He still does a good job in helping the reader understand the issues, and he makes appropriate suggestions about where to go next.