Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul's Gospel

  • Seyoon Kim
  • Jan 1, 2002
  • Series: Volume 5 - 2002

Kim, Seyoon Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul's Gospel. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 2002. 336pp. $25. ISBN: 0802849741

Currently Professor of New Testament at Fuller Seminary, Dr. Kim had his Manchester dissertation, "The Origin of Paul's Gospel," first published in 1981 in the German WUNT series (J.C.B. Mohr; Paul Siebeck) and then by Eerdmans the next year. A second German edition appeared in 1984. This current volume comprises Kim's updating of that original treatise (a second English edition never appeared)�especially in view of the so-called "new perspective on Paul" that has become all the rage in the intervening years. Thus chapters 1, 2, 4, and part of 3 of Paul and the New Perspective directly address this new development in Pauline studies in light of Kim's original book. Chapter 5 also directly addresses themes in the original volume, particularly the Old Testament-Jewish apocalyptic-mystical vision tradition of Ezekiel 1, in view of the writings of Alan F. Segal and others. Chapters 6 � 8 are reprints of previously published material: reconciliation in Paul, "mystery" of Romans 11:25-26, and the Jesus tradition in Paul.

As another review in this volume of the Denver Journal shows, the "New Perspective on Paul," so-named by J. D. G. Dunn but initiated in this era by E. P. Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism, remains a pervasive conundrum among Pauline scholars. In their understanding of Second Temple Judaism as "covenantal nomism," rather than legalism, Sanders and Dunn have revamped the terrain for understanding how Paul presented his gospel to his first century hearers. For scholars such as Sanders and Dunn, for Jews keeping the law was a matter of "staying in" their covenantal relationship with God, not a matter of "getting in." One did not keep the Law for salvation, but because one was part of the covenant community, the members of which acted in certain ways (viz., they kept the Law). In Chapter 1 Kim responds to Dunn's view (rejecting Kim's) that Paul's conversion included a mission to the Gentiles and that he only developed his position of justification 15 � 17 years after his conversion as a tactic to win Gentiles to Christianity. Kim argues that Paul had his view of justification by faith in place shortly after the point of his conversion. In some places Kim accuses Dunn of misunderstanding what Kim wrote, or, in many cases, he shows the inadequacy or fallacy of Dunn's reasoning. He frequently accuses Dunn of self-contradictions in defending the New Perspective position.

This sets the tone for the rest of the book�Kim is simply not convinced that the defenders of the New Perspective can uphold their understanding of Paul's vision and mission as reflected in his writings. In Chapter 2 he concludes that justification by grace and through faith is materially present (his emphasis) in 1 Thessalonians. It is a forensic act whereby God acquits sinners at the last judgment. Kim rejects the attempts to evacuate justification of its forensic meaning. He insists that "works of the law" are set in contrast to faith in Christ as contrasting ways to "get in;" "works" are not merely boundary markers for those who are in.

Chapter 3 constitute Kim's attempt to show that Isa 42 was a central OT text for Paul's understanding of his call: that is, Paul understood his own conversion and call�expressed in Gal 1:15 � 16�in view of Isaiah 42. The most crucial element of this perspective was his realization of his endowment of the Holy Spirit, and this led to his stress on the role of the Holy Spirit in his own ministry, life, and work.

In Chapter 4, Kim uses Gal 3:10 � 14 as a test case for evaluating the correctness of the traditional versus the New Perspective views. Again, the traditional view turns out better to handle the evidence, in Kim's understanding. He sees that some Jews of Paul's day sought to obtain righteousness through their obedience to the Law: this looks like legalism more than nomism, says Kim.

Chapter 5 may be the most technical chapter in which he addresses the views of the New Perspective as well as Alan Segal. In essence Kim reaffirms what he concluded in his original book, namely that Paul's eikon-, Adam- and Wisdom- christology/soteriology essentially derived from the christophony on the Damascus Road. Though agreeing with Segal and others of the potential impact of the Ezekiel 1 theophany, Kim finds echoes in the Jesus tradition ("Son of Man" sayings) and Jesus' wisdom sayings. That is, Paul was convinced that he saw and heard Jesus on the Damascus road�who was the Image of God.

Kim argues well, and passionately in places. What this volume shows me, again, is that a good case can still be made for the traditional view. Though Kim has been understandably selective in the evidence he assesses, he shows that careful exegesis still finds that the traditional view better explains some of Second Temple Judaism. He has shown that Sanders and Dunn's view does not represent the total picture at the time Paul wrote. We are better advised to see a complex religious situation among the Jews�as reflected in how Paul writes his letters. Were all Jews legalists? The answer must be a resounding, No. Were all Jews completely devoid of legalism? No. Were none attempting to view obedience to the law as the means to becoming righteous? Yes, some apparently were, as Kim's volume shows.

William W. Klein
Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary