Thursday, 4 November 2010

New Perspective on Paul discussion 30 000 feet in the air

I had a fascinating conversation with a Hungarian Orthodox Jew, (who lives in London) on my return flight from Weeze into Stansted. This was the very first one-on-one conversation I had with a practising Jew after being exposed to the New Perspective on Paul. The latter I encountered first-hand in Durham under the likes of James Dunn, NT Wright, John Barclay, Francis Watson (and Simon Gathercole in Cambridge).

Q&A with my Jewish friend:
Question: Is observance of the Law, within your Jewish community a precondition to be part of God's covenant community, or is it an identity marker?
Answer: Law observance is a precondition to be part of God's covenant community.
Question: So are you saved through Law observance or through Grace?
Answer: Through observance of the Law, although God can have mercy also. Mercy however is not the same as grace.
Question: So how was Abraham saved? By faith or through obedience to the Law?
Answer: Abraham did not have the Law of Moses. He obeyed and believed before the Law was given, but now that the Law has come, membership of God's covenant community is reserved for those who observe it. 
Very very interesting stuff!

For myself, the three books below provided me with lots to think about:


Anonymous said...

You did indeed have an interesting chat with that Jew, and I too am surprised.
I'm not surprised that he emphasised keeping the law - that is the prime aim of a Jew, because God has asked it.
But I'm surprised that he appears to regard this as the means by which a Jew will be saved.

There's an interesting summary at
of the different belief systems of Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed Jews which is good, even though it appears to be by a Christian.
It is also unfortunately brief.
My guess is that your friend leans towards the orthodox side, but (dare I say this) he may not be too familiar with Talmud.

Our Rabbis have taught:
There are seven types of Pharisees:
the shikmi Pharisee,
the nikpi Pharisee,
the kizai Pharisee,
the `pestle` Pharisee,
the Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] `What is my duty that I may perform it?`,
the Pharisee [who obeys] from love [of God] and
the Pharisee [who obeys] from fear.
The shikmi Pharisee he is one who performs the action of Shechem.
The nikpi Pharisee he is one who knocks his feet together.
The kizai Pharisee R. Nahman b. Isaac said: He is one who makes his blood to flow against walls.
The `pestle` Pharisee Rabbah b. Shila said: [His head] is bowed like [a pestle in] a mortar.
The Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] `What is my duty that I may perform it?` but that is a virtue! Nay, what he says is, `What further duty is for me that I may perform it?`
The Pharisee from love and the Pharisee from fear -
Abaye [ BA4] and Raba [ BA4] said to the Tanna* [who was reciting this passage], Do not mention `the Pharisee from love and the Pharisee from fear`; for Rab Judah [ BA2] has said in the name of Rab:
A man should always engage himself in Torah and the commandments even though it be not for their own sake, because from [engaging in them] not for their own sake, he will come [to engage in them] for their own sake.
R. Nahman b. Isaac said: What is hidden is hidden, and what is revealed is revealed; the Great Tribunal will exact punishment from those who rub themselves against the walls.
There has been much debate about this passage, and the rabbis debated a great deal about what these different types of hypocrisy were.
What we have here is the original list, and the first generation of comments discussing them.
When it comes to discussing the last two, they quote a saying by Rab (ie Abba b. Aibu in mid 3rd C) who says that you should let people obey Torah with another motive (eg because they are afraid of God's wrath, or because they want to earn salvation), because when they get used to obeying them, they will come to obey them for their own sake. He appears to agree that obeying the commandments for the motive of fear or love is hypocrisy, but he hopes that people will thereby come to the correct attitude, which is to obey the commandments simply for their own sake - because they are commandments from God. The overall teaching of this passage is that obeying the law for any other reason (including the motive of being saved) is hypocrisy. It is like saying "thank you" because you fear the consequences of not saying "thank you" - you are not sincere.
David Instone-Brewer, Tyndael House, Cambridge

Frederik Mulder said...

Very interesting David!
I got hold of an enterview with Simon Gathercole on the New Perspective:
Simon's mother, I think grew up Jewish...