The Target of Paul's Polemic: A Dialogue with the New Perspective
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What attitude was Paul opposing when he said that “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28)? The traditional view has been that Paul was opposing works righteousness, the idea that says, “I can earn God’s favor by keeping the law.” There is, however, a group of scholars promoting a New Perspective: E.P. Sanders, James D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright. They deny that it was works righteousness which Paul was opposing in his letters. Instead, Paul was opposing ethnic exclusivism. This thesis attempts to demonstrate that Paul was indeed opposing works righteousness by bringing forward evidence from the Pauline passages at the center of the debate. Interaction is also made with the exegesis of these passages put forward by the advocates of the New Perspective. This paper will argue for a Pauline polemic against works righteousness from Paul’s usage of Psalm 143:2 in Galatians 2:16 and Romans 3:20, from Paul’s consistent contrast between “doing” and “believing” (Romans 9:32; Galatians 3:11-12), and from Paul’s warning to the Christians in Philippi against “putting confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).