|That's Covenantal Nomism (Not Covenantal Gnomism)!|
With everything going on in the calendar last week, I almost missed the opportunity to point out the birthday (April 18) of New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders. "Who's that?" you might be asking.
E. P. Sanders is known for achieving a paradigm shift in how New Testament scholars understand first-century Judaism. Stuart Dauermann explains:
Sanders is one of the grandfathers of the New Perspectives on Paul. In his blockbuster first book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and in subsequent texts, he set out to consider methodologically how to compare two (or more) related but different religions; to destroy the view of Rabbinic Judaism which is still prevalent in much, perhaps most, New Testament scholarship; to establish a different view of Rabbinic Judaism; to argue a case concerning Palestinian Judaism (that is, Judaism as reflected in material of Palestinian provenance) as a whole; to argue for a certain understanding of Paul; and to carry out a comparison of Paul and Palestinian Judaism.In the conclusion to his Messianic Jewish response to Sanders' "new" perspective on Paul, Dauermann writes:
He is best remembered for his exploration of what he terms “covenantal nomism.” This term names his conviction that for Judaism, “obedience maintains one’s position in the covenant, but it does not earn God’s grace as such. It simply keeps an individual in the group which is the recipient of God’s grace.” (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 420) In other words: “obedience is universally held to be the behavior appropriate to being in the covenant, not the means of earning God’s grace.” (p. 421). For Sanders, “Israel’s situation in the covenant required the law to be obeyed as fully and completely as possible … as the only proper response to the God who chose Israel and gave them commandments” (p. 81).
This is certainly not the Paul I was introduced to fifty years ago. But also, this is not the version of Judaism that most Christians I know of entertain . . . We can and should still commend the gospel. But we absolutely do not have to nor should we denigrate Judaism to do so!