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5. Covenantal Nomism and Justification


Before we transition for the most part from circumcision and works of the Law into a different Pauline phrase known as “under the Law” (in Section Seven below), I want to tie works of the Law together with the pattern of religion in 1st century Isra'el by briefly examining the theological concepts known as “covenantal nomism” and “justification.”  If, as I maintain, 1st century Isra'el did not define “works of the Law” (i.e., Torah observance) as legalism (the way the Church defines legalism), how then exactly did she conceptualize and define her Law-keeping?  What was her motive for remaining so devoted to the Torah and subsequently to the covenants?  Did she believe her Torah observance granted her “salvation”?  Or perhaps did she instead believe her Torah observance helped to maintain a status of non-idolater (viz “justified existing covenant member”) since her initial and ongoing “salvation” was believed to have been gained by belonging to the people group of Isra'el, and therefore, such maintenance was necessary to stay “saved”?


What Nanos and other recent scholars (E.P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, N. T. Wright, et al) are describing, as pertaining to Paul’s 1st century Judaism and how it reportedly defined itself in terms of patterns of religion, has been carefully labeled as covenantal nomism.  Theopedia.com introduces and describes covenantal nomism for us in the following way:


Covenantal nomism is the belief that first century Palestinian Jews did not believe in works righteousness. Essentially, it is the belief that one is brought into the Abrahamic covenant through birth and one stays in the covenant through works. Suggests that the Jewish view of relationship with God is that keeping the law is based only on a prior understanding of relationship with God.


E.P. Sanders is known for coining the term "covenantal nomism.” This term is essential to the NPP view, as Sanders argues that this is the "pattern of religion" found in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. The term is used as "shorthand,” that is, a shortened term used to describe a larger idea. Sanders defines this idea as such:  "Briefly put, covenantal nomism is the view that one's place in God's plan is established on the basis of the covenant and that the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments, while providing means of atonement for transgression." (E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, p. 75)  This is important because it has huge implications for one's understanding of first-century Judaism and thus for one's interpretation of how Paul interacted with it. If covenantal nomism is true, then when Jews spoke of obeying commandments, or when they required strict obedience of themeslves and fellow Jews, it was because they were "keeping the covenant" - it was not out of legalism.  Sanders says that, "one's place in God's plan is established on the basis of the covenant." Therefore, as long as a Jew kept their covenant with God, he remained part of God's people. How does one keep the covenant? Sander's tells us "the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments.” All of Judaism's talk about "obedience" is thus in the context of "covenantal nomism" and not legalism. As a result, Judaism is then not concerned with "how to have a right relationship with God" but with "how to remain his covenant people.” This has sometimes been compared to the issue of "keeping" or "losing one's salvation.”[1] 


Quoting from Sanders and Wright in the same article they go on to include a brief discussion about the problems with the traditional “Lutheran” view of Paul and suggest that the new perspective on Paul (NPP)[2] actually exonerates 1st century Judaism from the centuries-long charge of being a works-based religion:


A fundamental premise in the NPP is that Judaism was actually a religion of grace. Sander's puts it clearly:


"On the point at which many have found the decisive contrast between Paul and Judaism - grace and works - Paul is in agreement with Palestinian Judaism... Salvation is by grace but judgment is according to works'...God saves by grace, but... within the framework established by grace he rewards good deeds and punishes transgression." (Paul and Palestinian Judaism, p. 543)


N.T. Wright adds that, "we have misjudged early Judaism, especially Pharisaism, if we have thought of it as an early version of Pelagianism," (Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 32). However, Stephen Westerholm adds caution to such a quickly drawn conclusion:


"While one may enthusiastically endorse the 'new perspective' dictum that first-century Judaism was a religion of grace and acknowledge that it represents an important corrective of earlier caricatures, it is hardly pedantic to point out that more precision is needed before such a statement can illuminate a discussion of the 'Lutheran' Paul. Pelagius and Augustine - to take but the most obvious examples - both believed in human dependence on divine grace, but they construed that dependence very differently" (Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul, pp. 261-262).


Thus, as Westerholm points out, although first century Judaism may have believed in grace, it becomes even more important to establish why they believed in grace and how this effected [sic] their view of salvation. Those from the NPP seem quick to jump to the conclusion that first-century Judaism was in agreement with the same understanding of grace found within the NT and Paul's theology. Again, as Westerholm notes above, this "grace" can be understood very differently.[3]


Indeed, for the last 30 or 40 years, ever since biblical scholars began noticing serious inconsistencies with the characterizations of rabbinic Judaism by Lutheran Paul proponents, as well as the anachronistic portrayal of Paul’s supposed ambivalence in regards to Judaism and Torah relevance, this radical “new perspective on Paul” has been on the rise.  Craig L. Blomberg, Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado, speaks of this “new perspective” as a “new look” at Paul’s writings:


Put simply, the last twenty-five years of Pauline scholarship has come to see the so-called "new look" on Paul become the reigning paradigm. Contrary to classic Reformation thought, Paul was not a scrupulous Jew, increasingly frustrated with his inability to keep the Law perfectly and thus merit God's favor. Indeed early first-century Palestinian Judaism was a religion of "covenantal nomism." Jews understood they were already right with God by virtue of birth into the unique covenant God had made with his elect people, Israel; the role of obedience to the Law was one of "staying saved," not "getting saved," and was not too different from Paul's concept of faith working itself out through love (Gal. 5:6). The major difference between Paul and the Judaism of his day, then, for Sanders and the new look, is the acceptance of Jesus as the promised Messiah, not a contrast between grace and works-righteousness.[4]


Dunn seems to think that Sanders’ description of covenantal nomism actually describes his own personal understanding of works of the Law.  Speaking of his own examination of the phrase ‘works of the Law’ found in Qumran literature, Dunn writes:


In terms introduced by Sanders, ‘works of the Law’ is, then, another way of saying ‘covenantal nomism’—that which characterizes ‘being in’ the covenant and not simply ‘getting into’ the covenant (as Sanders himself put it).  And in terms of the preceding analysis, ‘works of the Law’ are Paul's way of describing in particular the identity and boundary markers which Paul's Jewish (-Christian) opponents thought, and rightly thought, were put under threat by Paul's understanding of the gospel.[5]


I personally believe that the prevailing Judaisms that existed in the first century initially upset the biblical balance in the period following the Maccabees (from 164 BCE to 63 BCE) by teaching that legally recognized circumcision was the vehicle by which a loyal Jew as well as non-Jew could and must enter the covenant made with Isra'el.  Shame on them!  To be sure, a whole theological council was formulated to deal with this problem in the first century.  Both in Acts 15:1-35, as well as 21:17-26, the Jerusalem Council had to address the issue of forced Jewish identity for Gentiles seeking salvation (viz, entrance into the people group of Isra'el), as well as whether or not both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah needed to (continue to) “rely on the works of the Law” as opposed to “living in the freedom of Messiah.” 


In the end, after reading Acts 15, we know that the Messianic leaders of Jerusalem eventually decided it was not necessary to turn Gentiles into Jews in order to join Isra'el.  The conclusion of the council, then, was that Gentiles did not need to become proselytes (the term “circumcision” being shorthand for “conversion to Judaism”) in order to enjoy full covenant status in Isra'el, which naturally includes Torah participation. Indeed, as Peter had first testified in the home of Cornelius, the inclusion of the Gentiles was by the grace of God, not by means of a man-made ceremony. In order to assure their acceptance into the newly emerging Messianic Communities, the Gentiles were to make a decisive break with the pagan temple and its idolatry, which would involve ridding themselves of any of the pagan customs that marked that idolatrous form of worship (remember, throughout the book of Acts the Gentiles were already to be found in the mainstream Jewish synagogues as “potential converts to normative Judaism”).


As we have already examined in Section Three above, Galatians 2:16 not only focuses on ‘works of the Law’ but it also singles out ‘justification by faith in Christ’ which is Paul's antithesis to the Influencers’ ‘justification by works of the Law.’  What exactly is this “justification” that Paul champions so boldly in his letter to Galatians, and how does his view of justification compare and contrast with his fellow unsaved Jewish community’s views of the same term?


The verb “justified” (Greek=dikaioutai δικαιοῦται) first shows up in Galatians at 2:16.  This Greek verb can easily be translated as “make righteous” as well.  Likewise, the noun “righteousness” (Greek=dikaiosune δικαιοσύνη) first shows up in Galatians at 2:21.  While being careful not to confuse noun from verb, I nevertheless tend to use justified/justification and righteous/righteousness somewhat interchangeably in my commentaries.  Dunn carefully notes the “start” and “finish” context of Paul’s use of the term “justified” in this quote from his commentary to the New Perspective on Paul.  Because of its relevance, I will quote him at length:


The crucial fact remains that in the Antioch incident, and in Galatians, Paul was confronted by a view which insisted that covenant status could not be sustained without ‘works of the law’. In Jewish covenant theology, that also meant final vindication could not be assured without ‘works of the law’. And in the Jewish-Christian adaptation of that, covenant status and final vindication depended on justification by faith completed by ‘works of the law’ (the clear implication of Gal. 3.2-5; cf. Jas. 2.22-4). Paul’s point is to insist precisely that the ongoing process of salvation is wholly of a piece with its beginning; that as their initial acceptance by God was through faith, so is their continuation (Gal. 3.2-5) and their final acceptance (Gal. 5.5).10 Consequently the range of tenses in Galatians 2.16 probably denotes a richer theology of justification than Räisänen allows. To paraphrase the verse: ‘Since man is justified through faith in Jesus Christ (the present tense can cover the whole process), we have believed in Christ Jesus (aorist = ‘transfer’) in order that we might be justified from faith in Christ and not from works of law (the aorist tense can refer to the goal of the whole process, as in 2.17 – the point being that justification is by faith from start to finish) because (as will become apparent at the last judgement) “no flesh will be justified by works of the law”.’ This seems a superior solution to Räisänen’s, who can only maintain his attempt to limit the verb to ‘transfer terminology’ by allowing that ‘in effect one has to “enter” twice: first here and then at the final judgment’. With this admission my point has been largely conceded: Galatians 2.16 has in view not only the initial act of acceptance, but the question of what then is necessary to ensure final acceptance.


Of course Paul has in mind not just justification by faith, but justification by faith in Christ. Justification by faith in Christ is, if you like, the Jewish-Christian refinement of Jewish election theology, which I characterized as ‘justification by faith’ to underscore the presupposition of divine grace which is central to that theology. It is that Jewish-Christian understanding which provides Paul with sufficient common ground for his dialogue with his fellow Jewish believers in Christ, and out of that Paul develops his own more characteristic emphasis (Gal. 2.15-16). I do not dispute that the end result of this development was a breach between (rabbinic) Judaism and Christianity. I do dispute that this was ever Paul’s intention or that it was inevitable within the context of the much broader stream of pre-70 Judaism. Within that broader stream Paul’s interpretation of covenant and promise was a legitimate option for Jews (and Judaism) within a wider range of options.[6]


We shall hear more from Dunn and justification in the Excursus Section on Gal 2:16 below.  For now, let us hear from N.T. Wright on this concept of justification.  I tend not to completely understand how Wright can come to his conclusions that the Torah was only a “temporary provision until the coming of the Messiah.”  Nevertheless, his summary comments on works of the Law and justification are beneficial towards my primary thesis, and as such worth repeating here for our careful consideration:


By declaring that certain people are within the covenant, the biblical doctrine of justification inevitably declares that others, at least for the moment, are not. Broadly speaking, that means unbelievers: Paul is concerned with the attempt to seek justification on grounds other than those set out above, grace and faith, the cross and the Spirit. The negative result of the doctrine is polemic against all spurious justification.


The central claim against which this polemic is aimed is the boast that covenant membership is for Jews and Jews only, with very few exceptions.16 Paul would have approved of John the Baptist's warning against reliance on physical membership of Abraham's family.17 Jewish birth, circumcision and possession of the law are in fact, in themselves, neither necessary (Romans 4) nor sufficient (Romans 9) qualifications for membership within the covenant. 'Works of the law' were not, as is usually thought, the attempt to earn salvation de novo: they were the attempt to prove, by obedience to the law given to the Jews, that one was already a member of Abraham's family.18 Such an attempt is both misguided (because the covenant was always designed to include Gentiles as well as Jews) and impossible (because of universal sin, which the law merely showed up). The doctrine of justification therefore provides both a positive and a negative answer to the question 'Who are the true children of Abraham?'[7]


Speaking specifically about Peter and Paul in Galatians 2:15ff, Wright goes on to conclude:


The debate about table-fellowship recorded in Galatians 2 is therefore no peripheral issue, loosely related to the real question. It raises precisely the question of justification—who is within the covenant family? Peter's behaviour at Antioch had implied that only Jews were really within the covenant, and that Gentiles were at best second-class citizens. Paul's reply in 2:15ff, often taken completely out of this context and so robbed of its true meaning, is this: justification is not based on the fact of being a Jew, nor on keeping the Jewish law, but on faith: and, if Jewish Christians have thereby technically become 'sinners' by eating with Gentiles, this does not involve actual sin, whereas if they insist on living under the law they will be shown up as transgressors. The crucified and risen Messiah means a crucified and risen Israel, so that Christian Jews like Paul have left behind on the cross the fleshly status defined by possession of the law. To go back to the law as the basis of one's own righteous status would be to spurn the grace of God, to behave as though the crucifixion of the Messiah were unnecessary.


From this point of view the argument of Galatians flows as smoothly as Paul's agitation will allow. The quotation from Genesis 15:6 in Galatians 3:6 is not an arbitrary proof-text or a subtle Rabbinic ploy: the whole chapter deals with the question as to who Abraham's children really are, as becomes clear when we reach the conclusion in 3:29. Abraham's family cannot be the people of the law: the law only brought a curse, and anyway was only a temporary provision until the coming of the Messiah. Jesus has taken the curse on himself, enabling God to fulfil the purpose of the covenant, which was that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles.[8]


Systematic theology recognizes that God relates to mankind on at least two different levels: temporal and eternal.  With regards to Isra'el according to the flesh, Paul teaches that, “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ” (Rom 9:4, 5, ESV).  Essentially, on a temporal level, Isra'el is the one, true, chosen people group of God—exclusively in relationship with the One, True God of the Universe—and since God cannot change (Mal 3:6), his choosing Isra'el is an eternal position, since “as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:28, 29, ESV).


The ethnic people group commonly referred to as Jewish Isra’el is characterized by covenantal nomism with its attendant works of the Law.  Even though they are “partially hardened” to the truth of their own Messiah (Rom 11:25), they do in fact possess a righteousness (justification) that, although rooted in the flesh (temporal), is nevertheless not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself!  To wit, Sha'ul himself recognizes that zeal for God (covenantal nomism) is an admirable quality after all, if only such zeal would drive the Torah-pursuant Jew into the waiting arms (Matt 23:37) of the “Teacher of Righteousness:


“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24, ESV).


The Greek of ‘guardian’ in this verse is paidagogos παιδαγωγὸς.  As I note in my Excursus Section below to this verse, the TSBD defines the word as, “a tutor i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.”[9]  The point of Paul’s argument here is that the Torah is a tool in the “hands” of the Ruach HaKodesh, designed by the Father to lead us to the Teacher of Righteousness.  The Torah is not the Teacher in and of itself.  The Torah is not the goal; Messiah is the goal.  The Torah functions to lead the unregenerate man to faith in the central object of the Torah: Yeshua of Natzeret. 


Thus, Paul affirms the Torah’s positive function in the plans of God, in that Torah represents the object of National Isra'el’s nomistic pursuit, because, as he is going to teach elsewhere in Romans, the only reason faithless Isra'el misses the Messiah—the very goal of the Torah (read Rom 10:4)—is because her eyes are blinded by her own ethnocentric Jewish exclusivism:


“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works…” (Rom 9:30-32, ESV).


HaShem designed the Torah to be kept.  God desires to reward those who pursue obedience (cf. Rom 2:6, 7).  The Master himself affirms the fact that keeping and teaching others to keep even the least of the commandments is accompanied by a reward:


“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19, ESV).


Also, God through Moshe instructed that Isra'el’s obedience to his Ways would result in “righteousness,” viz, reward follows obedience:


“And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us” (Deut 6:24, 25, ESV).


And also take note of the positive benefits provided by Torah in this well-known passage from the Writings:


“The law of the Lord is perfect,

reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure,

making wise the simple;

the precepts of the Lord are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure,

enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the Lord is clean,

enduring forever;

the rules of the Lord are true,

and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,

even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey

and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover, by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward” (Ps 19:7-11, ESV)


Likewise, Paul recognizes that to obey Torah as a circumcised, albeit perhaps “fleshly” Jew was in fact a good thing, because even from a limited, temporal perspective, obedience draws the temporal rewards (righteousness/justification) of God:


“For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified… For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the Law…” (Rom 2:13, 25, ESV)


Thus, physical Isra'el’s covenantal nomism perspective is not altogether an improper response on the part of limited covenant members.


However, with equal precision, Paul goes on to explain that, “not all who are descended from [physical] Israel belong to [Remnant] Israel, and not all are [lasting] children of Abraham because they are his [physical] offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your [lasting] offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Rom 9:6-8, ESV, emphasis mine).  Thus, we learn that there exists an “Isra'el” within Isra'el—which in point of fact is the Remnant!  This Remnant dwells within Isra'el’s family “olive tree” of Romans chapter 11 (cf. Rom 11:17-24), yet the Remnant is not characterized primarily by ethnicity or even Torah observance (covenantal nomism), but instead by faith in the Messiah of Isra'el!  For what does Paul say?


“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:26-29, ESV)


This implies that a Jewish member of Isra'el can be born into the first level of covenant membership, but then matriculate to the second level of covenant membership without leaving his heritage Olive Tree or the Torah behind.  Jews do not cease to be Jews once they come to faith in Messiah.  What is more, Gentiles do not need to take on legal Jewish status in order to be counted as forensically righteous in God's eyes.  On the contrary, the passage quoted in Galatians three above is teaching that as one people group of God—the Remnant of Isra'el—our primary covenant identification is rooted in the work of the Cross, as opposed to our former ethnic boundaries of Jew and Gentile.  Our “Messianic covenantal nomism” is similar in structure, yet necessarily differs from unsaved Isra'el’s covenantal nomism, in that ours is not a pattern of religion that is exclusively Jewish.  Instead, ours envisions those grafted into Isra'el from the nations, via faith in Yeshua (cf. Eph 2:13-22), and includes “the obedience of faith” (cf. Rom 1:5; 16:26) and commandments done for the sake of the “Law of Christ” (cf. Jn 14:15; Gal 6:2).  Our “Messianic justification” is rooted in a work that God has done through his Son Yeshua, instead of works that we might do on our own:


“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:21-24, ESV).


That I purport that Paul's opponents likely believed that justification came from belonging to a people group in possession of the Torah is a given by this point in my commentary.  Even if we allow for the fact that the Greek nouns and verbs used to describe justification and justify in Paul (Greek=δικαιοσύνη and δικαιοῦται respectively) can in fact at times imply past (as in when we were initially saved), present (as in our ongoing daily life of sanctification in the Spirit), or future aspects of our behavioral and forensic position before HaShem  (as in when God finally declares us perfect in his sight at the end of the Age), nevertheless, the overall implication vital to our understanding is exactly how we were/are/will be justified.  Works of the Law taught one way; Paul taught something entirely different.


As for introducing the topic of justification at this juncture in our section here on covenantal nomism, I basically intended to briefly interject that we should begin to realize by now that Paul intends his readers in Galatia—both Jewish and Gentile—to agree with him that even though a person might not have legalistic tendencies in mind when loyalty to the Torah is in question, nevertheless, such loyalty must not be confused with merit when it comes to God's declaration of “justified,” no matter if that justification is described as “static” or “ongoing.”  Put another way, I think Paul would affirm the inherent goodness of being “zealous for the Torah” (cf. Acts 21:20 and also see Rom 2:13, 25; 3:31; 7:12, 16, 22, 25) so long as one is reminded that this is in fact the expected behavioral response of faithful (justified) covenant members in the first place (cf. Deut 6:4-9; 1 Jn 5:3).  This would also explain the positive sentiments that Paul expresses about maintaining obedience to the Torah.


From the perspective of covenantal nomism then, the “yoke that neither we nor our fathers could bear” in Acts 15:10 most certainly is NOT HaShem’s gracious Torah; it is most likely a man-made system of “righteous behavior” as regulated by the prevailing halakhah of that day. Covenantal nomism did not view Torah observance and supposed maintenance of membership as a burden the way many later Christian exegetes did and still do down to this day.  It is hardly likely that non-Messianic Jewish leaders would have pejoratively labeled their own written and oral Torah as “unbearable.”  However, Peter was a Messianic Jew with eyes opened by the risen Yeshua.  One would imagine, then, that the yoke Peter was referring to in Acts 15 was more than likely the burdensome extra “fences” that the leaders has placed around the written word of God.[10]


I say again, the Judaisms of that day were NOT advocating “works-based salvation,” as articulated by the current Church teachers of today. Rather, a “covenantal nomism” for all who would be counted as “justified” in the community of Isra'el was the standard party line expected to be towed by every “good Jew.”  The bringing near of the Gentile believers was not effected through negating the Torah, but through overcoming the rabbinic teaching that required Gentiles to “become Jews” through becoming proselytes in order to be received into the covenant people of Isra'el. The gospel message of the Apostles proclaimed that, like Abraham of old, covenant membership was based upon faith, not upon the flesh (ethnic status).


In conclusion to this section on covenantal nomism and justification, we should recognize now that in regards to the pattern of religious membership and behavior expected for genuine and lasting covenant members in Isra'el, membership enjoyed by both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah, Ephesians 2:11-22 nicely dictates and describes the decision reached by the Jerusalem Council:


Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)


My ongoing detailed discussions about circumcision, works of the Law, covenantal nomism, and justification are meant to allow us as Bible students to more carefully understand the very real social and religious struggles that the 1st century Jewish and Christian communities faced as they interacted with one another so long ago.  Many non-Messianic Jews believed they were justified by being Jewish and upholding the works of the Law (recall that the 4QMMT fragment instructed its members to adhere to their ‘works of the Law’ if they wished to be “counted as righteous”).  Many Christ-believing Jews understood they were justified by faith in Christ and by continued reliance upon the Ruach HaKodesh.  And the poor Gentiles not raised in a Torah community, yet seeking to turn from idolatry unto the Living God, were caught up in the middle of these “Jewish power exchanges” over salvation and sanctification.  To be sure, it is not just Sha'ul's letter to the Galatians that portrays these intense social struggles for us to assess.  Indeed, as we continue to examine the rest of the Apostolic Writings more closely, we will see that it was not just Paul who had his hands full with Isra'el’s covenantal blindness.  A careful examination of a familiar story in the book of Acts reveals some surprising details concerning how do Gentiles fit with Isra'el as well.  Allow me to elaborate on Acts Chapter 10 in a way in which, perhaps, the average Christian has never considered.

[1] http://www.theopedia.com/new-perspective-on-paul

[2] James D.G. Dunn is known for coining the phrase “new perspective on Paul” back in 1983.

[3] http://www.theopedia.com/new-perspective-on-paul

[4] http://www.denverseminary.edu/article/justification-and-variegated-nomism-vol-1/

[5] James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), p. 220.

[6] James D.G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul: Revised Edition (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2008), Additional Notes.

[7] http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Justification_Biblical_Basis.pdf

[8] Ibid.

[9] Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary (TSBD), paidagwgovß.

[10] Recall Yeshua’s words in Matt. 23:4 about certain Jewish leaders tying up “heavy burdens” and laying them upon men’s shoulders but not being willing to lift one finger to help move them.