Posted by: Ken Brown | February 23, 2008

Inclusivism and the New Perspective on Paul

Ok, I lied. I told myself I’d take the weekend off from blogging. Then I thought I’d just get on for a minute and see if anything new had been posted. Before long I was posting a long reply. Now I’m reposting it here. Hello, my name is Ken and I have a problem.

The following is a modified version of the comment I just added to James’ latest offering in the present discussion of inclusivism and salvation (all I’ve changed are the pronouns). The topic is “the new perspective on Paul,” which essentially says that Paul is not writing against those who think we can earn our salvation through “good works,” but rather against those who think that Jewish ethnic boundary markers are what delimit the people of God. Paul is not worried about people trying to earn their salvation, but rather that some people thought that Gentiles could not come to Christ unless they first became Jews. [UPDATE: see here for a fuller introduction to the new perspective]

This post is more technical than my usual (this is why I don’t normally post on Biblical Studies issues!), but the subject is important to the present discussion. So if it’s helpful to you, read on; if not, that’s ok too (go enjoy your weekend!):

I think that more still needs to be said about the new perspective than merely that James and Michael (and I as well) both accept it. Granted that Paul was not opposing works-righteousness legalism, there remains a vital question within the new perspective on which James and Michael (and I) seem to disagree: why did Paul think that those traditional ethnic markers were no longer the distinguishing feature of the people of God? I think James is right in saying that Paul had seen uncircumcised Gentiles experience God’s spirit, and therefore concluded that such Jewish boundary markers no longer applied. Such explains his anger at those who would continue to try and exclude such believers, of whom God had already displayed his acceptance (Gal 3:1-5 makes this explicit, and 2:11-16 and 5:1-15 fill out the picture). But when James goes the next step and says that the same is true of the distinction between Christian and non-Christian, I think he ignores Paul’s own line of argument. Paul makes clear (e.g. in 2:15-21 and 3:10-14, and even in 3:1-5 itself) that it is precisely because of “Christ in me” (2:20) that these things are true.

Paul’s point in Galatians, as I understand it, is not that all barriers have been broken down, but that for those in Christ, the curse of the law, which previously hung over the Gentiles (and indeed, assuming N.T. Wright’s reading of Deuteronomic theology is correct, the Jews too), has been exhausted. The problem was precisely those who, by continuing to insist on the necessity of Jewish boundary markers, were in essence denying that Christ’s death had accomplished anything (cf. 2:21).

James is right that this has little to do with opposing works-righteousness, but it has even less to do with abolishing the line between Christian and non-Christian (admitting that such terms are anachronistic), for it was precisely because of their acceptance of Jesus that the Galatians experienced the Spirit at all (going back to 3:1-5). It was because the were “in Christ” that the curse of the Law held no danger to them, even though they remained uncircumcised. Thus, when 5:6 says “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love,” it must not be ignored how Paul introduces this: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision…” (emphasis added). The same is true of Paul’s striking claim in 3:28 that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” for he immediately completes the thought like this: “for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (3:28-29; emphasis added).

Perhaps more than Michael is, I’m willing to concede that it is possible to “belong to Christ” without knowing it, but it seems to me that, to claim that this in any way abolishes the distinction between Christian and non-Christian is not just to go beyond Paul, but to contradict his clear intent.

UPDATE 2: Be sure to read the comments on this post; Michael has highlighted an important point on which I should have written more clearly!

UPDATE 3: This post is part of a continuing conversation.


  1. I’m unclear as to the wording of your last paragraph. I assume that you are arguing against me and not yourself. (When you to say, “to claim this…” who are you referring to, me or you? Again, I assume me.)

    As you know, I adamantly disagree with you on this point. I think it is a great misnomer to say that distinguishing between Christian and non-Christian goes far beyond Paul. How in the world can you read Galatians and come away not seeing that Paul is distinguishing between believers and non-believers? He calls the Judaizers apostates, condemns them, curses them, rebukes them, labels them follish, etc. The whole thrust of the letter is to draw a line of demarcation: Jesus-follower vs. non-Jesus-follower.

    I have not gone beyond Paul or the NT here. I would argue that you have not gone far enough or that you are seeing things wrongly. (As always take what sounds “bold” here, in a spirit of respectful, civil disagreement; I am calm right now and I hope you are too.)

  2. Michael,
    Ack, I should have worded that differently. My last paragraph wasn’t arguing against myself or you, but against James (esp. this post).

    That said, I expected you to object to that paragraph. I realize that I seem to be making a very strange distinction here, essentially saying that the line between Christian and non-Christian (or, if you prefer, believer and non-believer) is a vital one, yet at the same time granting the possibility (and I have repeatedly said that that is all I see it as) that some non-Christians can nevertheless “belong to Christ.” I can understand why you would think this was a blatant contradiction, but the resolution of this paradox lies in the fact that I am thinking here of two different frames of reference.

    Explaining what I mean will likely take a whole post (add that to the list), but in brief it’s this: The New Testament authors are telling us what we (the readers) must do in light of Christ, how we must live in light of his gospel. Paul adamantly condemns the Judaizers precisely because they have been introduced to Christ, yet have (by their teaching and action) denied his significance (again, see Gal. 3:1-14). I in no way deny this. But what I do deny is that, in the final analysis, God is required to damn all those who (by our failures) never hear this Gospel. I fully admit that nothing in the New Testament denies that he is so required, but neither does anything in the New Testament demand that he is. This is why I think we should live as though we have no choice but to come to Christ in this life, but we need not a priori deny that God’s grace may be more sufficient than we will ever know.

    Oh, and don’t worry, I appreciate your forthrightness and have never yet interpreted it as aggression (actually, this conversation has been remarkably civil and enlightening)!

    Grace and peace!

  3. Ahh, I just realized the source of the problem. Remember that this post was originally written as a comment on James’ blog, and all I changed in reposting it were the pronouns. Thus, I just assumed that it would be understood that I was arguing against him (not Michael) throughout. The half-line referencing Michael was not intended to shift that focus, but merely to conclude with one point of agreement between myself and James, before summing up my overall disagreement with his claim that the distinction between Christian and non-Christian was no more legitimate than that between Jew and Gentile.

    Sorry for the confusion!

  4. ahh,
    i see, thanks for the clarifications. good discussion so far, good debate, good ideas, etc. let’s keep it going. i’ll try to respond when i can. but, to be sure, you and i are pretty close in our views, i think, maybe closer than we have realized so far; we’ll see as this is all fleshed out.

  5. The bloggersation thickens, as multiple blogs and the comments arena get entangled in this web we are weaving…

    The instance of “the Judaizers” is an interesting one. I assume that you are using this is the common English sense as referring to Paul’s opponents, who argued (or in some cases simply assumed) that Gentile converts to this Messianic Judaism were to be converts to Judaism with all that entailed. What is interesting is that Paul’s opponents were Jewish Christians. And so we get to the point where now even being a “Jesus-follower” is not enough. One must be a Jesus follower who does not think that Gentiles who join the movement are required to be circumcised…

    Just something to think about. I’ve responded to Ken on my blog here, and directed readers there to come here too…

  6. On “Judaisers”: An unfortunate term, really. If I had stopped to think I would have avoided it. You are right in assuming that I simply meant “Paul’s opponents,” who were quite clearly ethnically Jewish followers of Christ (and likely not from Galatia), who believed the Galatians needed to “complete” their conversion by becoming Jews.

    To atone for my sin, let me set the record straight. Here’s Dunn (The Epistle to the Galatians pg. 9 n. 2): “The opponents should, however, not be called ‘Judaizers’, as is still common today. A ‘judaizer’ in the terminology of the time was one who ‘lived like a Jew’… not one who tried to get others to judaize.”

  7. Ken & James,
    I will, once again, have to disagree. I think that the term “Judaizers” is not only legitimate, I think that it is the best term to describe the Galatian situation.

    Dunn’s statement, is, I think, off. A Judaizer is not one who gets others to “Judaize” but rather, one who gets others to practice Judaism. Similarly, a Christianzer is not trying to get others to evangelize but rather he/she is trying to Christianize them or get them to practice Christianity. We should use the term “Judaizer” because (1) it is implied by the text–not anachronisitc as JL Martyn says–and (2) it was, as I see it, a way for the opponents to try to keep Paul’s new movement within the framework of Judaism (e.g. they were Judaizing–like Jewish evangelism–to make Jewish Christians). Judaizers is not an out-of-bounds term; it does work, and it makes incredibly good sense (even for those who get hung up on the Jew/Judeans debate).

    Thus, I think that in this argument, it should be used. Other terminology such as “opponents”, “naysayers”, etc. should/could also be employed.

  8. Michael,
    I think Dunn’s point is that in the first century, “Judaizer” meant a Gentile who followed the Jewish way of life (cf. Esther 8:17 LXX), and that it was only after Christianity and Judaism had parted ways that it came to be applied (pejoratively) to those (Jew or Gentile) who sought to actively convert others to Judaism. Paul does not use it in that way. Gal. 2:14 (the only NT occurance of the term) accuses Peter of “compelling” (anagkazw) Gentiles to “Judaize” (Ioudaizw), not of himself “Judaizing.” It was never a term Jews themselves used of their evangelistic practices.

    But even if Dunn is wrong on this (I don’t think he is) the very fact that the term is controversial (and not original to Paul) makes it best to avoid it. And I see no reason not to use the intentionally ambiguous “Paul’s opponents,” especially when Paul himself seemed to be unsure who they were (cf. 5:10).

    God bless!

  9. err, “and not original to Paul” in that last paragraph should read “and not used in that way by Paul.”

  10. Michael, when you offer such cavalier assertions about what the appropriate use of a word is, without reference to what Dunn actually wrote, which relates to the Greek word translated as “judaize” in some English translations, which clearly and unambiguously means “to live in a Jewish manner” in every place it occurs, I start to wonder whether it is possible to pursue this conversation in a way that is going to be profitable. If we are to discuss the details of texts, against the background of their time, then to say ‘Dunn is wrong, so is Martyn’ is not going to be adequate. You will need to show me in detail why you are persuaded that they are wrong. And, if I am persuaded that they are right, I expect to have to do the same.

  11. […] fourth entry): A Humorous Reply to James ~After first embracing Michael’s response, Ken added: Inclusivism and the New Perspective on Paul James posted his fifth entry: Paul and Pluralism (A Reply to Ken Brown, Continuing the […]

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