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Tuesday, April 11, 2006 

From Solution to Plight: Part 1

One of my favorite books is without a doubt E.P. Sander's (in)famous Paul and Palestinian Judaism. However, it wasn't Sanders development of what he calls "covenantal nomism" (which he supported by an examination of various Rabbinic, Qumranic, Pseudepigraphical, and Deutero-Canonical literature) that fascinated me. This was largely due to the fact that before I read this book I was already well aquainted with the "new perspective" on Paul and Second Temple Judaism, having read NT Wright, Dunn, and others. But it was Sanders very brief discussion on Paul that really intrigued me.

Though I found myself disagreeing with Sanders at several points on Paul, there was one interpretation that I found very refreshing. Sanders notes that the traditional way of dealing with Paul's theology has been to start with the assumption that Paul was a deeply troubled Jew who saw mankind in a terrible plight and who additionally viewed the law as woefully inadequate to bring mankind out of this plight. And so Paul, undergoing a deep spiritual struggle, found the solution to his plight on the road to Damascus. This then influenced his theology so that, e.g., Romans begins with the plight of man and climaxes with its solution, namely Christ. To support this argument, the structure of Romans that I've noted and chapter 7 of the same epistle are utilized, with that chapter interpreted as being Paul's previous Jewish life in which he found that sin was an over powering force in his life and that the law could not bring him out of his situation.

But Sanders suggests otherwise:

"It appears that the conclusion that all the world-both Jew and Greek-equally stands in need of a saviour springs from the prior conviction that God had provided such a saviour. If he did so, it follows that such a saviour must have been needed, and then only consequently that all other possible ways of salvation are wrong. The point is made explicitly in Gal. 2.21: if righteousness could come through the law, Christ died in vain. The reasoning apparently is that Christ did not die in vain; he died and lived again 'that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living' (Rom 14.9) and so that 'whether we wake or sleep we might live with him' (1 Thess. 5.10). If his death was necessary for man's salvation, it follows that salvation cannot come in any other way and consequently that all were, prior to the death and resurrection, in need of a saviour." (p 443)

Thus Sanders flips the traditional interpretation and claims that Paul was working from solution to plight. I essentially agree with Sanders on this point and will provide some reasons for this in the next post.

This is a key insight. Thanks for sharing. It seems that Paul is working ex post facto from the resurrection of Jesus, not seeking Jesus as a Messiah to solve his problems with Judaism (a strange narrative indeed).

by the way, I've been enjoying this newly discovered (for me) blog.

Thanks John for the comment. You've hit on exactly where I was heading with this discussion, namely the resurrection of the Messiah as the initial impact on Paul. But more about this to come. Thanks for taking the time to read.

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