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Will the Real Paul Please Stand Up?

Furthermore, if, as observed above, at its deepest level, this is a debate about the question of what is “truly biblical”, then both sides are making some helpful contributions. Increased attention to what Paul “really said” and “really meant” should only be helpful. This debate may proceed along the line that it is not entirely an either-or enterprise. Admittedly, some basic disagreements exist. However, that NPP does not so much disqualify the traditional view as it qualifies it more carefully, may be a possible conclusion to the discussion. This contention arises out of my major criticism of Gathercole’s article. Though it admits that NPP must not be “written off as a disaster from start to finish,” and even appreciatively enumerates several of its perceived benefits, when it comes down to stating its own view of justification and faith it sounds like the same old standard line. I cannot see how even its own admissions influence its eventual position. It seems if the concessions are so they ought to show. They do not.

Understanding what Paul really meant is of no less importance for Pentecostals than for others.

The soteriological dynamism of Pentecostalism probably explains why NPP has not been quite the same “hot topic” among them as it as among the Reformed wing of Evangelicals. They are just not so prone to the forensic and monistic theology that makes it such an issue (Unfortunately, their historical inclination, as heirs of the Holiness movement, has all-too-often been in the opposite and equally wrong direction of legalism). Yong, however, in the aforementioned review, points out that Pentecostal scholarship has been making claims consistent with NPP for some time. A deeper, and possibly truer, understanding of what Paul really said and meant is of no less importance for Pentecostals than for others. Robby Waddell, a Pentecostal NT author (The Spirit in the Book of Revelation, 2005), scholar, and teacher, told me (email: February 19, 2008) he finds NPP “most helpful.” He thinks NPP, rooted in the reconstruction of first century Judaism and the redefinition of some of the old categories arising out of that, a helpful development. He is especially interested in the way it treats Paul as a first century Jew rather than as a sixteenth century reformer. Further, he thinks it helpfully shines light on other such issues as race relations (inclusion of Gentiles), election, and eschatology. This reviewer well remembers his own joyful discovery of justification by faith and salvation by grace. Anything that helps him more deeply plumb the realities of that life-changing experience he welcomes with open arms. However, there is no less affirmation of the basic truth preached by Paul: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith'” (Rom 1:16-17 NIV). We may be unpacking that statement ’til Jesus comes, but its power already apprehends us with God’s gracious loving mercy. Hallelujah!

Reviewed by Tony Richie

At the time of printing, the full article was available online:


[1] Don Garlington, In Defense of the New Perspective on Paul: Essays and Reviews (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2005), viii + 245 pages. Read the full review by Amos Yong, as it appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of The Pneuma Review:

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Summer 2008

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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