Friday, August 15, 2008

Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective

Imagine a fiercely anti-Lutheran book on Paul, revised years after its author came to believe the New Perspective was equally misguided, yet ending up essentially unaltered, its thesis intact. Is that even possible? Amazingly, yes. The book is Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles -- now subtitled Beyond the New Perspective -- by Francis Watson, who gives us the same sectarian apostle as before, a Paul who believed the law had had its day and sought to theologically legitimate his church communities independent of the synagogue.

Although Watson says he's retained only "the empty shell of what he once argued" (p xii), I think that's an overstatement. True, he has repented of his enthusiasm for the New Perspective, but that hasn't effected the heart of his argument. It just happens to move us beyond the New Perspective in a way Watson didn't originally anticipate. As he says in a four-point summary:
"First, (1) the concept of 'covenantal nomism' is used to highlight the irreducible particularity of Paul's polemic against 'works of the law', rather than to promote a view of Judaism as a religion of grace. Second, (2) it is argued that divine agency plays a more direct and immediate role in Pauline 'pattern of religion' than in the Judaism Paul opposes. Third, (3) the phrase 'works of the law' is here understood to refer to the distinctive way of life of the Jewish community, but without any special orientation towards 'boundary markers' such as circumcision, food laws, or sabbath. Fourth, (4) Paul is said to advocate a 'sectarian' separation between the Christian community and Judaism, rather than an inclusive understanding of the one people of God as encompassing uncircumcised Gentiles. These emphases were all central to the first edition of this book, and I now propose that they point us beyond the New Perspective." (p 25)
How so? By underscoring the fallacies of the New as much as the Old. The New Perspective paints Paul as Jewish-friendly -- speaking against only parts of the law so as to make things easy on Gentiles -- when in fact, the apostle had no more use for the law than Luther did (if for different reasons). It paints Paul's emphasis on divine grace as readily compatible with Judaic soteriology, when in fact Judaism didn't have the one-sided emphasis on grace that Sanders claims.

In some ways the book reminds of Philip Esler's work. But where Esler uses different social identity theories to account for different situations (separation in Galatians; recategorization in Romans), Watson uses a single sociological model for both letters (sectarian), which results in problems for understanding Romans. Esler has already criticized him for this, acknowledging that the sectarian model works fine for Galatians (and is compatible with the social-psychological separation model he uses). Esler's critique:
"I have used the part of social identity theory which describes how groups maintain a sense of identity for their members by strengthening the boundaries separating them from outgroups to explain the situation in Galatia and Paul's response to it. While this is an approach to the letter derived from one area of social psychology, it would also make sense to analyze the situation using the sociology of sectarianism [as Watson does]. This theory can be usefully focused on the manner in which a group that starts as a reform movement within a dominant religious group can foster such antagonism that it eventually secedes or is expelled, thereafter having a sectarian status in relation to another group, meaning that membership of both organizations is no longer possible. This process can be observed with some clarity in both Luke-Acts and John's gospel [in addition to Galatia].

"Yet Rome is different. There is no sign in the framing passages of the letter that the Gentile Christ-followers are being pressured into accepting circumcision and the law. Nor is there any such indication in the body of the letter. Thus the particular resolution of the ethnic problem in the Christ-movement favored by the Jerusalem church ('Let these foreigners become Judeans') is not being proposed.

"This is the main reason why Francis Watson's significant attempt at a social explanation of Romans may be ultimately unsuccessful... He utilizes the model of transition from reform movement to sect (which works well on Galatians) with respect to Romans, a text to which it is not well suited... The major problem with Watson's view is whether his insistence that Paul is seeking to persuade his Judean readers to drop their Judean identity can be correlated with the data in Romans where Paul seeks to establish an overarching common identity that embraces Judean and Greek subgroup identities without extinguishing either." (Conflict and Identity in Romans, pp 131-132)
And that's really the key to Romans. It's an exceptional letter targeting Jews and Greeks in equal and alternating measure, as Paul goes through great pains to put both groups on the same playing field in different ways. Gentiles are under the domain of sin without the Torah (1:18-2:5), and Jews are under its power with the Torah (2:17-3:20). Gentile believers have been liberated from the power of sin which ruled them as immoral pagans (6:15-23), just as Jewish believers have been liberated from sin which ruled them through the law (7:1-25). Jews need to recognize that Gentiles are God's newly elect and heirs to the promises of Abraham (9:1-11:12), but Gentiles need (even more) to understand that these benefits are a means to an end -- to provoke Jews to reacquire what's really theirs (11:13-32). Paul's success depends on careful attention to both ethnic groups in the Roman church, taking them down in different ways, but without erasing their ethnic identities in the process. That's why the last thing he wants to say is, "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek" -- as he did in Galatians, when he was trying to erase Jewish identity in a sectarian/separatist fashion. Watson's insistence that Romans is addressed primarily to Jews -- that they should accept the legitimacy of the Gentiles' law-free gospel and separate from the synagogue -- while a refreshing and more plausible alternative to the New Perspective's focus on Gentile addressees, fails to make sense of the alternating strategy spotted by Esler, not to mention the exceptionally positive estimation of ethnic Israel (Watson's gloss of Rom 11 as a "comparatively irenic passage" is still the Achilles' heel of his thesis), and even more so the injunction upon Gentiles to abide by minimal Torah standards when in the company of Jews with ties to the synagogue (14:1-15:13).

It's nice to see Watson accepting Esler's theory that Antioch was about circumcision rather than dietary laws (p 85), though he can't seem to follow the logical conclusion: that this amounted to the pillars breaking their agreement. He suggests the issue of circumcision never came up in Jerusalem, that the meeting focused only on the legitimacy of missionary activity among Gentiles in general (p 102). For when circumcision became an issue at Antioch, Paul didn't accuse Peter of breaking any prior agreement, only of inconsistency with his own practice and conviction (p 103). But as I've said before, Paul couldn't accuse Peter of breaking his promise: he would have made a complete fool of himself in the context of an agonistic culture (as Esler has explained). The best he could do was charge him with "hypocrisy", even if "treachery" was the more appropriate charge.

Michael Bird, on the other hand, accepts that circumcision was addressed in Jerusalem (see pp 3-4 of his critique of Watson), but even he resists the logical conclusion (that the pillars broke their agreement at Antioch), claiming that the Jerusalem meeting "led to problems because the leaders did not foresee the problem of what happens when uncircumcised and circumcised believers engage in table fellowship". But that's incredibly unrealistic. Bird uses the example of Titus to refute Watson, and we can use the same example to refute Bird: the presence of Titus would have made the entire issue loud and obvious -- circumcision, and mixed fellowship, which were inextricably intertwined. The question of fellowship between circumcised and uncircumcised would have been on everyone's mind (eucharist fellowship was one of the most important practices in the Christian movement, for crying out loud); it couldn't possibly have been avoided.

Watson's detailed catalog of the correspondences between Gen 2-3 and Rom 7 remains the best proof that Paul was not himself in Romans 7 (pp 282-285). On the other hand, his emphasis on Rom 9-10 over Rom 11, while necessary to make his sectarian thesis work, undercuts the fact that the latter is clearly the punchline. Chapters 9-10 present a temporary scenario, while chapter 11 commands Gentiles to respect unbelieving Jews whose temporary hardening is soon to be undone. Unbelieving Israel is Paul's primary concern in Romans (as Mark Nanos has seen), completely unlike in Galatians or any other letter. The apostle's aim is to stifle Greek freedom in the hope that more unbelieving Judeans will convert to Christianity and worship as one voice (Rom 14:1-15:6; cf. 11:11-32).

Curiously, Watson isn't able to distance himself from Dunn and Wright as much as he wants to. For all his insistence that the law was obsolete -- that Paul did not retain an ethical kernel of the Torah minus its ethnic works -- he turns around and claims that Paul did pretty much exactly that in the context of Christian community. "There is according to Paul a reduced law -- a law without circumcision, dietary restrictions, cultus, or sacred days -- that remains operative in the Christian community (Rom 13:8-10). Thus it can be said that 'circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing -- all that matters is keeping the commandments of God'." (I Cor 7:19) (p 214) In other words, Paul believed in a new law fulfilled by Christians. While this is a plausible expression of Paul's view at the time of writing I Corinthians (in which Paul presents commandments and moral imperatives as having force), it finds no place in his writings after the Galatian crisis. Unfortunately, Watson dates Galatians before I Corinthians instead of after. His arguments for doing so (pp 111-112) are unconvincing, not least because I Cor 7:19 is seen to be revised by Gal 5:6: "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" -- again in the exact same context of circumcision, but this time with nothing said about the necessity of keeping commandments. By the time of Galatians Paul was completely through with the law: The best it ever had to offer (love of one's neighbor) was now available through an entirely different route -- the spirit. "To say that the law is fulfilled by love does not affect this conclusion... Fulfillment means that the moral demands of the law no longer have any role for Christians." (Esler, Conflict and Identity, p 334). Paul now believed in the complete replacement of the law by the spirit, rather than a continued ethical aspect of it.

While Esler's books offer (by far) the best readings of Galatians and Romans, Watson's remains the most devastating critique of the Lutheran Perspective, and now of the New as well. But what exactly does it mean to move "beyond the New Perspective"? Commenter Rick Sumner wonders if Watson's endorsement of Sanders really takes us "beyond" anything. Isn't it a step backwards? Aren't we just acknowledging that Sanders had it right before Dunn and Wright came along and tried improving on Sanders in the wrong way?

Sort of. Watson calls us to move backwards to Sanders' view of Paul (which he has always approved) but forwards beyond Sanders' view of Judaism (which he now only half-approves as a corrective to Lutheran caricatures). Of course, to move forward beyond the latter carries implications that will take us -- at least in some ways -- beyond the former. Watson ominously concludes that
"The Lutheran insistence on the centrality and radicality of divine grace is not wholly in error... The claim that Judaism is a religion of grace will prove to be at least as misleading as the older language of legalism or works-righteousness. While there should be no reversion to the Lutheran Paul of the old perspective, one does not read Paul aright merely by criticizing Luther and emphasizing Gentile inclusion." (p 346)
The Gentile issue was obviously crucial, but subordinate to a radical Christology. If we subordinate Christology to ethnicity, we kill the former and misrepresent Paul's gospel as a variant of Jewish messianism. The New Perspective has done exactly that. Watson forces us to face our eisegetical delusions: that the specter of nationalism can be as intrusive as that of legalism, and if we allow ourselves to light on a more alien Paul, perhaps, just perhaps, we'll finally be doing the apostle justice.

10 Comments:

Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Loren,

I am still unconvinced that Titus and his friends revealed his Greek status to members of the circumcision faction in Jerusalem or indeed to anyone in Jerusalem outside of the private meeting. The antioch incident did not happen in Jerusalem because the circumcion faction there was kept in the dark about Titus's Gentile status.

Remember that there was no way of telling who was a Jew in antiquity (except by spying on them). Also remember that Titus was from Antioch and that Gentile in Antioch were highly integrated into the Jewish community, according to Josephus. For this and other reasons Titus could almost certainly pass himself off as a Jew.

Remind me why you suppose that Titus's uncircumcised state would have leaked out. Is it because you assume that James and Peter were allied to a circumcision faction? Is it because you assume that the false brothers infiltrated the Jerusalem meeting?

Nor am I convinced that there was any idealogical gap between Paul adn the pillars. You still have not demonstrated that there was an agreement in Jerusalem in which either the pillars or Paul made any concession. Before you hypothesis that the Peter went back on a deal you have to show that there WAS a deal in the first place.

8/17/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Richard,

We've been through a lot of this before, but the upshot is that I take Gal 2:1-10 and Acts 15:1-29 as referring essentially to the same deal, even if Luke whitewashes the controversy (especially with the Apostolic Decree). There was an agreement that Gentiles needn't be circumcised, and it makes no sense that such a decision could have been made without thinking about how that would bear on mixed fellowship. That Gal 2 and Acts 15 refer to same deal is hardly novel.

And I'm not sure I understand your point about Titus. Even on your assumption that Titus' Gentile status was secret to all but those in the "private meeting" (I suspect Paul's portrayal of a private meeting is exaggerated anyway), at least the pillars knew of it, and they were the ones striking the deal.

8/17/2008  
Anonymous Andrew P Bourne said...

You might like to know that Jimmy Dunn has written a review of Watson`s revision of this book. He seems to suggest that Watson would have been better to have written 3 books rather than revise it

8/17/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Yes Andrew, in fact I read that review hours after posting my own!

Andrew is referring to Dunn's RBL review which was posted a few days before my blog review, but (by whatever coincidences obtain) which didn't come to my attention until later.

I disagree with that point though. I think Watson's revision is fine as it stands, and in fact it's helpful to see his later work incorporated into the older thesis.

8/17/2008  
Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Loren,

perhaps I have not been clear. My view is that Paul and Peter held the same principles about circumcision and perhaps even about table fellowship. They held these same principles BEFORE the Jerusalem meetings of the Gal 2 = Acts 15 Jerusalem visit. Paul laid out his views to Peter and the other pillars and was relieved to find that they already shared his views. No "deal" was done between Paul and the pillars because no deal was needed. Neither side needed to make concessions to the other because they were ALREADY in agreement. If this is the case, and I think it is, all talk of "treachery" is mute. The term "treachery" applies only if a deal was broken and this requires that a deal was made, and you have not established this. You just assume it, as far as I can tell.

We have no evidence that Paul accused Peter of treachery in Antioch. Rather Paul's complaint is that Peter went back on his own principles when they were put to the test. You say, following Esler, that this does not rule out treachery, but where is the positive evidence for treachery?

Now, concerning Titus, I thought your argument against Bird was that Peter must have openly eaten with Titus in Jerusalem so his decision to refrain from eating with Gentiles in Antioch is hard to explain except if we suppose that Peter decided to break his half of a Jerusalem deal. Perhaps I misunderstood you.

I suggest that Peter declared firm principles but crumbled when those principles were put to the test in from of opposition. Remember the story of the cock crowing.

I think we are right to ask why Peter's decision to not eat with Gentiles did not take place in Jerusalem (the bust up with Paul happened only later in Antioch). Your solution is to suppose that, in the interval between Jerusalem and Antioch, Peter decided to go back on a deal. My solution is to suppose that the circumcision party in Jerusalem did not know that Titus was a Greek, so Peter was able to eat with him without fear. Peter's principles were never really put to the test in Jerusalem.

Does this help to clarify my perspective?

Perhaps are different conclusions flow logically from our different assumptions about the position of the pillars on the circumcision question. My assumption is that they had independently come to the same conclusions, whereas you assume that there was a gulf between them that could be bridged only by doing deals. Is this why we come to different conclusions?

8/17/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Richard, you wrote:

Perhaps I have not been clear. My view is that Paul and Peter held the same principles about circumcision and perhaps even about table fellowship. They held these same principles BEFORE the Jerusalem meetings of the Gal 2 = Acts 15 Jerusalem visit.

Actually, that's my view too -- sort of. I think from the get-go the Christian movement admitted Gentiles without demanding they be circumcised and observe the law, until around this time (49 CE). Per Fredriksen, the movement was starting to mainstream in order to survive within wider Judaism. That's typical of millenarian movements; they evolve and change/update beliefs when the end fails to come (in this case over a 20-year period).

Paul laid out his views to Peter and the other pillars and was relieved to find that they already shared his views. No "deal" was done between Paul and the pillars because no deal was needed. Neither side needed to make concessions to the other because they were ALREADY in agreement.

James and Peter had held to the same position as Paul up to this point. Now they were feeling the temptation to succumb to outside pressure, and indeed wanted to.

We have no evidence that Paul accused Peter of treachery in Antioch. Rather Paul's complaint is that Peter went back on his own principles when they were put to the test.

Of course not. Paul could not have accused Peter of treachery, since he had no right to expect the pillars to keep their word. See Esler's discussion on lying and keeping promises in my early post.

Now, concerning Titus, I thought your argument against Bird was that Peter must have openly eaten with Titus in Jerusalem so his decision to refrain from eating with Gentiles in Antioch is hard to explain except if we suppose that Peter decided to break his half of a Jerusalem deal. Perhaps I misunderstood you.

Bird was using the example of Titus to claim (against Watson) that the issue of circumcision was negotiated in Jerusalem, but not mixed fellowship. I'm saying that since circumcision and mixed table fellowship were inextricably intertwined, the example of Titus would have to show that both issues were discussed. (You're claiming that Titus' Gentile status was a secret, so this line of thinking won't impress you in any case.)

I suggest that Peter declared firm principles but crumbled when those principles were put to the test in from of opposition. Remember the story of the cock crowing.

I suggest that Peter declared firm principles in the early stages of the movement, but began to become more realistic with repeated delays of his savior's return. On the strength of past convictions, he (like James) agreed with Paul against his better judgment. At Antioch his principles crumbled when James went back on his word, and he naturally followed suit.

I think we are right to ask why Peter's decision to not eat with Gentiles did not take place in Jerusalem (the bust up with Paul happened only later in Antioch). Your solution is to suppose that, in the interval between Jerusalem and Antioch, Peter decided to go back on a deal. My solution is to suppose that the circumcision party in Jerusalem did not know that Titus was a Greek, so Peter was able to eat with him without fear. Peter's principles were never really put to the test in Jerusalem.

That pretty much sums up our difference here, yes.

Perhaps are different conclusions flow logically from our different assumptions about the position of the pillars on the circumcision question. My assumption is that they had independently come to the same conclusions, whereas you assume that there was a gulf between them that could be bridged only by doing deals. Is this why we come to different conclusions?

Again: Paul's position had been the pillars' own for many years. Including Gentiles in the people of God without converting them into proseltyes cohered with apocalyptic hope. But that formula wasn't going to work for long -- not with increasing numbers of Gentiles joining the church, and in a world where the apocalypse kept getting postponed. I prefer to think of the pillars as realists who were not beyond evolving with the times.

8/17/2008  
Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Loren,

thanks for the clarifications and the convenient link to your earlier work. These help a lot.

I wonder if you would like to comment on Carlson's observation about the "he came" textual variant in Gal 2:12. As I explained before, this reading is harder and better attested and is therefore to be preferred. Carlson hypothesised that Peter came to Antioch twice. On the first occasion he ate with Gentiles. On the second occasion the men from James were there so he stopped eating with Gentiles. This means that the men from James may have arrived in Antioch before the meeting of Gal 2:1-10, and they are therefore probably to be equated with the men from Judea of Acts 15:1. This gets James off the hook because the men from Judea, while they had been sent by the church leadership, did not have their blessing (Acts 15:24). James's only failing would then be that he did not give clear instructions to the group who went to Antioch. I imagine that he did not want to upset them by making his position clear to them.

I therefore see the sending of the men from Judea (= those from James) and Peter's behaviour in Antioch as examples of conflict avoidance. A similar case of conflict avoidance is found in Acts 21:17-26 where Paul is advised to go through the rite of purification to appease believers who were zealous for the law. The circumcision of Timothy can also be classed as a case of conflict avoidance.

Given that we have so much evidence for this type of conflict avoidance, it seems to me highly likely that Titus kept quiet about his Greek status outside the private meeting. (Incidentally, I see the meeting reported in Acts 15 as occurring a few days or weeks after the private meeting of Gal 2:1-10). This discretion makes perfect sense. Notice Acts 21:22, "What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come." If they had been able to keep Paul's visit secret they would have done so. Notice also Acts 16:3, "Paul.. circumcised him (Timothy) because of the Jews ..., of they all knew that his father was a Greek." This hints strongly that if they had not known that his father was a Greek, he would have kept it a secret and would then not have needed to be circumcised. I think you agree that his kind of secrecy towards opponents was considered acceptable in the ancient world. Thus Acts 16:3 hints at just the sort of secrecy that I am proposing was used by Titus in Jerusalem, and it is particularly relevant if Timothy was Titus renames, as I contend.

So I think those in the meeting decided to keep quiet about Titus's uncircumcised state. This is just the type of conflict avoidance strategy that these same people (Paul, Peter, James, and even Titus himself) indulged in on other occasions to avoid conflict on the exact same issue.

In contrast, I cannot think of any incident that parallels the treachery that you hypothesise. Can you?

You suggested that the passage of time made the Jerusalem leaders more willing to compromise on the circumcision question. I don't think we have quite enough data to say that they compromised more. It is possible that the increasing numbers of believers who were zealous for the law and/or the rise of the zealot movement made conflict avoidance more necessary. Note also that the sending of the men from James and the Antioch incident took place just ~4 years after James was killed and Peter was nearly killed, so it was getting dangerous. You may be right that the passage of time contributed: I just don't know.

8/18/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Richard,

Yes, I've often thought about Stephen Carlson's suggestion about the textual variant ("he came" instead of "they came" in Gal 2:12). It's one of those hard readings that's been a bit too hard for me to buy into. (But it certainly works better for your theory.) I will continue pondering it.

8/18/2008  
Blogger Richard Fellows said...

Yes the "he came" reading in Gal 2:12 is a hard reading, but I don't think it is TOO hard. We have to consider the probable nature of Peter's first visit to Antioch. Acts tells us the Peter escaped from prison and fled to "another place" (12:17). The "another place" is not named and this is surely because Peter fled there in secret. Even if Luke knew the location it is doubtful that he would reveal the identity of the Christian community that harboured fugitives. It is a protective silence. So, if the "he came" reading of Gal 2:12 is correct, the "another place" was probably Antioch. We can then note that the rather clumsy way that Paul structures Gal 2:12 is no more odd than the strange anonymity of the "another place" in Acts 12:17. If Paul gets in a bit of a tangle in 2:12 it may be because he is trying not to break the code of silence concerning Peter's first visit to Antioch.

The reading is hard because Paul oddly does not say "when he came AGAIN" in 2:11 or 2:12. But Peter's fist visit to Antioch would have begun in secret. He did not really arrive: he just gradually immerged from hiding when it was safe to do so. Peter's second visit to Antioch was his first official visit: the earlier visit was secret.

On the subject of why the Antioch incident did not happen earlier in Jerusalem, we should not forget Joel's suggestion that the issue in Antioch was only that Peter was eating in the homes of Gentile patrons of the church. I will have to give this some more thought.

8/18/2008  
Blogger Leon said...

Paul does not attack (or criticize) gentiles or pagans and Jews in equal measure. His harshest opinions are for pagans who he believes practice a lower form of morality. Paul did not have a conception of Torah as a collection of laws. Law is completely the wrong word for Torah. It is so odd to see you substitute "Judeans" for "Jews" while you cling to Law, which is historically inaccurate. As long as you misrepresent ancient Judaism, you will also misrepresent Paul's relationship to his own people.

Leon Zitzer

8/18/2008  

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