Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response
Waters has produced an informative work intended to introduce the “New Perspective(s) on Paul” to an audience that has had only preliminary and superficial contact with this important subject. Waters’s book was originally a series of lectures delivered in 2003 at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi. Throughout the book he is clearly addressing conservative Reformed readers.
The first seven chapters survey the historical development of the New Perspective, highlighting key contributors such as Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, Heikki Räisänen, James Dunn, and N. T. Wright. Waters summarizes their views in a clear and concise manner. He has carefully selected representative quotations from the various authors, and he has compiled them in such a way that readers are left with a comprehensible and accurate understanding of each scholar’s position. A summary at the end of each chapter nicely distills the information presented.
The remaining two chapters are a critical evaluation of the New Perspective, followed by some final remarks on the negative impact of the New Perspective on Reformed theology. In this section Waters raises a number of valid exegetical criticisms against the New Perspective. Though short in length, these criticisms are well reasoned and well worth considering. Waters bases his rejection of the New Perspective primarily on New Testament evidence, and thus he does not address in any significant way the extrabiblical Jewish material used by Sanders and others in support of the New Perspective. Waters’s reliance on the New Testament is both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand his strategy forces advocates of the New Perspective to address some New Testament texts that do not seem to support their position. On the other hand if defenders of the traditional view of Paul are to be successful in proving the New Perspective wrong, then they need to explain the extrabiblical material.
Waters does not clearly define what is meant by the phrase “New Perspective on Paul.” Since Waters is primarily addressing an audience that is relatively new to the New Perspective discussion, his book would have been improved by a more detailed and explanatory introduction outlining the general theory of the New Perspective.
Waters has taken a complex subject and has successfully presented it in a way that will be transparent for most readers. He has also added an annotated bibliography for students who wish to delve deeper into the New Perspective debate. Regardless of one’s position on the New Perspective, all readers will find this historical survey informative and valuable for understanding how this complex discussion has evolved over time.