Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Must I Do to Be Saved? Paul and his Jewish Heritage

What Must I Do To Be Saved? Paul Parts Company With His Jewish Heritage. By Barry D. Smith. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007, xiii + 285 pp., $90.00 hardcover.

Here is the first paragraph of my review of the book to be published in JETS: Chapter one provides a wide survey of Second Temple literature that points out that obedience to the Law rightly interpreted leads to eschatological salvation. Barry D. Smith, associate professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University, in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, sees a rather consistent teaching within these non-sectarian as well as sectarian texts from Qumran of God as a righteous judge who will hold people accountable for their obedience or their disobedience to his Law. However, God is not only a righteous judge; Smith also detects in these texts a consistent pattern that argues that God is also to be understood as merciful. Thus, God is described as the one “who removes guilt resulting from transgression of the Law on the simple condition of repentance” (p. 34). This forms the basis of the synergistic soteriology that Smith observes in these otherwise disparate texts from the various forms of early Judaism. Central to Smith’s argument is the rejection of ‘the new perspective on Paul’. Moreover, he contends that “Second-Temple Judaism was characterized in part by a legalistic works-righteousness” and that this historical-religious context is a prerequisite for a coherent reading of Paul’s soteriological reflections (p. 71, emphasis original).
Questions to think about in the context of Smith's work and/or reflections on the new perspective on Paul and the traditional Augustinian and Lutheran readings of Paul:
1. Are there any problems rejecting the idea that the Law was never given for life?
2. Can we actually find a consistent thread of doctrine in disparate texts?
3. Should the general practice of relying on parallels be called into question?
4. Isn't it more accurate to argue that Paul was continuous with Judaism rather than discontinuous?
5. Does arguing that God is working in two discontinuous ways with regard to Jews and gentiles call into question divine integrity?
Thanks to William S. Campbell for the stimulating discussion on this issue.

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