Done by Chan Lai Ping

A Summary of the New Perspective on Paul ” by Mark M. Mattison (13 pages, updated on 7/20/2001)

Here in the table below I try to summarize Mattison’s account of both the traditional and new perspectives on Paul, then in the second part of this assignment I will give some comments on the perspectives that he presents.

  The Traditional Perspective since the time of Martin Luther The New Perspective Over the last two decades


Individualism The doctrine of justification emphasizes the individual’s quest for piety beyond a social context. The message of Jesus is a call for a response, which each individual can make only for himself and has nothing to do with the structures of society.     (John Howard Yoder) The gospel proclaimed by Jesus is not meant to create a bunch of individual Christians, but a community where justification is a social concern. Not individualism, but unity and acceptance in the body of Christ are the decisive doctrines of Christianity, regardless of social, ethnic and cultural barriers. (N.T. Wright)


Judaism Judaism as a religion of legalism is viewed from the worst vices of the institutionalized church of the 16th century. Judaism is construed as the antithesis of Christianity: Judaism is earthly, carnal and proud, whereas Christianity is heavenly, spiritual and humble.     Ferdinand Weber     Never a religion of legalism, Judaism has its emphasis on divine grace and forgiveness; the law in itself was a gift from a merciful and forgiving God. In E.P. Sanders’ term, the 1st- century Palestinian Judaism had a character of “covenantal nomism”, which means human obedience is not the means of entering into God’s covenant, but the means of staying within the covenant. (Claude G. Montefiore George Foot Moore E.P.Sanders)



The Core Message of Paul The doctrine of justification that Paul preached to the Gentiles was the main thrust of his gospel message. Therefore Romans 1:16-17 was the core of Paul’s message to the Romans. Romans 1:3,4, not 1:16-17, is the core of Paul’s message to the Romans. The doctrine of justification by faith is not the gospel meant by Paul, but the death and resurrection of Christ and His exaltation as God is. Paul’s mission before was to root out those with lax attitudes towards the Torah, now it was to demonstrate that God’s covenant faithfulness has already been revealed in Jesus Christ. (N.T. Wright)


The Law Paul had made a clear distinction between faith and works of the law, arguing for a concept of faith which he feared would become a “work”. It was not the law itself that Paul criticized, but rather its misuse as a social barrier to unity and acceptance in the faith community. (James Dunn) Paul in his letters did not provide a consistent view of the law. When the topic changes, what he says about the law also changes. (E.P. Sanders)  


Paul’s Conscience It is the Augustinian-Lutheran way of interpretation that Paul suffered from an acute psychological dilemma and languished in guilt. Paul was not under any sins of his own which came to trouble his conscience. He was rather confident of his clear conscience before God. (Krister Stendahl)

My Comments/Observations

1. Individualism

I think Paul’s doctrine of justification is neither entirely individualistic nor just a social concern; it is both. Each individual has first come to surrender himself to Christ’s sovereignty, then grow in faith, unity and acceptance with each other regardless of social, ethnic and cultural barriers. Therefore neither the traditional nor the new perspective is completely correct in itself.

2. Judaism

Judaism in the 1st century of Palestine had never existed in one single unanimity. It had rather been diversified and more complex in nature than what the new perspective could have suggested. Supporters of the new perspective have a much weaker text and less sufficient literature to support themselves, while the traditional perspective on the other hand is viewed from the mainstream Judaism represented by the Pharisees and Sadducees who once had considerable political and social influence in Palestine in the 1st century.

3. The Core Message of Paul

The doctrine of justification by faith is a very important message of Paul, yet it is not the only core message that he had tried to preach. Paul’s theology originated from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, developed in a systematic way and came in more than one theme. It is therefore pointless to argue whether Romans 1:16-17 or 1:3-4 is Paul’s core message, because his views had actually come in more than one theme. Yet, the new perspective is valuable here in that it reminds us of the very foundation on which Paul’s views were based upon, i.e. the death and resurrection of Christ and His exaltation as God. From that very foundation Paul had developed one of his very important doctrine (which is that of justification by faith).

4. The Law

When Paul mentioned about the law throughout his letters, he might on one occasion talk in a broader sense and on another occasion in a narrower sense. Sometimes he referred it to some general law principles and sometimes to the TORAH; it all depends on which occasion and context he was in. Therefore I don’t agree that he was inconsistent in his views about the law. It was just the definitions that he was talking about law varied from time to time.   5. Paul’s Conscience Now let’s come to the final discussion on point

5. Paul’s Conscience

The tone of Paul’s speech and his confidence revealed throughout the letters have all come to speak the contrary to what the traditional perspective has suggested. Paul’s clear conscience before God, his confidence of the value of his performance, his love for his brothers and his persuasive writings are evidence against the traditional perspective that he had ever suffered from a guilty conscience. His self-confession as “simultaneously a sinner and a saint”, “the least of the apostles” and “chief of sinners” was all about his past persecution of the church; he had already been put right with God by his faith in Christ, thus putting all of that behind him and making up for his shameful past .He could now have a clear conscience before God, just as what Krister Stendahl has suggested in his new perspective.

~ The End ~