The New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is a recent interpretation of Paul’s theology. Basically, the NPP teaches that Judaism in the first century was not marked by works-righteousness per se but rather that Judaism was marked by God’s gracious salvation that resulted in the need for covenantal faithfulness. Covenantal faithfulness included circumcision, festivals, and other Jewish practices. This would mean that Jewish persons of the first century were not trying to work their way into salvation; rather, they did good works (the works of the law) to maintain their covenantal relationship with God.
On this reading, then, Paul called people to faith in Christ because that was a sufficient means to be part of God’s people. To be righteous is to be a member of God’s covenantal family. Righteousness in Paul, according to the NPP, has less to do with personal salvation and more to do with covenantal membership. Paul was calling people to a covenant relationship with God in Jesus Christ through faith and not through circumcision.
With that basic summary said, I should note that the NPP is not a clearly defined theological system. Actually, it would probably be better to call the NPP The New Perspectives on Paul due to the various positions within this camp of Biblical interpretation. So not everyone would agree with my summary above, but I hope that it at least gives some clarity to what the NPP is or might be.
Even though NPP eludes a clear definition, there are certain elements of it that are common. Charles Lee Irons in his 2015 work on The Righteousness of God provides pillars of the new perspective on Paul, which provide some clarity into just what NPP teaches. [Read more…] about Three Pillars of the New Perspective on Paul