Paul and Judaism RevisitedWe’re concluding Preston Sprinkle’s Paul and Judaism Revisited (read the other parts here).

In the past weeks I’ve surveyed a few chapters in Paul and Judaism Revisited that I found particularly interesting, but now it’s time to tie up the loose ends and consider the work as a whole.

Paul and Judaism Revisited: Conclusion

As a quick recap, what Sprinkle is trying to do in Paul and Judaism Revisited is compare and contrast Paul’s soteriology with that of the Qumran community looking through the lenses of Deuteronomic and Prophetic motifs of restoration/salvation, with the former emphasizing human agency and the latter emphasizing divine agency. Using these lenses, Sprinkle examines five different relevant areas, including justification, the Spirit, etc (full list here). In doing so, Sprinkle shows that while things aren’t perfectly cut and dry (particularly with the Qumran documents), Qumran on a whole emphasizes Deuteronomic restoration while Paul emphasizes the Prophetic. Why does this matter? Well, this issue has much to do with Second Temple Judaism and the New Perspective on Paul. Was Paul’s theology truly similar to that of the Judaism around him? Through Sprinkle’s analysis, things are not so simple. Paul’s theology is in fact more focused on divine intervention and agency. This is not to say that Second Temple Judaism was legalistic (a common but incorrect characterization), but Sprinkle argues that it was actually more focused on human activity.

So on the whole, Paul and Judaism Revisited offers some new twists on an issue that has been heavily debated in the last few decades. Sprinkle doesn’t align himself clearly with any particular camp, having much in common with both Old and New Perspectives. This is helpful because he doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind or position to prove. In fact, he was initially convinced by the New Perspective, before changing his mind through thorough study.

There were a few odd parts in this book. For example, Sprinkle holds more conservative positions regarding Pauline authorship of his letters, and single authorship of Isaiah (p49), but then appears to hold that Paul and James contradict each other (Paul argues against Abraham being justified by faith and works, a common view in Judaism that “seems to be shared by James 2:14-26″ [p156, n. 26]). Also, his language of the OT, “hold[ing] out diverse paradigms of restoration (p67) leaves me a little wary. If this is not a contradiction in the OT then how else should we understand these different paradigms? Are these ideas evidences of Sprinkle’s fair-mindedness, or of unnecessary compromise? Or perhaps I am misunderstanding his implications? Either way, I must emphasize that none of these issues actually affect the arguments in his book.

It was interesting to see a number of footnotes referring to “personal correspondence” between Sprinkle and others (such as Gathercole, Schreiner, and others). I have not seen this very often in academic books, but it was nice to see that Sprinkle clearly conversed with other scholars as he worked on this book. Theology ought to be done in community, rather than someone locking themselves away to study and write a book without ‘test-driving’ their hypotheses. I take this as more proof of Sprinkle’s humility and willingness to find the truth. However, I could imagine a reader seeing these footnotes as evidence of a lack of wide-reading and research instead.

Perhaps my largest concern with this book is that the information on the NPP and representation of their views was quite short. I have done some reading on Paul and Judaism and the New Perspective, but I still found myself re-reading a number of sentences just to make sure I understood the view Sprinkle was critiquing or presenting since he assumed a fair amount of background knowledge. I would certainly not recommend Paul and Judaism Revisited as an introduction to someone unfamiliar with these issues.

While there are some smaller points where I disagreed with Sprinkle, or at least wasn’t fully convinced, I think on the whole his (fairly gentle) criticisms of the New Perspective are sound and carefully balanced. He successfully shows areas where Paul differed (though perhaps not as greatly as previously assumed) with the soteriology of Judaism of his day, but he also doesn’t rip Paul out of his world and time and force him into a modern context. This results in a very careful, nuanced book. As mentioned before, Sprinkle lets the facts speak for themselves, and doesn’t appear to force his conclusion onto the texts. Those who like their theology pre-packaged nicely and neatly will not enjoy this book, but those who want to closely examine the issues for themselves and have a patient and gentle guide, seeking to be unbiased in the process, will do well to pick up Paul and Judaism Revisited.

Many thanks to IVP UK for providing a copy of Paul and Judaism Revisited for review. I was not required to provide a positive review.

Buy Paul and Judaism Revisited: Amazon UK / Amazon USA

Book Info

  • Publisher: IVP UK
  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • ISBN: 9780830827091
  • Review copy: Yes