Paul and Judaism RevisitedWe’re continuing with Preston Sprinkle’s Paul and Judaism Revisited. Read the other parts here. Sprinkle continues to look through the Deuteronomic and Prophetic lenses at five different aspects of salvation that Qumran and Paul had in common (see last post).

The chapters on the Spirit (ch 4), anthropological pessimism (ch 5) and justification (ch 6) are all equally solid, but I want to focus in on chapter 7: Do Paul and Qumran share the same belief on future judgment being according to works?

Paul and Judaism Revisited: Judgment According to Works

In chapter 6, Sprinkle established that Paul believed initial justification is not based on one’s works, but God’s grace. But what about final judgment? Perhaps surprisingly to some, Sprinkle holds that, “Paul and Qumran are in agreement that judgment is according to works” (p173). This is clear from texts such as 1 Cor 3:13-14, 2 Cor 5:10, Gal 6:8, and 1 Cor 9:24-27. If this seems worrying to you, then keep reading.

For Sprinkle, the real question revolves around whether they both viewed this issue through Deuteronomic or Prophetic lenses. Or to put it another way, is human agency emphasized or divine agency? Is one’s verdict at the final judgment (which is determined by their works) dependent on divine empowerment, or independent? It is on this question that a wedge splits Paul and Qumran.

Paul and Judgment According to Works

For Paul, all commands put on the believer are grounded in divine empowerment. A good programmatic text is Philippians 2:12-13:

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13

When one reads through Philippians while on the hunt for God’s relationship to our obedience, a consistent theme emerges clearly and quickly overwhelms. Phil 1:6; 1:27-28; 3:3; 3:11; 3:21. This is not just true for Philippians, but also Galatians (Gal 2:20-21; 4:9; 5:4-6) and continues to be prominent elsewhere (e.g. 1 Cor 15:10).

For Paul, then, “the intrusion of grace produces the works that God demands” (p179) and “the overwhelming emphasis in the full spectrum of salvation – the initial, ongoing and final work of God – is on divine agency” (p181). It is at this point that I can’t help but shout an ‘Amen’ and praise God! This chapter was – perhaps unintentionally – a devotional experience for me. Salvation is all of grace, not just a grace that ‘forgives our sin and gets us in’ but grace that works in and through us (Phil 2:12-13) to produce holiness!

Qumran and Judgment According to Works

So what of the Qurman community? How do they see the relationship between divine and human agency? Well, it’s not that simple. With his usual care, Sprinkle examines individual documents and allows them to speak for themselves. In doing so, he finds some texts emphasizing divine empowerment and other texts where it is entirely absent, even holding that one must circumcise their own heart in a clear contrast to the OT Prophets and Paul. Compared to Paul, however, on a whole the texts emphasize human agency to a much greater degree, and even those that speak of divine empowerment, it doesn’t appear to compel obedience (unlike Paul) but only help when help is requested.

Conclusion

This was another excellent chapter. For anyone interested in this issue, I would highly recommend picking up this book. Sprinkle guides the reader to a conclusion, rather than imposing one in advance. I wish this were more common!

Now, the only loose thread in Sprinkle’s argument is Romans 2, and he acknowledges its difficulty. It is the one Pauline text on judgment according to works where divine empowerment is entirely absent. It appears to be more in line with the Deuteronomic scheme rather than the Prophetic. Does this contradict Paul’s clear teaching elsewhere in his letters? I don’t have space to elaborate, but Sprinkle argues for reading Romans 2 as teaching a hypothetical judgment according to the Deuteronomic scheme.

Lastly, what do we think of Sprinkle’s insistence that Paul believed in future judgment, for believer and unbeliever, according to works? This flies contrary to the teaching I have sat under, and yet, I don’t see how one can deny it, given the texts above. I know of the attempt to distinguish different judgments, one of works for unbelievers, and the other just for rewards for the Christian, but I do not see this in the text. I know this idea of final judgment according to works is anathema for many Christians, but in light of Paul’s strong teaching on divine empowerment, this should not be troubling. In fact, it should encourage us to fight laziness and drift away from God, and pursue Godliness. Not only will our ‘works’ be judged, but we should expect fruit from a good tree (Mat 17:17-19), since God is the one working in and through the believer (Phil 2:12-13)!

As always, comments are very welcome!

Next up, we will conclude our short cherry-picking through Paul and Judaism Revisited with my general review of the book as a whole. 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.

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