Monday, June 24, 2019

Was First Century Judaism Legalistic?

  • Defining The Issues:
          -Advocates of the New Perspective on Paul argue that the first century Jews did not actually believe that righteousness is obtained through the keeping of the Law, but rather subscribed to covenantal nomism which is defined by Theopedia as follows:

          "This term is essential to the NPP view, as Sanders argues that this is the "pattern of religion" found in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism...as long as a Jew kept their covenant with God, he remained part of God's people. How does one keep the covenant? Sander's tells us "the covenant requires as the proper response of man his obedience to its commandments." All of Judaism's talk about "obedience" is thus in the context of "covenantal nomism" and not legalism. As a result, Judaism is then not concerned with "how to have a right relationship with God" but with "how to remain his covenant people...Advocates of the NPP say that it was not their works that helped them attain salvation, but it was their "nationalistic boundary markers" (i.e. circumcision, food laws, sabbath, etc.) that kept them within the people of God. Thus, the works, along with the boundary markers were used to keep themselves within the boundary of God's people. Paul was not fighting legalism, but was instead fighting the works and national pride that separated the Jews from the Gentiles."

          To counter this viewpoint relating to first century Judaism, we note the following the points made in the New Testament Scriptures:

          *The Lord Jesus Christ presented an invitation for His audience to accept the spiritual liberty provided through the gospel, apart from observing the Mosaic Law system and various man-made traditions (Matthew 11:28-30).
          *The Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector proves that works-based righteousness was indeed present within Judaism in the first century (Luke 18:9-14).
          *The Apostle Paul wrote extensively to combat the error of works-righteousness (Romans 9:30-10:4). He also said that works were excluded from justification before God in order to prevent boasting (Romans 3:27; Ephesians 2:8-9).
          *The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee, testified to his own efforts of obtaining righteousness through the Law (Philippians 3:4-9).

          Following is an excerpt from the book titled By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification, contributor Cornelis P. Venema, p. 51-52:

          "Whatever the diversity of teaching and practice within the various branches of Second Temple Judaism, few, if any, practiced a religion that was the equivalent of a kind of "pulling oneself up to God by one's moral bootstraps."47 However, the obvious weakness in Wright's insistence that this requires a new view of Paul's teaching on justification is that he (and other New perspective writers) does not seriously consider whether covenantal nomism could accommodate a form of religious teaching that regards acceptance with God to be based upon grace plus good works."48 

          These statements from Dr. Ben Witherington are relevant to the discussion on whether or not first century Judaism was performance oriented:

          "Not merely in 4 Ezra but also 2 Enoch it seems clear enough that we have what could be called a works righteousness based on law-keeping such that there is a post-mortem judgment based on the deeds done in this life—resulting in rewards and punishments.[4] Interestingly in Jubilees while ‘getting in’ may well be on the basis of election, staying in and final salvation is said to be on the basis of obedience to the Law.[5] In 2 Baruch God bestows mercy on those who keep the Law, the ones called the righteous. In these same sources when God’s righteousness is discussed it is not a cipher for God’s covenantal faithfulness, but rather has to do with his just judging or ruling."

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