The Old Perspective and New Perspectives on Paul
by Bobby Bruno
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The Apostle Paul began life out as a Jew for which Judaism was the only way to think and live. Later on in his life, Paul met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, from then on Paul began following Christianity as his new way of life and thinking. In this paper, I want to look at both the old and new perspectives of Paul as he relates them in their differences that he speaks about in the letters he has written to the church.
First, let’s explore the Paul’s old perspective on, what Timothy G. Gobis, in his book “Paul: A Guide for the Perplexed” (2010), calls the “traditional perspective on Paul” (p. 83). For Paul, this perspective can be defined as the sharp differences between faith in Christ and the Law of Judaism, with the Law being something that must be followed to the letter. Paul was against the Law being used legalistically. Having been a Pharisee, Paul knew how much his order forced people to follow the Law to the letter, with no leaning to either side of it. If it said do this, then you had to do that exactly as the law was written. Of course, Paul knew that his fellow Pharisees followed the Law only when it suited their purposes. Paul was against this way of life after his conversion and he finally saw the legalism for what it was. Paul also realized that he was guilty of legalism, for he exclaimed in Romans 7:24-25 – “What a miserable person I am! Who will rescue me from my dying body? I thank God that our Lord Jesus Christ rescues me! So I am obedient to God's standards with my mind, but I am obedient to sin's standards with my corrupt nature” (GW).
Next, let’s look at what Mr. Gobis calls “the new perspective on Paul” (p. 87). Paul’s new perspective now centers not on the works of the Law, but on faith in Jesus Christ. In the old perspective, Paul was trying to keep the Jewish people pure and in line so that the Messiah would come and free Israel from her enemies once and for all. He believed that the Law of Moses (and, yes, all the other laws that were added by the Pharisees) could accomplish this, if only people would listen. After he was saved by Jesus on the road to Damascus, he began to see that maybe the Law was not the way to salvation after all. Jesus taught Paul that life isn’t about living the law to the letter, but living life to the fullest in Christ.
Still, it was important to follow the law, but not to the point of condemning someone for not following it and Paul did see that the Law had its merit. In Romans 7:12-13 – “What should we say, then? Are Moses' laws sinful? That's unthinkable! In fact, I wouldn't have recognized sin if those laws hadn't shown it to me. For example, I wouldn't have known that some desires are sinful if Moses' Teachings hadn't said, “Never have wrong desires.” But sin took the opportunity provided by this commandment and made me have all kinds of wrong desires. Clearly, without laws sin is dead. At one time I was alive without any laws. But when this commandment came, sin became alive and I died. I found that the commandment which was intended to bring me life actually brought me death. Sin, taking the opportunity provided by this commandment, deceived me and then killed me. So Moses' Teachings are holy, and the commandment is holy, right, and good. Now, did something good cause my death? That's unthinkable! Rather, my death was caused by sin so that sin would be recognized for what it is. Through a commandment sin became more sinful than ever” (GW). Paul saw that the Law could kill if not used properly. But, then, Paul learned that faith in Jesus was all that was needed to be free from sin and condemnation. In Romans 5:17 – “It is certain that death ruled because of one person's failure. It's even more certain that those who receive God's overflowing kindness and the gift of his approval will rule in life because of one person, Jesus Christ” (GW).
In his letters, Paul does not speak of Judaism to the point of our understanding it just from his letters. To fully understand Judaism, we must seek extra-biblical sources. Paul gives us enough to see the contrasts from the way the Jews lived before and after the Messiah came. I agree with the new perspective because the law does not save a man but leads him into a revelation that he cannot live up to the law and must search for another way to free himself from the law and its condemnation. That freedom can only come from faith in Jesus Christ, as Paul himself found out. Paul’s new perspective helped him to be free from his sinful nature the same as faith in Christ still does today. As Paul found out, the old can be made new by having the faith that Jesus can restore both to the correct thinking and attitude in Him. “…and you've become a new person. This new person is continually renewed in knowledge to be like its Creator” Col. 3:10 (GW).
Gobis, T. (2010). Paul: a guide for the perplexed. New York, NY:T&T Clark International.
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