Dunn Clarifying the New Perspective on Paul

Early Christianity

Dunn, J.D.G. “A New Perspective on the New Perspective on Paul.” Early Christianity 4, no. 2 (2013): 157–82.

J.D.G. Dunn provides a helpful clarification on the scope and intent of the New Perspective on Paul. In his words, he is providing a new and fresh ‘perspective’ on the New Perspective movement, a term he coined in 1982.

The predominant critique of traditional views on the NPP corresponds to changing language about justification, different portraits of Judaism, the role of judgment and works, and others. However, Dunn clarifies, from his viewpoint, the difference is not merely due to one position being “right” and the other “wrong”. So, it is not that NP is “right” and the traditional view is “wrong”, or the NP is wholly antithetical to the traditional view.

Instead, Dunn argues the difference resides in terms of scope, and not a bi-furcation ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ difference. That is, the ‘new perspective’ accuses the ‘old perspective’ of having too narrow of a Pauline view of  justification and also lacking an integrated theology of Paul.

It also follows that the ‘new perspective’ should not be defined or regarded as an alternative to the ‘old perspective’. The ‘new perspective’ does not pretend or think or want to replace all elements of the ‘old perspective’. It does not regard the ‘new perspective’ as hostile or antithetical to the ‘old perspective’. It asks simply whether the ways in which the doctrine of justification have traditionally been expounded have taken full enough account of Paul’s theology at this point. It is not necessary for the ‘new perspective’ to call into question what have traditionally be taken to the central emphases of Paul’s doctrine. For the ‘new perspective’ to be ‘right’, or justified, it is not necessary for the ‘old perspective’ to be ‘wrong’. The ‘new perspective’ simply asks whether all the factors which made up Paul’s doctrine have been adequately appreciated and articulated in the traditional reformulations of the doctrine.[1]

This distinction is interesting and helpful for a few reasons. First, traditional views of Paul, yes, sees some validity and healthy correctives to their traditional understanding of Paul, but ultimately, they say the NP is wrong. Second, the NP accuses the OP, not necessarily of being wrong per se, but for having too narrow of a scope in forming Pauline theology. Thusly, the two positions offer two different views on how they critique one another.

So, for Dunn, if justification is to be fully understood, then four aspects of the ‘new perspective” need to be grasped in order to have a fuller concept of Paul’s teaching.[2]

  1. The ‘new perspective’ on Paul arises from a new perspective on Judaism
  2. The significance of Paul’s mission as the context for his teaching on justification.
  3. Why justification by faith in Christ Jesus and not works of the law?
  4. The whole gospel of Paul.
    1. Justification by faith in Jesus Christ
    2. Paul’s attitude to the law
    3. Judgment according to works
    4. Participation in Christ

These types of summary article help clarify the history of engagement and point to other areas of research for scholarly and theological dialogue.


[1]J.D.G. Dunn, “A New Perspective on the New Perspective on Paul,” Early Christianity 4, no. 2 (2013): 157.

[2]Dunn, “New Perspective on the New Perspective,” 158.

4 thoughts on “Dunn Clarifying the New Perspective on Paul

  1. Pingback: Gerd Theissen’s Critique of the New Perspective on Paul | German for Neutestamentler

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