In where I differ with E. P. Sanders

I am currently reading E. P. Sanders’ Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People. It is his expansion on his earlier work on the Apostle Paul.  He tries to correct some of the caricatures of his thesis and expand on other points.   It’s an interesting read because it is still an early “New Perspective” text.  One can see moves that Wright and Dunn will later make, but clearly different from the conclusions Wright will later draw.   Even in some parts of the New Perspective, Sanders is seen as the “dark uncle.”  I disagree with a lot of his conclusions, and I am not particularly thrilled by his lower view of Scripture, but I don’t find him all that controversial.

In any case, Sanders insists on translating Romans 3:27 as “principle of works/principle of faith” rather than “law of works/law of faith.”  I think given his reading of “nomos”  he thinks it is not warranted to speak of a “law of faith,” and in this case he is consistent.  However, I think this also weakens part of his thesis.  He wants to (correctly) see the law as “Jewish ethnic markers” and an “entrance requirement,” and from this assumes that “law of faith” is nonsensical.

However, I think we can indeed speak of a law of faith and still keep Sanders’ gains.  Richard Hays notes that Paul’s reading of Torah inevitably subverts the function of Torah for the Christian community.  Since the law promises the Messiah and the future inclusion of gentiles into the worldwide people of God, the law (for the Christian) is now the narrative of promise.  Therefore, we can indeed speak of “a law of faith.”

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