A New Look at Paul, Justification

This is the fifth in a series based on a paper by N.T. Wright about the New Perspective on Paul. There is no one New Perspective, but there is a trend in various scholars (especially E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N.T Wright) to take very seriously the historical background of Paul and read him from his own time, not from the time of Augustine or Luther.

Justification. A common explanation in sermons is just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned. A common theological summary of the salvation process is justification, sanctification, and then glorification. Justification is widely regarded as the beginning of the process, or at least in our experience, of salvation.

Yet, N.T. Wright says, this is not how Paul uses the term. Consider a number of

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15 Responses to A New Look at Paul, Justification

  1. Marc says:

    Hi Derek,

    I have a question or some questions.

    You said: To be justified by faith means we are initially declared right with God and in the covenant family by believing that Yeshua is Lord. To be justified as a doer of the law (Rom. 2:13) means at the final judgment we will have been found to have been righteous through the Spirit

  2. Marc:

    Great question and I believe Paul answers it in Romans. Let me preface this by saying that I believe Paul’s view is as follows:

    1. Jews are to follow all of Torah (we know some commands cannot be fulfilled at present).
    2. Gentiles are to follow the parts of Torah that apply universally, that is, all except the boundary markers like Sabbath, dietary law, temple attendance, and circumcision.

    Here is where I think Paul addresses this:
    For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. ROMANS 2:14-16


  3. Marc says:

    Thanks Derek please excuse me are you able to elaborate a bit more on:

    Gentiles are to follow the parts of Torah that apply universally, that is, all except the boundary markers like Sabbath, dietary law, temple attendance, and circumcision.

    I’m Jewish and my wife is a gentile. We have two children together. The short story is I am returning. I became a Christian about a year ago then the Spirit was stirring me up.

    My friend reminded me of a verse in John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you

    He has been has ‘bringing into remembrance’ ALL things that He has said. Not just said in the New Testament but more importantly ALL things in Torah.

    Now although I’m Jewish doesn’t mean I lived as a Jew if you know what I mean. So again I’m returning.

    There are a couple of reasons I had questions. One most importantly being married to a gentile who I love very much and our two children. I believe that God put us together for a reason but I have to admit it’s been difficult. My wife is Catholic so I hope I don’t have to tell the whole ‘spiel’.

    Thanks again,


  4. Marc:

    There are many things that depend on your personal situation. Do you consider your children Jewish since their father is Jewish? Is your wife willing to raise your children with faith in Jesus and in Jewish heritage? In my opinion, this would be best and would be a blessing.

    Life does not always work so neatly, I know.

    I have elaborated on the role of Gentiles and Torah both on this blog and in my book, Paul Didn’t Eat Pork (available at hopeofdavid.com).

    I could say a few things here, but this is a huge topic. It demands more than a few paragraphs. Let me say that the rabbis, Acts 15, and the writings of Paul agree that Gentiles do not need to keep all of Torah, especially not the boundary markers I mentioned earlier. Of course in an intermarriage, this is a different situation. In an ideal world, you and your family could find a meeting place of faith in Jesus and Jewish lifestyle. While rabbinic halakhah may not consider your kids Jewish, I feel that Torah says your kids are Jewish.


  5. Marc says:

    Hi Derek,

    I will admit I’m wishy washy on this subject on is or how much of Torah is binding on Gentiles.

    Doesn’t the Torah say one law shall be both for the native born and sojourner?

    Let’s take Rahab as an example. This might not be a good example. OK let’s take it back way before the 2nd Temple let’s see what the Torah says. Doesn’t the Torah say there shall be one law for the native born and sojourner?

    In other words if a gentile wanted to ‘attach’ themself to Israel and live among them would he/she have to follow and keep the laws(Torah) of Israel?

    Are you saying that the Torah says that those that live among Israel that aren’t native born didn’t have to keep the Sabbath as an example?

    The way I see Acts 15 is a starting point not the finish. That they will hear Moses every Sabbath. Which to me means that it would be a learning process and not all at once?

    If I’m off base please direct me to the Torah.

    I’m not trying to argue or debate, I’m just trying to gain understanding.


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  7. Marc:

    This discussion comes up here from time to time, but I understand you are new to this blog. Also, this is exactly what my book, Paul Didn’t Eat Pork is about. Available at hopeofdavid.com

    The arguments you bring up are commonly used by the one-law or Hebrew Roots movement (some of whom are no doubt reading this, right Adam?).

    Again, I want to keep my reply short and you have brought up lengthy issues.

    Acts 15 does not say, “The Gentiles WILL BE in the synagogue and hear Moses” (future tense), but it says “Moses has been proclaimed.” He is making a point from the past, not about the future. The one-law reading of Acts 15 is a non-starter. To be brief, hopefully with enough so you can underdstand my point, James is making a point about the Gentile mission and the decision that gentiles don’t have to become Jews. He is saying, “After all, though many Gentiles have heard Moses in the synagogue, few have converted. If conversion is required, few Gentiles will be saved.”

    As for the one-law verses, check Exodus 12 again. It distinguishes between the sojourner and the native born. A sojourner may not eat the Passover sacrifice unless they are circumcised (which I would call conversion). Also, Deut 14:21 says the sojourner may by unclean meat from a native-born. Seems the one-law passages are not meant the way Hebrew Roots teachers say they are. They mean that sojourners should be protected by the laws of justice in the land and not be mistreated. They do not mean that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile.


  8. Marc says:

    Derek how do we apply the commands today?

    Do these commands have to do with the land?


  9. Wouter says:

    Hi Derek

    Don’t know if you allow posting links on this site otherwise I found a good discussion video from the Southern Baptist on this very issue. Let me know if I can post it then I’ll post the link.


  10. Derek Leman says:

    Sure, Wouter. I’d guess you’ll be sharing a link by some Reformed Baptist types taking issue with Wright. That’s fine if you’d like to post it. Obviously, though, I think Wright and the New Perspective capture Paul far better than Reformed theology. It is pretty easy to see that Luther and Calvin had a perspective skewed by their battles with wayward Catholicism from the time. Their battle was with something far different than Paul’s and they read their issues into Paul.

  11. Derek Leman says:


    In reality these kinds of authors are just defending the tired old paradigm. Their paradigm fails to explain a mass of biblical texts including Paul’s own Torah observance and the many positive statements about deeds and Torah throughout the Bible and abundant in Paul. Pauline scholarship has moved on while Reformed theologians continue to defend their views which are based on a flawed view of Second Temple Judaism and a flawed view of biblical texts about deeds and Torah.

    I really stand by the interpretations I offered in my Paul book.

    • Wouter says:

      I have not yet recieved your book yet, but will should recieve it soon, then I guess I’ll have better understanding of what you mean. At the moment my view is that we are Justified by our faith, which is shown in good works. which can be to follow the Torah as it is for Jewish believers adn Moral and ethical law for Gentiles. However the Faith provides the justification, but the deeds show that Living faith, which justifies. What do you think of this statement. I Also agree with the UMJC statement of faith that salvation, require a regenaration by the Holy spirit, which enables you to lead a good life. However maybe I misunderstood this. But at the moment I hold that your Faith in Yeshua bring about this and thus we are saved by this living regenarative faith.


  12. Wouter says:

    Just finished your book, though it would be fair to say hear that I agree defenitely stand by what you say in the book ‘Paul didn’t eat Pork’. As I also agree with this, I understand what you mean now.

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