"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, November 25, 2013

Martin Luther versus the "New" Perspective on Paul

Here I submit a passage from Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will, in which to my delight, Luther attacks (if I may be a bit anachronistic) the “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP), which apparently when apparently when Dunn and Sanders and Wright discovered it, was really nothing new under the sun. Luther here denies that Paul means “ceremonial laws” by works of the law, or a NPP advocates call it “covenant badges” like dietary laws and circumcision.

Martin Luther. Bondage of the Will pages 302-304. [Library of Christian Classics edition]

“But they are in the habit of trying to get round Paul here, by making out that what he calls works of the law are the ceremonial works, which sine the death of Christ are deadly. I reply that this is the ignorant error of Jerome, which in spite of Augustine's strenuous resistance – God having withdrawn and let Satan prevail – has spread out into the world and persisted to the present day. It has consequently become impossible to understand Paul, and the knowledge of Christ has been inevitably obscured. Even if there had never been any other error in the Church, this one alone was pestilent and potent enough to make havoc of the gospel, and unless a special sort of grace has intervened, Jerome has merited hell rather than heaven or it – so little would I dare to canonize him or call him a saint. It is, then, not true that Paul is speaking only about ceremonial laws: otherwise how can the argument be sustained by which he concludes that all mean are wicked and in need of grace? For someone could say: Granted we are not justified by ceremonial works, yet a person might be justified by the moral works of the Decalogue, so you have not proved by your syllogism that grace is necessary for these. Besides, what is the use of a grace liberates us only from ceremonial works which are the easiest of all, and which can at the lowest be exhorted from us by fear or self-love? It is, of course, also untrue that ceremonial laws are deadly and unlawful since the death of Christ; Paul never said that, but he says they do not justify and are of no advantage to a man in the sight of God as regards setting him free from ungodliness. Once this is accepted, anyone may do them without doing anything unlawful – just as eating and drinking are works that do not justify or commend us to God (1 Cor 8:8), yet a man does nothing unlawful when he eats and drinks.

They are also wrong in that the ceremonial works were as much commanded and required in the old law as was the Decalogue, so that the latter was neither more nor less important than the former. And as Paul is speaking primarily to Jews, as he says in Romans 1:16, no one need doubt that by works of the law he means all the works of the entire law. For it would be meaningless to call them works of the law if the law were abrogated and deadly, since an abrogated law is no longer a law, as Paul very well knew. He is therefore not speaking of an abrogated law when he speaks of the works of the law, bot of the law that is valid and authoritative. Otherwise, how easy it would have been for him to say: “The itself is now abrogated!” -then we should had a clear and unambiguous declaration.

But let us appeal to Paul himself as his own best interpreter, where he says in Galatians 3:!0: “All who rely on works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.'” You see here, where Paul is making the same point in the same words as in the epistle to the Romans, that every time he mentions the works of the law he is speaking of all the laws written in the Book of the Law....”

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