A landslide of writings from the viewpoint of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) are like boulders and debris that have littered the road leading to an accurate understanding of salvation. However, in spite of the massive amount of literature aimed at destroying two millennia of clarity regarding the relationships of works, righteousness, faith, and salvation, the road is yet passable and the obstructions avoidable. NPP proponents have failed to block the way completely. Granted, some adherents of the NPP never intended such damage, but they nonetheless have contributed to the current dilemma within evangelicalism. A crux in th e debate over the NPP involves Paul’s use of the phrase “works of the law,” especially in Gal 2:16 and Rom 3:20…

Two basic questions are at the heart of this issue: What does Paul mean by “the works of the law”? And, what is the NT believer’s relationship to “the works of the law”? Traditionally, the church has held that Paul spoke negatively of the Judaizers’ use of the law. Throughout church history theologians have identified the Judaizers with a legalistic approach to salvation. Thus, the phrase “works of the law” refers to those works believed to be necessary for salvation. According to the adherents of the NPP, however, the traditional view smacks of anti-Semitism and reflects a forced exegesis that they believe exemplified the Western Reformation.

Since a major thesis of the NPP is that salvation in first-century Judaism was not based on works, NPP proponents often define “works of the law” as those works that mark the people of the covenant, identifying them ethnically and socially. Specifically, those works are circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and dietary restrictions. Obviously, both positions (traditional and NPP) cannot be correct. The two are diametrically opposed and contain very different theological corollaries…

[T]he meaning of “works of the law” biblical testimony is more authoritative than the declarations of theologians, whether they are from the early church, the Reformation, or the 20th or 21st centuries. The testimony of the OT, Jesus, and Paul is contrary to the viewpoint of the NPP. Part of the confusion created by NPP is due to the fact that its adherents too often misidentify the spirituality of first-century Judaism with that required in the OT. If the Jews in the first century had exhibited the spirituality demanded by the OT, they would not have rejected the Messiah and they would not have been judged by exile and dispersion.

The NPP premise that the law can sanctify is also misleading. As Luther observed in his comments on Rom 3:20, “Indeed, neither the good works that precede justification nor those that follow from it make a man righteous—how much less the works of the law!” Indeed, “works of the law” can neither save nor sanctify (cf. 6:12-14). For the believer, faith produces good works, not the reverse (cf. Eph 2:8-10).

William D. Barrick, Professor of Old Testament at Master’s Seminary, (Online source)