Books are being written on the topic of Paul and the law faster than anyone can read them. The books are often very detailed, with redefined words, new jargon, and totally foreign approaches to Pauline theology which leave even seasoned theologians baffled. So what or whose NP view/views of Paul and the law should be singled out? It is best to lay the ax to the root of the tree. Though many branches grow on the NP tree, they all rely upon the historical assumptions of the root.

Though others may have written more persuasively, E. P. Sanders and James Dunn compose the root of the NP tree. Though a couple of scholars before E. P. Sanders had NP ideas, Sanders’ writings on second-temple Judaism have popularized the NP. James Dunn has latched on to Sanders’ research, and though they disagree at points, both subscribe to Sanders’ basic conclusions about second-temple Judaism. As mentioned in this issue’s article by David Farnell, the NP has as one of its worst and culminating effects the overthrow of Reformation soteriology. The adoption of NP views has led some to accept a gospel different from the gospel preached by the Reformers. Some have tried to argue that if one redefines justification, rejects imputation, rejects perseverance, redefines righteousness, and redefines the church, he hasn’t changed the gospel. Critical theological terms such as justification and righteousness are being redefined. Other theological concepts like imputation and perseverance are being rejected.

Could it be that these terms have nothing to do with redefining the gospel? This writer strongly asserts that they do. By redefining and rejecting critical doctrines, a scholar strikes at the very heart of the gospel and how one is made right before a holy God. The NP seems rather harmless at first because it concerns itself with historical studies. All faithful students of the Bible are concerned with historical studies. Every hermeneutics book worth its salt teaches the importance of historical background. But historical background has ramifications for NT words. In this case, in defining words like justification, righteousness, law, and works of the law, Sanders and Dunn, like most who reject verbal plenary inspiration, tend to put equal and sometimes more weight on select, uninspired historical texts than on the inspired text of God’s Word.

That is because they have a low view of the Bible, leading them to judge the Bible by history rather than vice versa. Remembering that the NP is not a unified theological system but a historical, higher-critical approach to interpreting the Bible, one realizes that it leads to a wide variety of unorthodox positions…  I would like to close with some parting exhortations which I hope will serve as warnings for those who are dabbling in the NP or for those who are tempted to do so.

(1) Don’t be distracted from your ministry to submerse yourself in bad doctrine and theology. Remember that bad theological company corrupts good theology.

(2) Don’t forget that those who do not know Christ are sons of the devil. They do the work of their father the devil (John 8:44). They are held captive by Satan to do his will (2 Tim 2:26). Satan works in the sons of disobedience (Eph 2:1-2). They are devoid of the Spirit, spiritually dead, un able to appraise the things of the Spirit of God, and they cannot please God (Rom 8:5-8; 1 Cor 2:14; Col 2:13; Jude 19). Unbelievers do not make acceptable theological mentors. Sitting at the feet of the children of Satan to learn doctrine is both foolish and dangerous.

Though all have to read a certain amount of false doctrine so we can warn, guard, and obey the Lord’s command to protect the flock and refute those who contradict, if we major in false doctrine, we are playing with anthrax. To think someone can go to school with the spiritually dead and not end up smelling like a corpse is a serious mistake. Puritan Thomas Watson put it this way: “Suppose that you had a friend in the hospital with a deadly and contagious disease. If you spent many hours next to your friend, what do you suppose is more likely to occur, that you would infect him with your health, or that he would infect you with his disease?”

(3) Any pastor quickly discovers that many people in the local church need salvation. If they are saved, they need help with the basic Christian disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, giving, and serving. They want to know how to honor Christ in their marriage, in their parenting, in their jobs. It is the shepherd’s primary responsibility to tend to his flock. Be warned. A never-ending stream of theological distractions waits to derail the pastor from his primary responsibilities. When the next “new doctrine” comes along, everyone starts talking about it. Emails start flying, and journal articles get written, then lots of books are published. Don’t be distracted from your calling by those who reject what you hold to be fundamentally essential. Paul in warning Timothy of false teachers said, “For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” (1 Tim. 1:6-7).

(4) Remember that we are called to “earnestly contend for the faith once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). This means we are proclaimers of old doctrines, not new ones.

Jack Hughes, The Master’s Seminary Journal (Online source)