EFAC Australia


By Justin Denholm

Many people today think of ethics as a potential 'common ground' for dialogue between people with divergent worldviews. After all, if "we all agree murder is wrong", some would say, "maybe we can work out our differences?" In this kind of approach, often universal humanitarian ideals are appealed to in the hope that we can use them to realise that deep down, we're all the same.

Sometimes I find it tempting to take this approach; certainly it is 'nice' and often popular. For Christians, though, ethical action cannot be divorced from the gospel, and without a clear understanding of the relationship between the two, Christians cannot appreciate what ethics is and how it should be done.

To understand why ethics should be considered so closely linked to evangelism, we need to reconsider why we should act ethically at all. Why does it matter how we live?

The New Perspective on Paul

1. What is The New Perspective?

The last twenty-five years has seen a paradigm shift take place in some quarters of New Testament studies by proponents of what is called "The New Perspective" on Paul ('TNP'). TNP re-frames the way we understand the issues Paul deals with in his letters to the Galatians, Philippians and Romans among others. At the heart of TNP is a change in the way we should understand Judaism leading up to Paul's time – called Second Temple Judaism – and the Pauline language of righteousness/justification. This change to represents a significant departure from the Reformation understanding, and has caused great concern amongst a number of evangelicals.

This article provides a brief introduction to TNP and outlines some ministry implications.

1.1 Second Temple Judaism

A dramatic shift took place with E. P. Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977). Sanders argued that Second Temple Judaism was a religion that relied on God's grace, not legalism or works as theologians of the Reformation onwards characterise it.