Symposium Recap – Jeff Cockrell on the New Perspective on Paul and Its Effects

by Rodney Holloman

“What value, if any, is there in this new perspective?” was the question asked by Dr. Jeff Cockrell as he began his presentation. I chuckled as this is what I am normally thinking when approaching this area of study and I appreciated him acknowledging this concern at the beginning.

He began with an overview of Luther and the Reformers’ view of the perspicuity of Scripture and how the plain sense of Scripture is given in the reading of the Scriptures themselves. Using three of the Reformation Solas (sola gratia, sola fide, and sola scriptura) as guideposts for the next section, Cockrell gave the background of some of the major figures in the New Perspective on Paul followed by what he termed the “emergence of the New Perspective.”

In the “Dismantlement” section, we are treated to brief overviews of the works and  F.C. Baur, Krister Stendahl, Ernst Käsemann as their writing and teaching became much of the underpinning for those who would champion this new perspective.

With the “Emergence of the New Perspective”, Cockrell provides longer sections of some of the major players in this area. His treatment of E.P. Sanders’ book Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion was very helpful as he interacted with its ideas, showing how this landmark book continues to influence many scholars. James D.G. Dunn is analyzed next as he is “the most tireless…proponent of the ‘New Perspective on Paul’”(83). He clearly showed areas of agreement and disagreement with Dunn, and then he helpfully refutes some of the major arguments with quotes from people such as Ben Witherington, III.

The last author mentioned is this section is N.T. Wright. Interestingly, I felt like this would be the longest section as Wright is certainly the most well-known proponent of the New Perspective, if not the most prolific in recent years. The section is brief as Wright’s contributions are dealt with in greater detail in the next section on some of the positives of the New Perspective on Paul.

In conclusion, Dr. Cockrell offers some of the benefits from this New Perspective on Paul. He proposes the following positives: a better understanding on Paul’s letters, avoiding Western individualism, escaping the sin of anti-Semitism, confidence that Paul and Jesus are on the same page, and prompting us to a renewed examination of justification (85-89).

I appreciated all of the research displayed so obviously in this presentation and paper. Candidly, I hardly ever think of anything positive when considering the “New Perspective,” so I appreciated the laudable values he espoused in his conclusions.


Note: Page numbers in parentheses above follow the printed Symposium Digest of Papers.

Jeff Cockrell: Understanding Paul since Luther: The New Perspective and Its Effects

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