Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Will Chris VanLandingham Rock New Testament Studies As E. P. Sanders Did?

Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul
by Chris VanLandingham
Hendrickson Publishers

Is salvation a gift of God's grace or something God’s followers must earn by good works? How do we reconcile the two emphases that salvation is a bestowal of God’s mercy and that the final judgment will involve an assessment of the way people have lived during their time on earth?

In Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977), E. P. Sanders defined the terms and laid the groundwork for this crucial debate. Sanders’s “New Perspective” sought to resolve the tension between grace and good deeds by arguing that for the Jews of Paul's day as well as for Paul himself, entrance into God's saving covenant was a gift of God's grace while remaining in the covenant required good works done in obedience to God.

Sanders’s most vigorous opponents have disputed the works side of his formulation, taking issue with his contention that obedience is required to retain right standing in God's covenant. In Judgment and Justification, Chris VanLandingham challenges the grace side of the Sanders thesis, arguing that Paul’s teaching on salvation, following the prevailing Jewish thinking of his time, establishes good works as the criterion for salvation at the final judgment.

In making his case, VanLandingham does a careful, text-by-text survey of early Jewish literature, interacting with a wide range of biblical scholars who deal with the themes of salvation and judgment found in these texts and in the Pauline writings. VanLandingham wraps up this survey with a challenging reassessment of Paul's teaching in the light of the Jewish thinking of his time.

Judgment and Justification offers an incisive new look at the Jewish context for our understanding of Paul's teaching. Scholars on all sides of the ongoing debate will benefit by interacting with the texts presented and the provocative arguments the author draws from them.

“With Judgment and Justification Chris VanLandingham enters the fray that is the study of the Apostle Paul against his Jewish backdrop. But rather than simply logging another entry into the catalog of oft-repeated and well-worn arguments, VanLandingham proffers a thesis sure to challenge the positions of all parties in the debate. To those who have followed and advanced the “New Perspective” on Paul first put forth by E. P. Sanders, VanLandingham marshals an impressive array of evidence culled from Jewish sources to argue that the mainstream Judaism of Paul’s day was indeed a religion that urged good works as the path to God’s favor. He radically reinterprets the doctrine of “justification by faith” by arguing that Paul himself fits well into the mold of contemporary Judaism by teaching that those who have experienced forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ must themselves produce a life of good deeds to secure a favorable judgment in the end. Not only will the arguments of this book change the landscape of Pauline studies, but they should also be heard as a contributing voice to Christian theology. This book is not just an engaging piece of scholarship; it will prove to be one of those rare scholarly works that challenge the convictions of those who read it.”
—Jeffrey S. Lamp, Associate Professor of New Testament, Oral Roberts University

“Chris VanLandingham’s stunningly provocative and well-argued thesis demands careful engagement. E. P. Sanders was simply wrong as were those who built uncritically on his foundation. Election in Second Temple Judaism was a reward for obedience. Salvation was earned as quid pro quo. The Apostle Paul, for his part, agreed with his Second Temple peers and encouraged his hearers to accrue the good works necessary for the reward of eternal life. Justification (by faith), never employed in forensic contexts, has been almost completely misconstrued. VanLandingham calls for a complete overhaul in our understanding of both Second Temple Judaism and Paul. The theological implications would be breathtaking.”
—A. Andrew Das, Niebuhr Distinguished Chair and Associate Professor of Theology and Religion, Elmhurst College

Author Bio
Chris VanLandingham earned his Ph.D. in Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman World from the University of Iowa under the supervision of Dr. George Nickelsburg. He has served as an Assistant Professor of Ancient History at Oral Roberts University and as an Adjunct Professor of Ancient History at St. Gregory's University, both in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Anonymous said...

I thought you might be interested-I am currently doing a series of posts on VanL's Judgment and Justification.

abcaneday said...

Thanks, Matt. I will link to your interaction.

Notions Incognito said...

Hi Prof Caneday,

I just Googled accross this post. I believe the answer is that VanLandingham is indeed voicing a perspective that will again create quite a stir. This work is invaluable, but I think it is only part of the puzzle. I think there are a number of new understandings that have typically been found independently, and they are yet to be combined. When they are, I think we will see a remarkably challenging, powerful, and different picture of the gospel emerge. I am currently working on building such a picture myself and it has proven to be worth the effort.

Regarding your question of reconciling salvation by grace through faith with final judgement by works... I believe this problem disappears when one recognises that salvation is primarily referring to salvation from the harm of sin in this life, before death - rather than being saved from hell. "Salvation" is typically used in the bible to mean this. Thus, God and his agents graciously save sinners from sin, and help them to live righteously instead (as they "have faith" = are faithful and loyal to follow the way of Jesus), thus also leading them into a favourable final judgment because they actually live in a way pleasing to God.

abcaneday said...


Thanks for stopping by to read my blog.

I took a look at the last few entries on your blog, particularly Salvation and grace. I may be mistaken in reading your entry, but it seems to me that the way you characterize the matter of salvation reflects more of a contemporary view than a biblical view. The apostle Paul, for example, does not speak of "salvation from hell;" he does speak of "salvation from wrath [God's wrath]" (Romans 5:9; cf. Romans 1:18ff; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:16). Scripture does not separate the distinguishable aspects of salvation. Salvation that is not yet fully ours (Romans 13:11) is already being brought to completion (Philippians 2:12-13).

Furthermore, the cross of Christ is central to salvation. Justification entails both already and not yet aspects. These aspects, though distinguishable, are not separable. For further reflection on these issues, see my discussions here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Notions Incognito said...

Prof Caneday,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. We evidently hold a far more different interpretation of the NT than I had initially thought from reading this post. In the past I believed what I understand to be a position similar to yours, but my recent studies into the cultural context of the biblical writings, recent NT scholarship, and indeed the bible itself have convinced me otherwise. I would now argue that an interpretation, a whole paradigm, that is different from yours is in fact more biblically supported. However, I doubt that either of us have sufficient spare time to discuss the evidence, as much as I would love to.

So with respect and kind regards I will not go into details.

abcaneday said...


You may be right that we hold very different views, especially at the primal and basic level. I have no doubt that we could have an interesting, engaging, and even profitable discussion, if we could take the time.

With interest I will, as time permits, read your postings on Incognito concerning the subject.

vaisamar said...

Hello. I read recently sections of VanLandingham's book on Judgement and Justification and I was very much intrigued by the author's herculean efforts to get rid of the forensic nuance of the verb "dikaioo". It simply beats me how one can read the second chapter of Romans and fail to note the forensic metaphors or allusions in terms such as anapologetos, krino, katakrino, krima tou theou, dikaiokrisia, prosopolempsia, kategoreo, apologeomai. It is more than obvious that the terms have "forensic" usage, even without the making reference to the Last Judgment.

I find the book seriously flawed. The author simply does not seem to be aware of what a METAPHOR is. He seems to imply that for "dikaioo" to have forensic connotations, it must necessarily refer to the Last Judgement. I find the implication simply ridiculous. It would be as if, by telling us to be innocent as doves, Jesus is in effect asking us to lay eggs!

There is so much data crammed into this book. And such a poor interpretation of it!

vaisamar said...

I like the way D.A. Carson captures the spirit of what VanLandingham does:

"But the theological reductionism required to make this thesis hang together—Christ’s cross-work pays for our sins up to the moment of our conversion but not for postconversion sins—approaches the bizarre. It remains unclear to me whether VanLandingham thinks only those who have “followed through” (his expression) with their commitment to Christ in sinless perfection will be saved (in which case postconsummation existence is going to be singularly devoid of human beings) or those who have “followed through” with a respectable balance of good behavior over bad behavior. In either case, the thesis is driving toward a frame of reference far removed from that of the apostle."

Citation: D. A. Carson, review of Chris Vanlandingham, Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org]

abcaneday said...


I agree with what you say except for one thing. You state, He seems to imply that for "dikaioo" to have forensic connotations, it must necessarily refer to the Last Judgement.

Biblically speaking, of course, dikaioo does have forensic connotations and it does have reference to the Last Judgment.

This hardly gives any support to VanLandingham's thesis, however.