The “New Perspective on Paul” refers to interpretations of the apostle’s writings that challenge some long held Protestant views that were popularized by Martin Luther. While there is great diversity of viewpoints among New Perspective scholars, they generally agree that Luther was mistaken in his reading of Pauline literature as a corrective against Jewish legalism which impacted many of his conclusions.
New Perspective scholars reject the Protestant definition of the righteousness of God (or “from God”) as the moral virtue of Christ imputed to believers . “Righteousness” is rather God’s own attribute which is not imputed to believers, but determines how God deals with them. What follows is my summary of the “New Perspective” in contrast to the “Lutheran” view that was outlined in my previous post.
The term ‘righteousness,’ dikaiosune, whose various nuances include “justice” and “impartiality,” refers to one’s right treatment of others. James Dunn says, “People are righteous when they meet the claims which others have on them by virtue of their relationship.” . We would have no claims on God had he not bound himself to the human race in his covenant with Abraham. God is righteous in that he keeps his oath to rescue Abraham’s family from their enemies, to forgive their sins, and to bless all nations through them.
God’s righteous acts in Scripture are synonymous with his restoring and sustaining his people in his faithfulness to this covenant. Daniel’s prayer for Israel’s deliverance from exile is an appeal to the God who “keeps his covenant of love” (Dan. 9:4). This appeal cannot be made on behalf of Israel’s righteousness, but is in keeping with God’s righteousness by which he is faithful to the covenant (Dan. 9:16-18). As God was faithful to his covenant with Abraham in bringing about the Exodus, Daniel now prays for a second Exodus by which God will demonstrate his mercy to the people because of his covenant, not because they deserve it (Gen. 15:13-14)..
In other Scriptures, petitions for deliverance, vindication, and salvation are made in appeal to God’s righteousness (Psalm 31:1; 35:24; 51:14). Salvation and faithfulness to the house of Israel are equated with his righteousness (Psalm 143:11-12). Isaiah often links righteousness and salvation as parallel (Isa. 46:13; 51:5-6).. So God’s righteousness is faithfulness to his covenant obligations toward Abraham’s descendants.
Paul says that in the gospel the righteousness of God is being made known (Rom. 1:17). God’s righteousness is on display in regard to how he treats us—in regard to how he is faithful to his covenant with Abraham to bless those of all nations who follow in the footsteps of Abraham’s faith.
Because God is righteous, in keeping with his covenant, he declares those who have faith as being righteous. We are not righteous by imputation of moral virtue. Righteousness is the legal status of being in a right standing with the court, but it is not the legal fiction of having another’s moral virtue conferred upon those who aren’t morally virtuous.
It is righteous for God to consider those of faith as righteous which is consistent with his covenant faithfulness. The faith upon which our being right with God is based is not a “do-nothing, easy-believism,” but it is faithfulness. To have the faith of Abraham is to imitate the faithful entrusting of one’s life to God.
This righteousness of God, in Romans 3:21, is said to be “apart from law.” The righteousness of God, (or ‘from God,’ as some prefer), is the status God grants us. This occurs “apart from law.” Righteousness “apart from law” cannot mean apart from obedient surrender to the lordship of Jesus. It simply means apart from the works of the Law of Moses that had traditionally distinguished Jews from Gentiles.
The argument Paul makes is not in response to Jews (or Jewish Christians) who allegedly thought believers had to pull themselves up by their moral bootstraps to be saved.. Paul’s argument is in response to those who think the real evidence of one’s righteousness is in Jewish identity markers such as circumcision, the Sabbath, food laws, and purity rituals.. Paul argues that Gentiles are not recognized as part of God’s people on the basis of this Jewish distinctiveness, but only on the basis of faithfulness to the Messiah.
Next, a word about “justification by faith.” Stay tuned. I hope not to take as long to post as last time.
 James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1-8 Word Biblical Commentary, v. 38 (Nashville: Nelson, 1988), 41.
 N. T. Wright, Justification, 63.
 Scriptures suggested by Dunn.
 Wright. St. Paul, 19.
 N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press., 2015), 58; St. Paul, 132.