I’ve read and written a review of Sanders’, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (PPJ) and Barclays, Paul and the Gift (PG). Barclay has some critical statements against Sanders portrayal of grace in Second Temple Judaism. I’m sympathetic to the New Perspective on Paul, so I feel I should spend some ink on Barclays portrayal of him.
The following post assumes the reader is familiar with Barclays six perfections of grace (Singularity, Superabundance, Priority, Incongruity, Efficacy and Non-Circularity). See my review of him for further explanation.
Barclay criticises Sanders on his portrayal of ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’ in Palestinian Judaism.
Sanders does not set out to define Palestinian Judaism’s understanding of ‘grace’ or ‘mercy’. Let alone use the taxonomy of distinctions Barclay employs to classify grace. Consequently it’s hard to pin Sanders down on what he means when he speaks of ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’.
I agree with Barclay these terms are used in an unclear and sloppy manner through Sanders book. Further to this, Barclay also takes Sanders to task on his neglect of addressing the concept of incongruity (human unworthiness) and merit.
- Barclays reading of Sanders
- Sanders Covenantal Nomism
- Comparing Sanders with Paul
Barclays reading of Sanders
Here is Barclays summary position on Sanders;
Sanders performed an enormous service to students of ancient Judaism and of Paul. His challenge to the then-prevalent caricatures of Judaism has altered all subsequent discussion of Second Temple Judaism, and his insistence on the ubiquity of grace in Second Temple literature has been widely influential.
Nonetheless, at the heart of his project is a lack of clarity concerning the very definition of grace.
As we have seen, his structural analysis of “getting in” and “staying in” laid emphasis on the priority of grace, but there is a tendency for other perfections of grace, and in particular its incongruity, to be assumed as part and parcel of the same idea.
Against the negative characterizations of Judaism, Sanders declared his positive appreciation of what he had found:
“by consistently maintaining the basic framework of covenantal nomism, the gift and the demand of God were kept in a healthy relationship with each other” (427).
He acclaimed a rabbinic prayer that
“seems to imply a doctrine of prevenient grace and which clearly puts the indicative and the imperative in what even Bultmannians would concede to be the correct relationship” (178).
But a Bultmannian, of course, is interested in far more than the priority of grace (see above, 3.5.2), and by failing to distinguish between this and other perfections of grace, Sanders leaves unclear to what extent Jewish texts from this period do, or do not, also perfect the incongruity of grace. …
Finding grace everywhere, he gave the impression that grace is everywhere the same, and that one perfection (priority) necessarily entails another (incongruity). (157-8, PG)
Soon afterward Barclay says;
The Rabbis strongly emphasized grace as God’s prior gift, but they did not, for good reason, perfect this motif in the form of incongruity; on that they were fully in accord with the ancient assumption that a good gift is given discriminately to people of worth (see above, 1.4).
Grace is not necessarily in this sense “totally gratuitous” and “without prior cause” (or at least, prior reason). Since he did not make this distinction, Sanders was forced to conclude that the Rabbis were not fully clear in their thinking. (154, PG)
If I read Barclay correctly, he is saying when Sanders established the perfection of priority, he wrongly assumed this also entailed the perfection of incongruity.
Let’s have a look at Sanders.
Sanders Covenantal Nomism
If I consider Sanders reading in the light of gift giving, grace and mercy I would like to make two observations.
Observation One: For Sanders the bedrock foundation and ground of Judaism’s relationship with God, the God of Israel is the covenant.
Israel’s obedience is predicated on the covenant relationship. The whole ground by which Israel can atone for her sins and receive forgiveness is the covenant relationship. The rewards and punishments given to Israel are part and parcel of the covenant relationship. Israel’s promised inheritance is given them because of the covenant relationship.
On several occasions when Sanders refers to God’s ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’ he is really referring to the God’s dealings with Israel through their covenant relationship. For him the covenant relationship is the prime example and foundation of all God’s grace to his people Israel.
Observation Two: Gifts are given in the context of a relationship. Relationships have a beginning, continue for sometime and perhaps have an ending.
It’s logical to assume the perfections associated with gifts initiating the relationship would be different to those given during that relationship especially with respect to priority and incongruity. Especially if the initial gift has an expectation of reciprocity or is efficacious.
That being said, I think Sanders statements regarding Israel’s sin can easily show whether or not Palestinian Jews believed God’s grace was incongruous.
If you look at his chapter headings you will see much repetition as he looks for his ‘pattern’ of religion in various sources. So to better understand how Sanders uses the terms ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’ within his pattern of ‘covenantal nomism’ it would be helpful to map his pattern against a timeline to locate what he is talking about.
Here is his pattern of religion;
- The ‘pattern’ or ‘structure’ of covenantal nomism is this:
- (1) God has chosen Israel [election] and
- (2) given the law [of Moses]. The law implies both
- (3) God’s promise to maintain the election and
- (4) the requirement to obey.
- (5) God rewards obedience and punishes transgression.
- (6) The law provides for means of atonement, and atonement results in
- (7) maintenance or re-establishment of the covenantal relationship.
- (8) All those who are maintained in the covenant by obedience, atonement and God’s mercy belong to the group which will be saved. (422, PPJ)
Immediately afterward Sanders says;
An important interpretation of the first and last points is that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God’s mercy rather than human achievement. (ibid)
He also makes a distinction between ‘getting in’ and ‘staying in’ so I’ve drawn a timeline describing significant elements of his pattern seen from the ‘getting in’ / ‘staying in’ distinction.
Here is the timeline;
If we consider Israel’s election and the giving of the covenant. I would describe these as gifts initiating the relationship. Gifts which describe Israel ‘getting in’ the covenant.
About this Sanders says;
We may begin by noting several passages in which a Rabbi explicitly states that entrance into the covenant was prior to the fulfilment of commandments; in other words, that the covenant was not earned, but that obedience to the commandments is the consequence of the prior election of Israel by God. Thus, for example, these two statements attributed to contemporary Rabbis of the middle of the second century, R. Joshua b. Karha and R. Simeon b. Yohai:
Joshua b. Karha said: Why does the section Hear, O Israel (Deut. 6.4-9) precede [the section] And it shall come to pass if ye shall hearken [diligently to my commandments]} – so that a man may first take upon him the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and afterward take upon him the yoke of the commandments. (Berakoth 2.2)
Simeon b. Yohai made the same argument, referring to Ex. 20.2f. and Lev. 18.1-3. In each case the statement ‘I am the Lord your God’ precedes and grounds the commandments which follow. ‘When it says “I am the Lord thy God”, it means this: Am I not he whose kingship you took upon yourselves at Sinai?’ When the Israelites answer affirmatively, God replies, ‘You have accepted my kingship, accept my ordinances.’
Accepting God as king, which means accepting him as protector and defender as well as law giver, is followed by explicit commandments. The kingship of God over his chosen people always involves them in keeping the ordinances of the king, for that is the proper relationship between king and people; but the acceptance of God’s kingship always precedes the enjoining of the commandments. (85-86, PPJ)
We can see from here Sanders looks to what the Rabbis wrote of Ex 20 and Dt 5 to determine whether the Rabbis thought they had to observe the law prior to receiving the covenant. Surprise surprise they didn’t because they hadn’t been given it yet!
The passages here are about accepting God’s kingship prior to receiving the law. Some of the other examples suggest God had to earn Israel’s favour by saving them in order to convince them he was worthy of kingship (86).
Sanders later says there is no clear explanation by the Rabbis as to why Israel was elected. Election is not always thought to be by grace.
We have already seen passages in which God’s election was thought of as being totally gratuitous, without prior cause in those being elected. (87, PPJ)
Sanders speaks of grace in terms of priority (elected prior to law observance) and this is one of the perfections of grace.
However, Sanders has not clearly defined what he means by ‘totally gratuitous’. Which leaves him open to people assuming he means something he doesn’t.
Sanders’ understanding of the giving of the covenant probably includes the singularity of God’s love. He says a ‘complete cantena of passages would fill a large volume’ (104, PPJ).
The covenant relationship and especially the law require obedience. This is specifically named in his pattern or religion. Sanders may not mention it but there is a strong case for reciprocity here. It shouldn’t be much of a stretch to also assume the covenant and its law were also believed to have a positive effect on its members.
While Sanders may not have piled them all together, I believe there is a strong case to argue Sanders holds to at least four perfections of grace from what he has written: priority, reciprocity, singularity and effect.
The presence of one or more perfections does not necessarily imply the remaining are present. Most importantly for our discussion, what about the perfection of incongruity?
If one continued to read what Sanders continues to say after his quote from page 87;
We have already seen passages in which God’s election was thought of as being totally gratuitous, without prior cause in those being elected.
But the Rabbis regarded God as reasonable, as the just judge who, while he may temper his judgments with mercy, is neither capricious nor arbitrary. Thus one finds that the Rabbis could not rest content with simply saying that God chose Israel, but inquired why he did so. They wished to explain that it was not ‘odd of God to choose the Jews’.
There are basically three kinds of answers given by the Rabbis to the question of why God chose Israel.
One answer is that God offered the covenant (and the commandments attached to it) to all, but only Israel accepted it.
The second answer is that God chose Israel because of some merit found either in the patriarchs or in the exodus generation or on the condition of future obedience.
The third answer is really not an answer at all; that is, it does not in fact give a reason beyond God’s own will: it is that God chose Israel for his name’s sake.
We may deal with each of these in turn. (87-8, PPJ)
About the second answer Sanders says;
We have been considering the statements that God chose and redeemed Israel because of the merits of the exodus generation, because of the merits of the patriarchs and because of deeds yet to be done, as sub-categories of one general type of explanation: God chose Israel because of their deeds, either past, present or to be done in the future. (97, PPJ)
The third answer partially captures what Sanders believes about incongruity and refutes Barclays claims about incongruity;
We may now cite one more, which will lead us to the last type of explanation, that God did so ‘for his name’s sake’:
Jose the Galilean said: ‘And God said’: The Holy One, blessed be he, said to Moses: Israel deserves extinction in Egypt … because they are unclean [through worshipping] the idols of Egypt. … But for the sake of my great name and because of (lema’an) the merits of the Fathers [I will bring them out], as it is written, ‘And God heard their groaning [and God remembered his covenant,’ etc. (Ex. 2.24)]; and [I will bring them out] so that my name should not be profaned among them, as it also says, ‘But I acted for the sake of my name, [that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they dwelt], in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. . .’ (Ezek. 20.9).
Tarfon said: The Holy One, blessed be he, said: It is revealed and known before me that Israel deserves to go forth from Egypt and to be destroyed by Ammon and Moab and Amalek, but I have sworn an oath to fight their wars, and I will save them, as it is said, ‘A hand upon the banner of the Lord’, etc. (Ex. 17.16). And it says, ‘But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned’ (Ezek. 20.9). And here I am wanting to bring them out of Egypt, but you say to me, ‘Send, I pray’, etc.
Joshua b. Karha said: ‘And God said’: The Holy One, blessed be he, said: Israel was not worthy that I should give them manna in the wilderness, but rather they deserved hunger and thirst and nakedness. But I completed [paying] to them the reward of Abraham their father who ‘stood’ and ‘made’ before the ministering angels, as it is said, ‘And he took the curds and milk … [which he made … and he stood by them …’] (Gen. 18.8). And here I am wanting to bring them out of Egypt and you say to me, ‘Send, I pray, some other person.’
The principal point here is that God considered Israel unworthy to be redeemed, but that he wished, for his name’s sake, to keep the oaths which he had sworn to the patriarchs. Thus the patriarchs and God’s name’s sake are closely related. (99, PPJ)
He then summarises all these answers with;
If we ask what the doctrine on why Israel was elect was, we get no clear answer. It is clear throughout that there is a universal conviction that Israel was elect and that election entailed commandments.
But there are differing explanations of why God chose Israel.
It was not uncongenial to the Rabbis to say that God chose Israel out of sheer mercy – either before the commandments were given or ‘for his name’s sake’.
Yet it is also apparent that the Rabbis wished to be able to find a reason for the election. But not one of the causes suggested can stand scrutiny as a systematic explanation of God’s election of Israel. (99, PPJ)
Barclay refers to the ‘sheer mercy’ (154, PG) which motivated God’s election of Israel, but he fails to note the context in which Sanders describes it. Barclay later says;
The Rabbis strongly emphasised grace as God’s prior gift, but they did not, for good reason, perfect this motif in the form of incongruity; on that they were fully in accord with the ancient assumption that a good gift is given discriminately to people of worth. (155, PG)
‘Fully in accord’? In light of what I just quoted this is plain wrong. He completely missed what Sanders said about the worth of Israel. He missed Sanders portrayal of the incongruity of God’s grace.
The quotes from Sanders do not suggest the perfection of incongruity of grace was everywhere in Palestinian Judaism. But they do show it was present and further work needs to be done to see how pervasive the belief was.
Sanders considers the idea of election by merit a little further.
Even if the view that God chose Israel only because of some past or present or future merit were Rabbinic doctrine – which it is not – this would still not prove that individual Israelites had to earn salvation. Even if the election had been earned in the past, there is no thought that subsequent Israelites must continue to earn their place in the covenant as individuals, or that the covenant must be re-won in each generation. For whatever reason God chose Israel in the past, the a priori expectation would be that in subsequent generations the covenant would remain effective, that God would keep his promises to redeem and preserve his people. (p101)
According to the aims of his book, Sanders is eager to vindicate Israel’s election from the idea of merit. That is they did not have to earn or do anything to be elected. He does this by way of showing the covenant was given prior to the giving of the law.
Sanders is not going out of his way to establish the incongruous nature of the gift. But he does so along the way anyhow.
Repentance and Atonement
Should we consider atonement and forgiveness as part of God’s grace? Maybe we should consider these blessings of the covenant.
These I would regard as gifts given during the relationship. They also highlight the incongruous nature of God’s grace in Palestinian Judaism.
That only the most unregenerate sinners were excluded from the covenant and the covenant promises becomes most apparent when we study the passages on atonement for transgression. The universally held view is this: God has appointed means of atonement for every transgression, except the intention to reject God and his covenant. That is, those who are in the covenant will remain in and will receive the covenantal promises (including a share in the world to come), unless they remove themselves by ‘casting off the yoke’. No matter how numerous a man’s transgressions, God has provided for their forgiveness, as long as he indicates his intention to remain in the covenant by repenting and doing other appropriate acts of atonement. The passages which indicate this view are very numerous, and there are no opinions to the contrary. (157, PPJ)
From the Qumrans writings Sanders observes;
This (sinful) state is one which being in the community does not correct. This is a most significant point for understanding the sect’s conception of sin and the relationship of that conception to Paul’s, and the observation has not been fully exploited for those purposes. Braun, Bröker and Becker have all argued that the most distinctive point at which Paul agrees with Qumran is the profound understanding of the sinfulness of man which is overcome by the grace of God, while he differs in seeing the grace of God as liberating one from the law, rather than as enabling one to fulfil the law.
The contrast is certainly correct. We must observe, however, that the point of supposed likeness – the profound conception of sin – contains an even more striking dissimilarity. It is not correct to say with Braun that for both Paul and Qumran ‘lostness’ lies in the flesh; for in Qumran man’s ‘fleshly’ nature does not damn, since it is precisely those in the community of the saved who continue to confess their human inadequacy and nothingness. One who is in the sect remains in human flesh and participates in the ‘sinfulness’ of humanity, but he is still among the saved. (281-282, PPJ)
Barclay does not focus in on Sanders description of Palestinians awareness of their sin. Major omission! If he did he might have found more to say about why Sanders also implied incongruity in his depiction of God’s grace to Israel.
Israel’s deathbed prayers are another examples of what I would regard as gifts given during the relationship. It also highlights the incongruous nature of God’s grace in Palestinian Judaism.
The need of even the most righteous to rely upon God is repeatedly stated in a collection of prayers in Berakoth i6b-i7a. We may give two examples:
Johanan on concluding his prayer added the following: May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, to look upon our shame, and behold our evil plight, and clothe Thyself in Thy mercies, and cover Thyself in Thy strength, and wrap Thyself in Thy loving-kindness, and gird Thyself with Thy graciousness, and may the attribute of Thy kindness and gentleness come before Thee!
Raba on concluding his prayer added the following: My God, before I was formed I was not worthy [to be formed], and now that I have been formed I am as if I had not been formed. I am dust in my lifetime, all the more in my death. Behold I am before Thee like a vessel full of shame and confusion. May it be Thy will, O Lord my God, that I sin no more, and the sins I have committed before Thee wipe out in Thy great mercies, but not through evil chastisements and diseases!
The same Raba, whose feeling of worthlessness before God is so moving, does not betray this feeling in halakic discussions. He can rule that ‘if one constructed a side-post for an alley and raised it three handbreadths from the ground, or removed it three handbreadths from the wall, his act is invalid’ without betraying the feeling that he is ‘like a vessel full of shame and confusion’.
On the contrary, one has the impression that he is in perfect command of God’s commandments and has it in his power to decide what they are and to fulfil them. If the prayer which he repeated daily had not been preserved, one might have supposed that he felt religiously self-sufficient, able to do what was necessary and not in need of God’s mercy.
Thus we see that the halakic material may be deceiving for understanding the full scope and true depth of Rabbinic religion.
This change of tone should not be surprising. When someone is debating about the definition of a commandment, he naturally talks as if religion is under his control. But when, in prayer, he feels himself before his God, he is impressed by his own worthlessness and recognizes his reliance on God’s grace. (224, PPJ)
Sanders will go on to quote numerous other examples showing what Palestinian Jews thought of themselves before God and thus their understanding of the incongruity of God’s grace.
Like before Barclay largely seemed to neglect Israel’s understanding of their worth before God reflected in their deathbed prayers.
Barclays Second Temple Readings
Barclay chooses five texts to represent different voices of second temple Judaism. Bear in mind second temple Jewish texts have a range of interpretations among scholars. Barclay is one interpreter among many.
I will be comparing Barclays findings to those in Justification and Variegated Nomism, vol. 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism (JVN). Don Carson called together a group of scholars with the express intent to refute Sanders readings. Unfortunately for him many were in agreement with Sanders’ covenantal nomism.
5. The Wisdom of Solomon
Barclay now turns to evaluate the Wisdom of Solomon. An early Jewish text frequently mentioned for its similarities with Romans 1.18-32. Barclay gives a basic overview of the letter, eventually identifying ‘wisdom’ as a gift from God. He then looks for his perfections.
Wisdom is given freely and fully to those who seek her; God is loving and sparing to everything and everyone that he has made, as a function of his universal power.
Reference can be made to the priority of grace in Wisdom’s anticipation of those who seek her (6:13), but this hardly seems a dominant motif;
similarly, while Wisdom is responsible for the saving of humanity, little is said to indicate her efficacy in the formation or direction of the human will. (210, PG)
These statements are strange. Barclay acknowledges people seek out wisdom prior to receiving her, but he denies this is a ‘dominant motif’. Does he therefore deny ‘seeking’ for wisdom is necessary and prior to the gift? I think that is what the text says. Likewise he says ‘little is said to indicate her efficacy’. A simple reading of the text will show wisdom is highly prized for her efficacy’.
Barclays readings should not be blindly trusted. They should be checked to see if they are valid.
If we consider this summarising statement of Barclays,
As the Canaanite example shows, God’s mercy goes to extreme lengths to spare sinners, delaying and limiting God’s judgment for an unreasonable length of time (12:3-11).
But our author cannot in the end allow an incongruous mercy to govern his configuration of the cosmos, and for very good reason. It is because God is supremely and abundantly good that he guarantees a system of moral and rational symmetries, whereby the foolish and unrepentant wicked get what they deserve, and the gifts of God reach their proper and fitting beneficiaries. (210, PG)
Then the results of Gowan in JVN.
With reference to Sanders’s terms, “getting in” is clearly attributed entirely to the divine initiative in the first four of these works. They affirm the existence of a special relationship between God and Israel; and Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, and 4 Maccabees base their teachings on the certainty that the sovereign and merciful God is faithful to that relationship. …
As in the other books, the Old Testament teaching concerning the grace of God is the basis for its message of hope. Staying in does not depend entirely on human obedience, but depends on mercy that transcends merit. Confession of sin and appeal for forgiveness play a larger role than in the other books.
The need for repentance and forgiveness is also dealt with in Sirach, and this shows that the author does not operate with a strictly merit-based theology. The background of persecution in Wisdom of Solomon and 4 Maccabees leads to more interest in divine support for those suffering for their faithfulness than concern about what they may have done wrong. Facing the problem of survival, these authors could call for faithfulness only because they were certain there was an active God ready to provide what humans could not hope to attain by their own efforts.
The law of God plays a major role in each of the first four books, but as a theme rather than as a set of statutes to be expounded. It is God’s gift to Israel, making it clear what God wants of his people. There is no suggestion that works of the law are expected to prove anything to God, or that God counts up merits. (238-9, JVN)
We see differences in opinion on the text. In Barclays assessment there is a notable silence on the theme of covenant (the relationship between God and Israel) so important to Sanders reading which explains the difference. Barclay refuses to frame the text through the theme of covenant.
Like a boxer preparing to deliver a punch, Barclay is telegraphing.
His emphasis on ‘a system of moral and rational symmetries’ which governs the deserts of people is intended to highlight second temple Judaism’s relationship to the perfection of incongruity. I believe Barclay is doing this in an attempt to counter Sanders and contrast these second temple Jewish texts with the protestant reading of Paul. Especially with respect to the worthiness of recipients.
6. Philo of Alexandria
Barclay finds with Philo the perfections superabundance, singularity, priority and efficacy. Like Wisdom of Solomon before he seeks out reasons to establish gifts are only given to people of worth.
But, as has become clear throughout our study, God’s gifts are generally and for good reason congruous with the quality of the recipient. Although there are limits to this rule, especially if “worth” suggests comparability with God or human causation of the gift, Philo is not generally concerned to perfect the incongruity of the gift. (237, PG)
Likewise with Wisdom of Solomon, Barclay does not interpret Philo with reference to the covenant.
In JVN, Hays does not think Philo is a good example of covenantal nomism because he focusses more on the individual than the community as a recipient of divine promises. That being said, he quite clearly mentions Philo is writing about the Jews (their special relationship with God), Israel, the covenant, the law of Moses, repentance and forgiveness. All these are part of Sanders pattern.
Repentance itself is grounded on the grace of God. The awareness of guilt depends on the human conscience, which Philo understands to be God’s word or reason (Logos) within each individual (Deus 134–38). …
Does Philo think that human beings earn God’s forgiveness and mercy? He certainly often stresses that human beings have free will and that they must cooperate with God in acquiring the virtues. Toil for spiritual ends is good (Sacr. 112–13). Yet Philo does not think of human free will as absolute and his concept of grace is not synergistic. Fundamentally Philo considers that human responsibility centers in thankfulness to the Creator, who is the source of all that is good within each soul. Everything finally hinges on divine grace.
Despite this emphasis on grace, Philo does not hesitate to affirm that there are rewards for the righteous and punishments for the wicked. In discussing the blessings and curses at the end of the Mosaic legislation in Deuteronomy, Philo mentions rewards and penalties experienced in this world. (377-8, JVN)
Barclay does not discuss the theme of repentance.
As we see above had he he might have been more likely to include incongruity as another perfection.
7. The Qumran Hodayot (1QHa)
Barclay finds the perfections of superabundance, incongruity, efficacy and reciprocity in 1QHa.
He makes continued and special note of incongruity in his findings as this source stands out from the previous in his view.
Yet it is important to be clear what is and is not implied by this incongruity. The implication is not that the sectarian has no further obligations toward God (divine grace is not non-circular): forgiveness, purification, and insight are provided precisely so that their beneficiaries may be “renewed” and walk in faithfulness and purity in a Torah-observant community and in company with God’s “holy ones.” If the worthless are thereby made worthwhile, the Hodayot are replete with comments on the efficacy of God’s benevolence, through the strength, or knowledge, or spirit which he imparts. (262, PG)
Barclay has another quibble with Sanders, thinking covenantal nomism flattens the shape of 1QHa. Once again he does not find much to do with the covenant in this text.
In JVN Bockmuehl is in basic agreement with Sanders. He is similar in some respects to Barclay as well.
Overall, our findings are not fundamentally incompatible with those reached in E. P. Sanders’s famous study of 1977: Qumran manifests an eschatological faith in which salvation and atonement for sins are not humanly earned but divinely granted by predestined election and membership in the life of the observant covenant community. (412, JVN) …
Our study is therefore only a beginning, and limited in scope. Nevertheless, it has served to show that the Qumran community had a strongly covenantal understanding of the salvation of Israel as centered in its own covenant community. Membership in the covenant of God was characterized both by a sustained individual voluntarism and by an all-embracing doctrine of divine predestination. The community combined a strong sense of the sinfulness of all humanity with a belief in divine grace to the believer as the only means of salvation. The texts manifest an uneasy co-existence of the belief that atonement for sins remains emphatically an act of God with other statements that the faith and life of the community, and of its priestly leaders in particular, is in some sense instrumental to that atonement. (413, JVN)
8. Pseudo-Philo, Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum
The text is traditionally labeled Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (henceforth, LAB), and once wrongly attributed to Philo, which s why it is also called Pseudo-Philo.
Barclay focusses on ‘mercy’ more than ‘grace’ and gift in this chapter almost inferring they are the same. With God’s mercy in mind it should come to no surprise the perfection of incongruity comes into play. He also found the perfection superabundance in LAB.
It might be helpful to note, in scripture God’s mercy is commonly associated with his steadfast love.
On numerous occasions we have found “mercy” to be the central characteristic of God, in his commitment to restore and sustain Israel. The repeated references to “mercy” (misericordia, misereor, etc.) probably go back to an original Hebrew or ;31 they are occasionally supplemented by longanimitas, as a near synonym (19.8, 9; 39.5; 49.3).32
This mercy is often described as abundant (19.14; 21.4; 28.5), as it “fills the earth” (39.6), but it is clearly not a singular characteristic of God: it is frequently juxtaposed with, or is the aftermath to, the anger or judgment of God (e.g., 11.6; 25.3; 28.2; 43.10).
In many examples we have noted, divine mercy is obviously incongruous with the worth of the recipient. It is when Israel has sinned and been justly abandoned by God that God has mercy on the nation (e.g., 12.10, 19.9), and without that undeserved mercy Israel would have no future at all (12.9).
But this is not always the case: despite what we might expect (from the connotations of the English term “mercy” and the Latin misericordia), God’s mercy is often, in fact, quite fitting. Thus, in an echo of Exodus 20:5-6, God jealously visits the sins of ancestors on their children but “acts mercifully for a thousand generations to those who love me and keep my commandments” (11.6). (277, PG)
Like previous texts Barclay specifically focusses on incongruity and largely ignored the theme of covenant.
Enns has these remarks at the end of his essay in JVN about Pseudo-Philo.
Nickelsburg argues that the reason for this attention to the Judges is that the pattern of rebellion, punishment, repentance, and deliverance in these stories, particularly the role of the judges themselves, provided examples of covenant fidelity or infidelity to Ps.-Philo’s readers. In other words, examples from Israel’s past were meant to inspire the present elect, covenant people, to covenant fidelity. This is why so much of L.A.B., especially chaps. 22–65, recount how Israel “has not lived up to its side of the bargain.” It also helps explain why the book ends as abruptly as it does, with Saul’s death in ch. 65. The message is, “Don’t let this happen to you.” This is not a book for outsiders, but insiders to the faith who are beset with challenges to their covenantal status, and who are warned not to turn away. But despite the trauma, precisely because they are God’s covenant people, the L.A.B. strives to show that God will never completely abandon them. Ps.-Philo never ceases to remind his readers of the obligations God makes on them, but these obligations are nothing less than the special privilege of those who already enjoy covenant status. Covenant precedes law. (92, JVN)
9. 4 Ezra
This is the last of Barclays five texts. Notably 4 Ezra is the one which Sanders identifies as the key exception to his pattern of covenantal nomism. Like the other examples Barclay significantly downplays the underlying theme of covenant in his explanation. For example;
Significantly, the recipients of those promises are described as “the righteous” (iusti, 4.27; cf. 4.35, 39): it is of reward (merces) for the righteous (4.35) that Uriel speaks, from a perspective beyond the present passing age (4.26). It is not yet clear how these “righteous” relate to the “Israel” that concerns Ezra, but the difference in discourse seems significant. (285, PG)
Typically in scripture ‘the righteous’ represent faithful Israel. The true covenant people of God.
Barclay doesn’t seem to recognise ‘the righteous’ are a subset of Israel.
In JVN Bauckham disagrees with Sanders. He argues it does conform to covenantal nomism. Here is what he says about God’s grace and mercy to the righteous in 4 Ezra.
We have considered the contribution of the righteous to their salvation. What of God’s grace? It is not true that God’s mercy is entirely excluded from 4 Ezra’s vision of God’s dealings with humanity. While sinners at the judgment receive merciless justice (7:33–34), it is in mercy to the righteous that God saves them in the end (12:34; 14:34; cf. 10:24).
This could mean that, while the righteous have not lived completely sinless lives and would not in strictest justice merit salvation, God overlooks their comparatively minor failings in order to reward their general faithfulness.
More likely, mercy is here God’s favor to the covenant people to whom he promised salvation. It was in God’s free grace that he chose Israel and made his covenant with this people. The terms of the covenant—understood in 4 Ezra as God’s promise to give the eschatological reward to those who themselves keep the covenant by observing the Law—make salvation for the righteous both a matter of reward, within the terms God has given, but also a matter of God’s grace, in that he freely chose to make such a covenant with Israel.
To suppose that for 4 Ezra God gives the righteous eschatological salvation not because they are members of his elect people but because, regardless of their corporate affiliation, they have individually merited salvation, is to pose a false alternative. God gives salvation to those members of his elect people who have kept the terms of the covenant and so merit the salvation promised in the covenant.
The remnant, as we have seen, is the remnant of God’s elect people Israel. What God does not do, according to 4 Ezra, is exercise mercy to Israelite sinners by withholding judgment from them. (172-3, JVN)
Barclay does not consider in this text the election of Israel as a form of grace, nor does he see the mercy God offers to the repentant a sole privilege of those in the covenant.
Like his other examples Barclay focusses on the perfection of incongruity.
Barclay makes a distinction between the incongruous mercy he offers all in the current world to the congruous reward he gives the righteous in the next. In his conclusion he says the final judgment will be congruous.
4 Ezra provides another example of the thematic discussion of God’s goodness or mercy (the two semantic fields intertwined, 7.132-40), in ways that are comparable to what we have traced in other Second Temple texts but are also distinctive in important respects. Its vision of justice as the ultimate anchor-point of the cosmos requires that it concludes by configuring “mercy” as the congruous benefaction of God on the righteous, who keep God’s ways and discipline their hearts (14.33-36). … There is no reason to dub this fitting reward as a form of “legalism” or “works-righteousness” — terminology that reflects distinctly Augustinian and Protestant theologies, and that presumes as natural or necessary a perfection of grace as an incongruous gift to the unworthy. The works of the righteous are the expression of their “faith(fulness)” and service to God (cf. 6.5; 9.7; 13.23),60 and their “reward” (merces) represents the normal construal of benefaction that distributes benefits to the worthy (cf. 12.9, 36; 13.14). (305-6, PG)
10. The Diverse Dynamics of Grace in Second Temple Judaism
Barclays opens up this section with this statement;
I will first summarize the main findings from each chapter (10.1), before noting the different kinds of diversity involved and the intra-Jewish debates in which these texts are engaged (10.2). This will allow us to identify how and why we have moved beyond Sanders’s “covenantal nomism,” the analytical frame that has dominated the last forty years of scholarship on the soteriology of Second Temple Judaism (10.3). (309, PG)
Barclays readings are in part intended to ‘move beyond’ the arguments surrounding Sanders’ ‘covenantal nomism’. In this chapter Barclay finds shortfalls in Sanders pattern of ‘covenantal nomism’ and the arguments about grace and ‘works-righteousness’ against him. Barclays primary argument is that they are confused about grace.
About Sanders he says;
Yet Sanders’s analysis of soteriology as stages in a sequence (first “getting in,” then “staying in”) meant that his focus rested on the priority of grace: grace precedes and grounds the subsequent demand for Torah-obedience, which is a means of staying in the covenant, not of earning or achieving salvation. Because priority constitutes the defining characteristic of “covenantal nomism,” Sanders found this pattern of salvation to be everywhere the same. (318, PG)
To Sanders opponents he says;
We should resist the assumption that grace is by definition incongruous, and that the concept has become “diluted” or “corrupted” when it is not perfected in this form. That assumption is built into modern dictionary definitions of “grace” for historical reasons: it has become integral to Christian views of grace at least since Augustine, under inspiration from Paul. But incongruity is only one possible perfection of grace, and not necessarily present whenever grace-language is employed. (319, PG)
As mentioned previously, see my topical post on Barclays treatment of Sanders.
What is for sure, is that he read these texts much differently to Sanders and the majority of contributors in JVN. Throughout his readings I found he ignored the theme of covenant, it’s significance for how people relate with God and instead focussed on the perfection of incongruity.
In light of these five second temple Jewish texts Barclay introduces Paul. Focussing on Romans 9-11 he shows some similarities between Paul’s understanding of grace and theirs. He does this to introduce is to the next two sections.
Comparing Sanders with Paul
During his discussion on Paul, Sanders made the following observation which I think would be helpful in comparing Palestinian Judaism with Paul with respect to grace.
Sanders is talking about Palestinian Judaism understanding of ‘righteousness’ with Paul’s.
Here, however, there is also a major shift; for to be righteous in Jewish literature means to obey the Torah and to repent of transgression, but in Paul it means to be saved by Christ. Most succinctly, righteousness in Judaism is a term which implies the maintenance of status among the group of the elect;
in Paul it is a transfer term. In Judaism, that is, commitment to the covenant puts one ‘in’, while obedience (righteousness) subsequently keeps one in.
In Paul’s usage, ‘be made righteous’ (‘be justified’) is a term indicating getting in, not staying in the body of the saved. Thus when Paul says that one cannot be made righteous by works of law, he means that one cannot, by works of law, ‘transfer to the body of the saved’.
When Judaism said that one is righteous who obeys the law, the meaning is that one thereby stays in the covenant.
The debate about righteousness by faith or by works of law thus turns out to result from the different usage of the ‘righteous’ word-group. (544, PPJ)
If I plot out the following timelines I can then make a further observation on the comparison.
What Sanders says about Palestinian Judaism’s understanding of ‘righteousness’ is typical to most of what he said about their religion. It is primarily about ‘staying in’ rather than ‘getting in’. It primarily concerns what happens during the relationship and may take into account the efficacy and reciprocity associated with the initial gift.
Paul on the other hand primarily emphasises his understanding of God’s gift in the Christ event as the means by which people ‘get in’. That is how God initiates the relationship.
Clearly one significant difference between the two is their own self understanding before and after the initial gift was given and the effect and reciprocity expected of the gift.
I wonder if overall Barclay is comparing apples with oranges. He compares Paul’s understanding of God’s initial gift in the Christ event with Palestinian Judaism understanding of God’s gifts to those who have already received the covenant and the law of Moses.
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