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Book Review – Paul & Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation (Preston Sprinkle)

Preston M. Sprinkle. Paul & Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013. 256 pp. $24.00.

SprinkleDepending on one’s affinity to the debates surrounding the NPP (New Perspective on Paul), the very title of this book (harking to Sanders’s groundbreaking 1977 volume Paul and Palestinian Judaism) either elicits a groan (“Another book on this topic? What else could possibly be said?) or delighted interest. Pauline studies is probably my favorite area of biblical studies, and soteriology is hands-down my favorite locus of systematic theology; therefore, I was very drawn to Preston Sprinkle’s Paul & Judaism Revisited, and curious about whether he’d bring anything new to this hotly debated, over-saturated area of NT studies.

In this book, Sprinkle explores in depth things he noticed but didn’t focus on while researching the use of Leviticus 18:5 in Paul and Judaism for his doctoral dissertation. Specifically, this book “revisits” the soteriology of Paul and Judaism. However, because of both the anachronism of soteriology and the diversity of Second Temple Judaism, Sprinkle further qualifies his study by defining soteriology with “the basic sense of the restoration God brings to those who belong to his covenant community” (34, emphasis original) and focusing on the Dead Sea Scrolls; in other words, Paul & Judaism Revisited compares and contrasts Paul’s soteriology with the soteriology of the DSS. The goal is to see how the two understood divine and human agency in salvation and to draw conclusions about continuity and discontinuity.

Sprinkle sets up the foundation of the study by looking at OT patterns of restoration. Specifically, he notes the presence of both Deuteronomic (God promises restoration in response to Israel’s repentance) and Prophetic (God promises unilateral restoration) patterns. These patterns are then noted throughout the rest of the study in relation to Paul and the DSS as Sprinkle examines five motifs in the two corpuses: restoration from the curse of the law, the eschatological spirit, anthropological pessimism, justification, and judgment according to works.

Sprinkle demonstrates that restoration is more Deuteronomic in the DSS and radically Prophetic in Paul. In regards to the eschatological work of Spirit, Qumran texts demonstrate a variety of views on the spectrum between Deuteronomic and Prophetic whereas Paul is shown to believe that the eschatological gift of the Spirit is unilateral. Hence, in regards to this motif there is a spread of continuity and discontinuity between Paul and Qumran.

Moving on to anthropology, Sprinkle demonstrates, unsurprisingly, that Paul had a very pessimistic anthropology in the sense that because of sin’s enslaving power, humanity does not possess the unaided ability to turn to God. However, in the Scrolls we have both a view very similar to Paul’s (e.g. in 1QHa), as well as a much more optimistic anthropology (e.g. in CD). In the DSS, pessimistic anthropology is usually found in hymnic material, whereas optimistic anthropology is found in ethical/didactic texts. In agreement with Sanders, Sprinkles attributes this to the divine/human contrast that tends to be found in hymnic material, which naturally draws out pessimism. Sprinkle’s illumination about the upshot of the respective anthropologies is also interesting – whereas Paul believed in a total transference, in Qumran texts the transference is limited to new knowledge through hermeneutics.

Next, Sprinkle examines Pauline and Qumran texts that deal with justification of the ungodly, justification and Abraham, and justification and Habakkuk 2:4. The chapter ends with a look at 1QS 10-11 which seems very Pauline, but upon closer examination is seen to reveal more discontinuity with Paul than is often recognized. “While there are some aspects of continuity in their views of justification, Paul’s emphasis on God’s initial act of justification of the ungodly through grace is unparalleled – even rebutted – in the Scrolls” (170). The subsequent chapter is devoted to the topic of final judgment according to works. Qumran and Paul agree that judgment will be according to works, but the phrase “according to” is ambiguous. Sprinkle demonstrates that there’s discontinuity in relation to the strength of divine agency in obedience as well as the role of the Christ event for final justification. Before the conclusion, the penultimate chapter surveys other Second Temple texts in order to situate this study within its wider context.

Paul & Judaism Revisited is an excellent book for anyone with interest in Pauline soteriology, Second Temple Judaism, or the relationship between these two. Whereas there can be a tendency on this topic to firmly identify with one side (“new” versus” old” perspective on Paul), to caricature the other, and to make sweeping statements, Sprinkle eschews labeling himself and presents a very balanced, nuanced, and fair study. Though he generally comes to classic/”old” conclusions, Sprinkle doesn’t try to make the evidence say more than it actually does (e.g. when there’s too much diversity in Qumran texts to make a general summary about their view on a particular issue, he states so. Continuity with Paul is clearly drawn out when present). In addition, Sprinkle does a good job of demonstrating that at times even when there seems to be continuity, upon further study one discovers significant differences as well. The upshot of all this is that there is not clear, wholesale continuity or discontinuity between Paul and Qumran. “At the very least, therefore, this study should deter careless assertions made by scholars and students on both sides of the debate…Extreme new (continuity) or old (discontinuity) perspectives on Paul are not, to my mind, historically viable” (239). Finally, for students and scholars with research interest in Paul and Judaism, Sprinkle’s work shows that there is more work to be done in this area and models a way in which new insights can be discovered.

My only dissatisfaction with this study, and a lingering question in my mind throughout the whole work, concerns the very presence of the Deuteronomic and Prophetic patterns of restoration in Scripture. What are the implications of this seeming dichotomy on the unity of Scripture? And if it’s not in fact a dichotomy, how do they come together in a biblical soteriology? In other words, it would seem from demarcating these two patterns that there is discontinuity within the OT itself, and between the OT and Paul (and not just Qumran and Paul, the subject of this book). Even though these questions are outside the scope of Sprinkle’s study, I think it would have been beneficial if chapter 2, which introduces these two patterns, had briefly addressed some of these issues since these two patterns are the lens through which the motifs in the rest of the book are seen and therefore recur over and over again.

Many thanks to IVP Academic for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

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7 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging and commented:
    Excellent review!!

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  2. Thanks for the review. Good questions at the end too…

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  3. I agree re: the deuteronomic and prophetic schemes. In light of “new marcionism” espoused by Steve Chalke and Bryan Zahnd, this looks uncomfortably similar. I wish Sprinkle had clarified what he meant by the system, since it seems to result in either a) driving a wedge between two harmonious concepts or b) Scripture is contradictory, even with chapters within the same book! I really enjoy Sprinkle and his generous “vibe”, so I hope neither is true.

    What are your thoughts Jennifer?

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  1. Book Log: December 2014 |

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