The Doctrine of Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul

For the past few decades, a paradigm shift in New Testament scholarship has led some researchers to question whether the church has rightly understood first-century Judaism and the apostle Paul. In the name of a “New Perspective on Paul,” certain men are calling for a reassessment of the traditional Pauline understanding of the doctrine of justification, the nature of good works, and other elements essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Prominent among these figures is N.T. Wright, bishop of Durham and theologian who in his voluminous writings is demanding a new reading of Paul, even claiming that the Protestant Reformers misunderstood the apostle.

These accusations cannot be easily brushed aside, for they strike at the heart of our entire understanding of salvation. With an aim to analyze the merit of Wright’s claims and expose both the strengths and weaknesses of his approach, the editors of Tabletalk magazine have put together this collection of tools to help Christians discern the errors behind the approach of N.T. Wright. It is our hope that you will find these resources helpful in understanding the biblical doctrine of salvation and for making an informed assessment of the work of Wright and other New Perspective thinkers.

  • Justification for Everyone Article by Burk Parsons

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    For years we have wrestled with the question as to whether we should produce an issue of Tabletalk devoted to the new perspectives on Paul on the doctrine of justification, and for years we concluded that many of our readers would be generally unaware of what has been, until recently, an academic discussion among studied churchmen the world over. View Resource

  • Wright's Stance on the Perseverance of the Saints Video Message by Ligon Duncan

    Ligon Duncan answers the question, “Does Wright’s stance on the perseverance of the saints relieve him from legitimate scrutiny on justification?” View Resource

  • Is Wright Teaching Another Gospel?

    Ligon Duncan and Sinclair Ferguson address the question, “Is Wright teaching another gospel from the New Testament, as understood & written by the Apostle Paul?”  View Resource

  • Why Has Wright Struck Such a Chord?

    Sinclair Ferguson and Ligon Duncan explain why N.T. Wright has struck such a chord with the evangelical community. View Resource

  • N.T. Wright and the Doctrine of Justification: A Panel Discussion

    In this video, Albert Mohler leads a panel discussion at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with professors Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, Denny Burk, and Brian Vickers on N.T. Wright and the Doctrine of Justification (September 2009). View Resource

  • Theology Matters: Peace with God Video Message by James White

    Why does the believer in Christ not fear the wrath that is justly due to his or her sins? James White from Alpha and Omega Ministries examines this question. View Resource

  • Sinclair Ferguson on Imputed Righteousness Video Message by Sinclair Ferguson

    Sinclair Ferguson discusses imputed righteousness in this speaker interview from the 2008 Desiring God National Conference. View Resource

  • Assessing the Piper-Wright Debate on Justification

    Denny Burk leads a panel discussion at Boyce College on the subject of N.T. Wright’s new book Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (April 2009). Denny Burk is joined by SBTS professors Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, and Brian Vickers. View Resource

  • N.T. Wright and the Doctrine of Justification: Panel Discussion

    In this audio file, Albert Mohler leads a panel discussion at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with professors Tom Schreiner, Mark Seifrid, Denny Burk, and Brian Vickers on N.T. Wright and the Doctrine of Justification (September 2009). View Resource

  • The Challenge of the New Perspective to Biblical Justification Audio Message by Albert Mohler

    Albert Mohler interviews John Piper and Ligon Duncan on the topic of justification by faith and the New Perspective on Paul (August 2009). View Resource

  • The New Perspectives on Paul (Part 1) Audio Message by D.A. Carson

    D.A. Carson examines the New Perspectives on Paul in this first of three lectures. View Resource

  • The New Perspectives on Paul (Part 2) Audio Message by D.A. Carson

    D.A. Carson examines the New Perspectives on Paul in this second of three lectures. View Resource

  • The New Perspectives on Paul (Part 3) Audio Message by D.A. Carson

    D.A. Carson examines the New Perspectives on Paul in this last of three lectures. View Resource

  • A Critical Assessment of "The New Perspective on Paul" Audio Message by Cornelis Venema

    Dr. Cornelis Venema provides a critical assessment of the New Perspective on Paul. This lecture was presented at the 2004 annual meeting of Reformed Fellowship, Inc. Learn more about Reformed Fellowship at their website www.reformedfellowship.net. View Resource

  • Attacks on Justification Audio Message by Joseph Pipa Jr.

    Joseph Pipa addresses contemporary attacks on justification. View Resource

  • Nine Points on the New Perspective (Part 1) Audio Message by Michael Horton

    Michael Horton provides nine points on the New Perspective in this first of three lectures. From an adult Sunday school class at Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, Calif., where Dr. Horton is a member.  View Resource

  • N.T. Wright's Doctrine of Justification (Part 1) Audio Message by Guy Waters

    The Christ the Center panel discusses N. T. Wright’s new book Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision with Guy Prentiss Waters, associate professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss.  View Resource

  • N.T. Wright's Doctrine of Justification (Part 2) Audio Message by Guy Waters

    The Christ the Center panel discusses N. T. Wright’s new book Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision with Guy Prentiss Waters, associate professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss. View Resource

  • The Reformed Doctrine of Justification Audio Message by J.V. Fesko

    Dr. John V. Fesko, academic dean and associate professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California, joins the panel of Christ the Center to discuss his book, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine. View Resource

  • What God Requires, Christ Provides Article by John Piper

    If justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21). Historically, Protestants have believed that the Bible teaches that our salvation depends on what Christ has accomplished for our pardon and our perfection. We accept by faith his substitution for us in two senses: in his final suffering and death, he was condemned and cursed so that we may be pardoned (see Gal. 3:13; Rom. 8:3); and in his whole life of righteousness culminating in his death, he learned obedience so that we may be saved (see Heb. 5:8-9). View Resource

  • Five Arguments Against Future Justification According to Works (Part I) Article by Richard Phillips

    The year 2009 witnessed a publishing event of real interest to many Christians: the publication of N.T. Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. Wright is widely considered the most provocative writer on justification today and the arrival of this book has deservedly garnered much attention. My purpose in this article is not to review Wright’s book as a whole or even to assess his overall teaching on justification. Rather, I intend to respond to that part of his teaching that proposes a future justification by works for believers in Jesus Christ. View Resource

  • Five Arguments Against Future Justification According to Works (Part II) Article by Richard Phillips

    Argument #4: The future judgment of believers consists only of reward and praise. Those who support future justification according to works will cite the numerous Bible passages that in one form or another state that we must all stand before Christ’s seat of judgment. View Resource

  • Was Luther Right? Article by Thomas Schreiner

    Martin Luther turned the world upside down in the sixteenth century by proclaiming the Pauline gospel. Luther, who was a professor of biblical exegesis for many years, slowly came to an understanding of the righteousness of God in Rom. 1:17. For many years he believed that God’s righteousness was a divine attribute, so that the Pauline meaning was that God rendered to a person according to his works. In other words, Rom. 1:17 referred to the judging righteousness of God. View Resource

  • N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul Article by Ligon Duncan

    The term “new perspective” was coined by J.D.G. Dunn in 1982 to describe the new approach to Paul’s theology he was advocating which was built on the work of several earlier scholars such as E.P.Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977). It now is embraced by quite a range of scholars. One world-renowned Pauline scholar and articulate Anglican evangelical, N.T.(Tom) Wright (b. 1948), the current Canon theologian of Westminster Abbey is well known. For the purpose of this article the position Wright takes will be considered as explained in his numerous books including What St Paul Really Said (Oxford, … View Resource

  • The Attractions of the New Perspective(s) on Paul Article by Ligon Duncan

    Many intelligent Christians are puzzling today over what is being called “the new perspective on Paul.” Seminary students run across it in their New Testament course reading and perhaps class lectures. Pastors hear about it from fledgling theologues wanting to impress them with their newfound knowledge of the latest thing in Pauline studies. Laypeople find it being peddled ubiquitously on the internet, on websites, in chatrooms or in various online discussion groups, as well as in numerous books on the Christian market, even from conservative evangelical publishing houses. Why talk about it? View Resource

  • The New Perspective on Paul: Calvin and N.T. Wright Article by J.V. Fesko

    Despite the fact that Qohelet tells us that there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1.9), in recent years a school of Pauline interpreters have raised their banner declaring they have a new perspective on Paul. What exactly is the nature of this new perspective? One of the earliest proponents of the new perspective, E. P. Sanders, argues that the historic Protestant interpretation of Paul is incorrect. View Resource

  • An Explanation of the New Perspective on Paul Article by Bryan Chapell

    First, my disclaimers: I am not a New Perspective on Paul expert. A seminary president sometimes has the role of getting up to speed on an issue that has suddenly become hot in the Church, and he should make no pretense about knowing as much as the real scholars. I have needed to ask our godly faculty to help me understand these issues so that I can advise friends of Covenant Theological Seminary as to what is going on as best as I can. I do not intend for this to be a definitive research paper where every statement is … View Resource

  • What’s Wrong with Wright: Examining the New Perspective on Paul Article by Phil Johnson

    My assignment in this hour is to give a critical review of an influential book by Anglican author N.T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham. The book is titled What Saint Paul Really Said. It’s a fairly thin paperback, fewer than 200 pages, and although Wright is a prolific writer, best known and most influential because of his massive scholarly works, this little book—which is written in a simple style for the serious lay person—has undoubtedly been the most influential (and perhaps the most controversial) of all his published works. One of its aims is to explain the so-called “New Perspective … View Resource

  • The “New Perspective” on Paul and the Law Article by Ben Witherington

    There is something of a small war going on in Pauline circles on the issue of “the New Perspective on Paul” which actually also involves “the New Perspective on Early Judaism”. This sometimes heated debate was set in motion by the work of Ed Sanders beginning in 1977 with Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and followed in subsequent years by a series of equally influential studies such as Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, and Jesus and Judaism. View Resource

  • Faith” and “Faithfulness” Article by D.A. Carson

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    The Greek word pistis can mean, in English translation, both “faith” and “faithfulness”; no one disputes that fact (for the latter, see Rom. 3:3). N.T. Wright, however, takes two steps that cannot be fairly evaluated without understanding how they are integrated into his broader understanding of how the Bible fits together. View Resource

  • Justification for Everyone Article by Burk Parsons

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    For years we have wrestled with the question as to whether we should produce an issue of Tabletalk devoted to the new perspectives on Paul on the doctrine of justification, and for years we concluded that many of our readers would be generally unaware of what has been, until recently, an academic discussion among studied churchmen the world over. View Resource

  • Tilting at Scarecrows Article by R.C. Sproul

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    In the past few years, the British bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has emerged as an icon of biblical theology around the world. His excellent work on the resurrection of Christ has influenced many people including his own country’s most famous philosopher and former atheist Antony Flew, who has converted to deism. Wright is also known, however, for being one of the chief architects of the so-called new perspective on Paul, in which he recasts the doctrine of justification in such a way as to transcend the historic dispute between Roman Catholicism and Reformation Protestantism. View Resource

  • Rethinking the Gospel? Article by Albert Mohler

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    Bishop Wright believes the Christian church has fundamentally misunderstood the gospel. If he is right about this, we must hear him and accept his corrective. But, if he is wrong, he will lead us away from the gospel. The stakes simply could not be higher. View Resource

  • A Future Justification Based on Works? Article by Cornelis Venema

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    One of the remarkable features of N.T. Wright’s reformulation of the Protestant doctrine of justification is his emphasis upon a “future justification” on the basis of works. According to Wright, the apostle Paul clearly teaches that believers will be subject to a final judgment “according to works” (Rom. 14:10–12; 2 Cor. 5:10). View Resource

  • Works of the Law” in Paul Article by J.V. Fesko

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    The definition of Paul’s phrase “works of the law” is one of the more significant disagreements between N.T. Wright and the Reformation understanding of justification by faith alone. On what basis can Wright claim that Paul does not have worksrighteousness in view? View Resource

  • What Does Justification Have to do with the Gospel? Article by Sinclair Ferguson

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    There is a striking plausibility about saying that “justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel.’” After all, as N.T. Wright elsewhere observes, we are not justified by believing in justification by faith but by believing in Jesus Christ. View Resource

  • Justification and Ecumenism Article by Michael Horton

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    One of the great connections that N.T. Wright emphasizes in his work is the one between soteriology (how we are saved) and ecclesiology (the church: who are the true people of God?). He properly (and repeatedly) reminds us that Paul saw these questions as inseparable. Interestingly, so did the Protestant Reformers, as historians have often obser ved. As on so many points, however, Wright distorts the Reformation positions and almost never footnotes his sweeping allegations. View Resource

  • Has the Church Misunderstood Justification? Article by Guy Waters

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    For all their differences concerning the doctrine of justification, Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church have agreed on this: justification fundamentally concerns the salvation of the sinner. To draw this observation is not, of course, to minimize the importance of the differences between Rome and Protestantism concerning justification. View Resource

  • A New Luther? Article by Derek Thomas

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    The accusation that systematic theology (doctrinal formulations of the Reformation period in particular) overly governs (distorts) exegesis is not new, and Bishop N.T. Wright trots it out with renewed zeal in his latest book, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (SPCK, 2009). View Resource

  • Wright Is Wrong on Imputation Article by Thomas Schreiner

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    Is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer an artificial construct, an idea from systematic theology that does not truly come from the Bible? N.T. Wright argues that the traditional view of imputation veers away from the Pauline meaning. View Resource

  • Salvation and the Life After Life Article by Paul Helm

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    How do we estimate what a person is primarily interested in? Perhaps by seeing how often they return to the subject, or what they mention on important occasions. And perhaps, also, by the manner in which people write about things: is it detached, or is it impassioned — “urgent,” as Wright says? View Resource

  • Christ, Our Righteousness Article by Roger Nicole

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    N.T. Wright in his advocacy of a “new perspective” on Paul and his teaching makes a special plea that “justification” should relate to the question “who belongs to God’s covenant with the world?” rather than “how can you be saved?” Wright’s answer to the question is “Jews and Gentiles alike, who believe in Jesus the Messiah.” This position is discussed widely in the present issue of Tabletalk. View Resource

  • The “Nonsense” of Justifying the Ungodly Article by David Mathis

    FROM TABLETALK | February 2010

    There are at least three problems with N.T. Wright’s claim that imputing God’s righteousness to a defendant is a category mistake and “makes no sense.” First, Wright’s definition of the righteousness of God is too shallow. He fails to go to the heart of the matter and stays at the level of what divine righteousness does rather than what it is. View Resource

  • N.T. Wright on Justification Article by C.E. Hill

    There is so much in this book that is good and should elicit a loud “Amen!” A balanced review of What Saint Paul Really Said by N.T. Wright would focus on both its strengths and weaknesses. Here, unfortunately, I shall have to be unbalanced. The essential problem I have is that Wright, for whatever reason, wants to redefine justification by faith. We’ll start with a few quotations: View Resource

  • A Defense of the Old Perspective on Paul: What Did Paul Really Say? Article by Phil Johnson

    The following is transcribed from a seminar given by Phil Johnson at the London Reformed Baptist Seminary, meeting at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, on 10 January 2004. In this hour, I want to give you a brief critique of a theological trend that began on your side of the Atlantic and is rapidly gaining influence among evangelicals in America. It is a point of view known as “The New Perspective on Paul.” View Resource

  • The New Perspective on Justification Article by Richard Phillips

    At the last meeting of this presbytery, I was commissioned to present a paper on the theological movement known as the New Perspective on Paul as it relates to the doctrine of justification. This request notes a growing movement that is controversially impacting the Reformed evangelical community, to include our denomination. View Resource

  • A Reformed Critique of the New Perspective Article by Richard Gaffin Jr.

    The New Perspective on Paul, as it has been called, raises serious questions for Protestants committed to the doctrine of justification by faith. This school of thought does so in two ways. On the one hand, it questions the Apostle Paul’s relationship to-and understanding of-Judaism. On the other hand, it undermines the Reformation’s understanding of Pauline theology. To put it bluntly, this reassessment narrows the distance between Paul and the Judaism of his day while it widens the gap between Paul and the Reformation. Also, these questions themselves raise other questions, which cast doubt upon the New Perspective’s conclusions. View Resource

  • Jesus’ Perspective on Sola Fide Article by John MacArthur

    Many who have embraced “the New Perspective on Paul” are also proposing a different slant on the doctrine of justification by faith. When the text of Scripture is interpreted in the new light, they say, Pauline support for the principle of sola fide [faith alone], the doctrine of imputation, and the distinction between law and gospel doesn’t seem quite so strong. View Resource

  • Annotated Bibliography: N.T. Wright and the New Perspectives on Paul

    Annotated bibliography of works on N.T. Wright and the New Perspectives on Paul. View Resource

  • Of Justification by Faith Article by John Calvin

    1. I trust I have now sufficiently shown how man’s only resource for escaping from the curse of the law, and recovering salvation, lies in faith; and also what the nature of faith is, what the benefits which it confers, and the fruits which it produces. The whole may be thus summed up: Christ given to us by the kindness of God is apprehended and possessed by faith, by means of which we obtain in particular a twofold benefit. View Resource

  • Of Justification” from “The Defense of the Augsburg Confession” Article by Philip Melancthon

    In the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and, below, in the Twentieth Article, they condemn us, for teaching that men obtain remission of sins not because of their own merits, but freely for Christ’s sake, through faith in Christ. [They reject quite stubbornly both these statements.] For they condemn us both for denying that men obtain remission of sins because of their own merits, and for affirming that, through faith, men obtain remission of sins, and through faith in Christ are justified. View Resource

  • The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

    The third controversy which has arisen among some theologians of the Augsburg Confession is concerning the righteousness of Christ or of faith, which God imputes by grace, through faith, to poor sinners for righteousness. For one side has contended that the righteousness of faith, which the apostle calls the righteousness of God, is God’s essential righteousness, which is Christ Himself as the true, natural, and essential Son of God, who dwells in the elect by faith and impels them to do right, and thus is their righteousness, compared with which righteousness the sins of all men are as a drop … View Resource

  • Martin Luther’s Definition of Faith Article by Martin Luther

    Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,” they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.” They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.” That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a … View Resource

  • Of Justification” from “The Westminster Confession of Faith”

    1. Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God. View Resource

  • Forensic Justification Article by Francis Turretin

    Is the word Justification always used in a forensic sense in this argument, or also in a moral and physical? The former we affirm, the latter we deny, against the Romanists. View Resource