[K:JNWTS 26/2 (2011): 8-29]

Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith: A Review[1]

Scott F. Sanborn

Looking into a still pond, two friends see their reflection. While the reflection looks like them, it is mired by the dross in the pond. So it is when Protestant orthodox biblical theologians look into Watson's book. They find a method of interpreting the Old Testament in light of Paul's own interpretation of biblical texts. But they also see the mire of various higher critical assumptions in Watson. This is especially evident in Watson's view that the Old Testament does not represent a coherent unity but is self-contradictory. Reflection is not reality.

Again, orthodox biblical theologians will discover in Watson a method at odds with E. P. Sanders's view that Paul's quotations of the Hebrew Bible are merely terminological. That is, according to Sanders, when Paul quoted passages in the Hebrew Bible, he only chose those texts because he found terms in them that fit with the argument he wanted to make. For Sanders, Paul was not interpreting the Hebrew Bible; he was simply using it for his own purposes. Since Watson disagrees with Sanders on this point, biblical theologians will see a faint reflection of their own views in Watson's book and may think that Watson opposes the New Perspective on Paul. But this would be a mistake. Instead, they gaze into the dross of the New Perspective on various pages of Watson's tome. For Watson's methodological opposition to Sanders mainly indicates that Watson is following another strand of the New Perspective—that developed by N. T. Wright. Watson may be more critical of Sander's view of covenantal nomism than Wright, and if so, that may seem like a good thing; that is, until we wonder whether this arises from the opposite error of believing that the Mosaic covenant itself was purely legal in character. Nonetheless, when it comes to justification, Watson is essentially in agreement with Wright. And here the biblical theologian cannot go.

At the same time, Protestant orthodox biblical theologians will often find themselves in formal agreement with Watson's method once it has been purged of its higher critical assumptions. And since Watson has done an enormous amount of detailed spade-work in examining the texts that Paul quotes and the interpretations he gives to them, trained biblical theologians may find it worth their effort to peer into this reflection and mine out the useful nuggets from the dross. To initiate this process, we will first examine Watson's method, followed by his posture with respect to higher criticism and the New Perspective on Paul. Then we will look at some of Watson's key interpretations of Paul's quotations of the Old Testament, giving our own evaluation of some of Watson's strengths and weaknesses.

Watson's Methodological Approach

The methodological approach Watson takes in his book is a significant one in the face of so much debate on Paul's view of the law. It also deals with important issues in Pauline hermeneutics. As noted, Watson discusses various passages where Paul quotes the Old Testament. He does this by giving a fairly extensive examination of these texts in their original context in the Hebrew Bible. Sometimes he deals with both the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint. In examining a quotation, Watson also discusses how Paul interprets it, usually examining the context of the epistle where Paul makes the citation.

However, Watson is not satisfied with that. He also compares Paul's interpretation of a particular passage with other interpretations given to the text by Second Temple Jewish authors. Because there is debate about how much later Rabbinic writings reflect the Pharisaic Judaism of Paul's time, Watson does not examine Rabbinic Midrash of the Hebrew Bible. Instead, he looks at the interpretations of or allusions to the relevant texts by the Qumran Community, Jubilees, Baruch, the Wisdom of Solomon, 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra (in spite of the latter's later date).

Watson's examination of the Dead Sea scrolls et al together with the Hebrew Bible and the Pauline texts helps us to see the issues surrounding Pauline interpretation in their broader historical context. Still, the neglect of Rabbinic Midrash may not have been necessary to maintain historical reliability. There are reasons to believe that Rabbinic Midrash also represents patterns of Jewish interpretation carried over from the Pharisaic sect. Those who claim the opposite point to the destruction of the temple and the significant effect it had on the self-perception of the rabbinic community. Nonetheless, historical continuity remained, just as it existed contemporaneously between the Qumran community and the temple cultus. Thus, there is room for further work which assesses these issues of continuity and discontinuity in both groups, comparing and contrasting their interpretive methods with those of Paul.

Still, we believe Watson's approach represents an advance in the field, at least when compared with the other well-known critical works addressing Paul's view of the law. In this respect, Watson clearly distances himself from E. P. Sanders, who believed that Paul only quoted particular passages from the Hebrew Bible because those passages contained terms Paul used in his argument. That is, for Sanders, Paul's criterion for choosing quotations from the Hebrew Bible was purely terminological. Watson notes his disagreement with Sanders on this point, arguing that Paul quoted texts because he believed those texts taught what he was promoting. Part of Watson's goal in analyzing Qumran and pseudepigraphal texts is to indicate Paul's hermeneutical similarity with broader Jewish interpretation of the period. In this way, he hopes to show that Paul's interpretations of the Hebrew Bible are not merely terminological or fanciful. Instead, they represent responsible, legitimate interpretations of the text. The orthodox biblical theologian will find some of these continuities between Paul and his contemporaries helpful for grounding Paul in his historical context. But with this context in mind, orthodox theologians, unlike higher critics, will want to probe the uniqueness of Paul's divine revelation; sometimes looking at the interpretations of Paul's contemporaries will make this glaringly obvious.

Watson found much of his initial inspiration for this approach from reading Richard Hays's Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (1993). In it, Hays sought to show that many New Testament passages allude to the Hebrew bible even when they do not quote it directly. Watson mostly restricts his own examination to Pauline texts in which Paul explicitly quotes the Old Testament. Nonetheless, his dependence on Hays indicates that he follows in a line of New Testament studies that indirectly opposes Sanders. My own professor, Hendrikus Boers, believed that Hays's work was a move toward Christian orthodoxy, which Boers opposed. Thus, no doubt, some will see Watson's work as a move toward orthodoxy and a rejection of their own higher critical agendas. But we should not be misled; Watson (no less than Hays) uses higher critical methods whenever they serve his purposes.

Watson and Higher Criticism

While Watson does not buy into every higher critical interpretation of the text (e.g., the disconnection between Lev. 18 and 26), he is essentially a higher critic with respect to the Hebrew Bible. This is especially evident in his view that there are pluralities of voices within the law which are contradictory. He even ascribes this view to Paul by misusing Gal. 3:19, in which Paul states that the law was "ordained through angels." Watson claims that here Paul implies that different angels gave different aspects of the law. The result is that some texts in the law contradict others—they have different angelic authors. For Watson then, contradictions found in Paul are actually contradictions in the law itself as Paul reads it. But this is a misreading of Paul, who implies nothing of the sort. Watson reads the text as if Paul means to focus on the unique quality of individual angels who might act in contradictory ways from one another. However, Paul states that the law was ordained, meaning that it was ordained by the one God who does not contradict himself. The angels were under God's divine supervision, which suggests that they were not individual agents who acted at variance with God or one another. Some may counter our claim by arguing that the Greek word we have translated ordained should be translated commanded (or ordered, directed) and that the ones doing the commanding are the angels, not God. However, even if this were granted, their agency is through one mediator, Moses. Thus, Paul does not present a plurality which opposes unity, as if he meant to imply contradiction.

These views of Watson are indeed troubling; however, they are presented infrequently enough that the reader who is aware of them can sort out this mire as it occurs in the book. In our view, higher critical examinations do not play such a large role in his analysis of every text that they undermine the usefulness of his interpretations at a formal level. Still, this book is not recommended for the lay reader, but is better left to the trained eye, those who can sort out the dross and find the truly useful nuggets remaining.

Sympathetic to the New Perspective on Paul

Watson's assessment of the New Perspective on Paul (hereafter the NPP) is somewhat mixed, though mostly sympathetic. At one time, Watson was a student of N. T. Wright. He says that going through Romans with Wright was an eye-opening experience—one that indicated that the church had often misunderstood Romans. Watson is also sympathetic to E. P. Sanders and his work which sparked the NPP. However, Watson's book may be seen as a large-scale critique of Sander's view that Paul's quotations were merely chosen for terminological correspondence (as noted above). Watson also continually takes exceptions to Sanders interpretation of intertestamental Judaism. In addition, he rejects other standard positions in the NPP. Among these is the view that Paul only opposed the imposition of the ceremonial law on Gentile Christians. On the other hand, Watson rightly maintains that when Paul critiques the works of the law as a means of justification, he is including the whole law. He is also discussing the justification of both Jew and Gentile. In this respect, Watson is departing from earlier torchbearers of the NPP such as Sanders and James Dunn.

In spite of these factors, Watson shows himself to be essentially sympathetic to the NPP's rejection of the Reformation's doctrine of justification. Following N. T. Wright, he does not believe that justification deals with personal salvation. For Watson, justification is simply a way of discussing the objective historical transition that takes place between the law and Christ. As such, it is Paul's hermeneutic for approaching the Hebrew Bible. It is not, however, a forensic category involving the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Thus, while his historical and hermeneutical insights are illuminating at points, he is ultimately no friend of Protestant orthodoxy. We agree that in his teaching of justification, Paul deals extensively with hermeneutical issues and the interpretation of texts from the Hebrew Bible. But this does not mean that his doctrine of justification is simply swallowed up in the linear historical transition from the law to Christ and Paul's corresponding interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. Instead, it is a forensic, eschatological teaching found in the righteousness of Christ imputed to believers by faith alone at the end of the ages. Watson's failure to make these vertical eschatological connections (in which union with Christ's righteousness is central) reveals his remaining attachments to the NPP.

With these things in mind, we will now look at a number of Watson's analyses of Paul's interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.

Habakkuk 2:4

Watson first deals extensively with Hab. 2:4 ("the righteous shall live by his faith") because Paul quotes it in Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11. Watson's analysis is very extensive and helpful at certain points. For instance, he shows that Hab. 2:2-3 connects Hab. 2:4 to the concluding prophecy in the book (Hab. 3:17-18). That is, Habakkuk 2:2-3 deals with the vision concerning the appointed time. It is to be inscribed on tablets that the one who reads it may run (Hab. 2:2), moving toward the appointed time described in Hab. 3:17-18. Watson's analysis suggests that those who trust God's word will receive the blessing described at the end of the book. Their justification is thereby tied to their possession of these eschatological blessings. We appreciate these formal connections because they strengthen our conviction that Hab. 2:4 looks ahead to the eschatological day described in Hab. 3:17-18. In other words, Habakkuk is prophesying the day of eschatological justification. Paul is, therefore, claiming that that day has arrived; it is semi-realized now. God's people have received semi-eschatological justification in Christ.

Despite his helpful suggestions, Watson still presents a flat interpretation of Habakkuk's eschatology, in keeping with his higher critical assumptions. That is, while he does suggest that Hab. 3 looks ahead to the eschatological promises, he does not seem to recognize that the eschatological inheritance is possessed in Hab. 3:17-18. For Watson, those in Hab. 3:17-18 are waiting patiently because they are looking ahead to those promises. However, we would suggest that the future anticipation described in Hab. 3:17-18 also suggests an anticipation of and a participation in those blessings before the consummation. That is, Hab. 3:17 speaks of the prophet being denied the blessings of the land. The one who trusts in the Lord even though he does not possess the blessings of Canaan still possesses the substance of those blessings in their eschatological relation. Therefore, those of Hab. 3:17-18 (primarily the prophet himself) are laying hold of the eschatological inheritance by faith before the time. As a result, they are satisfied with this superlative inheritance even while they are denied the inferior inheritance of blessings of the land. This is not to deny that the eschatological blessings will arrive in greater abundance in the future. For even though Habakkuk and others in his time laid hold of these promises by faith (Hab. 3:17), Paul believes that they are possessed all the more abundantly in Christ in the new era (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). In Christ, the church presently possesses the eschatological blessings of which Habakkuk prophesied, now semi-realized.

Habakkuk promised that God would bring a righteous eschatological inheritance in Christ that can never be cursed. Watson does not understand this. If he had, he might have recognized this theme in Gal. 3:14 and 17 (following Gal. 3:11). Here Paul teaches that the semi-eschatological age has arrived because the eschatological gift of the Spirit is the promised eschatological inheritance. That inheritance goes beyond the law. It is heavenly; it is above, and she is our mother in Christ (Gal. 4:26).

It is true that Watson notes Paul's focus on the inheritance in Gal. 3. However, he does not connect this with the heavenly/eschatological inheritance. For Paul, as we see it, the New Testament church now participates in this transcendent inheritance in a way that surpasses Old Testament Israel's possession of it. Thus, we speak of the present period as semi-eschatological. We have moved beyond the Old Testament theocracy and the provisional inheritance of the land of Israel. God alleviated the curse on Israel and caused her to participate in greater blessings in that inheritance to the degree that she obeyed his law. Of course, God only promised Israel blessings in the land because his saints were perfectly justified by grace alone through faith alone. God's Spirit worked obedience in the hearts of his people to keep the law. Thus, it was by grace. Nonetheless, the more Israel kept the law (by grace) the more God blessed her in the land—and the more he took the curse from the land.

However, the inheritance/land itself was never declared perfectly justified and could not be, weak as it was through the flesh. But now in Christ, God has brought everlasting righteousness. He has justified his people in relationship to everything that is their inheritance in Christ. As a result, he has given them a fuller possession of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. That is, he has given them the eschatological gift of the Spirit, foretold by the prophets. This is the essential teaching of Gal. 3.

Unfortunately, Watson does not develop the semi-eschatological nature of the inheritance in Gal. 3. Instead, he simply notes that Paul's use of the term inheritance shows that salvation is a gift of grace. Good as far as it goes, but this does not get to the heart of the semi-eschatological fulfillment of the text, which this reviewer believes is at the heart of the issue.

Genesis 15:6

Watson's comparison between Abraham and Phinehas (Ps. 106: 30-31; Num. 25:7-11) is interesting, especially when he ties this to 1 Maccabees. Among other things, he suggests that the comparison indicates that Abraham was justified by one act of faith like Phinehas who was justified by one work. In this way, he seeks to argue that Abraham's one act of faith is not to be seen as the culmination of his many works. As Phinehas was justified by one work (even though he had others, Num. 31:6), Abraham was justified by one act of faith, even though he has numerous acts of righteousness ascribed to him in Genesis. But these did not justify him.

However, Watson leaves the impression that Phinehas was actually justified by works. That is, Watson leaves the impression that Phinehas's work was imputed to him as righteousness in precisely the same way that Abraham's faith was imputed to him for righteousness. Perhaps 1 Maccabees, which focuses its heroes on this act, taught this. However, Paul would not have tolerated this claim. Paul applies Ps. 14:1-3 ("there is none righteous, not even one", Rom. 3:10) to every human being throughout history. For Paul, Phinehas is not excluded from this. He is also in need of the justification by grace alone through faith alone articulated in Rom. 3-4.

Further, Watson's exposition suggests that only one act of Abraham's faith united him to God's justifying verdict rather than his whole life of faith. Agreed. Paul teaches that Abraham was fully justified by faith before his circumcision. His accumulated acts of faith did not add up collectively to justify him. At the same time, Paul does not deny that Abraham's continuous faith that followed thereafter continued to unite him to his justifying righteousness, a perfect and complete righteousness that was imputed to him when he was first justified. Thus, when we speak of Abraham's later faith continuing to unite him to his justifying righteousness, we are not speaking here of the Roman Catholic view that justification develops, as if Abraham was not fully justified in Gen. 15 and became more and more justified as his life developed. No, Paul makes clear in Rom. 4:10-12 that Abraham was fully justified in Gen. 15 before he was circumcised. At the same time, his later faith must have focused on this same justifying verdict, not something different. That is, the faith that Abraham exercised after Gen. 15 continued to focus on and unite him to that justifying verdict which was complete and perfect before those operations of faith.

On this point, Paul connects Abraham's faith in Gen. 17 with his justification in Gen. 15 (Rom. 4:17-25). First, Paul asserts that Abraham's faith in the promise that God would make him a father of many nations (Rom. 4:17, Gen. 17:5) was associated with his justification (Rom. 4:22, Gen. 15:6). Second, Paul claims that Abraham's faith that God would bring life to Sarah's dead womb (Rom. 4:19-21) united him to the justifying verdict of Gen. 15:6 (Rom. 4:22). This promise of life to Sarah's dead womb is clearly given in Gen. 17: 15-16, and Abraham appears to have trusted it by Gen. 18:9-15, if not in his obedience to the covenant of circumcision already in Gen. 17 (vv. 23-27). The fact that Paul is not alluding to anything earlier than Gen. 17 is further indicated when Paul states that at that time Abraham was about one hundred years old (Rom. 4:19), and Gen. 17 opens, stating that Abraham was ninety-nine years old (Gen. 17:1). Thus, Paul associates Abraham's later faith in Gen. 17 with the faith and justifying verdict that comes before them in Gen. 15:6 (Rom. 4:22). Perhaps this is because Abraham's exercise of faith in both instances anticipates Christ's justifying resurrection (Rom. 4:25).

Leviticus 18:5

E. P. Sanders argued that Paul did not believe that Judaism taught a form of works righteousness, only a form of covenantal nomism. On this assumption, Paul did not believe that Lev. 18:5 was interpreted in Second Temple Judaism to mean that one would attain eternal life by obedience to the law. In fact James Dunn, seeking to support Sanders, denied that eternal life was referred to in Lev. 18:5, interpreting that passage as a tautology. For Dunn, "The one who does these things will live by them" only means 'the one who practices these things will practice these things'. This eliminates any allusion to life as the reward of obedience. Watson takes on this assumption of the NPP. He shows that Josephus (also trained as a Pharisee) believed the passage promised eternal life for obedience and concludes that it is not unreasonable to assume that Paul believed the same thing. Watson also shows how this phrase is interpreted by Ezekiel to refer to life as the reward of obedience. Leviticus itself also focuses on life as a reward in Lev. 26 and Watson rightly ties this reward to life in the land.

However, when Watson draws these observations together, we believe he does not give due justice to Paul or Leviticus. For instance, he argues that Leviticus and Paul interpreted the passage differently. For Watson, while Leviticus referred the life promised to life in the land, Paul interpreted it as eternal life. This suggests two things for Watson. First, it implies that Paul did not interpret Leviticus in terms of its own historical context. Second, it suggests that Leviticus's promise had no higher aim than life in the land.

Another flaw in Watson's interpretation is that he undermines grace in Leviticus in the attempt to undo Sander's claim of covenantal nomism. Watson teaches that Leviticus itself does not teach that electing grace stands behind the duty imposed in Lev. 18:5. If pressed with the fact that Leviticus deals with sacrifice, Watson responds that this sacrifice is imposed as a duty. While opposing Sanders with his view that later Judaism's understanding of the Mosaic covenant was gracious, not legalistic, Watson also opposes Protestant orthodoxy with its view that the Mosaic covenant within the Hebrew Bible is essentially a covenant of grace. This is implied by Watson's view that sacrifice is not more fundamental than obedience and does not form the presupposition of obedience. Instead, he maintains that obedience is as equally fundamental to the covenant as sacrifice and atonement. In this, he seeks to disagree with Sander's ascription of covenantal nomism to Second Temple Judaism. However, in so doing, he wrongly asserts that Leviticus itself does not represent God's sovereign administration of redeeming grace to Israel.

Watson may believe that there are different voices in the law singing a different tune (though he may not apply this to the nature of the covenant). However, Watson implies that the Mosaic covenant (as represented in Leviticus) is not a covenant of grace. It is not even a covenant of grace uniquely legally administered (a position Watson does not consider). Instead, it is a fundamentally legal covenant.

This is a serious flaw in his analysis and puts him again outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy. In opposing Watson on this point, we are not denying that the conditional promises of Lev. 18:5 have a unique function within the Mosaic covenant. Nor are we denying that Paul contrasts this unique function to the accomplishment of Christ's work. In this respect, Watson's analysis is formally useful. What we are objecting to is the paradigm Watson is using to account for this contrast. And that paradigm is implicitly one of merit.

Watson's analysis suggests that obedience to the law (a la the Mosaic covenant) was the material cause of Israel's continuing possession of the land. In response, we contend that it was only the instrumental means by which Israel retained possession of the land. That is, for Watson, Israel's obedience to the law was the ground of her blessings. These blessings were not grounded in electing grace. We on the other hand believe that God's electing and justifying grace of the believing in Israel was the ground of Israel's blessings in the land. This was true both of Israel's initial entrance into the land and of their continual retention of those blessings. The faith and obedience (whether genuine or simply professed) of the whole people was merely the instrumental means by which they received those blessings.

Watson may believe that his position is the only way to do justice to the newness of the new era, taught by Paul. If this is the case, we briefly respond here, suggesting how the Mosaic covenant can be essentially a covenant of grace and yet be surpassed by the new age, with its greater abundance of grace. With the coming of Christ, things have changed in degree, not in kind. Christ has taken upon himself the ground of our salvation. He has fully borne the curse of the law. To be more precise, he has swallowed up in this ground something that was previously administered to Israel by the instrumental means of the law. That is, the ground has eternally removed the curse. Therefore, the church no longer receives blessings as opposed to curses by the instrumental means of their faith and obedience. This is now unnecessary because the church has already received a curseless inheritance above. This has been imputed to her by grace alone through faith alone. All that is left is to store up blessings upon blessings by means of faith and obedience.

Watson does not use the phrase "material causation", explicitly claiming that Israel's obedience was the material cause of her land blessings, but we believe this is the implication. Also, Watson does not specifically say that Israel merits the land. However, by essentially making the Mosaic covenant a works covenant, this is the necessary conclusion. Thankfully, Watson does not discuss these matters continuously throughout the volume, but they are in the background. As a result, while making use of his exegetical studies, we must sort out these presuppositions. They do not make the book worthless as it contains a lot of detailed exegetical and historical analysis that is more prominently in the foreground. But they should make us rather cautious.

At least on the subject of merit, we can point to one positive thing in Watson's book. He rejects the view that Abraham merited the land, a view arising from a Jewish misinterpretation of Gen. 22. Watson points to this Jewish interpretation of Gen. 22. Then he states that it is at odds with the Pauline view of Abraham.

Galatians 3 and Leviticus 18:5

The importance of the Lev. 18:5 quotation in Gal. 3 leads us to another prominent oversight in Watson's analysis. As with Habakkuk, Watson misses the significance of the eschatological inheritance in Gal. 3. This is surprising since he is so thorough in his analysis of Rom. 4 by contrast. Had he done a similar examination of Gal. 3, he would have recognized the significance of the inheritance in 3:18. At least Watson recognizes the eschatological import of the Spirit promised to the Gentiles in 3:14. However, since he fails to connect this with the inheritance in 3:18, he misses the fact that Paul is making an accurate interpretation of Lev. 18:5.

As we have stated, Watson believes that Leviticus itself (in its own historical context) speaks of blessings in the earthly land of Canaan, and that seems to be it. (Here he is at one with the Anabaptists of the 16th century.) On the other hand, Paul (as Watson sees it) interprets the promised life of Lev. 18:5 to be eternal life. Thus, Watson wrongly sees a disjunction between Lev. 18:5 in its historical context and Paul's interpretation of the passage. But even his assessment of Paul's interpretation of Lev. 18:5 is shortsighted. For while he recognizes that Paul interprets the life in Lev. 18:5 to refer to eternal life, Watson limits this to the eternal life of the individual (ordo salutis). He misses the fact that Paul is also (and fundamentally) interpreting the passage redemptive-historically. That is, for Paul (as we see it) Lev. 18:5, in the context of the book as a whole and its interpretation by the prophets, promises the arrival of the historical kingdom of God for perfect obedience, a promise only truly made to and fulfilled by the Messiah.

In other words, Watson believes that Paul is simply speaking of eternal life in its individual sense of personal eschatology, not in its corporate, historical sense of eschatological inheritance. However, as we have noted, each of these are half-truths at best. Instead, as we see it, Paul was teaching the semi-eschatological arrival in the present time of the future age—the age foretold by the prophets. He was looking at this future age in terms of the eschatological gift of the Spirit—the eschatological inheritance. And this is confirmed by the connection of Gal. 3:14 with 3:18 and the way they interpret Paul's quotations of the Hebrew Bible in Gal. 3. But here we do not have space to expound upon this chapter and its quotations further.

Paul therefore believed that when Leviticus promised life in the land (Israel's inheritance) for obedience, what Leviticus was ultimately promising (hypothetically) was the coming of the eschatological inheritance for perfect obedience to the law. There was to Paul's mind an organic relationship between the inheritance of Canaan (in which the Spirit was especially present) and the eschatological inheritance.

Watson does not see this. Is it because he continues to maintain the NPP belief that Paul does not suggest that the law requires perfect obedience for life? However, we believe that this NPP view is mistaken. As we see it, Paul did imply that the law requires perfect obedience for life. This is because those who are cut off from Christ must be obligated to keep the law in the same way that he did, that is, if they are to obtain life thereby (Gal. 5:3-4). And Christ kept it perfectly. This does not mean that within the context of the Mosaic covenant of grace Israel was required to have perfect obedience as a means of participating in the blessings of the land. Instead, it is only when someone cuts themselves off from the salvation of God that the law requires them to obey it perfectly if they are to have life. But now as sinners, this is morally impossible for them to attain. And as those under God's wrath, it is naturally impossible.

However, from the gracious nature of the Mosaic covenant, E. P. Sanders and his followers wrongly concluded that Paul does not find in Lev. 18:5 a requirement of perfect obedience for eternal life. While Watson rejects some of the NPP, he still maintains Sanders's position at this point.

The traditional Protestant view, of course, is that the law hypothetically promises eternal life for perfect obedience. To further support this view, we suggest an argument from the inheritance in Gal. 3. There Paul makes an organic link between the inheritance in the land and the eschatological inheritance. We believe this implies another organic link—that between the obedience required for life in the land and the obedience required for the arrival of the eschatological inheritance. That is, just as the inheritance granted in the eschatological age has the character of eschatological perfection, so also the obedience required for the coming age must have the nature of perfection. Both the inheritance and the obedience required are eschatological superlatives.

As a result, he who is separated from Christ is obligated to keep the whole law intensively as well as extensively in order to have eternal life (Gal. 5:3). That is, before the coming of Christ, one could live under the bondage of the older administration by faith because one was looking ahead through it to Christ to come. However, if people reject Christ now that he has done his work (Gal. 3:1), they show that they were not looking ahead to him through the law. Instead, they were treating the law as if it were essentially a covenant of works. As a result, they are separated from the life of Christ. In this way, they live under the Mosaic covenant as if it were a covenant of works and they are obligated to keep it perfectly in order to inherit eternal life thereby. That is, by rejecting the essence of the Mosaic covenant (Christ), they are separate from that essence. Instead, they live only under its formal administration without grace. This is the same thing as living under the covenant of works under which all depraved sinners have lived since the fall of Adam. The law has become purely a covenant of works for them and they live under its absolute curse and bondage.

As a result of Paul's doctrine of human depravity, we must conclude that he considered the promise of life for perfect obedience to be only hypothetical. No sinner would be morally capable of performing it or ontologically capable of averting God's wrath thereby. And this must also be said of the implicit promise that perfect obedience to the law was required to bring the eschatological inheritance above. This promise implicitly requires perfection. It demands perfect obedience to the law, one that deals with the sin and curse already upon the world. For Paul, only Christ can accomplish this by his cursed death. Only as a human can he bear the wrath of his fellow human beings. And only as God can he bear infinite and eternal wrath in a moment of time. This is why Paul says, "If righteousness comes by the law, Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21).

Exodus and Numbers

Watson rightly shows how the beginning of the book of Numbers gives us the exodus generation who die in the wilderness by the end of the book. Paul's statement that "the letter kills" (2 Cor. 3:6) fits with this narrative pattern. The letter that killed in Numbers also works itself out in the historical life of Israel after her entrance into the land. As a result, Paul can write "the letter kills" with respect to the whole old covenant period.

Watson discusses Moses' veil in 2 Cor. 3:13-16 in light of a full discussion of the place of his veil in Numbers. Watson argues that Moses was only veiled after addressing the people and before appearing before God once again. While the text does not state in propositional language the reason Moses veiled his face, it prods the reader to raise this question. Watson discusses non-Pauline responses to this question, including the view that Moses veiled his face so as not to interrupt daily business in the camp. But for Paul, Watson argues, Moses veiled his face so the Israelites could not look upon the fading of its glory. Watson believes that Paul is providing a responsible interpretation of the text; he is not simply imposing his views on the passage. We would add to this that Paul has given the proper interpretation of the text. This can be seen from the clues of the old covenant's insufficiency in Numbers (the people die in the wilderness) and from the unreasonableness of other alternative interpretations of Moses' veil, not to mention Pauline inspiration.

Watson's interpretation also presses toward an eschatological understanding of 2 Cor. 3 and 4, which he does not elaborate. Here we focus on 2 Cor. 3:18, "we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." Does Watson mean to imply that, for Paul, we in the new covenant are continually in the presence of the glory of Christ? If so, Watson does not seem to expand this in an eschatological direction. However, if his interpretation is correct, then God's appearance to Moses is for Paul an eschatological intrusion of the glory of Christ's resurrection life. And that intruded reality has now come to its fullness in the historical realization of Christ's resurrection. So now we all with unveiled faces are being continually transformed by the glory of the resurrected Christ, as we continually behold his glory by faith. Thus, the end of the ages has come upon us. And the fullness of the substance of the law is found in Christ and his everlasting glory.

Watson continues his discussion of Numbers with the theme of death in the wilderness and forbidden desire. In this section, he traces the story of how Israel desired evil things in the desert and then connects this evil desire to 1 Cor. 10 and Rom. 7. In our opinion, he rightly relates Rom. 7 to Israel under the Law. He also makes a necessary qualification here not made by many other New Testament scholars, namely that Rom. 7 does not deal with the wicked wilderness generation but with those who truly loved the law. The righteous in Israel found in themselves similar evil desires, but they struggled against these desires and did not indulge them in a continuous life of wickedness, as we find among the ungodly. Thus, while this is not always clear in his book, Watson seems to imply that Rom. 7 refers to the true saints of the old covenant. In our opinion, this is correct.

Watson supports this by comparing Paul's language of desire in Rom. 7 to the desire of Israel in the wilderness. However, this is only his secondary support. His primary support comes from Paul's emphasis on the transition from the time before the giving of the law to the time afterwards (Rom. 7:9). It is within this framework that he analyzes Paul's language of desiring evil things. Watson's study primarily focuses on intertextual issues in Paul. However, this is a place where his argument could have been strengthened by a fuller analysis of the rhetorical structure of Rom. 7 (though he touches on it).

The Wisdom of Solomon

Watson deals with the Wisdom of Solomon, attempting to compare and contrast it to Paul. For instance, he looks at the claim (common among New Testament scholars) that Paul draws on the book of Wisdom in Rom. 1. Watson accepts the view that Paul was probably familiar with the book based on his rabbinic training. However, he believes (contrary to numerous NT scholars) that Paul is not dependent on Wisdom. Instead, Watson believes that Paul is responding to Wisdom by way of contrast.

Watson also compares and contrasts the book of Wisdom's interpretation of the relationship between Exodus and Numbers with Paul's view of the contrast between Genesis and Numbers. The writer of Wisdom often makes comparisons between the Exodus plagues on Egypt and the blessings given to Israel in the wilderness. For example, Wisdom contrasts the plague of turning the Nile into blood (which would have reduced Egypt's water supply) to God's benevolent gift of water to Israel in the wilderness. Watson examines numerous such parallels in Wisdom. He then suggests that Paul, on the other hand, places greater stress on the contrast between the blessings of Genesis and the curses on the wilderness generation (Numbers).

Deuteronomy 30:12-14

Watson's higher critical views are more prominent in his analysis of Paul's quotation of Deut. 30:12-14 in Rom. 10:6-8. Watson claims that in its original context Moses understood Deut. 30:12-14 to refer to the law, but Paul interprets it "according to the theological logic of the book of Deuteronomy" (438). That is, Paul interpreted it in light of the Song of Moses in Deut. 32 and therefore as a reference to the gospel (473). In this way, one may think that Watson seeks to provide some justification for Paul's interpretation of Deut. 30, one that will persuade his higher critical colleagues who believe that Paul misquoted the passage. However, we should not be misled. Watson clearly shows his higher critical hand in the way he expands upon it, as seen from the following quotation. Watson writes:

In spite of the reasonableness of the appeal to "choose life", Paul does not find Moses' eloquence to be irresistible. On the contrary, his one citation from this chapter is so extensively rewritten and corrected that it can no longer be ascribed to Moses' authorship. The Righteousness of faith speaks through Moses' words, but also against them (cf. Rom. 10:6-10). The disagreement is profound, and is not simply a matter of minor adjustments or reinterpretations. If Moses is right, and if the question of life or death hinges on law observance, then Christ died and rose in vain. The truth in Moses' words is to be found only in their almost inaudible anticipations of the righteousness of faith. As they stand, they threaten to undermine the very truth of the gospel. Their teaching is summarized in the text Paul likes to cite from Leviticus: "The one who does these things shall live by them" (Lev. 18:5; Gal. 3:12, Rom. 10:5) (474)

We not only reject this higher critical discussion but also the interpretation that Watson gives to Paul's use of Deut. 30. In his interpretation of Deut. 30, Watson assumes the higher critical view that to interpret a text in its historical context is to give it one monolithic referent. That is, the text cannot have a reference to its own historical context which is simultaneously prophetic of the eschatological era.

However, we believe that the Hebrew Bible is properly interpreted in terms of the administration of grace at that time which is then simultaneously prophetic of the work of Christ and his administration of greater grace in the new era. This is because the grace of the former era is an intrusion of Christ's grace to come.

Paul recognizes this in the way he contrasts two texts from the Old Testament. He takes two texts from the Hebrew Bible, both of which can be seen in light of the older administration and both of which can be seen in light of their fulfillment in Christ. That is, each text can be understood properly both in relationship to the manner in which they administered God's grace to Israel of old and in relationship to the greater grace that has come in Jesus Christ. Then Paul can contrast one text, interpreted in light of its relationship to the older administration to another text interpreted in light of the new administration. Each text stands on a continuum in the history of redemption and each has its legitimate organic unfolding in the new era. The key to answering Watson's error is to unfold the true organic nature of Paul's quotation of Deut. 30, showing how Paul's interpretation flows naturally out of the organic movement from the older administration to the new. In this way, we will see how Paul legitimately contrasts Deut. 30 to Lev. 18:5 understood in relation to the grace it (Lev. 18:5) administered in the older administration. That is, Paul contrasts Lev. 18:5 (understood in light of the old) to Deut. 30 (understood in the light of the new).

Watson's error also includes the belief that Lev. 18:5 has no prophetic reference, but that it simply refers to the older administration. This is why he interprets Paul's evaluation of Lev. 18:5 (Christ is the end of the law) to refer only to the abrogation of the law and not also to the goal of the law. If on the other hand, Lev. 18:5 finds its goal in Christ then it is prophetic of the eschatological era. However, for Watson, not even Paul interpreted it this way. He believes Paul interpreted Lev. 18:5 only in respect to the administration of the law at the time of Moses. Thus, for Watson, Lev. 18:5 is abolished, but not fulfilled.

Watson's position represents the error of assuming that Paul himself held to a monolithic interpretation of texts in the Hebrew Bible just like the higher critic. Watson implies that Paul interpreted Lev. 18:5 only in light of the older administration and he interpreted Deut. 30 only in light of the new administration. However, we believe that Rom. 10 reveals that Paul interpreted both Lev. 18:5 and Deut. 30:12-14 in light of both the older and newer administrations. That is, Paul recognized the fulfillment of Lev. 18:5 (that Christ is the goal of the law) and he recognized the positive element of the law in Israel in the older administration, now fulfilled in Christ. This is the case, even though Paul emphasizes the function of Lev. 18:5 in terms of the administration of grace in the old era and contrasts it to Deut. 30:12-14 seen in light of the greater grace in the new era.

Thus, we will take a brief look at how Paul's use of Lev. 18:5 might be understood in terms of goal as well as abrogation before moving on to Deut. 30:12-14. Watson claims to hold his view because Lev. 18:5 (quoted in Rom. 10:5) sets the law in antithesis to the gospel, thus implying the law's abrogation, not its fulfillment. This antithesis is set out by the adversative "but" at the beginning of the next verse (v. 6). And this "but" contrasts Lev. 18:5 with Deut. 30:12-14.

We admit that a real adversative exists. But this does not mean that the passage needs to be interpreted simply as the law's abolition and not also as the law's goal. The one does not necessarily exclude the other. Paul can speak of the law's formal administration being abolished insofar as Christ has fulfilled it (abolition and goal). And he can speak of the law's essence coming to its fullness (goal) in Christ. Looked at this way, we would suggest that insofar as Paul is contrasting the old covenant to the new comprehensively, he is only making a relative contrast. On the whole, he is not making an absolute contrast. He is only making an absolute contrast within the limited sphere in which the law is abolished. That is, Paul is speaking about an organic development from the period of the law to the new era of semi-eschatological righteousness. He is not describing something totally new. From this point of view, Paul can speak about the law as fulfilled. It is fulfilled in such a way that its old formal administration passes away for God's people. In this respect, we are treated to a fulfillment that both brings the law to its fullness and abolishes its former administration. Christ is the goal of the law.

This is all that is necessary to explain the adversative in Rom. 10:6 which contrast Paul's quotations of Lev. 18:5 and Deut. 30:12-14. To see this, let us briefly consider how Lev. 18:5 has been abrogated and fulfilled. Then we can see how Paul contrasts its abrogation with the positive fulfillment of Deut. 30:12-14. Lev. 18:5 has been abrogated insofar as it promised those in Israel a long life in the land to the degree that they were obedient to the law. But it has been fulfilled insofar as Christ has perfectly kept the law and been rewarded with the eschatological inheritance for his people. Thus, that which is loosely called abrogated is so only insofar as it is fulfilled in Christ. This suggests that there are two ways that this passage can be viewed, positively and negatively—from the point of view of fulfillment and of abrogation. In citing Lev. 18:5, Paul focused on its abrogation in light of its fulfillment so that he might contrast it with the positive fulfillment of Deut. 30:12-14 in Christ.

Now we will consider how Paul's positive fulfillment of Deut. 30:12-14 in Christ is dependent upon a positive assessment of the law in the life of Israel under the older administration. As with Lev. 18:5, Paul interprets Deut. 30:12-14 both in light of its positive role in the administration of grace to Israel as well as in its fulfillment in Christ, even though he focuses on the later. This implies that Paul has given us an accurate interpretation of Deut. 30:12-14. He has not "corrected" Deut. 30:12-14 so "that it can no longer be ascribed to Moses' authorship", as Watson claims (474).

What is this positive side of Deut. 30:12-14? That the law is fulfilled in Christ himself and his work and takes hold in the lives of his people. That is, the grace of the law administered to Israel of old has come to its fullness in the administration of grace in the new era. Or to be more precise, now the most fundamental aspect of obedience to the law, namely faith, is embodied and fulfilled in Christ's people. (Faith has come to its fullness.) Paul is not arguing for neonomianism here, as if faith replaces obedience to the law in such a way that faith becomes the ground of justification. No, rather, faith is the alone instrumental means of justification. And faith is only its instrumental means, not its ground or material cause—which is Christ's righteousness alone. In this respect, there is essential unity between the former era and the new.

If there is fundamental unity between the faith of the former era and that of the new era, why does Paul quote Deut. 30:12-14 as if it were prophetic of a greater age of faith in the new? What has changed in the new era? What has changed is that now faith alone is the only instrument by which we receive any covenantal blessings as opposed to curses. For now there is no earthly Canaan, whose earthly blessings Israel received by faith and obedience. This earthly Canaan was also a part of this cursed world so that when Israel received these blessings God also alleviated his covenantal curses on her by means of her faith and obedience. Now that Christ has borne the curse for his people, their only inheritance is in heaven. And as with all the saints throughout history, Christ has totally abolished the curse separating them from heaven. Thus, when the church receives the blessings of sanctification (and the storing up of heavenly riches) by means of faith and obedience, she is not now (nor ever has been) deferring some degree of heavenly curse at the same time. The difference in the new era is that this is the only means by which the church receives covenantal blessings. She no longer receives blessings in the earthly Canaan by the instrumental means of faith and obedience. Faith and obedience no longer function as the means of removing some degree of covenantal curse, as they did for Israel in the earthly paradise of Canaan. Instead, now everything that is considered a covenantal curse is shielded from the people of God by the justifying righteousness of Christ. In other words, that justification by faith alone which is essentially the same for true saints in both the old and new eras has now become for new covenant saints also the only means of alleviating covenantal curses. That older function of the law, to be an instrumental means of removing some degree of covenantal curses has been abolished and fulfilled insofar as faith is now the only instrument for receiving covenantal blessings as opposed to curses. In this way, faith has come to it fullness and we have been made possessors of semi-eschatological justification in Christ.

In accordance with this, we are suggesting that Paul accepted the fact that Deut. 30:12-14 was speaking about the law as it administered grace to Israel of old.. Thereby, for Paul, the text had a direct relationship to the life of Israel at that time. But in this respect, it was a foretaste of the life to come for Israel. Thus, it also prophesied concerning the eschatological future, of which Paul speaks. That reality has now come in Christ, being semi-realized.

The centrality of Christ is the key to understanding how Paul saw in Deut. 30:12-14 the positive affirmation of the law in Israel as a prophetic anticipation of the greater age of faith to come. That is, the grace of the law in Israel (Deut. 30) was a foretaste of the grace of Christ, which has now been fulfilled in his life, death and resurrection. Christ is the pivot and transition from the older era to the greater administration of the new. This transition is found in Christ as the fulfillment and embodiment of the law. Christ fulfilled the law of Deut. 30 (which provisionally promised Israel inheritance blessings by means of her obedience) and thereby Christ brought the eschatological inheritance. In Deut. 30, Moses speaks of the earthly prosperity that would come to Israel for her obedience to the law (Deut. 30: 8-9). Paul's paradigm of fulfillment accords with the fact that Deut. 30:12-14 was speaking about the law and the positive blessings that would come to Israel by means of the law. But for Paul, Deut. 30 also prophesied concerning the eschatological future when Christ would obey the law perfectly and eliminate the curse from everything that was considered the inheritance of God's people. That is, it anticipated the day in which the older function of the law, to be an instrumental means of alleviating some degree of covenantal curses, would be abolished and fulfilled insofar as Christ has now kept the law perfectly. Thereby Christ removed the law from its function of being an instrumental means of receiving blessing as opposed to curse. Faith is now the only instrument for receiving covenantal blessings as opposed to curses because Christ has fulfilled the law in time and space history. In Christ's fulfillment of the law, faith has come to its own.

The positive grace of the law in Israel was a positive intrusion of and anticipation of the grace of Christ, who embodies the law. Watson's interpretation, with that of many others, assumes that the word in Rom. 10 is only the administration or message of faith, not Christ himself. On this assumption, that administration can be viewed as a whole in absolute antithesis to the administration of the law. However, when we see that Paul views Christ as the word, we see that Paul provides the organic link between the older administration and that of the new. Christ was born under the old era, fulfilled it, and thereby brought the new. As a result, the transition from the older administration to the new should be viewed as organic. On the whole, the movement from the old to the new is a relative development, not an absolute antithesis. Therefore, Paul's interpretation of texts from the older administration must be viewed in terms of organic development. This is how, we believe, Paul can use Deut. 30 positively even though from another point of view (if he had viewed it in light of God's administration of earthly prosperity to Israel, Deut. 30:9), he could have contrasted it to the new era.

The fact that Paul believed that Christ fulfilled the law in Rom.10:6-11 (and that he was not simply discussing the faith of Christians) can be seen by the connection between Christ's work and his presence with his people. Verse 8 states "the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart." We believe that Paul implies in this text that Christ is the word, the embodiment of the law. That is, he is the fulfillment of the law because the law has been fulfilled by him. This can be seen by the fact that Christ himself (not simply his word in abstraction) is present with his people. There are several indications of this. The movement of verses 6-8 is one indication. When we consider these verses without Paul's parenthetical comments about Christ in verses 6-7, it is clear that Paul is dealing with the "word" that he discusses in verse 8. That is, do not think that you need to ascend into heaven or descend into the abyss to find the word because it is near you. However, when we consider Paul's parenthetical comments about Christ, we realize that Paul is equating Christ with the word. We need not ascend into heaven or descend into the abyss to find Christ just as one need not do this to find the word. Thus, when Paul speaks of the "word" in verse 8, he continues to imply that Christ is associated with the word. That is, Christ is near you. As a result, Paul equates Christ with the word, making Christ the embodiment of the law and its positive fulfillment.

This equation of Christ with the word of verse 8 is also followed through in the following verses. Verse 9 states that as a result of the word being near you, Christ is your Lord. Verse 12 implies that when Christ is Lord of his people he is present with them. Christ is "Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon him." Because he is Lord, Christ's abundance is present with his people. This further reinforces the connection between Christ and the word in verses 6-8 where "the word is near you" (v. 8).

If Christ is associated with the word, he is the embodiment of the word and its fulfillment. He embodies the word that Paul finds in the text of Deut. 30:12-14. This is the maturation of what Paul already implied in Rom. 8:3-4, namely, that Christ is the fulfillment of the law and thereby the law is fulfilled in us. Also, earlier in Rom. 5:18, Paul discusses the one act of Christ's righteousness. Since righteousness here should be considered in light of its Old Testament background, it appears that Christ's one act of righteousness must be the culmination of his whole life of righteousness. Further, Paul finds the exacerbation of transgression in disobedience to the law, suggesting that the obverse is correct, namely, that righteousness is obedience to the law. The conclusion is that Christ's perfect obedience to the law culminates in his one concluding act of righteousness. Thus, there is every reason to believe that Christ's obedience to the law is within the apostle's purview in Rom. 10:6-8. It also fits with an accurate interpretation of Deut. 30:12-14 in its original context. Therefore, we believe it is the best explanation.

The fact that Paul then relates this to Christians in terms of faith rather than obedience to the law is not a real problem. Paul has already taught that because Christ fulfilled the law, his people no longer live under the older administration of Moses (Rom. 8:1-4). That is, Christ has brought them a semi-eschatological justification through his fulfillment of the whole law, to which they were bound. (Thankfully, Watson believes that the works of the law from which we have been delivered refer to the whole law, not simply to ceremonial boundary markers, as E. P. Sanders teaches.) Thus, for Paul, Christ's fulfillment of the whole law finds expression in their justification. The richness of our text (Rom. 10:3-11) is found in the fact that Paul teaches that both justification and the gift of faith, which unites us to justification, is the reward of Christ's fulfillment of the law.

Therefore, we turn to the way in which Rom. 10:8-10 suggests that faith is the gift of Christ's obedience to the law. After equating Christ with the fulfillment of the word, Paul finds its fulfillment in the word's presence in the heart ("in your mouth and in your heart", v. 8). From such a heart, faith arises (vv. 9-10). This suggests a causal dependency of the heart upon Christ for faith. Faith in the heart appears to be one manifestation of Christ's fulfillment of the law and is thus dependent upon him.

At the same time, Paul distinguishes faith in Christ from the semi-eschatological justification that results (10:10). Again, to use the older dogmatic formulation, faith is not the material cause of justification, simply the instrumental means of appropriating justification. Nonetheless, both justification and the faith that unites us to justification are rewards of Christ's obedience to the law. Justification is the forensic imputation of Christ's obedience to those trusting him. On the other hand, the faith found in their hearts has been infused in them. It appears that Paul's discussion includes both.

This may reinforce the fact that Paul is speaking about the fulfillment of the law, for he is discussing a broad category that includes at least a couple of subcategories. He is not simply discussing one narrow category, namely the contrast between our faith and Israel's obedience to the law, as Watson's interpretation assumes. Instead, Paul's discussion deals with Christ's fulfillment of the law, which has a double result—the imputation of righteousness and the infusion of faith.

This may explain why Paul does not quote every word in Deut. 30:12-14, but instead intersperses it with interpretive comments about Christ as its fulfillment. Paul brings out the implications that were latent in the whole text (even the words that he does not quote) by the way he quotes the passage and comments upon it. That is, in calling for obedience to the law, Paul believed that Moses was ultimately addressing Christ. Thus, Christ's obedience to the law was the text's final referent. Does Paul not say elsewhere that the promises were given to Christ (Gal. 3:16), thereby helping us understand the way he interpreted promises in Scripture. And he does not limit this to the promises given to Abraham. For he says elsewhere that "as many as may be the promises of God, in him they are yes" (2 Cor. 1:20). Clearly, many of God's promises in Scripture are dependent upon obedience to his commandments. Therefore, this connection suggests the way that Paul also viewed the commandments of scripture. Both the commandments and the promises attached to them are ultimately addressed to Christ and fulfilled in him. And this fits with our analysis of Rom. 10. By using language that brings out the implications of the text, Paul appears to reinforce the notion that Christ's obedience to the word of God is fulfilled in the new age. Christ now embodies that word and is present with his people both by the gift of forensic imputation and the gift of faith.

Therefore, it appears that Paul saw in Deut. 30:12-14 a positive reference to Israel's possession of the law which has come to its fullness in Christ, who is the embodiment of the law. And thus in him, we are possessors of semi-eschatological justification by faith. Paul can interpret a text from the Hebrew Bible in terms of its embodiment in the life of Israel as well as its fulfillment in Christ. And sometimes he can contrast one text from the Old Testament seen in relationship to the older administration of grace to Israel (e.g., Lev. 18:5) to another text in relationship to its fulfillment in Christ and the greater administration of grace in the new era (e.g., Deut. 30:12-14). We believe this undermines Watson's fundamental assumption that Paul found in the law a plurality of voices that contradict one another.


In his project to compare Paul to intertestamental Judaism, Watson also analyses aspects of Baruch. He shows that Baruch taught that the future Kingdom of God will arrive as a result of Israel's obedience to the works of the Law. The reviewer found this interesting in light of his own views that Paul appears at many points to be opposing the Jewish view that the kingdom blessings are earthly and will come by obedience to the Law. We believe this is what Paul has in mind in Rom. 9:31-32 when he states, "Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works". That is, they pursued the righteousness of the kingdom (i.e., the arrival of that kingdom) as if it came by works. Paul is not simply speaking of their pursuit of individual justification by works in their own personal experience, though this is involved. He is speaking of their pursuit of a historical era of righteousness. This can be seen from the following verse (Rom. 9:33) and its connection to Rom. 10:11-12. Rom. 9:33 quotes Isaiah 28:16; "he who believes in him will not be put to shame". Then in Rom. 10:11-12, Paul interprets the phrase "whoever believes in him will not be put to shame" (v. 11) by suggesting that the fullness of this text applies to the present time in which "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek" (v. 12). That is, it refers to the eschatological era, now semi-realized in Christ.[2] Therefore Rom. 9:33, which fulfills this same quotation ("...will not be put to shame"), also refers preeminently to the righteousness of the present semi-eschatological era in which the shame that was upon the people of God in exile has been reversed. This informs what Paul says in the previous verses (9:31-32): "Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works". That is, Israel was pursuing the coming time in which their shame would be reversed by their own obedience to the Law. Israel's error was that they believed that the righteous kingdom would come as a result of their obedience to the Law. And while Watson neglects Paul's refutation of this erroneous view, he does help us by finding it in Baruch.

4 Ezra

Watson also analyses 4 Ezra, claiming that Ezra differed from Baruch in some respects. 4 Ezra teaches that the kingdom will arrive on God's timetable, not as a result of Israel's obedience to the law. However, whether an individual Israelite is included in the kingdom will depend on whether he stores up a treasure of obedience to the law. According to Watson, 4 Ezra does not require perfect obedience to the law. But Watson's analysis of this store of good deeds may suggest an older view that each Israelite's inclusion in the future kingdom would depend on whether his righteous deeds outweighed his wicked deeds.

Watson's analysis of Josephus also shows that he believed that Lev. 18:5 applied to individuals and their eternal life. Ezekiel's prophetic warning of life or death for individuals was used in support (Ezek. 33:7-20). The one who is obedient to the law will inherit eternal life (not simply the land of Israel) as a result of that obedience.

The reviewer found these assessments interesting in light of the traditional Reformation view that Paul was critiquing such a Jewish view. According to the Reformers, Paul was not denying that the Jews of his day affirmed some form of grace (as E. P. Sanders was so eager to defend). But at best, for the Reformers, this Jewish view of grace was similar to later Semi-Pelagianism in its synergism. It was also deficient in that it failed to distinguish between Justification and Sanctification. This is essentially what we find in 4 Ezra and Josephus on Watson's analysis, though he does not agree with the implications we have noted in support of the Reformation.

However, the reviewer believes that the Reformation's view of justification is both correct and dovetails with Paul's critique of Jewish eschatology, a la Baruch. Paul interpreted the present in light of the future. Thus, he saw in Israel's belief that they could bring the kingdom by their works, the belief that they could each possess those kingdom blessings by works. That is, if they could bring the righteous kingdom by works, they could possess their own righteous standing before God by works. Paul suggests that the desire to return to the period of the law now that Christ has come is like denying that Christ is the end and goal of the law. It is equivalent to claiming that something other than Christ's death and resurrection (namely human obedience to the law) is the source of kingdom blessings. Paul therefore implies that the only way people could hypothetically attain such blessings by works is if they are perfectly obedient to the law. Israel may not have believed that perfect obedience was the only way to obtain life by works, but Paul did. And Paul realized this was impossible because of human depravity and the curse already placed upon it. Therefore, there is no hope of righteousness apart from Christ both for the arrival of the kingdom and for our participation in it.

Watson, on the other hand, appeals to writers such as N. T. Wright in support of the view that justification in Paul is not related to individual salvation. In this, we see Watson's continued dependence on the NPP even while he tries to jettison some of its main tenets. Beyond this, Watson's view of justification may not be entirely clear. He certainly believes that justification is one of Paul's hermeneutical approaches to interpreting the Hebrew Bible. But what does this mean? Certainly Paul uses the Old Testament in his support of justification and his view of justification grows organically out of the Hebrew Bible. However, we need a more concrete view of how Watson understands this. At best Watson leaves us with the impression that justification means that God's kingdom does not come by means of Israel's obedience to the law, but through the work of Christ. And we are required to trust in Christ alone for this salvation. Of course, justification involves this, but this alone simply puts justification in the realm of the historia salutis. It does not define justification in terms of the application of redemption. That is, to use the older dogmatic classification, Watson does not articulate justification in terms of the ordo salutis. In this respect, Watson is still a man controlled by the NPP, a perspective, which relegates justification to the historical contrast between the old and the new eras.


Ultimately, Watson's approach reduces justification to hermeneutics and is eschatologically flat. In accordance with this, he misses some critical connections of eschatological fulfillment. This is especially evident in his failure to connect the justification of the new era with the heavenly inheritance. Watson also adopts a higher critical view of Scripture, which undermines his analysis at certain points. He even takes this to the absurd conclusion that Paul himself saw different voices in the law (perhaps coming from different angels) that contradicted one another. This view of Scripture implicitly rejects the organic unfolding of Scripture together with true eschatological intrusion and realization. This is one reason he can so uncritically adopt the view that the Mosaic covenant was essentially a covenant of works for Paul. Paul saw this as one voice at odds with the other voice of the promises to Abraham. And while rejecting E. P. Sanders' view of Paul's use of quotations from the Hebrew Bible, Watson still maintains some key presuppositions of the New Perspective on Paul, especially in his rejection of forensic imputation in justification.

This is not a book for a lay audience. Nonetheless, when read critically (with an eye for his higher critical assumptions) those with advanced theological training can profit from the formal work he has done on the text, especially on the extensive contextual studies of the Old Testament passages Paul quotes.

Among critical circles, Watson's book also provides a needed correction to Sander's view (already under fire) that Paul's quotations of the Hebrew Bible are not to be viewed in context. In fact, in the present discussion, Watson's book may represent the most extensive analysis of these quotations in context to date. And following writers such as Simon Gathercole, Watson continues the tradition of critiquing Sander's assumption that intertestamental Judaism is synonymous with covenantal nomism. In these respects the book is useful. Reflection is not reality. Nonetheless, when orthodox biblical theologians sort out the dross, they can find some useful nuggets to expand their horizons. Read with caution by those familiar with the literature on Paul and the Law, this book can provide stimulating reading that can drive you back to the text, where one can find the eschatological riches of divine revelation that Watson himself misses.


[1] Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith. London, New York: T&T Clark, 2004.

[2] This is further enforced by the connection of this passage to Paul's previous claim that he is "not ashamed" of the semi-eschatological revelation of the righteousness of God (Rom. 1:16). Paul's claim here in Rom. 1:16 is in relative contrast to Daniel's shame and disgrace in the former era (Dan. 9: 7-8), which Daniel prophesied would be reversed in the coming age of eternal righteousness (Dan. 9: 24).