Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul | Guy Prentiss Waters

Justification and the New Perspectives on PaulGuy Prentiss Waters. Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response. P&R, 2004. 273 pp.

[rate 3]

I just recently came across Perrin’s evaluation of Waters’s Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul (WTSBooks).

“Whatever the merits of Justification and the New Perspectives as a primer on twentieth-century Pauline scholarship, the author has been less than successful in his interaction with the NPP. Indeed, assuming that Waters’s primary goal is to construct a convincing argument against the NPP (and N. T. Wright in particular), the book must be judged to have failed at a fundamental level.”1

I found his assessment to be very similar to what I wrote two years ago.

Waters’s work is a helpful treatment of the issues surrounding the NPP. The value of the book is in its historical survey of Pauline scholarship leading up to the NP and in its very thorough annotated bibliography that orders its entries in chronological order, not according to when they were written but according to the time relevance of their subject matter. That by itself is worth the price of the book. Waters’s writing style is very easy to follow. His points are clearly articulated by “first,” “second,” “third,” etc., which allows the reader to follow the flow of thought with precision and ease. Waters’s critique of the NP is a very small portion of the book and is unfortunately brief and shallow. As a result it seems that Waters is merely regurgitating the traditional Reformed position as assertion rather than argumentation. Where Waters does offer some argumentation, it seems to be based upon presuppositions that Waters just assumes to be true rather than arguing that they are true. Thus, all the consequent argumentation will be discounted by those who do not accept his premises (and for those who do accept them, the argumentation is probably unnecessary!). So in my view, Waters’s book succeeds as a review but largely fails as a response. Certainly he makes some good points along the way. Unfortunately, though, this section of the book, while probably the most crucial in some ways, is the most disappointing.2

Has anyone else read and/or reviewed Waters’s work? I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts.

See also:


  1. Nicholas Perrin, “A Reformed Perspective on the New Perspective,” WTJ 67:2 (Fall 2005): 381-89.
  2. Read my full review—actually, more of a summary with brief evaluation: Word or PDF.

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5 Responses to Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul | Guy Prentiss Waters

  1. Sam May 14, 2007 at 12:29 pm #

    Yeah, most of my WTS classmates at the time thought it was a bit silly. Most of us who read it actually became more sympathetic to NPP as a result.

  2. Phil Gons May 14, 2007 at 12:33 pm #

    Interesting. Thanks for sharing, Sam.

  3. Brian May 15, 2007 at 8:55 pm #

    Several months ago I went to a couple talks Waters gave on the Federal Vision. Waters surveyed the teaching of the WCF, surveyed the teaching of the FV, and showed that the two were incompatible.

    I think the goal was to show that you can’t be a confessing member in a church where the WCF is the doctrinal standard and hold to the FV.

    It seems like Waters had the same goal with his JNPP. If so, it would seem unfair to criticize Waters for simply affirming the traditional position and not undertaking an exegetical response.

    Regarding Sam’s comment about the guys at WTS. When seminarians read what we think is a weak argument for any position, we ought not simply allow our sympathies to move to the other side. Poor arguments may be mounted in defense of right positions and strong arguments may be asserted in defense of wrong positions. We ought to dig in and see if there were better arguments to be mounted.

  4. Phil Gons May 15, 2007 at 9:34 pm #

    Thanks for the thoughts, Brian.

    I’m not so sure, though, that all Waters was attempting to do was to demonstrate that one cannot affirm the Westminster Standards and a form of the NP.

    In the opening section of chapter 8, he states his three areas of critique:

    1. Hermeneutics: “We will show that at a basic level the NPP is flawed hermeneutically.”

    2. Exegesis: “We will show that the exegesis propounded by the Reformers and their heirs is faithful to Paul, and that the revisionist exegesis of E. P. Sanders, J. D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright fails to render satisfactory readings of Paul.”

    3. Theology: “We will show that the theological assumptions and implications of the NPP writings are contrary to good, sound biblical teaching.”

    He undertakes his exegetical critique on pages 158–85, and I must say that, in my view, there was far more asserting going on than arguing. Rather than showing that the Reformation exegesis is faithful to Paul and the NP exegesis isn’t, I got the feeling that he was showing that the NP exegesis was not faithful to the Reformation exegesis (which he merely presupposed was equivalent to Paul). But that is precisely not what he said he was going to do.

    Here’s an example:

    In 2 Corinthians 5:21 . . . , we read that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer. This righteousness cannot be said to be infused into the believer. Were this the case, the parallel structure of this verse would affirm that believers’ sin is infused into Christ, something that Paul expressly denies (172).

    I’m not even sure whom this comment is addressing, but it is hardly a strong exegetical critique of the reading of, say, Wright on this text.

    Don’t get me wrong. I agree with Waters more than I do with Wright, but this portion of the book left me wanting something better.

    I realize serious engagement on the exegetical level would require much more than the 28 pages that Waters devotes to the task. My point, though, was that the books seems to fail to do what it claims to do, at least in this one area.

  5. Brian May 15, 2007 at 11:04 pm #

    I take your point. It’s been a couple years since I read JNPP and I had forgotten that he actually made brief comments on various Scripture texts.

    I had Perrin’s critique in mind when I heard Waters speak on FV and figured his approach there probably explained Perrin’s concern. I hadn’t actually gone back to the book to confirm my hunch.