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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Scholars challenge 'Lutheran' Paul

Studying the letters and theology of Paul at this moment in history presents an enormous challenge. The field of Pauline studies is in disarray, with many contradictory results presented. This blurs many significant achievements in the field.

Letter to the RomansFor Lutherans such study is even more difficult, since some scholars insist that Martin Luther grossly distorted Paul's theology. A key challenge to Luther's and the "Lutheran" reading of Paul comes from a movement known as the "new perspective," which includes E.P. Sanders, retired professor of religion at Duke University, Durham, N.C., and N.T. Wright, bishop of Durham, Church of England.

Together they offer a sustained critique of the Lutheran understanding of Paul and, especially, its alleged distortion of Judaism. Wright is harshest in his criticism of the so-called "Lutheran mind-set" and most adamant in attempting to rewrite Paul, according to his own agenda.
He insists that Pauline scholars today need to find categories to interpret Paul other than "the thin, tired and anachronistic ones of Lutheran polemic." Wright and others say Luther retrojected his 16th-century religious context back into the first century and, in the process, distorted both Judaism and Paul.


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