Paul, Luther, Introspection and the NPP

  Here are a few lines from the summary of a lecture that Krister Stendahl (an early and influential figure in the NPP) gave to the American Psychological Association in September, 1961.  To be fair, in the introduction, the publisher (the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion) noted that this essay, a summary of the lecture, is a “working paper” that was not prepared for major publication (see JSSR, Spring, 1962, pages 261-265).

“…Western interpreters have found the common denominator between Paul and the experiences of Western man, since Paul’s statements about ‘justification by faith’ have been hailed as the answer to the problems which face the honest man in his practice of introspection.”

“A fresh look at the Pauline writings themselves show, however, that Paul was equipped with a rather ‘robust’ conscience.  He was entirely satisfied with his moral achievements under the Law and there were no signs of frustration in his Jewish obedience.  The sin to him was that he had persecuted Christ and his church, and he had no doubt repented from that sin.  As a Christian he was not plagued by a retrospective or introspective conscience.  While he knew his ‘weakness’ he did not call it ‘sin.'”

“The image of a Paul who struggled with his conscience and who, in introspection, suffered under the inability to satisfy the ultimate demands of God…is copied on the experiences of men like Augustine and Martin Luther.”

More: “It has always puzzled historians that no one in the early church seemed to ‘understand’ Paul….  We would venture to suggest that the West for centuries has wrongly surmised that the biblical writers were grappling with problems which are no doubt ours, but which never entered their consciousness….”

At least Stendahl is clear.  Everyone in the Western church has misread Paul.  The poor guy!  You’d think someone, even one person, would get Paul right before 1961! 

shane lems

sunnyside wa