Michael Bird, the prolific NT scholar and one of two bloggers at Euangelion, points out that the disagreement about the so called “New Perspective on Paul” can be summed up as a disagreement between “those who want to read their Bible’s historically and those who want to read the Bible theologically.”  He writes:

The difference is between those who say (1) “my authority is Scripture and I am willing to affirm a Confession in so far as it coheres and comports with Scripture”; and (2) those who say “my authority is Scripture as understood by the Confession”. These are not the same thing. The second position is not “truly reformed” and it treats the Confession rather like the Mishnah of the Rabbis or the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.

The tasks of systematic theology, then, are subservient to the tasks of Biblical theology.  Or as Bird puts it:

BUT, Systematics cannot demand that exegesis and historical study conform to its system. Theology may be the “Queen of the Sciences” but she is a puppet Queen sustained by the strings of exegesis and by the hands of biblical scholars.

Of course, the relationship between the two may not be quite that simple.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

One Comment

  1. Bird’s claim seems to oversimplify. In addition to the complexities that Sanders points out, there’s also the implicit notion in Bird’s claim that it’s possible to do “pure” exegesis without being informed by a tradition. Now he might say that that’s true but that truly “reformed” exegesis consciously tries to guard against the tendency to let its “tradition” inform its exegesis. But one could always counter with the claim that trying to consistently practice exegesis that isn’t subservient to a particular tradition is itself a tradition (or at least the forming of a tradition).


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