Campbell: what did Paul mean by “justified”?

Here’s an excerpt from the first part of a review of a book I’ve been interested in since I first heard about it. It’s from the New Perspective school of thinking, and at 1218 pages it promises to be an important work on the subject. The book is entitled, The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, written by Douglas A. Campbell. The review itself, written by Dr. Richard Beck, is quite readable and easy to follow, although certainly lengthy enough.

According to Campbell, Justification Theory was the big mistake. When you read Paul through the lens of Justification Theory you get a wildly distorted Paul. And the debates within Pauline scholarship are created by this distorted Paul. This warped, funhouse mirror image of Paul. And if Justification Theory is wrong and alien to Paul then clarity might be achieved if we could read Paul through the spectacles he was wearing. To see Paul as he saw himself, not as we see him through the prism of Justification Theory. So Campbell’s project is twofold. First, show us the flaws of Justification Theory with a particular focus on how Justification Theory is implicated in the debates within Pauline scholarship. And, second, show us an alternative reading of Paul, one that approximates, as best we can, how Paul understood his own theology.

So what is Justification Theory?

First off, as a theory, Justification Theory is a way of explaining Paul. More specifically, it is a way of organizing the Pauline data–textual data mainly, but also historical, theological, anthropological and sociological data–in a way that makes sense of it all. And, like all theories, if Justification Theory creates more problems than it solves we grow dissatisfied with the theory and begin to wonder if a better theory should replace it.

Most Christians already know the broad outlines of Justification Theory. It is the consensus view on salvation, what it is and how it happens. A part of what Campbell does is to specify the theory in great detail, proposition by proposition, so that any disagreements about the theory can be taken up and debated point by point. But we don’t need to go into that amount of detail. I’ll paint the theory in broader strokes. In fact, I’ll summarize Campbell’s description of Justification Theory with a picture (click on it for a larger view):

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