In various part of the New Testament, notably in the epistles of Paul, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Gospel and Epistles of John, we have a theological edifice constructed upon this plan. The style of building differs considerably. The theology of Paul, of John, and of the author to the Hebrews, though based upon a common tradition of the centre, is far from uniform. As church architecture, based upon a universal general plan, may show the various characteristics of Romanesque, Gothic or Baroque, so each of these theologians builds after his own style. It is a great merit of modern critical study of the New Testament that it has made us appreciate the individuality of the great theologians of the apostolic age, and the rich diversity of their teaching. The question now before us is this: Granted that each of these early thinkers followed the general tradition embodied in the apostolic kerygma, and faithfully conserved its main outline, have they anything in common beyond the bare outline? To put it otherwise, given the ground-plan, and the majestic buildings erected to its pattern, can we find a substructure—a part of the actual edifice—which is common to them all, or are the several buildings individually different from the foundation up?
[T]he history that is reported in the gospel narratives, as histories, is put within the framework of synchronic relations emerging as a coherent story. The time is over when the gospels were regarded as mere collections of formal units, as “Perikopenbücher”, like beautiful pearls held together only by the thread of the necklace. Today we see the necklace as a piece of art in itself; and the individual pearls, no matter how beautifully designed each of them appears to be, are closely related to make up a compositional and semantic whole. There are historical items; there is history, but history has become story; it has become present.
Story as History, History as Story: The Gospel Tradition in the Context of Ancient Oral History: 3.
It is the fundamental motif of all New Testament ethics that upon the basis of the Holy Spirit, and by faith in the work performed by Christ, man is that which which he will become only in the future, that he is already sinless, already holy, although this becomes reality only in the future.
Christ and Time, 75.
[T]he reason Paul was ‘doing theology’ was not that he happened to have the kind of brain that delighted in playing with and rearranging large, complex abstract ideas. He was doing theology because the life of God’s people depended on it, depended on his doing it initially for them, then as soon as possible with them, and then on them being able to go on doing it for themselves. All Paul’s theology is thus pastoral theology, not in the sense of an unsystematic therapeutic model which concentrates on meeting the felt needs of the ‘client’, but in the sense that the shepherd needs to feed the flock with clean food and water, and keep a sharp eye out for wolves. For that, pastoral theology needs to be crystal clear, thought out and presented in a way that teaches others to think as well. That, too, is part of the point: Christian theology, for Paul, was not just about what you know, but about how you know. And, just as the Christian worldview compels people to think in a new way, because otherwise the worldview itself is unstable, so Christian theology remains both a corporate task, one in which the church as a whole has to engage, rather than being spoon-fed by one or two high-octane teachers, and also an incomplete task, because each generation needs to become mature in its thinking, which wouldn’t happen if Paul, Athanasius, Aquinas, Luther, Barth or anyone else had closed off the questions with answers that could then simply be looked up. The ‘authority’ of Paul did not consist in his providing lots of correct answers to puzzling questions. That would have left his converts, and subsequent generations, with no work to do on the questions he had answered, and no starting-point for the ones he didn’t. They would have remained radically and residually immature. Give someone a thought, and you help them for a day; teach someone to think, and you transform them for life. Paul’s authority consisted in his setting up a particular framework and posing a specific challenge. Living as Messiah-people demanded, he would have said, that people work within that framework and wrestle with that challenge.
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 568–69.
If second-Temple Jews believed that the creator God, the lord of the covenant, was going to do all this, the question then presses: how could one tell, in the present, who were ‘the righteous’, the ones who would be found to be on God’s side on the great coming day, the ones who would inherit ‘the coming age’? This is how the question which much later theology has rendered so abstract and timeless – the question of ‘justification’ and, beyond that, of ‘salvation’ itself as conceived within western theology – comes into focus in actual first-century discourse.
Having said that, we are bound to find it frustrating that we have almost no texts from this period that do what we would like, namely, speak from a clearly Pharisaic point of view about what Paul the apostle calls ‘justification by works of the law’. The closest we get, as is well known, is the Essene document 4QMMT. Though this document arguably criticizes the Pharisees, it appears to share, so far as we can tell, a sense of the shape of how eschatology works in relation to election and thus to present justification, enabling us to make the substitution of Pharisaic elements for Essene ones in the hope that we will thereby come closer to the answer.
The point can be summarized thus. First, God will soon bring the whole world into judgment, at which point some people will be ‘reckoned in the right’, as Abraham and Phinehas were. Second, there are particular things, even in the present time, which will function as signs of that coming verdict. Third, those particular things are naturally enough the things that mark out loyal Israelites from disloyal ones; in other words (remember Mattathias!) strong, zealous adherence to Torah and covenant. Fourth, as a result, those who perform these things in the present time can thus be assured that the verdict to be issued in the future, when the age to come is finally launched, can already be known, can be anticipated, in the present. This, I believe, is what a first-century Pharisee would have meant by ‘justification by the works of the law’.
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 184.
The impatient, who are concerned only about results or practical application, should leave their hands off exegesis. They are of no value for it, nor, when rightly done, is exegesis of any value for them.
The ‘covenantal nomism’ which Sanders traces in Judaism is only one form of a more fundamental pattern, in which divine election and promise lead to human acceptance and response. Certainly Paul’s pattern is more complicated, since what is begun in Abraham is completed only in Christ. The covenant on Sinai and the Mosaic Law, which form the heart of Judaism, are now seen as an interlude, sandwiched between the promises and their fulfillment. But the election of Abraham, and the promises made to him — which cannot fail — are part of God’s covenant with Israel, and come to their conclusion with the ‘new’ covenant in Christ’s death. The pattern begins with Abraham, who believed the promises of God, absurd though they appeared; it reaches fulfillment in Christ, the true son of Abraham, and in those who live ‘in Christ’. In contrast to Judaism, however, what marks out this community as God’s people is faith, not acceptance of the Law, and what governs their behaviour is life in the Spirit, not obedience to the Law’s commands. This pattern of covenant/promise–>fulfillment/faith embraces both Abraham and those who are now, in Christ, his children and heirs.
“Paul and Covenantal Nomism.” Paul and Paulinism: Essays in Honor of C.K. Barrett: 52.