If you want to hear the “new” perspective in one simple post, this is it. (Question: How does the old perspective read this passage? Hint: personal anthropology is at the forefront, not Jewish history.)
If I were going to pick one passage to make my present point about the Torah, it might well be Galatians 2.15–21. This is all about redefinition, the radical redefinition that can only be captured in the dramatic picture of someone dying and coming up a new person:Here’s a very important point for the old perspective and one that illustrates the new perspective — the “I” here is not human experience but Paul’s own theology in autobiographical terms:
Through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with the Messiah. 20I am, however, alive – but it isn’t me any longer, it’s the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul is not here recounting his own ‘religious experience’ for the sake of it. He is telling the story of what has happened to Israel, the elect people of God – and he is using the rhetorical form of quasi-autobiography, because he will not tell this story in the third person, as though it were someone else’s story, as though he could look on from a distance (or from a height!) and merely describe it with a detached objectivity. It matters of course that this was indeed his own story. No doubt the experience Paul had on the Damascus Road and in the few days immediately afterwards may well have felt as though he was dying and being reborn. But what we have here is not the transcript of ‘experience’, as though he was appealing to that (curiously modern) category for some kind of validation. Peter had ‘experience’ as well; so did Barnabas; so, not least, did James and the people who had come from him in Jerusalem. So, of course, did the Galatians. By itself, ‘experi- ence’ proves nothing. ‘Yes, Paul’, they could have said; ‘That’s what hap- pened to you, but for us it was different.’ No: what mattered, for Paul, was the Messiah, and the meaning of his death and resurrection in relation to the category of the elect people of God (852-853).--Nick