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"Badges of Membership": Part I

Christians: neither Pagans, nor Jews: “Badges of Membership” in Paul’s Epistles
One of the most provocative arguments generated by members of “the New Perspective on Paul” (NPP) is that which asserts that the phrases “works of the law” and “justification by faith,” as they appear in Paul’s epistles, generally refer to “badges of membership” and do not refer to the opposition of a (supposedly Jewish) merit theology to a (supposedly Christian) theology of grace.[1] Those who make this assertion, like James Dunn and Tom Wright, tend to adopt a more nuanced version of Ed Sanders’ proposal that first-century Judaism is best described as “covenantal nomism.”[2] Hence, “badges of membership” are those things which reveal a person’s membership within a particular community.
While this article accepts the basic conclusions of Dunn and Wright (and others), it also asks whether or not this thought has been carried far enough. This article will argue that the language of “badges” is far more prevalent in Paul’s letters, and goes well beyond the (rather narrow) boundaries of the justification discussion between neo/Lutherans and members of the NPP.
That the language of “badges” should be found to be more prevalent in Paul’s epistles should not be a surprise. After all, Paul is emphatic that it is his vocation to be God’s apostle to the Gentiles.[3] Therefore, if in Galatians and Romans, Paul is speaking of badges that define Christian communities over against Jewish communities, the reader should also expect other passages where Paul defines Christian communities over against pagan communities. Those who have sought to recover the essential Jewishness of Paul, over against nineteenth century voices who sought to root Paul exclusively within Hellenism, have tended to neglect this point. When one thinks of Paul strictly within Jewish categories, then it seems natural to elevate the discussion of “justification by faith” and “works of the law” to a place of near total dominance. However, it must be recalled that Paul (the Jew) was thoroughly defined by his mission to and among the Gentiles. Thus, Wright is quite correct in arguing that “Paul’s main polemical target is not Judaism, as has so often been thought… but paganism.”[4] Therefore, it becomes necessary to place the discussion of “badges of membership” within a more comprehensive context.
This article will explore what Paul identifies as the badges of membership of his Christian communities over against the badges that Paul ascribes to pagan communities and Jewish communities. We will begin by exploring the fundamental badge of worship and will then move to exploring inspirational badges, ontological badges and, finally, relational badges, wherein Paul’s discussion of this topic reaches its appropriate climax and summation.
[1] Cf. James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 635-39; N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Saul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 113-33.
[2] E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1977), 419-28.
[3] Cf. Ro 1.1-6; 11.13; 15.15-17; Gal 1.11-16a; 2.7-9; Eph 3.1-8. Cf. Ro 1.13; 1 Cor 1.1-2; 9.1-2; 15.9-11; 2 Cor 1.1; 11.4-7; Gal 1.1-2; 2.2; Eph 1.1; Col 1.1-2.
[4] N. T. Wright, Paul: in Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 85; cf. What Saint Paul Really Said, 78-79; L. H. Marshall, The Challenge of New Testament Ethics (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1947), 278.

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