Skip to content

Supersessionism and the New Perspective

In light of a stimulating debate about N. T. Wright and Supersessionism in the Harvard Theological Review (currently available for free download), I thought I’d reiterate here my own views on the question.

Reading Ephesians & Colossians After Supersessionism (Cover image)

The following is a direct quotation from Lionel J. Windsor, Reading Ephesians and Colossians after Supersessionism: Christ’s Mission through Israel to the Nations (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017), 19–21:

The “Paul within Judaism” perspective is often critical of the “New Perspective on Paul.”[76] Nanos argues that the “New Perspective” has built into it a kind of structural supersessionism.[77] While critiquing the “Old Perspective” for demonizing Jewish legalism, the “New Perspective” has

gone on to replace the traditionally supposed “wrongs” of works-righteousness and legalism . . . with the supposed sin of ethnic particularism, variously described and named. On the premises of the New Perspective, this “wrong” is assumed to be the necessary sin involved in celebrating and guarding the boundaries of Jewish identity and behavior, as if claiming to be set apart for God was inherently arrogant, mistaken, and evidence of bigotry. It is this essentially Jewish sin to which the New Perspective says Paul objected.[78]

Other authors level similar critiques against the “New Perspective.” Neil Elliott writes:

The only theological principle to be celebrated in the “new perspective” is a “universalism” that effectively excludes Torah- observant Jews (who are, by definition, “exclusivistic”).[79]

Jae-won Lee also writes:

The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” locates him [Paul] once again in a Jewish setting but only provisionally in that the notion prevails that Paul set the Jesus movement free from ethnic particularity and made the people of God universal. In both cases Jewish identity is set aside so that E. P. Sanders concludes that the only kind of Judaism that Paul advocated was a messianic Judaism that moved beyond living according to the Law.[80]

While proponents of the New Perspective often deny the charge of supersessionism, they still advocate positions that can be regarded as implicitly supersessionist, at least in some respects. N. T. Wright, for example, while rejecting the terminology of supersessionism as too ambiguous,[81] still argues that Paul saw all Christ-believers as “‘the Jew,’ ‘the circumcision’ and even ‘Israel.’”[82] Terence Donaldson, too, on the one hand sees Paul as being committed to a principle of “an ethnically identified Israel, differentiated from the Gentiles,”[83] yet on the other hand sees this in inevitable conflict with another of Paul’s principles: a “redefinition of Abraham’s family (Israel) based instead on Christ.”[84] Tet-Lim Yee, who as we will see in the next chapter advocates a “New Perspective on Ephesians,” while resisting the idea that the “church” has become the “true Israel,”[85] nevertheless seeks to “redefine” Israel so that it is no longer understood in “ethnic” categories.[86] Thus, while the New Perspective on Paul cannot be labelled “supersessionist” in the fullest sense, its tendency to interpret the disputes in Paul’s letters in terms of a reaction to “ethnocentrism” can obscure Israel’s distinct place and role with regard to the Pauline mission.

Reading Ephesians & Colossians After Supersessionism (Cover image)

Several features from the “Paul within Judaism” perspective will inform my reading of Ephesians and Colossians. These features include: an emphasis on the positive value of Jewish distinctiveness and vocation in light of Israel’s role in God’s purposes, an emphasis on the positive value of difference in a way that promotes mutual interdependence, and the critique of the “New Perspective” for its overemphasis on the problem of “ethnocentrism.” However, yet again, I regard many Paul-within-Judaism interpretations to be insufficiently Christological to provide an adequate reading of the highly Christological letters of Ephesians and Colossians. Often interpreters within this perspective place too little weight on the way faith in Christ transforms Jewish, as well as gentile, identity.[87] In Ephesians and Colossians, the Christological transformation of both gentile and Jewish identity cannot be ignored.


76. Interestingly, the dispute between the “Paul within Judaism” perspective and the “New Perspective” is analogous at several points to the earlier dispute between Dispensationalism and Covenantalism (see above).

77. Nanos himself does not use this term (which comes from our discussion of Soulen above), but it is a useful summary of Nanos’ argument.

78. Mark D. Nanos, “Introduction,” pages 1–29 in Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, ed. Mark D. Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2015), 7.

79. Neil Elliott, Liberating Paul: The Justice of God and the Politics of the Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 70.

80. Jae-won Lee, Paul and the Politics of Difference: A Contextual Study of the Jewish-Gentile Difference in Galatians and Romans (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2014), 61.

81. N. T. Wright, “Romans 9–11 and the ‘New Perspective,’” pages 392–406 in Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978–2013 (London: SPCK, 2013), 403–4.

82. N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2 vols.; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013), 538–39. I have critiqued this position in Lionel J. Windsor, Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs His Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans (Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 205; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014), 45–67.

83. Terence L. Donaldson, Paul and the Gentiles: Remapping the Apostle’s Convictional World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 185.

84. Donaldson, Paul and the Gentiles, 246. Donaldson’s position is highlighted and critiqued by Mark Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 161–63.

85. Tet-Lim N. Yee, Jews, Gentiles and Ethnic Reconciliation: Paul’s Jewish Identity and Ephesians (Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 130; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 187.

86. Yee, Ethnic Reconciliation, 143.

87. See the critique of various proponents from the Paul-within-Judaism perspective in a series of footnotes in John Barclay, Paul and the Gift (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 359–60, 361, 372, 397–98, 551, nn. 26, 29, 54, 23, 75 respectively. Barclay’s own reading of Paul is one in which Israel is paradoxically “simultaneously special and not at all unique” (418, emphasis original): “With regard to worth, salvation for Israel is as incongruous as for the whole of humanity: both Paul and his Gentile converts were ‘called through grace’ ([Rom] 1:6, 15). Yet is it possible that Israel has a special place in the story, a role hinted at by these references to ‘we/us,’ [in Galatians] but left tantalizingly unexplained?” (420). Barclay finds the specialness possibly emerging in Gal 6:16 in the phrase the “Israel of God,” and certainly emerging in Romans, especially in Rom 9–11. Thus, Barclay’s reading of Paul cannot be described as boldly “supersessionist” (421). Ultimately, his reading of Paul sees a special place for Jews, but he is insistent that “the demands of the good news surpass the authority of the Torah. Paul’s paradigmatic ‘death to the law’ strips it of its ultimate authority, so that at moments critical for the enactment of the good news (such as common meals at Antioch), the Torah’s rules may be suspended for the sake of Christ” (445).

Published inBiblical theology

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • The Named Jew and the Name of God: A new reading of Romans 2:17–29

All posts

Recent blog posts

  • Yes no“Paul within Judaism” and Romans 2:17–29
    My article on Romans 2:17–29 supports one key feature of the "Paul within Judaism" perspective, but undermines another common feature.
  • Photo by Engin Akyurt on UnsplashThe goals of Bible teaching (1 Timothy 1:1–11)
    In gospel ministry and Bible teaching, if you’re not committed to the right goal, or if you have the wrong goal, it’s not just a matter of being ineffective: you’ll be downright dangerous. So what is that goal? What are you seeking to achieve in your gospel ministry and Bible teaching - now and in the future? And how would you know if you’d done it right? This passage in 1 Timothy 1:1–11 speaks to this issue of the goals of ministry and teaching. It challenges us to think about our own aims in teaching, and to see how important it is to get it right. A sermon preached at Moore College Men's Chapel on 14 July, 2021.
  • Slow-burn crazy-making behaviours. Photo by Vadim Sadovski on UnsplashSlow-burn crazy-making behaviours: recognising and responding
    Do you know someone who seems to have drama and problems constantly appear around them? Whenever you relate to this person, perhaps you find yourself feeling vaguely guilty, or uncomfortable, or put down, or obligated to affirm them? Do you often feel like you’re questioning yourself and your actions because of what they say and do? You don’t feel the same way around other people; it’s just this individual who seems to attract these dramas and give rise to these feelings in you. If that’s the case, the chances are it’s not you who is the problem. It’s quite possible that the person you’re thinking of is exhibiting a pattern of behaviours that can be significantly detrimental to you and to others. This pattern of behaviours is hard to pin down; it doesn’t seem too serious in the short term, and indeed it might appear quite normal to a casual acquaintance. However, over the long term, it can cause serious problems for you and others. That’s especially true in close-knit communities, like families, churches and other Christian ministries.
  • Romans Crash CourseRomans Crash Course (video)
    A 75 minute video course in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans designed for church members and leaders.
  • The Mistranslation "Call Yourself a Jew" in Romans 2:17: A Mythbusting StoryThe mistranslation “call yourself a Jew”: A myth-busting story (Romans 2:17)
    This is a story about a scholarly myth and how I had the chance to bust it. I’m talking here about a small but significant 20th century biblical translation: “call yourself” instead of “are called” in Romans 2:17.
  • Breaking news: Religious Scandal in RomeThe named Jew and the name of God: A new reading of Romans 2:17–29
    I've just had an article published in the journal Novum Testamentum. In it, I provide a detailed defense of my new reading of Romans 2:17–29. This passage is not primarily about Jewish salvation - rather it's primarily about Jewish teaching and God's glory.
  • Photo by Joseph d'Mello on UnsplashPreaching the Pastoral Epistles
    A one-hour audio seminar with principles and ideas for preaching the biblical books 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus ("Pastoral Epistles")
  • A Crash Course in Romans: Livestream
    Here's a <90 minute "Crash Course in Romans" I'm running on Monday evening 1 Feb 2021. It's aimed at leaders and any interested members of my church St Augustine's Neutral Bay and Church by the Bridge Kirribilli. Anyone is welcome to watch the livestream.
  • Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on UnsplashWhat’s wrong with the world? Is there hope? (Ephesians)
    Guilt, weakness, spiritual slavery, prejudice, arrogance, tribalism, conflict, war, victimhood, persecution, pain, suffering, futility, ignorance, lying, deceit, anger, theft, greed, pornography, sexual sin, darkness, fear, drunkenness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, workplace abuse, spiritual powers... In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says many things about the problems we face in this world. He also gives us wonderful reasons to find life, hope and healing in Jesus Christ. Along the way, he provides practical teachings about how to respond and live together.
  • What does Ephesians say about reconciliation?
    We humans are not very good at living up close with others. This is especially true when we have a history of conflict with those others. Reconciliation isn't easy. No matter how much you might want healing, it’s hardly ever a matter of just everybody getting on and pretending the hurts didn’t happen. In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says some very important, fundamental things about peace and reconciliation, and gives many other very practical teachings about how to live together in light of these truths.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor