The so-called New Perspective on Paul, spearheaded by E.P. Sanders and James D.G. Dunn, is
sometimes seen (and I think this is part of the motivation for some of its proponents) as a more Jewish-friendly view than the traditional understanding of Paul. On the traditional view, the prevailing mindset among the Jewish leaders, especially Pharisees of Paul's day was a theology of works-earned salvation. On the New Perspective, the Jews held a view more like the contemporary Roman Catholic view. People enter the covenant by God's grace but remain in it by works. I've wondered sometimes if some of the idea behind the NPP is to try to make the New Testament more friendly to Jews in this politically-correct age. If the view we attribute to the Jews of Paul's day (at least a notable portion of certain sorts of their leaders and those they
taught), then we don't seem as down on the Jews. Given the history of negative attitudes toward the Jews from the Christian-influenced world, anyone with a shred of respect for Judaism should at least like the idea of distancing Christianity from Anti-Semitism.
I don't happen to think the arguments for the NPP are remotely convincing, and for that reason I do wonder if some who want to be tolerant of Jews are engaging in wishful thinking in adopting the NPP. I don't see the need, because I don't think the traditional view is even close to anti-Semitic. Paul was in the tradition of the prophets, culminating in Jesus himself, in his self-criticism of his own Judaism. The internal critique found in Hosea or Jeremiah certainly wouldn't be seen by most Jews as anti-Semitic, and there's nothing that Paul does that's any different, even on the traditional view. But I'm not the only one who has wondered if some of the motivation for the NPP is a desire to abandon a view that's often been portrayed as anti-Jewish. Even if that's not true, there certainly are NPP proponents who offer that as a plus for their view.
There's a deep irony in all this, though, a double irony in fact. The very act of adopting the NPP, even if motivated by the a desire to think highly of the Jews of Paul's day, ends up leading to an unintended consequence while not really achieving the intended result to begin with. First, changing their view of the view Paul is condemning doesn't change the fact that he condemns it. It doesn't soften Paul's harsh language against the Galatians in calling them heretics and thinking it would be better to emasculate themselves than let circumcision do whatever it is (which is a matter of debate here) that they saw circumcision as doing. It doesn't make the Jews of Paul's day suddenly become orthodox Christian thinkers in Paul's mind. The Christians who were accepting the Jewish theses that the Galatians were playing around with would still be heretics in Paul's mind, no matter who wins the debate about what those theses happened to be. So the tolerance motivating the NPP doesn't lead to a tolerant conclusion on either the traditional view or the NPP. There's a theological view that gets rejected here, and revising our view of what that view is doesn't change the fact that Paul considers it s heresy.
Second, there's an unintended consequence. As I said at the beginning of this post, the view that the NPP attributes to the Galatians is pretty much the official Roman Catholic position. The view most people in the traditional approach attribute to the Roman Catholic position is actually a misrepresentation of official Catholic teaching but is common enough among Catholics who misunderstand the teaching of their church. I grew up in a very Catholic area, and it's obvious to me that many Catholics do hold the Galatian heresy to the extent that they have any beliefs on the matter at all (and many I knew didn't). But the official teaching of Roman Catholicism is not the Galatian heresy but rather a view very much like the view the NPP thinks Jews of Paul's day held.
The result is that, in extending so much tolerance toward the Jews of Paul's day, the NPP ends up closing the only door to separating Roman Catholicism from the Galatian heresy. Someone who holds the traditional view on what Paul was responding to can distinguish between that view (which Paul calls heresy) and the Roman Catholic view (even if many who hold the traditional view fail to do this). But someone holding the NPP seems to me to have to say that Roman Catholics are heretics. I wonder if the tolerance that NPP proponents are so motivated by can extend to Roman Catholicism. There's at least an internal tension within some who hold the NPP between one key motivation and one logical implication of the view.