I’ve understood the terms “legalism” and “ethnocentrism” roughly along the following lines:
Legalism: seeking to accumulate merit through doing good deeds with the goal of presenting a claim to God for salvation.
Ethno-centrism: the notion that God’s salvation is limited to those who are “within the Law,” those who are ethnic Jews or who convert to Judaism.
Now, it may not be possible or even all that helpful to determine the extent to which Judaism was or wasn’t legalistic. That may not even get us anywhere in understanding Paul.
Further, it seems that we must proceed text by text in Paul’s letters, seeking to understand just what Paul is commending and condemning in each passage. Simply defining these terms, then, doesn’t get us very far since Paul is dealing with one thing Philippians 3 and something quite different in Galatians 3.
So I find myself of two minds about even defining these terms. I want to go to distinct passages and describe with exact nuance the unique problem and Paul’s precise solution in each passage. What’s more, we must keep in mind Sharad’s comment that these aren’t really mutually exclusive categories.
There’s so much more to say about Paul’s ambitions as a Pharisee and the impact of all this on the grammar of faith and works in the gospel. For now, however, I’ll leave it there. It’s Friday afternoon and I’m heading home to hang out with Riley for the evening.
Any thoughts on these definitions, how they need to be nuanced, and what the two dynamics might have in common?