Part 2: Paul
Sanders treatment of second temple Judaism is by far the more important part of his work, as not many scholars have completely agreed with Sander's interpretation of Paul. It also only takes up a relatively small portion of the book. Sanders later revisited the subject of Paul in more detail in his book Paul, the law and the Jewish People.
Sanders works from the epistles of Paul which he sees as undisputed which include Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. Sanders sees the rest of the epistles ascribed to him and his speeches in acts as inauthentic. In Sander's view, Paul argued from solution to plight. Paul saw Christ as the solution, thus realized that there must be a plight man needs to be saved from. First came his conviction of redemption in Christ, then came his view of the law. In his description of himself in Philippians 3, Paul calls himself "blameless", thus under the law he did not have a deep inward struggle with sin and the law. When Paul preached, most likely he did this the same way. The content of his preaching was not the conviction of sins and then redemption in Christ, but began with the message of salvation through Christ.
Salvation in Paul is largely seen as a future event, which he mistakenly thought to be soon. Sanders sees Paul's motifs of salvation as more participationist than juristic. The reformation overemphasized the judicial categories of forgiveness, and escape from condemnation, while ignoring the real heart of salvation, which is a mystical participation in Christ. Paul shows this in his argument in his first epistle to the Corinthians when arguing against sexual immorality. It is wrong because it effects one's union with Christ, by one uniting to a prostitute. Sin is not merely the violation of an abstract law. This participationist language is also used in Corinthians in the discussion of the Lord's Supper wherein one participates in the body and blood of Christ.
Unlike later proponents of the New Perspective, Sanders sees justification as transfer language. It describes one entrance into the people of God. However, one's entrance into the people of God is not so much about one's legal status. Paul indeed adopted the earlier Christian view that Christ's death was expiatory and that man was forgiven of his sins. However, when Paul uses this language he is only expressing accepted Christian tradition, not his own point of view. Paul's own thought emphasizes the death of Christ as delivering us from the old aeon and bringing us into the new. His death involves a changing of Lordship. It causes us not to die to the penalty of sin, but to the power of sin.
For Sanders, Paul did not see the law as something which was impossible to fulfill. As was previously mentioned, he said himself that he was blameless under the law. The problem with the law was not that it did not offer righteousness, but that it offered the wrong kind of righteousness. Paul came to the realization that man must be righteous by faith in Christ, thus all other righteousness is excluded. Thus it cannot come by the law. He saw the problem that both Jews and Gentiles were to be righteoused by faith, thus law could not make one righteous, since it excluded gentiles.
Paul believed, as is evident in Romans 6 that men are under the Lordship of sin. He did not come to this conclusion by any inner struggle, but by the fact of the lordship of Christ. Since to be saved, one must come under the lordship of Christ, he must have previously been under the lordship of something else. That something else is sin. This takes him so far as to even overemphasize man's sinfulness in Romans 7 and almost equates the law itself with sin.
Does Paul accept the covenantal nomism pattern which he had recieved as a Pharisee? Sanders says in some sense yes, and in some sense no. In many ways, his categories were much different. For example, he discusses the new exodus, but does not see it in covenantal categories, but as the escape from one aeon to another. Paul does accept the basic idea that in the new covenant there is salvation, and those outside of the covenant will not recieve salvation. One enters into the new covenant by baptism, through grace, and must keep with repentance to stay within the covenant. This is seen as he often talks about justification by grace in the past tense but in Romans 2 is able to speak of a future justification by works. However, he differs in his description of personal transgression. Transgression for Paul is not seen as something which will exclude one from the covenant, but as something which effects one's mystical union with Christ. While Paul does sometimes speak in covenantal language, the covenantal nomism category does not fit his emphasis on the new creation. Essentially, while Paul accepts some aspects of Jewish soteriology, it is inconsistent with his participationist categories.