Fourth, the question of the character of Judaism.
Did Paul misrepresent Judaism as a legalistic religion of salvation by works? Or have Protestants misunderstood Paul? What objections would Paul have had to the soteriology of the DSS?
In my fifth post, I pointed out the strongly predestinarian, monergistic soteriology of the Qumran sect. They believed that it is only by God’s grace that a person's heart can be turned from the wicked path and be kept from sinning in the ways of righteousness:
1QH IV, 21-22: “You determine the way of the one You have chosen, and in the insight of Your truth You keep him from sinning against You; restoring to him his humility by Your chastisements, and by Your trials.”
1QH VII, 12-15: “I know by Your understanding that it is not by human strength … a man’s way is not in himself, nor is a person able to determine his step. But I know that in Your hand is the inclination of every spirit … and all his works You have determined before ever You created him ... You alone have created the righteous one, and from the womb You established him to give heed to Your covenant at the appointed time of grace.”
1QH XV, 13-20: “You have established my heart in accordance with Your teaching and Your truth, setting my steps straight in the paths of righteousness, so that I may walk in Your presence in the domain of the righteous ones in paths of glory and life and peace without turning and never ceasing … For in Your righteousness You have stood me in Your covenant, and I have taken hold of Your truth.”
So was Paul in error when he charged the Jews of his day with legalism, with holding to a proud doctrine of justification by human effort and self-sufficient merit? Or are E. P. Sander, James D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright to be believed when they argue that it is precisely passages like this which show that Judaism was a religion of grace and that therefore Paul could not have charged his fellow Jews with legalism but must have been aiming his guns at a different error like ethnocentrism?
For starters, the Qumran sect was a sect of Judaism and is not representative of mainstream Pharisaic (proto-rabbinic) theology in the first century. The Pharisees did not emphasize God’s grace and predestination to the same degree that Qumran did. Although they did affirm a doctrine of divine providence and foreknowledge, they tended to place more weight on the freedom of the will than the Qumran covenanters. This is made clear in the Psalms of Solomon, a first century BC document widely believed to represent the theology of the Pharisees:
“Our works are in the choosing and power of our souls, to do righteousness and unrighteousness in the works of our hands … The one who does righteousness saves up life for himself with the Lord, and the one who does unrighteousness causes his own life to be destroyed” (Ps. Sol. 9:4-5).
This synergistic, even Pelagian (to use anachronistic labels), view that salvation is “in the choosing and power of our souls” is repeated in the famous saying of Rabbi Akiba (ca. 50--ca. 135 AD): “Everything is foreseen, yet free will is given. The world is judged with goodness, and all is according to the majority of deeds” (Abot 3:15).
The point is that the Qumran sect is not representative of mainstream Judaism of this period. They held to a much stronger doctrine of divine grace than most of their contemporaries (whom, by the way, they regarded as apostate Jews). Thus, one should not turn (first) to the DSS for a description of the soteriological views that Paul is fighting against in Romans and Galatians.
But this leads to a useful thought experiment. Let’s hypothesize that Paul met some members of the Qumran sect. Some scholars seem to imply that Paul would have said: "Oh, you guys are fine. You understand monergistic grace, so I have no beef with you. When I wrote Romans and Galatians, I wasn’t concerned about your group at all. I’ll see you brothers in heaven. I was only critiquing the Pharisees and their synergistic doctrine that salvation is in the power of our free will."
Somehow I can't imagine such ecumenical words from the lips of the apostle Paul! He would have had just as much of an issue with the monergistic/Qumran variety of Judaism as the Pelagian/Pharisaic/proto-rabbinic variety. He would have said that one's view of the relative weight of divine and human activity in salvation is surely important, but that one has not yet penetrated to the core issue -- the stone of stumbling and the rock of offence, that is, the necessity of throwing overboard one's own righteousness, whether monergistically or synergistically created, and receiving and resting in Christ and his righteousness alone.