"[A]nyone trying to be a Pauline exegete while still in thrall to Luther should consider a career as a taxidermist. Heroes are to be engaged with, not stuffed and mounted and allowed to dominate the room." - N.T. Wright, Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 126.
Wright's comment is meant as a rejoinder to Stephen Westerholm's statement about the enduring value of engaging Luther:
"Students who want to understand Paul but feel they have nothing to learn from a Martin Luther should consider a career in metallurgy. Exegesis is learned from the masters." - Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 173.
Leaving to one side Wright's unfair and muddled dismissal of Westerholm's own exegesis of Paul, I note here that both statements are correct: In the first place, heroes are of course "to be engaged with." What enlightened scholar would want to be "in thrall" to anyone? But Westerholm is not alone in thinking that something may still be learned from Luther's reading of Paul. Consider C.K. Barrett, one of the 20th century's finest exegetes:
"In the summer of 1953, in the University Library at Göttingen, I read through Luther's Scholia on Romans...with a sustained enthusiasm and even excitement which I never thought 400 large pages of medieval Latin could evoke. Less sound in detail than Calvin, Luther wrestles at perhaps even greater depth with sin and righteousness, grace and predestination, and rarely fails to reach the heart of the matter, and to take his reader with him. To have sat at the feet of these three interpreters of Paul [Luther, Calvin and Barth] is one of the greatest of privileges." - C.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1971), vi.Those who actually read Westerholm will know that his is no uncritical dismissal of the "new perspective", and no uncritical adoption of the old "Lutheran" view either. Here is the context of the passage I quoted above:
"There is more of Paul in Luther than many twentieth-century scholars are inclined to allow. But the insights of the 'new perspective' must not be lost to view. Paul's convictions need to be identified; they must also be recognized as Christian theology. When Paul's conclusion that the path of the law is dependent on human works is used to posit a rabbinic doctrine of salvation by works, and when his claim that God's grace in Christ excludes human boasting is used to portray rabbinic Jews as self-righteous boasters, the results (in Johnsonian terms) are 'pernicious as well as false.' When, moreover, the doctrine of merit perceived by Luther in the Catholicism of his day is read into the Judaism of the first Christian centuries, the results are worthless for historical study. Students who want to know how a rabbinic Jew perceived humanity's place in God's world will read Paul with caution and Luther not at all. On the other hand, students who want to understand Paul but feel they have nothing to learn from a Martin Luther should consider a career in metallurgy. Exegesis is learned from the masters." - Westerholm, Israel's Law, 173.