[The following presupposes that New Perspective on Paul research is correct to question the premise that Paul was arguing against theological opponents who truly believed in the possibility of man earning his own salvation.]
Many of the NPP biblical scholars write that Paul’s original intent in writing on justification was focused on our salvation by God’s just faithfulness to his own word rather than on our being individually saved by believing. Does that render invalid the reinterpretation (and reappropriation?) for the time of the Reformation that has yielded the doctrine of Christ’s righteousness imputed to to the believer through the Church? By no means.
The Reformation certainly gave rise to new theological developments, though these developments were based on the texts of the holy Scriptures (as gathered in the whole canon) and grew out of the catholic tradition of the holy Church. If a certain kind of reinterpretation is not legitimate, then the Reformation itself has no legitimacy. The people who want to reject reinterpretation in ‘post-biblical times’, to keep both a hard-line originalist hermeneutic and the doctrine of the Reformation, have instead to hold fast to the idea that imputation of righteousness was indeed Paul’s main point. But hey, authorship is a hermeneutical construct.
As John Hobbins says, one of N. T. Wright’s weaknesses is that he unsuccessfully tries to transcend and sweep away the question of imputed versus infused righteousness from Christ:
As for the imputed versus infused righteousness debate, passed over rather than resolved by reference to inclusion within a covenant community, Wright, it seems to me, succumbs to the same temptation, that of a fuga in avanti, a flight from a problem disguised as an advance. But I digress.
Imputation versus infusion may not have been the main question in Paul’s time, but they remain real questions in force for today, and even the changing times won’t make them go away. Are we not to draw our answers from Scripture? It’s not about cleverness but about God’s power and glory manifest in Scripture.
God transcends the limitations of the human writers of Scripture and their own conscious purposes. Maybe you can call me postmodern – even as I avoid the get-with-the-pomo-times bandwagon.