Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Pauline View of the Law: Part 7 Conclusion

            The sheer volume of scholarship on this topic presents a formidable task for a work of limited length such as this.  To unpack any of many views on Paul’s view of the law further necessitates additional discussion on others that would likely take this monograph well beyond the limits imposed.  There is little wonder in my mind why there is so much scholarship devoted to Paul, the law, and first century Judaism.  The subject is worthy of further study that I hope to undertake during my time in LBTS’ DLP.  If the opportunity does not present itself, perhaps the Lord will see fit to provide another opportunity.
            The law was given as a means to maintain the relationship between God and his people following the exodus from Egypt after God had delivered his chosen people from bondage.  The law should be viewed in the context of the covenant between God and his people.  It is not the basis of the divine-human relationship but rather a guide for the maintenance of that relationship.  The law was given after Israel experienced salvation, after being delivered out of Egypt, not before.  It is important to remember that Israel was saved by God’s mercy and not by their own good works.  When the New Testament (NT) refers to the law, it is referring to the Law of Moses which the Jews received at Mt. Sinai though this is not always the case.  The law is itself neither good nor bad but rather is a tool used by God to bring to light man’s sinfulness and his inability to perfectly keep the law as required.  The purpose in giving the law is to magnify sin and demonstrate that righteousness through the law was not possible as it is not possible for anyone to keep the law.  God’s grace shines brighter when conquering human sin.
            While the promises made to Abraham begun to be fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ, the moral absolutes are also fulfilled in Christ.  The fulfillment of these commands does not change the commands themselves.  What has changed is that the believer can now keep the law through the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling within the believer.
            In Christ’s crucifixion, the curse that the law pronounced on Israel was focused on Christ whose sinless death on the cross atoned for Israel’s repeated violations of the law.  With the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul speaks of the end of the Mosaic Law which clearly involves a number its specific commandments.  An inductive study also shows that Paul speaks of the fulfillment of the Mosaic Law.  Some of the laws from the OT ear are no longer practiced literally because they are fulfilled in Christ.  Paul is of the belief that the moral norms of the law are still in place and that believers can now carry them out by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer.[1] 
            Justification is by faith and faith alone.  This was true in the OT and continues today with the finished work of Christ on the cross.  There were some Jews who mistakenly believed that keeping the law would lead to their own righteousness in the sight of God.  There is no salvation through works and never has there been.  There are many in our own day who would do well to realize this and come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.


                [1] Schreiner, Thomas R. The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 176-78.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Pauline View of the Law: Part 6 The Role of the Law in Paul's Gospel

            Paul’s background and God’s choice of a man like Paul to be the apostle to the gentiles has always interested me.  Why would our Lord choose someone like Paul?  Maybe in the first century, a Jew who also enjoyed Roman citizenship may be able to move around the Roman world more easily.  Perhaps it is the very fact that Paul was Jewish and through his conversion experience on the Damascus road was able to relate to the gentiles in a way none of the original apostles ever could.  Perhaps it was Paul’s ability to bring the revelation he received to the other apostles in unifying the churches he was planting with the Jerusalem church.  Regardless of the reasons, Paul’s training under Gamaliel would benefit the cause for Christ in ways we see even to this day.
            Paul returns to justification again and again as being apart from the Law of Moses.  Justification is a peculiarly Pauline term.  The term is used 40 times in the NT but 29 of those usages are by Paul.  The basic meaning of justification is “to declare righteous.” Several other things can be learned about Paul’s usage of justification: justification is a gift of God’s grace (Rom. 3:24); it is appropriated through faith (Rom. 5:1; Gal. 3:24); it is possible through the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9); and it is apart from the law (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16; 3:11).[1]  Unlike his letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians which say very little about the law, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is almost entirely concerned with the law.[2] 
            It is Paul’s knowledge of the law that allows him to effectively argue that the keeping of the law did not provide justification but rather it has always been through faith.  Paul’s preaching of Israel’s condition, being under a curse for disobeying the law, did not come as anything controversial for a Jew who may have been present.  In Galatians Paul is reminding the people that membership into the people of God as defined by the Mosaic covenant is membership in a people with a plight.  They are cursed by the very law that defines them as God’s people because of their failure to keep the law.[3]  Paul reinforces this argument with OT Scripture from Leviticus 18:5 which echoes Deuteronomy in that obedience to the law results in life and that disobedience brings the law’s curse of death.  Paul then provides the reason why by quoting Deuteronomy 21:23 which states:
“you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.”[4]

          In Christ’s crucifixion, the curse that the law pronounced on Israel was focused on Christ whose sinless death on the cross atoned for Israel’s repeated violations of the law.  Clearly, the law played a role in Paul’s gospel.  His knowledge of the law and the revelation from Christ that the law serves to draw attention to sin and is a curse without faith made Paul’s message powerful to many who heard and believed. 


                [1] Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 110.
                [2] Thielman, Frank. Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 119.
                [3] Ibid, 126-28.
                [4] The Holy Bible: New International Version (electronic ed.). (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984), Dt. 21:23.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Pauline View of the Law: Part 5 Christianity and the Fulfillment of the Law

            Saunders has stated that Paul’s problem with Judaism is that it is not Christianity.  This is a view with which I do not agree.  Paul’s view of the Law of Moses is complex and at times appears to be contradictory.  Closer examination, however, reveals that this need not be the case.  Previously, I provided a definition of the law that included a number of differing types of law including ceremonial and moral.  It is with this distinction that that Paul’s position on the fulfillment of the law with the coming of Christ and the continuation of the law can be understood. 
            The ceremonial law that governed the rites and ceremonies of worship were fulfilled with the coming of Christ.  These included food laws, circumcision, and Sabbath keeping.  Paul indicates that the Mosaic covenant was always intended to be temporary and that is was subsidiary to the original covenant God made with Abraham.  Simply put, the Mosaic covenant was given as an interim covenant until the promises God made to Abraham were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ.  Salvation has always been through faith Paul says, reminding the Galatians of the Abrahamic covenant while also stating that elements of the Mosaic covenant have now been fulfilled with the coming of Christ.  The sacrificial system was no longer necessary since Christ’s death on the cross has fulfilled the need for OT sacrifices.  Circumcision is no longer necessary as Paul’s opponents, Judaizers, were trying to teach.  Believers were not required to adhere to OT food laws according to Paul.  Any reason given as to why Paul no longer sees such laws as normative is speculation but Schreiner suggests that perhaps it is due to Paul’s view of the believer as “the temple” of the Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). 
            Paul’s problem is not with Judaism nor is it with the law itself.  Paul’s issue is that the Jews have been misusing the law to vainly seek their own righteousness.  I have already discussed the fact that Paul taught that the law is a curse because man cannot keep the law.  SO how does Christianity fulfill the law?  The law was fulfilled by Jesus (Matt. 5:17-18)[1] when he kept it perfectly by living a sinless life (cf. John 8:46).  Paul goes on to make sure his audience knows that this salvation is available to all who call on the name of the Lord (v. 12-13) by quoting from the OT book of Joel (2:32).  Just as Paul told them in Romans 3:22 where he discusses human sinfulness: all who sin will be judged and all who believe will be saved and richly blessed.[2]  In Galatians 3:15 – 4:7, Paul is insisting that the Galatian believers are already experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham by receiving the Holy Spirit.  This granting of the Spirit fulfills the blessings promised in the Abrahamic covenant while the requirements of the Mosaic covenant were not kept by God’s people.[3]
            Concerning Paul’s positive statements on the law, there is much debate.  Thielman states that Paul, rather than being a renegade redefining the law on a whim, is presenting one of two differing Jewish ways of looking at the law albeit a more moderate view than his opponents against which he so often spoke.[4] Clearly in Romans and in Galatians, Paul has left plenty of room for obedience of the law in the eschatological age.  This obedience, however, is with the Holy Spirit indwelling in each believer.  Only with the Holy Spirit can man be obedient and love his neighbor as himself.  According to Paul, the law itself was not the problem and never was.  The problems for Judaism arise out of their lack of faith and misusing the law to seek their own righteousness.
            While the promises made to Abraham have begun to be fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ, the moral absolutes are also fulfilled in Christ.  The fulfillment of these commands does not change the commands themselves.  What has changed is that the believer can now keep these laws through the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling within the believer.


                [1] Ibid, 480.
                [2] Ibid.
                [3] Schreiner, Thomas R. The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 124-25.
                [4] Thielman, Frank. From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul's View                 of the Law in Galatians and Romans. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1989), 90.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Pauline View of the Law: Part 4 The Purpose of the Law


            In defining what the law is, the purpose of the law is implied.  The law was God’s law and a revelation of His will.  As F. F. Bruce points out, to keep the law was to do the will of God.[1]  No one had greater devotion to the law than Paul.  Rather than securing his righteousness before God, Paul’s keeping of the law actually lead him into sin.  This is precisely what Luther and Calvin believed the purpose of the law to be: reveal sin to the sinner! 
            The law places obedience within the context of God’s deliverance at the exodus, an act of God’s grace towards Israel.  Deuteronomy repeatedly points out that Israel’s election is not a result of their works but rather God’s unconditional love (7:7-8; 8:14-18; 9:4-5).  There are additional examples elsewhere pointing to obedience as a response to God’s grace and not the means of salvation.[2] Deuteronomy offers life for obedience (30:11-20) but also makes clear that the Israelites will not obey and must depend on God’s gracious intervention for deliverance from sin and its consequences (28:15 – 30:10; 31:16-29; 32:1-38).[3]  Thielman also points out that Jeremiah and Ezekiel look forward to a time when God will remake the hearts of His people and send his purifying Spirit among them so they will obey.[4]  Daniel also holds out hope that God will not deal with His people as they most certainly deserved but will have mercy on his people (9:16-19).
            Given the clarity of God’s Word, many first century Jews did not read their Scriptures this way.  Many saw Deuteronomy 30:11-20 as simply stating that obeying the law results in life and disobedience results in death, a simple line in the sand where one chooses on which side to stand.  Many Jews, though certainly not all, erroneously believed that keeping the law in and of itself made them righteous before God forgetting that the law was given as a way of maintaining their relationship with God after the exodus and not as a means for salvation.  Salvation is and always has been by faith.   There is not nor has there ever been justification by works of men.  This was as equally true in the first century as it is today.
            In Galatians 3:10-11, we clearly see that the law demanded perfection and that a curse was attached to failure to keep any part of it. “10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.”[5] Paul clearly shows his audience that being under the law is a curse.  Paul also clearly shows that justification is available through faith.  Paul is not condemning the law in Galatians 3 but rather is pointing that it is not possible to perfectly keep the law as OT Scripture commands.  Thus the way of the law will always lead to a curse.  That is why we have always been justified by faith just as Abraham was over 400 years before the law was given to Moses (Gal. 3:6-9).
            The purpose in giving the law is to magnify sin and demonstrate that righteousness through the law was not possible as it is not possible for anyone to keep the law.  Salvation is and always has been through faith.  Schreiner also points out that the power of God’s grace shines brighter when conquering human sin.


                [1] Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. (Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 188-189.

                [2] Thielman, Frank. Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 64-65.
                [3] Ibid.
                [4] Ibid.
                [5] Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 598.  Here Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 (NASB) explaining why the law is a curse rather than a means to attain righteousness.  All parts of the law must be kept perfectly at all times.  This is simply not possible for human beings to accomplish without divine intervention.  Paul goes on to quote Habakkuk 2:4 to advance his position that the righteous shall live by faith.  See also Schreiner, Thomas R. The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 46-48.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Pauline View of the Law: Part 3 Is the Law Good, Evil, or Indifferent?

            Martin Luther saw the law as something terrifying and humbling as it revealed sin and the wrath of God and prepares man for justification and points to Christ.[1]  For John Calvin, the law also reveals sin but he also believed that the law serves as the believer’s guide to God’s will.[2]  Both Luther and Calvin believed that passages such as Romans 3:20, 4:15, 5:20 and 2 Corinthians 3:7 do not detract from the excellence of the law.[3]  If something is given from God, it certainly should not be construed as evil if it is a tool used to bring man into a right relationship with God.  In bringing man into a right relationship with God, one could hardly say that the law is indifferent.  Rather, the appropriate view of the law is that it is good, even though it is not the law that saves men from God’s wrath.


                [1] Thielman, Frank. Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 18-20.
                [2] Ibid, 21.
                [3] Ibid.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Pauline View of the Law: Part 2 What is the Law?

Before one can come to an understanding of Paul’s view of the law, we must first know what the law is.  Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines the law as follows:
Law — a rule of action. (1.) The Law of Nature is the will of God as to human conduct, founded on the moral difference of things, and discoverable by natural light (Rom. 1:20; 2:14, 15). This law binds all men at all times. It is generally designated by the term conscience, or the capacity of being influenced by the moral relations of things.
(2.) The Ceremonial Law prescribes under the Old Testament the rites and ceremonies of worship. This law was obligatory only till Christ, of whom these rites were typical, had finished his work (Heb. 7:9, 11; 10:1; Eph. 2:16). It was fulfilled rather than abrogated by the gospel.
(3.) The Judicial Law, the law which directed the civil policy of the Hebrew nation.
(4.) The Moral Law is the revealed will of God as to human conduct, binding on all men to the end of time. It was promulgated at Sinai. It is perfect (Ps. 19:7), perpetual (Matt. 5:17, 18), holy (Rom. 7:12), good, spiritual (14), and exceeding broad (Ps. 119:96). Although binding on all, we are not under it as a covenant of works (Gal. 3:17).
(5.) Positive Laws are precepts founded only on the will of God. They are right because God commands them.
(6.) Moral positive laws are commanded by God because they are right.[1]

            While this is a good dictionary definition, this does little to clarify what Paul thought of as the law.  Typically, when the New Testament (NT) refers to the law, it is referring to the Law of Moses which the Jews received at Mt. Sinai though this is not always the case.  Paul also cites passages from Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah and refers to them as “law” (cf. Rom. 3:10-19; 1 Cor. 14:21).  Obedience of the law of Moses was not a way of earning God’s favor but rather a response to his grace in delivering Israel from Egypt (Ex. 20:1-17).  The law should be seen within the context of a covenant between God and man as it is not the basis of the divine-human relationship but rather a guide for the maintenance of that relationship.  The law was given after Israel experienced salvation, after being delivered out of Egypt, not before.  It is important to remember that Israel was saved by God’s mercy and not by their own good works.  This will be elaborated in more detail later.
            What we learn from our study of the Old Testament (OT) is that Israel failed to keep the law and God responded by sending the people into exile for their disobedience (Lv. 26; Dt. 28; Jos. 23:14-16; 2 Ki. 17:7-23; Dn. 9).[2]  Since the law was given by God rather than a king, each offense was a sin not merely affecting human relationships but also, more importantly, affecting the relationship between God and man.  With the law coming directly from God, it is to be expected that the law addressed religious duties as well as social behavior.  All Jews were expected to know the law, to keep the law, and to teach the law, especially to members of their own families (cf. Dt. 6:7).
            By the first century, Jews believed that the promises of a glorious future had not yet been fulfilled since they were under Roman occupation; a situation caused by their continued failure to obey the law.  Other NT writers agree that the disobedience of the Jews was their biggest problem (cf. Mt. 3:7-10; Jn. 7:19; Acts 7:53; 15:10-11).  In fact, Jesus’ strongest criticism of the Pharisees was that they themselves did not keep the law!  When Paul refers to the law, he usually is referring to the Law of Moses though this is not always so and he at times uses the term “law” to refer metaphorically to “principle”, “order”, “rule”, or “power”.[3] 


                [1] Easton, M. G.  Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  (Oak Harbor, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 1897.
                [2] Wood, D. R. W. New Bible Dictionary. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996, c1982, c1962), 675.
                [3] Schreiner, Thomas R. The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 34-38.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Pauline View of the Law: Part 1 Introduction




**This 7 part series originated as a paper for my studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary**

            Having written over 60% of the New Testament, Paul was used mightily by God.  The story of his conversion on the Damascus road is one of the first stories in the Bible I learned as a child.  Any serious student of God’s Word, especially the New Testament, must then spend a great deal of time in the Pauline books.  Understanding Paul’s theology of the law is essential.  Paul’s view of the law influences all aspects of his gospel including soteriology, the Parousia, living the Christian life, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and demonstrating that through Jesus Christ, the law has been fulfilled.  Without such understanding, accurate exegesis becomes much more difficult.  To understand Paul’s theology of the law brings us closer to understanding Paul the man, why Paul was chosen to communicate God’s message and, ultimately, closer to God Himself. 
            Not surprisingly, there is much scholarship in this area that shows no sign of slowing in the coming years.  The amount of material available on this topic is a bit overwhelming for a first year seminary student to say the least.  Prof. Thomas Schreiner states that, “the flood of literature about the law in Paul bespeaks the complexity and difficulty of the topic, lending itself to a great diversity of interpretations.”[1]  In preparing for this assignment, I must agree with Prof. Schreiner!  Difficult and complex as it may be, the importance of understanding Paul’s view of the law cannot be understated.
            Much of the focus of this scholarship draws attention to the type of Judaism Paul practiced prior to his conversion experience on the Damascus road.  While a summary of this debate will be presented as background material, the focus of this monograph will be in defining the law and its purpose, discussing Christianity and the fulfillment of the law and the role the law plays in Paul’s gospel.
            Scholarship between Paul’s view of the law and what first century Judaism taught about the law produced basically four explanations.  Windisch, Grundmann, and Bläser claimed that Paul’s statements about mankind’s inability to keep the law and to be justified by works of the law attached the cardinal doctrine of Jewish soteriology: works-righteousness.[2]  Other scholars, Montefiore and Parks, believed Paul’s statements were unintelligible on the basis of rabbinic soteriology but that the explanation lay in Paul’s background in the pessimism of Hellenistic Judaism.[3]  The third group of scholars believed that Paul’s view was the logical development from his knowledge of Jewish eschatology and either his rebukes of his Judaizing opponents (Schweitzer, Davies) or his familiarity with the pessimism of Hellenistic Judaism (Schoeps).[4]  The fourth group broke with the idea that Paul’s view of the law was explainable against a Jewish background believing instead that Paul’s statements could only be explained on the basis of his prior conviction that Jesus is the universal savior (Moore, Enslin, Andrews, Bultmann, Wilkens, van Dülmen, Lang).[5]  When problems surrounding the first three positions began to multiply, the fourth explanation – called the “cristological” explanation by Thielman – gained support and reached a climax with E. P. Saunders’ publication of his groundbreaking book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism.[6] 
            This brief, simple summary only alludes to the complexity of the recent debate on this topic.  As stated previously, there is a tremendous amount of excellent scholarship available on this topic that I hope to continue to explore in the years to come.  Hopefully, this background will add some clarity to the blogs that follow.


                [1] Schreiner, Thomas R. The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), 13.

                [2] Thielman, Frank. From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul's View                 of the Law in Galatians and Romans. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1989), 25.
                [3] Ibid.
                [4] Ibid.
                [5] Ibid.
                [6] Ibid.  Thielman provides a thorough explanation in pages 1-25.  A treatment of each argument is not possible here due to the limited nature of this assignment.