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.

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