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.

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