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.

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