Monday, January 24, 2011

Paul: Judaism & the Law

Paul on many occasions mentions his Jewish background and upbringing. Until his death, Paul remained proud of the fact that he had been a good Pharisee.[1] In fact, the very way Paul reasoned and wrote using the Hebrew Scriptures to “prove” his theological points was taken directly from his training as a Pharisee.[2]

Paul viewed the law in itself as holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12).[3] Lea and Black state, “Giving the law in the Mosaic code clarified, amplified, and applied God’s will to the new situation of the nation of Israel.”[4] Without rejecting this aspect of the law, Paul began to see the Old Testament Scriptures through the lens of the completed work of Christ. Paul clearly believed that the law prepared individuals to exercise faith in Jesus Christ[5] by revealing human sinfulness.

Considering Paul’s feelings about his upbringing and background, one must also take a look at Judaism during Paul’s life. The Jews of this time usually viewed the nations of the world as under the control of evil spiritual powers which often used them as tools with which to get at God by attacking Israel.5 There is little wonder that Paul came to view Jews that clung to the law as their birthright as hypocrites. Though Paul may have struggled to reconcile his conversion to Christianity with his Jewish heritage, there is little doubt in my mind that he also struggled to understand why his fellow Jews didn’t grasp who Jesus Christ was and what His completed work on the cross meant to Israel.

According to Saunders, first-century Jews viewed the covenant that God had entered into with the nation of Israel as the basis of their salvation. According to this view, Jews did not have to do the law to receive salvation. Rather, as a result of God’s covenant, they were already saved.

The “New Perspective” is a change where Good Friday and Easter Day have intervened and the original Preacher has become the Preached One.[6] That is to say that at this point Scriptures shifted from pointed to Jesus Christ to being about Jesus Christ and His completed work at the cross. Until Jesus underwent His passion, He was aware of the restrictions placed upon Him (Luke 12:50). After his resurrection, however, those restrictions would be removed. For Paul, this meant that the power that raised Jesus from the dead was now at work in the world. Put another way; since salvation was to be found in Christ alone, the law and the underlying covenants could not be a means of salvation.

Most notable of the responses of this “new perspective” is that of Dunn who believed what Paul opposed was the tendency of the Jews to confine salvation to their own nation.[7] The emphasis of the practice of the law as a means of national identity and as the people of God is precisely what Paul confronted head on in Galatians. What the “new perspective” seems to miss is that justification by faith was an important component of Paul’s gospel from the beginning.

[1] Drane, John William: Introducing the New Testament. Completely rev. and updated. (Oxford : Lion Publishing plc, 2000), S. 268
[2] Ibid
[3] Lea, Thomas D., and David Alan Black. The New Testament: It's Background And Message (2nd ed). (Nashville: Broadman & Hollman Publishers, 2003), 355.
[4] Ibid
[5] J. Julius Scott, Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995), 335.
[6] Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. (Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 97.
[7] Carson, D A, and Douglas J Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 376.

1 comment:

Richie said...

I wish I myself were going formal education and collected the footnotes to all the resources you use. I do appreciate them. I wanted to comment on a few things I noted while reading your post.

"Paul clearly believed that the law prepared individuals to exercise faith in Jesus Christ by revealing human sinfulness."

Two Scriptures came to mind when I read that:

I would not have come to know sin except through the Law (Rom 7:7, partial quote)

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Gal 3:24)

"What the “new perspective” seems to miss is that justification by faith was an important component of Paul’s gospel from the beginning."

Which the Bible suggests pre-dated Jesus own earthly ministry, as demonstrated by Abraham.

I realize the point of the post was to survey Paul's perception of the function of the Law and old covenant, but I wanted to interject the responses above.

God bless, Richie