Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Paul’s negative view of the Law

For those who have e-mailed me recently, apologies for my lack of response. I'll try to get round to responding in the next day or two. I've been happily busy the last few days.

Anyway, how could a Jew like Paul say such negative things about the Law? Some resort to a Lutheran scheme. Others an apocalyptic framework. Others will argue that Paul's polemic is directed at Gentiles trying to adopt the law. Still others will claim Paul is given to rhetorical manipulation, and doesn't mind the odd contradiction or exaggeration.

I think the question needs to be reframed: How could a first century Jew not have such a negative view of the Law? After all, Moses himself prophesied (in the last few chapter of Deuteronomy), that Israel would not inherit the promised blessing through the Law, but rather its curse, i.e. exile. Standing in the first century, Paul's world was shaped by the clear fulfilment of these Mosaic prophecies. So how could a first century Jew, who knew all about the exile first of Israel, then of Judah, and later oppression under Roman rule, think anything else? Of course Paul speaks of 'the curse of the law'. It was historical fact.


At 1/30/2008 4:33 PM, Anonymous James said...

Think you need to nuance this a bit? Paul (rightly) had a negative view of the law as a means of salvation or of sanctification (Romans, Galatians). He doesn't have a negative view of the law as (a) a schoolmnaster to lead us to Christ (Galatians) or (b) as a badge marking out Jewish cultural distinctives (esp. Acts 21, Romans). Chris: you HAVE to read Nanos' The Mystery of Romans on this. It's FANTASTIC.

At 1/30/2008 6:25 PM, Anonymous Jonathan Erdman said...

The Law was an integral part of the religious establishment; it was the cornerstone. Maybe there were Jews who weren't too thrilled with the "curse" as you say, but that's not at all what Paul is going after. Paul's setting the whole thing aside in light of the new Christ event. The Law is not merely a curse or an inconvenience or a source of aggravation, it's time is over. The Law's only function now is for those who are not in Christ, or for believers who revert to living by their flesh rather than by the Spirit. I don't know that I agree with you as you begin to equate Paul's view of Law with his contemporary Jews. Paul went farther; much farther.

At 1/30/2008 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul clearly states justification is by faith alone, and not by works (obedience to the law). But, Paul never tells us to sin that grace may abound and he doesn't ever allow Christians to be lawless. John says, “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).
“By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The law tells us what sin is, and God tells us, “Do not be enslaved to sin any longer.”

Paul doesn't have a problem with the law. We might...but that's our immature nature and disobedience.

At 1/31/2008 3:20 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

I agree with James and Anon as far as they go here (though obviously I disagree with Nanos' attempt at having Rom 14 and close proximity chapters after 11 being referent to non-Christian Jews.)

Also, isn't it from Paul that we hear that fine phrase: love fulfills the Law? If he's setting the Law aside, it isn't out of disrespect for the Law (nor that he considers it "sh1t" as a recent commenter I read elsewhere tried to put it.) If one loves the Spirit behind the Law, one is not going to disrespect the Law given by the Spirit. But neither will one consider the Law to be a necessary mediator (or worse a source of salvation which would be idolatry). When we put angels in the place of God they become devils, as I think Chesterton once put it.


At 1/31/2008 8:23 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi James, yes I'll try to get the Nanos book. Either Galatians or Romans.

"Think you need to nuance this a bit?"

Yes, I'm sure I do! But it was almostmidnight when I wrote it, so my nuance left me about an hour before I wrote it!

Hi Jonathan,
"I don't know that I agree with you as you begin to equate Paul's view of Law with his contemporary Jews. Paul went farther; much farther."
I agree. But I think Paul was entirely reasonable to do so. History and Moses would confirm him.

You clever chaps are forcing me to nuance myself. Certainly Paul could speak of the fulfilment of the law in love, and of our empowerment to live it in 2 Cor 3 (cf. Hafemann on this). I was talking about the law as a curse.

At 1/31/2008 11:07 PM, Anonymous Looney said...

Some of the worst oppression was during the Seleucid period, and this was oppression for following the law, rather than breaking it or rebelling for fun.

At 2/06/2008 12:58 PM, Anonymous Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes, those who point out that Paul does not condone sin are correct. But that's kind of an obvious point.

And, yes, sin is lawlessness, as pointed out in the Johannine Epistles. But sin can also be disobedience to the Spirit. For Paul, the life of the believer is a union with the Spirit (Gal 5) and a death to self--Christ in me (Gal 2). This takes the believer beyond law. Remember, that for Paul the law produces the desire for sin. Various strands of psychoanalytic theory also speak to this human phenomenon: law produces desire to break the law.

So, Paul is ultimately suggesting that law is no longer even a thought in the believer's mind: we live by the Spirit now.

"if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law." Gal 5:18


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