Friday, April 21, 2006

Paul and Two Views of the Law?

I’ve always had a bit of difficulty making sense of Paul’s view of the Law. At time he seems to speak rather negatively of the Law, stating that it is comprised of “weak and worthless principles” (Galatians 4:9); that it has no value in restraining the flesh (Colossians 2:23); that it is unable to justify (Romans 2:20), no longer needed and obsolete (Galatians 3:25); as bringing a curse (Galatians 3:13); the believer as dead to it (Galatians 2:19) and so forth.

But at other times he speaks rather highly of the Law. He draws from it to establish NT principles on giving, etc., (1 Corinthians 9:8); he states that the doers of the Law will be justified (Romans 2:13-16); that it is fulfilled through love (Romans 13:10, Galatians 5:14); that its commandments are “holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12) and so forth. Adding to these positive statements is the entire Old Testament view of the Law as a great gift to the nation of Israel—a reason for praise (Psalm 119). Further, the New Covenant promises of the OT almost all contain passages which state that through the provision of the New Covenant the Law will finally be fulfilled—not nullified. The New Covenant passages do not suggest that the Law will be set aside, as much as they suggest that God will enable his people to fulfill the Law (see Jeremiah 31:31-34). This is the context in which Paul was raised and it surely influenced his understanding of the Law.

So at times Paul speaks of us fufilling the Law. At other times he speaks of the Law as being void and set aside. Which is it?

Toward resolving this tension, I’ve been kicking around the following thesis: Paul recognizes two facets of the Law—one a legitimate, eternal, Christ directed kind that is fulfilled in the command to love God (Deut 6.6), and the other a ceremonial, flesh restraining kind that consists of ceremonial regulations that has been set aside. The first is to be fulfilled, the latter is to be set aside.

Support: In Romans 10.4, Paul can state that Christ is the “end” of the Law; he is that toward which the Law points (note Galatians 3.24; similar in perspective to John 5.39) and that laying hold of Christ enables one to actually fulfill the righteousness of the Law. Paul states that true righteousness of the Law is summed up and fulfilled in the Great Commandment. This is an internal, eternal standard of righteousness and it leads us to Christ in order that we might be justified and thus fulfill its demand to love God.

But then he also speaks of a facet of the Law that seems directed toward its external demands (do not taste, do not touch, etc.). Such that in Philippians 3:6 he can simultaneously state that he “zealously persecuted the church” while yet being “found blameless in regard to the righteousness of the Law.” This surely must be a different kind of righteousness, for how can he persecute Christ (Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?) and yet be found blameless in regard to the righteousness of the Law if by righteousness he is speaking of the former kind of righteousness which is summed up as loving God and neighbor?

If this dichotomy is basically correct, then a key to interpreting Paul’s statements about the Law would be to know what view of the Law he is working from in a particular passage. Is he talking about the righteousness of the Law in its God-ordained true sense (which stands even today), or is he talking about the righteousness of the Law in its limited, fleshly, ceremonial sense? The former is eternal and binding, while the latter has been set aside.

1 comment:

CrnbrdEater said...

Ok I had a great comment for this but I have forgotten what it was and what I do remember seems kind of silly.

But I do wonder though if any of it has to do with how the human race likes to ruin really nice things. We spend too much time around something beautiful and it gets all bent and ugly.

This probably doesn't do anything towards answering the question but there it is anyway.