Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Salvation-Historical Approach to Paul: A Response to Dave Woolcott

Thanks, Dave. I understand where you are coming from more now. But there are a few things to think about.

You say that you do not believe that there is more than one covenant (one covenant of grace, I presume you mean), so therefore you take law in Romans to be the issue of law generally. I think Galatians should help you here. Please note Paul’s argument in Gal 4:21-26. Here Paul speaks of two covenants. Now I’m assuming that for you these two covenants correspond to the covenant of works versus the covenant of grace. If I’ve understood you correctly, I can see why you might do that; but it doesn't fit with the exegetical evidence right there in Gal 4:21-26.

Paul takes Isaac and Ishmael as symbolic of two covenants. What are these two covenants? “One is from Mount Sinai” who “corresponds to the present Jerusalem” (Gal 4:24-25). Ishmael is symbolic of the covenant made at Sinai, i.e., the Mosaic covenant, the covenant that enslaves “the present Jerusalem,” i.e., the Jews of Paul's day in their devotion to the Mosaic covenant. Isaac symbolizes “the Jerusalem above,” the new Jerusalem of the new covenant (Gal 4:26).

Now perhaps you will say, “Oh, but the Sinai covenant is singled out here as representing the covenant of works.” But this doesn’t fit the exegetical evidence either. Have a look at Paul’s argument in Gal 3:15-19. Notice what Paul says in Gal 3:17: “the law which came 430 years afterward [i.e., after the promises given to Abraham], does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.”

Paul is contrasting law with promise, and he means by this: Mosaic covenant (law) versus Abrahamic covenant (promise). Maybe I should call my approach to Paul not simply covenantal (since you claim that your approach is too, and it is) but rather salvation-historical covenantal. Paul is interested in the various covenants of salvation history: the Abrahamic versus the Mosaic versus the new. He wants to compare and contrast them. Why? I’ll talk about that later on below.

So your system of slicing all of the particular covenants of salvation history into two parts corresponding to the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is like obliterating the Lego blocks of salvation history originally put there by God. Your system is easy to follow, easily understood intellectually, but it’s not precise, and more importantly I think it gets in the way of understanding what Paul is on about.

But anyway, back to the rest of Gal 3. I can’t see with your view how you can interpret Gal 3:18 adequately. The law talked about in Gal 3:17 is definitely the Mosaic law, and it would be unnatural to change the sense of this term in the very next verse. Paul means in Gal 3:18 that the inheritance of eternal life cannot be limited to the law of Moses (i.e., the Mosaic covenant, which is exactly what the Judaizers were doing according to Acts 15:1, 5), otherwise the promise that God made to Abraham (the same promise of the inheritance of eternal life) would made void, and God would end up contradicting himself, and be seen not to be faithful to his promise to Abraham. The issue of the day, as Acts 15:1, 5 shows, was that the non-Christian Jews and Christian Judaizers thought that salvation and righteousness could only be obtained through the Mosaic covenant. Paul's argument in Galatians and Romans is directed at that specific issue. It's a salvation-historical issue. Is the Mosaic covenant the be-all-and-end-all of God’s soteric purposes?

Getting back to Gal 3:18, Paul is arguing that the inheritance of eternal life was promised to Abraham. The subsequent channeling of the promise of inheritance through the Mosaic covenant is a temporary narrowing, not a permanent narrowing of the stream of life to just Israel such that Gentiles can't participate in it unless they give up their Gentile citizenship to become Jews through circumcision and membership in the Mosaic covenant.

This salvation-historical approach makes sense, then, of Gal 3:19. The Jewish comeback to Paul would be: okay, if God already promised life to Abraham, what's the point of Sinai? Why the law of Moses and the Mosaic covenant? Isn’t that the pinnacle of God's purposes? No, says Paul. The law of Moses was given to Israel to increase the problem of sin, not to solve it, until the promised Messianic offspring arrived on the scene.

Jump over to Gal 3:23-29. How can you explain with your approach the fact that Paul could talk about a time before faith came except by sucking out of Paul’s words his intended sense of temporality? “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law” (Gal 3:23). The phrase the law here, following on from the discussion in Gal 3:15-19, is the law of Moses, not law in general. Notice also how the term faith is christologically defined in Gal 3:23-25. “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed” (Gal 3:23), which parallels “until Christ came” (Gal 4:24). The coming of Christ historically means the coming of faith (by the way, just as Hab 2:4 prophesied).

In Paul’s way of thinking faith existed while Abraham was a Gentile, but the Mosaic covenant put Israel under the works of the law, but with a view to everything reverting back to faith with the coming of the Messiah. Paul’s law/faith distinction here is not anthropological, but salvation-historical. The law of Moses was “our guardian,” i.e., a guardian over Israel, “until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (Gal 3:25). Paul is not talking about abstract theological concepts, but the flow of the covenants in the salvation-historical time-space continuum.

You say that every covenant has law. That is true as a theological statement. But we need to understand Paul on his own terms. His use of terms such as law, faith, works, grace, promise, etc., is typical of a Jewish rabbi who would take a key word in a passage of Scripture to designate the whole of that section of Scripture or a particular epoch in salvation history. You say faith always exists through history, that law always exists. That is true theologically, but not true of Paul’s usage. For Paul promise solely designates the Abrahamic covenant (even though theologically and in terms of literary genre God's revelation to Abraham contains elements of both promise and law). In a similar way law generally stands for the Mosaic covenant. Grace stands for the new covenant age. Faith is the appropriate response in the ages of promise and grace. Theologically speaking faith also existed in the age of law, but Paul in his Jewish rabbinical way doesn’t use his language that way. For him, works (i.e., Mosaic faith) are the appropriate response to law. He is actually taking key terms from Scripture to designate by them the salvation-historical epochs in which they occur.

Please also consider Rom 5:12-21. On your view, how can you say that “sin was in the world before the law was given” (Rom 5:13)? For you law has always been around, but that is not Paul’s usage. Clearly in Rom 5:13, the law in question is the Mosaic law. The period where there was sin but no law corresponds in Rom 5:14 with the period from post-fall Adam to Moses at Sinai. Notice how Paul is interested in the epochs of salvation history.

Please understand Rom 5:20. This is a key verse: “the law came in to increase the trespass” in order that grace might abound. The term the law here must be defined in the context of the law in Rom 5:13. In other words, the law is the law of Moses. The trespass in the context is the trespass of the one man, Adam. Paul’s meaning is this: the Mosaic law was given to Israel in order to compound the fall of Adam, in order to highlight the grace of God revealed in Christ. It's a salvation-historical argument.

I limit Paul’s use of the law to the Mosaic law in the vast majority of instances because the exegetical evidence points that way, as does the historical evidence of Acts 15:1, 5. Romans 7 is about fleshly Israel, i.e., old covenant Israel. Romans 8 is about how enslaved Israel (and the Gentiles) can be set free (the Gentiles set free from sin in Adam) by the new covenant in Christ. That is true to Paul’s own personal experience. The law of Moses that he was serving, which he thought was the way of life, actually “deceived” him and led him to oppose Christ. He thought he was serving God, but was doing the exact opposite. But then finally he saw the risen Lord Jesus, and realized that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Jewish zeal for the law of Moses was leading the Jews astray.

Paul is primarily talking about the law of Moses, not law in general. But there is a connection between the two—somewhat. For Paul, there is a connection between the law and the commandment. For Paul the commandment (at least in Rom 5:12-21) stands for the law given to Adam. Paul in effect argues in Rom 5:20 and Rom 7:7-11 that the Mosaic law replicates and compounds the effect of Adamic law, so there is a connection, but we have to see the salvation-historical connections before we get to that point, otherwise we are not doing justice to Paul’s use of language and his teaching.

Why is Paul interested in comparing the various covenantal epochs of salvation history? Because Jewish devotion to the Mosaic covenant was getting in the way of them receiving Christ, and getting in the way of his ministry to Gentiles. More significantly, by sticking to Moses, the lordship of Christ, God’s word, and God’s sovereignty in having the right to structure salvation history in the manner of his choosing, were being denied. The problem that Paul was dealing with in Galatians and Romans is primarily the problem of Jewish zeal for the law of Moses: see Rom 10:2 and Acts 21:20.

Now having said all that, I strongly agree with you, however, concerning how we as Christians are made to be slaves of righteousness through Christ and the Spirit. Paul obviously believed that the promise of Jer 31:33 was fulfilled in Christians. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (eschatological torah, i.e., the gospel) has set you (Jews) free from the (Mosaic) law of sin and death (Rom 8:2). Just as Jer 31:31-33 prophesies, the law of Moses (which brought about the sin and death of Israel, which compounds the problem of sin in Adam) has been transformed by Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, that with the (eschatological) law (of the gospel) written in our hearts, we have been set free to serve God as slaves of righteousness. And the same applies to the Gentiles in Adam.

It’s ironic that, in some ways, the situation for the Jews was worse than that of the Gentiles. The Gentiles were bound up in sin through Adam, but the Jews doubly bound: in Adam and also through the law of Moses! But “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ,” who sets us free from the commandment of sin and death in Adam, as well as the law of sin and death in Moses. Gentile and Jew, both equally set free through the new covenant in Christ!


sujomo said...

Lots of thoughts for us all to meditate on. Would you like to post a comment on Romans 15:26 and the juxtapostion of 'obedience' and 'faith'? You have also sought to explain how you see Paul using 'law' in his epistles. Would you care to comment on the wider NT corpus, especially Hebrews 7:12ff?
cheers, sujomo

Steven Coxhead said...

This is a copy of the first half of comment no. 6 over at Dave's blog, which was made in response to my post above.

Dave Woolcott
December 30th, 2009 on 11:25 pm

A couple of points of clarification. Yes, one covenant of grace…two all up! Sorry for that – my bad!

I was saying that I believe that when the law is mentioned in Romans it might sometimes be in reference to a specific law, but the concept is illustrative or true for all aspects of law. This is why Romans 5:13 is not that much of a drama for me with my system.

Now, onto your interesting comments!

I have read your comments and your post on “Paul’s Understanding of Salvation History”. I have read it and considered what you have said. I agree with some of it, and some of it I think, ok I do not agree but you can believe it if you want, no biggie. I am thinking more of your table with Paul’s use of ‘faith’ and ‘works of the law’ etc. But then I think about how much of it does not gel with my reading of Paul, even after reading your thoughts and revisiting Paul. Let me explain.

*You seem to move from two covenants in Gal 4:21-26 to three covenants in Gal 315-19, but Paul does not seem to follow you! He actually ties the Mosaic Law and the Abrahamic promises together when he says, “the law which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.” He certainly does not refer to them as separate covenants. It appears as though one builds on the other. He outlines the purposes for this, as indeed do you in your post.

*You suggest that law is all about Mosaic law in Gal and Rom and one reason you state for this is what is happening in Acts 15:1,5. Yet circumcision was a sign of the covenant that was instituted through Abraham, not Moses. To me this goes some way towards explaining what Paul says in Gal and shows these ‘two’ covenants as very closely linked.

*You say Paul in Gal 3 is contrasting law with promise. This appears to go against what Paul himself says in Gal 3:21, “Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not!” You say, “Paul is interested in the various covenants of salvation history: the Abrahamic versus the Mosaic versus the new.” I certainly see a covenant of works VERSUS the covenant of Grace, but I cannot see where you get the idea that Paul is weighing the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants in comparison with each other. I think he is outlining the continuity between the two.

*I think you have applied more than is needed to Gal 3:18. After all, the promise to Abraham was only ever going to be kept through Christ. It was never going to come through the law. I think you, Paul and I are all agreed with why the law was given. I think that for you covenants work in periods of time, hence why you have a historical view of covenant. Yet, the promise was only ever going to be met through Christ. Indeed, after the fall the only hope Adam and Eve had of salvation would ultimately be through Christ (Gen 3:15). There are two covenants, and they have both been running through salvation history. One is a wide way, the other is narrow. I am sure this point will lead to more questions ;-)

Steven Coxhead said...

Here is a copy of the second half of comment no. 6 over at Dave's blog, which was made in response to my post above.

*The issue in Gal and Romans is not “is the Mosaic covenant the be-all-and-end-all of God’s soteric purposes?” It is about how no one can keep the law, so no one can be saved by it. The only way to be saved is to let go of the law and have faith in the work of Christ. This is because Paul not only gives a big ‘NO’ to the Mosaic covenant, but because he also gives a big ‘YES’ to Jesus. What evidence does Paul have to give for salvation through faith in Jesus? God’s promises through Abraham.

*My view also makes sense of Gal 3:19!

*With regards to Gal 3:23…as we have already discussed in Phil 3, there was a time for Paul when he did not work by faith, but was under the law. Surely this is what he is referring to in regard to the time before faith, when “we were held captive under law’. It is true for all of us outside of Christ, even today! Yes, I agree the faith is Christological, but I am not sure why you think it is difficult for my understanding/paradigm.

*You seem to think that with the covenant of Moses that there was no faith/promise. What happened to the promised land?! Can I ask Steve, if Moses was saved (the transfiguration on the mountain suggest he has been saved!), how was he saved? Through works of the law? Paul and yourself make it clear that only Christ kept the law. How were the Israelites who were bitten by the snakes saved? By faith when they looked at the bronze serpent. The writer of Hebrews 11 seems to think that faith in God’s ability to save/promises was what caused all the heroes of the faith to receive the commendation – including Moses! You have split Paul’s thinking but I see no evidence for it, but only evidence to the contrary.

*Paul is speaking to largely gentile audiences who have been influenced by confused Jewish/Christian teaching about circumcision. You seem to think he is then going to talk to these Gentiles in the way that a Jewish Rabbi would write. This does not seem to fit in with the ‘missional’ Paul who works hard to approach people where they are at. Surely he would have made it clear for them so that it would be clear for me too. He has to go into details about the covenants because he has to undo the work of the circumcision group through reasoning. He has to show why circumcision is no longer applicable in Christ. You have stated that Paul uses words differently to how I am using them, yet you have failed to show evidence of this (I know you think you have, but I have not found it to be persuasive).

*Even with all said and done you say, “I limit Paul’s use of the law to the Mosaic law in the vast majority of instances”. The vast majority…but not all? Is Paul really this confusing? ;-)

Finally in closing, there is much I agree with you on Steve. One thing I love about this discussion is that it has become more and more obvious to me that we both desire to understand scripture correctly. This is cool! But, and perhaps I am jumping the gun, I do not have the slightest idea from this discussion so far how you come to believe that there are two types of righteousness/justification, and why you believe that works are a necessary foundation to faith. Could you briefly (shorter than you 5 page post!!) sketch how you come to these conclusions!

Steven Coxhead said...

Hi Dave, this is my response to the first half of your comment no. 6.

The "covenant previously ratified by God" in Gal 3:17 is the Abrahamic one. You could argue that the Mosaic law might be a codicil to that covenant, but the fact Paul speaks of the Mosaic covenant as a covenant in its own right in Gal 4 strongly suggests that in Gal 3:15-18 Paul is pointing out the historical priority of the Abrahamic covenant over the Mosaic one. This is exactly how his argument would have been understood in a Jewish context, hence the scandal of his opinion, and a key reason why he was persecuted.

This just goes to prove that Paul had a historical approach to the covenants, like the Jews generally, and like myself. The fact that you don't have a historical approach but a more abstract one means that there is a mismatch between your system and Paul's, which means that you'll struggle to understand Paul at various points.

Regarding your comment on Gal 3:18, you need to understand that Paul's opponents (as per Judaism generally at that time) believed that the inheritance of life was regulated by the Mosaic covenant (which, by the way, was true for Israel during the old covenant age), which is why Paul is arguing against the false belief that that situation still applied in salvation history after Christ's ascension.

Steven Coxhead said...

Why were the Judaizers forcing Christian Gentiles to keep the law of Moses in order to be saved? Primarily because they believed (on the basis of Moses' teaching in the Pentateuch) that the Mosaic covenant regulated the inheritance of eternal life. As Paul says in Rom 2:19-20, they saw themselves and the law of Moses as being a light to the Gentiles who were living in darkness.

Dave, you seem to think that the problem was that no one can be saved through keeping law. I'll deal with the issue of keeping the law in a separate post; but if what you say was the case, why argue that the law was given 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant? Why argue in Rom 2:26-27 using the illustration of a Gentile who keeps the law? Why argue that God is God of the Gentiles just as much as God of the Jews in the midst of his discourse on justification by faith (Rom 3:29)? Why the strong need to explain the purposes of God for Israel in salvation history (Rom 9-11)?

Regarding your other points, I'll do a post on the works of the law in the Old Testament. There was promise and faith involved in the Mosaic covenant. I have suggested that Paul's use of certain key terms is salvation-historical, but that is not to deny the existence of promise, faith, or even law as psychological or generic realities in other salvation-historical epochs.

Regarding the influence of rabbinical logic on Paul, Galatians was written in large part as a direct challenge to the Judaizers, so Jewish arguments would be expected to be made. Most of Rom 1-11 is a diatribe against a Jewish opponent, as if Paul is giving the Christians in Rome a model for how to deal with the Judaizing problem that they were being troubled by. The Gentiles who were caught up in that issue may not always have understood the intricacies of Paul's succinct Jewish rabbibical logic or certain aspects of Jewish exegesis—that's a challenge for us too at times; just think Rom 10:5-8—but they would have understood what Paul was on about, and the import of the great majority of his argument. As for Paul's Jewish audience, no problems there.

I'll do a separate post on law in Romans.

Dave said...

Steve, I believe that I need to think through some of my understanding of the cevenants. I will continue to do this.

I believe that you have some difficulties though with your understanding of Galatians.

We agree that Gal 3:17 is referring to the Abrahamic covenant.

I agree that if we have a historical approach to covenant then Gal 4 must be suggesting that in Gal 3:15-18 the Abrahamic covenant must have priority over the Mosaic one.

Now, I do not agree that I struggle to understand Paul at various points. Perhaps I am in denial! The problem I still have though is that you do not do justice to Paul’s words in Gal 4.

In Gal 4 Paul is speaking allegorically. He is clear on this. So he sets up two covenants that happen at approximately the same time (through Sarah and Hagar). The covenant through Hagar is linked to the Mosaic covenant – but it starts some 430 years earlier! Even at the time of the Abrahamic covenant of promise there was a covenant of slavery. Go figure – sounds like what I was saying!

I fully agree that the promises through Abraham have priority, over both the attempt to fulfill them through Hagar (works basically), and through the Mosaic law that came later, that really built on what Abraham and Sarah tried to achieve through Hagar (basically works). To me, all this goes towards undermining your position, not strengthening it. The law does not nullify the promise, i.e. the only way we have life is through the promise of what God will do, not through what we can do.

Dave said...

Steve, I agree with your first paragraph. They thought that the Mosaic covenant regulated the inheritance of eternal life. Of course they were wrong. After all, no one can be saved through keeping the law. As i said in my previous comment, the Mosaic covenant did not nullify the promise. It was only ever by God’s promise that we were and are saved.

I will await your post on keeping the law.

Dave said...

When I said, "The covenant through Hagar is linked to the Mosaic covenant – but it starts some 430 years earlier!" I should really have said that it started much much earlier, but for his illustration Paul starts it with Hagar. Obviously I believe it started with Adam!

Steven Coxhead said...

Hi Dave, interesting thoughts about Gal 4.

I don't think Paul is suggesting that there was actually a covenant with Hagar—if anything God gave her a promise (Gen 21:17-18)! It seems to me that the point of the allegory here is saying that the promise versus flesh dynamic was at work at the time of Abraham, and that that was symbolic of the situation of Paul's day.

The real point of the allegory is found in Gal 4:29-30. In the story of Isaac and Ishmael, the son acquired through the flesh persecuted the son acquired through promise. This is symbolic of Paul's day, where the application is that fleshy (Mosaic) Israel (which emphasized circumcision) was causing trouble for free (Christian) Israel. Verse 30 may even imply that the Judaizers should be kicked out of the churches.

So I don't think Paul is suggesting that any literal covenant was made with Hagar, or that she somehow participated in the Sinaitic covenant in a pre-emptive way. But you're right to see a fleshly principle at work back then, and therefore a symbolic connection between the incident of Ishmael and how old covenant Israel reacted to God.

Faith responds positively to the promise of God; not to do so is to act according to the flesh, and that was a possible reaction to God's promise in the time of Abraham. If you want to talk about a covenant of works in Adam operating then, I have no trouble with that. In fact, my view is that the Adamic covenant still continues—so there is a similarity between us after all! The problem comes in when people want to connect the covenant of works to Sinai, and say that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works (which some people do). We actually need to keep the covenants distinct, before we can understand the connections between them. And just because I take a historical approach to the covenants is not to say that they don't continue on through time or that they don't overlap, but I think that calls for a new post.

I think I'll do a post on the covenants, then look at faith and obedience in relation to Abraham, then look at the works of the law under the Mosaic covenant.

Dave said...

The allegory is that the two women ARE two covenants (Gal 4:24). So you are correct, Paul is not saying there is a covenant with Hagar (though the promise language in Gen 21:17-18 sounds a lot like the covenant with Abraham). But as you say, we seem to have more in common than we first thought!
Praise God!

With regards to Moses being a covenant of works, how do you deal with the link that Paul makes between Hagar, Sinai and slavery? Is not the slavery aspect of the allegory works, and the promise/freedom grace? Don’t get me wrong, the law (of Moses, and any other law given) was given so as to increase the problem of sin, and therefore highlight the need for grace (and the need to rely on the promise). But is Paul’s point that they were never meant to rely on the law over and above the promise to Abraham, but rather rely on the promise even more, i.e. rely on God’s grace/love (Gal 3:21-22)?

That was genuine question…I would like to know!!

John Thomson said...


Just working through these blogs (from front to back). This is a very helpful blog. Again, it largely expresses my own understanding.

I think it would be helpful if we did not confuse 'law' with 'obligation'. In one sense we may say Adam had many obligations for relationships create obligations, however, in biblical terms he was given but one 'law'. Our life creates relationship obligations however, it is only when a moral obligation is formalised into a 'command with sanctions' that it takes on the character of 'Law'. This is the point in Roms 5. From Adam to Sinai there was no 'law' in the sense of obligation expressed within a legal framework of command and sanction. This is in part why the NT very rarely refers to christian obedience as 'law' and in fact tends to do so only when concerned to avoid the accusation of antinomianism (under law to Christ).

The ironic point of the Hagar/Sarah covenant allegory is that the last person Judaizing Israel would like to think of itself as being is Hagar or Ishmael. It prided itself in being Sarah/Isaac's offspring; the children of promise.

This, of course, alongside the contrast Unbelieving Israel:Ishmael/natural birth/physical descendent/physical circumcision/self-righteous (trust in flesh)/fleshly/earthly Jerusalem/Sinai/in captivity/Persecutor of child of promise

The Church, the Israel of God: Isaac/supernatural birth/promise/circumcision of heart/ Jerusalem above, eschatological Jerusalem in OT/free/persecuted/

I am not yet sure how far you are buying into the NPP view that the issue in Galatians and Romans is more ecclesiological (social) than soteriological. Time will tell. I take the occasional issue to be social (Jew and Gentile) but the substantive issue to be soteriological (righteousness by works vv righteousness by faith). Are you suggesting that OT Israel under law properly pursued righteousness by self-effort? If so what of Roms 10:1,2. Are you locating Paul's criticism,

Rom 10:3 (ESV)
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.

purely at the interface of the two covenants in the career of Christ? Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself?

Steven Coxhead said...

Hi John,

No, it's very much a soteriological issue at heart. I think Paul is saying two things: (1) Israel didn't respond properly to God during the old covenant age (the curses of the covenant coming down upon the nation proves this); and (2) this failure was part of God's plan in order to highlight what God would do through Christ, the implication being that the old covenant could never bring the fullness of salvation anyway. So, the old covenant was ultimately designed to be fulfilled and replaced by the new; but as far as old covenant Israel is concerned, I hold that it was right for old covenant Israel to walk in the way of torah. Doing torah was what faith looked like in the context of the Mosaic covenant, and this would constitute her covenant righteousness (Deut 6:25; see also Rom 10:5).

I view the majority Jewish rejection of Jesus as being the climax of the problem of covenant rebellion that Israel had had since the beginning. The problem did not just emerge when Jesus arrived on the scene, although I do think that Paul has his own day in mind in Rom 9:30–10:3, i.e., Israel couldn't reject the Messianic stone until he was revealed to them. Isaiah 28:16 is definitely an eschatological prophecy, which Paul saw as being fulfilled in his day. In the name of faithfulness to Moses, the Israel of Paul’s day rejected the Messiah. Note the tragic irony of the situation: in the name of obedience to the covenant with Moses, they were rejecting the Messiah, and committing covenant rebellion as far as God (and Moses) was concerned. Paul had this rebellion in mind in Rom 9:30–10:3, but this should also be viewed as being the climax of the covenant rebellion that had been a continual problem in Israel, which the Old Testament is also concerned to record.

John Thomson said...


Thanks for taking the time to respond, and respond in detail to my queries.

I understand that Israel had to live out faith in the context of torah. I am a bit concerned that you may be relativizing Paul's view that 'the law is not of faith' and 'this do and you shall live' by describing the covenant (in Nicky's response) as gracious (though I accept it has gracious aspects to it). Need to read this more carefully. Seems a bit like I understand Dunn; the issue is not their understanding of law but of Jesus and gentiles. That is not a criticism just an observation.

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, John, for those thoughts.

I think that traditionally the covenant of grace versus covenant of works schema has been used to identify the nature of the various covenants in terms of the obligations of the covenant in question on the human party. Where a covenant demands absolute obedience, the covenant in question is called a covenant of works. Where it demands something other than absolute obedience, it is called a covenant of grace. At least this is how the language has been used for the most part in the Reformed tradition.

Paul says that the law is not of faith; but when you look at the Old Testament, the language of faith does appear. For example, the psalmist in Ps 119 says that he believes in God’s commandments (v. 66). The way of faith for the author of Ps 119 is the way of obedience to torah (v. 30). So, we must conclude that the law of Moses was of faith in some sense.

Did Paul then contradict the author of Ps 119? I don’t think so. The question we are left with, therefore, is: what did Paul mean when he said that the law is not of faith? My suggestion is as follows: the term faith for Paul is often reserved for the proper response of faith to the broadstream word of God (i.e., the word of God that is inclusive of Gentiles). By way of contrast, for Mosaic faith (of which the faith of the author of Ps 119 is an example), which is narrowstream (in that it applies only to the nation of Israel), Paul uses the term the works of the law. This may seem weird to us, but it is in fact a legitimate Jewish method of exegesis, which pays attention to characteristic linguistic emphases in Scripture.

To put it in a way that we can understand better, when Paul said that the law is not of faith in Gal 3, what he meant was that the Mosaic covenant required a Mosaic-type faith, whereas Hab 2:4 prophesies that in the time of the eschaton an Abrahamic-type faith is going to be what constitutes covenant righteousness. In other words, the Mosaic narrowstream was a temporary channeling of faith through one nation, which with the coming of the Messiah would return to the broadstream, just like it was back in the beginning with (Gentile) Abraham.

I think the issue for Paul which informs Rom 9:30–10:4 was that the orthodox Jewish and Christian Judaizing positions constituted (from the orthodox Christian perspective) a rejection of the gospel and the lordship of Christ. One of the motivations for the Jews opposing the Christian gospel was that it opened up righteousness to Gentiles, and therefore was seen by many Jews as not being true to the law of Moses, which restricted covenant righteousness to Israel. Paul admits in Rom 10:5 that Moses taught a legitimate doctrine of law righteousness. It was not wrong for Israel to pursue covenant righteousness according to the Mosaic law during the old covenant age (which they had trouble doing). In fact, it was their covenant obligation. But when they sought to preserve this traditional Mosaic way of defining righteousness at the expense of the lordship of Christ, this is where they added to their historic propensity to covenant rebellion by rejecting the lordship of the Messiah. And this also means that they had not really understood Moses and the prophets, despite their claim to do so.

Gary said...

Hebrew children in the Old Testament were born into God's covenant, both male and female. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for boys, but the sign was not what saved them. Faith saved them. Rejecting the sign, circumcision, for boys, either by the parents or later as an adult himself, was a sign of a lack of true faith, and therefore the child was "cut off" from God's promises as clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17:

"Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

What was the purpose of this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God tells us in the beginning of this chapter of Genesis:

"And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you."

This covenant wasn't just to establish a Jewish national identity or a promise of the inheritance of the land of Caanan, as some evangelicals want you to believe. In this covenant, God promises to be their God. Does God say here that he will be their God only if they make a "decision for God" when they are old enough to have the intelligence and maturity to decide for themselves? No! They are born into the covenant!

If Jewish children grew up trusting in God and lived by faith, they then received eternal life when they died. If when they grew up, they rejected God, turned their back on God, and lived a life of willful sin, when they died, they suffered eternal damnation. Salvation was theirs to LOSE. There is no record anywhere in the Bible that Jewish children were required to make a one time "decision for God" upon reaching an "Age of Accountability" in order to be saved.

Therefore Jewish infants who died, even before circumcision, were saved.

The same is true today. Christian children are born into the covenant. They are saved by faith. It is not the act of baptism that saves, it is faith. The refusal to be baptized is a sign of a lack of true faith and may result in the child being "cut off" from God's promise of eternal life, to suffer eternal damnation, as happened with the unfaithful Hebrew in the OT.

Christ said, "He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be damned."

It is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of faith that damns.

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