Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Link between Righteousness and Eschatological Torah in Romans 9:30-33

A friend of mine has recently drawn my attention to Rom 9:30-32. The fact that ἔθνη (Gentiles) is anarthrous suggests to me that Paul has in mind either Gentiles viewed generally or an indefinite group of Gentiles. The characterization of these Gentiles in a classically Jewish “derogatory” way as being those who “do not pursue righteousness” (v. 30) is something that was true from the Jewish perspective of Gentiles generally. At the same time, however, Paul’s interest is mainly upon the subset of all of those ungodly Gentiles who “have attained righteousness” (v. 30). The righteousness that the Gentiles were not pursuing is not moral righteousness in a general sense, but the righteousness of a right standing before God on the basis of a commitment to his word, i.e., a righteousness akin to the righteousness that the orthodox Jews of Paul’s day were zealous to pursue through their commitment to torah. Historically how many Gentiles were keen to study the law of Moses with a view to keeping it? Not many. So this Jewish characterization of the Gentiles was generally true. But, with the coming of the new covenant, things had changed. The new covenant “surprise” (from the Jewish perspective) is that morally-lax torah-non-compliant Gentiles have attained the righteous standing before God which the orthodox Jews of the time were so zealous to attain. This right standing has come, however, not on the basis of torah-keeping but rather gospel-keeping (i.e., through faith in Christ as revealed in the gospel).

In Rom 9:31, Paul describes the flip-side of this new covenant surprise: Israel’s legitimate pursuit of righteousness by way of obedience to Mosaic torah proved in the end to be a failure, not because pursuing righteousness through the law of Moses was misguided, but simply because the people of Israel (considered as a whole) “did not attain to the law.” Israel’s not attaining the law has two elements to it. Historically, as the Old Testament is concerned to prove, Israel (as a nation) did not keep or obey the law. Israel’s lack of covenant obedience meant that justification on the basis of such obedience was non-existent. The phrase νόμον δικαιοσύνης (the law of righteousness) in v. 31 is to be understood through the prism of Deut 6:25. Moses taught Israel that “it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.” In other words, if Israel kept covenant with God, then this would be the right response on the level of her covenant obligations before God, and this right response would result in Israel enjoying the status of covenant righteousness before God. During the old covenant age, following the law (in the context of grace) was the way to be right with God and to experience blessing as a consequence (as per God’s promise to bless the righteous and to punish the wicked; see Exod 19:5; 20:5-6). But Paul has in mind more than this historical failure of Israel to attain covenant righteousness. He primarily has in mind the specific situation of his day, namely, the failure on the part of the majority of the Jews at the time to notice the change in the way in which covenant righteousness was to be defined: the old covenant doctrine of justification by the works of the law was superseded by the new covenant doctrine of justification by faith in Christ. This can be seen from Paul’s reasoning in v. 32.

In Rom 9:32, Paul clearly states the reason why the Jews of his day failed to attain such a righteous status before God. It was because they pursued such righteousness through works (where works is shorthand in the context for the works of the [Mosaic] law), and not through faith in Christ. It is important to note here that the concept of faith in view in Rom 9:30-32 (as is common in Paul) is not historically general but specifically eschatological and thoroughly christological. Faith here is specifically an acceptance of the “offensive” Messianic stone of stumbling (Isa 8:14), Jesus of Nazareth, as being (in reality) the tested, precious cornerstone, the sure foundation of salvation, for anyone who believes (Isa 28:16). In other words, Yahweh’s laying of the Messianic stone in Zion (Rom 9:32) is nothing other than the revelation of eschatological torah in Jesus, and faith (which in general is a submissive acceptance of the word of God) is specifically in this context the proper response to this supreme revelation in Jesus. By submitting to the gospel, the Gentiles had attained covenant righteousness. Submission to the gospel is the right response to eschatological torah. But for the majority of the Jews of Paul’s day, tragically, their devotion to the Mosaic way of righteousness prevented them from accepting the gospel. In sum, their “zeal” for the torah of Moses prevented them from recognizing eschatological Torah when he was revealed to Israel.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eschatological Torah in Romans

Having identified that a concept of eschatological torah exists in the Old Testament, and that Paul reflects the Old Testament teaching concerning this concept in his letters, it is interesting to consider how prominent the concept of eschatological torah is in Paul.

A good place to start is Paul’s epistle to the Romans. On my calculations, of the 74 instances of νóμοϛ (nomos) in Romans, it seems that around 5% of instances have eschatological or new covenant torah as their referent. The relevant instances are highlighted in bold in the following quotations.

For when Gentiles, who by nature do not have the law, do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law (Rom 2:14).

Gentiles by definition cannot keep Mosaic torah, so the law that the Gentiles keep (in accordance with Isa 2:2-3; 42:2; 51:4) must be eschatological torah.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith (Rom 3:27).

The law of works is the law of Moses. The law of faith is the eschatological torah of the gospel, which breaks down the barrier of exclusive covenant membership that led to Jewish boasting.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:2).

The law of sin and death is the law that brought death to Israel, i.e., the law of Moses. This is evident from the wider context as Paul has just argued in Rom 7 for the condemnatory and mortifying effect of the law of Moses on carnal Israel. By way of contrast to the law of Moses, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is nothing other than the eschatological torah that is written in the heart by the Holy Spirit that brings life through Christ Jesus, in accordance with the prophecies of Deut 30:11-14; Jer 31:33; and Ezek 36:26-27, which speak of the law being written on the heart of God’s people in the eschatological age, moving them to obedience, “so that [they] might live” (Deut 30:6).

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom 8:3-4).

The phrase the law in Rom 8:4 most likely refers back to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus in Rom 8:2. That the referent of the pronoun us in Rom 8:4 presumably includes Gentiles confirms that it is probably best to take the phrase the law in Rom 8:4 to refer to eschatological torah.

Overall, therefore, the concept of eschatological torah is not frequently explicit in Paul’s letter to the Romans; but it is theologically very significant nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Concept of Eschatological Torah in Pauline Theology

I have argued recently in the posts entitled “The Importance of the Old Testament Concept of Eschatological Torah for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law,” “The Concept of Eschatological Torah in Deuteronomy 18:15-19,” and “The Significance of Eschatological Torah according to the Old Testament” that the Old Testament puts forward a concept of eschatological torah. The question that I want to explore in this post is: Was the Apostle Paul aware of the Old Testament concept of eschatological torah? The answer, I believe, is that Paul was clearly aware of this concept.

Paul’s view is that with the coming of the new covenant in Christ, adherence to the Mosaic covenant (which was required by God and Moses during the old covenant age) has been superseded by adherence to Christ. This is consistent with Deut 18:15-19, which speaks of an eschatological revelation, given by a second prophet like Moses, that would supersede the revelation delivered to Israel by Moses. Moses knew that Mosaic torah would be superseded by a greater torah in the future, the torah of the Messiah; and Paul came to understand this too. Isaiah 2:1-4; 42:4; 51:4-5 all teach that eschatological law would be Gentile-friendly. Messianic torah, therefore, opens up the possibility of law-keeping (i.e., a positive response to God’s word), and hence covenant righteousness, to the Gentiles; and Paul came to understand this as well, hence his teaching concerning justification by faith for all who believe rather than justification solely for Israel by obedience to the law of Moses (i.e., the works of the law).

It is evident that Paul understood the Old Testament teaching concerning eschatological torah, because it is reflected in key parts of his teaching about the law. The Gentiles in Rom 2 (who do not have the law, but who keep it) do not have the Mosaic law, because they are not Jews; but through their acceptance of the gospel, Paul understood that they had become keepers of torah, thanks to the fact that the Spirit had written the eschatological torah of the gospel on their heart as per Jer 31:33 (note the wording of Rom 2:15), and in fulfillment of the torah prophecies of Isaiah.

Looking at the bigger picture, eschatological law is simply the revelation of Christ, who is the Word or Torah of God incarnate. This is a key theme in John’s Gospel, but the concept of eschatological torah also appears in the epistles of Paul. Paul calls eschatological law the law of faith as opposed to the [Mosaic] law of works (Rom 3:27). He calls it the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus as opposed to the [Mosaic] law of sin and death (Rom 8:2). He calls it the law of Christ as opposed to the [Mosaic] law (1 Cor 9:20-21), or simply the law when he is not concerned to distinguish eschatological law from Mosaic law (Rom 2:26). The eschatological law of Deut 30:11-14 is the word of faith that we preach (Rom 10:8) and the standard of teaching to which you were committed (Rom 6:17). That is to say, in Paul’s thinking, eschatological torah was understood to be nothing other than the gospel.

Understanding the biblical-theological connection between eschatological torah and the gospel means that simply trotting out the standard Protestant slogans that the law is negative, that it kills and cannot give life, is not good enough from a biblical-theological point of view. Such slogans do not present the full story regarding torah. They are a simplification of biblical truth and sloppy exegesis, because as far as Paul was concerned the gospel is eschatological torah. If the gospel is eschatological torah, it then follows that obedience to torah (eschatological torah, not Mosaic torah ... at least in the new covenant age) is the way of life and salvation. So, whenever we make pronouncements concerning the law, we need to be clear about what torah we are talking about, as well as what epoch of salvation history we are referring to!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Significance of Eschatological Torah according to the Old Testament

In my post entitled “The Importance of the Old Testament Concept of Eschatological Torah for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law” I listed six Old Testament texts that speak of eschatological torah. I also suggested that the concept of eschatological torah is a key idea for understanding Paul’s teaching on the law. But before doing a post or two more specifically on the idea of eschatological torah in Paul, we need to understand what the Old Testament actually teaches concerning eschatological torah.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 needs to be read together with Deut 30:1-10. This passage is a Mosaic prophecy that concerns the time after the exile of Israel (Deut 30:1), when God would circumcise the hearts of his people Israel (Deut 30:6), moving them to keep torah (Deut 30:2, 6, 8, 10). As they returned to the way of obedience to torah, the promised covenant blessings would flow (Deut 30:3-7, 9). Deuteronomy 30:1-14 says in effect that Israel keeping torah is necessary for the fullness of the blessing of life to be experienced. Furthermore, because keeping torah is essential to salvation under the terms of the covenant, God will actually ensure that (in the end) Israel will turn to keep covenant with him.

But the new covenant is not just about Israel keeping torah. Isaiah 2:1-4 and the parallel passage in Mic 4:1-4 prophesy of how Gentiles would seek God in Jerusalem with the express purpose of learning torah in order that they might obey it (Isa 2:2-3). As a result of the nations learning torah, there would be universal peace (Isa 2:4).

Isaiah 42:1-4 speaks of how the coastlands (which is a synecdoche for the nations) wait for the torah of the Spirit-filled Servant of God (Isa 42:1), the one who would bring justice to the nations (Isa 42:2, 4). A similar idea is put forward in Isa 51:4-5. Salvation for Israel and the nations is connected with torah going out to the peoples like a light shining in the darkness.

The heart of the new covenant, according to the famous prophecy of Jer 31:31-33, is Yahweh’s writing of torah on the hearts of his people. Torah is not abandoned in the crossover from the old covenant to the new. Rather, what we get is a more comprehensive internalization of torah in the hearts of God’s people. No longer is torah written on the hearts of merely a small minority of Israelites; instead, all Israel will be regenerate and able to respond positively to God as a result. With torah written on their hearts, they will naturally keep covenant with God. Since the heart is the control center of the human psyche, if torah is written on the heart, obedience naturally follows.

It needs to be recognized that the work of God writing torah on the hearts of his people is not merely a by-product of salvation, but an essential part of the process of salvation. For, without the internalization of torah, Israel will not be able to keep covenant with God; and if Israel does not keep covenant with God, then the promise of the blessing of life will not be realized. This is evident in the use of the modal perfect verb והייתי (and I will be) in v. 33. God being Israel’s God in a positive and experiential way, and Israel being truly God’s people (i.e., a people consecrated and obedient to God), is sequential to torah being in Israel’s heart. There is a causal connection here. The fruition of the covenant blessing of full communion between God and his people (v. 33: “and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”) is conditional upon Israel having torah in the heart. The blessings of the new covenant cannot come without God’s people being moved to keep torah.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 speaks of this necessary covenant obedience as the product of a new heart and a new spirit. God would remove the lifeless, unresponsive heart of stone from his people, and provide them with a living, beating, responsive heart of flesh. This regeneration is associated with God sending his Spirit to dwell in the hearts of his people, such that they would be caused to walk in God’s statutes and to do God’s judgments. In other words, the Spirit would be given to God’s people to empower them to keep torah, so that the blessings of the covenant might be realized. This is clear by virtue of the string of modal perfect clauses in Ezek 36:28-30 that speak of the realization of the blessings of the covenant. The blessings of Ezek 36:28-30 are conditional upon the regeneration of God’s people in Ezek 36:26-27.

To summarize what we have seen above, the Old Testament views torah as lying at the heart of God’s new covenant purposes. Far from being something merely negative, the Old Testament views torah as being the key to life. Torah is so important that the Spirit-filled Servant of God will teach eschatological torah to Israel and the nations. Likewise, doing torah is so important in God’s plan of salvation that God will conduct a Spiritual heart circumcision and transplant on his people to enable them to do torah. As far as Moses, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were concerned, there is no salvation apart from obedience to torah. But whenever Paul is interpreted as saying that divine law is impotent to save, it seems to me that we are effectively suggesting that these Old Testament heavyweights got it wrong about torah and its role in the divine economy of salvation. When Paul spoke negatively about the law, was he talking about law in general, or was his focus more specifically on the primarily negative role of the Mosaic law in God’s plan of redemption? My suggestion to the world of Pauline scholarship is that Paul needs to be interpreted in a manner that is more consistent with what the Old Testament prophets have prophesied.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Concept of Eschatological Torah in Deuteronomy 18:15-19

In my post entitled “The Importance of the Old Testament Concept of Eschatological Torah for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law” I identified six or seven Old Testament passages that give expression to the concept of eschatological torah, but there is another Old Testament passage of great relevance to this topic. That is Deut 18:15-19, where Moses is recorded as saying:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.’”
This passage is often explained as referring to ordinary prophets, but it is interesting how it is treated in the New Testament.

I would argue that Deut 18:15-19 is a key passage for understanding the significance of Jesus’ transfiguration. The expression listen to him (Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35) alludes to the expression it is to him you shall listen in Deut 18:15. In other words, Jesus is the prophet like Moses who surpasses Moses. Whatever he says (even if it differs from what Moses said) we must obey.

The expression the prophet in John 1:21; 6:14; 7:40 refers back to Deut 18:15, 18. Regarding John 6:14, having just fed at least 5,000 people in the wilderness, what else would you conclude if you were Jewish? This guy must be the prophet like Moses about whom Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy! Hence their conclusion in John 6:14: “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” And it is interesting that, in their mind, this was linked with kingship (John 6:15).

Stephen also quotes Deut 18:15 in Acts 7:37. This is presumably a pre-emptive reference in his sermon to the supreme prophet, who is subsequently identified as the Righteous One whom the people of Israel of Stephen’s day “betrayed and murdered” (see Acts 7:52).

But the key New Testament use of Deut 18:15-19 is found in Acts 3. Preaching after the healing of the lame beggar, Peter warns his Jewish audience to receive Jesus Christ through repentance. He does this by quoting Deut 18:15, 19 (see Acts 3:22-23). Concluding his sermon, Peter says: “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first” (Acts 3:26). The verb ἀναστήσας (having raised up) in v. 26 links in with the verb ἀναστήσει (will raise up) in v. 22, which is derived straight from the LXX of Deut 18:15. In this way Peter confirms that Jesus—note how the wording his servant Jesus in Acts 3:13 is echoed in v. 26—is the prophet about whom Moses prophesied in Deut 18:15-19. In addition, the raising up language of Deut 18:15, 18 is taken by Peter as prophesying resurrection. More than anything else, Jesus’ resurrection is proof that he is the second and greater Moses.

Where then is the concept of eschatological torah found in Deut 18:15-19? The fact that the office of prophet is mentioned implies the communication of authoritative revelation. Indeed, the expression it is to him you shall listen implies that the authority of the second Moses surpasses even that of first Moses. The expression it is to him you shall listen effectively means whatever he says, you shall obey. This implication regarding the authority of the second Moses in relation to the first Moses is clearly brought out in the accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration, with Moses and Elijah (symbolic of the Law and the Prophets) disappearing before the approach of the glory cloud of God, leaving Jesus alone in the spotlight as the Son of God before whom everyone must bow down in obeisance/obedience. The revelatory function of the prophet of Deut 18:15-19 is confirmed in Deut 18:18: “And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”

The words that God commanded the second Moses to speak are nothing other than eschatological torah. This is why Jesus said:
“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment, what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me” (John 12:49-50).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Importance of the Old Testament Concept of Eschatological Torah for Understanding Paul's View of the Law

In the debate surrounding the Apostle Paul’s teaching on the law, I believe that a key concept has been overlooked, namely, the Old Testament concept of eschatological torah. From the perspective of the Old Testament, eschatological torah is simply the form of God’s law that would be operative in the new covenant age. A careful study of the Old Testament reveals that the Old Testament prophets viewed torah as having a key role in the new covenant, and that this role would be positive.

The following passages are the key Old Testament texts that develop the concept of eschatological torah:

For this commandment that I command you today will not be too hard for you, neither will it be far off. It will not be not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither will it be beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word will be very near you. It will be in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it (Deut 30:11-14);
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations,and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isa 2:1-4; note also the similar passage in Mic 4:1-4);
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law (Isa 42:1-4);
“Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait” (Isa 51:4-5);
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:31-33);
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek 36:26-27).

Surely Paul was familiar with these prophecies. One would also hope that his teaching on torah was consistent with these prophecies. In what ways then do these texts help us understand Paul’s teaching on torah?