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?


Charles said...

Hi Steven

Interesting post. What do you think might be the content of this eschatological Torah? Do you have any thoughts how this might relate to the Law of Christ?

Steven Coxhead said...

Hello Charles,

Thanks for your comment.

Yes, I think that eschatological torah is the law of Christ, although more accurately eschatological torah is Christ himself, given that Christ is the supreme Word/Torah/revelation of God. As a communication of Christ, the gospel is also viewed in the NT as fulfilling the OT prophecies regarding eschatological torah.

I’ll be exploring the concept of eschatological torah further in my next few posts, so perhaps you can keep an eye out for those.

John Davies said...

I fully agree and from my observation NT scholars have not taken sufficient account of this important OT motif. The DSS are also a rich source of evidence for how this motif was understood in Second Temple times. I look forward to your posts.