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in Christ, adherence to the Mosaic covenant (which was required by God and Moses during the old covenant age) has been superseded by adherence to Christ.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 Moses knew that Mosaic torah would be superseded by a greater torah in the future, the torah of the Messiah; and Paul came to understand this too.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!

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