Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Summary of the New Covenant Paradigm

My current doctoral thesis is concerned to develop something of the bigger biblical-theological flow of salvation history in the Bible under the rubric of justification. I have called the resulting model the new covenant paradigm. The model can be summarized under 15 main theses as follows:

1) The condition of justification inside the garden of Eden was perfect (holistic) faith;

2) The condition of justification outside the garden of Eden is imperfect (holistic) faith;

3) The primary dispensational distinction in the Bible is that between the old covenant and the new covenant;

4) The condition of justification for Israel under the old covenant was not perfect faith but imperfect faith, as the presence of a system of sacrificial atonement within the law proves;

5) Under the old covenant, the condition of faith, being holistic, was characteristically described in terms of doing torah;

6) Hence, a legitimate doctrine of justification by the works of the law existed under the old covenant;

7) The old covenant is, therefore, a covenant of grace; but Israel's continuation in grace was conditional upon Israel continuing in imperfect (holistic) faith (i.e., doing torah);

8) But Israel as a nation broke the covenant by not doing torah;

9) Therefore, the Mosaic covenant of grace functioned historically primarily as a covenant of condemnation and death, compounding the original transgression of Adam;

10) The failure of the old covenant was part of God’s plan to highlight the supreme expression of the grace of God to be revealed under the new covenant in Christ;

11) Because the new covenant solves the problem of the failure of the old covenant, and is the fulfillment of the old covenant, the new covenant exhibits the same relational dynamics as the old covenant;

12) Therefore, justification under the new covenant is also justification by imperfect faith;

13) But with the coming of a new revelation in Christ, the content of faith has been redefined in terms of this new revelation (the gospel), which can be contrasted with the previous revelation that came via Moses (the law);

14) The new covenant definition of faith can be contrasted, therefore, with the definition of faith that was understood to apply under the old covenant, hence the covenantal distinction between justification by faith in Christ under the new covenant and justification by the works of the law (i.e., Mosaic faith) under the old;

15) Under the new covenant (like under the old), perseverance in faith is necessary in order to experience the fullness of salvation at the time of the consummation of the new covenant.


In other words, what I am suggesting is that, outside of the garden, justification has always been by (imperfect) faith. But because faith is typically viewed in the Old Testament in a holistic manner, justification by faith under the old covenant was typically thought of as being by way of obedience to the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant in the context of grace, what came to be known in Jewish parlance as justification by the works of the law. The New Testament works of the law versus faith in Christ distinction, therefore, is primarily a terminological distinction that expresses pragmatically the element of discontinuity between the covenants on the level of the mediator and content of revelation. In sum, if you wanted to be right with God under the old covenant, you had to follow the revelation that had been given to Israel via Moses (Deut 6:25; Rom 10:5); but if you want to be right with God under the new covenant, you need to follow the revelation that has been given to the world in Christ (John 8:31–32; Rom 10:8–13).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Balanced Protestant Biblical Hermeneutic on Law and Gospel

Understanding the teaching of the Apostle Paul regarding law and gospel in the light of Old Testament theology and prophecy suggests that Protestant exegetes of Paul have frequently overemphasized the condemnatory power of the law, resulting in an overly-rigid law versus gospel hermeneutic.

Here are some quotes from my essay “Paul and the New Covenant Paradigm” in the book An Everlasting Covenant: Biblical and Theological Essays in Honour of William J. Dumbrell from the sub-section that discusses the need for a balanced biblical hermeneutic on law and gospel in Paul:

“Traditional Protestant exegesis has exhibited a strong tendency to understand the righteousness terminology of the Bible, and of Paul in particular, in absolute terms, which in turn means that the condemnatory function of the law is emphasized with no place left for the justifying and vivifying function of the law when written on the human heart by the Holy Spirit” (pp. 141–2);

“A more balanced biblical hermeneutic on law and gospel would ... pay attention to the Old Testament teaching on the gospel as including the concept of the Holy Spirit writing God’s law on the hearts of his people. The biblical position is that where the Spirit is present writing divine law on human hearts, law is effectively gospel, and gospel effectively law” (p. 143);

“the Old Testament view of the gospel, which speaks of the triumph of the justifying and vivifying function of (eschatological) torah over the condemnatory and mortifying function of (Mosaic) torah, is the correct perspective to bring to our reading of Paul in Galatians and Romans” (p. 143).

My view is that Paul’s law versus gospel distinction should to be understood as being Paul’s way of distinguishing old covenant revelation from new covenant revelation. In other words, Paul’s law versus gospel distinction is primarily a salvation-historical distinction rather than being a distinction of linguistic form wherein command is strictly opposed to promise.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Apostle Paul’s Teaching on the Law

The Apostle Paul’s teaching on the law is derived from, and fully consistent with, the teaching of the Old Testament concerning Mosaic law and eschatological law. Understanding the Old Testament teaching on torah is the key to understanding Paul on the law.

Here are some quotes from my essay “Paul and the New Covenant Paradigm” in the book An Everlasting Covenant: Biblical and Theological Essays in Honour of William J. Dumbrell from the sub-section that discusses Paul’s teaching on the law:

“When Paul’s teaching on the law is examined in the light of the Old Testament teaching on torah, it comes as no surprise to discover that his view of the law is both positive and negative, corresponding to the dual function that the law exhibited under the old covenant. Positively, the Mosaic law offers the possibility of life (Rom 7:10) … In and of itself the Mosaic law is “holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12). Paul’s positive description of the Mosaic law in Rom 7:12 reflects the language of those parts of the Old Testament which praise the utility of the law for the believer, such as Ps 19:7-11; 119:1-2, 24, 72, 92-93, 98-100, 105, 130, 165, 175. Paul also speaks of the law as being “spiritual” (Rom 7:14), by which he means that the Mosaic law is a product of the Spirit, implying that there is no fundamental opposition between the Mosaic law and the Holy Spirit. Negatively, however, the Mosaic law was an instrument used by sin that led to the condemnation, enslavement, and death of the carnal majority in Israel, and indeed the nation as a whole (Rom 7:8-11, 13-24; 9:31; 2 Cor 3:6-7, 9)” (pp. 136–7).

“having come to understand the concept of the death of Israel through the instrumentality of the Mosaic law (which climaxed with the rejection of Christ), this is precisely where Paul saw the new covenant work of Christ and his Spirit entering the salvation historical equation. The Mosaic law was an instrument of condemnation and death to those among Israel who were “fleshly” (Rom 7:14), i.e., to those who did not have the Spirit writing the law on their hearts. But this former human unresponsiveness to God had now begun to change. Paul had come to understand that the new covenant had already commenced with the resurrection of Jesus. The new covenant work of spiritual regeneration had already begun and was being mediated through the proclamation of the gospel of the resurrection and lordship of Jesus (Acts 2:33, 36, 38; 10:44-45; Gal 3:2, 14) … Since faith is about submission to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9), Christian faith is equated in Paul’s thinking with the eschatological teshuvah of Israel (and the nations). Hence, Paul equates the eschatological law that is written on the heart with the gospel that is received into the heart through faith. It is through the preaching of the gospel and our submission to Jesus as Lord that the law in its eschatological form becomes written on our hearts. The benefit of this for those who have the Spirit of God dwelling in them, i.e., for those who are walking in the Spirit, is that we can now fulfill our covenantal obligations, and thus the law proves to be the way of life (Rom 8:2, 4, 6-8) as God had always intended (e.g., Deut 30:15-20)” (p. 139).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Paul's Understanding of the Gospel as the Fulfillment of the Prophetic Hope of the Old Testament

In my essay “Paul and the New Covenant Paradigm” in the book An Everlasting Covenant: Biblical and Theological Essays in Honour of William J. Dumbrell, after establishing Paul’s Old Testament theological context (see the posts entitled “The Apostle Paul’s Understanding of the Old Testament View of the Law” and “The Apostle Paul’s Understanding of the Old Testament View of the Gospel”), and after providing some key observations regarding the nature of Paul’s Jewish opponents (see “The Identity and Theology of Paul’s Jewish Opponents”), I turn to consider how we should understand the teaching of the Apostle Paul in Galatians and Romans.

As I state in the introduction to the third section of my essay, which is entitled “Understanding Paul in his Historical Context,” I believe that “an understanding of the Old Testament’s teaching about the new covenant is crucial to understanding Paul’s teaching on grace and the law” (p. 134).

Here is a quote from the sub-section that discusses Paul’s understanding of the Christian gospel as the fulfillment of the Old Testament hope:

“Paul understood Jesus’ work and the outpouring of the Spirit in direct continuity with the Old Testament prophetic hope. Paul was convinced that the coming of Jesus and the eschatological outpouring of the Spirit was the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies of the restoration of Israel. As part of this work of restoration, Paul saw the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ as God’s main instrument in the new covenant age for bringing people, both Jew and Gentile, into a state of righteousness before God. In contrast to the old covenant age where covenant righteousness was defined in terms of commitment to the Mosaic law, Paul understood that the determining factor in the new covenant age is not a person’s commitment to the Mosaic law (i.e., the works of the law) but a person’s commitment to Jesus, the Lord of the new covenant, and to the gospel which proclaims his lordship (i.e., faith). In the new covenant age, where (according to God’s plan) righteousness is opened up to the nations, righteousness is no longer defined in terms of the Mosaic law, which was by definition mono-ethnic in its operation. The Mosaic law was a fence that divided Jew from Gentile (Eph 2:14-15). Applying to only one nation (Exod 19:5-6), the Mosaic law can no longer be used, therefore, as the determining factor of righteousness before God, for the age of the new covenant is a time when Gentiles will be included within the people of God. Therefore … the determining factor of righteousness in the new covenant age is whether a person has accepted the gospel and submitted to the lordship of Jesus in his role as Messiah” (p. 135).

My suggestion at this point to the world of Pauline scholarship is, therefore, that Paul’s concern lay not so much with defending Christ as the ground of absolute justification—the atoning value of the death of Christ was common ground between Paul and the Judaizers—but with defending faith as the instrument of justification on the level of the covenant. The dispute between Paul and his Jewish opponents centered around how covenant righteousness was to be defined (now that the new covenant in Christ had come). The Jews thought in covenantal categories. To interpret Paul and his opponents correctly, we need to do so too.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Identity and Theology of Paul's Jewish Opponents

In my previous posts entitled “The Apostle Paul’s Understanding of the Old Testament View of the Law” and “The Apostle Paul’s Understanding of the Old Testament View of the Gospel” I have presented some thoughts regarding the first aspect of the Jewish context of the theology of the Apostle Paul, namely, the theological context of the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) in which the Apostle Paul operated. The second aspect of Paul’s Jewish context is the identity of his Jewish opponents.

Here are some quotes from my essay “Paul and the New Covenant Paradigm” in the book An Everlasting Covenant: Biblical and Theological Essays in Honour of William J. Dumbrell from the sub-section that discusses the identity of Paul’s Jewish opponents:

“Paul’s Jewish opponents in general were not ignorant of the Old Testament doctrines of grace, sin, or faith. Their key characteristic was that they were fierce advocates of Mosaic covenant theology. They believed that this system of theology (which was based on the Old Testament) was still normative. Paul, however, no longer viewed Mosaic covenant theology as normative in the way that it had been previously. Since his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, he had come to view Mosaic covenant theology in effect as old covenant theology (2 Cor 3:6-14). That is to say, the system of Mosaic covenant theology, which had been valid during the old covenant age, had now been rendered obsolete through the coming of Christ and the establishment of the new covenant, a situation that had been foreshadowed in the Mosaic law itself. Paul’s Jewish opponents had more or less correctly understood the way that things were under the old covenant, but they had failed to see how the old covenant would be surpassed or exceeded (2 Cor 3:9-10) by the new covenant in Christ. The fundamental issue for Paul, therefore, was upholding, in the face of opposition from the advocates of traditional Mosaic covenant theology, God’s new covenant arrangement in Messiah Jesus” (p. 133).

“The non-Christian Jews of Paul’s day rejected Jesus and the Christian gospel primarily in the name of faithfulness to Moses and traditional Jewish teaching (see John 5:16, 18; 7:14-24, 45-52; 9:16; 16:2; Acts 22:3; Rom 10:2), while the Christian Judaizers sought to change the universal Christian gospel (which offered salvation to Gentiles on equal footing with Jews) into a Jewish gospel, where conversion to Judaism and keeping the law of Moses were viewed as being necessary for salvation (Acts 15:1, 5). In this way, the Judaizers were attempting to make Christianity fit snugly into the framework of the Mosaic covenant” (p. 133).

In other words, I agree here with William Dumbrell’s assessment of the Antiochene Judaizers as being Jews who “probably endeavoured to fit Jesus into the Sinai compact, which they saw as continuing … By their demand for the imposition of the Mosaic Law on Christian converts, they were in fact making demands for Christian incorporation into the Mosaic and Sinaitic structure” (William J. Dumbrell, Galatians: A New Covenant Commentary [Blackwood: New Covenant, 2006], 38–39).

“The dispute between Paul and his Jewish opponents, therefore, fundamentally revolved around the proper interpretation of the Mosaic covenant in God’s plan of salvation. At stake between Paul and his Jewish opponents was the proper interpretation of the Old Testament” (Coxhead, “Paul and the New Covenant Paradigm,” 134).

In general, Paul’s Jewish opponents were advocates of orthodox Mosaic covenant theology, which defined righteousness in terms of obedience (i.e., commitment or faithfulness) to the Mosaic covenant and its stipulations (i.e., the law of Moses) in accordance with the teaching of Deut 6:25. The Jewish nature of the theology of Paul’s Jewish opponents needs to be understood correctly before we can truly understand the significance of the Christian doctrine of justification by faith apart from the works of the law, which Paul strongly defended in his epistles to the Galatians and Romans.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Apostle Paul's Understanding of the Old Testament View of the Gospel

I make the point again: the key to understanding Paul’s teaching on law and gospel is found in the Old Testament. Paul makes the claim in Rom 1:1–2 that his gospel was “the gospel of God that [God] promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” As far as Paul was concerned, his gospel was nothing other than the gospel proclaimed by the Old Testament prophets. But what exactly did the Old Testament prophets prophesy concerning the gospel?

Here are some quotes from my essay “Paul and the New Covenant Paradigm” in the book An Everlasting Covenant: Biblical and Theological Essays in Honour of William J. Dumbrell from the sub-section that discusses the Old Testament view of the gospel:

“[T]he failure of Israel to keep her covenantal obligation before God led to the emergence of the Old Testament prophetic hope, which looked forward to the time when Israel would finally be enabled by God to keep her side of the covenant arrangement, in order that the promised covenant blessing of eternal life might finally be realized. Thus, in the light of the historic failure of Israel under the Mosaic covenant, the Old Testament prophets looked forward to the time of the new covenant, when God would transform and circumcise the hearts of his people (Deut 30:6; Ezek 36:26) and place his law within (Jer 31:33), thereby enabling his people to keep covenant with him (Jer 31:31-32) through obedience to the law (Deut 30:6, 8, 10-14; Ezek 36:27), in order that they might finally receive the fullness of the covenant blessing that God had promised to the righteous of Israel back in the beginning (Lev 26:3-13) and to those among the nations who would be blessed through Abraham (Gen 12:3) by coming in submission to Israel’s Messiah (Ps 2:10-12)” (p. 129).

In other words, the gospel according to the Old Testament centers on the idea that God would enable Israel and the nations (through the work of Christ and the Spirit) to return in covenant obedience to himself.

“If the gospel according to the Old Testament speaks of God enabling the covenant obedience of his people such that they will keep covenant with him and receive the blessing of the covenant as a result, then surely it is wrong to interpret Paul in such a way that he is made to contradict this Old Testament understanding of the gospel” (p. 129).

“To teach or to give the impression that the gospel is only about the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as if there no longer remains any place for the covenant righteousness of the believer in the process of justification under the new covenant is actually a simplification and distortion of the gospel as ‘promised beforehand’ in the Old Testament” (p. 130).

In other words, the Old Testament prophets looked forward to the time when the law would be written on the hearts of the chosen from Israel and the nations, in order that they might be obedient to God, and consequently receive justification on the level of the covenant through the divine judicial declaration (to be proclaimed in a public way ultimately on the day of judgment but preempted today in the gospel ministry of the church) that believers have fulfilled their covenant obligations of faithful service to God (in the context of divine grace) through their submission to the Messiah Jesus (which the early church called faith). Those who are righteous on the level of the covenant have the privilege of sharing in the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice, their sins being covered by his perfection.

The law may have been primarily negative for old covenant Israel, but the Old Testament prophets viewed new covenant law as gospel! That is to say, for the Old Testament prophets, the function of torah in the new covenant age is primarily positive. Therefore, to interpret Paul through a black-and-white law versus gospel theological grid makes Paul not only contradict the Old Testament prophets, but also his own claim in Rom 1:1–2 that his gospel was “the gospel of God that he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” Law and gospel are not rightly divided by keeping them apart; they are rightly divided by proclaiming their unity in Christ. As the eternal Word of God, Christ is the embodiment of evangelical torah.