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).

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