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.

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