Friday, October 21, 2011

Two Ways to Live in Romans 6

The objection of Paul’s Jewish opponents, that Christianity was lawless or anomian (Rom 6:1, 15), failed to understand that Christianity maintained the two way ethical system of the Old Testament.

The Hebrew Bible (i.e, the Old Testament) clearly teaches that there are two possible ways of living.

Two Ways to Live

One is the way of life; the other is the way of death. The righteous walk on the road of life, whereas the wicked walk on the road of death. This two way theology is particularly prominent in Psalms and Proverbs. Psalm 1 describes the righteous as abstaining from walking in “the way of sinners” (Ps 1:1). It concludes by saying that “Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Ps 1:6). The way of life is pursued by the righteous, who walk in “the paths of justice” and “the way of [Yahweh's] saints” (Prov 2:8), who “walk in the way of the good, and keep to the paths of the righteous” (Prov 2:20). The way of life is “the way of wisdom” (Prov 4:11). Contrasting with the way of life is the way of death, which is the pathway that the wicked follow, to their detriment: “the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble” (Prov 4:19).

Paul’s Jewish opponents, common to the orthodox Jews of the day, understood (following the teaching of the Hebrew Bible) that the way of life was the way of obedience to torah. As Prov 6:23 says: “the commandment (מצוה) is a lamp, and the teaching (תורה) a light; and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” The author of Ps 119 also describes the way of life in terms of following torah. Thus, the way is described as being “the way of [Yahweh’s] testimonies” (Ps 119:14), “the way of [Yahweh’s] precepts” (Ps 119:27), “the way of [Yahweh’s] commandments” (Ps 119:32), “the way of [Yahweh’s] statutes” (Ps 119:33), or more simply “the way of faith (אמונה)” (Ps 119:30). The Old Testament way of faith was the way of obedience to Mosaic torah.

But in teaching that people could be righteous before God through faith in Christ rather than the torah faith of Moses, Paul’s Jewish opponents believed that orthodox Christianity had effectively destroyed the “two way” theology taught in the Hebrew Bible. Hence their insinuation that Christianity was a license to sin (Rom 6:1, 15).

But the Christianity of Paul and the early Christians did not abandon the “two way” ethical structure of the Old Testament. In asserting a greater lawgiver who proclaimed a greater law than the law of Moses, the early Christians redefined the “two way” theology of the Old Testament. They still believed that there was only one way of life and one contrary way of death, but the way of life in the new covenant age was no longer considered to be the way of Mosaic torah but the way of Messianic torah. Hence Jesus’ statement—controversial in a Jewish context—that he himself is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6); and Paul’s teaching (as per Rom 6) that one can either be a slave of God, through obedience to the gospel (Rom 6:17), which results in life (Rom 6:22); or a slave of sin, which leads to death (Rom 6:21). Paul’s gospel retained the “two way” theology of the Old Testament, but redefined “the way” in terms of Jesus Christ.

The Two States of Servitude in Rom 6

Thus, in the crossover from the old to the new, the way of Moses has become the way of Christ.

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