Paul and the Law

I was referred to this blog post recently, and because of the detailed response required, I have captured my thoughts here on my own blog.

Before getting into his main argument (that Christians should adhere to the Law of Moses), the author (Aaron) acknowledges to his reader(s) that…

“You have the real advantage of the entire body of orthodox Christian interpretation on your side. I acknowledge my views as being outside the pale of commonly accepted Christian belief.”

While I know that many who have come to believe that Christians should observe the Mosaic Law have struggled with the fact that so many trusted theologians and preachers teach otherwise, I think this point deserves more weight than it gets.

We are commanded to be subject to our elders (I Peter 5:5). This doesn’t mean our elders are infallible; we still have an obligation to examine Scripture for ourselves. In some cases, those whom we would consider our elders do not agree with each other. In those cases, we might follow the elders we trust the most, arrive at our own conclusion based on personal study, or leave the matter unresolved. However, when the vast majority of our elders are teaching more or less the same thing on a given subject, it strongly suggests that I should not abandon their teaching for my own ideas or the ideas of someone else whom I find more agreeable.

As I look at those whom I would consider as elders, who have committed their lives to the study and proclamation of God’s Word, I cannot believe that they are all unaware of the historical and cultural context that would supposedly reveal the true meaning of Scripture as regards the Law. These are highly educated men who have devoted their lives to this pursuit.

Being made aware of the historical and cultural context, I cannot believe that they are all unable to see it for what it is and accurately deduce the correct meaning. These are highly intelligent men who evidence giftedness in interpreting God’s Word.

Seeing the historical and cultural context for what it is, I cannot believe that they are all unwilling to accept an interpretation that is contrary to their preexisting beliefs. These are godly men who evidence the character that is fitting for an elder. I place more confidence, as a whole, in their willingness to follow the Spirit than in my own.

That being said, I must move on to the specifics of the discussion at hand.

Aaron highlights the supposed discrepancy between the way the Law was regarded by Moses and the Prophets, Jesus, the Apostles, etc and the typical interpretation of Paul’s writings. He then sets up two untenable conclusions and the conclusion that he would have us believe. The problem is, his statements are constructed in a way that I would term a “false dilemma.”

When it comes to “reinterpreting” Paul, it is necessary to “redefine” what Paul meant by “law” and “circumcision,” assigning to them the extra-biblical actions that constituted a “legal” conversion of nationality.

However, when “law” is referred to elsewhere, it is taken to explicitly mean the Mosaic Law in its entirety. This assumption of definition is what sets up the logical fallacy that insists on a reinterpretation of Paul as the only way out.

I have not done what I would consider a thorough study of the use of the word “law” or its synonyms. I do know that God commended Abraham because he “obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” This was before the Mosaic Law was given, so we have a precedent for considering God’s “law” to be broader than the list of commandments given to Israel.

As soon as the Ten Commandments were given, Moses tells the Israelites that God is using this set of laws to test them (Exodus 20:20). They fail the test miserably, making it clear that we need something more than “guidelines” for how to live.

The laws that were given to Israel were part of the “Book of the Covenant.” In comparing the covenants that God has made with mankind, I think it is significant that the Mosaic Law is linked with the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. This was a conditional covenant, summarized as “obey the commands I have given you, and things will go well; disobey, and I will send calamity.” This Old Covenant was neither capable of nor intended to justify man or produce righteousness. The New Covenant, which makes the first one obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), also puts an end to the external regulations associated with the Old Covenant (Hebrews 9:10).

I have started a beginning attempt at a unified approach to God’s various covenants with mankind here: Biblical Covenants.

The broader “Law of God” is to be understood and obeyed in much the same way as in the time of Abraham. As Paul said in I Corinthians 9:20-21, he is not under the law that the Jews followed, but is subject to the rule of God in his life.

Going back to Aaron’s post, he says near the end that “by becoming Jewish, they accepted upon themselves the additional liability of the special responsibilities of the Jewish people.” What are these “special responsibilities,” if not the Mosaic Law? What was it that made the nation of Israel “Jewish?” Was it not their shared cultural heritage, as expressed in and built upon the Book of the Covenant? How is it possible for a Gentile to observe the Mosaic Law without becoming “Jewish?”