Law and Gospel 2

Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur
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b. What is the place of “the Mosiac Law” for the Christian according to Paul, give some specific examples.

There might be two issues that pose confusion as well as misunderstanding concerning the place of the Mosaic Law according to Paul. Many find it a grappling issue concerning how Paul viewed the “Mosaic Law.” Was he positive or was he negative about that which was so central to the Jewish faith and community. There are instances where Paul seemed to have a positive stance to the Mosaic Law where he says that it is “holy, righteous and good” (Rom 7:12) and that he upholds it (Rom 3:31). Paul could also be seen as seeing the Law as coming to an end where he states that ““Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4a); “you are not under law” (Rom. 6:14; cf. V.15).”[1] More daunting is what Paul said in 1 Cor. 9:19-22 where it seems he was somewhat of a relativist (This issue will be dealt with in detail later).

As for misunderstanding, apparently the contention of most Christians is that the death and resurrection of Christ has nullified the law and thus we are now living under the rule of grace and not law. Most, thus, contend for an extreme view that the law has nothing to do with the life of the Christian.[2] Such views were also contested by the New Perspective which has done some extensive work in reconstructing an understanding of “Paul’s theology in the light of his Jewish context.”[3] Amidst the rubble of these two issues, what can be said about the place of the Mosaic Law for the Christian according to Paul?

Michael Bird in his concise book “A Bird’s Eye View of Paul”[4] discusses this sufficiently and shows us Paul’s view concerning the place of the Mosaic Law for the Christian. According to Bird, passages such as “Galatians 3-4, Romans 6-8, 10 and 2 Corinthians 3” are where Paul explains the “weakness of the law.”[5] He gives examples of this where “In two places (Gal. 3:12; Rom 10:5) he quotes Leviticus 18:5: ‘The one who does these things [obeys the law] will live by them,’ but due to disobedience the law brings curses instead of life. In 2 Corinthians 3:6, he says, ‘the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’.”[6] Bird further explains that the law, “which is bound up with the old age” is further intertwined in a triangle of forces, “consisting of law-sin-death” which ultimately condemns both Jews and Gentiles 139 and where under it blessing and salvation is confined to Israel alone.[7]

After laying this out, there are three main functions of Law according to Paul, following the presentation given by Bird. First, the law heightens human’s sinfulness against God’s holiness (Rom. 2:2-4, 17-24; 3:5-8, 19-20; 7:7-13; Gal. 2:16).[8] Moo elaborates that the law is not just a mere representation of God’s character for knowledge, but requires conformity where humanity always fails to ascribe to.[9] Second, Galatians 3:15-25 makes the case that states the temporal function of the law, where it served as a guardian for the Jewish community on the Old Testament[10] to “direct their behaviours until the time of maturity,” marked in the coming of the promised messiah.[11] Third, the law served as a shadow to introduce a clearer picture in Jesus (Rom. 3:21-22; 1 Cor. 5:7; 10:3; Col. 2:17).[12]

Thus from the description above the law, though being holy and ascribed to God, did not have the power to redeem (Gal. 2:21)[13]but in the coming of Jesus and the Spirit, everyone can now be justified and live in righteousness (Gal. 4:4-6).[14] This implies the demise of the law in chartering authority for the Christian, which has now been superseded in Christ. But before one tries to argue freedom in excess, Paul is not promoting a radical denying of the law. Hill explains this by saying that, although Christ is the fulfilment of the Old Covenant and its law, the foreshadowing aspects of the Old Covenant warrants us to learn the implications of what it means for us in the NT. In that manner, the Old, informs the New. We find Paul making this distinction as well in Rom 13:10.[15] Thus one can then state that there is a sense of continuity between the Old Covenant and the New.[16]

Thought the law reaches its goal in Christ, it does not negate a life of open freedom as what others might have thought of Paul (Rom. 6:1). Freedom from law actually opens up a new law taking place, which Paul states as the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). This is in other words a law that paves a new way of living, not enslaved to sin but to righteousness (Rom 6:18). Bird gives a good explanation of this new law as “signifying the full range of commands and exhortations that belong to the messianic age inaugurated by Christ, which would include the example of Christ, the teaching of Christ and the law of love.” [17]This best describes how the Mosaic law though being superseded, encapsulated continuity paved by interpreting it in Christ.

[1] Moo, Douglas. The Law of Christ as a Fulfilment of the Law of Moses. Pg 319

[2] This type of teaching is made popular among Asian Churches by Pr. Joseph Prince who is an advocate for this view where Grace has overridden the Law. See for example Prince, Joseph. Unmerited Favor. (Lake Mary, Florida: Charisma House, 2010)

[3] See more on this in Burge, Gary; Lynn H. Cohick; Gene L. Green. The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of The New Testament Within Its Cultural Contexts. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009). Pg 264-265

[4] Bird, Michael F. A Bird’s Eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message. (Grand Rapids: IVP,2008)

[5] Ibid 139

[6] Bird, Michael F. A Bird’s Eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message. Pg 139

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. Pg139-140

[9] Moo, Douglas. The Law of Christ as a Fulfilment of the Law of Moses. pg 335

[10] Bird, Michael F. A Bird’s Eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message. Pg 140

[11] Moo, Douglas. The Law of Christ as a Fulfilment of the Law of Moses. Pg 338

[12] Bird, Michael F. A Bird’s Eye View of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message. Pg 140

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Hill, Michael. The How and Why of Love: An Introduction to Evangelical Ethics. (Kingsford NSW: Matthias Media, 2002) Pg. 75

[16] ibid

[17] Bird 145

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