Thursday, October 11, 2007

Paul and the Law

One of the thorniest issues in understanding the apostle has to do with Paul's relationship with the Law. Obviously, this is a place where the old and new perspectives on Judaism (and Paul) have a lot to contribute. Consider the following questions based on Paul's letters:

1. If Paul had a son, would he have had him circumcised? Why? or Why not?
2. When Paul went to the temple in Jerusalem, did he sacrifice? Why? or Why not?
3. Did Paul eat pork?
4. Did Paul observe the Sabbath?
5. What is Paul's overall disposition regarding the law?

I realize that we don't always have direct evidence to answer these questions. However, from studying Paul's letters you ought to be able to make an educated guess. But when you guess, be able to give a reason. Here is an ancillary question:
  • if you consider Luke's portrait of Paul from the Acts of the Apostles, would it change your answer?

Finally, read Galatians 3:6-29 carefully. Pay attention to what Paul has to say regarding the law. Then read Gorman's and Kim's commentary/ thoughts this passage. You can find where they deal with this text by using the scripture indexes and/or the table of contents. After you have spent some time with this text, consider the following questions:
  • How does the law relate to Abraham and God's covenant with him?
  • What does Paul mean by the phrase "the curse of the law"?
  • Why did God give the law?
  • How does the law relate to Christ and God's covenant through him?


brad said...

I am going to answer the first five qustions and tackle the Galations issues in another post.

From what I can gather, I think that Paul would base his decisions on where he was and who he was with. He felt that the Law was good, as long as it was also followed up with faith in Christ. The law served to show Jews that Jesus was required, in that it is good. The gentiles recieved grace so that Israel would become jealous and also want Jesus as well. The law is good and Paul did not have issue with the law at all. As a Jew first, Paul would still attend to PARTS of the Law, again depending on who he was with. As stated in his first letter to the Corinthian church in chapter 8. I think Paul would take care to not set up others (if he were in Gentile company)in thinking that they should do the same thing in order to be in Christ. If, on the other hand, he were in the company of Jews, again, in order to not upset them, he would act in honor of the law (eating and Sabbath). I also think that Paul would have his son circumcised again depending on who he was with. I believe it was Timothy that he did have circumcised because he was with a group of Jews. The only one of the four that I do not see Paul participating in would be sacrafice as Paul beleived that THE sacrafice had been made already, placing the need for other sacrafices null and void.

Barbara said...

As I considered the first question raised, I can see how difficult it is to unravel Paul’s relationship with the law not to mention how hard it was in that time to discern the best action as one who followed Christ. The Galatian passage begins with Paul’s argument to those who insisted that Gentile’s be circumcised. Paul says that Abraham’s righteousness came from faith because he believed God before he was circumcised and therefore it was faith not circumcision that was the defining characteristic of Abraham’s relationship with God. So all those with faith (Gentiles included) were descendents of Abraham and not required to be circumcised. So if Paul had a child, we could assume that he would not see a need to circumcise that child because righteousness came by faith. He also argues in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 to remain as you are when you come to faith – if uncircumcised, remain so. But at the same time, Paul speak of Timothy as his “child in the Lord” and according to Luke in Acts 16:1-3, Paul did have Timothy circumcised probably because the spread of the Gospel may have been set back if he did not. Paul also writes in both Romans 14:13-19 and 1 Corinthians 8:9 in regard to food not to do anything that would cause others to stumble and perhaps there were instances when he would have said the same about circumcision. I found it interesting that as Paul advised the churches not to do things that would make others stumble, the one stumbling block he was unapologetic about was Christ, “See, I am lying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall…” (Romans 9:33) and “…but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Did all things, all decisions in Paul's mind need to measured by this One who was his all in all?

brad said...

On Galations 3...
1.How does the law relate to Abraham and God's covenant with him?
According to Paul, Abraham received the covenant as a result of his faith which came some 430 years prior to the law.
Paul uses Deut 27:26 to explain the "curse of the law". In that passage a curse is placed on all who do not keep all that is written in the law. Paul knows that this is impossible, hence, the law brings about a curse. God gave the law so that we would realize that justification comes from faith, not from obeying the law, which is impossible. It was to serve as showing the Jews that faith was what was needed. This faith then opens up the grace of God to all, not just those whom the law was given. The law simply served it's place in time between Moses till Jesus came. It was in place to provide guidelines much in the same way as a paidagogos provides boundaries and protection to a child until they are old enough to no longer need it.

David B. Capes said...

Brad's comment leads me to this question: Why did Paul have Timothy circumcised? Was it because he had a Jewish mother? Was it because he would be in the company of Jews?

Secondly, note what Brad says :

"The only one of the four that I do not see Paul participating in would be sacrafice [sic] as Paul beleived [sic] that THE sacrafice [sic]had been made already, placing the need for other sacrafices [sic] null and void."

If Brad is correct, why does Paul go to the temple on his final Jerusalem visit? What kind of vow does he take? What does that entail?

Brad is operating on the assumption, I think, that the only purpose for sacrifice had to do with atonement (to deal with sin). Is that the case or are there other reasons for sacrifice that are/remain valid?

David B. Capes said...

Barbara has a number of interesting thoughts. She concludes Paul would not have his own son circumcised. But then goes on to say that Paul had Timothy circumcised so as not to set back the gospel. At that point Paul is bit of a pragmatist isn't he? To quote Seinfeld "not that there is anything wrong with that."

If circumcision is a sign of God's covenant with Israel, and God's covenant with Israel is fulfilled in Christ, then what would keep him from circumcising his son. What does fulfillment mean?

David B. Capes said...

So, Brad, et al.
When Paul speaks of "the curse of the law" does he mean that the law, in its entirety is "a curse"?

What is Paul's logic here. How does crucifixion abolish the curse?

brad said...

I think the answer to the question forst posed on why Paul circumcised Timothy and why he went to the Temple have the same answer. I think he needed to appease the Jews. He needed to take this vow and shave his head, as if he was unclean by spending so much time with the Gentiles. I think that Luke, in Acts, is making sure that reader knows Paul is a Jew among Jews and that he wasn't telling Jews to avoid the law.

Barbara said...

I think Paul did believe that the sacrifice had already been made in Jesus Christ and yet in response to David's question about whether there were or are other valid reasons for sacrifice in Paul's mind, I am reminded of Paul's words in Romans 12, " the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world...". This image is one the readers would understand and yet with the twist which would include the Gentiles as well. A type of sacrifice that all could offer because it was of their very bodies/lives. Gorman speaks of this in his chapter on Romans as "Cruciform Holiness". It is an offering of oneself that is valid then and now as an act of worship. I think Paul lived this way with this kind of sacrificing throughout his life.

francisco G said...

I am going to start with question 5 it’s the last but not the least
5. What is Paul's overall disposition regarding the law?
Paul’s zealously for the law experienced a dramatic change in his conversion. His conversion at Damascus allowed him to look back at his pre-Christian zeal and define it as ignorant and rebellious against God. Read Romans 10:1.
Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God
To answer the rest of the questions I believe that Paul’s perspective of the law is affected by his conversion it cannot be as pure as he had it when learning under Gamaliel. The old perspective would say that his conversion allowed him to see the law as unable to provide righteousness hence less valuable. The new perspective would say that after his conversion Paul’s view of the law is not devaluated at all it was and still is instrumental to Gods purpose but something new and better came to extend God’s grace to everybody, that is, the cross.

1. If Paul had a son, would he have had him circumcised? Why? or Why not?
For me it depends on the opportunity to serve God’s purposes, if it is instrumental to the cause of Christ he would do it.
2. When Paul went to the temple in Jerusalem, did he sacrifice? Why? or Why not?
I don’t think so this is one of the things that expired at the cross.
3. Did Paul eat pork? Not in public.
4. Did Paul observe the Sabbath? Not like he did before Damascus.

David this are great questions.

francisco G said...

May be the "curse of the law" is that is necessary as a mean to be right with God but we make it an end of itself. In Galatians 3 the fight is between allegiance to the spirit or to the flesh. In this sense, focusing on the law is trusting in the works of the flesh. That might be the "curse of the law" that we tend to make it our goal, because it is good, but we cannot keep with it.
At the cross Jesus takes our flaws and makes us new persons he incorporate us in his righteousness even when we are not perfect.

Luke Gordon said...

I asked my wife what she thought about the first question you asked. Her response was, "For health reasons he better circumcise his son!" :-)
I thought that was funny and wanted to share it with you all.

Luke Gordon said...

The challenge for me is getting past my preconceived notions of law, faith, and justification so that I can understand what Paul was dealing with. Gorman’s comments on page 202 make this even more evident. The idea that Paul is writing with a covenantal paradigm changes the way I view the Galatians 2 passages. This puts more weight on the Jesus' faithfulness in the covenant. It appears that Paul was convinced that inclusion in the covenant rested not on observance of the law but God's faithfulness in the covenant relationship through Jesus Christ. Our restoration to God was on his prerogative. This makes Paul’s comments about Abraham in Galatians 3:6-29 even more compelling. Jesus was the one who was faithful in keeping the covenant. And the covenant rests on faith. For Paul the law is given to shine light on our lack of faithfulness (Romans 3:19-20). Jesus thus remains faithful in keeping the covenant by “becoming a curse for us.” Furthermore, Paul sums up the gospel in saying “all the gentiles shall be blessed by you.” Thus Jesus fulfills the covenantal blessing/gospel by including the gentiles into the covenantal family of God. This inclusion does not rest on our faithfulness to the law but on God’s faithfulness to the covenant, or rather God’s faithfulness to the gospel of including the gentiles in His blessing. Christ thus fulfills the law by doing what it couldn’t. The righteousness of the law, viewed as covenantal righteousness, is lived out by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke Gordon said...

I want to follow up on David’s question on why Paul goes to the temple to sacrifice and his comments to Brad’s post. In Paul’s letters he often takes a Jewish concept and reinterprets it in light of life in the spirit. For example, Paul states in Romans 12:1-2 that we should be living sacrifices. Paul also uses imagery such as our very lives emitting an aroma of Christ to God (2 Corinthians 2:14-15). I believe Paul wants his readers to see the heart of the law and move them into a lifestyle of worship. However, that does not mean that Paul is saying you should never offer a physical sacrifice on an alter. It is likely that these analogies are used because they are still common to the believers. Paul was could have been expanding the paradigm of their current form of worship. The church never adopted sacrifice as a means of worship. However, the church did adopt singing, scripture reading, prayer, and service as a means to worship (which are all present in Paul’s writings). I wonder if this would be any different if the temple still existed? I am just rambling now.

Luke Gordon said...

I am thankful for the five questions you give us here. For us the issue of circumcision and law are theoretical and distant. These questions help me realize that for Paul, circumcision and law effected real life. Paul was forced to make hard decisions in the face of conflict and suffering. I appreciate Barbara’s two perspectives on whether or not Paul would circumcise his son. Circumcision was a sign of inclusion in the covenant. Being a Jew Paul would have followed the law. However, in light of his conversion, Paul viewed inclusion in the covenant to be founded on Jesus’ faithfulness and our response to him. The Holy Spirit thus becomes the sign.
I also agree with Brad, that Paul would have made his decisions about these questions based on the people he was with. Paul’s was concerned about faithfulness to God. Faithfulness to Paul = love. That is why Paul condemned those were puffed up on knowledge and ended up offending their brothers.(1 Corinthians 8:1)

Paul said...

Friends, a word of warning: save a copy of your posts before you "publish" them. I wrote two long ones yesterday that did not make it to Dr. Capes. But by the grace of God and the "back" button, I found them this morning. So here they are--as one post--sorry they didn't get to you by Thursday...

As I approach the first set of Dr. Capes' questions. I find myself looking for justifications for what I *want* to think about Paul. My answers for him tend to be rooted in how I act myself. I think one could find justification in his letters for either side on a number of these issues. So recognizing that tendency in myself, here are my answers:

On circumcision: In Romans 2:28-29 (only one of Paul's many mentions of circumcision) Paul notes, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God."

Of course this is speculative, but I think that Paul would honor his Jewish heritage and circumcise his son. At the same time he would impress upon his son what that means and doesn't mean. His support for Timothy's circumcision indicates to me that it is not forbidden to him, just that the significance has changed. I think in his spirit of being all things to all people he would honor the Jews and his own heritage in this way. **Personal note: we plan to circumcise our son who is due in January.

As I consider sacrifice, my first instinct is that Paul didn't do this. (Of course this is foreign to me--easy to dismiss). But Dr. Capes' note that there were sacrifices for various purposes makes me re-consider. Probably he did, again, in the spirit of reaching out to the Jews in the synagogues in which he preached. Here Acts is helpful in knowing that he often went there first when he entered a new town.

Regarding pork, it would have meant setting aside some significant inhibitions, especially the first time, but I think if offered pork by Gentile believers, Paul would have eaten it. He probably did not go out of his way to seek it out. In Romans 14:14 he notes, "As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean." Paul probably considered pork unclean, but may have gotten over that for the sake of the Gospel. Personal note: I had bacon for breakfast.

Regarding the sabbath, I think Paul would have observed this in a traditional way, though he would not have imposed this on others. Throughout Acts we see him speaking in the synagogues on the sabbath. "As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures..."(17:2) Were he in a Gentile setting, it is easy to imagine Paul loosening his grip on the sabbath restrictions for the sake of the Gospel.

Paul's over all disposition to the Law was that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law. Romans 3:31--"Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." I think Paul respected the Law, but no longer viewed it as the means of redemption for sins. His main conflict with it came when it was wielded by the legalistic Judaizers.

Now here are my thoughts about the Galatians passage and the second set of questions: Regarding the "curse of the Law," I am compelled by Kim's arguments vs. the New Perspective, but I appreciate how Gorman stays out of the fray over 3:10-14 and draws out Paul's main 3 points (207). "1)fundamentally the Law carries with it a curse rather than the blessing of life; 2) justification (and thus life) derive from faith, not the Law; and 3) Christ redeemed "us" (Jews/Jewish believers) from the Law's curse in order to open the blessing of Abraham--the Spirit--to Jews and Gentiles alike" (207). "The curse of the Law" is still a mystery to me, but returning simply to Paul's argument, we get to the point: whatever the curse was/is, Christ is the solution and the cure to it, lifting the curse for the Jews and bringing about Gentile inclusion in the covenant of Abraham.

Regarding why God gave the Law: I like Gorman's point that the context here suggests that the Law is given to reveal & to restrain sin (209). In Romans 5:20 Paul also adds the somewhat confusing statement that "the law was added so that the trespass might increase." Again, this is rather a mystery to me--revealing & restraining sin makes more sense.

And the relation of the Law to Christ: this whole passage (esp.13-14) suggests that Christ is the crux through which the Law and the Abrahamic Covenant are reconciled. The Covenant promise is both fulfilled and delivered through Christ.

Paul said...

I'm glad that Barbara brought Romans 12 into the discussion of sacrifice. She writes, "it is an offering of oneself that is valid then and now as an act of worship." This is a very good point. I think despite all of our historical background research, it can be a challenge for me to make the 2000 year leap between our time and Paul's. It is hard to sort through what in our contemporary tradition is cultural (it's all cultural, but where does it come from?) and what goes back to the early church. All that is to say that even how we view the Law can be shaped or colored more by our current culture than our knowledge of Paul. I guess that's the point of this course, and Dr. Capes' questions. Sorry for rambling on about this...but Barbara helped me see a strong connection in Romans 12.

Paul said...

Francisco makes a great point about the Law when he says that the problem with it is that we make it an end in itself. This is the idolatry of legalism--in any context. It is a good thing because it reveals and restrains sin, which ultimately draws people to Christ. But even as a good thing it cannot become an end in itself. As several posts have noted, Paul seems to "pick and choose" how he honors or follows the Law based on different contexts. He resists it when he sees people holding it up as an end in itself. But he also honors it in some settings because of his zealous concern for the salvation of the Jews. 1 Cor 9:20-21: "To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law."

windspirit said...

Thank you for your scholarship and inspiration; but my challenge is a bit different than those who have commented here.
The Lord, in a wisdom that amazes me, has given me the job, using the study of Pauline Theology to raise normal church attenders to a high level of understanding receptivity, and response I have to challenge each person to knowledge that individually applies to their lives, and enable them to pass it on..
I read your words (and others)and make notes. But what becomes really important is for each individual to be able to apply this knowledge to their own lives and to be able to re-sort and teach it to others.
It is theology with feet.
Thank you again for your scholarship.

LTD said...

I think that Paul's disposition toward the Law as found in his letters should be understood in light of his mission to the Gentiles. What I mean is this: Paul is NOT advocating that Jews, Christ-believing Jews, refrain from their covenantal Law observances. Else why undergo the vow in Acts 21? (I take Luke's accound as fair to Paul's mission.) It is difficult to see how Paul, who proved that he was NOT "teach[ing] all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe their customs" by undergoing the vow (Acts 21.21), could speak negatively about the Law in his letters (e.g., Rom2.25-29; Gal5.11-12; cf. also Rom3.20; 2Cor3.14-16; Gal3.5,10-11,24-26; 5.3-6; 6.12-15) - unless these negative statements were written for the sake of Gentiles, in hopes of keeping them from adopting the Law as a means to inclusion. Recall that Paul clearly indicates that Gentiles are his intended audience (cf. Rom1.5-6,13-15 - where Israel is interestingly absent from Paul's "obligation" parties). When understood in this way, Romans 3.1ff; 9.4-5 are not at odds or in tension with Paul's teaching of the Law elsewhere. Israel will be "fully included" and "saved" and "grafted back into their own olive tree" and "receiv[ing] mercy" (Rom11.12,15,24,26,32). But the Gentile predicatment is in jeopardy when the Law is introduced (e.g., Rom7.9-11).

Having said that, Paul, a faithful Jewish would-be father, would have circumcised his son. The Law was a "curse" for Gentiles who sought inclusion by it. Paul introduces Abraham as a pre-Law example of God's covenantal promises, of which Gentiles are a part. No doubt, the Jews would have used the example of Abraham in seeking to persuade Gentiles. Paul keeps with that example, though stressing the "promise" to Abraham, thus comforting Gentiles that they CAN be of "Abraham's offspring" without having to adopt the Law. Paul regularly asserts that Gentiles can fulfill the Law without having to keep it. They do it through the Spirit and the death-resurrection of Christ (Gal3.25-29; Rom8.4; 13.8-10; cf. Gal3.1-5).