On St Paul and the Law

On St. Paul and the continuity/provisionality of the Law

1. Ben Witherington III

Paul believes that the story of Moses and those involved in the Mosaic covenant is not the generating narrative for Christians, whether Jew or Gentile. […] The story of Moses, like the Mosaic covenant and the Mosaic Law, […] was a story meant to guide God’s people between the time of Moses and Christ. But once the eschatological age dawned though the Christ event, the Moses story could no longer be the controlling narrative of God’s people, precisely because now is the era of the new covenant. [40]

Paul is no antinomian, and freedom in his view does not amount to exchanging obedience to the Mosaic Law for a condition in which no objective restrictions or requirements are placed on one’s life. [49]

By what rule or standard will the Christian community live and be shaped? Paul’s answer is that the community is to be cruciform and Christological in shape. It is to follow his example and the pattern of Christ and walk in and by the Spirit. [42]

In his [Paul’s] view the Mosaic Law […] will and should be reflected in the life of the Christian believer, not because Christians have placed themselves under the Law and committed themselves to obey it all, but because the Spirit produces the essential qualities the Law demanded in the life of the believer. To put it another way, the eschatological age is the age of fulfillment, and the essential requirements of the Mosaic Law are fulfilled in the life of the Christian “not because they continue to be obligated to it but because, by the power of the Spirit in their lives, their conduct coincidentally displays the behavior the Mosaic law prescribes. In this verse then, Paul is claiming that believers have no need of the Mosaic law because by their Spirit-inspired conduct they already fulfill its requirements.” […] Not surprisingly there is considerable principle overlap between the Mosaic Law and the Law of Christ since God has given them both. But this does not mean that Paul sees the “Law of Christ” as simply Christ’s interpretation of the Law. Indeed not. The phrase Law of Christ first and foremost refers to the cruciform and resurrection pattern of the life of Jesus, which is to be replicated in the lives of Christ’s followers by the work of the Spirit and by imitation. They are to clothe themselves with Christ and immerse themselves in his life and lifestyle. This pattern of a crucified and risen Savior is not enunciated in the Mosaic Law and certainly not enunciated there as a pattern for believers to imitate. The Law of Christ also entails various teachings of Christ, both the portions of the OT he reaffirmed during his ministry and the new teachings he enunciated. It furthermore involves some early Christian teaching such as we find in Galatians 6, including Paul’s own paraphrasing and amplifying of the teachings of Christ. Thus, Paul’s answer to the question “How then should Christians live?” is […] “Follow and be refashioned by the Law of Christ” and “walk in the Spirit.” [44-5]

from The Problem with Evangelical Theology, (Baylor, 2005)

2. Austin Farrer

It is plain that to him [St Paul] the Bible is ‘the Law,’ buttressed by its traditional outworks. If, in his view, the Old Testament did anything, it imposed a Law, and this was God’s purpose for the while. But now the Law has fallen foul of Christ, crucifying him as a law-breaker. So much the worse for the Law; its right is at an end, and the old Covenant or Testament gives place to the New. Indeed, if we look carefully at the Law, we see that it carries in it the mark of its provisional character and the promise of what will supersede it. Not that the servants of God are henceforth lawless; they do what the Law requires, not through conformity to Law, but through devotion to Christ.

from The Truth Seeking Heart, (Canterbury, 2006), 12.

P.S. from Oswald Bayer on Luther and the Law

Luther continually stressed the fact that the law should not be preached to Christians insofar as they are justified by the gospel. But it should be preached to them insofar as they are sinners and still belong to the old world. […] This Lutheran confession [The Formula of Concord] constantly comes back to our old nature when stressing the validity of the law. For “the old Adam…still clings to” the Christian. This old Adam is a simple quarrelsome, “stubborn, recalcitrant donkey” that always wages war against our new nature. There is no real difference between a justified Christian insofar as he is still the old human and an unbelieving and unrepentant non-Christian! The one law is for believers no less than unbelievers.

from Living by Faith, (LQB, 2003): 67-8.

On Law & Atonement

Questioning the forensic character of the Atonement

A. Gustaf Aulen

It is essential that the work of atonement which God accomplishes in Christ reflect a Divine order which is wholly different from a legal order; the Atonement is not accomplished by strict fulfillment of the demands of justice, but in spite of them; God is not … unrighteous, but He transcends the order of justice.

from Christus Victor, (1931), 90-1.

B. Gerhard Forde

The main trouble is that this “ladder theology” inevitably distorts our understanding of the gospel. The gospel is taken captive by the system and turned into a new kind of law.

Let me explain. We begging by assuming the law is a ladder to heaven. Then we go on to say, “Of course, no one can climb the ladder, because we are all weakened by sin. We are all therefore guilty and lost.” And this is where “the gospel” is to enter the picture. What we need is someone to pay our debt to God and to climb the ladder for us. This, supposedly, is what Jesus has done. As our “substitute” he has paid off God and climbed the ladder for us. All we have to do now is “believe” it.

But what have we done when we understand the gospel in this way? We have, in fact, interpreted the gospel merely as something that makes the ladder scheme work. The gospel comes to make up for the deficiencies of the law. The gospel does not come as anything really new. It is not the breaking in of a radically new age with an entirely new outlook. It is simply a “repair job.” It is an attempt to put new wine in old skins, or a new patch on an old garment. When we do this, the gospel always comes off second best. It is trapped in the understanding of law which we have ourselves concocted.

The net result is that the gospel itself simply becomes another kind of law. It becomes a “theory” about how God has been paid and how Jesus has climbed the ladder. If you want to be saved you must now “believe” all that. That is the new law. The gospel is not good news any more. It is merely a kind of information which after a while loses its “punch.” It loses its character as “news,” and it ceases to be “good.” It is a set of truths which one must somehow muster the strength or the will to believe.

from Where God Meets Man, (Augsburg, 1972): 10-11.

See also Gerhard Forde, “Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ.” Available in either: Word and World 3 (1984): 22-31, OR A More Radical Gospel, (Eerdmans, 2004): 85-97.