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.

Evangelical Catholics on church unity

Evangelical Catholics on Church Unity

31. Much current preaching, catechesis, and discipline are emptied of the power of the cross of Christ. Nor are the “challenges of modernity” the only reason for the diminishment of Christianity in Western culture. The spiritual failure of Christianity in the modern era stems in many ways from ongoing division. Our complacency about division undermines our mission.

71. The disciplines of unity are penitential. As St. Paul teaches, for the sake of unity we must be willing to suspend gospel freedom and conform to the limitations of the weak. This process will be ascetical; it will necessarily involve the sacrifice of real but limited goods for the sake of greater good. We are convinced, however, that this ascetical dimension is necessary if the ecumenical project of modern Christianity is to move forward. Unity will require our churches not only to renounce the selfishness and insularity that we all dislike and easily see as sinful. It will also require our churches to embrace a spiritual poverty that has the courage to forego genuine riches of a tradition for the sake of a more comprehensive unity in the truth of the gospel.

From Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, Eds., In One Body through the Cross: The Princeton Proposal for Christian Unity, (Eerdmans, 2003), 33, 58.

Robert Jenson on scripture

Robert Jenson on scripture

The churches most faithful to Scripture are not those that legislate the most honorific propositions about Scripture, or even those that most diligently scrutinize proposed theologumena for their concordance with it, but those that most often and thoughtfully actually read and hear it.

from “The Religious Power of Scripture,” The Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 52, No. 1, (1999): 90.

There is no mandate to reproduce all apostolic theologoumena. Indeed, they are not guaranteed to be especially felicitous; we turn to the apostolic church not for the certainly best thought-out instances of gospel-speaking but for unchallengeable instances. […] Since the gospel is whatever the apostles said to say “Jesus is risen,” apostolic reflective activity also — however profoundly or superficially done — must have been the right sort of thing to be doing.

Thus it is not that Paul thought through the gospel better than, say, Irenaeus; the matter is in fact debatable. And having named Paul, we have named one of the few New Testament writers who, so far as the documents show, could compete in precision and profundity with many saints and thinkers who have come after. The New Testament witnesses are not necessarily the deepest or most critical or creative speakers of the gospel; they are the ones we must suppose did not simply do something else. That some of the New Testament writers were also genial thinkers is a bonus.

from Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 The Triune God, (OUP, 1997), 32. [this quote speaks only to scripture’s status as a norm for theological inquiry, which, it may need pointing out, does not comprehend the scope of scripture’s diverse vocations. It isn’t only theologians who consult scripture, but also liturgists, evangelists, pastors, artists, the saints (the list could go on), all of whom find in scripture a co-laborer.]

Churchly interpretation of Scripture is not interpretation that obeys some preferred procedure, that, e.g., prefers redaction criticism to form criticism or vice versa, or eschews critical methods altogether, or follows any similar prescription. Churchly interpretation of Scripture is interpretation done in course of activities specific to the church: missionary preaching, liturgy, homiletics, catechetics, endurance of suffering, governance, care of souls, works of charity, etc. And there is no way to list in advance what roles Scripture may play in these different enterprises and their changing historical situations.

from “The Religious Power of Scripture,” 95.

Bibliography of Jenson on scripture …


  • “On the Problem(s) of Scriptural Authority,” Interpretation 31, (1977): 237-50.
  • “Can a Text Defend Itself? An Essay de Inspiratione Scripturae,” dialog 28, (1989): 251-56.
  • “Simplistic Thoughts about the Authority of Scripture,” Word and World, (1992): 181-90.
  • “Hermeneutics and the Life of the Church,” in Reclaiming the Bible for the Church, Eds. Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, (Eerdmans, 1995), 89-106.
  • “The Religious Power of Scripture,” Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 52, No. 1, (1999)
  • “Scripture’s Authority in the Church,” in The Art of Reading Scripture, Eds., Ellen Davis and Richard Hays, (Eerdmans, 2003), 27-37
  • “Identity, Jesus, and Exegesis,” in Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage, Eds., Beverly Gaventa and Richard Hays, (Eerdmans, 2008), 43-59.


  • Systematic Theology, 2 Vol. (OUP, 1997, 1999), Ch. 2 & 29
  • Song of Songs, (Westminster John Knox, 2005)
  • Ezekiel, (Brazos, 2009)
  • Canon and Creed, (Westminster John Knox, 2010)
  • On the Inspiration of Scripture, (American Lutheran Publication Bureau, 2012)