Paul’s View of the Law: The Remaining Letters (Part 2)

Part 2—Summary of other relevant Passages

After dealing with passages which refer directly to the Old Testament Law in Part 1, I will present here a brief summary of other relevant passages, including:

    1. Instances of language, concepts and imagery similar to that used by Paul in reference to the Law (in Galatians, Romans, etc)
    2. References which imply or suggest a symbolic or spiritual application of elements of the Law
    3. Verses where Paul indicates a source of religious and ethical authority for Christians similar to that of the Law

1. Similar language, concepts and imagery

There are a number of instances where Paul uses language and imagery similar to that in the major sections of Romans and Galatians dealing with the Law, faith and works, “justification”, etc. Here I point out the most notable of these, organized as follows:

    • Salvation/justification by grace (and faith)
      • 1 Cor 4:4—par. to the idea of Paul being ethically-religiously blameless (according to the Law), and yet not (on that basis) declared just/right before God
      • 1 Cor 6:11—believers are justified in the name of Jesus Christ
      • 1 Cor 12:13—Jews and Gentiles are united in Christ (and by the Spirit), entirely apart from the Law (cf. Gal 3:27-28 and throughout Romans)
      • Phil 2:12ff—exhortation to “work (out)” one’s salvation, yet it is clear that God is the one who is working (Col 1:29)
      • Phil 3:9—righteousness/justification is from God, by faith
      • Phil 3:16 (also Col 2:6ff)—ethical behavior stems from living/walking “in the Spirit” and “in Christ”, rather than according to the precepts of the Law (cf. Gal 5:16-25)
      • Col 1:13-14, 21-22—the work of Christ releases believers from the power of sin (cf. Romans) through his death (note also Eph 2:4-7); in Col 2:14, Christ’s death also wipes out the written decrees (rel. to the idea of believers death/dying to the Law, cf. Gal 2:19; Rom 7:4, etc)
      • Cf. also Eph 1:13, 19f; 2:8-9, 11ff; 2 Tim 1:9-10; Tit 2:11; 3:5-7
    • Justice/Righteousness (apart from the Law)—Note the use of dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”) in the following passages:
      • 1 Cor 1:30—Christ came to be the “justice/righteousness of God” for us (cf. Rom 3:21ff, etc)
      • 2 Cor 3:9—see the note on 2 Cor 3:7-11
      • 2 Cor 5:21—believers become the “justice/righteousness of God” in Christ (par. to 1 Cor 1:30)
      • Phil 1:11—the justice/righteousness that comes “through Christ” is emphasized (cf. Rom 3:21; 10:3-4, etc)
      • Phil 3:6, 9—again the justice/righteousness that comes through faith in Christ is distinguished from righteousness under the Law
      • Cf. also Eph 4:24; 2 Tim 3:16; 4:8; Tit 3:5
    • Old and New Covenant—The major passage in 2 Cor 3:7-18 (cf. the discussion in the recent daily note); other relevant references are:
      • 2 Cor 5:17ff—implies the passing away of the old order of things; on the “new creation”, see Gal 6:15, also Eph 4:24
      • Col 1:23—remaining in faith (in Christ) effectively replaces observance of the Law as the terms by which one fulfills the covenant
    • The “love command”—In Gal 5:13-14 (cf. also 6:2) and Rom 13:8-10, Paul refers to love (esp. love of one’s neighbor/fellow-believer, cf. Lev 19:18) as the epitome and fulfillment of the Law, effectively replacing the commands of the Torah. As previously discussed, this is a development from Jesus’ own teaching (Mark 12:28-34 par and throughout John 14-17), which is well-attested in different strands of early Christian tradition (see esp. James 2:8-13 and all through 1 John 2-5). Elsewhere in his letters, Paul refers to the ruling/guiding principle of love in a similar manner—cf. 1 Thess 4:9; 1 Cor 12:31b-13:13 (cf. also 8:1; 12:25-26); 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; Phil 2:2-3ff; Col 3:14ff; Philemon 9; and see also Eph 3:17-19; 1 Tim 1:5.

2. Symbolic/Spiritual application

In many instances, Paul mentions details or elements of the Old Testament Law only in the context of a symbolic or spiritual application for believers. This is true especially with regard to the ritual/ceremonial aspects of the Law—circumcision, purity Laws, sacrificial offerings and Temple service, etc. Paul never once suggests that any of these are still required, even for Jewish Christians, despite the claims and assumptions of many commentators. The following elements of the Law may be isolated:

    • Circumcision—Paul does deal with the actual rite of circumcision in his letters, especially throughout Galatians and Romans 2-4 (see the articles in this series on Galatians and Romans), arguing that Gentile believers need not be circumcised (nor observe the other requirements of the Torah); in Gal 5:6; 6:15; 1 Cor 7:19 and Col 3:11 he goes beyond this, declaring that circumcision itself no longer has any importance (for believers). It does continue to have value as a symbol, with its true (spiritual) significance now being applied to believers in Christ—this is expressed clearly in Rom 2:28-29; Phil 3:2-3; Col 2:11.
    • The Temple—In several passages (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; cf. also Eph 2:21), Paul refers to believers—individually and collectively—as the Temple (nao/$) of God. The nao/$ is specifically the sanctuary or (inner) shrine, but can also be used of the temple building/complex as a whole. The (Holy) Spirit of God resides in this Temple (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). The emphasis is primarily ethical, stressing the need to keep the body pure; as such it is related to the idea of purity regulations (cf. below). Elsewhere, Paul makes scant reference to the actual Temple in Jerusalem (2 Thess 2:4; 1 Cor 9:13).
    • Sacrificial offerings—Occasionally Paul refers to believers themselves as offerings presented before God, drawing upon the imagery of the sacrificial ritual. The word qusi/a properly means the victim (animal) that is ritually slaughtered, but may also refer generally to the act of sacrifice itself. Paul uses the word of believers (including himself) in Rom 12:1; Phil 2:17; 4:18. Interestingly, he tends not to describe Christ’s death as a sacrificial offering, but qusi/a is used in this context in Eph 5:2; and Christ is referred to as the Passover lamb slaughtered (related vb. qu/w) in 1 Cor 5:7. Elsewhere, qusi/a/qu/w is used only in 1 Cor 10:18-20, and there of pagan offerings. Similarly, Paul almost never mentions the Israelite/Jewish feasts (Col 3:16), referencing Passover only in 1 Cor 5:7; in addition to Jesus as the Passover lamb, believers are described as unleavened bread—again, the context is ethical, with an exhortation to purge the old “leaven” of sin and immorality.
    • Purity laws and regulations—In his letters Paul makes some mention of the dietary laws and the general (ritual) distinction between “clean” and “unclean”, but never once does he suggest that these are still valid; quite the opposite—he effectively declares them to be abolished for believers (Rom 14:14), with dietary restrictions now being entirely dependent on a person’s own conscience and choice (Rom 14; 1 Cor 8; Col 2:16ff). For similar teaching in the Pastoral letters, see 1 Tim 4:3-5; Tit 1:15. Occasionally, Paul draws upon the imagery of the purity laws in his ethical instruction and exhortation for believers—in particular, note 2 Cor 6:17; 7:1 and Eph 5:26f (there may also be an echo in Phil 1:10). It should be noted that Pauline authorship of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is questioned by some critical scholars (cf. my supplemental article on the passage), and the authorship of Ephesians continues to be disputed as well; the verb kaqari/zw (“cleanse, make clean”) is elsewhere used only in the Pastoral letters (Tit 2:14; and cf. also 2 Tim 2:21).
    • Sabbath—It is worth noting that Paul says virtually nothing in his letters regarding the Sabbath (nor any comparable Christian “Lord’s day”); he mentions it only in Col 3:16, and not as something which needs to be observed, nor does he ever apply it symbolically to believers (such as we see in Hebrews 3-4).

3. Religious and ethical authority for Christians

A particularly difficult area of study has to do with the way early Christians understood religious authority; there are various sources of authority, mentioned in the New Testament writings—and especially the Pauline letters—which appear to take the place of the Torah commands for believers. One might debate the extent to which this means that Christians create a “new Law” for themselves, somewhat in contrast with the freedom we are supposed to have in Christ—however, that is a subject for a later time. We may emphasize the following: