Paul’s View of the Law: Acts vs. the Letters

The articles in this series of Paul’s View of the Law (part of “The Law and the New Testament”) conclude with a short comparative study of the Pauline letters and the book of Acts. Commentators frequently note a number of differences and/or apparent discrepancies between the narratives (involving Paul) in the book of Acts and what he himself relates in the (undisputed) letters—in matters of chronology, the itinerary of the missionary journeys, and so forth. In such instances, critical scholars tend to give priority to the letters, regarding the information in the book of Acts as less reliable; traditional-conservative commentators, on the other hand, generally consider both Acts and the letters as authentic (and reliable), seeking to harmonize the two as far as possible. Perhaps the most well-known (and often-discussed) historical-critical issue involves the relationship between the so-called Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and Paul’s narrative in Galatians 2. However, important differences have also been pointed out regarding the portrait of Paul painted in Acts, as compared with what he states himself in the letters, and especially in regard to his view of the Law (the subject of these articles). This may summarized by two related questions:

    1. Did Paul himself continue to observe the Old Testament/Jewish Law following his conversion? and
    2. Did he consider that Jewish believers were still obligated to observe the commands and regulations of the Law?

1. Did Paul continue to observe the Law?

Paul states on several occasions in his letters that, prior to coming to faith in Christ, he was most devout and scrupulous in matters of religion, including strict observance of the (written) Law, the Torah (Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:4b-6, and Acts 22:3; 26:5). Did he continue to observe it so after his conversion? Many scholars today would say yes, and simply take for granted that he did. However, it must be observed that there is very little actual evidence of this in the letters; in fact, he never makes such a statement about himself, but it could be understood from two passages: 1 Cor 9:20 and Rom 3:31.

    • 1 Cor 9:20—”to the ones under the Law, (I came to be) as one under the Law”. This indicates that Paul voluntarily continued to observe the Law, at least when among his fellow Jews, in order to win them to Christ (cf. below).
    • Rom 3:31—”then do we make inactive/invalid the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)! but (rather) we make the Law stand!” Many commentators today read this as if Paul is saying that he and his Jewish Christian co-workers continue to observe the Law. However, there is nothing in the context of the passage to indicate this; the emphasis in Romans 3, especially in vv. 21-31, is the declaration that Jews and Gentiles both are justified through faith, and not by works of the Law (i.e. observing the Law). For more on this passage, see the earlier note and discussion in this series.

By contrast, the following passages indicate that Paul, along with all believers, is free from the Law: 1 Cor 9:20-21; 2 Cor 3:6; Gal 5:11; 6:14; Rom 6:15; 7:6; Phil 3:3, 7-9.

In the book of Acts, there is somewhat more evidence that Paul continued to observe the Law. First, we have his statements generally to this effect, in Acts 24:14, 17-18 and 28:17 (?). We also see:

    • His presence in the Temple (Acts 21:26-27; 22:17-18; 24:17-18); along with other early believers in Jerusalem (Lk 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1ff; 5:21ff, 42; 21:22-27), Paul continued to frequent the Temple. However, it is not clear to what extent he participated in the sacrificial ritual; on only one occasion is he seen involved in ritual activity (21:26-27, cf. below).
    • His traveling to Jerusalem for the feasts, at least on several occasions (Acts 18:21 v.l.; 20:16); but note that Acts 20:6 indicates that Passover would have been observed away from Jerusalem.
    • Acts 18:18 refers to a vow (Nazirite?) he had taken, which presumably was done according to the regulations in the Law.

In none of these instances is it recorded that Paul was under obligation, or felt required, to observe the Torah. The most relevant passage is Acts 21:21-26 (cf. below); but even here, his involvement in the Temple ritual was done voluntarily, at the recommendation of James.

2. Did he consider that Jewish believers were still obligated to observe the Law?

Again, a good many commentators today would answer in the affirmative—while Gentiles were not required to observe the Old Testament Law, Jewish believers were still bound to do so. I find not the slightest indication of this in the letters, not even in the most positive references to the Law (Rom 3:1-2; 7:12-14 [cf. also 1 Tim 1:8]; Col 4:11, and, possibly, Rom 4:12; 1 Cor 7:19). As mentioned above, some commentators would read Rom 3:31 as though Paul believed that the Law continued to be binding (for Jewish believers), but I consider this a serious misunderstanding of the passage. The overwhelming number of references, indicating that the Law is no longer in force for believers in Christ, would seem to speak decisively against it—cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18; Gal 2:11-14ff, 19; the illustrations in Gal 3-4 (esp. 3:25, 28; 4:2, 5, 31); 5:1, 6, 13-14, 18; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; 3:21ff; 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 8:2f; 10:4; Phil 3:3; Col 2:16-17; 3:11; Eph 2:15. There are, however, three passages in the book of Acts, which could suggest that Paul held the Torah to be binding for Jewish believers; each of these will be discussed in turn:

Acts 16:3—Paul had the half-Jewish Timothy circumcised, prior to his joining the mission effort. This has often been seen as contradicting Paul’s own teaching regarding circumcision in the letters (Gal 2:3; 5:2-3, 6, 11; 6:12-15; 1 Cor 7:18-19; Rom 2:28-29, also Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; 3:11; Eph 2:11), causing some critical scholars to question the historicity of the detail in Acts 16:3. Much depends on the reason why Timothy was circumcised; there are several possibilities:

    • Jews, including Jewish believers, were obligated to observe the Law, with circumcision being a central covenant obligation; according to later Jewish tradition (m. Kidd. 3:12), children from mixed marriages were still regarded as Jewish.
    • It was a practical measure, to avoid unnecessary hostility and opposition among Jews to the mission.
    • It is an example (and extension) of Paul’s missionary principle expressed in 1 Cor 9:19-23—of becoming like one under the Law in order to reach those who are under the Law.

There is nothing in the context of 16:1ff itself to indicate that Timothy was circumcised because he was required to do so, as would be suggested in the first view. The only reason given in the passage is that he was circumcised “through [i.e. because of] the Jews that were in those places”, which would seem to fit the second interpretation above. However, it is also possible that Paul was generally following the principle he would later express in 1 Cor 9:19-23; for more on this, see the conclusion below. One would like to think that Timothy willingly (and voluntarily) agreed to circumcision, though this is not indicated in the text.

Acts 16:4—In the next verse, we read that Paul delivered the decisions (do/gmata) from the ‘Jerusalem Council’ (Acts 15:19-31) to the believers in the cities of Pisidia and Lycaonia (i.e. Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, etc) in SE Asia Minor, which had been evangelized during the first Missionary journary (Acts 13-14). The letter from Jerusalem (15:23-29) is addressed to Antioch, Syria and Cilicia; Paul is extending it northward and westward in the region. There are two major critical issues involved here:

    1. Paul’s knowledge (and support) of the Jerusalem decrees. He never once refers to these in his letters, even on occasions when the decisions would have been relevant (1 Cor 8-10; Gal 2:11-14, etc; Rom 14; Col 2:16ff). In particular, the decisions appear to be directly on point with the very question Paul addresses in 1 Cor 8-10; if he knew of the decisions, and considered them to be authoritative (and binding) for Gentiles, it is rather strange that he does not refer to them. Many critical scholars consider the detail of Acts 16:4 to be inaccurate—e.g., note how in Acts 21:25 Paul appears to learn of the decrees then for the first time. More to the point, commentators have argued that the Paul of the letters would not have supported the decrees, especially with regard to the dietary restrictions placed on Gentiles (cf. issue #2).
    2. The relation of the decrees to the Torah. In Acts 15:21, James (the speaker) clearly connects the decisions of the Council with the fact that Moses (i.e. the Old Testament Law) is proclaimed and read in cities throughout the region, and followed by devout Jews (including Jewish believers). I have discussed this aspect of the Jerusalem decrees in some detail in a previous article. It is possible, but by no means certain, that, in observing the decrees, Gentile believers are thereby expected to follow the Torah in a limited sense. The emphasis is squarely on the idolatrous and immoral aspects of the pagan culture in which the Gentiles live—things which would also offend the religious and moral sensibilities of Jewish believers everywhere. I believe that the primary focus of the decrees is twofold: (1) as an authoritative exhortation for Gentiles to abstain from things associated with idolatry, and (2) as a way to ensure fellowship and unity between Jewish and Gentile believers.

The apparent discrepancy between Acts 16:4 and Paul’s failure to mention the Jerusalem decrees even once in the letters, can be explained one of several ways:

    • Paul was not aware of the decrees when he wrote his letters (contrary to Acts 16:4)
    • He did not consider (or would not have considered) the decrees authoritative and/or binding on Gentiles (again contrary to Acts 16:4)
    • The decrees had only a limited (regional) scope—the areas in Syria and Asia Minor surrounding Antioch—and were not considered binding for Gentile believers in territories further away
    • The decrees had only a limited scope, insofar as they related to places with large Jewish populations (such as the regions around Antioch)—in support of healthy relations between Jewish and Gentile believers—but were not necessarily binding on Gentile believers en masse.
    • The decrees were only binding for a time, eventually being abolished or superseded as circumstances dictated, or through “progressive revelation”; at the time of Paul’s writing, the decrees were no longer in force.

According to a strict, traditional-conservative (harmonistic) reading of the New Testament, only the 3rd and 4th interpretations above are viable options. A consistent and thorough analysis of Paul’s letters, taken by themselves, would, I think, lead one to adopt the 2nd interpretation. Overall, the last view is perhaps the simplest and most practical solution, but it is nowhere so stated in the New Testament, and would have to be assumed.

Acts 21:21-26—This is almost certainly the most direct (and controversial) passage in Acts related to Paul’s view of the Law. It must be examined in some detail:

  • The Context—At the conclusion of his (third) major missionary journey (18:23-21:16), Paul travels to Jerusalem, and is greeted by the believers there (vv. 17-19), including James and other leaders (elders) in the Church. Presumably he presented the collection of funds for the needy in the Jerusalem Church, which he had laboriously organized and gathered from the congregations in Greece and Macedonia (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9; Rom 15:25-28), and which is mentioned (it would seem) in Acts 24:17, but not here in chap. 21.
  • The Issue—James’ address to Paul is recorded in vv. 20b-25, in which the following points are made:
    • In Jerusalem there are many Jewish believers, who continue to be zealous in observing the Torah (v. 20b)
    • It is reported that Paul instructs Jews to forsake the Torah, and not to be circumcised, etc (v. 21)
    • It is assumed that: (a) this cannot be true, and (b) Paul himself continues to observe the Torah (v. 24b)
    • To prove this, James recommends that Paul take part in a purification ceremony (in the Temple) (v. 23-24a)
    • The Jerusalem decrees are also mentioned, indicating, at the very least, that Gentile believers honor and respect the customs of (observant) Jewish believers (v. 25)
  • Summary exposition—James effectively summarizes the controversies between Paul and Jewish believers, regarding his view of the Old Testament Law (as expressed in Galatians and Romans). Admittedly, nowhere in the letters does Paul say anything quite like the claim in verse 21, though the teaching that believers in Christ (Jew and Gentile alike) are “free” from the Law (cf. above) certainly could be characterized this way. It is perhaps such a (mis)representation that Paul combats, or attempts to avoid, in passages such as Gal 3:21ff; Rom 3:31; 7:7ff. Above, I have examined evidence regarding the extent to which Paul continued to observe the Law himself after coming to faith in Christ, such as James assumes here in v. 24b; the evidence is hardly conclusive, as I shall discuss again below. However, Paul does go along with James’ recommendation and participates in the purification ritual (vv. 26-27), at considerable personal expense it would seem, giving at least a general affirmation of his support for the position of observant Jewish believers. But based on what we have studied thus far in the letters, can we truly say, with James, that “all that of which was sounded down [i.e. reported] to them about you [i.e. Paul] is nothing”? What of the many potentially controversial passages regarding the Law, such as 2 Cor 3:7-18; Gal 2:11-14ff, 19; 3:25, 28; 4:2, 5, 31; 5:1, 6, 13-14, 18; 6:15; Rom 2:28-29; 3:21ff; 6:14-15; 7:1-6; 8:2f; 10:4; Phil 3:3; Col 2:16-17; 3:11, et al.?

Conclusion

A fair and unbiased view of the evidence, from both the letters and Acts, would have to affirm that Paul did continue to observe the Law, but only in a special and qualified sense. Ultimately, the clearest declaration of his own view of the matter comes from 1 Cor 9:20:

“And I came to be to the Jews as a Jew, (so) that I might gain Jews (for Christ), to the (one)s under (the) Law as (one) under (the) Law—not being under (the) Law (my)self—(so) that I might gain the (one)s under (the) Law (for Christ)”

Here he clearly states that:

    1. He observes the Law (i.e. is “under the Law”, u(po\ no/mon) for the purpose of winning Jews to Christ, and not because he is still obligated to observe it—indeed:
    2. He himself is not under the Law. It should be noted, that some manuscripts omit the phrase mh\ w*n au)to\$ u(po\ no/mon (“not being under the Law myself”), but it is present in a wide range of witnesses (including many of the “earliest and best” MSS), and is almost certainly original. While some commentators might dispute it, I regard this as a decisive statement that, along with all other believers in Christ (Jew and Gentile alike), Paul is no longer required to observe the commands and regulations of the Old Testament Law. Note also, in v. 21, that:
    3. He is not without the “Law of God” (cf. also Rom 7:22, 25), and identifies himself as now being under (lit. “in”) the “Law of Christ”. This (being “in Christ”) is an altogether new covenant, as he makes clear in 2 Cor 3:1-18.

The basic principle of freedom in Christ, which Paul consistently teaches (cf. Gal 2:4; 3:25, 28; 4:21-31; 5:1ff, 13; 1 Cor 9:19ff; 2 Cor 3:17; Rom 6:7ff; 7:2-6; 8:2ff, 21, etc), also means that believers—certainly Jewish believers—may continue to observe the Torah, and other Jewish customs, either voluntarily, or as a matter of personal conscience. There is a world of difference between “may observe” and “must observe”—I believe Paul would affirm the former, but definitely not the latter. All of the passages in the book of Acts examined above can be understood and interpreted as voluntary observance. In this sense, the claims reported about Paul (according to James) in Acts 21:21 are false; but there are actually two erroneous claims which ought to be rejected:

    • He teaches that Jewish believers must, or should, cease observing the Old Testament Law—false
    • He teaches that Jewish believers must continue (strict) observance of the Old Testament Law—likewise false

When it comes to Gentile believers, the situation is somewhat different; Paul, especially in Galatians, takes the more forceful position, that they should not observe the Torah, and speaks in the harshest terms regarding those who would influence them to do so. However, this must be understood in the historical (and rhetorical) context of the letter, and not turned into any sort of absolute rule to follow. Early Christianity was dominated by Jewish traditions and patterns of thought, and initial Gentile converts could easily be compelled to adopt Jewish religious practices as well. For the most part, this dynamic has long since disappeared from the Church, and there is little inherent danger in (Gentile) Christians today voluntarily adopting customs and practices set forth in the Torah. I will discuss this point again at the very conclusion of this series on The Law and the New Testament.

August 11 (1): Ephesians 2:15a

Ephesians 2:14-16 [cf. vv. 11-22]

In the previous daily note, I examined the structure of Eph 2:14-16 and the context of verses 11-22; today, I will be looking specifically at two important interpretive questions. The first involves the two elements making up verse 15a, namely:

    1. The expression o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin, and
    2. The force of the verb katarge/w
Ephesians 2:15a

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin—This unusual compound expression needs to be examined in detail:

    • o( no/mo$ (“the Law”)—In the Pauline letters, the word no/mo$ nearly always refers to the Old Testament Law (Torah), and so it should be understood generally here. However, Paul does occasionally use the word in a slightly different sense, as in the expression “the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=), which I believe (contrary to the view of many commentators) has a somewhat wider meaning, synonymous with the will of God, as indicated by the context of Rom 7:22, 25; 1 Cor 9:21. In Paul’s mind, of course, the “Law of God” is expressed and embodied in the Old Testament Law (cf. below).
    • tw=n e)ntolw=n—The word e)ntolh/ is usually translated “command(ment)”, though it literally means “something (i.e. a duty, charge) laid on (someone) to complete”; the rendering “injunction” is perhaps better, indicating something which a person is enjoined to do. In the New Testament, the term often refers to the commands of the Old Testament Law (esp. the fundamental ethical commands of the Decalogue), corresponding to the Hebrew hw`x=m!. The plural of e)ntolh/ signifies the commands of the Law collectively; subsequent Jewish tradition came to enumerate 613 specific commands.
    • e)n do/gmasin—The term do/gma is somewhat difficult to render consistently in English; fundamentally, it means “what one thinks or considers” about something, but often in the specific (or technical) sense of an authoritative opinion or decision. For example, the opinion/decision of high-court judges typically comes to have a legally binding status, so also the decisions (or “decrees”) of rulers, and so forth. It is used in this latter sense in the New Testament of imperial decrees (Lk 2:1; Acts 17:7), and of the (authoritative) decision of the ‘council’ of Jerusalem (Acts 16:4). The word appears only once elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, in Col 2:14, where it refers to the written form of the Law—”the handwriting [xeiro/grafon] of the decisions/decrees [toi=$ do/gmasin] which was over (and) against us”, i.e. the Law in its condemning aspect (see esp. on the “curse of the Law”, Gal 3:10-14).

Now to put the elements together:

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n (“the Law of the injunctions”)—This is best understood as a subjective and/or qualitative genitive, i.e. “the injunctions which comprise the Law”. Such genitive constructs are frequent (and occasionally elaborate) in Ephesians, contributing greatly to the exalted style (typical of prayer/praise language) that pervades the letter. Some might prefer to see the “injunctions” as only part, or one component, of the Law, but I believer that this is incorrect—the phrase is meant to qualify and define more precisely the entire Law.

o( no/mo$ tw=n e)ntolw=n e)n do/gmasin (“the Law of the injunctions in [written] decrees”)—The added prepositional phrase “in decisions/decrees” (e)n do/gmasin) is also meant to localize the commands/injunctions which make up the Law. As indicated above, the closest parallel is Col 2:14, where written decrees specifically are meant. Elsewhere, Paul clearly understands the Old Testament Law primarily as something written (i.e. in Scripture), cf. Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 10:5; 1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 2 Cor 3:7; Gal 3:10, 22, and note the basic metaphor in Rom 2:15; 2 Cor 3:6. It is noteworthy, that he also seems to identify the written form of the Law as that which imprisons or “kills” (2 Cor 3:6-7ff; Gal 3:10; Rom 7:6; Col 2:14). For Paul’s unique view of the purpose of the Law in this regard, cf. Gal 3:19-26; Rom 5:20-21; 7:7-25; 11:32, and the previous articles on Galatians and Romans.

In my view, with this compound (and admittedly awkward) expression, Paul (or the author of the letter) spells out clearly what is otherwise assumed in the simple use of o( no/mo$ (“the Law”). We might establish and parse the equation as follows:

    • The Law—that is, the “Law of God” = the will of God
      • as expressed in the injunctions—the commands, regulations, precepts, etc.—of the Old Testament Law
        • in their authoritative written form, as binding decrees

The force of the verb katarge/w—This verb (katarge/w) is distinctively Pauline (23 of the 27 NT occurrences are in the undisputed letters). Fundamentally, it means “make (something) cease working”, that is, render it inactive or ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”. Paul uses it in the context of the (Old Testament) Law in Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11. The verses in underlined italics specifically teach that, with the coming of Christ (and his sacrificial death), the Old Testament Law has been “nullified” or rendered inactive, i.e. it has ceased to work, meaning that it no longer has binding authority for believers—we are no longer “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon, Rom 6:14-15; 7:6; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, etc). And this clearly is the context of Eph 2:14-15 as well:

“(Christ is the one) making inactive [katargh/sa$] the Law of injunctions in (written) decrees…”

However, it should be noted that in Rom 3:31, Paul appears to make nearly the opposite claim:

“Then do we make inactive [katargou=men] the Law through th(is) trust (in Christ)? May it not come to be (so)!—but (rather) we make (the) Law stand!”

A fair number of modern commentators understand Paul here to be saying that he continues to observe the Torah and/or considers it still to be binding for Jewish believers, and then proceed to qualify what is said in Eph 2:14-15, etc. on this basis. I consider this to be a serious misunderstanding of Paul’s view of the Old Testament Law, as well as a mistaken interpretation of Rom 3:31. This will be discussed in more detail in the next (concluding) article on Paul’s view of the Law; see also the earlier note on Rom 3:31. It should be mentioned that in Rom 7:2, 6; 2 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14, the nullifying is the result of God’s work in Christ; in Rom 3:31, Paul uses the first person (“we do not nullify…”) and specifies “through th(is) trust”. That is to say, our trust in Christ and proclamation of the Gospel message does not invalidate the Law as such; quite the opposite—Christ himself completes and fulfills the Law (Gal 2:19-20; 3:10-14; 4:4-5; Rom 3:21-26; 8:2-4; 9:30-33; 10:3-4), bringing it to an end. We now fulfill the Law (of God) through our trust in Christ.

In the next note, I will explore the idea of unity between Jews and Gentiles expressed by the phrase “into one new man” (ei)$ e%na kainon a&nqrwpon) in verse 15b.

Paul’s View of the Law: The Remaining Letters (Part 3)

Part 3—Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters

The final part of this article will address Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus); I have chosen to deal with them separately here since, of all the Pauline Letters in the New Testament, there is the most uncertainty regarding Pauline authorship for these four letters. I will not be examining arguments for and against authenticity here, nor do I make any judgment regarding authorship. In passing, I will only say that I find many aspects of the language and style of Ephesians to be atypical of that in the undisputed letters (compared with Colossians, which otherwise has a number of similarities in structure and subject matter with Ephesians). Regarding the Pastoral letters, I personally accept 2 Timothy as authentic, with very little reservation, its structure, style and phrasing being generally close to that of the undisputed letters; I find many more instances of uncharacteristic vocabulary and phrases in 1 Timothy, while the situation with the letter to Titus is harder to judge, though it may have more in common with 1 Timothy.

Ephesians

The main passage dealing with the Old Testament Law is Eph 2:11-22 (esp. verses 14-15, which I will deal with in a separate note). Specific references to the Torah (Pentateuch) are also found in Eph 5:31ff (citing Gen 2:24, cf. Matt 19:4-6; 1 Cor 6:16) and Eph 6:2-3 (citing Deut 5:16, par Exod 20:12); the latter citation indicates that the fundamental ethical commands of the Decalogue are still valid and applicable for believers, as attested elsewhere in early Christian tradition (cf. Mark 10:18 par; James 2:11; Rom 13:9). The other relevant references may be summarized as follows (cf. Part 2):

Similarities with Paul’s discussion of the Law in Galatians, Romans, etc.:
    • Eph 1:13—hearing/obedience is to the word/account of God (here called the “word/account of truth“), identified with the “good message (Gospel) of salvation”; obedience takes place through trust/faith (pi/sti$), and results in the gift of the Spirit.
    • Eph 1:19f—again the emphasis is on trust/faith, and the work being done by God (in/through Christ)
    • Eph 2:8-9—”for by (the) favor [xa/ri$] (of God) you have been saved, through trust [pi/sti$], and this not out of you(rselves)—(it is) the gift [dw=ron] of God, not out of works, (so) that no one may boast”
    • Eph 4:1-6—religious identity (understood here in terms of unity) for believers is realized through the Spirit and the binding principle of love (cf. Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14, etc).
Symbolic/Spiritual application of the Law:
    • Eph 2:20-22—The Temple shrine (nao/$) is used as a symbol for believers (i.e. the Church) as a whole—a building, with Christ as the cornerstone, parallel to the image of the body (with Christ as the head); for similar application of the Temple, cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16.
    • Eph 5:26-27—Imagery drawn from ritual cleansing (ablution) and sacrificial offering is applied to believers (collectively), as part of the wider ethical instruction (parenesis) in Eph 4:17-6:9.
    • Eph 5:31ffGenesis 2:24 (related to laws regarding marriage and divorce) is applied symbolically to the Church.
Sources of authority for believers (apart from the Law):
    • Eph 3:1-4ff—Paul’s authority (as an apostle), which comes through special revelation (from God/Christ) cf. Gal 1:12
    • Eph 3:16ff—power/authority is ultimately realized in the “inner man” and by the Spirit.
    • Eph 4:17-5:20—ethical instruction comes by way of (Paul’s) apostolic authority (“I bear witness in the Lord…”, v. 17), but is realized through putting off the “old man” and putting on the “new man”, reflecting the spiritual transformation symbolized by the rite of baptism (which, in turn, represents participation in the death and resurrection of Christ).
    • Eph 5:22-6:9—similar ethical and practical instruction presented as effective commands from Paul (in his role as apostle).
    • Eph 5:21—authority of believers to one another (i.e. the community/congregation itself), “set yourselves in order under each other in (the) fear of Christ”.

The Pastoral Letters

For the sake of convenience, I group these together, without necessarily affirming common authorship; the text of each letter indicates it was composed by Paul, and this was accepted without question in the early Church, though in recent generations scholars and commentators have expressed serious doubt on this point (cf. above).

The Law (o( no/mo$) is mentioned twice in 1 Tim 1:8-9, along with nomodida/skaloi (“teachers of the Law”) in verse 7. It is not entirely clear whether this means specifically the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah), as elsewhere in Paul, or to “the law” in general. In Titus, the author appears to warn against (quasi-)Jewish influence (cf. Tit 1:14; 3:9), and it is often thought that something similar is referenced in 1 Tim 1:4; 4:7 (also 2 Tim 4:4), perhaps an early manifestation of “Gnosticism”. The list of crimes in 1 Tim 1:9-10 are, for the most part, dealt with somewhere in the Torah, but they would just as easily apply to the laws in most societies. The Law here is understood in its rudimentary role of curbing and punishing wickedness, especially crimes which are particularly harmful to others. This would come to be a popular line of reasoning for (Gentile) Christians who wished to maintain the binding validity of the Old Testament Law; however, it should be noted that Paul himself (in the undisputed letters) really never refers to the Law in this context (cp. Rom 13:1-4ff). In Romans and Galatians, Paul ascribes a very different purpose for the Old Testament Law (Gal 3:19-26; Rom 5:20-21; 7:4-25; 11:32), as I have discussed in the previous articles of this series. In Titus 3:9 there is an exhortation to avoid “legal battles” or “fights about the Law” (using the adjective nomiko/$), which may (or may not) refer specifically to the Torah. The fact that, in 1 Tim 1:10, at the end of the list of crimes, the author adds “…and if (there is) any other (thing) lying against [i.e. opposed to] whole/healthy teaching [didaskali/a]” is significant, as will be discussed below.

Other relevant passages are summarized below, organized according to the same structure used above (and in Part 2):

Similarities with Paul’s discussion of the Law in Galatians, Romans, etc.:
    • 1 Tim 1:5—Love (a)ga/ph) is described as the end/completion (te/lo$) of the paraggeli/a (lit. a message given/placed alongside), a word frequently used for authoritative instruction and often translated “command, charge”. Love is here connected with a “pure heart”, the ‘conscience’ (sunei/dhsi$, cf. below) and trust/faith (pi/sti$), all expressing an inward emphasis, rather than observance of external commands, and for which there are parallels in the undisputed Pauline letters. For a similar declaration that Christ is the end/completion (te/lo$) of the Law, cf. Rom 10:4; on the priority of the love command (or principle), see esp. Gal 5:14 and Rom 13:8-10.
    • 1 Tim 4:3-4—Here Paul (or the author of the letter) emphasizes freedom, as against ascetic/legalistic restrictions involving dietary regulations, etc. (cf. Rom 14; Col 2:16-17, 21-23). There is an implicit denial that anything is, in and of itself, clean or unclean; this is expressed more clearly in Titus 1:15. For the abolishment of any (ritual) distinction between “clean” and “unclean” (rel. to the Torah purity laws) for the believer, see esp. Rom 14:14.
    • 2 Tim 1:9-10—Salvation is not “according to our works” (kata\ ta\ e&rga h(mw=n) but according to God’s own purpose (pro/qesi$, lit. what he set beforehand) and favor (i.e. “grace” xa/ri$); note also the verb katarge/w in v. 10, which Paul elsewhere uses in the sense of Christ making ineffective (or nullifying) the Law and/or the power of sin and death (cf. Rom 6:6; 7:2, 6; 1 Cor 3:7, 11, 13-14; Eph 2:15).
    • 2 Tim 4:8dikaiosu/nh (“justice/righteousness”) is used here in the traditional (eschatological) sense of acceptance in the judgment before God’s tribunal; the emphasis, of course, is not on preserving the Law but on keeping/guarding the trust/faith (pi/sti$) in Christ. For more on this, see below.
    • Titus 3:5-7—justice/righteousness (and being made/declared just) does not come out of our own doing, but according to God’s mercy and cleasing which comes through Christ’s sacrificial death.
Symbolic/Spiritual application of the Law:
    • 2 Tim 2:19ff—There is here an echo of the Old Testament purity Laws, which is applied (symbolically) in the context of ethical instruction for believers.
    • Titus 1:14-16—purity/impurity is fundamentally a matter of the mind and conscience, rather than observance of (ritual) regulations; impurity or defilement is specifically connected with unbelief (a&pisto$), lit. “without trust” (in Christ).
    • Titus 2:14—believers are now God’s (covenant) people, described in traditional language related to the observance of the Law; the context of vv. 12-14 shows that normative ethical instruction is now tied to the Gospel message, and that purification/cleansing is based on the work of Christ.
    • Titus 3:5-7—similarly, ritual cleansing (ablution) is replaced by spiritual washing and renewal, which again is connected with the death of Christ (cf. the symbolism associated with baptism in Rom 6:3-4ff, etc).
Sources of authority for believers (apart from the Law):

One of the most distinctive elements in the Pastoral letters (esp. 1 Timothy and Titus) is the pronounced emphasis on the careful guarding and observance of early Christian teaching and tradition. The apparent context of the letters clearly suggests that Timothy and Titus, as co-workers and associates of Paul, represent him in the territories where they are serving (Ephesus and the island of Crete, respectively), and, by way of extension, possess a measure of his own apostolic authority. And yet, the repeated stress on safeguarding a defined body of (correct) doctrine is striking—here, even more than in the undisputed letters, doctrine seems to take priority over personal (apostolic) authority (cf. Gal 1:6-9). Quite often there is a clear contrast between correct teaching (i.e. orthodoxy), and that which is false, unreliable or irrelevant. This involves frequent use of a number of words and phrases which are uncharacteristic of the undisputed Pauline letters; these are marked with an asterisk (*) below.

    • paragge/llw (and the related noun paraggeli/a)—the verb literally means “give along a message”, generally in the sense of delivering an order, command or other authoritative instruction; while these words do appear in the undisputed letters (1 Thess 4:2, 11; 1 Cor 7:10, etc), nearly half of the occurrences in the Pauline corpus are in 1 Timothy (1 Tim 1:3, 5, 18; 4:11; 5:7; 6:13, 17).
    • parakale/w (“call alongside”) has a similar meaning, indicating authoritative instruction (and exhortation), 1 Tim 1:3; 2:1; 5:1; 6:2; 2 Tim 4:2; Tit 1:9; 2:6, 15; it appears relatively often in the undisputed letters as well.
    • dida/skw (and the related nouns didaxh/, didaskali/a*)—these words together appear more frequently in the Pastorals than the other letters, emphasizing the importance of (correct) Christian teaching:
    • parati/qhmi* (and the related noun paraqh/kh*)—these words are essentially never used in the undisputed letters, but have an importance place in the Pastorals (1 Tim 1:18; 6:10; 2 Tim 1:12, 14; 2:2). Elsewhere Paul uses the noun parado/si$, along with the related verb paradi/dwmi; they have a similar meaning—parado/si$ is something “given along” while paraqh/kh is something “set/placed alongside”. However, the latter term carries specifically the nuance of something entrusted to a person, or laid down as a deposit. Christian teaching is no longer limited to something passed down from the apostles; it now has the additional characteristic of a fixed, permanent body of doctrine which must be guarded. While such an idea is not absent from the undisputed Pauline letters, its repeated emphasis in the Pastorals is striking.
    • eu)se/beia, etc.*—One may also mention the noun eu)se/beia, which is never used in any of the Pauline letters outside of the Pastorals (1 Tim 2:2; 3:16; 4:7-8; 6:3, 5-6, 11; 2 Tim 3:5; Tit 1:1); it is sometimes translated (inaccurately) as “godliness”, but it really means “proper fear (or reverence)”, usually in a religious sense, and generally approximates what we mean in English by “religion” (or the more archaic-sounding “piety”). This is another distinctive element (or development) in the Pastorals—a sense of Christianity, marked by correct teaching and practice, as reflecting true religion. The related verb eu)sebe/w* (1 Tim 5:4) and adverb eu)sebw=$* (2 Tim 3:12; Tit 2:12) also are not to be found in the other letters, though Paul (as speaker) does use the verb in the narrative of Acts 17:23.

There are a number of specific passages which clearly indicate the authoritative character of (correct) Christian instruction, especially in ethical matters (1 Tim 6:2b-10, 17-19; 2 Tim 2:14-19; Tit 3:1-11), but also with regard to the governing and administration of local communities or congregations (1 Tim 2:8-15; 3:1-13; 4:6-10; 5:1-8ff, 17ff; 2 Tim 2:22-26; 4:1-5; Tit 1:5-9; 2:1-10, 15). In 1 Tim 6:2-3, we even see that correct teaching functions as “the words of the Lord”; on the authority of the minister, cf. also Tit 2:15. Beyond this, Paul (the putative author), in his role as an apostle (2 Tim 1:11-13; 3:10), issues authoritative instruction—note the first person use of the verbs parakale/w, boulomai, e)pitre/pw, (dia)martu/romai in 1 Tim 2:1, 8, 12, etc. The minister, like the apostle, is also to be an (authoritative) example for others to follow, cf. 1 Tim 4:12; 2 Tim 1:13; 3:10-15; Tit 2:7. On both of these last points, see in Part 2.

In addition, note the following passages:

    • 1 Tim 5:4—proper behavior is regarded as “acceptable” (a)podekto$) before God
    • 1 Tim 5:10, 17, etc—the normative character of good works and ministry in the community (note also 2 Tim 2:2, 5)
    • 1 Tim 6:14—the word e)ntolh/ is often translated “command”, referring to the commands of the Torah; however it can also be used of authoritative Christian instruction, and that is almost certainly the meaning here—”watch/guard the e)ntolh/” should be understood as generally synonymous with “guard/keep the paraqh/kh” (6:20; 2 Tim 1:14, cf. above), and note also 4:16 (“take hold upon the teaching”), etc.
    • 2 Tim 3:14-16—the authority and efficacy of the “sacred writing(s)” (i.e. Scripture) is declared; nowhere else in the Pauline corpus is this stated so precisely, with the Writings set within the context of authoritative Christian teaching (“the things you have learned” [v. 14], “of profit toward teaching” [v. 16]). The idea that the Scriptures are able to lead one to salvation is rather unusual for Paul.
      If 2 Timothy is authentically Pauline, then the “sacred writings” are the Old Testament Scriptures, meaning (at the very least), the Pentateuch, Prophets (presumably Joshua–Kings, along with Isaiah–Jeremiah, Ezekiel–Malachi), and the book of Psalms; if the letter is pseudonymous (and late), then a broader sense of Scripture may be intended, possibly including New Testament writings as well (cf. 2 Pet 3:16).

The Pastoral letters are somewhat unique in the way that they use the term sunei/dhsi$; this word is typically translated “conscience”, but literally means “seeing/knowing (things) together”, indicating (self-)awareness and understanding. It plays an important role in Pauline anthropology and psychology, as we see in Rom 2:15; 13:5; 1 Cor 8:7, 10, 12; 10:25-29; 2 Cor 1:12; 4:2; 5:11. Though he does not use the term in Rom 7:7-25, the passage would seem to be relevant; it is fair, I think, to consider the sunei/dhsi$ along with the mind/intellect (nou=$) as part of the “inner man”. In the Pastorals, sunei/dhsi$ carries more of an authoritative quality, as an inner guide for believers, often mentioned in connection with faith/trust (pi/sti$)—both of which are necessary for safeguarding true teaching, cf. 1 Tim 1:5, 19; 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3; Tit 1:15.

Finally, we should note several references indicating the (direct) role of the Spirit guiding believers:

    • 1 Tim 4:1—The Spirit is said to speak directly to believers (“and the Spirit in utterance relates that…”), by means of prophetic oracle (to Paul?); clearly it should be understood as authoritative, and in contrast to “wandering [i.e. deceitful/untrustworthy] spirits” that lead believers away from the (true) faith.
    • 2 Tim 1:14—Here the common exhortation/charge to “keep/guard” the teaching (par. to keeping/observing the Torah in the old covenant) is qualified: the guarding is done “through the Spirit th(at) houses [i.e. dwells] in us”, i.e. by the power (and guidance) of the Spirit.
    • Tit 3:5—Cleansing and renewal occurs, not by external observance of commands, but internally by the Holy Spirit.
    • Mention should also be made of the term qeo/pneusto$ (“blown/breathed by God”) in 2 Tim 3:16; the reference is primarily to the divine source of Scripture, but there may also be here an implied understanding of the role of the Spirit (pneu=ma, “breath, blowing”) of God in guiding the believer.

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:

Paul’s View of the Law: The Remaining Letters (Part 1)

Having gone through Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans in considerable detail, it now remains to examine the relevant passages and references in the remaining Letters. This will be done in three parts:

    1. Specific passages which refer directly to the Old Testament Law, or which are especially relevant, examined in order for 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon and Colossians
    2. A summary treatment of:
      a. Instances of language, concepts and imagery similar to that used by Paul in reference to the Law (in Galatians, Romans, etc)
      b. References which imply or suggest a symbolic or spiritual application of elements of the Law
      c. Verses where Paul indicates a source of religious and ethical authority for Christians similar to that of the Law
    3. The relevant passages in Ephesians and the Pastoral Letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus); as there remains legitimate doubt, even among traditional-conservative commentators, as to whether these letters are authentically Pauline or pseudonymous, they are dealt with separately.

Part 1—Passages which refer specifically to the Old Testament Law

1 and 2 Thessalonians

There is no mention of the Law in either letter. The word a)nomi/a does appear (twice) in 2 Thess 2:3, 8, along with the related adjective a&nomo$ (used as a substantive, “the lawless [one]”). The privative prefix a)- indicates a lack of no/mo$ (“law”), i.e. “without law, lawless(ness)”. In 1 Cor 9:21, Paul uses the adjective a&nomo$ (“without [the] Law, lawless”) as a general reference to non-Jews (Gentiles), those who do not have the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah) as a source of religious and ethical guidance and authority. However, in Rom 4:7; 6:19, a)nomi/a (“lawlessness”) is used as a general term synonymous with sin and wickedness, as also in 2 Cor 6:14 (and note in the Pastorals, Tit 2:14). Here in 2 Thessalonians, both terms are used in this latter sense, as indicated by the context, a)nomi/a being set parallel with a)postasi/a (“standing away from [God]”, i.e. “falling away”) and a)pw/leia (“[coming to] destruction, ruin”); in fact, in verse 3, some manuscripts read a(marti/a (“sin”) instead of a)nomi/a, further indicating the general equivalence.

1 Corinthians

1 Cor 6:12; 10:23—In both verses we find the declaration pa/nta moi e&cestin, which is sometimes translated “all things are lawful for me”; however, e&cestin literally indicates something coming “out of (that which) is”, i.e. that which is in a person’s power to do, or that which he/she is authorized and/or free to do. Even though Paul does not specifically mention the Law (no/mo$), it is likely that this statement relates directly to his view of the Law (as expressed in Galatians and Romans) and the idea of the freedom believers have in Christ; indeed, the statement might be paraphrased as “I am free to do all things”. Commentators are generally agreed that this reflects a declaration (or “slogan”) by certain Corinthians believers, and one that Paul affirms, but only with qualification and careful explanation. Note how he proceeds:

    • ‘all things are (in) my (power to do)’, but not all things bring (themselves) together (for good);
    • ‘all things are (in) my (power to do)’, but I will not be (brought) under (the power) of any (thing)

He thus qualifies the declaration in two ways: (1) some things are not beneficial, esp. for the body of Christ as a whole, and (2) some things can come to dominate a person’s thinking and behavior, which likewise is not beneficial. The first of these points relates more directly to 1 Cor 10:23ff, where he is dealing with the question of eating food that has been sacrificed to pagan deities; the emphasis is on a concern for the conscience of one’s fellow believer. The second of these points, it would seem, is more relevant to the context of 1 Cor 6:12-20, which is a primarily a warning against engaging in prostitution and sexual immorality. In both Galatians and Romans, Paul’s teaching on Christians’ freedom from the Law is connected with: (a) a warning against immorality and “works of the flesh” (Gal 5:16-25; Rom 8:1-11f), as well as (b) demonstrating love and concern for others (Gal 5:13-15; 6:1-5; Rom 12:1-15:7).

1 Cor 7:18-19—As part of Paul’s instruction on marriage among believers in chapter 7, Paul introduces the idea of circumcision in verse 18. Circumcision played a major role in his discussion of the Law in Galatians, where he argues repeatedly, and in various ways, that believers (especially Gentile believers) are not obligated to be circumcised nor required to observe the other commands of the Torah. In this regard circumcision serves to symbolize the entire Torah, especially in its ritual and ceremonial aspects. Similarly, in Romans, Paul makes it clear that actual physical circumcision is irrelevant; true circumcision is of the heart, according to the Spirit (cf. Rom 2:25-29). Here in 2 Corinthians, circumcision is introduced to further demonstrate his basic rule of thumb that a person should remain in the state he/she was before becoming a believer—i.e., if a person was married, he/she should remain married; if single, then he/she ought to stay single. By extension, a Gentile believer should not be circumcised, and a Jewish believer should not try to cover up his circumcision. Paul then adds a decisive declaration in v. 19:

“Circumcision is nothing, and (having a) foreskin is (also) nothing, but (keeping) watch of the things of God (that are) set on (us to do) [i.e. the commands of God] (is something)…”

This is very similar to the statements in Gal 5:6; 6:15, which I have examined together in an earlier note. Here the “commands of God” should be understood either in a general sense, or in terms of the “Law of God” in 1 Cor 9:21 (cf. below), rather than as the commands of the Torah specifically.

1 Cor 9:19-21—In chapter 9, which is part of the larger discussion in chs. 8-10 of the question regarding eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, Paul emphasized how he has given up the freedom and rights he has an as apostle for the sake of others. Here in verse 19, he begins: “being free from all (people/things), I made myself a slave to all, so that I might gain the many [i.e. the more/most]”. In verses 20-21, he treats in parallel, his outreach to Jews and Gentiles, respectively—Jews are “the ones under the Law [u(po\ no/mon]”, while Gentiles are “the ones without (the) Law [a&nomo$]”. Paul came to be like each group—”as (one who is) under the Law” and “as (one who is) without (the) Law”; but note how he qualifies each of these identifications:

    • “…not being (my)self under the Law” (mh\ w&n au)to\$ u(po\ no/mon)
    • “…not being without the Law of God” (mh\ w&n a&nomo$ qeou=)

The first phrase indicates that Paul himself, as a believer in Christ, is not under the Old Testament Law (any longer); while the second states that he (as a believer) is still under “the Law of God”, which is not the Torah, as the identification which follows makes clear:

“…not being without the Law of God, but (rather) in the Law [e&nnomo$] of Christ

Note the wordplay between “without the Law” (a&nomo$, ánomos) and “in the Law” (e&nnomo$, énnomos). Here “in the Law of Christ” should be be understood in relation to the expressions “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|) and “the Law of Christ” (o( no/mo$ Xristou=); in Gal 6:3, the “Law of Christ” is generally synonymous with the law/principle of love (Gal 5:14 etc, cf. Lev 19:18).

It should be noted that in verse 20, a good number of witnesses, especially Western and later MSS, are lacking the phrase “not being myself under the Law”; however, it is present in many of the “earliest and best” MSS (including [Ë46] a A B C D*), as well as a wide range of versions (incl. Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Gothic), and is almost certainly original. It may have fell out by accident (through parablepsis), though it is also possible that it was omitted intentionally—Paul’s admission that he was “not under the Law” could be viewed as problematic from a certain religious standpoint. Even today, many commentators are uncomfortable with the blanket declaration that Christians are “not under the Law”, and are reluctant to accept the statement in its plain sense.

1 Cor 15:56—At the conclusion of Paul’s famous (eschatological) treatment of the resurrection in chapter 15, we find the following declaration:

“…and the poking/pricking [i.e. sharp point] of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law

This uniquely Pauline understanding of the interrelationship between the Law, sin and death was developed extensively (and dramatically) in Romans, especially in chapters 5-7. For more on this, see the articles in this series on 3:21-5:21, 6:1-7:25, and the supplementary studies on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25.

2 Corinthians

2 Cor 3:1-18—This passage represents Paul’s most extensive and significant treatment of the Law (outside of Galatians and Romans); because of its importance and complexity, I discuss it in detail in a series of daily notes.

2 Cor 6:14-7:1—In verse 14, the word a)nomi/a (“lawlessness”) is used, presumably with the same general meaning of “sin, wickedness, injustice”, etc., as in 2 Thess 2:3-8 (cf. above). However, some commentators hold that it should be understood here in the strict sense of “being without Law”, i.e. without the Torah (or refusing to observe its commands). In 1 Cor 9:21, Paul uses the related adjective a&nomo$ to describe Gentiles who live without the Torah; though, in this particular context, he is clearly referring to Gentiles prior to faith in Christ—once they come to faith, they are under “the Law of God” (synonymous with the “Law of Christ”), but not the Old Testament Law as such. Does the usage of a)nomi/a in 2 Cor 6:14 refer to the wickedness of unbelievers (non-Christians) or to Gentiles (even Gentile believers) who do not keep the Law? Most commentators accept the former interpretation, but, as I have already indicated, a minority hold the latter view. Much depends on the wider question of the origin and authorship of the entire passage 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, which I will be discussing in a separate article.

Philippians

Phil 3:2-3—In Gal 5:6; 6:15 and 1 Cor 7:19, Paul declared decisively that the (physical) rite of circumcision (Greek peritomh/, “cutting around”) is of no account and has no bearing on believers in Christ whatsoever. Here he takes the next step, giving a spiritual interpretation to the rite and applying it to believers, much as he does in Romans 2:28-29. In verse 2, he appears to warn against certain Jewish Christian (“Judaizing”) opponents, referring to them in unusually crass and derisive terms (note the pun using katatomh/ “cutting down”, i.e. mutilation, instead of peritomh/, “cutting around, i.e. circumcision). His declaration in verse 3 is clear and forceful:

“For we [i.e. believers] are the circumcision—the (one)s doing (religious) service in (the) Spirit [of God] and boasting/exulting in (the) Anointed Yeshua—and not having confidence/assurance in the flesh”

Note here: (1) Paul’s regular contrast between the Spirit and the flesh, and (2) that circumcision is identified with being “in the Spirit” and “in Christ”—clearly this no longer has anything to do with a religious rite (but note the interesting association with baptism, cf. below). For a parallel with the idea of (true) worship taking place “in the Spirit”, see John 4:23-24.

Phil 3:4-8ff—In these verses, Paul continues the line of argument from vv. 2-3 (above), developing the contrast between his old religious life “in the flesh” and the new identity in Christ (and the Spirit). The old religious identity in this case was Jewish, including a strict observance of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). Paul affirms that he was a devout Pharisee (v. 5), and that in terms of ‘righteousness’ (dikaiosu/nh)—understood from a traditional religious standpoint, i.e. observing and fulfilling the commands and regulations of the Torah—he was “without fault” (a&mempto$) (v. 6). The traditional Jewish view would have held such religious devotion as gain or profit (ke/rdo$) for Paul; and yet, he states that he has come to regard it actually as loss (zhmi/a, something damaged or ruined). This new understanding is qualified by the expression “through the Anointed” (dia\ to\n Xristo/n); this may be understood as: (a) through the work of Christ, (b) through the presence of Christ in the Spirit, (c) on behalf of Christ, (d) for the sake of Christ, or perhaps some combination of these senses. In any event, it is clear that the new identity in Christ has rendered the old religious identity (which involved observance of the Law) of little or no value.

Phil 3:9—Verses 2-8 find their climax in this verse, where Paul states his ultimate goal is that “he should be found [eu(reqw=] in him [e)n au)tw=|, i.e. in Christ]”; this religious identity and realization is defined according to the term dikaiosu/nh (“just-ness, right-ness”, i.e. “justice, righteousness”). Throughout Galatians and Romans, Paul repeatedly emphasizes the fundamental contrast between justice/righteousness which comes from the Law (that is, from performing/observing its commands, i.e. “works of the Law”), and the justice/righteousness which comes through trust/faith in Christ (cf. Gal 2:16-21; 3:2, 5-6, 10-14, 21-24; 5:4-5; Rom 1:17; 3:19-20, 21-31; 4:4-5, 13-16; 6:14-15, etc). In this verse, he establishes three parallel contrasts:

  • my (own) [e)mo/$] righteousness
  • righteousness comes out of (observance of) the Law [e)k no/mou]
  • righteousness based upon works of the Law (implied)
    • righteousness that is from [lit. out of] God [e)k qeou=]
    • righteousness that comes through trust of Christ [dia\ pi/stew$ Xristou=]
    • righteousness based upon th(is) trust (in Christ) [e)pi\ th=| pi/stei]

This reflects a personalized version of what Paul declares more objectively in Romans 10:2-4ff.

Colossians

Col 2:11ff—As in Phil 3:2-3 (above) and Rom 2:28-29, circumcision is spiritualized and applied to believers. Throughout Col 2:6ff, the expression “in Christ” (or “in him”) is used repeatedly—in vv. 6, 7, 9, 10. In verse 10, believers are identified as “the (ones who have been) filled up” (peplhrwme/noi) in him, this filling/fullness (plh/rwma) being understood on a cosmic scale. Verse 11 continues:

“…in whom [i.e. in Christ] you were circumcised [perietmh/qhte] with a circumcision [peritomh=|] made without hands, in the sinking out away from [i.e. the shedding off of] the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of (the) Anointed”

This “circumcision of Christ” is to be understood in terms of Christ’s death, as is clear from vv. 12ff. For the identification of believers with, and participation in, the death (and the resurrection) of Christ, see especially Romans 6:1-11 (also Rom 8:1-11; Gal 2:19-21); and note the association between circumcision and the death of Christ in Gal 6:14-15. In particular, this is realized symbolically in the rite of baptism, where believers put off the old and put on (lit. sink into [a garment]) Christ—the old self is removed just as the foreskin is removed in the rite of circumcision. In Col 3:5ff, this “old self” is connected with immoral/idolatrous behavior (i.e. “works of the flesh”), so there is clearly a practical ethical component to the instruction here. However, “circumcision” itself is understood entirely in spiritual terms, as something “made/done without hands” (a)xeiropoi/hto$). Elsewhere, this adjective is used, in a similar context (2 Cor 5:1), for a “heavenly dwelling” (the future glory reserved for the believer, perhaps tied to the idea of a “spiritual body” [1 Cor 15:42ff]). This motif itself reflects a spiritual interpretation and application of the Temple in early Christianity, as seen especially in Acts 7:35-53 (Stephen’s speech), where the earthly Temple and pagan idols are both described as things “made with hands” (vv. 41, 43, 48, and note v. 50); see a similar association in Acts 17:24; 19:26-27. There may be a connection back to the Temple sayings of Jesus (Mark 13:2; 14:58 par; John 2:19; Acts 6:13-14); the terms xeiropoi/hto$ (“made with hands”) and a)xeiropoi/hto$ (“made without hands”) appear in the version of the saying reported in Mark 14:58. At the very least, with regard to this saying, early Christians associated the Temple with Jesus’ own body (Jn 2:21-22)—this, in turn, helped to facilitate a  spiritual interpretation of the Temple itself (in the Pauline letters, cf. 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 5:1ff; 6:16; Eph 2:21).

Col 2:14—In this verse, the Law is described as “the handwriting [xeiro/grafon]…which was under (and) against us”. Occasionally, Paul refers to the Old Testament Law specifically as a written work—using the term gra/mma (“written [word or letter]”), in Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6; 2 Cor 3:6-7, where the old covenant of the (written) Law is contrasted with the new covenant of the Spirit. Here the word is xeiro/grafon, i.e. something “written by hand”; there is likely an echo of circumcision as something “made/done by hands” (in v. 11, cf. above). The reference is best understood of the Law in a particular aspect—that of a written decree or judgment—as indicated by the use of do/gmata. In its fundamental sense, do/gma refers to something thought or considered to be true, proper, etc., but was regularly used in the specific (and technical) sense of an authoritative decision, esp. in the form of an official decree, judgment, ordinance, and so forth. The word never appears in the undisputed Pauline letters, only in Eph 2:15 where it is used (as here, in the plural) specifically of the Old Testament Law. The basic idea in context, however, is very much Pauline, as can be seen from Gal 2:19; 3:10-13; Rom 6:1-11; 7:4-6, where, by way of Christ’s sacrificial death, believers are said to die to the curse/judgment of the Law and to the Law itself.

Col 2:16-23—In this passage, there is a stress on the unimportance of ceremonial/ritual observances, especially the observance of holy days and dietary restrictions. This relates to portions of the Torah, as is clear from verse 16 (new moon, feasts, Sabbath), but almost certainly extends beyond this to external ritual and observance in general, as indicated by the parallel discussion in Gal 4:1-11 (where Gentiles are primarily in view). Paul seems to identify the Law—at least in its ritual/ceremonial aspects—in some way with the “elements [stoixei=a] of the world” (Col 2:8, 20; Gal 4:3). The observation of special days and dietary restrictions are also singled out in Rom 14:1-8; Paul regards them as matters of indifference, to be observed (or not) according to the conscience of each person. In this regard, note how Rom 14:14 would seem (decisively) to abolish dietary and purity laws for believers in Christ. Col 2:16-23 does not go this far, nor does it target the Torah commands directly (apart from v. 16), but the same principle applies. In Christ, believers have died to these “elements of the world” (v. 20) just as we have died to the Law.

August 9: 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

This the last of three daily notes on 2 Corinthians 3:1-18, which will look at vv. 12-18, and verse 17 in particular.

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 [verse 17]

After the exposition and application of Exod 34:29-25 in verses 7-11 (cf. the previous note), using a series of qal wa-homer arguments to contrast the old covenant (and the Law) with the new, Paul returns to the primary theme of his role as an apostle:

“Therefore, holding such (a) hope, we use much outspokenness [parrhsi/a]…” (v. 12)

The word parrhsi/a indicates something “uttered with all (openness/boldness)”; it can refer specifically to speaking openly in public, or openly as “with boldness”, or some combination of the two. Paul contrasts the openness of ministers of the Gospel (such as he and his fellow missionaries), with Moses who put a covering (ka/lumma) over his face. The implication is that Moses put the veil over his face when he met with the people after speaking to God; however, this is not entirely clear from the Exodus narrative (34:29-34)—it may be inferred from vv. 34-35, but at least once Moses addressed the people without the veil, i.e. before putting it on (vv. 31-33). In 2 Cor 3:13, Paul essentially repeats what he said in verse 8, though here the language is more difficult, since he is effectively summarizing the entire line of argument from vv. 7-11 in a single verse:

“…and not according to (the way) that Moses set a covering upon his face, toward the sons of Israel (so that they) not stretch (to see) [i.e. gaze] into the end/completion of the (thing) being made inactive…”

For the verb katarge/w (“make [something] cease working”, i.e. made inactive, render ineffective), which Paul uses on other occasions in relation to the Law, see the previous note on vv. 7-11. The word te/lo$ (“completion, finish, end”) is also used in reference to the Law, especially in Romans 10:4 (“Christ is the end [te/lo$] of the Law”); Paul typically means it in the sense of the termination of a period of time, or of the state of things at the end of such a period. Elsewhere, it is clear that the Law (Torah) of the old covenant is only binding and in force until the coming of Christ (see esp. the illustrations in Galatians 3-4 and in Romans 7:1-6). The idea here in 2 Cor 3:13 seems to be that the covering makes it so the Israelites cannot see that the old covenant has come to an end in Christ. This uniquely Christian interpretation is then applied in verses 14-16 to the people of Israel as a whole: even as they continue in their religious devotion to the Law and the old covenant, a covering remains over their eyes (and their heart), and they cannot see that the old covenant finds it end (and fulfillment) in the person and work of Christ. There are exceptions, of course, as the number of Jewish believers (even in Paul’s time) attest, and as is expressed in verse 16: “but if they turn toward the Lord, the covering is taken (away from) around (their eyes)”. Paul uses traditional Old Testament language here (of “turning [back] to the Lord [i.e. YHWH]”), though, in context, of course, turning to the Lord (YHWH) involves turning to the Lord (Jesus Christ), cf. Acts 3:19, etc.

In verse 17, Paul adds a third aspect to the word ku/rio$ (“Lord”):

“And the Lord is the Spirit; and (the place) in which the Spirit of (the) Lord (is), (that is) freedom”

Here we reach the climax of Paul’s argument, with two central points of emphasis: (1) the Spirit (pneu=ma), which is the Spirit of God (and Christ), and (2) freedom (e)leuqeri/a). With regard to the last point, in Galatians Paul speaks of “freedom” specifically in terms of freedom from the Law (Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1ff, 13), while in Romans the emphasis is primarily on freedom from the power of sin (Rom 6:7-23; 8:2, 21), though this too is related to freedom from the Law (Rom 7:1-6). In 2 Corinthians 3, sin is not part of the discussion, but the Law is—the contrast between the old covenant, with its written (tablets of the) Law, and the new covenant makes it likely that freedom from the Law is to be affirmed here as well. And yet, it is also clear that something more is meant: a freedom that is centered on the presence and power of the Spirit. Paul can identify the Spirit with either God (the Father) or Jesus Christ; generally, the emphasis is on the latter—the Spirit represents Christ and communicates his presence (and power) to believers, both individually and collectively. Just as believers are “in Christ”, so we live and walk “in the Spirit”; and, as Christ is in us, so the Spirit is in us. The presence of the Spirit means freedom—the same freedom that we have in Christ (Gal 2:4).

It has been somewhat puzzling to commentators just why Paul chooses to compare himself (and other apostles) with Israel as he does in 2 Cor 3:1-18. One theory is that his opponents were Jewish Christian “Judaizers”, as in Galatians (cf. also Phil 3:2ff). This would perhaps be supported by the context of 2 Cor 10-13 (see esp. 11:22ff). If there were influential “apostles” working at Corinth who stressed the importance of continuing to observe the old covenant, then the application of Exod 34:29-35 in 2 Cor 3:7ff is especially appropriate. In Jewish tradition, the “glory” (do/ca) associated with Moses and the Sinai covenant does not fade, but continues (forever), see e.g. 2/4 Esdras 9:37; Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:3. Paul declares quite the opposite, in the sense that, with the coming of the new covenant (and its overwhelmingly greater glory), the old covenant has ceased to be active or effective any longer (use of the verb katarge/w, cf. above).

However, there is, I think, a more precise reason for the illustration contrasting the old and new covenants; it has to do with an emphasis on external criteria which Paul seems to associate with his opponents, especially in chapters 10-13. Note how he begins the long polemical discussion in 10:7 with a reference to looking at things “according to the face” (kata\ pro/swpon), i.e. according to outward appearance. Throughout, Paul feels compelled to compare himself with certain “extra important” (u(perli/an, “over-abundant”) apostles, though it clearly makes him uncomfortable to do so (10:12ff; 12:11, etc). He emphasizes various missionary labors (10:1211:15, 27-29), physical hardships (11:23-33, also 6:4-10), special visionary experiences (12:1-7), miracles (“signs of an apostle”, 12:12), skill in speaking and writing (10:9-11; 11:6), but also his own natural ethnic-cultural and religious pedigree (11:22ff). From all of this, we may infer that there were “apostles” at work among the Corinthians who could make claim to some of these sorts of things, and who may well have denigrated Paul’s own credentials and abilities. The reference in 3:1-6 to letters of introduction/commendation could indicate that these were itinerant or visiting missionaries (or dignitaries) who possessed (and/or relied upon) such letters to establish their external credentials as well. While Paul does engage in some rhetorical/polemical “competition” and comparison of credentials, it is important to note two key qualifying arguments he introduces in chapter 10 at the start:

    • that Paul and his associates (as true apostles) do not live and act “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka), vv. 2-3—this expression is sometimes used specifically in the sense of sin and immorality, but here, more properly, it refers to a worldly manner of acting and thinking, worldly standards, etc., and, as such, is parallel with “according to the face” (kata\ pro/swpon) in v. 7.
    • that his true “boasting” (as an apostle) resides in what God has given to him for the proclamation of the Gospel, vv. 8, 12ff; in this regard, note also the discussion in 12:7-10.

The connection between chapters 10-13 and 1-7, 8-9 remains much debated; however, this analysis may help to elucidate the force of Paul’s argument in 3:7-18. The old covenant was manifest in external form—written on tablets of stone, along with a visible aura of light which could be covered up by a veil—while the new covenant is internal and invisible (cf. also 4:16-18). The new covenant is written in the heart and its glory comes from within. The Spirit operates from within, giving to believers freedom and the power to live according to God’s will; it is also the source of the apostles’ authority and boldness. That the new covenant does not depend on external criteria is confirmed by the famous conclusion in 3:18. One might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different direction: “but we all…” The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

August 8: 2 Corinthians 3:7-11

This is the second of three notes on 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; yesterday’s note covered verses 1-6, today will focus on vv. 7-11, with special attention paid to verse 11.

2 Corinthians 3:7-11 [verse 11]

In this section, Paul takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant. In v. 29-30 it is narrated that the skin of Moses’ face shone with an aura, indicating that he had been in the presence of God and that YHWH had spoken with him. Once Moses communicated to the people what had been revealed to him, he put a veil or curtain/covering (hw#s=m^, LXX ka/lumma) over his face (v. 33); this was repeated each time Moses received communication in the presence of YHWH (vv. 34-35). Paul draws upon this narrative and uses it as a way to compare and contrast the old and new covenants, centered on the idea of “glory” (do/ca). In Greek, the word do/ca has the basic meaning of “what one thinks” about something, how it is considered or regarded, often in the (positive) sense of “reputation, renown, honor, esteem, dignity”, etc. It can also carry the more objective meaning “appearance”, including various visual phenomena, especially involving light, brightness, and so forth. It can be applied to God in both primary senses—(1) as the esteem and honor which is (to be) accorded to him, and (2) the brightness and visual phenomena which is manifested by his presence. Do/ca is frequently used to render dobK* (lit. “weight”) in Hebrew, a word which has a similar semantic range, especially when associated with YHWH.

In 2 Cor 3:7-11, Paul makes use of a series of qal wa-homer arguments—a traditional (Jewish) principle of interpretation, which argues from the lesser to the greater: if something is true in this (lesser) case, then how much more is it to be so regarded in the (greater) case. According to this mode of argument (a fortiori), Paul is working from the basic assumption that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant which God established with Israel at Sinai. The first two arguments (in vv. 7-9) involve the diakoni/a (“service, ministry”), that is, the administration of the covenant—in the case of the old covenant this began with Moses (and Aaron) and continued through the established priesthood and ritual apparatus (Temple, sacrificial offerings, purity regulations, etc), as well as through teaching and tradition. Note the contrast:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death [h( diakoni/a tou= qana/tou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit [h( diakoni/a tou= pneu/mato$]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against [h( diakoni/a th=$ katakri/sew$]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness [h( diakoni/a th=$ dikaiosu/nh$]

The characterization of the old covenant as “the ministry of death” is striking; for the uniquely Pauline view on the relationship between the Law, sin and death, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56.

In vv. 7-8, the qal wa-homer argument is:

“If the ministry of death came to be in (such) esteem [do/ca]… how will the ministry of the Spirit not (even) more be in esteem?”

Similarly, in verse 9:

“If (there was) esteem in the ministry of judgment against (us), how (much) more is the ministry of justice/righteousness over (and above this) in esteem?”

I have translated do/ca here as “esteem” (i.e. honor, dignity, grandeur, etc); more commonly it is rendered “glory” (cf. above).

As indicated above, the “glory” of the old covenant was marked by the shining of Moses’ face, as Paul describes in v. 7, mentioning both: (a) the stone tablets on which the commands of the Law had been written, and (b) that the Israelites were not able to gaze directly at the glory in Moses’ face. This last detail is implied as the reason that the veil (ka/lumma) was introduced. The superiority of the new covenant is marked by use of the comparative/superlative adverb ma=llon (“more, greater”) and the verb perisseu/w (“to have [in excess] over [and above]”). This is specified even more precisely in verse 10:

“For (indeed) the (thing) having come to be esteemed (now) has been made of no esteem, in this part [i.e. in this respect]—because of the overcasting glory/esteem”

The old covenant came to have glory/esteem (perf. of the verb doca/zw), but now it has come to have no glory/esteem (again, with the perfect of doca/zw). It is hard to imagine a more antinomian statement by Paul—the old covenant, with its written Law, now has no glory. However, he makes clear that this is true only in one respect: because the glory of the new covenant goes so far beyond it (the verb u(perba/llw means to throw or cast something over/beyond, i.e. past a particular distance or measure). This is an important principle for understanding Paul’s apparently negative statements regarding the Law—its binding force has come to an end because of Christ. He says much the same thing, in a more personalized context, in Philippians 3:7-11: all that was of value in his prior religious life (under the Law and the old covenant) he now regards as mere rubbish in comparison with Christ. To neglect or ignore this overwhelming Christocentric emphasis leaves the commentator with no hope of properly understanding Paul’s thought.

If there was any doubt that, in his mind, the old covenant has come to an end, he makes this clear in verse 11:

“For if the (thing) being made inactive/ineffective (was) through glory, how (much) more (is) the (thing) remaining in glory?”

The first verb is katarge/w, literally to “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. This word appears already at the end of verse 7 (and will be used again in vv. 13-14); for its use by Paul elsewhere (with regard to the Law), see Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11; and also Eph 2:15. The second verb is me/nw, “remain (in place), abide”. The contrast is clear enough: the old covenant ceases to be in effect, the new covenant remains and lasts; one is temporary, the other permanent. There is also an interesting distinction in the use of prepositions:

    • the old covenant was (or came) through glory [dia\ do/ch$]
    • the new covenant is (and remains) in glory [e)n do/ch|]

The precise meaning of dia/ is uncertain; it could be instrumental (“by means of glory, accompanied by glory”), or could indicate purpose (“because of glory”). Both are possible, but the context of verse 10 suggests the latter—if so, then the idea might be that the glory of the old covenant is ultimately fulfilled in the glory of the new. This will be discussed further when we turn to examine verses 12-18 in the next note.

August 7: 2 Corinthians 3:1-6

This is the first of three notes on 2 Corinthians 3:1-18, which I am dividing into three portions:

2 Corinthians 3:1-6 [verse 6]

Throughout chapters 1-7, Paul is dealing primarily with his role as an apostle and, in particular, with his relationship to the believers in Corinth. At various points there are suggestions of opposition to Paul, including the situation referenced in 2:1-11, regarding which he had sent an earlier “painful letter” (vv. 5, 9). Specific (but unidentified) opponents are addressed far more directly (and harshly) in chapters 10-13. The context of chs. 10-13 suggests that at least some of these opponents are Jewish Christians (11:21ff), as in Galatians (cf. also Phil 3:2ff and Col 2:11ff, 16-18), and this may inform the rhetorical approach in 2 Cor 3 as well.

The theme in verse 1-6 involves “letters of commendation”; the word sustatiko/$ is derived from suni/sthmi/sunista/w (“stand [together] with”), in the sense of placing things together (and presenting them) in front of someone. As a technical term, it came to be applied to letters a person carried, introducing him/her to another group or in a place where he/she was not known. In the ancient world, which lacked modern-day high-speed communication, such practice was necessary to establish a person’s identity and credentials; it also could serve as a source of authority and legitimacy. Naturally enough, the more impressive or prestigious the letter of recommendation, the more influence it provided; even today, the right letter of recommendation still carries tremendous weight for prospective employers, and so forth. It is possible that Paul’s opponents included visiting “apostles” who possessed such letters and credentials. In vv. 1-6, he argues that neither he nor his colleagues require written letters recommending them to the believers of Corinth, since they are already well known—that is to say, this written authentication is already there in the hearts of the believers, having been written by the very Spirit of God (v. 4). He is referring primarily to the work of preaching the Gospel, which the Corinthian believers accepted; as a result they themselves become “the epistle of Christ”, under the service/ministry of Paul and his fellow missionaries.

It is interesting the way that this image leads Paul so readily to the dualistic juxtaposition contrasting the old and new covenants, in terms of “the written (word/letter) [to\ gra/mma]” and “the Spirit [to\ pneu=ma]”. See how this contrast in made, twice, in vv. 1-3 and 4-6:

    • Commendatory letters for apostles—believers under their ministry
      • written in the heart
        • contrast with being written in tablets of stone (v. 3)
    • Confidence for apostles before God—ministers of a new covenant
      • of the Spirit
        • contrast with the written word (v. 6)

When examining verses 7-11, it will be necessary to consider just why Paul makes this connection here between his apostolic ministry and the old covenant established with Israel. For the time being, we should focus upon the formulation in verse 6, where, after identifying himself (and his colleagues) as “servants/ministers of a new covenant“, Paul adds:

“…not of (the) written (word), but of (the) Spirit; for the written (word) kills off, but the Spirit makes alive”

To someone unfamiliar with Galatians and Romans, this would be a striking declaration, especially his statement that the “written (word) kills”—that is, the Law, specifically in its written form, brings death. Paul explains and expounds this idea in Romans 5-7 (note, in particular, Rom 7:7ff); even so, it must have been rather shocking to believers at the time—as it still is for many today. For the particular identification of the Law with the written word (gra/mma), see Rom 2:27, 29; 7:6, and note also Col 2:14. In Rom 2:27-29 and 7:6 there is the same contrast between the Spirit and the written word.

How are we to understand this stark distinction between the written word and the Spirit? On the surface, it would seem to raise question as to the authority and role of Scripture itself. But one must be cautious about proceeding in this direction; Paul is referring primarily to the written record of the Law (in the Pentateuch), which is also, secondarily, expounded and declared in the Prophets (and Psalms)—this accords squarely with Jewish and early Christian tradition. It is noteworthy how rarely Paul cites the Old Testament Scriptures for the purpose of instruction; his usage is limited mainly to (prophetic) support of the Gospel—and his particular exposition and application of the Gospel. To this must be added his remarkable teaching regarding the fundamental purpose of the Law—which is to bring knowledge and awareness of sin (Rom 3:20), that is to say, it makes fully manifest the reality that human beings are enslaved under the power of sin (Gal 3:19ff, also Rom 7:7ff). Without a recognition of God’s saving work in Christ, even those scrupulously observing the commands of the Law (and studying Scripture) remain fully in bondage under sin. In this sense, the Law leads to death, not life (Rom 7:9-11ff). This Paul will explain again in more detail, continuing with verses 7-11, which I will discuss in the next daily note.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (12:1-15:13 and Conclusion)

Romans 12:1-15:13

Rom 12:1-15:13 is properly the exhortation (exhortatio) or hortatory section of the letter, which also contains parenetic material, i.e. practical instruction on ethical and religious matters (cf. Gal 5:1-6:10, which has a number of similarities with this section in Romans). Most of Paul’s teaching related to the Old Testament Law (Torah) is found in chapters 1-11; therefore, what remains of note in 12:1-15:13 may be dealt with more briefly, in summary fashion. I divide Rom 12:1-15:13 according to the following outline:

  • Opening Exhortation (12:1-12)
    Active (v. 1): “Make your bodies stand alongside [i.e. before] (God)…”
    Passive (v. 2): “Be changed in shape… in making the mind new again…”
  • Unity—Illustration of the Body (of Christ) (12:3-8)
  • Love—The ‘Love command’ (12:9-13:10)
    —vv. 9-13: Show love to one another
    —vv. 14-21: Show love to your enemies
    Excursus (13:1-7): Respect and obey governing authority
    13:8-10: Love as fulfillment of the Law
  • Appeal—to live in the light and not in the darkness (13:11-14)
  • Instruction—regarding the “weak” and the “strong” (14:1-15:6)
    Threefold exhortation regarding those “weak” in faith/trust:
    —vv. 1-12: “Receive (them) toward you…”
    —vv. 13-23: “Do not judge…”
    15:1-6: “We ought to bear their weaknesses…”
    —including a doxology for unity in Christ (vv. 5-6)
  • Exhortation to unity for Jews and Gentiles in Christ (15:7-13)

Romans 12:1-2

Here in this brief introductory exhortation, Paul makes use of language and imagery drawn from the sacrificial (Temple) ritual, applying it—spiritually and symbolically—to the life and person of the believer. As such, the Law is ‘fulfilled’ in a spiritual (or ethical) sense. Note especially:

    • the body (sw=ma) as a living sacrifice (qusi/a)—the noun qusi/a (and the verb qu/w) refer specifically to the sacrificial offering and its slaughter (cf. Hebrew jbz)
    • the mind (nou=$) conformed to the will of God (cf. the “Law of God” in Rom 7:22, 25)

Both of these are summarized as latrei/a, a term used for ritual service, but which Paul characterizes here as logiko/$. This adjective is nearly impossible to translate in English—literally it means “of the word/account [lo/go$]”, but used primarily in the more abstract sense “of reason”, i.e., “reasonable, rational”, etc. The mind, in particular, is that aspect of human nature which is able to recognize the will of God (cf. Rom 7:13-25). In any case, for Christians, religious “ritual” is understood according to the “inner person”—i.e., the mind, as renewed by the Spirit, in conformity with the will of God—but extending to the external body, as one lives out the Christian life.

Romans 13:8-10

Rom 12:9-13:10 is on the theme of love, which believers are to demonstrate to one another (12:9-13), and also to one’s enemies (12:14-21). This is sometimes referred to as the “love command”, based on Jesus’ incorporation of Leviticus 19:18 as part of the two-fold “Great Commandment” (along with Deut 6:4-5). According to Jesus’ teaching, especially as presented in Mark 12:28-34, “no other command is greater than these”, being far superior to all sacrificial offerings. Already in early rabbinic tradition (contemporary with Jesus), Lev 19:18 was considered to be a kind of epitome or summary of the entire Law, and so it was in early Christianity. Note how Paul frames the matter in Rom 13:8-10:

    • “the one loving the other (person) has (ful)filled the Law” (v. 8b)
    • —the commands (esp. the fundamental ethical commands [Exod 20:13-17]) are “summed up under the head in this (one) word [Lev 19:18]” (v. 9)
    • “…love is the filling/fullness [plh/rwma] of the Law” (v. 10)

Paul says virtually the same thing in Galatians 5:14 (cf. also Gal 6:2; 1 Thes 4:9; Col 3:14; 1 Tim 1:5). For other passages in the New Testament related to the ‘love command’, see James 2:8-12; John 13:34-35; 15:9-17; 1 John 2:5, 7-11; 3:10-24; 4:7-12, 19-21; 5:1-3. Interestingly, while love for one’s enemies is clearly part of Jesus’ teaching (see esp. Matt 5:43-48 par), it is not normally associated with the exhortation to love in the passages listed above—there the emphasis is on showing love to one’s fellow believers.

Romans 14:1-15:6: On the “weak” and the “strong”

Paul’s instruction regarding the “weak” and the “strong” is actually an exhortation and advice for how the “strong” ought to behave toward the “weak”. By “strong” (oi( du/natoi, lit. “the [one]s with power”), Paul seems to mean believers who trust fully in the freedom they have in Christ, while the “weak” (o( a)sqenw=n, “the [one who is] lacking strength”), refers primarily to the believer who (still) feels obligated to follow certain religious/ritual practices. Paul classifies himself with the “strong” (cf. 15:1). It is likely that the “weak” include Jewish believers who feel under some obligation to observe dietary restrictions, Sabbaths and holy days, and so forth. However, Paul’s instruction here should by no means be limited to this context, for he uses very much the same line of instruction in 1 Cor 8-10, where Gentile believers are entirely in view (cf. also Gal 4:8-11). In any case, this passage certainly emphasizes the relative unimportance of ritual/ceremonial elements of the Law, such as:

    • dietary restrictions (14:2-4)—though he is not referring specifically to laws of kashrût here
    • observance of special (holy) days (14:5-6)

Paul would seem to consider such things as part of the old order of the world to which Christians have died, and are no longer bound to follow (Gal 4:1-11; Col 2:16-23; cf. also Gal 2:19; Rom 7:6, etc).

With regard to the Old Testament dietary and purity laws, Paul declares quite clearly that these have been removed—that is to say, nothing is “clean” or “unclean” in itself (cf. Mark 7:14-23 par; Acts 10:9-16; 11:5-10), though a person  might still feel compelled to regard it so. This is an important principle (cf. also in 1 Cor 8), which leaves any such regulation or restriction as a matter of personal conscience (to put it in modern terms), not to be imposed on another. The following principles also may be drawn out of the passage:

    • What should guide the believer is the Spirit, not regulations (from the Law), Rom 14:17
    • The one serving Christ is acceptable to God, Rom 14:18
    • Religious service is defined by faith/trust (not observance of the Law), Rom 14:23

Romans 15:7-13

In this appeal for unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ we have a summary of a major theme that has run all throughout the letter. This is important because, in Romans (as in Galatians), Paul is forging a new religious understanding and identity—one that is Christian, and not Jewish (that is, not limited to Israel). Of course, Paul does not use the term “Christian” yet, but one may combine two of his favorite expressions—(a) the ones trusting, using the participle of the verb pisteu/w, and (b) “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|)—to form the distinct concept of believers in Christ. In Christ, Jews and Gentiles are equal and united (Gal 3:26-28, etc)—there is no distinction whatsoever, and the Old Testament Law (Torah) plays no role at all. On the other hand, as Paul has discussed in chapters 9-11, Gentile believers are not to consider themselves in any way superior, having been grafted into a (spiritual) tradition stretching back to Abraham. In this regard, it is interesting the wording Paul uses in verse 8: “I count (the) Anointed to have become a servant of circumcision [dia/kono$ peritomh=$]…”, which probably should be understood in terms of Jesus’ birth and life (in the flesh) and his Israelite heritage (cf. Rom 1:3; 9:5; Gal 4:4)—elsewhere Paul uses the expression “of (the) circumcision” to refer to Israelites and Jews in the ethno-religious sense. Consider the structure of verses 8-9:

    • a servant of circumcision…
      over [u(per] the truth of God
      —unto [ei)$] the making firm [i.e. confirmation] of the promises of the Fathers
      —and (unto) the nations giving esteem/glory to God
      over [u(per] mercy

For an interesting parallel (in Gospel tradition) regarding Christ’s life and work in relation to both Israel and the nations, see Luke 2:29-32 (esp. v. 32, cf. Isa 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3).

Conclusion

In Romans, Paul presents what is by far his most thorough and complex treatment of the Law. In several respects, he has gone beyond the arguments utilized in Galatians, to offer a more ‘systematic’ and multi-layered presentation. I would summarize the main areas of expansion and exposition as follows:

  • God’s (impending) judgment against humankind will be based specifically in terms of deeds (“works”) committed, and according to the Law.
  • Jews and Gentiles both are “under the Law”—even Gentiles, who are unfamiliar with the Torah, experience the Law (of God) through the witness of creation (1:18ff) and the testimony of their own inner conscience (2:14-16; 7:13ff).
  • Jews and Gentiles are thus on equal terms before God, in that they—all human beings—are (enslaved) under sin.
  • The Law and Sin are interconnected—the Law brings knowledge and awareness of sin, while sin “uses” this knowledge to bring human beings into even greater bondage.
  • Sin is depicted (personalized) as a ruling, enslaving Power, and human beings are in bondage under him; however, this is according to God’s own purpose, so that He will be able to show mercy and favor (grace) to all people. God’s Favor itself is personalized (in Rom 5:15ff), and works in a manner antithetical to that of Sin.
  • God’s work in Christ—his sacrificial death (and resurrection)—destroyed the power of sin, and, with it, the binding force of the Law as well.
  • Believers experience freedom from the enslaving power of sin through trust in Christ, and, in particular, by identification with (and participation in) his death—through this death, believers effectively die both to sin and the Law. As such, the Law no longer has any binding force over believers (Rom 7:1-6)
  • It is in the mind and the “inner man” that human beings recognize the Law of God—a larger concept than the Torah, and synonymous with the Will of God. However, under the power of Sin (in the “flesh”), human beings are not able to fulfill this Law; only after being freed from sin’s power, and through the work of Spirit, can it be fulfilled.
  • Indeed, it is through the Spirit that believers live in conformity to God’s will (and no longer by observing commands and regulations of the Old Testament Law). This is demonstrated principally by the love that believers show, both to each other, and even toward one’s enemies; this love itself fulfills the Law.

The Salvation of “All Israel” in Romans 11

This article, which is supplemental to the study on Paul’s View of the Law (in Romans 9-11), will attempt to clarify Paul’s complex address in chapter 11, particularly with regard to the declaration in verse 26a: kai\ ou%tw$ pa=$  )Israh/l swqh/setai (“and thus all Israel will be saved”). To begin with, it is important to keep the overall context of Romans 9-11 in mind when studying chapter 11; the following observations are especially significant:

    • The first argument (in Rom 9:6-13) of the section as whole, begins with the statement: “for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel” (v. 6b), i.e. not all Israelites are (the true) Israel.
    • Paul expounds this with the examples of Abraham and Isaac, to emphasize that true sonship and inheritance (of the blessing, etc) comes not from natural birth and ethnicity, but from the promise and favor of God (and God chooses and calls out whomsoever he wishes).
    • This is further applied in relation to the proclamation of the Gospel (the main theme of chapter 10)—Gentiles have responded to the Gospel, trusting in Christ, while many Israelites, God’s elect people, have failed (or refused) to accept Christ.

There is thus a fundamental connection between 9:6b and 10:15a:

“for all the (one)s out of Israel—these are not Israel”
or, “for not all the (one)s out of Israel are Israel” (9:6b)
“but not all (of them) listened under [i.e. obeyed] the good message” (10:15a)

Both use the expression “not all” (ou) pa/nte$), though the syntax of 9:6b makes this more difficult to see in translation. In any case, the implication is clear—only those (Israelites) who accept the Gospel are the true Israel. Now, to continue on with an analysis of chapter 11:

Paul’s initial address in Rom 11:1-12 contains a central argument (from Scripture), bracketed by two rhetorical questions (introduced with the formula le/gw ou@n, “I relate therefore…”). The central argument (in verses 3-10) draws upon the narrative in 1 Kings 19:9-18, of God’s revelation to Elijah as he sought refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. Paul refers specifically to verses 10, 14, where Elijah laments to YHWH that he is the only prophet (of YHWH) left who has not been killed, and that the rest of Israel has forsaken the covenant (Rom 11:2b-3); God responds in verse 18 to the effect that there are still seven thousand in Israel who have not “bowed the knee to Baal”. Note how Paul phrases this in Rom 11:4: “I have left down [i.e. left behind] for myself seven thousand…”—the addition of e)mautw=| (“for/to myself”), shifts the meaning slightly from the original context of being spared from death (by the sword) to being chosen by God. We should observe carefully the points that Paul expounds from this passage:

  • Verse 5—he applies the situation in 1 Kings 19:9-18 to his own (current) time: “so then, even now in (this) time, there has come to be a (remainder) left behind [lei=mma] according to (the) gathering out of [i.e. by] (the) favor (of God)”. In verse 4, the verb used is kataleip/w (“leave down, leave behind”); the noun lei=mma is related to lei/pw, indicating something which is left (behind), either in a positive or negative sense. The word lei=mma is typically translated as “remainder” or “remnant”; but here, as indicated above, this remnant is understood as a people gathered out (the noun e)klogh/, from e)kle/gomai, “gather out”), i.e. elected by God, just as Israel herself was chosen as his people.
  • Verse 6—this gathering out is the result of the favor (xa/ri$) of God, and not because of anything the people have done. Here Paul moves away from the Old Testament passage again, which seems to tie the people’s being spared with their particular religious behavior; instead, he emphasizes that the gathering out is no longer (ou)ke/ti, “not yet, not any more”) based on works (“out of works”, e)c e&rgwn). He has already applied this very idea to the example of Abraham in Galatians 3 and Romans 4.
  • Verse 7—only the remnant obtains what Israel seeks after (cf. Rom 9:30-33), the rest were hardened (lit. turned to stone). The metaphor of “hardening the heart” is common in the Old Testament, most famously in the example of Pharaoh in the Exodus narrative, which Paul references in Rom 9:14-18.
  • Verse 12—this verse is transitional, following Paul’s answer to the (second) rhetorical question (in verse 11), and leading into the address of vv. 13-24. He introduces the first of several qal wahomer exclamations, arguing from the lesser to the greater—i.e., if in this lesser/inferior case it is so, then how much more so when…! The contrast is between Israel’s h%tthma (“loss, defeat”), parallel with para/ptwma (“falling alongside [i.e. over the line]”), and their plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”). The exact meaning of plh/rwma here is important for the overall flow and force of Paul’s argument; I think it is best to understand it in the sense of a restoration (filling up) of what was lost.

Romans 11:13-24 is the first of two addresses Paul makes to Gentile believers specifically, with regard to Israel and its salvation (vv. 13-14).

  • Verse 14—”if… I will [i.e. that I might] save some of them”—note Paul’s use of ti/$ (“some of them”)
  • Verses 15-16—Paul applies three more qal wahomer-style arguments, similar to the one in verse 12:
    • Israel’s a)pobolh/ (“casting away from”) and their pro/slhmyi$ (“taking/receiving toward”); it is not entirely clearly whether these should be understood as subjective genitives (their rejection/acceptance of the Gospel) or objective genitives (their rejection/acceptance by God), since either is possible, and they actually represent two aspects of the same situation.
    • The (currently) small number of Israelite believers as the a)pa/rxh (“beginning of [lit. from]”, i.e. the first grain of the harvest) and the (future) full number as the fu/rama (“[mass of] mixed/kneaded [dough]”).
    • This may also refer to the current “remnant” of Israel as the r(i/za (“root”), and those who will follow as the kla/doi (“branches”); though the “root” perhaps should be understood more generally as the true people of God (faithful Israel) extending back to Abraham. The context of vv. 17-24 strongly suggests this latter, wider interpretation.
  • Verses 17ff—in the illustration of the olive tree and its branches, some branches are “broken out” (e)cekla/sqhsan) and others are (currently) being “poked in” (e)nekentri/sqh$); the sense generally is that the new branches from the “wild olive” tree (i.e. Gentiles) take the place of those that were broken off.
  • Verse 20—the branches were broken off specifically for “lack of trust” (a)pisti/a), i.e. a failure (or unwillingness) to trust in Christ. This has to be understood in terms of Rom 9:6; 10:15 (cf. above).
  • Verse 23—similarly the grafting back in of branches broken off depends entirely on “not remaining in [i.e. upon] a lack of trust”—that is, they must come to trust in Christ.

Romans 11:25-32, the second of the two addresses directed at Gentile believers deals more directly with the question of Israel’s ultimate salvation. Paul now adopts a more decidedly eschatological focus.

  • Verse 25—Israel’s hardness (i.e. their inability/unwillingness to accept the Gospel) lasts until “the fulness of the nations should come in”. The use here of plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”) for the nations (Gentiles) is parallel to that in verse 12 for Israel; Paul probably understands it in the sense of the full (or complete) number, measure, etc. It is only then, once the Gentiles have fully come to Christ, that “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26a).
  • Verse 26-27—the Scriptures Paul cites here are important for an understanding of v. 26a; the primary citation is from Isaiah 59:20-21a, along with Isa 27:9—the combination of elements is significant:
    • “the one rescuing” (o( r(uo/meno$)—Christ himself (1 Thess 1:10, etc), or God working through Christ.
    • “he will turn away from Jacob [i.e. Israel] a lack of (proper) fear [a)sebei/a] (of God)”—cf. Rom 1:18; here a)sebei/a (lack of fear/reverence) is synonymous with sin and wickedness in general, but also, specifically, with a lack of trust (a)pisti/a) in Christ. On the idea of Christ turning people from evil (using the verb a)postre/fw), see Acts 3:26.
    • “and this is the (agreement) set through [diaqh/kh] to them alongside [i.e. with] me”—diaqh/kh here in the sense of an agreement (covenant) between two parties (according to the Hebrew tyr!B=), referring to the “new covenant” in Christ and not the old covenant of Sinai and the Torah (cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18). For the principal Old Testament passage relating to the “new covenant”, see Jer 31:31-34.
    • “when I should take away from (them) their sins”—probably an allusion to Isa 27:9, here set in parallel with the citation from Isa 59:21a, i.e. “turning them away from” and “taking away from them”. For the specific association between removal of sin (and its power), through the death of Christ, and the “new covenant”, see Jesus’ words in Mark 14:24 (par Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20).
  • Verses 28-29—the juxtaposition (me\nde/ “on the one hand… on the other hand…”) Paul establishes in verse 28 must be analyzed and treated with great care:
    • me/n (on the one hand)—
      • kata\ to\ eu)agge/lion (“according to the good message”)
        • e)xqroi/ (“[they are] enemies“)
          • di’ u(ma=$ (“through you”, i.e. for your sake)
    • de/ (on the other hand)—
      • kata\ th\n e)klogh/n (“according to the gathering out”)
        • a)gaphtoi/ (“[they are] loved“)
          • dia\ tou\$ pate/ra$ (“through [i.e. because of ] the fathers”)
    • Paul uses this construction to highlight the sense in which they are (currently) hostile to the Gospel—it is for the sake of Gentiles, that they should come to Christ, as Paul describes earlier in vv. 11-24, 25 (cf. also 10:19-21). For more on this difficult teaching, see below.
  • Verse 31—the mercy which will be shown to Israel is the same that has been shown to Gentiles—that is, the sacrificial work of God in Christ and the proclamation of the Gospel, which has the power to make human beings right before God and to free them from the enslaving power of sin.

Finally, it is left to address specifically the statement in v. 26a: “and thus all Israel will be saved”. There are a number of ways this has been interpreted, which I represent by the following five options:

    1. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved by the mercy and favor of God, but apart from their coming to faith in Christ.
    2. All Israelites, past and present, will be saved collectively through the work of Christ, but in a mysterious way understood only by God, and not necessarily in the sense of “becoming Christians”.
    3. All Israelites alive at the return of Christ will come to faith in him, and will thus be saved.
    4. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all Israelites (and Jews) who trust in Christ.
    5. All of the true Israel will be saved, understood as all believers in Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Based on the statement in Rom 9:6 and the olive tree illustration in 11:17-24, Paul certainly would have affirmed the fourth and fifth views above, in the sense that the true Israel is to be identified with believers in Christ (cf. also Rom 2:28-29). However, in Romans 11, and especially in verses 25-32, it would seem that he actually has something like view #3 in mind—namely that, at the end of the age, upon the return of Christ (or shortly before), there would be a widespread conversion of all Israelites and Jews currently living, that together (and/or all at once) they would come to faith in Christ. It is important to remember that, when Paul penned Romans, many, if not most, of the Israelites and Jews of his own generation, who had failed or refused to accept the Gospel, were still living, and he could envision the possibility that they could all still come to faith. As is abundantly clear from his letters, Paul, like most early Christians, expected Christ’s return and the end of the current age to occur very soon, presumably within the lifetime of most believers. In this context, Paul’s eschatological hope for Israel here makes good sense. Admittedly, it is rather more difficult to apply to the situation today, where nearly two thousand years have gone by, and many generations of Israelites and Jews have passed away—a situation, I am quite certain, that never would have occurred to Paul. Even so, it is still possible to affirm the belief (or at least the hope) that there will be a widespread conversion of Israel before the return of Christ; and, indeed, may Christians today hold just such a view.

Interestingly, in recent decades, there have been an increasing number of commentators and theologians who would adopt an interpretation along the lines of #1 and 2 above, at least in the sense that Israelites and Jews will be saved by God without having to “convert” or “become Christian”. This may be related to what is called the “Two Covenants” or “Dual Covenant” theory, which I will discuss briefly in an explanatory article.

Most distinctive is Paul’s teaching that Israel’s ‘hardening’ against the Gospel is directly related to the missionary outreach to Gentiles. This reflects historical reality, in that there were Jews who fiercely opposed the early Christian mission, according to Paul’s own testimony and the narrative in the book of Acts. Persecution often fuels the success of a religious movement, galvanizing support and helping to forge a strong and distinctive identity. This may also reflect, at some level, a degree of “cognitive dissonance”—Paul and other Christians were forced to explain the success of the mission among Gentiles throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and Italy (Rome), while many Jews, who (as the elect people of God) should have been more receptive, did not accept the Gospel. This leads Paul to two different explanations which he brings together in these chapters:

    • Not all Israelites are the true Israel (9:6), and
    • They fell away (i.e. refused to believe) in order to make room for the Gentiles to come to faith
      —this last proposition is most vividly illustrated by the image of the olive tree and the branches (11:17-24)
      • Paul viewed Christianity as the outgrowth of (faithful) Israel stretching back to Abraham (i.e., the “remnant” is the root of the tree)
      • The branches which are faithful and remain in the tree (cf. John 15:1-11) are the early Jewish believers
      • The branches of the wild olive tree are the Gentiles—believers are grafted into the tree of ‘true Israel’
      • The branches which were broken off (i.e., unbelieving Israelites and Jews) may yet come to faith and be grafted back in

Once the full number (or measure) of Gentiles have come to faith, then the unbelieving Israelites and Jews will have the covering removed from their mind (2 Cor 3:14-15) and will come to trust in Christ as well. This, at least, is how Paul appears to have viewed the matter. Fitting it into a particular eschatological framework today is, of course, especially difficult, as indicated by the wide range of interpretive approaches that have been adopted over the years.