June 23: Galatians 3:2-5, 14

Galatians 3:2-5, 14

Paul’s references to the Spirit in Galatians follow those in 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 (discussed in the last two notes), in the context of his pointed contrast between the old and new covenants. This is to be expected, given that the central theme of Galatians involves the relation of believers to the Law (Torah). I have discussed the subject at length in the series “The Law and the New Testament” —cf. especially the articles on Galatians in “Paul’s View of the Law”. The very point and reason for his writing to the Galatians is to assure (and convince) them that it is not necessary for them, or any other believers, to observe the regulations of the Torah (such as circumcision or the dietary laws). Even though the question relates specifically to non-Jewish (Gentile) believers, the arguments Paul uses would apply equally well (and even more so) to Jewish Christians.

Chapters 3-4 make up the heart of the letter—the probatio, in which arguments are presented in support of the main proposition (propositio, 2:15-21). The first argument (3:1-5) is based on the Galatians’ own experience as believers—the fact that they received the Spirit. Paul treats this as self-evident proof, in light of his fundamental contrast between the Spirit (pneu=ma) and the flesh (sa/rc). The logic of the argument runs as follows:

    • as believers, they received the Spirit
      • the flesh is opposed to the Spirit
        • => they should not wish to be involved with things of the flesh

Paul is more caustic and biting in his presentation of this argument, as we can see in verse 3:

“Are you thus without a (sound) mind? (Hav)ing begun in (the) Spirit, you are now (to be) made complete (relying) upon (the) flesh?”

The implication here, of course, is that observance of the Torah regulations is part of the “flesh”, in the sense that it involves work and effort (i.e., Paul’s frequent expression “works [e&rga] of the Law”). More than this, however, in Galatians (as subsequently in Romans) Paul connects the Torah with the bondage experienced by humankind (to the power of sin) in the current Age. This association with sin helps to explain how Paul can characterize the Torah as “the flesh”. The entire created order is in bondage to the power of sin, and the Torah is part of that old order of things that passes away in the New Age—i.e., the new arrangement of things (diaqh/kh, “covenant”).

Paul deprecates the Torah observance for believers by contrasting it with their experience of receiving the Spirit at the beginning—i.e., at the time of baptism, after they first came to trust in Jesus:

“This only do I wish to learn from you: (was it) out of works of (the) Law (that) you received the Spirit, or out of (the) hearing of trust?” (v. 2)

The point is clear: they received the Spirit through trust in Jesus (in response to the proclamation of the Gospel), and not by observing the Torah. The Torah is part of the old covenant, and has nothing whatever to do with the new, and believers are under no obligation to observe its various regulations. Thus the barb in verse 3 is stinging indeed: having begun with the Spirit (the new covenant), would you now go away from this (back to the old covenant)? His wording in verse 4 suggests how misguided and confused this is: “Did you suffer so many (thing)s with(out any) purpose [ei)kh=, i.e. rashly, randomly]?” The further suggestion in verse 5 is that this turning toward the old covenant (Torah) is contrary to the will and purpose of God Himself (and His Spirit):

“(So) then, the (One) leading the Spirit upon you, and working powerful (deed)s among you, (is it) out of works of (the) Law or out of (the) hearing of trust?”

The second argument (3:6-14) of the probatio draws upon the example of Abraham from Scripture—a line of argument that Paul would repeat in Romans 4. His use of Abraham is interesting in the way that it takes the argument back to a time before the establishment of the Sinai covenant (and the Torah); indeed, this fact is central to Paul’s point. Not only does the new covenant of the Spirit supersede that of Moses and the Torah, it is actually the fulfillment of the original blessing promised to Abraham, the father of the Israelite people. The argument here develops the basis for this claim, stating it clearly enough in the concluding verse:

“(It was so) that unto the nations the (words of) good account [eu)logi/a, i.e. blessing] of Abraham might come to be, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, (and so) that we might receive (the fulfillment of) th(is) message about the Spirit, through the trust (in Yeshua).” (v. 14)

For more detail on the Abraham argument, see the earlier articles on Gal 3:6-14 and Romans 4 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”.

Paul turns again to the Abraham traditions in the midrashic argument in 4:21-31, expounding the flesh/Spirit contrast in terms of Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. This follows the same old vs. new covenant dualism (v. 24), but with a stronger association of the old covenant with slavery and bondage (Hagar being a slave). A particular interpretation of the tradition—i.e. that Ishmael ‘persecuted’ Isaac—also leads Paul to emphasize how the old covenant (of the flesh) persecutes the new covenant (of the Spirit):

“But just as then [i.e. at that time] the (one) coming to be (born) according to (the) flesh pursued the (one born) according to (the) Spirit, so also now.” (v. 29)

This relates to Jewish persecution of the early Christians, well-documented in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters, but also to the issue at hand in Galatians—of Jewish Christians pressuring Gentile believers to observe the Torah regulations (circumcision, dietary laws, etc). Paul’s words against these proponents of the need for Torah-observance are extremely harsh (1:7-8; 2:4; 3:10; 4:17; 5:10-12; 6:12-13).

Thus, if we are to summarize how Paul’s line of argument in Galatians relates to a development in the early Christian understanding of the Spirit, it rests in his sharp contrast between the old and new covenant. The old covenant is part of the old order of things (in the current Age), while the new covenant marks the beginning of a new Age. The people of God (Israelites and Jews) in the old covenant were governed by the regulations of the Torah (which represented the terms of the covenant); by contrast, in the new covenant, the people of God (believers in Christ, both Jewish and non-Jewish) are governed by the indwelling presence of God’s own Spirit. For believers in Christ, the old covenant has passed away, and they/we are free from its binding terms (i.e. the Torah).

This is a uniquely Christian development of the Prophetic tradition regarding the role of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration. As we have discussed in earlier notes, the sixth-century prophets—particularly Jeremiah and Ezekiel—express the promise of a coming time when the people of Israel and Judah, upon their return to the Land, would be given a “new heart” and the “new spirit” so that they will be able to remain faithful to YHWH. This inward transformation of the heart/spirit is achieved by the action of God’s own Spirit being “poured out” upon them (cf. the notes on Isa 44:3 and Joel 2:28-29). The key passages on this in Ezekiel are 11:19ff; 18:31; 36:26-27, and 37:14 (cf. notes). The great “new covenant” prophecy, of course, is Jeremiah 31:31-34, in which God promises to write His Law (hr*oT, Torah) upon the hearts of the people (v. 33). Though the Spirit is not directly mentioned in this passage, it is to be inferred as the means of writing (on the writing of the Torah, and the general equivalence between the “finger of God” and the Spirit of God, cf. the prior note).

The main difference between Paul and this Prophetic line of tradition is that the Prophets clearly assume the continued binding authority of the Torah, while Paul states repeatedly (and unequivocally) that this is no longer so for believers, who are freed from the old covenant. For the Prophets, the writing of the Torah on the heart simply means that the people will be willing and able to observe it faithfully. Paul understands this idea quite differently, though, in his own way, he upholds a comparable premise—that believers effectively fulfill the Law, even without being bound to observe its specific regulations. The Law is similarly written on the hearts of believers, through the presence of the Spirit. This will be discussed further in the next daily note.

May 18: Nehemiah 9:20, 30

Nehemiah 9:20, 30

In the previous note, we examined the emphasis on the spirit (j^Wr) of God in passages of the exilic Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, dealing with the future restoration of Israel/Judah. This restoration was defined in terms of a return from exile, and a re-establishment of the covenant bond between YHWH and His people. Faithfulness to the covenant would now be ensured by the action of God Himself, giving the people a “new heart” and a “new spirit” through the presence of His own Spirit (“my spirit” [yj!Wr]). As the Torah (hr*oT, the instruction of YHWH) represented the terms of the covenant, it would be of central importance to any faithful Community of God’s people in this ideal/future time of restoration. And, indeed, we can see the ideal acted out in the Judean Community of the early post-exilic period, as recorded in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah.

Ezra and Nehemiah were important leaders of the post-exilic Community in Jerusalem, each, in his own way, working toward the restoration-ideal of the Prophets. The customary chronology dates Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem to 458 B.C., with Nehemiah arriving some 13 years later (445 B.C.). As governor of Judah, Nehemiah had greater authority, and appears to have sought to carry through the religious and cultural reforms introduced by Ezra (cf. the references to Ezra in Neh 8-10).

The hr*oT (tôrâ, Instruction, or “Law”) of God features prominently in Ezra-Nehemiah, central to the re-establishment of the Israelite/Jewish religious identity (see esp. Ezra 10:3). In Ezr 3:2; 7:6 and Neh 8:1 it is specifically called the “hr*oT of Moses” (i.e. ‘Law of Moses’), and clearly refers to a written work, since Ezra is said to be a literary expert (scribe) regarding this Torah (7:6, 21, etc); cf. also Neh 10:34, 36. Moreover, in Neh 8:1 we read of a “book of the Torah” (lit. “account of the Instruction”, hr*oT rp#s@), also occurring in vv. 3, 18, and 9:3 (cf. below). This expression is relatively rare in the Old Testament, occurring not once in the Psalms, Prophets, or Wisdom literature, etc, but only in Deuteronomy, and the historical books of Joshua, Kings, Chronicles, and Nehemiah. It is difficult to know for certain was is being referred to by the expression. Many commentators feel that it refers to some version of the book of Deuteronomy itself. However the Pentateuch contains other “law codes”, in written form—most notably those in Exodus 20:23-23:19, the “Holiness code” of Lev 17-26, as well as the other collection of laws and priestly regulations in Exod 25-31, 35-40, Numbers 1-10, and throughout the remainder of Leviticus.

In Neh 8:1ff, Ezra is asked to bring out this “account of the Torah”, so that it can be read before all the people. The words in v. 3 indicate a glimmer of fulfillment to the prophecies of restoration in Jer 31:31-34, etc: “…and the ears of all the people (were) to the account of the Instruction” (i.e., they were paying attention to it). Religious life was re-established through celebration of the festival of Sukkot (Booths/Tabernacles), and Ezra read from the Torah every day during the festival (vv. 13-18). Again, this written account of the Torah was read publicly, for several hours, on a day later in the same month, during a time of fasting and repentance (9:1-3ff). In this context, a great prayer is recorded (vv. 6-37), and through which is woven a history of Israel, from the call of Abraham to the present. The emphasis is on the repeated sins and failure of the people to live up to their covenant-bond with YHWH. As we have seen, this was very much part of the Prophetic message, related to the Exile and also the future restoration of Israel.

In this penitential survey of history, the Torah is alluded to in verse 20, in terms of the presence and activity of God’s spirit (j^Wr):

“And you gave your good spirit [j^Wr] to give them understanding [i.e. to instruct them]”

This arguably is the earliest reference to what we might call the inspiration of Scripture—that is, the spirit-inspired character of the written account of the Torah. To be sure, from the standpoint of the historical survey, it more properly refers to the inspiration of Moses as ayb!n`, or spokesperson of YHWH for the people. Just as God gave the people food to eat from heaven (the manna), so He gave them the Instruction (Torah) through Moses as a divinely-inspired intermediary (cf. the prior note on Numbers 11:10-30). Now, centuries after Moses, it is the written record of this Torah that serves to give guidance for the people.

Equally important, however, is the people’s response to that Instruction, during their history, after the settlement in their land. It is characterized ultimately as one of failure and disobedience (vv. 26-28). In verses 29-30, we can see how the role of the Prophets (<ya!yb!n+) is understood primarily in terms of exhorting Israel to restore them to faithfulness to the Torah. Just as Moses was a spirit-inspired spokesperson (ayb!n`), so too were the other chosen Prophets throughout Israel’s history:

“and you drew (out) upon them [i.e. remained patient with them] many years, and repeatedly gave (witness) among them by your spirit [j^Wr], by the hand of your <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. Prophets], and they [i.e. the people] would not give ear [i.e. listen] (to it)” (v. 30)

There are thus here allusions to the spirit-inspired character of both the Torah and the Prophets—representing the beginnings of the traditional pairing of “the Law and the Prophets”, as authoritative Scripture. The centrality of the Torah, however, is clear; the Prophets main role is to bring people back to the Torah when they have turned away from it (v. 29). It is an emphasis that is distinctly Jewish, and remains absolutely fundamental to the Jewish religious (and cultural) identity to the present day. Christians, of course, have always maintained the unique divine inspiration of the Torah as well, according to varying definitions. However, the place of the Torah in Christianity is not at all the same as it is in Judaism, and, sadly, many Christians have a poor understanding of the New Testament teaching (by Jesus, Paul, and others) in this regard. I discuss the matter at great length in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

In the next daily note, we will turn to the book of Zechariah, for a different post-exilic treatment of the restoration-theme of God’s spirit at work among His people.

 

May 17: Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14

Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14

Along with the book of Isaiah, it is the book of Ezekiel that contains the most extensive references to the spirit (j^Wr) of God. The key Isaian passages were discussed in the previous notes; today we turn to the references in Ezekiel, and we may divide the context where these occur into three categories:

    • The opening Theophany-vision of chapter 1—the manifestation of God on his chariot-throne. In verses 12 and 20 it is said that “the spirit” (j^Wrh*) moved and guided the wheels of this heavenly ‘chariot’; yet there is some ambiguity as to whether this refers to the spirit of God, or to the spirit of the “living beings” at work within the wheels (vv. 20-21). The use of the definite article, without any other qualification, suggests that it is a reference to the spirit of God.
    • References to the prophetic inspiration of Ezekiel himself—expressed in various ways:
      • the spirit coming on/in(to) him, using the preposition B=, beginning with the introductory scene (2:1-2), and repeated in 3:24
      • the spirit coming/falling “upon” (lu^) him—used in 11:5, this is the more traditional idiom for prophetic inspiration
      • the spirit lifting/carrying the prophet—as by a great wind (the more fundamental meaning of the word j^Wr); this is a development of the ancient idea of the divine spirit “rushing” (like a powerful wind) to a person, with inspired sayings/oracles uttered while the prophet is overtaken by the spirit. Used repeatedly (3:12, 14; 8:3; 11:1, 24; 37:1; 43:5), this idiom serves as a colorful way of describing the spirit-inspired character of visionary experience—the prophet feels like he is being transported to a new locale, part of a visionary landscape. The book of Revelation was almost certainly influenced by this wording in Ezekiel (cf. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10)
    • Oracles/visions referring to Israel/Judah’s future restoration (return from Exile)

It is the last category that I will be discussing today, focusing on two main passages—36:26-27 and 37:14—each of which are from the great restoration oracles/visions in the latter part of the book. It must be remembered that Ezekiel’s prophecies were written/recorded in the midst of the Exile in Babylon, and the prophetic theme of Israel’s restoration is defined almost entirely in terms of a return from exile. This was also true of the Deutero-Isaian passages we have examined (cf. the prior note on 44:3 etc), while the oracles in Joel 2-3 (cf. the previous note) probably also derive from a 6th century context which, at the very least, anticipates the Babylonian conquest and exile.

Ezekiel 36:26-27

The oracle in 36:16-28 is one of several great restoration oracles (and visions) in the book; that is, as noted above, it prophesies the coming/future return of Judeans to their homeland. It follows the traditional prophetic (and Deuteronomic) pattern of attributing the conquest/exile to religious and moral failure by the people. This tradition itself is firmly rooted in the ancient Near Eastern idea of the binding agreement (covenant, cf. below), especially those patterned after the suzerain-vassal treaty format. When a vassal violates the terms of the agreement, the suzerain is no longer obligated to provide protection, leaving the vassal prey to military attack. Moreover, the binding agreement was understood as having been signed/ratified in the presence of God (or the gods)—and included built-in curse forumlas—so that divine judgment/punishment would result from any violation.

Typical of the prophetic message was a declaration that genuine, widespread repentance among the people (that is, a return to faithfulness and loyalty to YHWH) was necessary to avoid the judgment that would (otherwise) come through military conquest/exile, and was also a prerequisite for any future restoration once judgment had occurred. What is interesting in this oracle of Ezekiel, is the suggestion that true repentance/faithfulness may not even be possible for the people, in their current condition. After all, not only had they been unfaithful to God during their history in their own land (vv. 17-19), but their unfaithfulness continued even after they had been exiled into other lands (vv. 20-21ff). This is especially problematic, since YHWH’s own reputation (as God of Israel/Judah) now suffers and is disgraced among the nations. It is YHWH’s concern for His own “name” that prompts Him to act, not any sign of repentance or faithfulness among the people (vv. 22ff).

This is a striking shift in the prophetic message. God acts unilaterally to restore Israel, and their return to the land is no longer tied to any repentance on their part! However, this new model for Israel’s restoration does still require conversion of the people (back to faifthfulness); while this was impossible before, it will now be realized through a total transformation of their character and nature, performed miraculously by divine fiat. The primary idiom used to express this is that YHWH will give them “a new heart” (vd*j* bl@); interestingly, this only will occur after God has brought Israel/Judah back to the land (vv. 24-25). The transformation is described in verses 26-27:

“And I will give to you a new heart,
and a new spirit [hv*d*j& j^Wr] I will give [i.e. put] in your inner (parts);
and I will turn (aside) the heart of stone from your flesh,
and I will give to you a heart of flesh.
I will give [i.e. put] my spirit [yj!Wr] in your inner (parts),
and I will make you (so) that walk by my engraved (decrees)!”

The final line could not be more clear: God will make His people follow his decrees and precepts (i.e., written in the Torah). This motif of the “new heart” draws upon older prophetic tradition, especially key passages in the book of Deuteronomy which emphasize the need for Israel to be circumcised in their heart—that is, to be truly faithful to God in their heart, rather than in rote obedience to the requirements of the Torah (cf. 4:29; 5:29; 6:5; 8:2ff; 10:15-16; 11:16ff; 30:2, 6ff etc). The same idiom occurs frequently in the Deuteronomic books of Samuel-Kings, and, more generally, throughout the Psalms and Wisdom literature as well. It was in the message of the prophet Jeremiah, however, that this theme took on greater prominence (5:14; 9:26; 11:8 etc), in the context of the Babylonian conquest and exile. He introduces this idea of God giving a new “heart” to His people, and connects it with their future restoration (24:7; 32:37-41, and see further below). In all likelihood, Ezekiel was influenced by this use in Jeremiah

What is most important, from the standpoint of these studies, is how Ezekiel here makes a close connection between this “new heart” and a “new spirit” that God will also give—a spirit (j^Wr) that is a manifestation of God’s own. This identification is clear from the parallel in vv. 26-27:

and a new spirit I will give [i.e. put] in your inner (parts);
……..
I will give [i.e. put] my spirit in your inner (parts)

The same heart-spirit pairing is also found in two other passages (11:19 and 18:31). This is a development of the simpler idea of God “pouring out” His spirit on the land and its people (cf. the prior notes on Isa 44:3 and Joel 2:28-29); Ezekiel makes use of this idiom as well (39:29), but the idea of God putting His spirit into the innermost part (br#q#) of the people, suggests a more complete transformation of their entire nature and character. Indeed, that seems to be what the prophet is describing.

Ezekiel 37:14

The same theme of restoration is described in terms of resurrection in the famous vision of chapter 37. More properly, the image evokes that of a re-creation, a return to the original scene of creation, when God first breathed/blew life into humankind (Gen 2:7; Job 33:4, cf. the earlier note). This certainly is suggested by the wording here in verse 5:

“So says my Lord YHWH to these bones:
See! I am bringing in(to) you breath [j^Wr], and you will live!”

This does not simply refer to ordinary life-breath, however, as the climactic words of the vision make clear:

“And I will give [i.e. put] my spirit [yj!Wr] in(to) you, and you will live, and you will know that I have spoken, and have made (it so)…” (v. 14)

It is essentially the same message as in 36:26-27 (above)—once Israel has been restored to life and returns to the land, the people will be filled with God’s own Spirit, and will (finally) be able to remain entirely faithful to Him. The wordplay involving the meaning of j^Wr (“breath/spirit”), sadly lost in most translations, is vital to an understanding of the vision in chap. 37.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Mention should also be made here of the famous “new covenant” passage in Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is very much part of the same “new heart / new spirit” theme discussed above. However, it defines this more precisely in terms of observing the Torah (hr*oT, instruction) of YHWH (v. 33). From the standpoint of Israelite/Jewish tradition, the Torah records and preserves the terms of the binding agreement (tyr!B=, ‘covenant’) between YHWH and Israel. It was Israel’s inability to live up to the terms of the agreement that led to their Exile, but now, as part of the future restoration (with their return from Exile), God is going to ensure that His people will be able to fulfill the terms of the agreement (the Torah) faithfully. This effectively will be a new agreement, and a new heart is required to fulfill it:

“I will give [i.e. put] my Instruction [hr*oT] in(to) their inner (parts), and I will inscribe it upon their heart, and I will be (the) Mightiest (One) [i.e. God] for them, and they will be (the) people for me” (v. 33)

The wording is quite similar to that of Ezek 36:26-27, only instead of God putting his Spirit into the innermost part of the people, he puts his Instruction (Torah) there. Being written on their heart, it will be fulfilled automatically, requiring no written precepts (or enforcement) to bring this about. This can only happen through the Spirit of God, and that association, introduced here in the later Prophets, would eventually develop into the idea that the Torah would be fulfilled (entirely) through the presence and work of the Spirit. It was the apostle Paul who first presented and expounded this teaching; sadly, even many Christians today still do not recognize the truth of it.

The association between the Torah and the Spirit will be discussed further in the next daily note.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 19 (continued)

Psalm 19, continued

The first portion of this Psalm (vv. 2-7 [1-6], discussed in the previous study) presented the natural world as a manifestation of God’s power and presence as Creator. The very processes and operations within nature bear witness, “speaking” of YHWH, even as God Himself “spoke” it into existence. As a theme we might call this “nature as the word of God”. In the second half of the Psalm, we find a parallel theme: “the Torah as the word of God”. It is not necessary to limit the use of the word hr*oT (tôrâ) here to the Law Code preserved in the Pentateuch, though certainly that would be paramount. Rather, it refers to the “word of God” expressed within the religious and ethical sphere, in contrast to the natural world.

Psalm 19:8-15 [7-14]

Verses 8-10 [7-9]

“(The) hr*oT  of YHWH (is) complete, returning [i.e. restoring] (the) soul;
(the) tWdu@ of YHWH (is) firm, making wise (the) open (mind);
(the) <yd!WQP! of YHWH (are) straight, making glad (the) heart;
(the) hw`x=m! of YHWH (is) clear, enlightening (the) eyes;
(the) <ha*r=m!> of  YHWH (is) pure, standing until (the end);
(the) <yf!P=v=m! of YHWH (are) truth–(all as) one they are just!”

These verses consist of a series of six parallel couplets, each of which follows a basic pattern, with a 3+2 meter. The pattern is set by the first couplet in v. 8a. The initial 3-beat line is a statement regarding the hr*oT (tôrâ) of YHWH; the second (2-beat) line modifies the first, with a participial phrase which states what the hr*oT does—i.e., its effective energy and power, with its effect on the one faithful and loyal to it. The following couplets are strophic variations, using different words and descriptive phrases to expound and elaborate the opening couplet. As the principal nouns are a bit difficult to translate literally, with precision, in a poetic setting like this, I have left them untranslated above; now let us consider them here, each one in turn:

  • hr*oT (tôrâ)—typically translated “law”, this noun is more properly rendered “instruction”, literally something “thrown” across, for the purpose of teaching/training someone. In Israelite and Jewish tradition, it is the primary term for the collection of teaching, recorded in Scripture, that expresses what God requires of His people (i.e. the terms of His covenant with them).
  • tWdu@ (±¢¼û¾)—derived from the root dwu, it refers essentially to something that is repeated, often in the specific sense of giving/bearing witness (i.e. repeating what a person has seen or heard). It may be understood here specifically in terms of the recorded hr*oT as preserving a witness and testimony to what YHWH has said to His people.
  • <yd!Q%P! (piqq¥¼îm)—plural of the noun dWQP!, which, like the root dqp in general, is notoriously difficult to translate. The basic meaning has to do with a person exercising oversight and supervision over a situation, and what he/she might require (others to do) in response. A flat English translation of the plural here might be “requirements” —i.e. the things YHWH requires of His people. Also implicit is the idea of the hr*oT as part of God’s supervision over Israel.
  • hw`x=m! (miƒwâ)—usually translated “command”, though perhaps more accurate is the idea of a charge or duty placed on someone by a superior. Here the singular noun is comprehensive—i.e., all that YHWH requires a person to do.
  • ha*r=m! (mir°â)—the Masoretic text here reads ha*r=y] (“fear”), which seems out of place, and may well represent a textual corruption; unfortunately, there is no help from the Qumran scrolls since this portion of Ps 19 is not preserved in the only surviving MS. I have tentatively followed Dahood  (p. 123f) in emending the text (slightly) to ha*r=m!, on the basis of the Ugaritic root mr° (“command”)—i.e., the command of YHWH (as Lord/Sovereign). Another possibility, based on the parallel in Ps 119:38, would be hr*m=a! (“word, utterance”), with the same general sense (cf. Kraus, p. 268).
  • <yf!P=v=m! (mišp®‰îm)— “judgments”, specifically in the sense of the rulings made by YHWH as King (and supreme Judge).

In the first four couplets, the effect of the Torah, etc, of YHWH, indicated in the second line, is upon a specific part (or aspect) of the human person, symbolizing primarily our consciousness and awareness:

    • vp#n# (“soul”)—that is, the life and being of the person as a whole, which the Torah, itself being complete (<ym!T*), is able to restore (lit. “return”) to completeness.
    • yt!P#, which I render rather literally as “open (mind)”; Dahood (p. 123) would identify it as a rare noun tP) (cf. Isa 3:17), related to Akkadian p¥tu (“forehead, face”). The mind (or face?) that is open (or turned) to God’s Instruction will be embued with the Wisdom of God.
    • bl@ (“heart”), in ancient Near Eastern thought, commonly located as the place of the mind/intellect, where decisions are made; the requirements made by YHWH in the Torah, being right and “straight” are appealing to one’s heart/mind and “make it glad”.
    • <y]n`yu@ (“eyes”)—an association with light (and enlightenment) is natural and obvious; through the eyes one “sees” what is right and true, as it conforms with the requirements (or “commands”) of YHWH in the Torah.

The focus of the last two couplets shifts a bit, from the effect of the Torah on the righteous person to a more general statement regarding its overall character: (1) it endures, lasting (“standing”) forever (“until [the end]”), and (2) they are all true and right/just, together forming a single unified whole (dj^y~).

Verses 11-12 [10-11]

“The(se) being delightful (more) than gold,
and (even) much more than pure (gold),
and (also) sweet, (more) than (the) sticky (honey),
even (the) dripping (honey) of the flowing (comb),
(so) also your servant is made to shine by them,
(and) in guarding them (there is) much (from its) heel!”

A pair of short, proverbial 2+2 couplets are followed by a single 3+3 couplet, which brings the entirety of vv. 8-12 to a dramatic climax. The plurals here (“these, them” in translation) refer to all the 6 nouns mentioned in vv. 8-10—hr*oT and its synonyms–the entire Instruction of YHWH, taken together (cf. verse 10b above). The proverbial comparisons in verse 11 are simple: more delightful than gold, sweeter than honey. But more than the enjoyment God’s Torah brings, is the defining effect it has on a person’s entire character and being. This is expressed two different ways:

    • the verb rh^z` (“shine”), continuing the sun/light imagery from earlier in the Psalm; the light of God’s own word and presence illuminates the righteous person, causing him/her to shine. There is almost certainly an intentional bit of wordplay here, since there is similar root rh^z` (II), often used in the passive Niphal stem (as here), which means “teach”. I.e. being taught by God’s Torah = being made to shine.
    • an idiom involving the noun bq#u@, which essentially refers to a “footprint” (lit. a mark by the heel), i.e. something that is imprinted on the surface. The Hebrew idiom signifies something that is left behind, often in the generic sense of an end result. By “guarding” the Torah of YHWH, His word is ‘imprinted’ on the person, and, in turn, there is something ‘left behind’, i.e. the reward/result of the person’s faithful devotion to YHWH.
Verses 13-14 [12-13]

“Going astray, who can discern it?
Clear me from (my inclination)s to turn (aside)!
(So) also hold your servant (away) from (the) arrogant (one)s,
(that) they would not rule o(ver) me!
Then shall I be complete,
and will be clear (from so) much rebellion!”

Verse 13[12] is another proverbial 2+2 couplet, reflecting the influence of Wisdom traditions, seen frequently in the Psalms. The wording is a bit difficult, especially the parsing of the verb of the second line. The parallelism suggests a passive-reflexive form of the root rWs (“turn [aside]”), rather than the simple passive of rts (“hide”); however, the idea of “hidden (faults/sins)” would be applicable as well. The structure and meter of v. 14[13] is irregular, the tension indicating a climactic point for the second half of the Psalm—a prayer by the Psalmist that YHWH would help him to remain faithful and loyal, in terms of “guarding” the Instruction (Torah) of God (v. 12b).

The final, uneven couplet intentionally echoes the wording of that earlier line (cf. above), however difficult it may be translate accurately in English. The uP^v=m!, variously rendered “transgression”, “rebellion”, properly refers to the breaking of the (covenant) bond between YHWH and His people. In terms of the royal theology expressed in many Psalms, this idea extends specifically to the bond between YHWH (as Sovereign) and the Israelite/Judean king (as vassal). To break such a bond is fundamentally an act of rebellion.

The context here suggests that the “rebellion” (i.e. breaking of the bond) should be understood strictly in a religious sense—that is, in terms of the ‘idolatry’ (i.e. religious syncretism) present in Israelite/Judean society. The deities of the surrounding (Canaanite) culture are dz@ (literally, “bubbling, boiling”), meaning that they have been given (or give themselves) an inflated sense of worth, compared with the true God of Israel (El-Yahweh); cf. Exodus 18:11 etc. The word can more generally connote “arrogance”, “presumption”, etc, and, as such, can be applied to both the religious and social-ethical sphere—the two aspects being interrelated. As the Torah became more central to the Israelite religious identity, a failure to guard and preserve its teachings was viewed as tantamount to idolatry.

Verse 15 [14]

“May (the) utterances of my mouth be for (your) pleasure,
and (even the) murmurings of my heart (be)fore your face,
YHWH, my Rock and my Redeemer!”

The final verse is a 3+3+3 tricolon that serves as a doxology to the Psalm. It is also an extension of the prayer in vv. 13-14, and relates primarily to the focus on the Torah of God in vv. 8ff. Properly, a line praising YHWH has been added to what otherwise would stand as a unified couplet. The parallelism of this couplet has two interlocking strands:

    • Synonymous:
      “utterances of my mouth” / “murmurings of my heart”
    • Synthetic:
      “for (your) pleasure” => “before your face”

The faithfulness and loyalty of righteous extends from what a person says (vb rm^a*) out loud, to what they ‘say’ (“murmur”, root hg`h*) deep in their heart. That is, even their innermost thoughts conform to the word and will of God. Moreover, the guarding/preservation of YHWH’s teaching, done because it corresponds with what is pleasing to Him, allows the faithful one to come and stand before the very presence of God (i.e. his “face”). The latter line also recognizes the very point made in vv. 2-7 (and in other Psalms): that YHWH’s presence is everywhere, and all that we do in the world takes place “before His face”.

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S. J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965).
Those marked “Kraus” are to Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993); English translation of Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th edition, Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978).

 

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.