Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People

Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People

Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People

Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People

Excerpt

It is with more than a little hesitation that one picks up again the question of Paul and the law. It is a topic that has been discussed by numerous scholars in great detail, with the result that one pauses before thinking that fresh light can be shed on it. This consideration points to others: the subject is difficult, and all the scholarly labor that has been spent on it has resulted in no consensus. The difficulty of the topic, however, is matched by its importance, and it merits the effort that has been expended. It is a subject which must be penetrated if one is to understand Paul’s thought, and it is no less crucial for understanding an important moment in the divorce of Christianity from Judaism. If despite the difficulty and the scope of the problem I venture to address it in relatively short compass, it is in the hope that a few clarifying proposals can be made, even if every exegetical problem cannot be solved.

There is a tantalizing quality to the study of Paul’s view of the law. He says a lot about it, and one should be able, by using the normal tools of exegesis, to determine precisely what he thought. The subject is not like the study of the historical Jesus, where one has to distinguish redaction from tradition, probe to find the earliest traditions, and try to establish criteria for determining authentic material. Nor is it like the study of “wisdom” in 1 Corinthians, where there is too little material at hand to allow us to be sure just which “wisdom” Paul was replying to. In the study of “Paul and the law” we have before us a lot of unquestionably authentic statements by Paul on the subject; and, further, we know what law Paul was talking about. With a few exceptions, he meant the Tanak, the Jewish Torah. Yet the search for what he “really meant” goes on. One may ask, of course, whether or not he did have a single and well-thought-out position on the law, and that question will be posed here. But a priori one would expect him to have had a clear position on the law. The law, it would appear from his own testimony, had been his life before God revealed his son to him (Phil. 3:4–6; Gal. 1:13–15). His break with it was self-conscious. His re-

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