Paul and the Law1
Much has been written on Paul and the Lawwhat a subject! Most of the recent work began with a book by E. P. Sanders which reevaluated Palestinian Judaism.2
Following this reevaluation, Sanders argued that Paul's negative comments on the law simply represent his opposition to the Jewish boundary markers for entering the covenant (e.g., circumcision).3 But is that all he meant when he said, "we are not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ?" Later, James Dunn's work fell on the heals of Sanders with several modifications.4
In the meantime Heikki Raisanen came out arguing that Paul was hopelessly contradictory, saying on the one hand "you are no longer under law but under grace" and then encouraging Christians to do things because the law commands them.5 Can't the apostle make up his mind?
Later, N.T. Wright tried to reconcile Paul's statements on the law, indicating that Paul saw the Christ as the historical climax of the old covenant.6 Still, for Wright, as for Sanders, neither the covenant nor justification are forensic. Around the same time, Frank Thielman developed a line of argument similar to Wright, while trying to develop some of Paul's eschatological implications.7
Others have entered the discussion, including Stephen Westerholm8 and finally Hendrikus Boers, who claims that Paul rejected all new covenant boundary markers.9 And so the debate continues.10
The Already/Not-Yets Compared and Contrasted
To deal with this subject, let's start with what is perhaps an obvious thesis. Paul's teaching on the law can largely be seen as the attempt to reconcile the law's own already/not-yet scheme with the already/not-yet perspective of the new covenant. Since there are similarities and differences between these two already/not-yet schemes, Paul can make positive and negative comments about the law without contradicting himself.
Of course, the entire old covenant is suffused with the already/not yet. It is not as though some elements of the old covenant were already and others were not yet. But Paul develops the already of each element as its not-yet is accomplished in Christ.
When Paul refers positively to the law's redemptive acts and ethical commands, he is comparing the already of the law with the already of the new covenant. The gospel's already is the fullness of the law's already. That is, the law's already is fulfilled by union with Christ.
Conversely, when Paul contrasts the law to the gospel he is contrasting the law's not-yet with the already of Christ's work.
Yes, you say, that's somewhat obvious. However, the question arises, what is the nature of the already which both the old and the new covenants have in common? And what exactly is new about the new covenant? These questions have troubled biblical scholars for almost two thousand years, and our investigation will necessarily be incomplete.
In summary, we can say that Paul's positive and negative comments on the law express the following: Paul compares and contrasts the progressive semi-eschatological triumph of God in the redemption of his people and the removal of the curse from the inheritance of the land in the old covenant to the accomplished eschatological redemptive triumph of God in Christ's incarnation, life, death, and resurrection into the justified inheritance above and the semi-eschatological union of the Church with Christ in his heavenly life unto the final consummation.
In other words, Paul's negative statements about the law revolve around the contrast between Israel's not-yet and the present Church's already. Paul taught that Christians were no longer under the Mosaic Covenant in the sense that its not-yet aspect related to the removal of the curse from the inheritance. This has been completely accomplished by Christ through his curse-bearing death and justifying resurrection by which he has brought his people a curseless and positively righteous inheritance in heaven. This semi-eschatological justification is necessary for the new covenant and allows it to further develop the already of the Mosaic Covenant. That is, semi-eschatological justification is necessary for the fuller writing of the law on the hearts of God's people. In this way, the standard of the new arena of the Spirit in Christ is the further development of the law given at Mt. Sinai. Thus, Paul's positive use of the law.
The Law of Love Depends on Transcendent Eschatology
In the body of this article we will begin by looking at Galatians 5:14 and try to interpret it in its larger context. From here we reflect on other texts in Galatians, finally returning to Galatians 5. This will be followed by a short analysis of the positive role of the law in Romans, concluding with Romans 13:8-10.
In Galatians 5:14, Paul states: "For all the law is fulfilled in this one word, in the word 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (see also Romans 13:8-10.)
Since it is possible to interpret the word "fulfilled" in several ways (simply as "to carry out" something or to fulfill as in to bring prophecy to historical and eschatological completion) our argument will not rest on a simple word study of "fulfill." (However, after a careful examination of what Paul means when he thinks of people carrying out anything, it is hard to rid it of eschatological overtones.) Instead, we will look at the context of Gal. 5:14.
Galatians 5 comes after an extended argument in chapters 3 and 4 which is preceded by a narration in chapter 2. Therefore, understanding these chapters will shed light on our passage. For the sake of brevity (that is, to see more quickly the connection between our text and the preceding chapters) we will work backward from chapter 5 to 4 to 3 and finally to chapter 2.
In chapter 5 the theme of love begins in verse 6 and continues in verses 13, 14, and 22. In a moment we will see how verse 6 is connected to verse 14, but first let us look at verse 6 with its parallels.
Verse 6 states: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love."
Galatians 6:15: "For neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation."
And somewhat more loosely connected is Galatians 3:26: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus."
In the course of this article we will refer back to these three texts at various points.
Now let us briefly look at the flow of the argument from Galatians 5, verses 6 to 14. Our purpose here will be to establish that there is in fact an argument from one to the other, and that therefore verse 6's eschatological orientation is important for verse 14.
According to verse 6 to believe that circumcision avails anything (for eschatological justification11) is at odds with faith working through love. Some in the Galatian church have been persuaded of circumcision's importance and have turned away from faith and love, leavening the body (vv. 7-9). These who are troubling the church (vv. 10 and 12) are at odds with the cross (v. 11) and should bear their judgment. For the Galatian church should live in freedom, a freedom from the law which implies fulfilling the law in love (vv. 13 and 14).
These connections confirm that Paul relates the fulfillment of the law in verse 14 to verse 6 with its emphasis on the transition from the period of the law to the period of semi-eschatological grace (indicated by Paul's use of "in Christ Jesus"). And as Galatians 3:26 informs 5:6, we will soon see that it informs 5:14.
However, let us first look at some passages in chapter 4. This will further strengthen the connection to chapter 3 and indicate the nature of Paul's eschatological conception.
Paul's eschatology is not only linear but also vertical. This is indicated in chapter 4 by his comparison of the Jerusalem above (v. 26) with the Spirit (v. 29) and the connection between the present Jerusalem (v. 25) with the flesh (v. 29). Paul's quotation of Isaiah 54:1 indicates that he interpreted the Jerusalem above that gives birth according to the Spirit as the eschatological fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy of the future Jerusalem. Thus, the Spirit gives birth to semi-eschatological children, indicating that Paul's conception of the Spirit in Galatians is eschatological. Therefore, Paul's semi-eschatological perspective must be interpreted in a vertical as well as a horizontal fashion.
More precisely, Paul saw the Jerusalem above that has come in Christ as the historical (i.e., horizontal) fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. However, when this horizontal fulfillment took place it was not simply horizontal. The horizontal fulfillment took place vertically. The prophesied Jerusalem was not fulfilled in the present Jerusalem below but in a new Jerusalem above. And this theme of Jerusalem can not be an isolated case, for it is connected to Paul's broader eschatological associations. This fulfillment of one eschatological theme in a vertical fashion indicates that, for Paul, the broader eschatological world to which it is connected finds a vertical fulfillment. These implications will be confirmed by their fruitfulness in understanding Paul's eschatology and his use of the law.
Here many modern interpreters of Paul and his view of the law have gone astray. Ernst Kasemann interpreted the kingdom of God in primarily a horizontal fashion. That is, the kingdom of God is realized immanently in the present world and in social/political transformation. This view was adopted by Jurgen Moltmann in his Theology of Hope. And some New Testament scholars have interpreted Paul using the grid of Kasemann's eschatology. Since this eschatology is primarily linear it does not provide a way of easily understanding the harmony of Paul's positive and negative references to the law. This can only be done by interpreting Paul in light of his own eschatology, which is both horizontal and vertical.
Thus, we will see that the vertical movement of the inheritance from the inheritance which is partially below to that which is above in Christ provides a framework for understanding Paul's view of the law in Galatians 3 and finally in Galatians 5.
The connection to Galatians 5 can already be glimpsed by the Spirit and flesh contrast that is found in 4:29 and repeated in Galatians 5 verses 16- 25. The Spirit is the objective eschatological environment of those in Christ. However, their life is now semi-eschatological because they also live in the environment of this world which is passing away. For Paul this represents a progress beyond the old Jerusalem where the Spirit's presence was partially associated with an earthly city. (Admittedly, confirmation for the claim that the Spirit was partially present in the old Jerusalem prior to the work of Christ awaits our analysis of Gal. 3:14.)
Therefore, to distinguish the semi-eschatological situation of the old covenant from that of the new covenant, we will call it partially mixed eschatology. It is only partially mixed because 1) the Spirit of God remained transcendent and only voluntarily and temporarily abode in the land of Israel (i.e., the Spirit's presence was not absolutized in the land), and 2) though the righteous in Israel experienced the Spirit's presence in the land in the blessings and curses of the old covenant, they also experienced the transcendent presence of the Spirit even when they lost the blessings of Canaan. Yet, this mixed situation (found among other places in Romans 7:5, 7-28) was transcended by the semi-eschatological justification and sanctification of the new creation in Christ (Romans 8:1ff.), bringing about the clearer semi-eschatological distinction found in the Spirit/flesh contrast of Galatians 5.
Semi-Eschatological Sonship in Christ
The theme of sonship is crucial to Paul's argument of semi-eschatological fulfillment in 4:26-29, appearing throughout chapter 4 and bringing us to the end of chapter 3. There, in verse 26 we read, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
The context indicates that Paul is speaking here of an historical transition from the coming of the Law (v. 17) to the coming of faith (v. 23). Under the Law there was a distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female. Now we might ask, "What distinction was somewhat common to them all?"
Verse 18 along with Paul's earlier quotes from the law (vv. 10, 12, and 13) seem to tip us off. In verse 18 Paul contrasts inheritance given by law to that given by promise. And distinctions related to inheritance of the land were common to the three pairs of verse 28. Under the law there were distinctions between Jew and Greek as to inheritance in the land. The Jew possessed the inheritance, the Greek did not. And even within the land there was a distinction between the slave and the free. The free man had more of an inheritance in the land than the slave. And under most circumstances the man, rather than the woman, received the inheritance. (A woman was often thought to possess the inheritance either through her father or husband.)
The fact that the theme of inheritance is critically important here is underlined by the theme of sonship which surrounds verse 28. It is explicit in verse 26 and implicit in verse 29. Verse 29 specifically speaks of being heirs. The son was the heir, and he was an heir of the inheritance. Thus, now that all Christians have sonship in the Son of God, they are all equally heirs of the inheritance in Christ.
Paul indicates that this inheritance is the eschatological inheritance by saying that they are "Abraham's" seed (because they are united to Christ, the seed) and heirs according to the "promise." This picks up the transition from the inheritance under the law to the eschatological inheritance (the promised Spirit, v. 14). This transition was effected when Christ bore the curse that kept God's people from the fullness of the inheritance (v. 13).
Therefore, Paul's statement "you are all one in Christ Jesus" is a relative contrast to the situation under the law in which some possessed more of the inheritance than others. This entails some significant implications for Paul's understanding of semi-eschatological union with Christ and the Church's semi-eschatological union with one another. That is, Paul believed that these two relationships of union represented a relative contrast to the law. The members of the Church participate in a greater union with one another than did the righteous in Israel.
They also participate in a greater union with God, and this is the basis for their greater union with one another. This is further substantiated by the way Paul associates being "in Christ" with receiving the "Spirit." And in each case Paul is referring to the eschatological gift of the Spirit which is given to the Church after the completion of Christ's redemptive work (Gal. 3:13, 14; 4:5,6). Through this greater participation in the Spirit, the new covenant Church possesses a greater union with God himself, crying out "Abba, Father."
Forensic semi-eschatological adoption brings with it a greater participation in the Spirit, a vital birth from the Jerusalem above. And these together compose the semi-eschatological sonship which brings the Church beyond the law.
Paul's Metaphysics and Eschatology
Paul's connection of the Spirit with the eschatological Jerusalem above (4:26-29) tells us something about his metaphysical assumptions. The Church participates in a greater union with God at the same time that she participates in greater eschatological fullness. She participates in this greater eschatological fullness because she participates in a greater union with God in the Spirit of Christ. This connection between the Spirit and eschatology is so intimate that Paul can claim that when the Gentiles receive the eschatological inheritance promised to Abraham they are receiving the promised Spirit (3:14).
Therefore, Paul distinguishes the realm of the flesh in which God is omnipresent from the realm of the Spirit. In this way, he brings the special presence of the old covenant to a greater fullness, a fullness that allows him to more clearly distinguish it from the realm of the flesh.
The metaphysical nature of Paul's transcendent (vertical) eschatology has been ignored by many biblical scholars. This is partially because modern biblical scholarship in the last two hundred years has largely been influenced by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Following Hume's radical empiricism, leading to his skepticism of metaphysical causation, Kant denied the possibility of any descriptive metaphysics. As a result, most biblical scholars under Kant's influence have only spoken of some non-descriptive ontology at best. Take for instance Bultmann's adoption of Heidegger's ontology, an ontology that can't be described in the same way that traditional metaphysics is articulated. These scholars have anachronistically imported their post-Kantian views of metaphysics back into the Apostle Paul. Thus, they have interpreted his eschatology non-metaphysically. The result is a purely horizontal eschatology as we have noted in Ernst Kasemann and Jurgen Moltmann.
However, these purely horizontal and non-metaphysical eschatological approaches to Paul fall short of reconciling his positive and negative statements about the law.
What is needed is a reevaluation of Paul's eschatology in his own biblical and historical context. This cannot be done in detail here, but we have begun to see in Galatians its vertical and metaphysical nature.
For Paul, eschatological justification is the judicial basis for this greater eschatological/metaphysical union with God. Picking up the theme of inheritance in verse 18, Paul fleshes out eschatological justification in terms of the new eschatological inheritance above. The eschatological nature of justification also indicates that Luther was correct in recognizing the forensic character of justification12 since eschatology is inseparable from the forensic sphere.
In Galatians 3:10-12 Paul reflects on the blessings and curses of the law. In verse 10 Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26, which concludes a list of the law's curses.13 These curses fit with an enumeration of blessings and curses that will come upon Israel in relationship to her inheritance in the land (Deut. 28). To the degree that Israel was obedient to the covenant, she would be blessed in the inheritance and to the degree that she was disobedient, she would be cursed.14 In other words, to the same degree that she was not blessed, she would be cursed (in relationship to the inheritance).
Paul picks up this disobedience and curse and develops its eschatological implications. If law keeping is not eschatologically perfect, it deserves eschatological curse in relation to the eternal inheritance of God (3:10). That is, any violation of the law deserves eternal condemnation.15 This is the main reason why Israel's obedience to the law could not eliminate the curse from the inheritance and bring in the eschatologically righteous inheritance.
Paul reflects on this imperfection of Israel's obedience and their blessings in the land (verse 12, quoting Lev. 18:5). Leviticus 18:5 is the blessing section of the covenantal structure of Leviticus 18:1-5, indicating that verse 5 is not simply a tautology (as would be the case if it meant "if a person does them, he shall practice them"). Rather "live by them" means "have life in them."
Further, by contrasting Leviticus 18:5 with 18:24-30 we see that the life promised is life in the land. In Lev. 18:25, 27, and 28 the land becomes unclean as a result of disobedience and therefore vomits out its unclean inhabitants. According to Leviticus's holy/common, clean/unclean distinctions (Lev. 10:10) this implies that the land is "holy."16 This holiness is dependent on the already of God's special presence in the land through the sanctuary (Lev. 23:2-5). As a result, disobedience defiles the land, bringing curse.
By contrast, obedience must bring the blessing of life because it plays a part in sanctifying the holy land. (Offering sacrifices and cutting off lawbreakers also plays a part in this.) This process of sanctifying the inheritance is based on the already of God's special presence (through the gracious covenant at Mt. Sinai), and implies that the further sanctification of the inheritance extends God's presence in the land either extensively or intensively. For every new blessing in the land is a further communication of God's presence to his people. Therefore, obedience to the law (the works of the law), including obedience to the sacrificial and judicial law, brought the further blessing of God's Spirit to the inheritance.
When Christ bore the curse of the law eschatologically, he completely eliminated the curse from the inheritance and brought the fullness of the Spirit (Gal. 3:13 and 14). So now the inheritance of God's people can not include any land in this present cursed age but must simply be the Spirit himself (v. 14), the heavenly Jerusalem. And since this inheritance is transcendent (and not localized on earth), it can be offered equally to the Gentiles throughout the world.
Therefore, the presence of the Spirit in the land is finally realized in the fullness of the Spirit as the inheritance in Christ. The Spirit's presence given by both covenants provides a synthetic relationship between them. And since this synthetic relationship is one of development, we are justified in calling it an organic relationship to distinguish it from Hegel's notion of development through contradiction. (More on this soon.) For the moment, this organic relationship allows us to speak of the Spirit's presence in the land as a less full manifestation of the eschatological Spirit. That is, the Spirit's presence in the land represented partially mixed eschatology.
This is substantiated by Paul's transition from verse 13 to 14 (Gal. 3). For when the curse of the law which separated God's people from the full blessing of the inheritance (vv. 10, 11, and 12) was removed (v. 13), they were granted access to the eschatological inheritance (the promise of the Spirit, v. 14). This only makes sense if the eschatological Spirit was present to some degree in the land. For only then would the curse partially separating them from the land partially separate them from the Spirit. And only then would a redemption which redeemed them in relation to the inheritance redeem them in relation to the Spirit (bringing in the eschatological inheritance of the Spirit.) In other words, only if the land was the inheritance because the Spirit was present there would the final redemption bring the saints into semi-eschatological union with the Spirit, the source of the land's inheritance status, allowing the land to be transcended.
The organic connection between the inheritance in the land and the inheritance above that is established by the presence of the Spirit helps us to appreciate how Paul could eschatologize the curse of the law. That is, how he could take the relative curse in the land for relative disobedience and also see in it a promise of eternal condemnation for any violation of the law. For it is the Spirit's presence in the land which is the foundation for the curse. Therefore, when the fullness of the Spirit comes this requires eternal curse for any violation of the law. And this final eschatological situation is what ultimately defines everyone's relationship to their Creator.
In addition, Paul's quotes in Galatians 3:10 and 12 are connected by the verb "to do." The one who does not do the law is cursed and the one who does the law is blessed with life.17 This reflects the fact that in the old covenant the blessing for obedience is the flip side of the curse for disobedience. And just as Paul eschatologized the curse, it is reasonable to believe that Paul's statements in Galatians 5:3 and 4 (interpreted in the light of eschatological justification) suggest that he also developed the blessings of the law eschatologically.18 Perfect obedience to the law would bring to the law keeper eschatological justification and entrance into the eternal blessedness of the eschatological inheritance above.
In Galatians 5:3 and 4, Paul suggests that those who reject Christ are under law (5:1 and 18) and are obligated to keep the whole law perfectly if they are to be justified. On the other hand, the fact that Christ was born under law (Gal. 4:4) suggests that Christ himself has fulfilled this requirement of perfect obedience as the means to earn resurrection life in the inheritance above, both for himself and for believers. (This underscores the positive righteousness of Christ in eschatological justification.)
The language of life in Christ (Gal. 2:19 and 20) implies the same thing. Here Paul contrasts living to God in Christ with living to the law (the opposite of "died to the law," v. 19). His quotation of Lev. 18:5 shortly afterward is no mistake, for it helps him explain living to the law. Therefore, eschatological justification/ life in Christ is set in opposition to life by means of obedience to the law.19 And since the blessing of life in the land is dependent on the Spirit's presence, it is organically connected to life in Christ. And if this life is organically related, so is the obedience which brings it, implying that Christ's perfect obedience was at work in eschatological justification.
We have now noted how Paul picks up the promises of relative blessing for relative obedience and relative curse for relative disobedience in the land and relates them organically to the final absolute eschatological situation, that is perfect obedience brings eternal justification and any transgression eternal curse. We can now observe that the blessings and curses of the law are blessings and curses of the old covenant (which Paul contrasts to the new in Gal. 4:24-26). It is reasonable to conclude that Paul therefore recognized an organic connection between the old and new covenant as well as between the old and new Jerusalem. This organic development would also be dependent on the presence of the Spirit administered in each covenant and associated with each city.
It also follows that the indicate/imperative structure of both covenants should also be organically related, suggesting that Paul compared and contrasted the already/not-yet scheme of the old covenant with the already/not-yet scheme of the new covenant.
Eschatological justification in Christ means that believers in Christ are no longer cursed in relation to anything that is considered their inheritance in God. In keeping with organic development, we can say that this has brought a greater freedom for the children of God. For while righteous Israel was freed from bondage to this world (in which the Gentiles found their entire lives), she was not as fully freed as the new covenant sons of God would later be. For the law still called her to find confirmation for her obedience in the blessings of this world. And to that degree she was still in bondage to the world. The fact that the Psalmists recognize that the wicked were often blessed instead of the righteous is in keeping with the organic development Paul sees flowering in Christ. However, by the standards of Deuteronomy, righteous Israel was in some sense cursed in relation to her inheritance in the land even while she was eternally justified in her ultimate eschatological relationship with God (Romans 4:7 and 8). Now that eschatological justification has come in Christ, the saints are justified in relation to everything that is their inheritance in him. They, therefore, have a greater freedom, greater peace, and greater joy in the midst of suffering in Christ Jesus.
Absolute or Relative Contrast
It is often asked whether Paul's contrast between the old covenant (law) and the new covenant (gospel) is absolute or relative. Our discovery of the organic relationship between the covenants seems to indicate both. That is, the contrast is both relative and absolute in the same words (that is, Paul's words) but not in the same relation. As a result, both can exist simultaneously in the same words without being a contradiction.
Organic unfolding goes from relative blessing for relative obedience in the land to absolutely curseless and righteous blessing (in the inheritance above) for absolutely perfect obedience. This organic development indicates a movement from the relative to the absolute. Since this entire organic continuum is indicated by Paul when he contrasts the law to the gospel, we are justified in saying that his contrast between the old and new covenants is both absolute and relative in the same words but not in the exact same relation.
Thus, many of the texts in which Paul speaks of what Christ has done for us have both an absolute meaning when placed against the background of life under complete wrath and the law's absolute legal demand and a relative meaning when placed against the background of the life of righteous Israel under the law.
For the same reason, numerous texts in Paul which speak about the believer's transfer from this evil age into union with Christ speak of ordo salutis and historia salutis in the same words but not in the exact same relation (though these relations are intimately united).
The simultaneous existence of the absolute contrast with the relative contrast may also help explain how Paul can move so easily from what seems to be simply a relative historical contrast with what seems to be an absolute contrast with the pagan world (Gal. 4:1-7 and 8-11).
The fact that interpreters in the history of exegesis have recognized both a relative contrast and/or an absolute contrast tends to lend support for this thesis. On the other hand, the fact that the denial of either has lead to other problems of interpretation also seems to lend it support. For instance, some who have denied the absolute contrast between the law and the gospel have also denied the forensic declarative nature of justification. For they turn the gospel into a new law through which believers are justified.
On the other hand, those who deny the relative contrast often fall into two difficulties. They often claim that Paul denied the gracious nature of the old covenant, making it simply a covenant of works. This is at odds with the old covenant itself. For there the covenantal unity of God with his people is the basis of their possession of the law (Exodus 20:2). And it is hard to imagine that the Apostle of Romans 1-3 could possibly imagine that the old covenant bound God to his people without being a covenant of grace. This view is also at odds with sentiments found in intertestamental Judaism. Thus, the relative contrast frees Paul from misinterpreting the Old Testament. Second, the denial of the relative contrast implicitly denies the organic connection of the old law and new standard of the Spirit in Christ. Thus, some who deny the relative contrast interpret Paul to mean that Christians are no longer related to the law as a rule of life. But this is at odds with Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:8-10.
Because of its importance, let's look a little more carefully at the distinction between the absolute and relative contrasts. One perspective from which to view this distinction is that of human response. In the words "the law is not of faith" (Gal. 3:12), was Paul denying that righteous Israel under the law laid hold of the law by faith? In answering this, we can note that before writing Galatians Paul wrote that the Psalmist had the same spirit of faith as he (2 Cor. 4:13). Since "faith" (v. 13) is connected to "knowing" that God will raise us from the dead in Christ (v. 14), it has an eschatological orientation. By saying we have the same spirit of faith as the Psalmist, he implies that the Psalmist's faith was also eschatologically oriented and ultimately focused on the resurrection life in Christ. However, the Psalmist's eschatological deliverance was mediated through the theocracy and the blessing of life in the land. This is indicated through the Psalm's continual reference to his deliverance (Psalm 116:1-9). While it could be argued that God's mercy to the Psalmist was greater than that originally administered under the law, it is clear that God's mercy was at least partially administered through his earthly deliverance that is associated with the law and theocracy. Thus, this mercy should in some way be connected with the law itself. Therefore, the Psalmist's faith is in some sense faith in the redemptive promises of the law. This further indicates that Paul looked upon the old covenant as a covenant of grace, even though Israel's disobedience to the conditional promises of this gracious covenant took on the character of bringing curse on the inheritancethereby setting up Paul's contrast between Israel's disobedience and the work of Christ.
Further, just as Paul saw an organic relationship between the partially mixed inheritance in the land and the eschatological inheritance above, he also saw an organic relationship between the faith that lays hold of their respective blessings. For both are ultimately eschatological. Thus, it would be wrong to use Paul's contrast between the law and gospel in Galatians 3:12 (the law is not of faith) to claim that the old covenant was simply a covenant of works. And as there is a continuity and discontinuity between the deliverance of the Psalmist and the deliverance of Paul, it is reasonable to say that there is a relative contrast between their faith. However, in 2 Cor. 4:13 Paul preferred to focus on the similarity.
Therefore, the contrast in Gal. 3:12 (the law is not of faith) is relative when Paul is comparing the way in which righteous Israel laid hold of the law to the fuller faith that has come in Christ. They did not lay hold of the law with the same degree of faith that the Church now lays hold of the gospel. However, their faith did lay hold of the final resurrection/redemption in Christ through the old covenant and its organic connection to the new.
On the other hand, there were those in the old covenant period who did not lay hold of the law by faith at all, but lived as if righteousness ultimately comes by works alone. These were under the law in its absolute contrast to the gospel.20 (They only participated in the relative blessings and curses of the law by way of their external covenant identity with believing Israel.)
This later class of people is similar to those in the new covenant age who keep the whole law (including circumcision) because they believe it is necessary to salvation. While righteous Israel obeyed the whole law as necessary, the implication is that they would have ceased to do so once Christ (as the fulfillment of the law) had been crucified and risen, bringing in the semi-eschatological age. For the focus of their faith would have arrived in its fullness in the eschatological inheritance above. However, those who now keep the whole law out of necessary compulsion after the crucifixion (Gal. 3:1) show that their focus is simply on receiving an earthly inheritance. As a result they do not lay hold of the law and its ultimate transcendent inheritance by any degree of faith (despite their confession to the contrary). Instead, they lay hold of it as if it were by works alone. As a result the absolute contrast speaks to them. In this way Paul's polemic against Judaizers is related to the absolute contrast.
Paul, by indicating that Christ bore the curse of the law, also indicates that Christ was under the law in this absolute sense. In Romans this allowed Paul to base the redemptive work of Christ on his strict obedience (5:18 and 19), rather than on prior redemptive grace (which would have ultimately led to a circular argument). At the same time (following the pattern of Adam before the fall), anyone who keeps the whole law perfectly deserves relative blessings in this life apart from redemptive grace. In this way, Christ was under the relative blessing/cursing scheme of the law (apart from grace). However, instead of receiving the blessings, he finally received the curses because he bore their absolute eschatological fullness. Being under the law in these ways allowed Christ to identify with both Jews and Gentiles and redeem them from the curse of the law through strict obedience (and justice).
Finally, because the relative contrast is organically related to the absolute contrast, it can foreshadow the absolute contrast. This allows Paul to compare and contrast Israel's relative obedience (and disobedience) to the law with Christ's absolute obedience to the law. Without both the relative and absolute contrasts and their organic relation, it wouldn't seem possible for Paul to relate Israel's history in the land to Christ.
This also holds true for the period between Sinai and Canaan. This is because the tabernacle presence of God inflicted curses upon lawbreakers, keeping them from entering the land with its partially mixed eschatological blessings. Therefore, while this period of waiting is distinguished from entrance into the blessed land, it is still related to it as a period under the law (e.g., Rom. 7:9). As a result, without the relative contrast, how could Paul relate Christ and his people to Israel's history in the wilderness after Sinai (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:3-11)? But this is what he does when he implicitly relates the "spiritual" drink of the rock (Christ) to the glory cloud (as Exodus 17:6 does).21 So, he enfolds Christ in the Spirit (as the resurrected Christ, 1 Cor. 15:44-47) and thus in the cloud. And because of this connection the rock "followed" them (1 Cor. 10: 4). This also suggests that Paul associated the rock with Christ both times God brought water from the rock, and one of these was after Sinai (Num. 20:8-11). In this way, Paul's typology of the law is dependent on Christ's partial eschatological presence in the law. And this partial eschatological presence is the basis of the partially mixed eschatology of the land as the Spirit's presence makes it a habitation of God (Gal. 3: 13-14; Exodus 15: 17; see also Deut. 8: 15-18 which illustrates the gracious character of the blessings of the land by relating them to the blessings of the wilderness).
The eschatological basis for Paul's typology of the law is further understood when we compare the connection of the Spirit's presence in the two eschatological schemes (as administered by the two covenants) with Paul's indication that the Psalmist was laying hold of Christ's resurrection life by faith through his deliverance from death in the land. Thus, the old covenant must have revealed the future resurrection life of Christ to him, though dimly. Otherwise, how could he lay hold of it by faith? But how did the old covenant do this? The answer seems to be: through the partially mixed eschatology administered in the land.
The ontological basis for this is again seen in the connection between the life of Christ and the blessing of the land as it is stated in the following words: since the basis of the eschatological presence of the Spirit in the new covenant is the work of Christ, it is understandable that by laying hold of the future resurrection life of Christ (as that life was mediated through the old covenant) the Psalmist laid hold of the blessing of the Spirit in the land, which blessing brought life in the land. The Psalmist had the end from the beginning as it was mediated to him through the law. And it is only because Israel as a whole had the end from the beginning (after the fall) that her obedience and blessedness could serve as a type of the work of Christ and his kingdom.
Paul's typology is ultimately founded on his eschatology. That is, in the order of being, eschatology precedes typology. Those who claim that Paul's statements about the relationship between the old and new covenants should only be interpreted as absolute contrasts undermine the metaphysical basis for the typological function of the old covenant. For Paul's typology of the law is dependent on the partially mixed eschatology of the lawan eschatology which can never bring Israel even imperfect blessings for her imperfect sinful obedience unless they are administered by a gracious covenant. And without these blessings, the law can not point foreward to the kingdom to come in Christ.
No Distinction, the Organic Development of the Law
Now we return to Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, but you are all one in Christ Jesus." For Paul the Gentile world is ultimately characterized by hatred and distinguishing oneself from others by one's earthly position. While Israel was unified by the old covenant and its administration of God's redemptive presence, we have seen that Paul believed there was greater unity between new covenant believers in the inheritance above in Christ.
Our discussion of eschatological justification has now allowed us to see the judicial basis for this greater union. As an example, under the law the free man participated in more of the blessing of the inheritance than the slave. And to the degree that one did not participate in the blessing of the inheritance s/he was cursed in relation to the inheritance. Thus, the slave was generally more cursed in relation to the inheritance than the free man. Thus, the distinction between the two.
However, with the arrival of semi-eschatological justification in Christ, neither the slave nor the free man is cursed in relation to anything that is their inheritance in God. They are equally blessed and equally possessors of the eschatological inheritance above in Christ. That is, they both equally possess the fullness of the Spirit, semi-eschatologically.
What does this have to do with the organic development of the law? Sinful boasting is founded on worldly distinctions and is set over against love. While Israel's redemption and union freed her from boasting to some degree and called her to love, the difference in inheritance rights still allowed some degree of boasting. Now that eschatological justification has arrived in Christ, boasting is excluded because all in Christ equally possess the inheritance of the Spirit. Thus, they are called to a greater degree of love than old covenant Israel.
This point is strengthened by Galatians 6:12-16. As we noted earlier, Galatians 6:14 has some similarities to 3:28. In 6:14 the distinction between circumcision and uncircumcision is contrasted to the eschatological new creation. In keeping with Paul's overall argument, circumcision is associated with receiving an earthly inheritance (thus, the contrast to the heavenly new creation). As a result, circumcision allows one to boast in the flesh (vv. 12 and 13), i.e., to boast in the world (v. 14) and its possession.
To the degree that Israel possessed the land as her inheritance (through circumcision), to that degree she possessed the world. And to that degree Israelites could still boast in the flesh. What is more, the circumcised could boast over against the uncircumcised because the land they possessed was the inheritance of God and their blessedness in it was related to their performing the works of the law. However, now that Christ has died (Gal. 2:19; 3:1, 13; 6:14) Paul has been crucified to the older inheritance and made a participant in the new creation (6:15). As a result he can only boast in the cross which has effected this transition, living as one dead to the world by suffering persecution in union with his crucified savior (6:14 and 12).
The older inheritance with its promise of earthly blessing did not call for this degree of cross-bearing. However, the new and greater semi-eschatological life of believers in Christ allows them to possess all the blessings of the inheritance above (because of eschatological justification) in the midst of suffering loss in this world. In this way, they suffer in greater union with their savior.
This greater cross-bearing allows for greater love as believers more fully "bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).
Thus, eschatological justification abolishes distinctions of inheritance and allows the Church to suffer in greater conformity with Christ, both of which call the Church to greater love.
No matter how you interpret Gal. 5:14 (either as love keeping the law, as love fulfilling the law like the works of Christ fulfill prophecy, or as love heading up all the old covenant commandmentslike Romans 13:9), it indicates that with the organic development of love comes the organic development of all the other old covenant imperatives (along with their indicatives).
Thus, as a result of eschatological justification the law is organically developed, even in its capacity as a rule of life.
In other words, the greater metaphysical/eschatological relation believers have with God as a result of eschatological justification (Gal. 3:28) brings them into closer covenantal union with God's divine attributes; and this gives them greater responsibility.
This will become important in Romans where the law written on the heart is dependent on eschatological justification. For example, the following words are dependent on eschatological justification (Rom. 3:28) and can be understood in both a relative and absolute sense: "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what law? That of works? No, but by the law of faith" (Rom. 3:27).
This is also reflected in Galatians 2:11-21. There Paul refutes Peter's neglect of new covenant table fellowship by bringing up eschatological justification (Gal. 2:15 and 16). Peter has separated himself from table fellowship with the uncircumcised in accordance with the holiness code of the old covenant. This further supports the fact that Paul's teaching of justification is set in relative contrast to the law, for if Paul were simply talking about a justification that is always in every time exactly the same in every respect, what good would it do to bring it up in this context? Only if his teaching of justification brings believers beyond the administration of the old covenant can he use it to refute Peter's attempt to return to the holiness code of the old covenant.
However, as in Galatians 3, justification in Christ is eschatological, and by eliminating the curse of the law which distinguished the circumcised from the uncircumcised, it refutes Peter's attempt to separate himself from Gentiles in table fellowship. Eschatological justification implies that the Gentiles are no longer unclean in Christ. Once again, this greater unity calls Christians to greater love.
In accordance with this greater calling, Paul says that Peter's conduct was not in step with "the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:14) though presumably it was in accordance with the law prior to the coming of Christ.
Finally, Paul notes that Peter feared those who were of the circumcision. This fear of men is associated with the hypocrisy mentioned twice in verse 13. However, Paul contrasts his boldness before them all to this fear of men (v. 14). The repetition of this theme indicates its importance and suggests that it picks up Paul's discussion in Gal. 1:10 in which seeking to please men is set in opposition to being a servant of Christ who seeks to please God.
In accordance with our previous observations, it also suggests that Paul believed the gospel indicatives and imperatives call believers to greater freedom from fear than did the law (in which one's covenant life was still bound up with an inheritance in this world and in which one could boast before others and so fear the face of men).
But now in Christ faith lays hold of the invisible inheritance above, the true possession of which is seen by God alone. Therefore, we must fear and please him alone. In this way, Paul brings the fear of God found in the law to a greater fullness through its greater semi-eschatological context.
Live by this Rule, Life in the Spirit
We have observed that the old covenant law was founded on the metaphysical presence of the Spirit with Israel. God's presence with Israel is then organically developed into the fullness of the eschatological inheritance of the Spirit. Therefore, the law founded upon God's presence with Israel is organically developed into the standard of the Spirit's presence with the Church (Gal. 6:16).
It is not surprising then to find that Paul tells Christians to "walk" by the "rule" of the new creation (Gal. 6:16). For the new creation is associated with the objective realm of the Spirit. (This reflects Isaiah's connection of the new creation with the eschatological Jerusalem; Is. 66:7-14, 20-23; Gal. 4:28 with 6:16.) Therefore, he also tells Christians to "walk" in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). The fact that the Spirit is an objective realm in which believers walk allows the Spirit to be an objective rule of life. In this way the realm of the Spirit as a rule is the organic unfolding of the law as a rule of life.
As we noted earlier, the semi-eschatological contrast between the flesh and the Spirit brings us beyond the partially mixed eschatology of the old covenant. (Thus, we can interpret the Spirit/flesh contrast as a relative contrast as well as an absolute contrast.) This is further substantiated by the words "if you are lead by the Spirit you are not under law" (Gal. 5:18) because this is both an absolute and relative contrast. In addition, being under law includes being under the blessing/curse scheme of the old covenant (compare Gal. 3:10, 22, 23, 25; 4:2, 4, 21; 5:18) in a relative or absolute sense (3:13-14, 22-26; 4:3-5). Therefore, when someone is lead by the Spirit, they have obviously received eschatological justification. In other words, once again eschatological justification sets the stage for the organic development of the law in the rule of the Spirit.22
Three examples should suffice to illustrate how this contrast between the flesh and Spirit is relative and how the standard of the Spirit is the organic unfolding of the standard of the law.
First, we return to the fact that the whole law is fulfilled in love (5:14). This theme recurs throughout chapter 5 (explicitly in 5:6, 14, 22 and implicitly from 5:6-6:17). In fact, we can say that life in the Spirit is defined by union with the love of Christ. Love is intimately united with the eschatological realm of the Spirit just as its opposites arise from a life focused on the flesh. Thus, envy (vv. 21 and 26), strife (vv. 15 and 20), and boasting (v. 26) are set in opposition to love. All that we have observed about boasting in relation to the relative contrast of the covenants can be related to the Spirit/flesh contrast.
Now, let us reflect on envy. The kind of sinful envy that Paul opposes is envying others for their worldly possessions, status, etc. In other words, envy arises out of a person's heart to the degree that s/he is focused on receiving earthly blessings. As the inheritance in Israel was partially earthly, even righteous Israel still had its eye partially upon the blessings of this world as a sign of God's covenant favor. This allowed some degree of envy and strife over worldly goods (even though envying, coveting, and strife were reduced and forbidden by way of God's presence with his people and the way he allotted the inheritance). However, in the new covenant, believers in Christ have an equal judicial share in everything that is considered their inheritance in God. This allows their standard of obedience to have a single covenantal focus on the things above. To the degree that they set their minds above, on that which has been given them in Christ, they will be content and at peace, not needing to envy one another, but instead rejoicing in the bounty they share together in Christ. Thus, life in the Spirit is ultimately geared toward love for others and peace in the Church. Their resurrection blessings in Christ will content believers to deny themselves the things of this world for the sake of one another. In this way the law's command not to covet is organically developed into greater fullness in the rule of the Spirit.
Finally, consider the fruit of joy (Gal. 5:22). The old covenant called Israel to rejoice in God's redemption and in the law which reflected it. Paul himself recognizes that righteous Israel under the law inwardly rejoiced in the law of God (Rom. 7:22). However, this joy was partially dependent on the way in which Israel saw God triumph over their worldly enemies and gave them earthly security in the land. Therefore, Jeremiah is believed to have written the book of Lamentations (in which Israel's joy is diminished) shortly after Jerusalem fell to its enemies.
Paul's claim that the fruit of the Spirit is joy reflects his belief that the final eschatological Jerusalem above has arrived through the redemptive work of Christ (Gal. 4:27 "Rejoice" with 4:26). God's eschatological triumph in Christ (eschatological justification) is therefore the organic unfolding of his redemptive acts administered under the old covenant. As a result, the joy of the Spirit in the eschatological Jerusalem above (which can never be cursed) is the organic unfolding of the joy that Israel had in the law of God.
Conclusion to Galatians
Paul was troubled by those who were troubling the Galatian church. These troublers preached that one must be circumcised to participate in sonship in Abraham. However, Christ has died to this world and the old covenant's earthly inheritance. Therefore, to believe that circumcision is necessary to bring one into full participation of the blessings of salvation is like saying that an earthly inheritance similar to that of the old covenant is still the inheritance of God's people. It is to deny the semi-eschatological nature of the inheritance in Christ. For circumcision was partially a sign that either one's self and/or one's descendants would participate in the land with its Deuteronomic blessings and curses. To preach circumcision is to preach that Christians are still under the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy in their earthly theocratic sense rather than in their semi-eschatological fulfillment in Christ. It is therefore to deny eschatological justification.
Those in the Galatian church that bought into this could then boast in their earthly blessings over against other Christians in Galatia. This set the stage for envying one another for their respective earthly attainments. And it lead to the confusion and lack of unity that Paul is concerned about.
However, for Paul, the curses of the covenant have been borne for the Church eschatologically in Christ's death on the cross, and the blessings of the covenant have been given them semi-eschatologically in the inheritance above in Christ. All in the Church equally participate in Christ as their inheritance and in one another in him. There is nothing to boast in, nothing to envy one another for, for they all have the semi-eschatological life that is found in blessed union with God himself. For they are united to his eschatological love in Christ through the supreme act in which he gave himself up for them on the cross. And this is so that they may be crucified to the world and may rejoice in his life forevermore.
This is the unity to which the Church is called. And in this love she embodies the eschatological love of her savior who is united to her in the sweetest communion of love.
This is freedom from the world, this crucifixion to the worldand to that degree crucifixion to the lawthat she may live out of the eschatological fullness of the law that is in Christ Jesus.
This is the arrival of the prophetic promises of Isaiah (now semi-eschatologically realized) in which the eschatological fullness of the law would go forth from Zion, where the nations would stream to the eschatological Jerusalem above, where they would put away their swords, where there would be peace and harmony forevermore, for they have been made at peace with their great God and Kingeschatologically justifiedand made to rest in his bosom as a new creation in the Spirit, a union of love forevermore.
Romans Develops Galatians
We have seen in Galatians that the organic development of the law in the rule of the Spirit (and semi-eschatological sanctification) are distinct but inseparable from eschatological justification. Paul develops this in Romans by giving the law an eschatological orientation (2:8 and 9, doing good = seeking eternal life. Recognizing the simultaneous absolute and relative contrasts helps unravel some of the difficulties of Romans 2). Then he claims that the law with its eschatological orientation comes to greater fullness in writing the law on the heart (Rom. 2:29). This language is picked up in Romans 7:6 which sets the stage for Romans 8:1ff., indicating that life in the Spirit is associated with having the law written on the heart (which is dependent on eschatological justification; 8:1 and 31-39). This reflects Jer. 31:34 (eschatological justification) with 31:33 (the law written on the heart).
Romans 8 and 7:6 also are in relative contrast to the situation in Romans 7:5, 7-25 in which righteous Israel could not do the law (Rom. 7:15-21 with the eschatological focus of 2:8 and 9). However, righteous Israel's desire to do the good, holy, and spiritual law (7:12, 13, 14, 18, 19, and 22; a desire which can only arise from the law's gracious nature) is positively fulfilled in those in Christ through life in the Spirit (8:1ff.).
Romans 3, 4, and 5 make similar arguments, establishing the law in its organic fullness through eschatological justification. For instance, Romans 3:27, in which eschatological justification sets the stage to organically develop the law's prohibition against boasting, allows Paul to say that the gospel establishes the law (3:31 with 4:2).
Then, in Romans 10:5, eschatological justification allows the word of the law to come to its fullness in the gospel and come so near to one as to be written on the heart (10:6-10). In Romans 12:1, as a result of eschatological mercy, Paul identifies the church so closely with the fulness of the law in Christ that he calls them to live as semi-eschatological sacrifices.
Finally, Romans 13:8-10 indicates that all the commandments of the law are summed up in love. But Paul does not suggest that the command of love in its simple form replaces the need to interpret the particulars of the law in light of it (anti-nomianism). Instead, his overall approach to articulating specific fruits of the Spirit and works of the flesh (Gal. 5) indicates that he interpreted the particulars of the law in light of their fullness in Christ and their unity in the new realm of the Spirit. And he did not leave the Church to simply reflect upon the imperatives he explicitly interpreted. For, after articulating some of the commands, he says "and if there be any other commandment" it is also summed up in love.23 And since Paul has elsewhere viewed love eschatologically in Christ (Gal. 5; Rom. 8:35 and 39, 5:5), all the commandments are summed up in Christ and the rule of the Spirit of life in him.
And governing Paul's argument in Romans is his conviction that God has glorified himself more fully in Christ (Rom. 3:21, 26; 5:2; 9:17, 23-26; 11:33-36; 15:9; 16:27). God has triumphed in Christ, bringing the Spirit's holy war (under the law) to its semi-eschatological fulfillment. Christ rules the new inheritance in the Spirit eschatologically, and therefore no one can exile his people from his presence (Rom. 8:31-39). Let the nations fear and praise his name. This is the divine side of the new covenant in which the human side has its meaning. God has manifest his eschatological glory (which was always his in eternity) more fully in Christ, and has therefore brought his people into greater union with that glory. And thus the law of God's glory comes to its fullness in their hearts in Christ as they praise his name among the nations (Rom. 10:4-13; 15:9).
Here is the law of liberty, here is the life of peace, for in the resurrection of Christ we rejoice in the eschatological exaltation of the glory of God, worshipping him together with one heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
San Diego, California
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1 The following article is dedicated to Bob and Linda Jones, who, along with their
son, Chris, and daughter, Anneka, provided me with the hospitality and encouragement to begin
my first year of Th.M. studies.