Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Q: Under or Free of the Law?  A: Both

The question of the Mosaic Law—are we bound by it or not?—is usually presented as a false dilemma. Namely:gen

Pick one. Use only a Number 2 pencil:

☐ 1. We are still under the law.
☐ 2. We are not under the law.

The problem is that we neglect a third choice:

☑ 3. We are still under a moral law, but it is not the law handed down to Moses (including The Ten Commandments)—it is the fuller moral law as revealed by Christ himself, primarily via the Sermon on The Mount.

If you get stuck in the false dilemma you will, when reading Paul’s comments on the law, end up with a noggin spinning like a whirling dervish. Paul almost seems to be playing zen come-here, go-away! games with us—are you bound by the law? May it never be! So are you free of the law? May it never be!

But, but...

I have been reading along these lines in the book The Newness of the New Covenant by A. Blake White.

White points out how avoiding the false dilemma makes Paul a bit clearer. (He doesn't cast his arguments in the form of a false dilemma. I'm just paraphrasing--rather crudely.)

As an example, consider this verse:
For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. (1 Cor 7:19)
It doesn’t matter if you are circumcised or not. But keeping the commandments of God—that’s what really counts. Except…circumcision was required under Mosaic law! So is Paul telling us to keep the law or disregard it?

That’s the false dilemma. In fact he is telling us to disregard Mosaic law (circumcision) but to obey another law—and the only thing that can mean is: obey Jesus’ law.

Paul makes this more explicit a bit later:
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (1 Cor 9:20-21)
Paul is saying: To the Jews I appear as Jew, under the law, even though I am not really under the Mosaic law. To the gentiles I appear as free from the law, even though I am not really free from the law, but under Christ’s law.

That is, to the Jew, Paul emphasizes the law; he just doesn’t necessarily mention, at first, that it is not the law of Moses. And to the Gentile, Paul emphasizes freedom from the law; he just doesn’t necessarily mention, at first, that the freedom is from the law of Moses—not from the law of Christ.

Smart man, that Paul. And it is only option three, above, that allows us to make any sense out of Paul’s difficult teachings on the law.

Make sure all erasures are full and complete.

No comments:

Post a Comment