German
English
Turkish
French
Italian
Spanish
Russian
Indonesian
Urdu
Arabic
Persian

Frage 250:

How can you claim to follow Jesus if you do not keep his commandments and do not do what he did? For example, he was circumcised, he did not eat pork. And then comes Paul and changes the laws, although Jesus did not come to change the laws -- and Paul wasn’t even a true disciple. He even opposed Jesus! Why do you obey the words of Paul when they only represent his own opinion?

 

Answer:

Our answer is split into two parts. The first part (A) deals with Paul’s relationship with Jesus. Was Paul really “opposed to Jesus” and his teachings? Then we answer the question: (B) Does Paul’s teaching about the law and its meaning contradict Jesus’s teaching about the law and the way he lived?

 

A. Paul’s relationship with Jesus.

No other character dominates the New Testament to the extent that Paul does, the “Apostle to the gentiles”. This is the title Paul gave himself (Letter to the Romans 11: 13). It was indeed primarily Paul who gave Jesus’s message to the non-Jewish world. He began his active life as a member of the party of the Pharisees who passionately defended the tradition of the fathers. Because he believed the movement started by Jesus to represent a deadly danger to these traditions, he explained in (Galatians 1:13) how he “intensely persecuted the Church of God and tried to destroy it”. But when he suddenly had the “Revelation of Jesus Christ”, which caused him to stop his persecution of Christians, he was also given the request to “proclaim Jesus Christ to the gentiles” (Galatians 1: 12, 16). This is what he proceeded to do with the remaining 30 years of his life.

Of the 13 letters in the New Testament who have Paul’s name as author, four (Galatians, First and Second Corinthians and Romans) are of paramount importance. They are often called Paul’s main epistles. No-one doubts that Paul is the direct author of these epistles. They contain the principles of his theology and his doctrine. All of Paul’s letters are occasional papers. They have been written for a particular situation for particular communities. Up to a point the letter to the Christians in Rome (i.e. Romans) is an exception, as it borders on being a systematic encyclical. Each of these letters emphasises those elements of Paul’s teachings he believed to be particularly relevant to the respective situation and community. One or another phase of his doctrine therefore reached its particular form under the influence of the situation from which the respective letter arose.

 

Saying that Paul proclaimed Jesus’s message to the world of the gentiles immediately gives rise to the question whether his doctrine is a reliable representation of Jesus’s message. As the question highlights, there is a widespread view, often stated with great conviction, that Paul changed the supposedly light and easily comprehensive message of Jesus into a supposedly dark, dogmatic and complicated doctrine for a new church he himself founded. It is said that Paul enforced this conversion to his church not least by means of terrifying sanctions. But does this really correspond to what we can understand from the above writings by Paul himself?

 

Of course there are differences between Jesus and Paul. Paul was not the Messiah, the son of God, the Saviour of the world. Jesus and Paul were both Jews. On the level of human experience they differed in birth, family background, education and training, social environment, temperament and diction. Yet both shocked the guardians of Israel’s law by the freedom with which they treated this law and by their refusal to accept that pious people can find safety before God through their own righteousness. They both battled with the establishment of the High Priest in Jerusalem. Both were killed following a trial in the Roman courts. But mainly: Paul recognised the inwardness of the teaching of Jesus when he, following his example, proclaimed the message of salvation for all those outside the law.

Jesus began his ministry in Galilee with the message that the time had been fulfilled and that the Kingdom of God had arrived with him and in him (Mark 1: 14f). In a similar way Paul writes to the Galatians: “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4: 4f). While the substance of both messages is the same, there is nevertheless a change in perspective: the original proclaimer has become the one proclaimed, because in the meantime there have been Good Friday and Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus. The messages of Jesus and of Paul are therefore not two different types of belief but two different eras of belief. (cf. F. F. Bruce, The Message of the New Testament (Carlisle, 1994), p. 25).

 

The form of Jesus’s proclamations in Galilee with their background of Daniel’s vision of the Kingdom of God and of the Son of Man (cf. Daniel 7: 9-28) would have been as incomprehensible to the gentiles in Corinth as Paul’s proclamations in Corinth would have been for people in Galilee two centuries earlier. In terms of the substance of Paul’s message and Jesus’s message, there is no difference. We just have to take the difference in time and culture between the two situations into account and give them their proper weighting.

While at the time Jesus preached in Galilee the Kingdom of God he spoke about came nearer, the “arrival with power” (Mark 9:1) was in the future, although not in a very distant future. Some of those listening to Jesus were expected to experience it. For Paul, this “arrival with power” had already happened. By now Jesus is “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The power God has demonstrated by resurrecting Jesus from the dead is now working in the followers of Jesus, given to them by the Spirit of God who dwells within them (cf. Romans 8: 9-11). Through the same Spirit God’s love shone into the self giving death of Jesus for the sins of his people, “poured out into their hearts” (Romans 5:5-8). The perspective changed necessarily, because the death and the resurrection of Jesus, which at the time of his ministry in Palestine were events to occur in the future, are now past events. In other words: They form part of a past event during which the saving work of God for the world for all times and all places was set free. This is what the prophets of old had pointed to. The last days have started by they have not yet finished. The hostile powers have been destroyed through God’s acting in Jesus, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death”, and with his destruction the era of the Resurrection will be fulfilled, when God will be “everything in everything” (1 Corinthians 15:15-28). The blessings of this era are already experienced by those who are united in faith with the resurrected Lord: this is the effect of the Spirit they have received as a “pledge” or “first fruits” of the eternal glory that awaits them (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:5, Romans 8:23). Their inner experience already makes them part of the future times, while their mortal body still lives in “these times”. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

 

The change in perspective we become aware of when we move from Jesus to Paul is a change for which Jesus’s own words have prepared us. In absolute terms it is a change that can be dated back to the year 30 AD. In empirical terms it is a change that occurs every time when a man or a woman find themselves to be “in Christ”, to use an expression Paul uses time and time again. If this change has taken place as a personal experience it revolutionises the fundamental outlook of a person in a comprehensive manner. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:16). These words do not mean that there is no longer any interest in the historical Jesus and only in the raised Lord. No, rather, they mean that the view of Christ of the believer in Christ is radically different from the view of the unbeliever, and that the believer’s view of all of humanity is now shaped by his view of Christ. (Closely modelled on. F. F. Bruce, The Message of the New Testament”. Carlisle, 1994, pp. 24-33.)

 

B. Jesus’s and Paul’s teachings about the law

 

Jesus’s personal approach

(a)

We have to differentiate between Jesus’s view of the old traditions, which were defended by the scribes and the Pharisees, and his view of the Torah, the Law of Moses. Jesus rejected the old traditions because they lead people to violate the law and to destroy the word of God (Mark 12: 28-34). On the other hand, not one jot of the law can be abolished in the Kingdom of God but all must be fulfilled (Matthew 5: 17ff), and Jesus himself observed it (cf. 8:4). As the scribes were faithful to Moses the authority of the Torah had to be accepted, even where it could not be followed (23:2 f).

And still Jesus inaugurates a radical new religious norm with his proclamation of the joyful news of the Kingdom of God; the law and the prophets have come to an end with John the Baptist (Luke 16: 16 par.). The wine of the gospels cannot be poured into the old skins of the statues of the Covenant of Sinai (Mark 2: 21f par.). So wherein lies the fulfilment of the law Jesus brought? First of all, in the fact that the various commandments were put in their rightful place again. His hierarchy of values shows a marked difference to the scribes, who neglected the most important (justice, mercy, good intentions) and overemphasised the unimportant (Matthew 13: 16-26). Furthermore, those imperfections that were still part of the law because of “the hardness of hearts” (19:8) were not to be part of the Kingdom of God. This new code of behaviour is a code of perfection in imitation of God’s perfection (5:21-48). An unachievable ideal measured against the current state of mankind (cf. 19: 10). Jesus therefore did not just give us this law but also an example that infects with enthusiasm, and an inner strength that enables us to observe it: the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 8; John 16: 13).

Finally, the Kingdom of God culminates in the ancient dual command to love God and to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Mark 12: 28-34 par.). Everything revolves around this dual command and everything derives from it. In the relationships between people this golden rule of positive love contains all the law and the prophets (Matthew 7: 12).

(b)

Based on this statement alone Jesus appears to be a giver of laws: Without in the least contradicting Moses he explains his teachings, develops them further and perfects them; so for example when he declares that Sabbath is made for man, not man for Sabbath (Mark 2:33-27par; cf. John 5: 18; 7: 21ff). Occasionally he exceeds the meaning of the texts and places new norms alongside them. For example he confirms the rules of the purity law (Mark 7: 15-23 par.). This surprised his listeners because it set him apart from other rabbis and revealed the awareness of a special authority (2: 22par.). With this, Moses fades into the background. In the Kingdom of God there is now only one teacher (Matthew 23: 10). People must hear his word and act accordingly (7: 24ff). This is the only way they will be able to fulfil the Father’s will (7: 21ff). And just as faithful Jews accept the yoke of the law, as the Rabbis say, so now we have to accept the yoke of Christ and to learn from him (11: 20). Even more: just as the eternal fate of mankind previously depended on their relationship with the law, it is now dependent on their relationship with Jesus (10: 32f). There is no doubt, this is more than Moses. The new law proclaimed by the prophets has come into force.

 

The problem in early Christianity

(a)

Jesus did not condemn the following of Jewish law; on the contrary, he largely obeyed it, whether regarding paying temple tax (Matthew 17: 24-27) or the regulations governing the Passover (Mark 14: 12ff). The Apostolic communities, which remained in temple, at first followed this approach (Acts 2: 46), which is why “the people held them in high regard” (5: 13). Even if they took certain liberties, which the example of Jesus justified (9: 43), they obeyed the law and they even took on pious acts that were not strictly prescribed (18: 18; 21: 23f), and there was no small number of believers who fervently supported the law (21: 20).

(b)

New problems arose, however, when gentiles who were not circumcised joined the faith without becoming Jews. Peter himself baptised the centurion Cornelius after a divine vision had shown him that he must consider that to be pure which God has purified through faith and through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). The opposition of the zealots of the law (11: 2f) collapsed under the proof of divine intervention (11: 4-18). A mass conversion of Greeks in Antioch (11: 20), which was supported by Barnabas and Paul (11: 22-26) led, however, to renewed dispute. Observers from Jerusalem, or better, from the region of James (Galatians 2:12), wanted to force the new converts to observe the Torah (Acts 15:1f. 5). When Peter visited the church at Antioch he did not have a clear view on this (Gal 2: 1f). Paul was the first one who rose to defend the freedom of the gentiles from the Jewish laws (Galatians 2, 14-21). In a meeting held in Jerusalem Peter and James finally agreed with him (Acts 15: 7-19). Even Titus, St. Paul’s companion, was not forced to be circumcised, and the only law he had to observe was to remember the poor and to give alms to the mother church (Galatians 2: 1-10). In addition to this there was a practical rule of behaviour for the benefit of the table fellowship of the Syrian churches (Acts 15: 20f; 21: 25). These liberating decisions left the zealots with a secret unhappiness about St. Paul (cf. 21: 21).

St. Paul’s teachings

In the course of his apostolic ministry among the gentiles St. Paul soon met with resistance from the Jewish Christians, in particular in Galatia, where they organised what can almost be described as a counter mission behind his back (Galatians 1: 6f; 4: 17f). This caused him to write down his thoughts about the law.

(a)

St. Paul is the preacher of the only Good News. Now people are justified by faith in Christ and not by good works and the law (Galatians 2:16. Romans 3: 28). This doctrine is important for two major reasons. On the one hand, St. Paul criticises the uselessness of cultic rites which were part of Judaism, such as circumcision (Galatians 6:12) and the keeping of certain laws (4:10). To this extent the law is restricted to matters of the old Covenant. On the other hand, St. Paul criticises a false understanding of salvation according to which people can earn their justification through obeying divine law, whereas in truth, they are justified purely through Christ’s sacrifice (Romans 3: 21-26; 4: 4f). This includes the laws governing moral order.

(b)

In the light of this teaching, a question arises concerning the place of teh Law in the plan of salvation. There is no doubt that the Law is from God. Although it was given to men through the intermediarya of teh angels, which is a sign of its inferiority (Galatians 3: 19), it is nevertheless holy and spiritual (Romans 7: 12, 14) and is one of the rights of Israel (9:4). But of itself it is powerless to save the carnal man, who is the slave of sin (7: 14). Even if looked at from a moral point of view, the law only teaches knowledge of that which is good but not the strength to do it (7: 16ff). It teaches the knowledge of sin (3: 20; 7: 7; 1 Timothy 1:8), but not the power of escaping from it. The Jews who have the law and who seek its justice (Romans 9: 1) are as sinful as the gentiles (2: 17-24; 3: 1-20). Instead of freeing people from evil, one is almost tempted to say that it lets them sink even deeper into it. It delivers them to a curse from which only Christ can save them by taking it upon himself (Galatians 3: 10-14). As teacher and guardian of God’s people in the time of its youth (3: 23f; 4: 1 ff) it created within them a desire for a justice that was impossible to obtain, so that the absolute necessity of the one redeemer became apparent.

(c)

Once this Saviour has come, the people of God are no longer under the law as their teacher (Galatians 3: 25). Christ, who freed mankind from sin (Romans 6: 1-19) also frees mankind from the rule of the law (Romans 7: 1-6). He removes the internal contradiction that had made human conscience a prisoner of evil (Romans 7: 14-25). He brings thus to an end the provisional regime of the Law; He is Himself the termination of the Law (Romans 10: 4), because he has opened up for the faithful access to the righteousness of faith (Romans 10: 5-13). Does this mean that thereafter there will be no concrete rule of conduct for thos who believe in Christ? Certainly not! And so it is right that the juridical and cultic laws which refer to the establishing of Israel have lost their validity, yet the moral ideal of the commandments remains; but now that ideal is incorporated into the commandment of love, which is the complete fulfilment of the Law (13:8ff). But this ideal itself is detached from the old economy and is transfigured by the presence of Christ who made the idea a reality in His own life. It thus became “Christ’s law” (Galatians 6: 2; cf. Corinthians 9: 21) and is no longer external to mankind, but the Spirit of God writes it into our hearts when it fills them with his love (Romans 5: 5; cf. 8:14ff). Its realisation in practice is the natural fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 156-23). This is the perspective St. Paul takes up when he describes the moral ideal that Christians are obliged to follow. He is able, therefore, to list rules of conduct all the more demanding because their goal is Christian sanctity (1 Thessalonians 4: 3); he can even discuss individual cases, seeking a solution for them in the words of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7: 10). This new law is no longer like the old one. It realises the promise of a covenant that is written into the hearts (2 Corinthians 3: 3). (The whole text of this answer has been taken, with small changes, from Pierre Grelot’s contribution “GESETZ” [Law] to the (Wörterbuch zur Biblischen Botschaft, published by Xavier Léon Dufour. Freiburg: Herder, 1964).

Question 250:

How can you claim to follow Jesus if you do not keep his commandments and do not do what he did? For example, he was circumcised, he did not eat pork. And then comes Paul and changes the laws, although Jesus did not come to change the laws -- and Paul wasn’t even a true disciple. He even opposed Jesus! Why do you obey the words of Paul when they only represent his own opinion? (D)

 

Answer: Our answer is split into two parts. The first part (A) deals with Paul’s relationship with Jesus. Was Paul really “opposed to Jesus” and his teachings? Then we answer the question: (B) Does Paul’s teaching about the law and its meaning contradict Jesus’s teaching about the law and the way he lived?

 

Paul’s relationship with Jesus.

No other character dominates the New Testament to the extent that Paul does, the “Apostle to the gentiles”. This is the title Paul gave himself (Letter to the Romans 11: 13). It was indeed primarily Paul who gave Jesus’s message to the non-Jewish world. He began his active life as a member of the party of the Pharisees who passionately defended the tradition of the fathers. Because he believed the movement started by Jesus to represent a deadly danger to these traditions, he explained in (Galatians 1:13) how he “intensely persecuted the Church of God and tried to destroy it”. But when he suddenly had the “Revelation of Jesus Christ”, which caused him to stop his persecution of Christians, he was also given the request to “proclaim Jesus Christ to the gentiles” (Galatians 1: 12, 16). This is what he proceeded to do with the remaining 30 years of his life.

Of the 13 letters in the New Testament who have Paul’s name as author, four (Galatians, First and Second Corinthians and Romans) are of paramount importance. They are often called Paul’s main epistles. No-one doubts that Paul is the direct author of these epistles. They contain the principles of his theology and his doctrine. All of Paul’s letters are occasional papers. They have been written for a particular situation for particular communities. Up to a point the letter to the Christians in Rome (i.e. Romans) is an exception, as it borders on being a systematic encyclical. Each of these letters emphasises those elements of Paul’s teachings he believed to be particularly relevant to the respective situation and community. One or another phase of his doctrine therefore reached its particular form under the influence of the situation from which the respective letter arose.

 

Saying that Paul proclaimed Jesus’s message to the world of the gentiles immediately gives rise to the question whether his doctrine is a reliable representation of Jesus’s message. As the question highlights, there is a widespread view, often stated with great conviction, that Paul changed the supposedly light and easily comprehensive message of Jesus into a supposedly dark, dogmatic and complicated doctrine for a new church he himself founded. It is said that Paul enforced this conversion to his church not least by means of terrifying sanctions. But does this really correspond to what we can understand from the above writings by Paul himself?

 

Of course there are differences between Jesus and Paul. Paul was not the Messiah, the son of God, the Saviour of the world. Jesus and Paul were both Jews. On the level of human experience they differed in birth, family background, education and training, social environment, temperament and diction. Yet both shocked the guardians of Israel’s law by the freedom with which they treated this law and by their refusal to accept that pious people can find safety before God through their own righteousness. They both battled with the establishment of the High Priest in Jerusalem. Both were killed following a trial in the Roman courts. But mainly: Paul recognised the inwardness of the teaching of Jesus when he, following his example, proclaimed the message of salvation for all those outside the law.

Jesus began his ministry in Galilee with the message that the time had been fulfilled and that the Kingdom of God had arrived with him and in him (Mark 1: 14f). In a similar way Paul writes to the Galatians: “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4: 4f). While the substance of both messages is the same, there is nevertheless a change in perspective: the original proclaimer has become the one proclaimed, because in the meantime there have been Good Friday and Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus. The messages of Jesus and of Paul are therefore not two different types of belief but two different eras of belief. (cf. F. F. Bruce, The Message of the New Testament (Carlisle, 1994), p. 25).

 

The form of Jesus’s proclamations in Galilee with their background of Daniel’s vision of the Kingdom of God and of the Son of Man (cf. Daniel 7: 9-28) would have been as incomprehensible to the gentiles in Corinth as Paul’s proclamations in Corinth would have been for people in Galilee two centuries earlier. In terms of the substance of Paul’s message and Jesus’s message, there is no difference. We just have to take the difference in time and culture between the two situations into account and give them their proper weighting.

While at the time Jesus preached in Galilee the Kingdom of God he spoke about came nearer, the “arrival with power” (Mark 9:1) was in the future, although not in a very distant future. Some of those listening to Jesus were expected to experience it. For Paul, this “arrival with power” had already happened. By now Jesus is “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The power God has demonstrated by resurrecting Jesus from the dead is now working in the followers of Jesus, given to them by the Spirit of God who dwells within them (cf. Romans 8: 9-11). Through the same Spirit God’s love shone into the self giving death of Jesus for the sins of his people, “poured out into their hearts” (Romans 5:5-8). The perspective changed necessarily, because the death and the resurrection of Jesus, which at the time of his ministry in Palestine were events to occur in the future, are now past events. In other words: They form part of a past event during which the saving work of God for the world for all times and all places was set free. This is what the prophets of old had pointed to. The last days have started by they have not yet finished. The hostile powers have been destroyed through God’s acting in Jesus, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death”, and with his destruction the era of the Resurrection will be fulfilled, when God will be “everything in everything” (1 Corinthians 15:15-28). The blessings of this era are already experienced by those who are united in faith with the resurrected Lord: this is the effect of the Spirit they have received as a “pledge” or “first fruits” of the eternal glory that awaits them (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:5, Romans 8:23). Their inner experience already makes them part of the future times, while their mortal body still lives in “these times”. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

 

The change in perspective we become aware of when we move from Jesus to Paul is a change for which Jesus’s own words have prepared us. In absolute terms it is a change that can be dated back to the year 30 AD. In empirical terms it is a change that occurs every time when a man or a woman find themselves to be “in Christ”, to use an expression Paul uses time and time again. If this change has taken place as a personal experience it revolutionises the fundamental outlook of a person in a comprehensive manner. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:16). These words do not mean that there is no longer any interest in the historical Jesus and only in the raised Lord. No, rather, they mean that the view of Christ of the believer in Christ is radically different from the view of the unbeliever, and that the believer’s view of all of humanity is now shaped by his view of Christ. (Closely modelled on. F. F. Bruce, The Message of the New Testament”. Carlisle, 1994, pp. 24-33.)

 

Jesus’s and Paul’s teachings about the law

 

Jesus’s personal approach

(a)

We have to differentiate between Jesus’s view of the old traditions, which were defended by the scribes and the Pharisees, and his view of the Torah, the Law of Moses. Jesus rejected the old traditions because they lead people to violate the law and to destroy the word of God (Mark 12: 28-34). On the other hand, not one jot of the law can be abolished in the Kingdom of God but all must be fulfilled (Matthew 5: 17ff), and Jesus himself observed it (cf. 8:4). As the scribes were faithful to Moses the authority of the Torah had to be accepted, even where it could not be followed (23:2 f).

And still Jesus inaugurates a radical new religious norm with his proclamation of the joyful news of the Kingdom of God; the law and the prophets have come to an end with John the Baptist (Luke 16: 16 par.). The wine of the gospels cannot be poured into the old skins of the statues of the Covenant of Sinai (Mark 2: 21f par.). So wherein lies the fulfilment of the law Jesus brought? First of all, in the fact that the various commandments were put in their rightful place again. His hierarchy of values shows a marked difference to the scribes, who neglected the most important (justice, mercy, good intentions) and overemphasised the unimportant (Matthew 13: 16-26). Furthermore, those imperfections that were still part of the law because of “the hardness of hearts” (19:8) were not to be part of the Kingdom of God. This new code of behaviour is a code of perfection in imitation of God’s perfection (5:21-48). An unachievable ideal measured against the current state of mankind (cf. 19: 10). Jesus therefore did not just give us this law but also an example that infects with enthusiasm, and an inner strength that enables us to observe it: the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1: 8; John 16: 13).

Finally, the Kingdom of God culminates in the ancient dual command to love God and to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Mark 12: 28-34 par.). Everything revolves around this dual command and everything derives from it. In the relationships between people this golden rule of positive love contains all the law and the prophets (Matthew 7: 12).

(b)

Based on this statement alone Jesus appears to be a giver of laws: Without in the least contradicting Moses he explains his teachings, develops them further and perfects them; so for example when he declares that Sabbath is made for man, not man for Sabbath (Mark 2:33-27par; cf. John 5: 18; 7: 21ff). Occasionally he exceeds the meaning of the texts and places new norms alongside them. For example he confirms the rules of the purity law (Mark 7: 15-23 par.). This surprised his listeners because it set him apart from other rabbis and revealed the awareness of a special authority (2: 22par.). With this, Moses fades into the background. In the Kingdom of God there is now only one teacher (Matthew 23: 10). People must hear his word and act accordingly (7: 24ff). This is the only way they will be able to fulfil the Father’s will (7: 21ff). And just as faithful Jews accept the yoke of the law, as the Rabbis say, so now we have to accept the yoke of Christ and to learn from him (11: 20). Even more: just as the eternal fate of mankind previously depended on their relationship with the law, it is now dependent on their relationship with Jesus (10: 32f). There is no doubt, this is more than Moses. The new law proclaimed by the prophets has come into force.

 

The problem in early Christianity

(a)

Jesus did not condemn the following of Jewish law; on the contrary, he largely obeyed it, whether regarding paying temple tax (Matthew 17: 24-27) or the regulations governing the Passover (Mark 14: 12ff). The Apostolic communities, which remained in temple, at first followed this approach (Acts 2: 46), which is why “the people held them in high regard” (5: 13). Even if they took certain liberties, which the example of Jesus justified (9: 43), they obeyed the law and they even took on pious acts that were not strictly prescribed (18: 18; 21: 23f), and there was no small number of believers who fervently supported the law (21: 20).

(b)

New problems arose, however, when gentiles who were not circumcised joined the faith without becoming Jews. Peter himself baptised the centurion Cornelius after a divine vision had shown him that he must consider that to be pure which God has purified through faith and through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). The opposition of the zealots of the law (11: 2f) collapsed under the proof of divine intervention (11: 4-18). A mass conversion of Greeks in Antioch (11: 20), which was supported by Barnabas and Paul (11: 22-26) led, however, to renewed dispute. Observers from Jerusalem, or better, from the region of James (Galatians 1:12), wanted to force the new converts to observe the Torah (Acts 15:1f. 5). When Peter visited the church at Antioch he did not have a clear view on this (Gal 2: 1f). Paul was the first one who rose to defend the freedom of the gentiles from the Jewish laws (Galatians 2, 14-21). In a meeting held in Jerusalem Peter and James finally agreed with him (Acts 15: 7-19). Even Titus, St. Paul’s companion, was not forced to be circumcised, and the only law he had to observe was to remember the poor and to give alms to the mother church (Galatians 2: 1-10). In addition to this there was a practical rule of behaviour for the benefit of the table fellowship of the Syrian churches (Acts 15: 20f; 21: 25). These liberating decisions left the zealots with a secret unhappiness about St. Paul (cf. 21: 21).

St. Paul’s teachings

In the course of his apostolic ministry among the gentiles St. Paul soon met with resistance from the Jewish Christians, in particular in Galatia, where they organised what can almost be described as a counter mission behind his back (Galatians 1: 6f; 4: 17f). This caused him to write down his thoughts about the law.

(a)

St. Paul is the preacher of the only Good News. Now people are justified by faith in Christ and not by good works and the law (Galatians 2:16. Romans 3: 28). This doctrine is important for two major reasons. On the one hand, St. Paul criticises the uselessness of cultic rites which were part of Judaism, such as circumcision (Galatians 6:12) and the keeping of certain laws (4:10). To this extent the law is restricted to matters of the old Covenant. On the other hand, St. Paul criticises a false understanding of salvation according to which people can earn their justification through obeying divine law, whereas in truth, they are justified purely through Christ’s sacrifice (Romans 3: 21-26; 4: 4f). This includes the laws governing moral order.

(b)

In the light of this teaching, a question arises concerning the place of teh Law in the plan of salvation. There is no doubt that the Law is from God. Although it was given to men through the intermediarya of teh angels, which is a sign of its inferiority (Galatians 3: 19), it is nevertheless holy and spiritual (Romans 7: 12, 14) and is one of the rights of Israel (9:4). But of itself it is powerless to save the carnal man, who is the slave of sin (7: 14). Even if looked at from a moral point of view, the law only teaches knowledge of that which is good but not the strength to do it (7: 16ff). It teaches the knowledge of sin (3: 20; 7: 7; 1 Timothy 1:8), but not the power of escaping from it. The Jews who have the law and who seek its justice (Romans 9: 1) are as sinful as the gentiles (2: 17-24; 3: 1-20). Instead of freeing people from evil, one is almost tempted to say that it lets them sink even deeper into it. It delivers them to a curse from which only Christ can save them by taking it upon himself (Galatians 3: 10-14). As teacher and guardian of God’s people in the time of its youth (3: 23f; 4: 1 ff) it created within them a desire for a justice that was impossible to obtain, so that the absolute necessity of the one redeemer became apparent.

(c)

Once this Saviour has come, the people of God are no longer under the law as their teacher (Galatians 3: 25). Christ, who freed mankind from sin (Romans 6: 1-19) also frees mankind from the rule of the law (Romans 7: 1-6). He removes the internal contradiction that had made human conscience a prisoner of evil (Romans 7: 14-25). He brings thus to an end the provisional regime of the Law; He is Himself the termination of the Law (Romans 10: 4), because he has opened up for the faithful access to the righteousness of faith (Romans 10: 5-13). Does this mean that thereafter there will be no concrete rule of conduct for thos who believe in Christ? Certainly not! And so it is right that the juridical and cultic laws which refer to the establishing of Israel have lost their validity, yet the moral ideal of the commandments remains; but now that ideal is incorporated into the commandment of love, which is the complete fulfilment of the Law (13:8ff). But this ideal itself is detached from the old economy and is transfigured by the presence of Christ who made the idea a reality in His own life. It thus became “Christ’s law” (Galatians 6: 2; cf. Corinthians 9: 21) and is no longer external to mankind, but the Spirit of God writes it into our hearts when it fills them with his love (Romans 5: 5; cf. 8:14ff). Its realisation in practice is the natural fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 156-23). This is the perspective St. Paul takes up when he describes the moral ideal that Christians are obliged to follow. He is able, therefore, to list rules of conduct all the more demanding because their goal is Christian sanctity (1 Thessalonians 4: 3); he can even discuss individual cases, seeking a solution for them in the words of Jesus (1 Corinthians 7: 10). This new law is no longer like the old one. It realises the promise of a covenant that is written into the hearts (2 Corinthians 3: 3). (The whole text of this answer has been taken, with small changes, from Pierre Grelot’s contribution “GESETZ” [Law] to the (Wörterbuch zur Biblischen Botschaft, published by Xavier Léon Dufour. Freiburg: Herder, 1964).

Contact us

J. Prof. Dr. T. Specker,
Prof. Dr. Christian W. Troll,

Kolleg Sankt Georgen
Offenbacher Landstr. 224
D-60599 Frankfurt
Mail: fragen[ät]antwortenanmuslime.com

More about the authors?