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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Paul and the Law: Covenantal and Absolute Justice, Part 5a: Christ a Curse for Us (Gal. 3)

4. Christ a Curse for Us

The final major way we will examine that the Law illustrated the need for Christ to come and achieve eschatological righteousness and life for His people is that the Law anticipated, in its ceremonial system of offerings and sacrifices, the need for a human being to come and bear, as a substitute sacrifice on behalf of God’s people, covenant cursing that threatens people for both covenantal and absolute injustice. In other words, we will look at a couple of passages that show how Christ’s cross-work fulfills the role of removing, from all who will trust in Him, liability to divine judgment in both its Mosaic and eschatological thrusts.

Let us return for a moment to an earlier section of Galatians 3. This passage will emphasize the atonement of Christ in terms of God’s saving provision in light of Mosaic cursing. However, as we will see, it will hint at its absolute/eschatological import as well. Paul is continuing his contrast of faith with “works of the Law” as instruments of justification and reception of the Abrahamic inheritance/the Spirit:

"For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.’ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith.’ However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise through faith" (Gal. 3:10-14).

Here Paul begins by asserting that the “works-of-the-Law-ones” (I take this as referring to the Jews as a whole, characterized by unbelief, and anyone else who would rely on the Law for justification) are under a curse, because, according to Deut. 27:26, commitment to Torah requires total commitment, and by implication, those whom Paul has in mind here have not met that requirement. Many Reformed commentators have taken this citation of Deut. 27:26 here by Paul as a simplistic statement to the effect that anyone who would seek justification in terms of the Law would be obligated to sinless perfection because that’s what Deuteronomy says the Law—the Mosaic Law, as a whole—requires, and therefore such a person should abandon that path and seek justification by faith alone in Christ.

While there’s a measure of truth in such an assertion, it doesn’t quite make sense of the text, and it is not Paul’s point here. The Mosaic Law did not, in fact, require sinless perfection of the covenant people (unless we include the idea of the atonement granted through the sacrificial system). Deuteronomy 27:26, in the context of everything else the Law says, does not require actual sinless perfection but a measure of real religious loyalty and filial fidelity to God—covenant faithfulness, evidence of heart-circumcision. The trouble is that Israel did not (corporately) attain to even this standard of “total commitment” to the Law of God, but fell into religious formalism and eventually gross idolatry, resulting ultimately in exile. That is, they fell under the Mosaic curse of God.

Paul then appeals to Habakkuk 2:4 as a proof-text of justification by faith, just as he does in Romans 1:16-17 as a backdrop to the discussion of justification in Romans 3-5. It may seem a random, out-of-place proof-text at first glance, but is in fact highly appropriate. In the context of Habakkuk, living by faith is given prophetically as the way of salvation from the coming judgment through the Babylonians. Therefore it continues to cast Paul’s discussion of justification in eschatological terms (since the prophets consistently promise eschatological salvation in terms of a “new exodus” return from exile), just as vv. 6-9 do, and it makes clearer that the “curse” of v. 10 is nothing less than Israel’s exile (even if divine cursing ultimately involves more than that, too).

Paul continues, “But,” or “However,” (de; “And” is possible, but I prefer the adversative), “the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them’” (v. 12). The phrase, “the Law is not of faith” has been subject to the widest imaginable variety of interpretations, including many which would be more properly labeled “abuses.” To be fair, the meaning is not immediately evident upon first reading. But if we stick to just a couple of sound interpretive principles, we need not become aimlessly adrift in a sea of speculation. Above all, let us take into careful consideration the immediate and slightly wider grammatical and linguistic context of the phrase.

First, whatever the phrase means, it must contrast directly with the second half of the verse that quotes (or at least alludes strongly to) Leviticus 18:5 (note the introductory phrase, “on the contrary”). The Law being “of faith” is set directly opposite the principle of, “The man who practices [these laws] shall live by them.”

Second, we must explicitly note once again the heavily eschatological thrust of this whole chapter, and realize that “live” here probably entails, at least, “to inherit eschatological life in the Spirit/receive the Abrahamic inheritance.” Moreover, “faith” here must not be supposed to be an utterly inoperative principle in the Mosaic economy, but must be understood as uniquely redemptive-historically bound up with the eschatological intervention of God in Christ, as the sole instrument by which men may appropriate such salvation. Note, supporting this idea, the interesting way Paul uses “faith” in a quasi-synecdochical way later on in vv. 23, 25 to refer to the coming of Christ Himself and the new covenant, overstating matters as if faith were utterly inoperative in previous eras.

Third, let us remember everything we said in the previous section about the relatively bilateral character of the Mosaic arrangement in the contour of redemptive history, and assume that the second half of the verse (Gal. 3:12b), stating the principle of Lev. 18:5, basically encapsulates those principles in a succinct way. If Israel is faithful to the Law, she will live by that faithfulness to the Law (i.e. experience significant blessing in the promised land).

With these considerations in mind, let us attempt to construct a plausible paraphrase and expansion of Gal. 3:12a that makes more explicit Paul’s intention: “The Law is not of faith,” or in other words, “Faith that appropriates eschatological life [in Christ] is not [now] expressed as obedience to the Mosaic Law.” To do the same thing to the second half of the verse which refers to Lev. 18:5, taking into account the wider context of the Leviticus text: “On the contrary, ‘he who does them shall live by them,’” or in other words, “A man may inherit a long life in the promised land of Canaan [a type of eschatological life] if he maintains a measure of religious loyalty and filial fideity to God.”

So we have in view, so far, the problem of curse and exile, the eschatological purview of the salvation Paul is discussing, and the subjective/ordo salutis solution of faith as over against the Law/works of the Law. Then in v. 13 Paul introduces the objective/historia salutis basis of his doctrine of justification and eschatological inheritance by faith, namely, the cross-work of Christ. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13).

In this text we find the central theological thrust of this section of the essay, namely, that the Law anticipated and pointed forward to the atonement of Christ as a sacrifice that deals with sin and its punishment in both Mosaic and eschatological aspects. First let us notice that Paul says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (my emphasis). It is the curse of the Mosaic Law, the curse of exile mentioned previously in v.10, as we saw, which Paul here says that the cross of Christ addresses and remedies. Christ Himself, whose death represents for Luke in his gospel the new “exodus” for His people (cf. Lk. 9:31), undergoes exile on the cross: thrust out of the light of God’s favor and countenance, abandoned, and left naked and ashamed, ravaged by the Gentile Roman dogs, just like Judah was by the Babylonians. And this not for His own sins, for He was innocent, but as a substitute sacrifice on behalf of His beloved people, Israel (cf. Is. 53).

But not on behalf of Israel alone. Notice, also, Paul’s inclusive use of “us”: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (v. 13, my emphasis). Paul’s audience, the church at Galatia (likely the southern Galatia), was manifestly composed of Jews and many Gentiles (else the controversy addressed in the letter would never have even arisen). Therefore it is certain that Paul conceives of Christ’s substitutionary work as benefitting Gentile believers no less than Jewish believers, and in terms of release from the curse of the Law. This is possible for at least two reasons.

First, remember from the first section of this essay how the Law functions to indict all human sin, Gentiles included, by way of indicting the sin of Israel. Hence, when the substitute came to redeem representative Israel, the world, too, as a whole was redeemed from its liability to the Deuteronomic curses that summed up divine judgment promised for breaking the Mosaic covenant.

Second, and as we will speak of more in looking at another passage, the Mosaic Law itself included the provision of animal sacrifices which were intended to atone not for Israel’s high-handed rebellion, but for all the “unintentional sins” of individual faithful Israelites; and this consideration deepens our understanding of the idea of the “curse of the Law.” Paul has in mind, yes, the curse of exile, in terms of redemptive history, but let us remember that the original penalty for sin in the garden was death (Gen. 2:17): personal, physical, and ultimately eschatological death for the unredeemed (Rev. 2:11; 20:14).

In the final analysis, the Mosaic curse of Israel’s exile was only a redemptive-historical illustration typological and proleptic of the final destiny of the unredeemed. All sin renders men liable to eschatological divine judgment, even after all the temporal misery and provisional historical judgments they may incur. And this is simply assumed within the framework of the sacrificial system, as bulls and goats were sacrificed continually, year after year, in recognition of the absolute need for atonement even for the covenantally faithful remnant within Israel. Nor is this fundamental principle of divine justice lost on the prophets: “The person who sins will die” (Ez. 18:20a).

So Paul continues in Galatians, with the purpose clause, “in order that [hina] in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that [hina] we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14). Here it is explicit; Christ died, accursed on Calvary in place of the accursed “works-of-Law-ones” (exiled Israel), in order that 1) the Gentiles would be included in Abrahamic blessing (by faith, apart from the Law), and 2) “we” (Jew and Gentile) would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (this makes explicit the content of Abrahamic blessing, and highlights the instrumental role of faith again).

We see from Galatians 3:10-14, then, that the Law anticipated—and Christ fulfilled—the need for atonement by means of a curse-bearing substitute who would take away both the curse of exile due to Israel’s covenantal injustice, as well as eschatological judgment threatening Gentiles for sin in general and sins atoned for only sacramentally in the Mosaic sacrificial system for faithful Jews (absolute injustice). To state it more succinctly, Christ’s work “undid exile” and “undid hell” for all who would believe in Him. In God’s design and providence, the Mosaic Law anticipated both realities, in different ways.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Paul and the Law: Covenantal and Absolute Justice, Part 4b: Objections to Law, Mediation, and Promise section

Objection 1: Reformed covenantalism insists that the Mosaic covenant, referred to by Paul typically as “the Law” (as here at least many times, in Galatians), is an administration of the covenant of grace, and operates on the same basic principles of grace through faith in the promised Messiah as all other administrations of the covenant of grace, including the new covenant. How, therefore, could Paul be contrasting so heavily the “Law” with the “promise” of the gospel, in terms of “bilateral” vs. “unilateral” arrangements, as suggested above?

My answer: Again, I agree that the Mosaic covenant should be characterized as an administration of the covenant of grace, and there is no room to speak even of a typological republication of the “covenant of works” associated with it. OT saints under Moses were saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, as He was offered to them in promises, types, and shadows. And it was not demanded, even of Israel as a whole, to obey the law perfectly and sinlessly, in order to maintain the land inheritance of Canaan (the only meaningful implication of a “covenant of works” administration).

Nevertheless, as the typological “Son of God,” rescued from Egypt and brought into gracious, intimate covenant relationship with Yahweh, Israel as a whole was uniquely responsible to fulfill a measure of religious loyalty and filial fidelity, upon condition of which, she would receive significant covenant blessing, like that promised in Deut. 28:1-14. And while Israel did at times more or less exercise such faithfulness and experience a measure of such blessing, the frequent, and in the latter days of her history, prevailing, situation was that of Deut. 29:4, “Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.” So, in an analogical way as aforesaid, “But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant” (Hos. 6:7). Israel corporately disobeys (meaning here not merely a slight disobedience but by-and-large disbelieving covenant apostasy, with only a remnant of faithful), and is eventually exiled.

By contrast, the blessing of all nations on the basis of the promises made to Abraham is unilaterally accomplished by God in the perfect faithfulness and obedience of Christ, God’s eschatological Son. The coming, death, resurrection, ascension, and Spirit-outpouring work of Christ secures the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant not only in the inclusion of all nations, but also in the creation of a people who are at long last, as a whole, eternally, a circumcised-of-heart people who are faithful to their covenant God. In fact, they become the faithful, priestly instrument of God in His ongoing fulfillment of the promise to bless all nations!

To be sure, Christ’s future work was the only basis on which God blessed the remnant of Old Testament believers, who looked forward to His coming; and to be sure, not all members of Christ’s visible church in the new covenant era are certainly regenerate and circumcised of heart! As well, we must affirm that individual new covenant believers are under no less obligation than those under Moses, in terms of the requirement of covenant fidelity (the only visible evidence of regeneration and the presence of the Spirit). Nevertheless, there is a clear redemptive-historical contrast between what Israel corporately failed to do under the Law, weakened by the flesh, and what God in Christ succeeded in doing, resulting in eschatological life and righteousness for His people in the Spirit. On the basis of Christ’s completed work they corporately experience both “covenantal” and ultimately “absolute” justice—justification as well as true covenant faithfulness culminating in glorification (perfection) on the Last Day.

This is surely at least partially what the author of Hebrews has in mind (in chapters 8 and 10) in quoting the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31 and contrasting the covenant God made with His people after the exodus, “my covenant, which they broke,” as God says (Jer. 31:32, my emphasis), with the new covenant God has made in Christ, in which God puts His law “within them and on their heart” (Jer. 31:33). Speaking of the same period of promised restoration, God had said similarly through Ezekiel, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances,” (Ez. 36:26-27). All of this is in fulfillment of Deuteronomy 30:1-14 where Moses predicted restoration after a period of exile, and we find the promise, “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). Once God does this through Christ and the Spirit, the covenant community will never apostatize as a whole like Israel did: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me” (Jer. 32:40, my emphasis).

So while there is little to no ordo salutis difference in terms of which people are saved by the grace of God, between the administration of the Mosaic covenant and the arrival of the new (although some questions remain about the precise nature of the Spirit’s ministry in the OT here), there is significant historia salutis development. There was no more “synergism” in the OT period than there is now that Christ has come. But there remains the biblical acknowledgment that God in Christ has Himself done what the Law—“weakened by the flesh,” and therefore, really, what Israel—could not do (cf. Rom. 8:3, 4). The Law that promised a kind of eschatological blessing for covenant faithfulness, yet which was never ultimately intended by God to bring about true eschatological life has served its multi-faceted purpose that included exacerbating, highlighting, and formally indicting human sin; and has faded away, in the light of the dawning of the fulfillment of that which was more fundamental all along: the divine promise, realized in Christ—true Israel, the faithful Son of God.

We find confirmation in a major parallel passage, a place where Paul is again contrasting the Law (summed up in the sign of circumcision) with faith in Christ as the basis of receiving the eschatological blessings of the Abrahamic promises:

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants was not through law but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is from faith, in order that it may accord with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (Rom. 4:13-16).

Here, as in Galatians 3, Paul contrasts “the Law” as a law-principle (v. 15) with faith like Abraham’s as antithetical principles on the basis of which to receive the promise. He argues that the Law brings wrath (tacitly because of sin—the corporate sin of apostasy in Israel’s case), but where there is no Law, there is no violation (hence no wrath). Therefore, in order to guarantee the promise for all the descendants of Abraham (whether Jew or Gentile, those “of the Law” or not), the promise is received by grace through faith (in Christ).

Of course the Law (again, the Mosaic covenant as a whole) itself had provisions for atonement of sin, and of course through the Law, the gospel was preached through types and shadows in anticipation of Christ. But here Paul is again comfortable to speak in stark terms about the “Law” as resulting only in wrath, and as in some sense antithetical to the grace-faith-promise-guarantee dynamic of the gospel! I think it is because, as we have been seeing, Israel through the Law could not, corporately, bring about “covenantal justice” (covenant faithfulness) for herself, much less “absolute justice” either practically or forensically (both of which, as we will see, require the atonement wrought by Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary). We might paraphrase Paul, in somewhat anachronistic language, “the covenant-of-grace administration that was to result in life for Israel became her curse and exile, so the promise of spiritual and indeed eternal life by the grace of God is guaranteed to all who believe in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, after the pattern of Abraham’s faith.”

Objection 2: How can Paul contrast the Mosaic covenant and the promise realized in Christ on the basis of whether there is mediation, in light of the fact that a major theme of the whole New Testament is the mediation of Christ Himself on behalf of His new covenant people?

My answer: First, I want to point out that Paul’s main point in emphasizing the mediatorial character of the Mosaic administration over against the fulfillment of promise in Christ was to highlight the relatively bilateral character of Israel’s arrangement under the Law (essentially, “Israel, be corporately covenantally faithful, and then you will be blessed”) in contrast with God’s unilateral sending of Christ and bringing about of eschatological fulfillment that would result in His people’s covenant faithfulness at long last. So as Paul says in Gal. 3:20, “a mediator is not for one [party],” (my bracketed gloss), implying, with vv. 18, 19 as background, that the Law operated on at least a two-party dynamic; “whereas,” he continues, “God is one [party]” (my bracket again). The emphasis is not so much on whether there is a mediator at all, but on the implied operational principle of the covenant dynamic: a bilateral “law” dynamic (as extensively covenantally qualified as we have attempted to present it), versus a unilateral “promise” dynamic.

Still, one may initially wonder whether the obvious fact of Christ’s indispensable new covenant mediation challenges the above interpretation. If there is a mediator for both old and new covenant, is there a legitimate salvation-historical contrast to be made on the basis of the idea of mediation? I think there are still legitimate contrasts to highlight along the lines of thought spelled out above.

If I may be permitted to expand just slightly beyond the text at hand into wider biblical- and systematic-theological thoughts, the Mosaic administration clearly had a uniquely mediatorial character in terms of the “distance” from which the people were required to relate with God, both literally and symbolically. At the giving of the Law on Sinai, the people were not even allowed to touch the bottom of the mountain, as they awaited Moses. Moses himself very possibly was instructed by God on the mountain second-hand at times, through angels (cf. the phrase “ordained through angels” in Gal. 3:19 and Acts 7:53). After the people heard God’s voice directly, they begged for Moses alone to speak to them on God’s behalf, going forward (Ex. 20:19). The very architecture of the tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem, together with the Day of Atonement ceremonies, spoke loudly and clearly to Israel that God was holy and unapproachable, save for the provision of blood atonement and His own condescension to meet with Moses face-to-face, and then with the high priest only once a year. By contrast, the new covenant people in Christ have, because of His death, resurrection, and ascension, direct access to the true “most holy place” in heaven—full access to God the Father by the Spirit (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 6:19-20; 9:11, 12, 23, 24).

I also want to make a qualified Trinitarian argument regarding Christ’s new covenant mediation as a contrast in Gal. 3:20 to Moses’ mediation of the old covenant. On the one hand, it would be systematic-theologically legitimate to say that the hypostatic union makes Christ’s mediation sui generis and in a sense simply adds an extra role to one of the parties to the covenant (namely, God). In other words, because the mediator of the divine-human covenant is Himself also divine, the “mediation” of the new covenant is from one perspective (this is overstated) almost superfluous, and therefore the Law was mediated in a way that the new covenant is not. On another hand, I don’t think Paul is primarily thinking in such categories as he pens his letter to the Galatians. Paul is, throughout his whole NT corpus, fixated on Christ as the Last Adam, in terms of His human Messianic identity and work. He only rarely considers the Son, the second person of the Trinity, apart from this eschatological, incarnational framework (cf. Col. 1:15-16).

Yet here in Galatians as in many other places, Paul does seem to be underscoring in a unique way the functional identity of the incarnate Christ with God the Father’s own action in bringing about the fulfillment of promise. In other words—almost to repeat the first answer above to this objection—the God-man Jesus Christ as the human agent of God, the “Second Adam,” sinlessly and infallibly secures by His messianic work the eschatological blessings of God in fulfillment of the promises to Abraham. So although Jesus is certainly the “mediator” of the new covenant, and it is therefore not as though every notion of “mediation” has been erased from the covenant arrangement, none of the mediators of previous covenants have been in a position to unilaterally fulfill what was necessary to bring about eschatological life! In fact, while Moses often foreshadows the ministry of Christ in a positive way, as in his intercessory prayer for the people after the golden calf incident, even offering himself as a substitute sacrifice(!) (Ex. 32:30-32), he also serves as a foil for Christ’s faithfulness when he is forbidden from ultimately entering the promised land of Canaan because of a previous lapse in his own faithfulness.

The contrast, then, is between a heavily mediated covenant arrangement that functions redemptive-historically in a uniquely “law-like” way, having a mediator who is ultimately powerless to secure ultimate blessing for himself, much less for the people; with a relatively unmediated covenant arrangement that functions uniquely on the basis of the Abrahamic promises, mediated by One who acts on behalf of God Himself and secures eschatological blessing for His people by means of His own perfect faithfulness and obedience.

So although the ultimately Trinitarian character of this line of thought is not explicit in Galatians 3, it is certainly present beneath the surface in Paul’s wider corpus, and it is certainly evident when we consider other portions of new covenant prophecy in the OT. In Paul, an example would be Colossians 1:15-20, in which, it can be argued, the identity of the pre-incarnate Son as the second person of the Trinity both grounds His incarnate work as Messiah, and is revealed especially in His glorified, post-resurrection state in His exaltation (see again the work of Dr. Lane Tipton in the essay “Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4: An Exercise in Biblico-Systematic Theology” in ‘Resurrection and Eschatology,’ ed. Lane G. Tipton and Jeffrey C. Waddington).

We find another powerful line of evidence in the prophets. Looking forward to the restoration of Israel, the prophets, which provide much of the thematic background for Paul’s eschatological reflections, portray God as fed up with the unfaithfulness of the religious leadership of His precious chosen people, and He resolves:

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land. I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down on good grazing ground and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord GOD. “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment,” (Ez. 34:11-16, my emphases).

God’s determination to unilaterally save and protect His sheep is evident. It is interesting to note in the same passage, however, that He also says, “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the LORD have spoken” (Ez. 34:23-24, my emphases). So God Himself will do this, yet it is to be done through His Davidic king. This is precisely what He has done in Christ, the faithful heir of David’s throne.

Objection 3: More a question of clarification than an objection to the specific interpretation given above, why does Paul imply that the Law that was given was not able to impart life (Gal. 3:21) when elsewhere he says that the commandment was “unto life” although it resulted in death for him (Rom. 7:10, lit.)?

My answer: Whether we read Rom. 7:10 as speaking only of a specific commandment of the Law, or as a principle holding true for the Law as a whole (as a covenant), we should understand its being “unto life” as an objective reality abstracted from the actual situation of a sinful people receiving the Law. As Paul goes on to demonstrate in Romans 7, as discussed above, there is nothing inherently evil or death-causing about the Law that results in the death of Paul/Israel; rather, it is sin which takes opportunity through the good Law to cause enslavement, condemnation, and death. It is this concrete situational reality of Rom. 7:11-13 (and I would say also of vv. 14-25) that is simply assumed in Galatians 3. To put it another way: prescriptively speaking, the Law itself aims at life and blessing through the obedience of faith; but by God’s sovereign plan and decree the Law came to a sinful (largely unregenerate) people and, as He knew it would, exacerbated their sin, resulting in death and exile, making the need for Christ evident. God never intended, in an ultimate sense, for the Law to bring about true righteousness for His people.

Hopefully we have now seen how the Law, in its redemptive-historically unique mediatorial and bilateral character, serves to highlight by way of contrast the glory of God’s own, unilateral intervention in Christ, even while the ancient dynamics of the covenant of grace have remained intact and fundamentally unchanged from age to age, from Abraham to Moses to David to Christ. Even with Mosaic grace, Israel was not able to corporately attain covenantal justice in the context of her “law” arrangement; therefore Christ, the ultimate heir of the promise, was sent, and eschatological inheritance and life (necessarily involving covenantal, and as we will see, absolute justice) is received through faith in Him, on the basis of the ancient, preeminent promise to Abraham.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Paul and the Law: Covenantal and Absolute Justice, Part 4a: Law, Mediation, and Promise

3. Law, Mediation, and Promise

With Romans 7 and the above interpretation of its importance in mind, it may now be slightly easier than otherwise to argue what I am about to argue about one of the more controversial and difficult passages in the Pauline corpus. While there are many texts that are important for fully understanding Paul’s redemptive-historical polemic that we are not going to focus on in this essay (2nd Cor. 3, touched on above; Rom. 10, mentioned in a later section), Galatians 3 proves one of the most important and programmatic texts, if a difficult one in ways. Verse 20 alone has been given—it has been said—no less than 250 differing interpretations by commentators. So I must start off by admitting the possibility, and indeed sheer statistical likelihood, of error.

Nevertheless after many hours (surely not the final ones) spent considering this section of the text, with the considerations about Romans 7 above in mind, with Romans 3:19 in mind, and with some other ideas about the “sons of God” biblical-theological theme of Scripture in mind (Adam as protological son, Israel as typological son, and Christ as eschatological Son), I think I have come to a reasonable position about vv. 19-20 that adds richness to Paul’s argument, yet which falls well within the flow of thought of the immediate context, and comports with the main idea of a very closely-related parallel passage.

Paul begins the third chapter of Galatians by upbraiding his audience for their foolishness in being deceived by the Judaizers, asking them to reconsider the obvious fact that their experience of the Spirit—their reception of the Spirit, and His working of miracles among them—had come through their faith in the gospel, and not by “works of the Law” (vv. 1-5). Then, as in Romans, Paul moves quickly to Abraham as the quintessential example of the blessed-by-faith. The Scripture itself, recording the words of God, foresaw the justification of the Gentiles by faith, and “preached the gospel” to Abraham, saying that all nations would be blessed in him. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness (referring to Gen. 15:6). Here the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises is identified with the “gospel” and is cast in global and eschatological light. And faith is advanced as the sole instrument of eschatological blessing, as all of “those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer” (v. 9).

In vv. 10-14, to which we will return in more detail in the next section, Paul explains that those who are “of the works of the Law” are under a curse, but that Christ came to bear the curse away, by being cursed for us on the cross, “in order that in Christ Jesus the [eschatological] blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (v. 14, my bracket). There is much difficulty and richness in the details of this section, but for now we may simply observe that Paul is continuing to focus on faith in the Christ-purchased and Abrahamic-covenant-rooted promises of God as the sole instrument of eschatological blessing, for Jew as well as for Gentile. The Judaizers therefore have no right to impose the requirement of Mosaic distinctives on the Gentile Christians.

Then Paul turns to an obvious group of questions for any pious first-century Jew, in light of what he has been saying about the Law: Didn’t God give the Law? Then doesn’t it change or add some things to the promise previously given to Abraham? Why was the Law given? Is the Law contrary to the promise?

In attempting to relate the Law and the Abrahamic promise redemptive-historically for his audience, Paul begins in v. 15 as he sometimes does, by giving an analogy from ordinary human life. In essence, he says that even in human contracts or covenants, once the thing is ratified, no one can change or add to its conditions. The implication is: how much more permanent is a divine set of covenant conditions! Therefore, skipping over v. 16 for a moment, whatever the Law—the Mosaic covenant—came to do 430 years after the promise was spoken to Abraham, the promise stands and cannot be undone (v. 17). Because Paul is staking his polemic on the dynamics of the Abrahamic covenant (vv.1-14), he must also defend the priority and permanence of its principles even in the light of the coming of the Mosaic administration later on.

In v. 16 Paul argues that the promise to Abraham of an inheritance of people and a land was made not to “many seeds” but to one singular “seed,” namely Christ. Paul, an educated Jewish scholar, of course does not miss the point of collective singulars in the original text; rather, he is making a profound point with multiple layers, about the remnant theme in the OT, Christ as the embodiment of Israel and indeed Himself functioning as true Israel, and faith-union with Christ as the basis of Jewish and Gentile adoption and covenantal sonship, etc. But the importance of this verse does not return until v. 19.

V. 18, if I understand it correctly, begins forming the heart of the redemptive-historical contrast that undergirds Paul’s polemic in this chapter and throughout the whole letter. He explains, as a ground (note the gar) of the v. 17 principle that the Law could not have invalidated the prior promise, “For [gar] if the [Abrahamic/eschatological] inheritance is from law, it is no longer from promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise” (v. 18, my bracketed comments, emphases, and woodenly literal translation). This verse is fascinating for several reasons.

First, we have here a statement from Paul to the effect that whatever kind of “law” principle he is speaking about here, it must be seen as diametrically opposed to the “promise” principle he is trying to uphold as the foundation of eschatological blessing, yet already (and in subsequent verses) Paul is also laboring to show that the Law is in fact not opposed to the promise, nor does it ultimately nullify it! Second, Paul here omits the definite article before “Law” and so we must understand his statement here to be broader than saying that “the inheritance doesn’t come through the Mosaic covenant, and if it did, it wouldn’t come through the Abrahamic promise,” although that is of course his application here. There is something about “lawness” that would, if it were an operative principle in eschatological blessing, nullify the “promissory” character of eschatological blessing. Third, this verse is almost identical in its thought pattern to Romans 4:13-14 (we will consider all of vv. 13-16 when we answer some objections): “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified…”

Now immediately for any Reformed covenantalist the implication seems to be that I am forgetting that “the Law” is Paul’s way of referring to the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace, not to some kind of meritorious works-principle imagined for Israel’s relationship to God. I have not forgotten this, and I continue to affirm that the Mosaic covenant itself was a gracious covenant administration, offering its members justification by faith through its many types and shadows of Christ; indeed there is a sense in which the wilderness generation under Moses “ate” and “drank” of Christ Himself (1 Cor. 10:1-4)! Yet, as I hope to continue to prove, Paul looks at the history of Israel under this sub-eschatological, law-prominent covenant arrangement, under which Israel corporately failed in the duty of filial fideity to God, and in contrast with the unilateral fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises in the finished work of Christ, sees an ultimately impotent, bilateral, “law” dynamic at work. I am not referring to a dynamic where any autonomous, perfect, or merit-attaining obedience was required, of course, but simply a promise of eschatological blessing and inheritance on condition of corporate covenant faithfulness.

Now that Paul has drawn a deep contrast between the idea of Mosaic Law-based inheritance and that of Abrahamic-promise-based inheritance, he asks and answers a very logical next question: “Why the Law then?” (v. 19a). If the inheritance is not by the Law, but by the promise, and in fact the Law adds nothing to the promise, what was the point of it? Paul answers, “It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made” (v. 19bcd).

The best guess at the meaning of the phrase “because of transgressions” is probably the parallel statement in Rom. 5:20 to the effect that the Law came in, “…so that the transgression would increase,” in the manner we explored above as described in Romans 7. Under the Law, sin in all its ugliness is exacerbated and highlighted for what it is. The phrase “having been ordained through angels” reminds one of Stephen’s mention of angels in relation to the giving of the Law in his speech in Acts (Acts 7:53) and perhaps the mention of the Mosaic “word” spoken through angels in Hebrews 2:2 (although this could simply refer to the “messengers” of the “prophets” of Heb. 1:1). And the point seems to be simply a very heavy emphasis on the mediated nature of the Law covenant. The phrase, “by the agency of a mediator” transparently alludes to Moses’ role as the mediator of the old covenant. And the rest of the verse, speaking of the temporary nature of the Law, says it was to be in effect “…until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made,” (my emphasis) hearkening back to v. 16.

Paul seems to be doing a couple of different things at once here in this dense verse, in order to begin demonstrating the relative inferiority of the Law to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise: he declares its sub-eschatological purpose (that is, to increase/exacerbate/highlight sin); and he implies its temporally provisional character in his mention of the coming of the “seed,” Christ (notice the “until” [achri]). He also heavily emphasizes, as already noted, the mediated character of the Law, although he doesn’t make explicit in this verse how that adds to his redemptive-historical contrast of the Law with the fulfillment of promise.

V. 20 is not very helpful on its own, although in the context of some things we have already said hopefully it will become clearer. It continues the thought about mediation from v. 19: “Now a mediator is not for one; whereas God is one” (Gal. 3:20, literal translation). In my opinion, the most natural way to understand the contrast in this particular verse is to see it as continuing but developing the same contrast Paul has been drawing thus far in the whole section: the Law versus the promise, specifically the Mosaic covenant as contrasted with the promises of the Abrahamic covenant. On this reading, Paul is contrasting the mediated, and therefore relatively bilateral nature of the Mosaic arrangement, with the “immediate,” unilateral character of the operation of the promise. The need for deep theological qualifications abounds but must be postponed.

Because of the surface issue of Jew-Gentile relations evident in the book of Galatians, Paul’s words “God is one” here may strongly remind the reader of Romans 3:29-30. So one may be tempted, in interpreting Gal. 3:20, to focus merely on socio-religious or ethnic factors (“Paul is merely talking about how Gentiles have equal footing with Jews through the promise-faith-blessing dynamic, in an apologetic appeal to Jewish monotheism”). However, it seems better to me to focus on the flow of thought of the immediate context, and as we have already seen, Galatians 3 aims at much deeper structural issues than the sociological. In the preceding verse (v. 19), Paul brought up the heavily mediatorial character of the Mosaic covenant in direct connection with its provisional character (“until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made”). Then in v. 20, the statement “God is one” is explicitly contrasted with the concept of mediation between multiple parties (note the adversative “but” [de]). It seems inescapable that the “God is one” statement is closely connected with the idea of promise, suggesting an emphasis on the uniquely unilateral divine intervention associated with eschatological blessing in Christ. The rest of the context formed by subsequent verses should function to confirm or challenge this interpretation.

V. 21 begins, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?” At this point we may expect a hearty “yes!” because Paul has been laboring to contrast a law-principle with a promise-principle, urging that the eschatological inheritance is based on promise, and received through faith. On the other hand, Paul has also urged that the Law covenant came in and did nothing to nullify the promise. So he continues, “May it never be!” and proceeds to give the theological rationale for all that has come before in this passage, finally helping us to see what is going on. “For [gar] if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed be from law. But the Scripture has shut up all under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ [or “by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ”] might be given to those who believe” (vv. 21c, 22, literal translation).

Here the ground for Paul to say that the Law is not contrary to the promises of God, despite the fact that there are (limited but essential) ways in which the dynamics of the Law are inherently antithetical to those of the promise, is just this: the Mosaic economy (“the Law”) was never intended by God to bring about eschatological life or righteousness; rather its key redemptive-historical intent was to “shut up all under sin,” preparing the way for God Himself to eschatologically fulfill His promises to Abraham, in Christ. The (divinely decreed) effect of the Law on Israel as a whole, as we have already seen, was to exacerbate sin, and the result was ultimately curse and exile (to which Gal. 3:10 is probably closely related); and this becomes the dark backdrop for the glorious filial fidelity of God’s eschatological Son, Jesus Christ, and the blessing He secures for all believers.

To sum up the teaching of this section of Galatians, then, in a way faithful to Reformed biblical theology:

1) The Judaizers were wrong to require Mosaic distinctives because faith in Christ is the sole instrument of eschatological blessing (seen in justification and reception of the Spirit), in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, and through Christ’s cross-work.

2) The promise to Abraham and his seed (ultimately Christ) is unalterable.

3) “Law” and “promise” are antithetical principles on which eschatological inheritance could be based.

4) The Law was uniquely mediated and therefore relatively bilateral in character (implying by way of contrast the relatively “immediate” and unilateral character of the fulfillment of the promise).

5) The Law was not ultimately given to provide eschatological life and righteousness.

6) The Law was given to exacerbate, highlight, and formally indict sin, to make the need for Christ (in eschatological fulfillment of the promise) evident.

Let me add one more idea not discussed above, but which I think provides a small piece of confirmatory evidence to our discussion:

7) The very shorthand nomenclature of “Law” that Paul gives to the rich, layered concept of the whole Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace itself highlights its unique function as a “law covenant” in the grand scheme of redemptive history. If what we have said about Galatians 3 were not true, it would be impossible for Paul to use such a loaded, easily misinterpreted term to refer to the Mosaic covenant (it is misinterpreted enough as it is).

Next let us deal with a few possible objections to the exegesis proposed above.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Paul and the Law: Covenantal and Absolute Justice, Part 3: Weakened by the Flesh

2. Weakened by the Flesh

The need becomes even more starkly evident, however, when we consider another role of the Mosaic covenant, or “the Law,” as Paul presents it in Romans 7. However controversial the question of the identity of the schizophrenic “I” in vv. 14-25 in this chapter, the first thirteen verses are sufficient for us here to establish the point that for Paul, the Law not only formally indicts human sin, but actually functions to redemptive-historically exacerbate and highlight sin in all of its deceitful, enslaving, and killing power. I believe that the view that in the latter half of the chapter Paul uses language of personal historical narrative to illustrate the redemptive-historical experience of Israel as a whole under the Law, rather than speaking of the psychological anguish of a Christian struggling against the flesh, fits best with and most effectively makes Paul’s main point; but that view has its own problems, as all the traditional options do. Nevertheless, as I said, the first half of the chapter is sufficient to prove our point.

The context is, first and foremost, the previous chapter in Romans, where Paul teaches believers to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, because of their faith-union with Him in His death and resurrection. The fact that Christians are no longer “under Law” but “under grace” does not mean they should go on to sin all they want, because that is actually impossible for those who through faith and baptism into Christ have in principle identified fully with Him. They have identified with Him in His death to all the realities of old creation, the “flesh,” and sin; and they have identified with Him in His resurrection unto new creation and eternal resurrection life in the Spirit. How could such a one go on sinning carelessly?

In chapter seven Paul shifts from sacramental language and some of the dynamics of sanctification in the Christian life to redemptive-historical categories, and applies one of his favorite metaphors: marriage. As both legal and relational, it is a suitable analogy for many spiritual realities Paul wishes to explain in various places. Here he speaks of the well-known law that marriage (with Mosaic exceptions due to hard-heartedness of the sub-eschatological covenant community) is to continue until one of the parties dies. But once the husband dies, for example, the wife is “free” to be joined to another man without becoming an adulteress (Rom. 7:1-3). Then Paul applies the metaphor spiritually to his audience and says that we, though previously joined to the Law (in principle even if we are Gentiles, as most of the believers at Rome probably were!—remember Rom. 3:19, and see the following discussion), have died to the Law, so that we could be joined to another, namely, to the resurrected Christ (7:4).

The details of the metaphor break down, or we might more accurately say, express ironically the glory of how God’s governing of redemptive history and fulfilling all things in Christ brings about our salvation: whereas in the marriage metaphor, the party that remains alive is joined to another spouse, in redemptive history, we the people who have died (through faith-union with Christ in His death) to the Law, end up being the ones who are joined to a new “spouse,” namely, the resurrected Christ. And how appropriate that our new spouse is The Resurrection (cf. Jn. 11:25), since we were “dead” (first in principle dead because of the Law, now in principle, through union with Christ, dead to the Law).

Next Paul goes on to speak of the spiritual reason we needed to die to the Law (to be joined to Christ):

“For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:5, 6).

To boil it down, Paul is saying that we needed to be freed from the Law and joined to Christ because of the sin that was stirred up by the Law itself, leading to death. This should be initially almost as shocking language to a Reformed covenantalist as it would have been to a first century Jew who respected Torah as his or her prized possession and greatest gift of grace received from God. The OT itself speaks of the “Law”—instruction from the Lord in general, but including especially the Mosaic Law—as a lamp to the feet, streams of water that cause men to prosper and bear fruit, a source of wisdom to overcome enemies, something that even revives the soul! (cf. Ps. 19:7). And surely Paul has in mind here the Mosaic covenant as a whole, not just its positive and negative commandments for moral and ceremonial life in the covenant community. Yet in some sense, in redemptive history, one function of the Law was to arouse the sinful passions of the flesh. In Romans 5:20a Paul had actually already come out and said, “The Law came in so that the transgression would increase”!

And lest we try to limit this idea of “the Law coming in” to a personal Law-conviction-gospel-belief conversion narrative, the language Paul uses in vv. 5, 6 is explicitly historical. The “flesh-Spirit” contrast elsewhere in Paul would be enough to prove that he has cosmic, redemptive history in mind here—stages of God’s covenant dealings with the world in terms of Moses and then Christ. But v. 6 explicitly contrasts the newness of the Spirit with the oldness of the “letter” (a reference to the Mosaic covenant; cf. 2 Cor. 3:6-8).

So Paul associates life under Moses with sin, the “flesh,” and death, even though the Mosaic covenant itself was good and even anticipated and revealed—in shadow form—Christ and His saving work. For this reason Paul goes on in the next seven verses (and I believe the rest of the chapter) to defend the inherent goodness of “the Law” (Mosaic covenant) despite its general effect on fallen humanity, apart from the eschatological intervention of God in Christ.

But let us reflect for a moment on how it is Paul can use such negative language about human experience under Moses (and there is more to come), when anticipatory gospel grace itself was available through the Mosaic covenant, for the faithful. I believe two lines of thought shed light on this question for us here.

First is the OT theme I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this essay already, as side notes: Israel under the Mosaic Law was by and large an unregenerate, uncircumcised-of-heart covenant community, with a mere faithful remnant being composed of regenerate believers. Therefore Paul uses stark language to express what was generally the case before the coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Second, as Dr. Lane Tipton fleshes out in his 2015 conference talks mentioned at the beginning of this essay, one can detect a very distinct pattern of thought in Paul’s theology in his contrasts between New Covenant experience in Christ and every era that came before; and this structure is evident in 2nd Corinthians 3 among other places. That structure may be expressed as follows: the eschatological life brought about by the death of Christ, His resurrection, ascension, Spirit-endowment, and His outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, is so superlative in character that everything that came before—even blessed prelapsarian life in Eden, and even gracious covenant experience under Moses—may be characterized as relatively death-like in comparison.

More specifically, with 2nd Corinthians 3, it is fascinating to note first the Old Testament backdrop of Moses’ Christ-like intercession for the golden calf-worshiping people at Sinai, and the glory reflecting off of his face such that that people could not even look at it—yet to note also the stark contrasting language Paul employs there to contrast “letter,” and “Spirit,” referring to old and new covenants, respectively: the letter that “kills,” (v. 6) the “ministry of death,” (v. 7) and the “ministry of condemnation” (v. 9), on one hand; versus the Spirit that “gives life” (v. 6), the “ministry of the Spirit” (v. 8), and the “ministry of righteousness” (v. 9), on the other hand.

Reading the New Testament it soon becomes evident that like the OT prophets, the apostles at times use idealized language to add rhetorical force to their theological assertions about the structure of redemptive history. And this is far from disingenuous. In fact, for the prophets, a robust apostolic doctrine of inaugurated eschatology more than vindicates their lofty language of the kingdom as we are meant to apply it to even our current interadvental experience of the age of the Spirit, anticipating a day when their words will be fulfilled in greater fullness. And vindicating the stark language of Paul and other NT authors associating Mosaic experience with sin, the “flesh,” and even death and condemnation, are passages from the OT itself that imply the inadequate, sub-eschatological (and therefore sub-resurrection and death-prone), and provisional character of the Mosaic economy:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him” (Deut. 18:15). Moses will not be the last or ultimate prophet from God, however permanent Torah itself (as a covenant) seemed to the ancient Jew’s mind. Rightly, the expectation of this latter prophet becomes bound up with Messianic, kingdom, resurrection, “last days” expectation.

Deuteronomy 30:1-14 as a whole prophesies restoration from exile after a time in the future when the whole nation turns away. The restoration only takes place upon heart-circumcision of the covenant community as a whole, which will end up being the result of unilateral divine action, bringing about eschatological resurrection life in the Spirit. An anticipated change of covenants or covenant terms is not explicit here—in fact, continuity of moral norms is strongly implied—but this passage is important background material for some of the post-exilic prophetic material referred to below (and for Paul in Romans 10 and elsewhere). It implies at least broadly that Israel’s experience under Moses was only the first stage of the much longer saga to climax in true resurrection life, many epochs later.

“For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant;…” (Hos. 6:7, also mentioned above). Mosaic ceremonial sacrifice is relativized, and the Mosaic covenant is said to have been (definitively?) broken and transgressed by Israel. This is likened to Adam’s breaking of a covenant, and the result for him was the penalty of death. Therefore the Law itself becomes further associated, in the history of Israel, with death and spiritual ineffectiveness; and its unique cultic trappings are spoken of by the prophets as what they truly are: provisional, illustrative pointers to covenant faithfulness/justice, the unchanging heart of God’s requirement of His people.

“’Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant I which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD” (Jer. 31:31-32). This famous text prophesying the new covenant in Christ, in both its statement that Israel broke the Mosaic covenant, and even, as the author of Hebrews points out, in mentioning a “new” covenant at all, implies that the “old” (Mosaic) covenant is already, in principle, becoming obsolete. The Law cannot bring about eschatological blessing for the covenant community, because they (Israel, corporately) definitively broke it.

Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones in Ez. 37 is equally important for this theme in the prophets: the bones he sees are, as it were, Mosaic bones, the shambles of the covenant community of Israel under the Law having been punished by exile for corporate disobedience through unbelief and high-handed rebellion. And what is needed is the resurrecting power of the eschatological outpouring of the Holy Spirit, represented in Ezekiel’s vision as the prophetic word, giving life and living flesh to the bones again. This same need for eschatological resurrection power for the covenant community’s spirituality is probably in view in Daniel 12, although this text also certainly applies to the idea of ultimate bodily resurrection (echoed by Jesus’ language in Jn. 5:25-29).

To sum up this point another way, it should be no major surprise to us that in God’s program for redemptive history, which is to culminate in the reversal of the curse of Gen. 3:15 and the abolition of death in and through the work of Christ, every era that falls short of that final eschatological reality—even good, gracious, grace-mediating, and anticipatory covenantal realities that come beforehand—become associated with all the realities of the Fall, even sin and death. And what this should do for us is not to denigrate the glory and blessing of prelapsarian Eden or even the grace-filled covenantal experience of our forefathers in the faith under Moses, but rather to elevate for us our sense of the fullness of blessing in Christ, even before His Second Advent.

Let us return to our main text for this section, though, and look briefly at some of the details of how the Law exacerbates and highlights sin and therefore the need for Christ’s intervention in redemptive history.

Paul begins a dialogue with an imaginary interlocutor: “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?” (Rom. 7:7a). This seems like an appropriate question after all the negative associations made in vv. 5, 6. “May it never be!” Paul answers in v. 7b. “On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law” (v. 7c). “Know” here is a form of ginōskō so it is initially tempting to take it as more intimately experiential than cognitive, however, v. 7 concludes, “for [gar] I would not have known about [ēdein] coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” The emphasis is on the conscious perception of the moral requirement to not covet.

Here Paul is defending the goodness of the Law by appealing to one of its functions. In order to understand this verse rightly, we need to remember that the reference to “the Law” throughout is to the Mosaic covenant as a whole, and not narrowly to the Ten Commandments, or some other arbitrarily chosen set of positive moral commands. When we do that, we realize that whatever personal history Paul may be relating for us here, his main point is much wider in scope and redemptive-historical significance—he is setting up for us how it is that the Mosaic covenant ends up exacerbating sin for Israel, and therefore why Christ had to come.

So from v. 7 we see that Paul himself, or perhaps, Paul envisioning himself as a typical Israelite under the Law (and as we will see, perhaps even a typical descendant of Adam in the flesh), learns what “coveting” is because the Law commands him not to covet. I think Paul’s natural theology of conscience from the first two chapters of the book of Romans lends further credence to the idea that Paul does not have in mind here primarily the psychology of unbelievers (unbelievers of course know in their heart of hearts that they should acknowledge and worship God rather than creatures, and not engage in coveting, which is idolatry!; cf. Rom. 1:18ff; Col. 3:5), but rather the formality of covenant liability brought about for Israel at the time of Moses, at Sinai (and therefore, by extension, as we have seen, formal covenant liability for the whole world). Through the giving of the Law, Israel perceives in a formal, covenantal way, the duties to which she is obligated (adequately summarized as “covenant faithfulness,” not perfection, yet covenant faithfulness which looks to the full demands of the Law as the perfect standard, and to the provisions of the ceremonial laws for sacrifice and atonement).

This perception or covenantal recognition of responsibility is good in itself. But what happens next? Paul continues, “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died” (Rom. 7:8, 9). The problem is not the Law per se, but rather sin! It just happens to be the case that the response of sin, which lies initially relatively dormant in fallen humanity—including Israel as typical of fallen humanity—upon the giving of covenantal obligation, is to “come alive” and use the “commandment” as an opportunity to work truly, formally condemnable evil, which results ultimately in death.

Many commentators not only read this as Paul referring in personal terms to the history of Israel, but also detect echoes of Adam and Eve in the garden, being deceived (see v. 11) and through sin becoming liable to death. Whether or not this can be proven, as we have seen, there is an inextricable link between the history of Israel and the rest of the world, whether this takes a backward-glancing shape as in Hos. 6:7, or whether it is more forward-looking and anticipatory as in Rom. 3:19 and portions of Rom. 9-11. And Israel as the second unfaithful “son of God,” like Adam (see Luke’s designation in Lk. 3:38, and the following narrative of Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness, recapitulating Israel’s own Exodus experience), becomes a foil on the stage of redemptive history for the faithful Son, Jesus, to finally bring about eschatological life by His own obedience.

With these biblical-theological structures in place, it is not too difficult to read Paul’s comments on the experience of Israel here or elsewhere as reflecting and recapitulating in measure the experience of Adam, though there are differences in covenant conditions to be noted. Adam received a positive command, was deceived, disobeyed, and died. Israel received covenant-of-grace obligations, sin was stirred up in them, and she was largely deceived, disobedient, and exiled. And it may not be wholly inappropriate to go on and apply similar language to Paul as an individual: one for whom the demands of the Law proved to point out and exacerbate his own covetousness, and, once the Spirit made him sufficiently sensitive to his own sin, prepared him to feel his need of Christ. But as aforesaid, the emphasis of the whole passage seems to be much more redemptive-historical than literally autobiographical.

Paul begins to wrap up his initial discussion of the ugliness and twistedness of this treachery of sin in taking that which is good in itself, the Law, and using it to bring about death:

“…and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the [Mosaic] Law is holy, and the commandment [‘you shall not covet’] is holy and righteous and good. Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good [the Law], so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful,” (Rom. 7:10-13, my emphases and bracketed comments).

Paul here continues to labor to defend the goodness of the Law in the face of its inadvertent effect of stirring up sin and leading indirectly to death. And the two really helpful purpose clauses at the end of the passage are central for establishing our main point: the fact that the Law itself aims at life, but sin takes opportunity through the commandment to produce death instead, is used by God in redemptive history to exacerbate and therefore highlight the twisted, ugly, sinfulness of sin. Before the light of Christ dawns, the darkness of the result of Adam’s disobedience is encapsulated and deepened in the experience of Israel under the Law—a truly covenant-of-grace experience that anticipates the gospel, which nevertheless falls short of the eschatological freedom of the Spirit, and short of the spiritual resurrection of the covenant community as a whole.

In the titular terms of this essay, the Law comes in and at one level demands of Israel mere covenantal justice (covenant faithfulness) while at another level pointing to the need, in principle, for absolute justice (through its provision of blood atonement for all unintentional sins and its presentation of the Law as a goal for perfect holiness). But apart from the eschatological intervention of Christ, the result is by and large covenantal injustice (covenant unfaithfulness/apostasy, which obviously encompasses the imperfection of absolute injustice, too), leading to exile/death! Neither Adamic nor even Mosaic humanity can bring about eschatological life and righteousness for the covenant community (and therefore the world). And this illustrates in bold relief the sinfulness of sin and therefore the desperate need of both Jew and Gentile for Christ.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The High Priestly Prayer of Adam: A Speculative Exercise in Federal Theology

Please be careful to read this with functional Messianic categories in mind, and use it to ask useful questions about the structure of salvation. Do not read this as factual or as an actual interpretation or re-interpretation of Holy Scripture, or as if it is attributing any essential divine attributes to Adam, or denying the necessity of the incarnation.

Adam, having completed his obedience to the command of the Lord God in Eden, was soon to be crowned King, and to receive the promised endowment of the life-giving Holy Spirit by whom he and his entire family would be glorified and enjoy eternal fellowship with Yahweh...

Adam, lifting up his eyes to heaven, said:

"Father, the hour has come; glorify your son, that the son may glorify You, even as You gave him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given him, he may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and to be in my family, as you have ordained. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which you have given me to do. Now glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory I have never known as a creature made from the dust, which you have nevertheless promised in the tree of life.

"I have manifested Your name to the men You have given me in the world; they were Yours and You gave them to me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that everything You have given me is from You; for the words which You gave me about the tree of knowledge of good and evil, about the garden, and about filling and subduing the earth, I have given to them; and they received them, and truly understood that You created me, and they believed that You made me in Your image and established me as a priest and king in Eden. I ask on their behalf, for they are Yours; and all things that are mine are Yours, and Yours are mine, and You have been glorified in them.

"I am no longer part of the old age, and yet for a little longer, they are; and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given me, that they may be one in fellowship even as I am one in fellowship with You. While I've been with them, I have been guarding them in Your name which You have given me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished.

"But now I come to You; and these things I speak now so that they may have my joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the serpent has hated them, because they are not of him, even as I am not of him. I do not ask for you to remove the threat of the serpent, but to protect them from him. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You created me from the dust, I have reared and discipled them, and sent them throughout the world to subdue and fill all creation. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in the truth.

"I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also which come after them, throughout their generations; that they may all be one in fellowship; even as You, Father are in me by Your Spirit, and I am in You (for you are my shelter and strong tower), that they also may be in us, so that all of creation will see their love and glorify You.

"The glory which You have given me I have given to them, that they may be one in communion, just as we are one; I with them and You in me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that all creation may know that You created me, and loved them, even as You love me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given me, be with me where I am, so that they may see the glory of Your image which You have given me, for You loved me before the foundation of the world.

"O righteous Father, although the unclean spirits have not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You created me and covenanted with me; and I have made known Your name to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved me may be in them, and that I may enjoy communion with You together with them."

Paul and the Law: Covenantal and Absolute Justice, Part 2: The Indictment of Sin

1. The Indictment of Sin

One of the consistent principles one finds throughout the letters of Paul is the Law-sin-violation/imputation connection. Namely, apart from law, there can be no formal imputation of sin even when sin is committed. Therefore there can be no wrath or punishment if the principle of law is not directly applied to a sinner. This functions in Romans and Galatians to establish two ideas: 1) the idea that the blessings of the gospel offered in Christ are appropriated by faith apart from “works of the Law” (more on this phrase later), according to a principle of promise rather than one of sin-indicting Law; 2) indirectly, therefore, also the idea that the Mosaic covenant itself functioned redemptive-historically, in part, to formally indict sin.

And this formal indictment, we will see more and more clearly, has its focus on Israel as God’s special covenant community under the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace, “the Law;” but Israel is (in Paul’s theology and even in the creation imagery of the temple itself) a microcosm of the whole world, and therefore the formal indictment of sin for Israel (as a whole, not denying the existence of a faithful remnant) becomes an indictment of the world in general—an indictment of all “fleshly” humanity, fallen in Adam, and subject to the corruption of the old order of creation.

Note some of the most telling verses from the two Pauline books mentioned above:

“Now we know that whatever the [Mosaic] Law says, it speaks to those under the Law [Israel], so that every mouth may be closed, and the whole world become accountable to God” (Rom. 3:19, my bracketed comments and emphases). The whole world must heed Israel’s Law, and is subject in principle to the heart of its requirements. It is probably better to understand this redemptive-historically and as a matter of principle, rather than as some kind of statement of Paul’s view of human psychology—although there are definitely some related psychological implications of Paul’s natural theology from Romans 1 and 2.

“For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants…” (Rom. 4:14-16b, my emphasis). Paul labors in this chapter to prove that faith, not works of the Law—any works of the Law, but admittedly focused on circumcision here—is how Jew and Gentile both receive the blessings of the Abrahamic promises and become heirs. In so doing, he exposes the principle that the Law stands in the way of blessing, threatening wrath instead, tacitly because of sin; but if the Law is taken out of the way as a principle, even sin is not a problem (in a sense), because there is no violation of any formal command.

“Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come” (Rom. 5:12-14, my emphases). In this classic text for Reformed federal theology, Paul establishes all of fallen humanity’s link with Adam, and proves that the sin of Adam resulted in the condemnation and death of his posterity, whether or not any of them disobeyed a formal, positive commandment of God the way Adam himself had done. He proves this by appealing to the empirical evidence of the death of human beings between the times of Adam and the Mosaic covenant—including human beings who were not themselves part of any formal covenant that included an obligation to positive law (other than by covenantal solidarity with Adam).

Here a fuller treatment would raise and thoroughly explore the question of the nature of the original covenant made with Adam and try to come down somewhere on the spectrum between those who collapse the traditional “covenant of works” and “covenant of grace” into one, essentially gracious covenant of “glory” or “maturity;” and those who on the other hand sharply distinguish the two covenant arrangements and are shy to speak of any “grace” at all in the pre-Fall arrangement. Of late my opinion has been that it is healthiest to begin skewed a little toward the latter view, and then to qualify heavily in the other direction, rather than starting with a view of radical continuity and attempting to qualify a little in the direction of discontinuity. This is due largely in part to reflecting on 1) the way the New Testament compares glorification with even unfallen created man in superlative terms, and 2) the way in which Christ, in the High Priestly prayer of John 17, appeals boldly (and a bit proleptically) to the completion of His own work, as the (meritorious?) basis for entering into His Father’s glory and bestowing the same on His people. But I digress.

Material for us in this essay is Paul’s repetition here in Romans 5 of the principle, “sin is not imputed where there is no law.” The obvious logical corollary is that where there is “law” (formal covenantal demands), sin is imputed, resulting, of course, in wrath, cursing, condemnation, and death. This was true for individual Israelites under the Law, who did not, by faith, avail themselves of the gospel promises also offered under Moses through sacrifices, types, and shadows of Christ. But more importantly for Paul, I think, this was true redemptive-historically of Israel as a whole—uncircumcised-of-heart as they were, save for a faithful remnant.

Therefore as an analogue of the way Adam disobeyed a positive command of God and experienced cursing, exile, and death (in a sense), Israel corporately disbelieved and disobeyed in a high-handed, rebellious way, God’s formal, covenant-of-grace requirements under Moses, and therefore experienced covenant cursing and exile. In other words, Adam’s want of absolute righteousness in his one sin and subsequent judgment was recapitulated in Israel’s corporate, covenantal failure of righteousness in her apostasy and subsequent exile. In this qualified sense, then, “…like Adam they have transgressed the covenant…” (Hos. 6:7). In Israel’s covenantal failure, Adam’s race as a whole is seen to fall short of the glory of God once again, and sin is formally charged to its account.

Speaking of the intent of the Law in Galatians 3, Paul goes on to say, “…For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would have indeed been based on the Law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:21c-22, my emphasis). This whole passage is very similar to parts of the discussion in Romans 4, with a similar sociological concern of Jew-Gentile relations, dealt with on the basis of deeper structural, systematic- and biblical-theological realities. The idea for us at this juncture, though, is simply what we have already seen from Romans 3: the “Scripture,” in context clearly referring to the Mosaic Law/covenant, has “shut up” everyone under sin, in order that faith in Christ would be the mechanism of receiving the blessings of the Abrahamic promises, now that “faith” has come (an historia salutis statement given in ordo terms in Gal. 3:23, 25).

In other words, at least one of the primary functions of the Mosaic covenant in redemptive history—whatever numerous ways we must say (for the NT itself teaches repeatedly) it contained and preached the gospel in shadow form, as an administration of the covenant of grace—was to formally indict not only Israel, but the whole world, of sin. The sin for which Israel is directly indicted by the Law may be characterized, for this essay, as want of “covenantal justice,” whereas for the rest of the world, which does not have any of the ceremonial provisions for atonement that Israel enjoyed to address “unintentional sins,” or sins that fell short of expressing high-handed rebellion and fundamental unbelief, the indictment is for want of “absolute justice.” Every Gentile sin—every peccadillo—renders one liable to eternal judgment. The Law carries out this dual indictment, and as we have already seen from several of the passages referred to above, this is not an end in itself, but rather is preparatory for the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises. With the formal basis for the indictment of all human sin supplied in the Mosaic covenant, the need for Christ becomes starkly evident.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Paul and the Law: Covenantal and Absolute Justice, Part 1: Intro


There is no shortage of theological material attempting to explain in coherent terms the apostle Paul’s overall understanding of the role of the Mosaic covenant in redemptive history, its relation to the new covenant era inaugurated by Christ, and what implications there may be for the way believers today should understand the terms of their relationship to God, in Christ by faith, as over against “by works of the Law.”

In places there are remnants of a dispensationalism-derived tendency to caricature the Mosaic covenant itself as a kind of works-righteousness system of salvation (a tendency still prevalent in much of lay evangelicalism, by default if not self-consciously). There are reductionisms in some Reformed writers to the effect that Paul merely attacks a simple works-righteousness distortion or misuse of such texts as Lev. 18:5 and Deut. 27:26, in his contrasts of the teaching of the Judaizers with the true gospel.

There are also opposite reductionisms (as I see them in N. T. Wright, one of the foremost voices of the “New Perspective on Paul”) in the direction of understanding Paul’s critiques as simply a matter of eschatology and the culmination of salvation history in Christ. The emphasis in Wright, at least, is heavily on the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises of blessing to all nations, over against the Judaizers’ supposedly basic error of sinful ethnic and covenantal pride. Wright downplays the issues of general moral pride and works-righteousness mentalities among Jews (or Gentiles) as real targets of Paul’s polemic at all. The result is to downplay also Paul’s maintenance of the biblical necessity of absolute, strict-justice, forensic righteousness for anyone to pass muster at the final judgment (embodied most clearly in the denial of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience as a legitimate Pauline category).

The flurry of differing opinions is dizzying.

It doesn’t help anything that even within Reformed circles, differences of opinion emerge with regard to the nature of the Mosaic covenant and the degree to which it bears resemblance to, and “republishes” the demands of, the pre-Fall “covenant of works” made with Adam, in terms of an alleged “works principle” by which Israel was to maintain the typological inheritance of the land of Canaan. Perhaps, from one perspective derived from the works of Meredith Kline , Paul’s major contrast of the gospel with the “Law” (still understood as an administration of the covenant of grace, on the whole) has to do with an alleged corporate, typological “works principle” within the Law, which has now been done away with, giving way to the eschatological fulfillment in Christ of the uniquely unilateral “land grant” promises made to Abraham on the basis of an utterly separate “grace” principle. Perhaps.

Then again, perhaps, as per Dr. Lane Tipton (in lectures given at the Reformed Forum Theology Conferences of 2014 and 2015) whatever parallels we wish to draw between Adam in the garden and Israel in the land, under Moses—and there are some appropriate parallels, as we will see—we must be more careful than many neo-Klineans in ensuring that those parallels are redemptive-historically “calibrated through Abraham.” In contemplating so doing, it seems intuitively a bit short-sighted to characterize any aspect of Israel’s covenant as a mere “republication” of the “covenant of works,” the way some have. But more than intuition, there are some exceedingly difficult New Testament texts for this perspective, Pauline texts included.

But if broadly evangelical people still heavily influenced by old-school dispensationalism tend to flat-out caricature Moses, some Reformed writers undervalue the redemptive-historical emphasis in Paul, New Perspectivists undervalue Paul’s systematic concern for the “forensic” and his polemic against all forms of works-righteousness and human boasting, and neo-Klineans sometimes overdraw their analogies between Eden and Sinai…just what is the true heart of the Pauline contrast between Moses and Christ, Sinai and Zion, “the Law” and the gospel?

This essay does not claim to have the final word on that question. But a couple of texts in Paul may provide a programmatic entry point for thinking about such things in a more thorough and balanced way than has sometimes been offered, and in a way which does more justice (no pun intended) to the Mosaic covenant. This essay understands the Mosaic covenant in its essence as nothing other than an administration of the covenant of grace (by which faithful members were justified by faith alone, despite their sin…no forensic synergism to speak of), which nevertheless illustrated redemptive-historically the need for a unique kind of unilateral divine intervention on behalf of the covenant community as a whole.

The Law pointed out, in various ways, Israel’s (and the world’s) need for God Himself to bring about eschatological righteousness, in both acovenantal sense (Israel as a whole finally experiences true heart-circumcision and life in the Spirit), as well as an absolute sense (Jew and Gentile are both eternally justified by faith in Christ’s finished work, and eventually perfectly conformed to His image on the Last Day).

The corollary is that Paul’s polemic is salvation-historical, yes, but for that very reason is also deeply systematic-theological. In other words, the Judaizing error was certainly eschatological (and therefore sociological, regarding Jew-Gentile relations), but such error was really epiphenomenal of a more deeply-seated disposition of pride and tendency to works-righteousness characteristic of fallen humanity in general. The beginning of the evidence for this whole approach is found in some texts that directly connect the “Law” with the wider world outside of Israel.

One such programmatic text is Romans 3:19, in which Paul states “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God.” A similar text is Galatians 3:22, which says, “But the Scripture [referring in context to the Mosaic Law] has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” These texts assert that the Law—the Mosaic covenant, properly understood as a gracious administration of the “covenant of grace” in Reformed theology—has as one of its primary effects the indicting of human sin in general. But in both contexts, there is also reference to the specific historical liability of Israel to the judgment threatened by the Sinaitic covenant for her unfaithfulness and apostasy.

What begins to emerge, pending the vindication of further exegesis, is the possibility that Paul’s polemic against “works of the Law” as a means of justification, as well as his contrast between Mosaic texts like Lev. 18:5 and Deut. 27:26 on the one hand, with his Christological interpretation of Deut. 30:10-14 and his presentation of Christ’s death as substitutionary Deuteronomic cursing (Rom. 10:5-10; Gal. 3:10-14) on the other hand, represents an indirect critique of a “works-righteousness” mentality typical of fleshly human pride. In other words, Paul critiques common human legalism by way of his critique of the Judaizers’ deficient eschatology. This approach recognizes Paul’s deep understanding of the problem of sin in its enslaving and condemning power in general, as specifically illustrated in the history of Israel under the Law, apart from God’s eschatological intervention in Christ.

The relationship of this view to the common approaches named above would be something like the following: the caricature of the Mosaic covenant as a works-righteousness system is fully rejected, the reductionisms of (some) traditional Reformed as well as “New Perspective” approaches are both remedied, and neo-Klinean covenant theology is given some needed nuance while appreciating some of its unique insights.

To more fully flesh out this proposal, the rest of this essay will work through several key texts in Paul that deal with the relationship of the Law to the gospel of Christ. There cannot be here anything like exhaustive exegesis. We will only seek to establish several ways in which, for Paul, the Mosaic covenant illustrated redemptive-historically the need for unilateral divine intervention to bring about true righteousness or “justice” in both a covenantal and an absolute sense. In the course of such study, some important points will hopefully become clearer about Paul’s understanding of the nature of the Law, Paul’s polemic against the Judaizers, and most importantly, the unique blessing of new covenant experience in Christ.

The ways in which the Law illustrated the need of Israel—and indeed of the whole world—for God’s intervention in Christ include at least the following, for Paul:

• The Law supplies a basis for a formal, post-Adamic indictment of all human sin

• The Law exacerbates and highlights the deceitful, enslaving, and condemning power of sin in a covenant community generally uncircumcised of heart

• The Law highlights, by way of contrast, the unilateral character of the Abrahamic promises and their eschatological fulfillment, through the mediatorial character of the Law’s own administration, the qualified, redemptive-historically bilateral character of its terms, and its explicitly sub-eschatological divine purpose

• The Law anticipates through the sacrificial system the necessity of a human, curse-bearing substitute to vindicate God’s absolute justice in forgiving sins at all, and to bring about covenantal justice for the cursed and exiled covenant community

Let us attempt to establish each of these in turn.