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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Paul and the Law: Covenantal and Absolute Justice, Part 6: Conclusion

Romans 10:5-10 contrasts the principle of Lev. 18:5 (essentially, “do the Law and you’ll live”) with an explicitly Christological interpretation of Deut. 30:11-14 (essentially, “confess and believe in the risen Lord Jesus and you will be saved”) as an argument for the assertion that “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). What are we to make of the contrast in this notoriously difficult passage, in light of what we have said above?

Are we to say, with some old school dispensationalists, that the Law itself taught a form of salvation by works? Or shall we say with some less careful neo-Klineans that Paul is contrasting eschatological salvation by faith alone with the corporate, typological requirement of obedience in Israel according to a kind of republished “covenant of works” under Moses? Shall we say with New Perspectivists that Paul’s preoccupation here, as elsewhere, is with covenantal or ethnic presumption on the part of Israel? Or shall we say with many Reformed commentators that Paul is merely opposing a Jewish misreading or abuse of the Law in his argument for salvation by faith alone?

As stated in the introduction of the essay, the above argued approach to Paul’s view of the Law and its function in redemptive history results in the following relationships with several historic views:

1) The old dispensational notion that the Law actually taught salvation by works is categorically rejected.

2) Neo-Klinean “republicationism” (as sometimes expressed) is acknowledged as having some legitimate, unique insights into the redemptive-historical role of the Law, but given some necessary nuance and qualification.

3) “New Perspective” exegesis that fixates on epiphenomenal sociological or ecclesiological issues related to Pauline eschatology, to the neglect of deeper systematic-theological issues like basic legalism and the problem of human boasting, is rescued from reductionism.

4) And traditional Reformed exegesis that fixates on Paul’s polemic against basic legalism to the relative neglect of Pauline categories of redemptive-historical transition is given a richer context within which to function.

Let us demonstrate the above relationships, briefly, by considering Romans 10:5-10 from the perspective of everything said to this point in the essay, as a kind of test case or confirmatory hermeneutical application.

Romans 10:5, 6a says, “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on Law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith says…,” and is followed by quotations from Deuteronomy 30 interlaced with Christological comments. Notice several things. 1) Beginning with “for” (gar), Paul is continuing a logical argument from what he has said immediately before in vv. 1-4. 2) Paul introduces the principle of Lev. 18:5 (if not a loose quotation, certainly a strong allusion), by saying that “Moses writes” it. 3) V. 6 begins with the adversative “but” (de), making explicit the fact that Paul is contrasting Lev. 18:5 with his understanding of Deut. 30 in the following verses.

We may begin to see, just from these brief observations, the need for a rich, layered model of Paul’s redemptive-historical and systematic polemic, in order to read the whole passage consistently.

The fact that v. 5 begins with “for” connects it to his immediately preceding comments, where it is obvious that he is targeting and criticizing a form of unbelieving Jewish legalism (cf. vv. 1-4). They “have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (v. 2) because they fail to recognize that “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (v. 4). What did this look like, though? Was it mere Jewish covenantal or ethnic presumption? Indeed not: “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own [righteousness], they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (v. 3, my emphasis and brackets). Many Reformed exegetes are right to detect basic legalism as at least one target of Paul’s polemic here.

Mark Seifrid, now a Lutheran scholar, seems inconsistent on this point on p. 653 in the “Romans” section of Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, 2007, hereafter CNTUOT:

"Yet neither ethnic particularity nor the self-righteousness bound up with it is Paul’s concern at this moment, even though both fall within the scope of his following argument. The contrast here is between God’s righteousness (which Paul underscores by fronting the genitive tou theou in 10:3a), and that which is Israel’s own…Above all else, Paul speaks of a failed and misdirected effort. He does not say anything of Israel’s intent. That its quest led to a misguided ethnocentrism and a false pursuit of self-righteousness is a secondary phenomenon that we cannot properly read back into the mind of the nation. According to Paul, Israel’s failure lies in its disobedience to the gospel and in the misunderstanding of Scripture that this disobedience reveals."

Seifrid seems to say that “self-righteousness” is not “Paul’s concern at this moment,” 1) “even though both fall within the scope of his following argument” (an argument consisting of a chain of propositions linked closely by several “for’s” (gar); 2) the contrast is rather “between God’s righteousness…and that which is Israel’s own” (how is this not, in fact, “self-righteousness” on the part of Israel?); 3) Israel’s failure is rather “disobedience to the gospel” and the “misunderstanding of Scripture” revealed by such disobedience (which is characterized at least by self-righteousness and legalism, is it not?). Moreover, Seifrid says on one hand that “Paul speaks of a…misdirected effort” and in the very next sentence says, “He does not say anything of Israel’s intent”…which is it? I have trouble making sense of Seifrid’s argument, though I’m sure his point is clearer in his own mind.

Whereas Seifrid says, “a misguided ethnocentrism and a false pursuit of self-righteousness is a secondary phenomenon that we cannot properly read back into the mind of the nation,” (and then does not go on to make clear what the alternative failure of Israel is, undeveloped language of “disobedience to the gospel” and “misunderstanding of Scripture” notwithstanding), I must still argue that “a false pursuit of self-righteousness” is indeed a primary phenomenon we must read as a direct target of Paul’s polemic, with the distinct issue of “a misguided ethnocentrism” as the “secondary phenomenon” (or epiphenomenon) to which New Perspective proponents are particularly sensitive.

Thus we must also see that a criticism of basic legalism does not exhaust Paul’s teaching here. The fact that v. 5 says that “Moses writes” the principle of Lev. 18:5 shows that a “misunderstanding” or “abuse” of the Law on the part of unbelieving Jews is not the totality of the contrast, and in fact cannot be the heart of contrast between v. 5 and vv. 6-10. Whereas in the rabbinic antitheses of Matthew 5:21ff Jesus contrasts His own authoritative teaching with what his audience has heard it “said” (in Pharisaical distortions of the Law), here Paul contrasts Deut. 30:11-14 with another part of Holy Scripture itself. This indicates that at issue in these specific verses is a redemptive-historical shift (so N. T. Wright in his commentary on Romans).

This is further established by recognizing that Deuteronomy 28-30 programmatically and in fact prophetically describes the future of the covenant people in sweeping statements. First, Deut. 28 sets out the blessings and curses of the covenant, promising that by living covenantally faithfully to the Lord, Israel was to experience great blessing in the typological promised land of Canaan. Then Deut. 29:22ff predicts the apostasy and cursing of Israel, saying, “…and the Lord uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great wrath, and cast them into another land…” (29:28). Finally, Deut. 30 predicts a far-off period of restoration from exile when the people will repent, experience true heart-circumcision, and be gathered together and planted again in the promised land of blessing.

Glancing backward through redemptive history, Paul looks, through the lens of his new covenant experience in Christ, at the Prophetic material about of the restoration of Israel, and then looks, through “prophetic” eyes, as it were, back at Deuteronomy 30, and sees the promise of Christ in every verse. He recognizes that God has, in Christ, fulfilled His great promise to bring His people back again from exile, forgive their sins, and cause them at long last to be faithful to Him, with “circumcised hearts” ready to obey Him as their covenant Lord of the “new exodus.”

This dovetails with our previous discussions of Israel as the “typological son of God,” whose responsibility it was, under the Law, not to attain to perfection in some kind of new “covenant of works,” but certainly to attain to a measure of religious loyalty and filial fideity to God, and so to receive and maintain the blessed inheritance of the promised land. So Moses writes, “the man who practices the righteousness which is based on Law shall live by that righteousness” (Rom. 10:5; cf. Gal. 3:10-12).

We know 1) this was a real requirement for individual Israelites (for Moses wrote it); 2) this does not speak of a requirement of perfection, either in its original context of the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace, or in Paul’s use of it in Romans; it rather speaks simply of the need for covenant faithfulness (or else Deut. 30, itself part of the Law, would be a contradiction!); 3) Israel under the Law corporately failed to fulfill this injunction of covenant faithfulness (save for the remnant), and thus God’s solution, as promised in Deut. 30:1-14, was to intervene in the person of Christ. The dynamics of that intervention have been discussed in great (though obviously not exhaustive) detail above.

What do we take away from the above comments on Romans 10, and from the argument of this essay as a whole? The answer is that we have an enriched set of categories with which to interpret verses like Romans 10:4. When Paul says, “For Christ is the end (telos) of the Law for (eis) righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4), the point directly supported by all of vv. 5-13, what does he mean? Does he mean that Christ is the eschatological goal toward which the Law pointed, in faith-union with Whom everyone who believes may experience the fullness of salvation as a member of God’s new covenant people? Or does he mean that reception of Christ by faith constitutes the temporal “end” of a person’s self-righteous reliance on Law-obedience for salvation? And if he means the former, is the latter wholly out of view?

We should be hesitant to posit double entendre, or to commit the sort of eisegesis that would be like a verse-long equivalent of the “illegitimate totality transfer” exegetical fallacy, where we stuff excessive concepts into the meaning of short statements or single words because we wish they were all there. However, given the rich biblical- and systematic-theological structures we have explored and developed, it is possible to read Rom. 10:4 without unnecessary reductionism.

I believe that Paul’s proximate point in Romans 10:4 is in fact eschatological, not anthropological (so Seifrid in CNTUOT, ed. Beale and Carson; and contra Schreiner, who I believe overplays lexical evidence about the connotation of telos, in his article, “Paul’s View of the Law in Romans 10:4-5”). Christ is indeed the eschatological “goal” of the Law in the sense that the Law anticipates, in all the ways we have explored above and more, the end-time “righteousness of God” (10:3b; cf. 1:17; 3:21) manifested in the person and work of Christ.

The immediate implication, however (implied by v. 3a!), is that every human being, Jew or Gentile, must look wholly to God in Christ, by faith, and away from self, for eschatological salvation! The lesson of the relatively bilaterally administered “Law” era, as “covenant-of-grace shaped” as it was, was that God Himself must save His people. The failure of Israel as a whole to attain covenantal justice in terms of the Law, and the problem of human sin in general, characterized in this essay as want of absolute justice, both highlight the utter necessity of the unilateral saving work of God in Christ, in fulfillment of the promises to Abraham—

—promises ratified in the bizarre Ancient-Near-East-like covenant-cutting ceremony of Gen. 15:12-18 in which Abraham, uncharacteristic of either party to such ceremonies, did nothing but sleep (recalling the creation of Eve when Adam slept in Gen. 2:21, 22).

In Paul’s theology, the Mosaic covenant anticipated the necessity of eschatological divine intervention to establish covenantal and absolute justice by:

1) supplying a basis for a formal, post-Adamic indictment of human sin in general, by way of the prophetic indictment and cursing of Israel as a priestly representative of the world (Rom. 3:19);

2) exacerbating and highlighting the general problem of human sin in a covenant community generally uncircumcised of heart (Rom. 7:1-13, and 14ff?);

3) highlighting by way of contrast the uniquely unilateral character of the promises made to Abraham and their eschatological fulfillment in Christ, over against the (relatively) bilateral administration of the heavily-mediated “Law” (Gal. 3:15ff); and

4) anticipating the necessity of a human curse-bearing substitute to effect the restoration of Israel from exile and to atone for human sin in general, bringing about both forensic and practical righteousness, culminating in the glorification of saints in Christ on the Last Day (Rom. 3:21ff; 8; Gal. 3:10-14).

While seeking in good, historic Reformed fashion to stress the continuity of God’s dealings with His covenant people from age to age, in terms of the one, unified “covenant of grace” from Gen. 3:15 to Abraham to Moses to David to the new covenant, we should nevertheless be careful to appreciate and consciously, by faith, avail ourselves of the unique privileges of our new covenant position in redemptive history. God’s preparatory word in the Law, spoken chiefly to His people Israel, and through Israel to the whole world, has given way to His final Word in Christ (Heb. 1:1, 2), spoken to Jew and Gentile alike (Rom. 1:16).

We have, now, therefore, in Christ, nothing less than the freedom and glory of the “age to come” in earnest. This means, among other things, fuller revelation, greater experience of the assurance of salvation, greater power for evangelical obedience, and the sweet beginnings of the everlasting mode of our covenant fellowship with the Triune God: union not with the Law, but with the risen Christ, in the unbreakable bond of the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!

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