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No Dilemma for Paul?

October 23, 2009

It seems I would have had more of a dilemma to participate in the Old Covenant system than Paul did. At least til Tony preached on Acts 21. Obviously he had freedom of conscience, as did many other Jewish Christians.

Is N. T. Wright right here? What was Paul’s view of the law such that he could participate in it? (And what’s wrong with mine?) Here’s some helpful thoughts from Tony:

1. First, NT Wright is discussing the views of 2nd Temple Judaism in which Saul of Tarsus was raised, not necessarily the OT presentation of the covenant. What I mean is that Wright may, in fact, think that Palestinian Judaism got it wrong in their interpretation of the Mosaic covenant. I’m not sure about that. However, if Carson et al are correct, then Sander’s “Covenantal Nomism” is too simplistic. To be sure there is evidence that some believed that a Jew entered the covenant by grace and maintained their status by adherence to the law. Others, however, believed that they were “justified” through the keeping of the law. Carson calls this “variegated nomism” because of the diversity of views in the 1st century. But, I don’t think there’s a problem in any regard for the following reasons.

2. First of all, keep in mind that Paul views Christ as having been the telos of the whole law, not just the sacrificial system. All of it pointed to Jesus’ coming and all of it has been fulfilled by him. In other words, if it is morally wrong for him to participate in purification rites, it is also an ethical problem to keep the Sabbath, circumcise Timothy and participate in festivals such as Pentecost. On the other hand, if those rites find their purpose in Jesus, then I think Paul can participate, albeit in a different fashion than he did before his conversion. Whether Saul saw them as “national identity markers” as Wright thinks, or as the means of his righteousness before God (as I think – Phil. 3:4-9), he sees them now in a new light and can worship Christ through them. The best example that I can think of is a modern-day converted Jew who continues to celebrate the Passover with his unbelieving family. When he sits down at the seder he sees Christ, even though they fail to. I don’t think he’s wrong to do so, unless he forgets that it is a type that points him to Christ. For Paul the glory of Christ and his covenant so far surpasses the glory of the old covenant (2 Cor. 3:10,11) that I’m certain that, as he enters the Temple, he is not tempted to leave Christ for the types and shadows of the law. Others may be so tempted, so they need the warnings of the book of Hebrews. (More on that below.)

3. The single most important text to my mind on the subject of Paul’s attitude in this regard is 1 Cor. 9:19-23. In order to win Jews, he makes himself “a servant to all”, “even though I am free from all”. He says that his strategy in evangelism is, “To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law).” As I said on Sunday, Paul’s freedom moves in both directions. He’s free from the law but his freedom also stretches toward the law, if he deems that expedient.

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