What was Paul's view of the Law?


1. Introduction
2. The Crisis over Gentiles and the Law in the Early Church
3. The Status of the Law in Relation to Being Declared Righteous
   3.1. Paul's View of the Law Prior to Conversion
   3.2. Paul's Reassessment of the Law
       3.2.1. Impossibility of Being Declared Righteous by the Law
       3.2.2. Salvation-Historical Purpose of the Law
              A. Law as Bringing Knowledge of Sin and Increasing Sin
                    1. Rom 3:19-20; 5:12-13; 7:7-8; Gal 3:19
                    2. Rom 5:20
              B. The Law as Preparatory
                    1. Gal 3:14-25
                    2. Rom 10:4
4. The Law and Its Relation to the Believer as a Moral Standard
   4.1. Paul's Rejection of Part of the Law
       4.1.1. Circumcision
       4.1.2. Dietary Laws and Jewish Festival Calendar
   4.2. Statements that Appear to Indicate the Paul Rejects the Law as a Moral Standard

       4.2.1. Rom 6:14-15
       4.2.2. Rom 7:1-6
       4.2.3. 2 Cor 3:1-11
              A. 2 Cor 3:1-5
              B. 2 Cor 3:6-11, 17
       4.2.4. Gal 2:17-19
       4.2.5. Gal 3:23-25; 4:1-7
       4.2.6. Gal 4:21-31
       4.2.7. Gal 5:1, 13, 18
       4.2.8. 1 Cor 9:20-21; 10:23-24
5. Passages Suggesting the Abiding Validity of at Least Parts of the Law
   5.1. Rom 2:14-15
   5.2. Rom 3:31

   5.3. Rom 7:12, 14
   5.4. Rom 8:2-4

   5.5. Rom 13:8-9; Gal 5:13-14; 5:6b
   5.6. 1 Cor 7:19
   5.7. Eph 6:1-3
   5.8  2 Cor 5:1-11
6. Synthesis




1. Introduction


Paul's view of the Jewish Law is a controversial topic. Some have accounted for the controversy by laying the blame on Paul himself: it is argued that Paul was inconsistent in what he said about the Law; his statements in this regard varied in accordance with the question with which he was dealing.(1) Some scholars go as far as to say that Paul never got his views on the Law straight, with the result that he made contradictory statements about the Law in his writings; presumably Paul never became aware of these contradictions in his thought.(2) Others have accounted for the confusion about Paul's views on the Law by saying that his views underwent change from the writing of Galatians to Romans, with the result that there are differences between the two works concerning what Paul affirms about the Law.(3) It is preferable, however, to hold that Paul was consistent in what he wrote about the Law, although, because of the occasional nature of Paul's writings, it is not always easy to form a coherent picture of his position.(4) Any attempt to make sense of what Paul has written about the Law in his extant letters should be made on the assumption that he was consistent and that he did not change his views during the period represented by his correspondence.

   By way of introduction, it should be noted that in Paul's writings the term ho nomos usually means the Law defined as the expression of the totality of God's requirements for Israel; this Law is found in the Torah. But sometimes Paul uses the term ho nomos to mean God's requirements for human beings, however it is known. This gives rise to references to gentiles being under the Law. For example, Paul affirms that the gentiles are a law to themselves, having the law written upon their hearts (Rom 2:14). This dual usage complicates any analysis of Paul's views on the Law; yet, it is also insightful, for it presupposes that there is a connection between the Jewish Law and the law innately known to all human beings. Paul also uses the term ho nomos in other senses irrelevant to this investigation (see Rom 7:21-25; Rom 3:21).


2. The Crisis over Gentiles and the Law in the Early Church


The existence of gentile believers and the need to integrate them into the church forced the question of the salvation-historical purpose of the Law. Paul taught his gentile converts that they did not need to submit to the Law, but not all in the church agreed with his position. In fact, there was a group of Jewish believers who vehemently opposed his teaching. Contrary to Paul, they held that gentiles who believe in Jesus must also keep the Law. This group sent delegates to Antioch, where Paul's influence was greatest, in order to oppose Paul's teaching and undermine his authority there: "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'"(Acts 15:1). In Antioch, these men explicitly contradicted what Paul (and Barnabas) had taught by insisting that a condition of salvation for gentiles believers was their submission to circumcision, no doubt as the first step to full obedience to the Law. This faction in the early church seems to have been dominated by Pharisees who believed in Jesus as the Christ: "But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). (Normally, one does not think of Pharisees as believers, because of the generally negative portrayal of them in the gospels.)  Whether these Pharisees also insisted that Jewish believers and gentile converts be required to keep Pharisaic oral law (halakot) is never said, but this would be consistent with the nature of Pharisaism. Those whom Paul identifies in Gal 2:12 as "some from James" (tines apo Iakabou) who came to Antioch and intimidated Peter into ceasing his practice of eating with gentiles are probably the same group referred to in Acts 15:1, whose mission was to counter Paul's influence.Thus Paul's opponents in Antioch claimed to be acting under the authority of James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Whether James ever agreed with the position advocated by these Pharisaic believers is not known; at any rate, at the Jerusalem Council, James did side with Paul and Barnabas.


   About the same time, others from this Pharisaic faction in the early church traveled to the churches in southern Galatia that Paul had founded during his first missionary journey in order to subvert his teaching.(5)  Paul's allusions to the intruders in the Galatian churches is consistent with the description of Paul's opponents in Acts 15:1-5. In Gal 1:6-9, he refers to those who are troubling the Galatians by the introduction of "another good news," which he does not consider to be good news at all. These intruders are attempting to alienate the Galatians from Paul, and remove him as their spiritual authority (4:17). It is clear from Gal 5:10-12 that there is a certain false teacher in the midst of the Galatians who is attempting to convince the Galatians to be circumcised. Paul explains the reason that these false teachers are trying to convince the Galatians to be circumcised is to avoid persecution and to boast in them (6:12-13). The thrust of the Letter to the Galatians is Paul's attempt to convince the Galatians that faith and works are diametrically opposed to each other, contrary to what Paul's opponents claim; likewise, to walk in the Spirit is incompatible with submission to the Law. (In Ant. 20.34-48, Josephus gives the account of Izates, king of Adiabene, was advised by the Jew Ananias not to undergo circumcision, for fear of the political consequences; later another Jew, Eleazar, convinced Izates that he should be circumcised.  Even the Hellenized Jew Philo of Alexandria advocated circumcision for Jews and proselytes [Migr. Abr., 89-94].)


   At the Jerusalem Council, the question of the salvation-historical purpose of the Law was discussed and Paul and Barnabas's views were vindicated. Both Peter and James spoke on their behalf, and Paul and Barnabas were given a letter of approval by the others (Acts 15:23-29). The only stipulation was that Paul should teach his gentile converts to be respectful of Jewish sensibilities by abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols, from (the eating of) blood, from (the eating of) strangled animals and from sexual immorality: "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication" (Acts 15:28-29). This would facilitate the integration of Jewish and gentile believers. Those at the Jerusalem Council, however, said nothing about whether Jews could or should henceforth abandon the Law; the only issue with which they dealt was that of the gentiles. Several years later, Paul was under suspicion by Jewish believers in Jerusalem, "all zealous for the Law," of teaching that Jews who live among the gentiles (i.e., diasporan Jews) should abandon the Law (Acts 21:20-26). To alleviate their fears, Paul, under the advice of James and some elders, agreed to assume the costs of the purification rites of four men; Paul and these others had taken Nazarite vows earlier (Acts 18:18), and were now bringing their vows to completion. As a result, they needed to purify themselves in the Temple (see Num 6:14-15; m. Naz. 6.5-6). Such a public display of participation in Israel's ritual life was intended to prove to the population of the city that Paul had not abandoned the Law and did advocate that Jews cease living under the Law. (Paul's agreement to pay for the cost of purification was clearly an exercise in public relations.) The question that remained to be fully resolved, however, was the status of the Law for Jewish believers; to answer this questions leads to a complete exposition of the salvation-historical purpose of the Law.


Those sympathetic to rabbinic Judaism often comment that Paul fundamentally misunderstood Palestinian Judaism, for he reveals no knowledge of the widespread teaching on repentance and God's willingness to forgive; rather, Paul understands the covenant as the one-sided declaration of the will of God, which becomes the means by which Jews make themselves righteous and therefore worthy of covenantal blessing (i.e., reward) (see H. J. Schoeps, Paul. The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) chap. 5; E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977). It seems, however, that Paul was aware of the second-Temple teaching on repentance, but rejected this as inconsistent with the covenantal arrangements specified in the Torah. In other words, he rejected the notion that the habitually obedient will be declared righteous at final judgment by virtue of their obedience and their repentance of uncharacteristic acts of disobedience; thus, there remained only one option: the imputation of the righteousness of  God, which is the content of the good news (Rom 1:16-17; 3:21-24). As already indicated, Paul did, nonetheless, agree with the theological "intuition" that God was more merciful than the Torah would allow, but disagreed that the Torah itself provided any basis for such an optimistic view. Within second-Temple Judaism there is an unresolved tension between God as righteous judge and as merciful (see E. Sjöberg, Gott und Sünder im palästinischen Judentum [BWANT 79. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1938]; B. Smith, The Tension between God as Righteous Judge and as Merciful in Early Judaism [Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2005]). Paul attempts to resolve this tension in favor of God's mercy, but to the detriment of legalistic righteousness. (See M. Seifrid, Justification by Faith. The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme [SNT 68; Leiden: Brill, 1992] 78-133; B. Smith, What Must I Do to Be Saved? Paul Parts Company with His Jewish Heritage [Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007].)


3. The Status of the Law in Relation to Being Declared Righteous


3.1. Paul's View of the Law Prior to Conversion


Paul as a Pharisee would have held view that the Law was given to the Israeilites in order to be kept, being a statement of their covenantal obligation. That Jews could freely choose to keep the Law was assumed by the Pharisees (although not all Jews held to such an optimistic view). Moreover, Paul probably made the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. Unlike the latter, the former were those who only habitually obeyed God, knowingly sinning on occasion, but not habitually. While stating his credentials in order to disprove the charge that he was inferior to those who advocated that circumcision is necessary for gentile believers, Paul refers to himself in his pre-conversion state as "blameless with respect to righteousness that comes by the Law" (kata dikaiosunê tên en nomô amemptos) (Phil 3:6).(6) He likely means by this that before his conversion he considered himself to be righteous before God by means of being habitually obedient, not that he was completely without sin. Paul also probably believed that God would forgive the sins of the righteous person on the condition of repentance, this being a privilege granted by God by virtue of being righteous. Thus, a Jew could make himself righteous before God by habitually obeying the Law and seeking forgiveness for uncharacteristic sins. As already demonstrated, Jewish soteriology tended to be synergistic. According to the Pharisees, only the righteous would be declared righteous at the last judgment. Thus the Pharisees and other Jews believed that one could be only habitually obedient and still have grounds for "putting confidence in the flesh" (pepoithein en sarki), by which he means his own accomplishments (Phil 3:2).(7) (See Second-Temple Jewish Synergistic Soteriology)

Räisänen concludes from Paul's statement in Phil 3:6 that Paul inconsistently holds that Jews can fulfill the Law, a position that he denies in other contexts (H. Räisänen, Paul and the Law [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986] 106). Paul's position is consistent if one assumes that by "blameless" Paul means habitually obedient and that he came to the conclusion after his conversion that habitual obedience was no basis for being declared righteous before God, contrary to what he had thought. His opponents still hold his former views, so that, using their own criteria, he is arguing that he is their superior and should not be dismissed as a crank. But, of course, Paul, contrary to his opponents, no longer believes that he has any basis for self-confidence (3:7-11). Confirmation of this position is the fact that Paul uses the term "blameless" to describe believers at the final judgment (1 Thess 3:13; 1 Thess 5:23; see 1 Cor 1:8): he does not believe that believers are perfect, but only habitually obedient.

Lion Monument at Amphipolis


This structure is the funerary monument to Laomedon, who was a naval officer of Alexander the Great; it is dated to the late fourth century BCE. It was built along the Via Egnatia near Amphipolis. Paul and his travelling companions no doubt looked upon this monument.

3.2. Paul's Reassessment of the Law


After his conversion, Paul comes to the conclusion that only perfect obedience can provide a person with a grounds for confidence of being declared righteous at the final judgment (see Paul's Rejection of Jewish Synergistic Soteriology).(8) For this reason Paul re-evaluated the Law and its purpose in salvation-history. It is also probable that Paul re-evaluates his so-called blamelessness and concludes that he was not as righteous as he formerly supposed, especially since he persecuted the church, the community of God. (Paul sees his persecution of the church as one of his greatest sins committed prior to his conversion [see 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13].)

3.2.1. Impossibility of Being Declared Righteous by the Law


Paul holds that no one can be declared righteous by keeping the Law (see Rom 3:20; 8:3; Gal 2:15-16; 2:21; 3:10-11; 3:21; Eph 2:8-9) (see Paul's Non-Synergistic Soteriology). He comes to the conclusion that God requires perfect obedience from Jews and gentiles and that any intentional violation of God's Law (in whatever form) will result in condemnation at final judgment, that is, in not being declared righteous but being declared guilty. In other words, Paul considers the category of "the righteous" as irrelevant to the question of being declared righteous: a person is either perfect or a sinner; there is no third option. But since no one can live up to the standard of perfect obedience to the Law, no one can be declared righteous by keeping the Law. Thus, in Paul’s view, the common assertion among second-Temple Jews that "the righteous" can be declared righteous by their habitual obedience to the Law represents an illegitimate attenuation of God's demand for perfect obedience. 

3.2.2. True Salvation-Historical Purpose of the Law


A. Law as Bringing Knowledge of Sin and Increasing Sin


Although the ostensive purpose of the Law is as a means of obtaining life (Lev 18:5), Paul comes to believe that the Law has another purpose, its true salvation-historical purpose. In his view, God knows that human beings cannot be declared righteous by obedience to the Law (even though theoretically this is possible). So God has, it seems, an ulterior motive in giving the Law, insofar as the Law's true purpose is to bring Jews and other human beings to a knowledge of their sinfulness.(9) It could be argued that the fact that the Law is given to the Israelites in such sublime and terrifying circumstances is a foreboding of this negative function (Exod 19:9, 16; 24:15; Deut 4:11; 5:22). The Law is even intended to function to increase sin in the world. The Law, in other words, prepared for Christ, and once it has fulfilled this purpose it becomes salvation-historically obsolete.


1. Rom 3:19-20; 5:12-13; 7:7-8; Gal 3:19


Paul explains that the giving of the Law creates the possibility of sin, defined as violation of a commandment; as such it serves to make disobedient human beings into "sinners." This was God's true purpose in giving the Law, because there must first be an well defined problem for which Christ could be the solution. Without the Law, human beings would not know what sin was and so in the strict sense would not be sinners, even though they would still be disobedient to God. In Rom 3:19-20, Paul explains that the purpose of the Law is for Jews to conclude that no one can "be declared righteous from the works of the Law" (3:19). The Law accomplishes this task by defining sin and bringing its violators into a state in which they know themselves as sinners: "For through the Law is a knowledge of sin" (dia gar nomou epignôsis hamartias) (3:20). In other words, because of the Law sin defined as transgression becomes possible and therefore a knowledge of oneself as a sinner arises. Similarly, in Rom 5:13, Paul says that, "Sin is not taken into account without Law" (hamartia de ouk ellogeitai mê ontos nomou). His point is that, in a strict sense, sin presupposes Law: in the absence of Law, there is no sin in the sense of a violation of a commandment, although there may be disobedience.


   The same idea is expressed in Rom 7:7-8: "'I' do not know sin except through the Law" (tên hamartian ouk egnon ei mê dia nomou). Paul explains how a personified “sin” used the commandment to trap “me.” In his view, sin remains inactive without the Law (see 7:8b-9). The result was that with the historical introduction of the Law ironically what was intended to bring (eternal) life (eis zôên) brought (eternal) death. When presented with the Law for the first time, a human being naively assumes that he or she can obey it; the unexpected result, however, is bondage to sin, so that the Law is passively complicit in producing violations of itself. (The use of the phrase “Sin . . . deceived me” in Rom 7:11 is probably an echo of Gen 3:13: “The serpent deceived me”; see 2 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:14.) This was the Jewish experience of the Law. As soon as he or she became aware of God’s requirements in the Law, an Israelite's latent tendency to sin—defined as the violation of a commandment—came to life: “Sin sprang to life” (7:9). Paul envisions sin as a potential power ruling over human beings that becomes actual in the presence of the Law. Sin requires an external object in order to become actualized and the Law serves this purpose. (In Rom 7:7, Paul gives the example of coveting: when the Law defines obedience to God as not coveting, then the act of coveting becomes clearly defined as such.)


   This also appears to be the meaning of Gal 3:19a: "What of the Law? It was added because of transgressions" (Ti oun ho nomos; tôn parabaseôn charin prosetethê). Paul means that the Law was added by because human beings were sinners. He uses a divine passive in this verse, so that God is the one who gave the Law because of transgressions. Paul does not explain in which sense the Law was added because of transgressions, but what he writes in 3:19b "until the seed comes to whom it is promised" implies that the reason that the Law was added was in order to prepare for the coming of Christ, the "seed' (see Gal 3:16). Why the existence of transgressions required the Law is not stated. No doubt, Paul intends that the Law functioned to bring sin to light, so that human beings would see the need of being declared righteous apart from all human effort because of Christ (see Gal 3:22, 23; Rom 3:20; 4:15; 5:13, 20; 7:7-8).(10) It is probable that the Law was added for the purpose of defining sin as sin and thereby functioned to bring the sinner under condemnation and so prepared him to receive "the righteousness of God." Although without the Law there would still be conscience (what Paul referred to as the "law" written on the heart [Rom 2:15]), conscience does not function in the same way as the Law, because conscience is susceptible of being defiled and even "seared" (see 1 Cor 8:7, 1 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:15). In other words, the dictums of conscience are liable to being rendered ineffectual, in part or wholly. Unlike conscience, the Law is experienced as existing independently of the one who is subject to it and not susceptible to perversion. The introduction of the Law results in the coming into existence of sin defined as violation of a divinely-given commandment. It is also possible that Paul means that the Law was added in order to produce transgressions (see Rom 5:2). This would also have the effect of preparing a Jew to receive "the righteousness of God" insofar as the more transgressions a Jew has the less inclined he or she will be to deny his or her need of "the righteousness of God."

According to Hübner, Paul means in Gal 3:19 that the Law was added in order to increase sin, so that the phrase is interpreted as a final and not a causal clause (H. Hübner, Law in Paul’s Thought [Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1984] 24-36). The Law was not added because there were transgressions but in order to produce transgressions. In fact, Hübner argues that Paul believes it was the angels who gave the Law in order that Jews would transgress its commandments. According to Hübner Paul later adopted a less radical view of the Law, so that the Law is in now no longer understood as provoking sin but merely as the means of knowing and recognizing sin (69-83). Under criticism by the Jerusalem church, he came to the more balanced view that the Law was on the side of God and was for that reason "holy, just and good" (Rom 7:12) and had an important role to play in salvation history. It is probably better to say that Paul does not change his view of the Law but rather stresses the negative aspects of the Law in Galatians because the gentile believers in the Galatian churches were very close to submitting themselves to the Law as a condition of eschatological salvation. Besides Paul does say similar things in Rom 4:15; 5:20; 11:32 to what he says in Gal 3:19, and Hübner's attempts to deny this similarity is unconvincing.



2. Rom 5:20


Paul actually says that the Law was added in order that transgression may increase: "But the Law was added into order that transgression may increase" (nomos de pareisêlthen hina pleonasê to paraptôma). Not only by the Law comes the knowledge of sin, but it even increases sin by inciting those to whom the Law is given to sin. In other words, the Law provides its possessor with opportunities to transgress that formerly were not envisioned. In addition, as he explains later in Rom 7:7-8, the Law functions to generate sin because it provides a human beings something against which to rebel. (But when transgression increases, so does grace.)(11)

B. The Law as Preparatory


According to Paul, the Law in its function of bringing a knowledge of sin and increasing sin was given as a preparatory stage in the working out of God's purpose to declare all people (Jews and gentiles) righteous by faith and not by works. Paul explains this role of the Law in Galatians and Romans.

1. Gal 3:14-22


In Gal 3:14-22 Paul elaborates on the preparatory function of the Law. He argues that the Law was given 430 years after the covenant (diathêkê) made with Abraham, and does not nullify this covenant, which consists of unconditional promises (3:17) (see Exod 12:40).(12) Making a comparison with common human experience ("I speak according to man"), Paul says that when a man makes a covenant (diathêkê) no one can nullify it or change it. By the word "covenant," he means a last will and testament. (In Greek the word diathêkê means last will and testament, but is also the word used in the LXX to translate berith; the author of Hebrews likewise exploits this semantic duality [Heb 9:16-17].) In effect, he is comparing the covenant made with Abraham, which is God's promise to him, with a human last will and testament; what they have in common is that both are inviolable. Paul alternatively refers to the promise and the promises given to Abraham.(13) In Genesis, Abraham is promised seed or progeny, that all nations would be blessed in him and land. The promised seed or progeny is identified with Christ and those who belong to him (Gal 3:15-16, 29). In Gal 3:8 Paul says that the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him is fulfilled by the fact that gentiles are being justified by faith. Paul probably interprets the promise of land to Abraham as the promise of eschatological salvation, which is expressed as receiving (eternal) life by being declared righteous by faith in Christ (Gal 3:21-22) and the reception of the Spirit (Gal 3:14). (For Paul the resurrection is the result of the indwelling Spirit: "He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you" [Rom 8:11]). This interpretation is suggested by the fact that Paul refers to Abraham's "inheritance" (klêronomia) in Gal 3:18, meaning by it eschatological salvation, and in the LXX the cognate verb klêronomein is used when referring to the land that Abraham and his descendents would inherit (LXX Gen 15:7, 18; 21:10; 22:17). (See the references to heirs in 3:29; 4:1, 7.) Paul may be typologizing the promise of land or extending it to include eternal life, as many Jews did in the second-Temple period did (except the Sadducees).(14) At any rate, Paul's point is that promise of eschatological salvation is unconditional, and was so even in the time of Abraham. The promise does not, therefore, become conditional when the Law is given 430 years later. As Paul puts it, the inheritance is not "from Law" (ek nomou), but "from promise" (ex apaggelias). He presents Law and promise as two mutually exclusive means of receiving the inheritance. The Law only has a preparatory function in the realization of the promise.(15)


   Paul's interpretation of Abraham's role in Israel's salvation history is contrary to some Jewish interpreters from the second-Temple period. Unlike Paul, who separates the period of Abraham from the period of the Law, there is a tendency in second-Temple sources to retroject the Law into the patriarchal period, so that Abraham could be portrayed as obeying the same commandments later given to the Israelites through Moses: since it is timeless and eternal, it follows that the patriarchs must have been subject to the Law. (Actually, Paul distinguishes two salvation-history periods within Abraham's life: promise [Gen 15] and Law [Gen 17]; later, in the time of Moses, more laws were added to the commandment of circumcision.)  In 2 Bar. 57:2, it is explained that there was an unwritten Law in force during the patriarchal period, essentially identical to the later written Law. In m. Kid. 4.14, it is said that Abraham fulfilled the whole Law, since the Yahweh said about him that he "hearkened to my voice, and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws" (Gen 26:5); it is assumed that Abraham could only have done all this if he had the whole Law and kept it fully. Similarly, in the Book of Jubilees, Abraham is said to obey Laws that were only later revealed through Moses (15:1-2 = Shevuot; 16:20-31 = Tabernacles; 18:17-19 = "The Feast of the Lord," which seems to be Passover; 21:5-10 = prohibitions against idolatry and eating of blood and proper procedure for making sacrifices [see Lev 3:7-10]; 22:1-9 = Shevuot). Not surprisingly, in Jub. 23:10, Abraham is often referred to as a righteous man, by which is meant a man who obeys the Law, and his righteousness is the reason that God finds him pleasing (see Pr. Man. 8). Jews who held such a position would be unsympathetic to Paul's interpretation of Gen 15:6, since he assumes that Abraham was declared to be righteous before he even could obey a commandment. (In fact, Paul's interpretation could imply that Abraham was ungodly, which is precisely why he needed to be declared righteous.) In second-Temple Judaism and early rabbinic writings, Abraham is held up as a paragon of Law-keeping.(16) On this interpretation, when God declares him righteous, Abraham is merely being recognized for what he already is because of his obedience to the commandments. In other words, Abraham first obeyed God and afterwards was declared righteous. In 1 Macc 2:52, Gen 15:6 is interpreted in light of Abraham's testing; what was reckoned to Abraham was his righteousness because of his willingness to sacrifice his son, not merely because of the fact that he believed God's promise. In the Mekilta, Gen 15.6 is interpreted in a way that belief or faith is not in opposition to works but is a type of work, meriting rewards (Beshallach 4.59, 7.141). As already indicated, for Paul, the terms "faith" (pistis) or "believe" (pisteuein) denote the antithesis of works, the repudiation of doing in order to receive just recompense for one's deeds; faith, as the correlative of grace, is for Paul the instrument by which one receives "the righteousness of God," or some other similar expression for salvation. Thus, Paul would be adverse to identifying faith with a type of work, which results in merit. (In Ps 106:30-31, it is said Phineas that his zealous act was reckoned unto to him as righteousness; based on the interpretive principle of gezarah shavah, Paul's opponents could use this passage to interpret Gen 15:6, so that the basis of Abraham's being declared righteous would be a similar act of zeal. There is no evidence, however, that Paul's opponents did so.)



In Gal 3:19, Paul says that the Law was put into effect through angels through the hand of a mediator. He means that it was angels who gave the Law to Moses, the mediator between the Israelites and God (Exod 20:19; Deut 5:5, 23-27). Paul is not referring to angels who are disobedient to God, i.e., demons (contrary to W. Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics, 45 n. 91; Bo Reicke, "The Law and this World According to Paul: Some Thoughts concerning Gal 4: 1-11." JBL 70 (1951) 259-76). Rather, he is alluding to a tradition that angels were mediators between Moses and God. In LXX Deut 33:2 the phrase "many holy ones" is translated as aggeloi (angels), suggesting that a tradition had developed that angels accompanied God when he gave the Law to Moses. Ps 68:17 (LXX 67:18) "The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them as at Sinai, in holiness" may be (and was) interpreted as referring to the presence of angels with God at the time of the giving of the Law. The same view occurs in Stephen's speech (Acts 7:38, 53). Similarly, Josephus also knows the tradition that God gave his laws through angels (Ant. 15.136), and in Jub. 1:27-2:1, the angel of the Presence is instructed to write for Moses "from the first creation until my sanctuary is built forever" (see 50.1-2). See also Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen 11:7-8; Acts 7:38, 53; Heb 2:2. Paul's point is saying that the Law was given through angels is to emphasize its inferior status on the assumption that what is mediated is inferior to what is not. It is inferior to the present time, the time when faith in Christ is possible: "But now that faith has come" (3:25) (see Gal 1:4: "Who [God] has set us free from the present evil age"). (See A. Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle [New York: Henry Holt, 1931] 69-74; H. Schlier, Der Brief an die Galater (MeyerK 7; 5 ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971) 155-58; T. Callan, "Pauline Midrash: The Exegetical Background of Gal 3:19b" JBL 99 (1980) 549-67; In-Gyu Hong, The Law in Galatians, 149-56; C.E. Arnold, "Returning to the Domain of the Powers: Stoicheia as Evil Spirits in Galatians 4:3, 9," NovT 38 (1996) 55-76. See B. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham's God, 46-58; J. VanderKam, “The Angel of the Presence in the Book of Jubilees,” DSD 7 (2000) 378–93. esp. 390). K. Kuula argues that Paul affirms in Gal 3:15-20 the Law was not from God but was actually given by angels against God's original intention (The Law, the Covenant and God’s Plan, vol. 1, Paul’s Polemical Treatment of the Law in Galatians [PFES 72; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999] 96-133). When he says that the mediator is not of one, but God is one Paul is supposed to mean that Moses is the mediator of the Law as given to him by angels and not from God. Paul allegedly draws back from such a un-Jewish even in the same letter. It seems improbable that Paul would say something that he did not actually believe.


2. Rom 10:4


Paul believes that Christ is the end of the Law in the sense that Christ brings the salvation-historical era of the Law to an end. See Rom 10:3-4.

4. The Law and Its Relation to the Believer as a Moral Standard


Even though he holds that it cannot be the means by which a person is declared righteous, the question remains whether for Paul the Law functions as a moral standard for Jewish believers and should become such for gentile believers.  In second-Temple Jewish thought, a condition of remaining in the covenant was obedience to the Law. No doubt some Jews obeyed the Law for fear of being excluded from eschatological salvation, however they conceived it. But there is evidence that Jews (Pharisaic and otherwise) saw the Law as an expression of the will of God, and obeyed it simply out of love for God, even though obedience to the Law was also the condition of participation in eschatological salvation. The question is whether Paul also saw obedience to the Law as an expression of love for God. Unfortunately, owing to the occasional nature of his letters, Paul does not give us a clear presentation of his views. But he does gives us elements out of which one can construct what likely is his thinking on this matter.

In a few passages in early rabbinic sources, it is stated that it is not sufficient merely to conform one’s behavior to the commandments, doing what is prescribed and not doing what is proscribed. Rather, one must obey the Law for the right reason: the love of God. Several passages that make this point are found in the tractate m. ’Abot. Antigonus of Socho, from the second-Temple period, is said to have received this tradition from Simon the Righteous: “Do not be like slaves who serve (your) master on the condition of receiving a reward; but be like slaves who serve (your) master not on the condition of receiving a reward” (m. ’Abot 1.3). The point is that a mercenary attitude to obedience is dishonoring to God. God’s Law should be obeyed simply because God gave it, regardless of any benefit one may derive from doing so. This is what is meant at the end of this mishna by the admonition: “Let the fear of heaven be upon you” (see also m. ’Abot 4.12). Similarly, R. Jose counsels, “And let all your deeds be for the sake of heaven” (m. ’Abot 2.12; see also 4.5). This means that obedience to the Law is an end in itself, performed simply because God willed that it be so. (Heaven is a circumlocution for God.) Nevertheless, according to R. Meir, the one who is occupied with the Law for its own sake merits many things (m. ’Abot 6.1). What is rejected is a consequentialist ethic: obedience is not good because it leads to reward or other benefit, but is good in itself, for God has willed it. The idea that obedience to the Law must not be from ulterior motives also occurs in Sipre Deuteronomy. On a midrash on the Deut 11:13 “Love the Lord your God,” it is concluded that loving God requires that all be done from the motivation of love: “You might say, ‘I will study the Law in order to become rich’ or ‘in order to be called Rabbi’ or ‘in order to receive a reward in the world to come’; therefore scripture says, ‘To love the Lord your God’—whatever you do should be done only out of love” (Sipre Deut 41) To love the Lord your God leads to studying the Law for its own sake, not for any benefits that may derive therefrom. This is not a denial that rewards will be given for obedience, but it is a rejection of ulterior motives for studying the Law. Another passage from Sipre Deuteronomy says: “You might say, ‘I am studying Law in order to become a sage, in order to sit in the academy, in order to prolong my days in the world to come’; therefore scripture says, ‘To love’—study for its own sake, and honor will come eventually” (Sipre Deut 48, commenting on Deut 11:22). Immediately following this, R. Eliezer b. R. Zadok’s is aptly quoted, “Perform deeds for the sake of doing them, and speak of them for their own sake.” Finally, R. Benaiah warns that if a person does the words of the Law for their own sake, he will live; but, if not for their own sake, the words of the Law will kill that person (Sipre Deut 306). He means that only single-hearted obedience is meritorious; obeying for ulterior motives will ultimately bring death to the pretender. Thus it is possible to appear to be obedient but not be truly. R. Benaiah’s saying is attached exegetically to Deut 32:2, “My teaching shall drop as the rain.” Since the verb “to drop” can also have the meaning of “to kill” (Deut 21:4; Prov 7:26), he discovers in the verse the truth that the Law may not only bring life but also death. According to Sipre Deut 32, scripture distinguishes between two types of obedience to the Law, obedience from love and obedience from fear. The former is by far the superior motive, for doing the Law from love leads to a double and a redoubled reward. (See also Sipre Num 80.) But there is evidence that Jews (Pharisaic and otherwise) saw the Law as an expression of the will of God, and obeyed it simply out of love for God. For example, Sipre Deut 6:5 (Piska 32) interprets the commandment in Deut 6:5 "Love the Lord your God" as a command to obey the Law out of love and not fear, the former being the superior motive (see also 1QH; Mek. Bahodesh 6.134-43).

4.1. Paul's Rejection of Part of the Law


It is clear that Paul explicitly rejects at least certain parts of the Law, in particular circumcision, the dietary laws and the Jewish festival calendar. He does not want gentiles believers to submit themseIf to these laws for any reason. Likewise, he would not object if Jewish believer cease to obey these laws, but also would not insist that they do.

4.1.1. Circumcision


In Gal 5:2-4, Paul says that, if a man allows himself to become circumcised, Christ will be of no use to him; circumcision according to Paul is the first step towards obedience to the whole Law, performed for the purpose of being declared righteous thereby.(17) Once this step is taken, then one cannot appropriate by faith the righteousness of God made possible by Christ, which is how Christ becomes of use to him. The two are mutually exclusive options, and cannot be combined as Paul Judaizing opponents advocate. As Paul says, "You who are (striving) to be declared righteous by the Law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (5:4). Paul’s opponents could retort that a gentile man could obey the command to be circumcised simply out of love for God, but Paul emphatically rejects this as an option, since obedience to this one commandment commits him to obedience to the other commandments as a condition of being declared righteous. Paul does not seem to believe that obedience to the Law for a reason other than being declared righteous is possible. Certainly, what Paul says applies foremost to gentiles, who are not circumcised, but this principle also has application to Jews, for Jews cannot be declared righteous by the "works of the Law" any more than gentiles. Paul adds, "In Christ circumcision and uncircumcision are nothing" (5:6a), which implies that there is no longer any reason for circumcision; if so, then it should not be practiced by gentiles and presumably no longer practiced by Jews (see also 1 Cor 7:19).(18) (Paul impugns the motives of those who advocate circumcision: they are trying to avoid persecution [Gal 6:12].)

4.1.2. Dietary Laws and Jewish Festival Calendar


Paul rejects the validity of the Jewish festival calendar; remarkably, for him all days, months, and years are all alike. Likewise, he views the Jewish dietary laws as no longer binding. In Col 2:16-17, when he says that the dietary laws and festival calendar are "shadows," Paul means that their validity has ceased because they have been replaced salvation-historically by a greater reality (see Gal 4:10-11; see also Heb 8:5; 10:1). (Paul may be using terminology from the false teachers in Colossae.) In Platonism, "shadow" is set in contrast to "form" (eikôn) in order to distinguish the material world from the world of forms and (see Rep. 7.514A-517A; Crat. 439A). In Platonic thought the material world exists insofar as matter participates in the immaterial forms; the former are ontologically inferior to the latter and derivative in their being, so that they could be described as "shadows." In Jewish writings in Greek, a similar, but more generalized use of "shadow" occurs, but now set in contrast to the term "body" (sôma) (Philo, De conf. ling. 190; De migr. Abr. 12; Josephus, War 2.28). The "body" is superior to the "shadow" insofar it is the true reality or the original, as opposed to being the less real, mere appearance or copy. Paul contrasts the "shadow," consisting of the dietary laws and Jewish festival calendar, with the "body of Christ," by which he means the true reality consisting of Christ (genitive of apposition or content). The shadows are said to be of "the things that are to come," which, as synonymous with "the body of Christ," refers to fulfillment of eschatological salvation through the work of Christ. In Paul's theology, the dietary laws and Jewish festival calendar have been rendered obsolete, being merely anticipations of the greater reality of Christ.(19)


   In Rom 14:2-3, Paul explains that one (the "strong") has faith to eat all things, whereas the other (the "weak") eats only "vegetables"; he advises that the one who eats ought not to despise the ones who do not eat, while those who do not eat ought not to pass judgment on those who eat. Those who eat only vegetables are probably Jewish Christians who have no reliable source of ritually-pure meat in Rome; as a result they adopt a vegetarian diet in order to avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols (see 1 Cor 8, 10). Paul's advice to both sides is mutual accommodation (14:4). He then expands the discussion to include not only the food laws but the festival laws. Again he advocates a freedom in relation to the Jewish festival calendar in addition to the food laws, although his own view is that these parts of the Law are no longer in effect.


4.2. Statements that Appear to Indicate the Paul Rejects the Law as a Moral Standard


It is clear that, if he holds to the validity of the Law as a moral standard for believers at all, Paul must hold to a reduced Law, to exclusion of the Torah's food laws and festival calendar. But there are passages that could be read as indicating that Paul taught that the Law as a whole has ceased to be valid as a moral standard.(20) In other words, there is no Law, reduced or otherwise, that is binding on the believer, either Jew or gentile; rather, the situation of the believer is one of freedom from the Law, so that he or she is no longer obligated to keep any part of it. This is not to imply that Paul views the Law as wrong or evil, but only that there is another ethical mode of being that is superior to being under the Law. In fact, Paul says of himself that he is not under the Law (hupo nomon), but will live as if he were, when he is seeking "to win those under the Law" (1 Cor 9:20). For Paul, there are only three things of importance: faith, hope and love (pistis, elpis, agapê) (1 Cor 13:13); it seems that the Law has faded into salvation-historical obsolescence, at least for believers.

4.2.1. Rom 6:14-15


In Rom 6:14, Paul says that believers are not under Law but under grace (ou gar este hupo nomon alla hupo charin).  Being "under Law" and "under grace" are two mutually exclusive ethical modes of being. Cranfield argues that by not being under the Law Paul is referring to not being "under God's disfavor or condemnation."(21) He explains further, "The fact that hupo nomon is contrasted with hupo charin suggests the likelihood that Paul is here thinking not of the law generally but of the law as condemning sinners." A parallel to Paul's affirmation is found in Rom 8:1: "There is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus." It is certainly correct that, for Paul, to be "under grace" is not to under the condemnation of the Law, but Paul is asserting more than this. The full meaning of Rom 6:14 becomes clear when interpreted in light of the following verse. In Rom 6:15, Paul asks rhetorically whether his statement in Rom 6:14 means that believers can sin because they are not under Law but under grace: "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under Law but under grace?" This implies that Paul expects his readers to understand his statement in Rom 6:14 to mean that believers are not under the Law any longer even as a moral standard; otherwise his opponents would have no basis to criticize Paul's position as leading to antinomianism. Paul's response is not to say that believers cannot sin because they are still under the Law as a moral standard, but that sin is longer possible, since believers are now "slaves to obedience" (6:16).

4.2.2. Rom 7:1-6


In Rom 7:1-6, Paul says that believers have died to the Law, and now serve God in the new way of the Spirit. These two ways of serving God are mutually exclusive in Paul's understanding. He begins by saying that he is speaking to those who know the Law, by which he seems to mean that he speaks to those who know about the life under the Law as stipulated in the Torah (ginôskousin gar nomon lalô) (7:1a).(22) This would include Jews obviously, but also gentiles who "know the Law" in the sense of being acquainted with the basic tenets of Judaism. Paul intends to use this knowledge as a means to explicate the situation of the believer, both Jew and gentile. He says that a Jew (or anyone who desires to be obedient to God) has a lifetime obligation to obey the Law: "The Law has authority over a man as long as he is alive" (7:1b). He then compares the situation of the man under the Law to that of a married woman in relation to her legal obligations to her husband. He says that a woman is released from her status as married upon the death of her husband. She can now remarry without being liable to the accusation of being an adultress (7:2-3).(23) The principle that Paul seeks to establish with this illustration is that death brings release from legal obligation. Paul then applies this principle to believers: "So that, my brothers, you died to the Law" (hôste, adelphoi mou, kai humeis ethanatôthête tô nomô) (7:4). (In the illustration in 7:2-3, it is the woman's husband who dies not the woman herself; Paul expects his readers to make the necessary interpretive adjustments to make the analogy work.) The dative "to the Law" (tô nomô) is a dative of respect, designed to clarify Paul's use of figurative language: believers "die" with respect to the Law. His point is that believing Jews no longer have an obligation to obey the Law; similarly, gentile believers have no obligation to put themselves under the Law. The adverbial phrase "through the body of Christ" (dia tou sômatos tou Christou) specifies that it was through Christ's body as crucified that believers have died to the Law. (In Rom 6, Paul uses the metaphor of "dying to sin" (6:2) and "dying with Christ (6:3-10) to describe the believer's situation, but there is no indication from the context that dying to the Law should be interpreted in light of these other "dyings.")


   The purpose for which a believer dies to the Law is provided in Rom 7:4b: "In order that you may belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead" (eis to genesthai humas heterô, tô ek nekrôn egerthenti). The one who was raised from the dead is, of course, Christ; thus Paul sets being under the Law is in opposition to belonging to Christ. Moreover, Paul explains that the reason that a believer has died to the Law is in order to bear fruit to God (hina karpophorêsômen tô theô). (The purpose clause is probably dependent on "you died.") The phrase "to God" [tô theô] is a dative of advantage: to bear fruit for the benefit or advantage of God. Before their conversion, according to Paul, believers were "in the flesh"; in such a state, the Law only served to produce disobedience by inciting "the passions of sins in the members of our bodies" (7:5). The phrase "passions of sins" is probably a genitive of quality, meaning sinful passions; the use of the plural "sins" implies that concrete acts of disobedience are in view, not sin as a principle of disobedience. Being in the flesh and the implications of this led to bearing fruit unto death, insofar as death is the penalty of sin. The believer's situation, however, is to be released from the Law, having died to what held him (nuni de katêrgêthêmen apo tou nomou, apothanontes en hô kateichometha) (7:6). To be released from the Law is a synonym for having died to the Law that once held the believer (7:4). The Law holds a person, in the sense of keeping him captive, insofar as it functions to make sin known and thereby bring condemnation; in addition, the Law even increases sin. Again, Paul asserts that Jews no longer have an obligation to obey the Law and gentiles are not required to submit themselves to the Law in order to "serve God" (7:6). Rather, the believer has been released from the Law "with the result that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the letter" (hoste douleuein hêmas en kainotêti pneumatos kai ou palaiotêti grammatos) (7:6). The genitives "new way of the Spirit" and "old way of the letter" are probably genitives of apposition or content, signifying that the "new way" consists of the Spirit and the "old way" consists of the letter, by which Paul means the Law. The believer is not released from serving God, but only from serving God in a particular way: "the old way of the letter." To serve God in the old way of the letter is to serve God by submitting oneself to the Law (see Rom 2:29; 2 Cor 3:6), which Paul considers to be doomed to failure: for Paul to be under the Law is inseparable from being in the flesh. The new way of serving God is by means of the Spirit. It is clear that, for Paul, Law and Spirit are incompatible ways of serving God.

4.2.3. 2 Cor 3:1-11


In the context of his defense of his "sufficiency" as a minister of the gospel, Paul comments on the relation of the salvation-historical era of the Law with that of the Spirit. The two eras are based on opposite arrangements and had opposite results. It is clear that they are mutually exclusive in Paul's theology, which suggests that even the Jewish believer is no longer under the obligation to obey the Law.

A. 2 Cor 3:1-6a


In 2 Cor 3:1a, Paul seeks to meet an objection that he foresees coming from the Corinthians because of the defense of his apostleship: "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?"(24) It seems that Paul was criticized earlier, perhaps during his "painful visit," for commending himself in order to prove that he was as "apostolic" as the super-apostles; if so, then the Corinthians did not look too favorably on this. He continues, "Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation from you" (3:1b). The use of letters of recommendation was widespread in the Greco-Roman world.(25) Probably the super-apostles had brought superlative letters of recommendation with them when they came to Corinth—from whom it is not clear, however. Paul's point is the Corinthians should surely recognize his authority among them as an apostle, for he founded the church. He says metaphorically, "You are our letter, written on your hearts to be known and read by all men" (3:2). (Actually there is a textual variant, "our hearts," but "your hearts" makes more sense in the context). It is as if the Corinthians themselves, by the very fact of their existence as a church, are a letter of recommendation for Paul and his colleagues. Paul's next statement is that the Corinthians are "a letter of Christ" (subjective genitive) written with the Spirit on the tablets of the human (fleshy) heart. Paul's statement evokes the Old Testament promise that God will write the Law upon the hearts upon his people. (The Corinthians, however, were mostly gentile by descent.) The Corinthians are, as it were, a letter sent by Christ commending Paul and his colleagues; they are a letter "prepared by us" (diakonêtheisa huph' hêmon), meaning that the Corinthians owe their existence to the ministry of Paul and his colleagues. As a metaphorical letter, the Corinthians were not written by means of ink but with the Spirit of the living God (eggegrammenê ou melani alla pneumati theou zôntes) (3:3). He means that it is the Spirit who is responsible for what the Corinthians now are. Parallel to this is the next adverbial phrase: "Not on tablets of stone but on tablets of fleshy hearts" (ouk en plaxin lithinais all' en plaxin kardiais sarkinais). This contrast between a tablet of stone and a tablet fleshy hearts alludes to Ezek 11:19 and 36:26. Ezekiel contrasts two types of hearts: heart of stone and heart of flesh (11:19; 36:26); the heart of flesh is brought into being by the fact that God puts his Spirit with individual Israelites (36:27). Paul modifies Ezekiel's contrast between and heart of flesh, however, by replacing the phrase "heart of stone" with "tablet of stone": "on tablets made of stone" (en plaxin lithinais). (For the sake of parallelism of expression, the coordinate phrase is "tablet of fleshy heart" rather than Ezekiel's "fleshy heart.") In so doing he introduces an allusion to the Law that was written by the "finger of God" on tablets of stone (Exod 31:18) (LXX: plakas lithinas) (which Moses subsequently smashed [Exod 32:19; Deut 9:17]). The new contrast between the tablets of stone (on which the Law was written) and the tablets of fleshy hearts unmistakably recalls the Jeremian idea of the Law written on the heart, as a part of the new covenant (Jer 31:31-34). (One should assume that Paul sees the two eschatological promises of Ezekiel and that of Jeremiah as synonymous.) This salvation-historical era, the time of the fulfillment of the eschatological promises of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Paul refers to explicitly as the "new covenant" (3:6a), in agreement with Jer 31:31, insofar as he calls himself and his colleagues "servants of a new covenant." Thus, Paul has thereby begun a discourse on the nature of the relation between the eras of the old covenant and the new covenant. Implicit in Paul's reference to the new covenant is that the old covenant has been superseded. Although he may appear to have digressed from his original point—his response to the question of his need of a letter of recommendation—Paul actually has kept this issue in view the whole time: the changed hearts of the Corinthians, in fulfillment of the eschatological promises of the prophets, are thus analogous to a letter of recommendation because these changed lives testify to the fact that Paul is a minister of a new covenant.(26)

B. 2 Cor 3:6b-11, 17


Paul then contrasts the two "ministries," by which he means two different salvation-historical eras, the Law and Spirit, which is synonymous with new covenant (of which he is a servant [diakonos] [3:6].) He calls the ministry of the Law "the ministry of death" (hê diakonia tou thanatou) (3:7) and "the ministry of condemnation" (hê diakonia tês katakriseôs) (3:9) (That he is referring to the Law is obvious from the fact that Paul says that "the ministry of death" is "engraved in letters on stone" [3:7].)  For Paul, the Law brought death because it brought condemnation to those who could not obey it. This is contrasted with "the ministry of the Spirit" (hê diakonia tou pneumatos) (3:8), which is also called "the ministry of righteousness" (hê diakonia tês dikaiosunês) (3:9). Paul says in 2 Cor 3:6b that the letter kills, while the Spirit gives life. He means that the Law, the "letters" written on stone, brings death to all who attempt to be declared righteous by works; on the other hand, the Spirit gives life, because the Spirit represents the salvation-historical era when God gives life to human beings apart from the works of the Law (what he called the new covenant in 3:6). The ministry of the Spirit is also the ministry of righteousness because now, in this salvation-historical era, with the failure of the Law as the means by which human beings are declared righteous, God imputes a status of righteousness to all who believe in Christ ("the righteousness of God"). Although the ministry of Law came with glory, the ministry of Spirit comes with much greater glory (Glory is God's manifested greatness). The implication is that the latter has superseded the former, being the greater and therefore the more glorious. Paul also says that the ministry of Law is fading away (3:11), while the ministry of the Spirit will endure for ever. Implicit in his statements is that the ministry or salvation-historical era of the Spirit has superceded the ministry or salvation-historical era of the Law. The clear implication is the salvation-historical era of the Law is now complete, and this could be taken to imply that the Law could not serve as a moral standard in the salvation-historical era of the Spirit (or new covenant). Indeed, in 2 Cor 3:17, Paul explains that the Lord (Jesus) is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. What he seems to mean is that whoever has the Spirit, the mark of the new covenant, is thereby free from the Law in every sense. Paul uses the cognate abjective eleutheros in Rom 7:3 where he describes in his illustration the situation a woman whose husband has died as "free from the Law" (eleuthera apo tou nomou). Likewise, Paul uses the cognate verb eleutherein in Rom 8:2 to describe the believer's situation of having been freed from the Law of sin and death. The fact that he uses these two cognate forms to describe the situation of being free from the Law suggests that the freedom of which he writes in 2 Cor 3:17 is the same freedom.(27) It should be noted, however, that the prophet Jeremiah foretold that the Law would be written on the hearts of those who return to the land, which would undermine Paul's teaching that the Law is no longer binding; no doubt, his Judaizing opponents would have pointed this out.(28)


New Covenant

1. Definition


New Covenant (Hebrew: berit hadasa'; Greek: kainê diathêkê): The eschatological stage of salvation history wherein Yahweh through the work of the Messiah and the Spirit would unconditionally bring about Israel's full salvation.


2. New Covenant in the Old Testament


2.1. According to Jeremiah, the time of the restoration of Israel to the land will be the time of the realization of the promise of the new covenant (Jer 31:31-34). The prophet contrasts the existing covenant made with the fathers when He brought them out of Egypt (see Exod 24:8) with a covenant that God will make with the house of Israel and Judah in the latter days. The new covenant is distinguished from the older covenant in four ways:  God will write the law in the minds and on the hearts of those in the new covenant; God will be the God of those in the new covenant and they will be His people; those in the new covenant will know God; God will forgive the iniquities and the sins of those in the new covenant.  The new covenant, therefore, has the two basic characteristics:  the forgiveness of sins; internal spiritual transformation resulting in a new relationship with God and a new possibility of obedience. Jer 31:31-34 falls into the context of the promise of the future re-gathering of Israel and its restoration to the land, which Jer 29:10 says will take place after seventy years of exile.


2.2. Virtual synonyms for the new covenant appear in other Old Testament texts.


2.2.1. Everlasting covenant


A. In the book of Jeremiah itself what is denoted by the new covenant in 31:31-33—with the exception of the explicit promise of the forgiveness of sins—is also called an everlasting covenant (Jer 32:37-41; 50:5).


B. Ezekiel 16 contrasts Jerusalem's (a metonymy for all Israel) present state of unfaithfulness with its beginnings and its future. Like an exposed child Israel was as helpless until Yahweh adopted her.  But she grew up to be a prostitute, unfaithful to her original benefactor.  Nonetheless, Yahweh will both remember the covenant made with Israel in her youth and establish an everlasting covenant with the nation, making expiation for all that she has done.


C. God speaks through Isaiah saying that He will make an everlasting covenant with His restored people (Isa 61:8).

2.2.2. Covenant of peace


A. In Ezekiel 34:25 God promises that He will gather Israel, his sheep, and place David, His servant, over them as their shepherd; then he will make a covenant of peace with them, so that Israel will live in the land in safety and prosperity.


B. In Ezekiel 37:24-28 God promises that He will make a covenant of peace with a restored Israel under a Davidic king.  The people will obey God; He will be their God and they will be His people. This covenant of peace is also called an everlasting covenant.


C. In Isaiah 54:8-10 Yahweh promises that when He restores Zion He will never again become angry, but will have compassion on His people; His covenant of peace will not be removed.


2.2.3. Related Passages


In the prophets, the promises of restoration, the new possibility of obedience, and national forgiveness of sin occur frequently without being connected to the concepts of the new covenant, eternal covenant, or covenant of peace (cf. also Ezek 37:12-13; 39:29 and Isa 32:15; 44:3; Joel 2:28). (It should be noted also that in Ezek 36:26-27 the new possibility of obedience given at the restoration is associated with the giving of the Spirit.)


3. New Covenant in Second-Temple Judaism


3.1. Jub. 1:22-25


This text speaks of the new possibility of obedience to be given at the restoration, which is reminiscent of Jer 31:31-34.


3.2. Baruch 2:30-35


This text says that God will make "an everlasting covenant" with his people at the restoration, so that He will be their God and they will be His people.  In the same work (3:5-7) it is implied that this new possibility of obedience was given to the exiles even before the restoration (see Jer 24:4-7).


3.3. Damascus Document


In two places in Damascus Document (text A), it is said explicitly that those who belong to the community have actually entered the new covenant (6:19; 8:21; see also 20:12 text B).  The new covenant is contrasted implicitly in CD with the covenant of the forefathers, the covenant that God made with Moses and the generation of the exodus.  Because of their disobedience, the members of the covenant of the forefathers came under the wrath of God, which culminated in the exile; in contrast God made a covenant forever with the remnant who held fast to the commandments, revealing to them the hidden things in which Israel went astray (3:10-14).  It is not so much that there exists in God's purposes two different covenants, but rather one covenant with two different phases: a preliminary phase ending in failure and an eschatological phase ending in God's final victory over all wickedness, beginning at some point after the exile.


3.4. Thanksgiving Hymns


In 1QH-a 4:10-12 the author speaks of the Torah engraved upon his heart, possibly implying that the promise of internal spiritual transformation in Jer 31:31-34 and related passages has been realized; there is also a probable reference to the new covenant in 1QHab 2:3.


3.5. Habakkuk Pesher


There is also a probable reference to the new covenant in 1QHab 2:3: "And it concerns the unfaithful in the new [covenant] in that they have not believed in the covenant of God [and have profaned] his holy name."


3.6. Passover and New Covenant


Although the Feast of Weeks was understood by some Jews of the second-Temple period as the time when God made covenants with human beings and became, therefore, the occasion of the annual renewal of the covenant (cf. Jub. 6:17; 1QS), the new covenant by implication came to be associated with Passover, since Passover was seen as the day of eschatological salvation. LXX Jer 31:8 (38:8) places the restoration of Israel—and by implication the establishment of the new covenant—on Passover. Likewise, in the poem of the four (Passover) nights, found in Targum Neofiti and the Jerusalem Targum (Exod 12:42), Nisan 15, Passover night, is understood to be the time of Israel's messianic deliverance. (See also Mek. 12:41 Pisha 14:78-121; Exodus Rabbah [Exod 12:1].)

4.2.4. Gal 2:17-19


Paul's Judaizing opponents apparently accused Paul of making Christ "the servant of sin," insofar as Paul taught that gentiles who become Christians do not have to obey the Law.(29) (For example, Paul vociferously rejected the demand that the Galatian believers be circumcised.) This accusation stands behind Paul's rhetorical question: "But if, seeking to be declared righteous in Christ, we ourselves are found to be sinners, then also [does this mean that] Christ is a servant of sin?" (ei de zêtountes dikaiôthênai en Christô heurethêmen kai autoi hamartoloi ara Christos hamartias diakonos;) (2:17). His Judaizing opponents would have defined as sin any violation of the Law. This then explains Paul's statement, "We ourselves are found to be sinners." That is to say, Paul proclaimed to his gentile audiences that being declared righteous came apart from the works of the Law ("to be declared righteous in Christ"), so that, in seeking to be declared righteous apart from obedience to the Law, gentiles would be found to be sinners, for they would be Law-breakers, insofar as they had not submit to the Law in its totality, including becoming circumcised. Thus, Paul's gospel allows believers to be "sinners," as defined by the Law, and his opponents cleverly expressed this fact as Paul's Christ being a servant or promoter of sin. (The first person plural seems to refer to Paul, his supporters and his gentile converts.) As expected, Paul rejects the charge that he has made Christ into a servant of sin, but his reason for rejecting the accusation may have come as a shock to his Jewish opponents: "For if what I have destroyed these things I build up again, then I establish myself as a transgressor" (ei gar ha katelusa tauta palin oikodomô parabatên emauton sunistanô) (2:18). Paul's argument is that he (and other Jews who support him and his gentiles converts) cannot be accused of being sinners because the Law no longer has validity and therefore cannot be violated. This is what he has destroyed. In other words, Paul's counters the charges against him by affirming that the Law is now obsolete. (It must be noted that Paul [and Peter] had violated Jewish dietary laws by eating with gentiles in Antioch.) His opponents' charge could only be true on the assumption that a Jewish or gentile believer is under the Law as a moral standard; thus only if he rebuilds what he has destroyed, i.e., the Law, could he then be proven to be a Law-breaker. Instead, Paul says that he has "died to the Law, in order that he might live for God" (2:19). (By his use of the first person "I," Paul doubtless means to be speaking paradigmatically also; the same is true of his use of "I" in Gal 2:18) To die to the Law is to no longer be under the Law as a moral standard; this is the condition of "living for God," which is the new way of serving God (see Rom 7:1-6). Paul also says that this dying to the Law occurs "through the Law" (dia nomô), by which he means because of the the Law. In other words, he attributes a salvation-historical role to the Law as leading to Christ and its own obsolescence (see 3:19-25).(30)

4.2.5. Gal 3:23-25; 4:1-9


Paul describes the Law as having a temporary function in God's plan of salvation; the Law was added 430 years after the promise to Abraham (see 3:17). During this period of time the Law functioned metaphorically as a paidagôgos (guardian or disciplinarian) to bring "us" to Christ, in order that "we" may be declared righteous by faith, and adds that now that faith has come, "we" are no longer under the paidagôgos, the Law (3:24-25). (Paul's use of the first person plural refers primarily to Jews but secondarily includes the Galatian gentile believers insofar Jewish experience include gentiles [see 3:13-14; 4:3-5]. Implicit in this practice is his assumption that Jewish experience is representative for all human beings.) The Law did not have the purpose of being the means of obtaining salvation. Paul likens being under the Law to being in custody, until the possibility of being declared righteous by faith becomes possble (3:23). The role of a paidagôgos was typically filled by a slave who was assigned to accompany a child to and from school and ensure that he was safe from harm and well-mannered (see Plato, Lysis, 208 C-D); they had a reputation for harshness.(31) Thus, to compare the Law to a paidagôgos would carry with it certain negative connotations. In his use of the metaphor of the paidagôgos, Paul seems to make two points. First, for him to be under the Law is to exist under the authority and guardianship of the Law; possibly he has the external restrictiveness of the Law in view. Even though elsewhere in his writings Paul explains that the Law has the negative result of inciting sin, in Gal 3:19 the Law has a more positive role of imposing discipline on those under it, just as a paidagôgos imposes discipline on his young charge. Paul explains that the ultimate purpose of being under the discipline of the Law is "in order that we might be declared righteous by faith" (3:24). This implies that the Law as paidagôgos serves to lead a Jew to the realization of his inherent inability to obtain righteousness by doing the Law. Second, Paul uses the metaphor of the paidagôgos to communicate that the ethical mode of being characterized as being under the Law was intended to be temporary and preparatory for faith in Christ.(32) By the phrase "until the coming faith was revealed" (eis tên mellousan pistin apokalophthênai) means until faith in Christ became possible historically (see the parallel construction in Rom 8:18). Paul's analogy implies that, with the possibility of faith in Christ, the paidagôgos function performed by the Law is complete, and its validity has ceased: the person who is no longer a minor is longer under the authority of his paidagôgos.(33)


   In Gal 4:1-7, Paul explains that to be under the Law is to be like a minor, who with respect to his freedom is no better than a slave, even though he is an heir.(34) Paul's point is that anyone who submits to the Law is living without freedom and so is slave-like. He describes the Jewish experience of being under the Law as being enslaved to "the elements of the cosmos" (ta stoicheia tou kosmou) (4:3). He again uses "we" to refer to Jewish believers, but he believes that the Jewish experience is representative.(35) What he means by the phrase "the elements of the cosmos" in 4:3 is the Law viewed as a salvation-historically elemental and preliminary teaching. (The term ta stoicheia tou kosmou occurs in Gal 4:9; Col 2:8, 20; 2 Pet 3:10-12.)(36) To be "under the elements of the cosmos" (4:3) is synonymous with being "under the Law" (4:5).(37) In Paul's interpretation, the Law was intended to lead to Christ and be superceded once "the fullness of time" had come (4:4). Paul says that for a Jew to be under the Law is to be in a state of bondage, a lack of freedom, which is undesirable. This state was necessary but still was intended to be temporary. This is why he chose the metaphor of a minor under the authority of "guardians and managers until the date set by the father" in order to describe the Jewish experience under the Law (4:2). In his view, the Galatians do not recognize that salvation-historically the Law has been superceded: "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (4:6). To have the Spirit of Christ in one's heart makes the Law unnecessary and obsolete.


   Later in Gal 4:8-9 when he is addressing the Galatians ("you") and speaking of their own pre-Christian past, Paul seems to change the meaning that he gives to the phrase "the elements of the cosmos" (ta stoicheia tou kosmou)." (The phrase had various meanings in the ancient world, which would facilitate Paul's lexical shift.) He describes the Galatians as fomerly in bondage to "what by nature are not gods" (tois phusei mê ousin theois), by which he seems to mean demonic entities masquerading as gods (see 1 Cor 8:4-6; 10:20) (4:8). (That the gods of the gentiles are really demons was a common Jewish explanation of idolatry and polytheism.) He then warns them against turning back again "to the weak and worthless elements (stoicheia), to which you desire to be enslaved all over again." Even though he uses the same term, Paul probably does not mean by "the elements (stoicheia)" the Law viewed as a salvation-historically elemental and preliminary teaching, since the Galatian gentiles were never under the Law. Paul probably believes that, if the Galatian gentile believers submit themselves to the Law (4:10), it would mean becoming enslaved again to the demonic entities to which they were formerly enslaved. This may be because the Galatians' submission to the Law, which will result in their being severed from Christ (Gal 5:4), will be the result of being deceived by the same demonic beings to which they were formerly in bondage (see 1 Tim 4:1: "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons).(38) What Jews and gentiles both have in common, which justifies Paul uses of the same word, ta stoieicha, is a type of slavery from which Christ sets free.

4.2.6. Gal 4:21-31


Using an allegorical interpretation of the figures of Hagar and Sarah (see Gal 4:24a: "These things have an allegorical meaning" [hatina estin allegoroumena]), Paul contrasts two covenants; the implication is that one is superior to and has superseded the other. His aim is to convince the Galatian believers not to submit to the Law as a condition of being declared righteous. To this end, he compares the Mosaic covenant to the slave woman Hagar, whose son was born "according to the flesh" (kata sarka), by which he means in ordinary fashion, and another covenant (implicitly, the "new covenant" [see 2 Cor 3:6]) to Sarah, the free woman, whose son is born "through promise" (di' eppaggelias).


4:22 From the slave woman From the free woman
4:23 According to the flesh Through the promise
4:24 Hagar (Sarah)
4:28 (Ishmael) Isaac
4:29 According to flesh According to Spirit
4:30 Son of slave woman Son of free woman



Hagar is also identified with Mount Sinai corresponding to Jerusalem, representing (unbelieving) Jews, who, by implication, are in slavery to the Law, since their "mother" was a slave. (It was on Mount Sinai that Moses received the Law.) To this Jerusalem is contrasted "the Jerusalem above" representing believers, those who are free from the Law, symbolized by Sarah, the free woman. Paul uses the eschatological notion of the heavenly Jerusalem to be revealed at the eschaton in a novel way to express the difference between (unbelieving) Jews and believers; the implicit superiority of "the Jerusalem above" is exploited by Paul to express the superiority of the (new) covenant represented by Sarah (On the idea of a heavenly and/or new Jerusalem, see 1 En 90:28-29; 2 Bar 4:1-7; 4 Ezra 7:26; 8:52; 10:26-27; 13.36; see also T. Dan 5:12; Sib. Or. 5.420-33; 5Q15 [5QNew Jerusalem]; Heb 12:22; 13:14; Rev 3:12; 21:2; 21:9-22:5). Paul writes, "And she is our mother" (4:25), by which he means that Sarah (symbolizing the Jerusalem above) represents the new covenant of which believers are metaphorically "sons," just as Isaac was literally the son of Sarah. It is clear from this allegorical contrast between the two women and their sons that Paul believes that the status of believers to be one of freedom from the Law, since Sarah is the free woman and Isaac is the son of a free woman. Paul then cites Isa 54:1, an eschatological passage, but interprets the barren woman of the prophecy as referring to Sarah (as opposed to Israel in exile, the intended meaning) and then allegorically to believers, who are sons of promise. His point is that Sarah, once barren, is now the "mother" of many children, representing believers, including gentiles. The implication is that Sarah eschatologically has become the mother of believers "now that faith has come" (Gal 3:23). In Gal 4:28-31, Paul then focuses on the two sons born of the two women, Hagar and Sarah. He has already contrasted their births: Ishmael was born "according to the flesh," whereas Isaac was born "through promise." He is referring to the fact that Issac was born miraculously as the result of God's promise to Abraham that he would have a heir through Sarah, whereas Ishmael was not born miraculously, but by Abraham's decision. Allegorically, Isaac represents believers, who are the true heirs to promises to Abraham (see Gal 3:26, 29; 4:7). Isaac, the son of promise, is also said to be born of according to the Spirit, and as such represents believers. (Isaac stands in contrast to Ishmael, who is said to be "born according to the flesh.") Paul no doubt is contrasting believers who are indwelt by the Spirit to Jews who are defined as such by means of their physical birth and literal circumcision ("flesh"). In other words, Ishmael represents Judaism, which is now rejected, just as Ishmael was sent away (Gen 21:10). It is clear that, for Paul, to be under the Law is incompatible with being indwelt by the Spirit.(39)

4.2.7. Gal 5:1, 13, 18


Paul says that the situation of the believer is that of freedom (from the Law) meaning that the Law is not the moral standard according to which a believers lives. He writes, "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free" (tê eleutheria hêmas Christos êleutherôsen) (5:1)(40) and "For you were called to freedom" (humeis gar ep' eleutheria eklêthête) (5:13). Paul also says to the Galatians that if they are led by the Spirit, they are not under the Law (ouk...upo nomon), so that he is contrasting Spirit and Law as two mutually exclusive modes of being. Not to be under the Law is not be obliged to obey the Law, not even part of the Law.

4.2.8. 1 Cor 9:20-21; 10:23-24


Paul explains that, although he is not under the Law, he lives as if he were under the Law in order to win Jews to Christ. By not being under the Law, Paul no doubt means that he is no longer obligated to obey the Law, that the Law no longer serves as a moral standard. In addition, the Corinthians are probably quoting back to Paul a dictum that they heard from Paul or at least derived from Paul's teaching: "All things are lawful for me."  Paul does not dispute the truth of this principle, only the Corinthians' misapplication of it, as a license for sin.

5. Passages Suggesting the Abiding Validity of at Least Parts of the Law


There are numerous statements in Paul's writings that seem to affirm that the Law or at least a reduced Law serves as an eternal moral standard to which all human beings, including believers, are subject. It is suggestive that Paul cites the Law in order to deal with the question of whether the apostles should be supported financially, implying that it has authority in the Corinthian church (1 Cor 9:9 = Deut 25:4; see also 1 Cor 14:34 = "as the nomos says").(41) The interpreter must be able to make sense of this collection of passages in light of Paul's apparent rejection of the Law as a moral standard for Jewish and gentile believers.

5.1. Rom 2:14-15


As already indicated, Paul says that gentiles have the Law written on their hearts by which they will be judged (see Condemnation of Gentiles). Although they do not have the Mosaic Law, Paul says that gentiles still "do by nature the things of the Law" (phusei ta tou nomou poiosin), by which Paul means that gentile moral theory and practice naturally inevitably conforms, in part, at least, to the Mosaic Law. (This innate Law is probably identical to the law of reciprocity.) At any rate, the implication is that the law written on the heart is a universal moral standard for human beings. Paul must be thinking, however, about a reduced Law, since it is obvious that not all the commandments are written on the hearts of gentiles.


5.2. Rom 3:31


Paul anticipates an objection against his position in Rom 3:31, namely that his stress on being declared righteous by faith and not by works implies that he has destroyed the Law: “Have we therefore destroyed the Law through faith. The two verbs “we destroy” (katargoumen) and “we establish” (histanomen) are intended as opposites. When he refers to the Law, Paul probably means the Law understood as the expression of the will of God for human beings, as the context suggests (see 3:20 “works of the Law”). Paul’s response to the accusation that his view on being declared righteous destroys the Law is to say that he denies the validity of the Law as a moral standard (see 8:2-4). Rather, his view upholds the Law as a moral standard. Paul, however, does not elaborate on this statement at this time.

5.3. Rom 7:12, 14


In the context of the statement of his inability to keep the Law Paul says that the Law is "holy" (hagios) and the commandment is "holy, righteous and good" (hagia, dikaia, agatha) (7:12) and that the Law is spiritual (pneumatikos) (7:14), by which he may mean compatible with the Spirit. To refer to the Jewish Law by such felicitous terms as these may be taken to imply that Law is a universal moral standard. In general, Paul's lament about not being to keep the Law in Rom 7 implies that he sees the Law as applicable to all human beings, including believers (see 7:7).

5.4. Rom 8:2-4


Paul says that the principle, or causal agent, (lit. "law") of the Spirit of life (i.e., consisting of  the Spirit that leads to life, a genitive of direction or purpose) has liberated one from the principle of sin and death (i.e., characterized by sin and leading to death). The Law could not produce life, because it was "weakened" by the flesh, meaning that the sinful nature prevented one from keeping the Law. Instead, Paul explains that God sent his own son in the likeness of sinful humanity "for sin" (peri hamartias), by which he means because of sin or in order to be the solution for human sin. God condemned sin in the flesh, that is, Christ's human nature, in the sense that God provided his son as a substitutional sacrifice for sinners. The purpose of this redemption act is "in order that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, those who live not according to the flesh but the Spirit." This could be taken to mean that the one who lives according to the Spirit does what the Law requires, that is, becomes righteous by obeying the Law—the righteousness consisting of (obedience to) the Law's stipulations. This would imply that the Law remains binding on the believer as a moral standard.

5.5. Rom 13:8-9; Gal 5:13-14; 5:6b


In two different passages, Paul says that a believer is obligated to love (agapan) and that love (agapê) fulfills the Law. It would follow from this equation of love and fulfilling the Law that a believer has an obligation to obey the Law: love and Law are convertible.(42) In other words there is one commandment expressive of all other commandments to which a believer is subject.(43)


   In Rom 13:8-9, Paul instructs his readers not to owe anything to anyone, except the ongoing obligation to love one another (mêdeni mêden opheilete, ei mê to allêlous agapan). (By "one another" (allêlous) Paul no doubt means all human beings, rather than fellow believers.) Paul then affirms, "For he who loves the other has fulfilled the Law" (ho gar agapôn ton heteron nomon peplêrôken). (There has been some dispute concerning whether "other" is used substantively ("the other") and thus as the object of the verb "to love" or whether it is used as an adjective modifying "law." If the latter, then Paul is not referring to the Jewish Law, but another law [perhaps "the law of Christ" in Gal 6:2]. It seems more probable that the former option is the correct one, for Paul quotes from the Jewish Law in the very next verse; the implication is that these specific commandments are part of the Law that is fulfilled by the one who loves "the other.") The definite article before "other" has generalizing effect. Paul then quotes from four of the ten commandments—"Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet" (13:9)—and then affirms that these and "and any other commandment" are summed up by one commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev 19:18). To love one's neighbor is defined in part as not doing evil towards one's neighbor (hê agapê to plêsion kakon ouk ergazetai) (13:10a). Summing up his position, Paul says, "Love is the fulfillment of the Law" (plêroma oun nomou hê agapê) (13:10b). Insofar as, for Paul, love is convertible with fulfilling the Law and love is an obligation of believers, it could be argued that that believers are obliged to keep the Law. Now Paul may be thinking of a reduced Law, since he only quoted from what is usually called the moral law; nevertheless he would still be committed to the view that the believer is obliged to keep this reduced Law as a moral standard. (Paul exhorts his churches to love in Rom 12.9; Eph 5.2, 25; Phil 2.1-2; see also Col 1:4, 8; 1 Thess 1:3.)


   In Gal 5:13-14 Paul makes essentially the same point that he makes in Rom 13:8-9, and so could be interpreted to be saying that the believer is under the obligation to obey the one commandment that includes all other commandments, the commandment to love one's your neighbor. Paul warns the Galatians believers that they should not use their freedom from the Law as an opportunity to indulge their "flesh" (sarx). Rather, they should use their freedom to "become one another's servants in love" (dia tês agapês douleute allêlois) (5:13). The phrase "become one another's servants in love" is the functional equivalent of the obligation "to love one another" in Rom 13:8. The adverbial phrase "in love" specifies the means by which one becomes a servant of another: through love or putting the other's interest first. As in Rom 13:8-9, Paul explains, "The whole Law is fulfilled in one word: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Lev 19:18). By his statement that the whole law (ho pas nomos) Paul must assume a reductionistic view of the Law, for otherwise, if all the commandments are expressions of this one commandment then it would follow that they should be obeyed. So implicit in Paul's statement that the whole Law is fulfilled in the one commandment is the abrogation of any commandment that is not expressive of love. It should also be noted that "to do the whole Law" (holon ton nomon poiêsein) (5:3) cannot be equivalent in meaning to "the whole Law is fulfilled" (ho pas nomos peplêrôtai) (5:14) Otherwise Paul would be found in blatant contradiction in the same chapter, which seems unlikely.

5.6.  1 Cor 7:19


Paul says that neither circumcision not uncircumcision matters; what does matter is "keeping the commandments of God" (têrêsis entolôn theou). In most other contexts, Paul uses the term "commandment" (entolê) to refer to the individual prescriptions and proscriptions found in the Law (see Rom 7:8-13; 13:9; Eph 2:15; 6:2); probably his use of the term in 1 Cor 7:19 has the same meaning. From a Jewish perspective, however, Paul's statement might seem nonsensical, because circumcision is one of the commandments. Thus, one could interpret Paul's statement to mean that what is required of believers is obedience to a reduced Law, which does not include the commandment of circumcision, but does include other commandments from the Law.

5.7. Eph 6:1-3


Paul instructs children to obey their parents and then quotes the Torah to support his view (Deut 5:16); this could be taken to imply that Paul believes that at least this commandment is binding and that the promises attached to its fulfillment is still valid.


5.8. 2 Cor 5:1-11


The fact that Paul understands himself as a servant of a new covenant (5:6) implies that he believes that the Jeremian new covenant has come to fulfilment. Jeremiah prophesies that, unlike the old covenant, God will write the Law in the minds and on the hearts of those in the new covenant, which implies that the Law remains a moral standard for those in the new covenant. ("I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it” [Jer 31:33].) The difference between the old and new covenants is that for the latter the Law is internalized, not that it has been nullified or replaced.

6. Synthesis


Contrary to the view of many scholars, Paul does have a consistent viewpoint; it simply appears to be contradictory, because Paul is working with two different conceptions of the Law, without giving clear indication of this. (This sort of confusion should be expected in a collection of occasional writings.) The Law that Paul considers to be no longer binding is the Law of historical manifestation. The Law given to Moses, obedience to which was for Israel a condition of remaining in the covenant, became obsolete for all believers after the death and resurrection of Christ. (Jews may still keep the Law, but only as a matter of cultural expression; as a means of being declared righteous or even of pleasing God, the Law is obsolete—see below.)  Its function was only to prepare for the coming of Christ and the realization of the promise of eschatological forgiveness. Thus, in the period of salvation-history after the appearance of Christ, what Paul calls the "ministry of the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:8) or "ministry of righteousness" (2 Cor 3:9, the Law ceases to have validity, not only as the condition of receiving God's covenantal blessings, but also as a moral standard. Rather, believers—Jews, but especially gentiles—are subject to the Spirit as the means of knowing the will of God. The Spirit indwells believers and as an internal principle leads them into God's will; the opposite of this is to subject oneself to the Law as an external standard. It is not that the Law is wrong or evil, but only that it is not necessary for someone who is indwellt by the Spirit.(44) This is why Paul explicitly sets the Spirit in opposition to the Law as two mutually exclusive ethical modes of being. In Paul's view, a person is either under the Law in the old covenant or under the control of the Spirit in the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6-11). It follows that if a person is under the Law he is also under the control of the flesh, because he is without the Spirit.


   Paul holds that there is a Law that is perpetually binding on all human beings, Jews and gentiles, which is summed up by the general principle of agapê (love). He implicitly distinguishes between a universal center or essence of the Law of historical manifestation and its positive periphery. Although the commandment to agapê and other commandments expressive of love are found in it, the Law of historical manifestation (or the Mosaic Law) has many superfluous, non-moral commandments. This "reduced Law" is that which is written on the hearts of gentiles, and is the basis of their judgment (a sort of natural Law). The center is what gentiles know innately, to be identified with the principle of reciprocity, which is really another way of expressing the commandment to love (Lev 19:18 "Love your neighbor as yourself"), whereas the periphery are those commandments that are not universally recognized, such as the dietary laws and festival calendar. The fact that the term Law (nomos) can refer to the Law of historical manifstation and the Law as the universal moral obligation of agapê (love) causes confusion among exegetes. Paul can and does use the term in both senses, without giving clear indication that he is.


   It must be stressed that Paul does not see this "reduced Law" of agapê (love) as directly binding on believers, but only indirectly, insofar as the Spirit necessarily directs a believer, not arbitrarily, but according to the God's universal moral standard for human beings. In Paul's view, not being under the Law as a moral standard does not necessarily mean to be immoral. Rather for him the Spirit makes possible another ethical mode of being, which is superior to that of being under even a reduced Law. When he or she is led by the Spirit a person is led to conform to love (agapê), which means that he or she conforms to the principle of reciprocity, for to show agapê (love) is do to others what you would want them to do to you. But agapê love is not a "law" in the sense of being an external standard to which one must conform, but is an internal impulse, the effect of the indwelling Spirit. To led by the Spirit is necessarily to be prompted to be directed by agapê (love). Paul's objection to the Law as a moral standard is its externality, the fact that it is imposed from without. Being indwelt by the Spirit experientially is to have an internal principle of obedience, an impulse to agapê (love), so that there is no need for submission to any external moral standard, including the Law, reduced or otherwise. For this reason the believer is not under the Mosaic Law or any other law. The "righteous requirement of the Law" that is fulfilled in believers (Rom 8:2-4) is agapê (love), which is the center or essence of the Law; this is identical to what Paul calls "the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).(45) In other words, those who live in the Spirit actually fulfill "the righteous requirement of the Law" or "the law of Christ," as a consequence of being led or walking by the Spirit. This explains why, although he says that believers "fulfill" (plêroun) the Law, Paul never says that they never "do" (poiein) the Law. To do the Law implies that one is under the Law with all of its negative implications (see also Gal 3:10, 12; 6:13; see also Rom 10:5). It is also to be under the obligation to keep all the commandments, not just those expressive of love. To fulfil all the Law means for Paul to fulfill one's true moral obligation to God as the result of being walking in or being led by the Spirit.(46) In Gal 5:6b, Paul affirms that what matters for believers (those who are "in Christ") is "faith expressing itself through agapê (love)" (pistis di' agapês energoumenê). Faith is the human response of openness to God, which leads to the acceptance of God's gracious promise. It is by faith that the believer is indwelt by the Spirit; the Spirit then leads the believer to love as the expression or necessary implication of that faith (see Gal 6:15 "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation"). The Spirit's leading a believer according to the principle of love is for Paul the spiritual transformation prophesied by the prophets Jeremias (31:31) and Ezekiel (11:19 and 36:26). Although he does not say so explicitly in his extant letters, Paul probably holds that the Law written on the heart of those in the new covenant is the Spirit leading according to the principle of agapê (love), the reduced Law, which is what he means by the Law being written on tablets of fleshy hearts (internal), as opposed to being written on tablets of stone (external) (2 Cor 3:1-11). Paul's puzzling statement in 1 Cor 7:19 makes sense on this hypothesis. What Paul must mean by the commandments of God are those commandments that represent God's universal requirements for human beings, those that are an expression of love (or the principle of reciprocity). Circumcision does not meet this criterion, and so is not a commandment of God, in spite of being central to the Law of historical manifestation. In being led by the Spirit, the believer is led to love, which results in the keeping the commandments of God, or at least those commandments that are expressive of agapê (love). But again these commandments are not to be seen as an external standard but as that principle according to which the Spirit will lead the one in whom the Spirit indwells. Likewise, one could interpret Paul's citation of Deut 5:16 to support his admonition that children honor their parents (Eph 6:1-3) to mean that Paul sees this commandment as a manifestation of love, indeed a special manifestation of love since in the old covenant God attached to it the reward of long life. Paul does not necessarily advocate, however, that Jews stop living as Jews by no longer living their lives according to the Law. He only objects to the view that obedience to the Law is a condition of being declared righteous before God and even the assumption that the Law is the external moral standard under which all believers must subject themselves. Paul insists that the Law has never been able to serve as a means of being declared righteous and is equally adamant that a believer lives according to the Spirit, following the Spirit's direction, which a better ethical mode of being. Nevertheless, Paul would allow a Jewish believer to opt to keep the Law still as an expression of his religious and cultural distinctiveness; he did not teach Jews to abandon the Law (although he himself did, except when he was evangelizing Jews). Gentiles, however, should not be required to submit to the Law for any reason, since the Law is not a part of their religious and cultural heritage.










(1) E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977); id., Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983).

(2) H. Räisänen, Paul and the Law (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986).

(3) J. Drane, Paul Libertine or Legalist? (London: SPCK, 1975); H. Hübner, Law in Paul’s Thought (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1984).

(4) S. Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988).

(5) See J. Christiaan Beker, Paul the Apostle. The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980) 41-47.

(6) K. Stendahl, “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West,” HTR 56 [1963] 199-215. On Phil 3:4-8 see Timo Eskola, Theodicy and Predestination in Pauline Soteriology (WUNT, 2/100; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1998) 225-30; A. Andrew Das, Paul, the Law and the Covenant (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001) 215-22.

(7) P. T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians (NTGTC; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991) 364-81.

(8) See M. Seifrid, Justification by Faith. The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme (SNT 68; Leiden: Brill, 1992) 151.

(9) H. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 149-53; R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament [2 vols.; New York: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1951, 1955] 1.259-69; B. Eastman, The Significance of Grace in the Letters of Paul (SBL 11; New York: Lang, 1999) 117-22.

(10) H. Schlier, Der Brief an die Galater [14 ed.; MeyerK; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971] 152-53; F. Mußner, Der Galaterbrief (HTKNT 9; Freiburg: Herder, 1974) 245-46; I.-G. Hong, The Law In Galatians (JSNTSup 81; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993) chap. 6.

(11) T. Eskola, Theodicy and Predestination in Pauline Soteriology (WUNT 2d s. 100; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1998) 201-208.

(12) See H.-J. Eckstein, Verheißung und Gesetz. Eine exegetische Untersuchung zu Gal 2,15-4,7 (WUNT 86; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1996) 171-225; S. Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988) 172, 174-97; Eskola, Theodicy and Predestination in Pauline Soteriology, 189-220; 250-52.

(13) Gal 3:16 = plural; Gal 3:17 = singular; Gal 3:19 = singular; Gal 3:21 = plural.

(14) I.-G. Hong argues that the promise of land to Abraham is fulfilled in the giving of the Spirit (The Law In Galatians, 132). The evidence for such an interpretation, however, seems meager.

(15) See C. Kruse, Paul, the Law and Justification (Leister, UK: Apollos, 1996) 89-96.

(16) U. Luz, Das Geschichtsverständnis des Paulus (BEvT 49; Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1968) 177-82; H. Moxnes, Theology in Conflict (Leiden: Brill, 1980) 117-206; G. W. Hansen, Abraham in Galatians: Epistolary & Rhetorical Contexts (JSNTSup 29; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989) 175-99.

(17) On this passge, see Hübner, Law in Paul’s Thought, 36-40.

(18) H. D. Betz, Galatians (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979) 258-64.

(19) E. Lohse, Colossians and Philemon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971) 114-17; P. Porkorny, Colossians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991)142-45.

(20) See C. T. Rhyne, Faith Establishes the Law (SBLDS 55; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1981); C. Kruse, Paul, the Law and Justification (Leister, UK: Apollos, 1996) 206-19.

(21) C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans (ICC n.s.; 2 vols.; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975, 1979) 1.320.

(22) B. Young’s interpretation of Rom 7:1-7 is very unconvincing (Paul the Jewish Theologian [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997] chap. 6).

(23) F. Stanley Jones, "Freiheit" in den Briefen des Apostels Paulus (GTA 34; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987) 118-22.

(24) H. Windisch, Der zweiter Korintherbrief (9 ed.; KEK; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1924) 102.

(25) Windisch, Der zweite Korintherbrief, 103-104.

(26) See R. P. Martin, 2 Corinthians [WBC; Waco, TX: Word, 1986] 43-56; Barrett, 2 Corinthians, 95-112.

(27) Contrary to F. Stanley Jones, "Freiheit" in den Briefen des Apostels Paulus, 61-67.

(28) F.Thielmann, Paul and the Law (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1994) 108-18.

(29) Eckstein, Verheißung und Gesetz, 30-70.

(30) Betz, Galatians, 122.

(31) Bertram, TDNT 5.596-625.

(32) On this topic, see R. N. Longenecker, "The Pedagogical Nature of the Law in Galatians 3.19-4.7," JETS 25 (1982); L. Belleville, "’Under the Law’: Structural Analysis and the Pauline Concept of Law in Galatians 3.21-4.11," JSNT 26 (1986) 53-78; D. J. Lull, "’The Law Was Our Pedagogue’: A Study in Galatians 3:19-25," JBL 105 (1986) 481-98; N. H. Young, "Paidagôgos: The Social Setting of a Pauline Metaphor," NovT 29 (1987) 150-76; A. T. Hanson, "The Origin of Paul’s Use of Paidagôgos for the Law," JSNT 34 (1988) 71-76.

(33) See Betz, Galatians, 175-80; E. Burton, The Epistle to the Galatians (ICC; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1921) 198-201.

(34) See G. B. Caird, Principalities and Powers: A Study in Pauline Theology (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956); A. J. Bandstra, The Law and the Elements of the World (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1964) 57-67; George Howard, Paul: Crisis in Galatia (SNTSMS 35; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979) 66-71; F. Mußner, Der Galaterbrief (HTKNT 9; Freiburg: Herder, 1974) 293-304.

(35) Contrary to H. Schlier, Der Brief an die Galater (5 ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971) 193; Bo Reicke, "The Law and this World According to Paul: Some Thoughts concerning Gal 4: 1-11." JBL 70 (1951) 259-76.

(36) According to Bandstra, Paul means the same thing by the terms "elements of the cosmos" in 4:3 and "elements" in 4:8 (The Law and the Elements of the World, 57-67). He identifies them as "those elements that are operative within the whole sphere of human activity which is temporary and passing away, beggarly and incompetent in bringing salvation, weak and both open to an defenseless before sin" (55). These operative elements are Law and flesh, the fundamental forces operative in the world.

(37) See Burton, The Epistle to the Galatians, 215-16; 510-18; R. Longenecker, Galatians (WBC; Waco: Word, 1990) 164-66; R. Y. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 181, 188-92; A. Das, Paul and the Jews (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) 151-65.

(38) Gerhard Delling, TDNT 7:670-83.

(39) Contrary to F. Stanley Jones, who interprets freedom to mean freedom from corruptibility, corresponding to the Jerusalem that is above ("Freiheit" in den Briefen des Apostels Paulus, 82-96).

(40) See F. Stanley Jones, "Freiheit" in den Briefen des Apostels Paulus, 96-102.

(41) On this topic, see Sanders, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People, 93-114; Räisänen, Paul and the Law, 62-73; Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith, 198-218.

(42) See S. Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988) 201-205; J. Barclay, Obeying the Truth: A Study of Paul’s Ethics in Galatians (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988)125-42; B. Longenecker, The Triumph of Abraham’s God (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998) 83-88; C. Kruse, Paul, the Law and Justification (Leister, UK: Apollos, 1996) 103-4.

(43) It is important to note that Paul’s summarizing of the Law as one commandment (Lev 19:18) is not original to him. R. Hillel, a Pharisee, like Paul, was supposed to have taught that the Torah can be summed up in the injunction: "Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor" (Sabb 31a in BT). Paul, however, took this summarizing approach to understanding the Law to an extreme to which that no Pharisee could assent.

(44) See A. Wakefield, Where to Live. The Hermeneutical Significance of Paul’s Citations from Scripture in Galatians 3:1-14 (SBLAB 14; Atlanta: SBL, 2003) Chap. 6.

(45) On the topic of "Law of Christ" see Barclay, Obeying the Truth, 126-35; R. Longenecker, Galatians, 275-76.

(46) Hübner explains that Paul makes the distinction between the Law with its "quantative claims" and the "qualitative fulfilllment" of the Law "as an outcome of the activity of the Spirit of God in man" (Law in Paul’s Thought, 36-42).






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