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Paul's View of the Law as seen primarily in Galatians and Romans - Essay Example

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Contents Introduction 2 Law in the Early Church 2 Paul’s Views on the Law 3 Pauls Views on Righteousness and Law 7 Paul’s Views on Law as a Condition to Salvation 7 Pauls Views on Law as a Gauge of Morality 8 The Role of the Law in Paul’s Gospel 8 Application of Pauline Epistles to Modern Christians 9 Conclusion 9 Bibliography 10 Paul’s View of the Law as in his Letters to the Galatians and the Romans Introduction Paul was an extremely important part of the early Church and provided it with strong traditions that persist to the modern day…
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Pauls View of the Law as seen primarily in Galatians and Romans
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Contents Introduction 2 Law in the Early Church 2 Paul’s Views on the Law 3 Pauls Views on Righteousness and Law 7 Paul’s Views on Law as a Condition to Salvation 7 Pauls Views on Law as a Gauge of Morality 8 The Role of the Law in Paul’s Gospel 8 Application of Pauline Epistles to Modern Christians 9 Conclusion 9 Bibliography 10 Paul’s View of the Law as in his Letters to the Galatians and the Romans Introduction Paul was an extremely important part of the early Church and provided it with strong traditions that persist to the modern day. The Jewish stringent observance of laws in order to dissuade sinful behaviour was contrasted by Paul’s novel ideas regarding sin. Paul cannot be seen as being anarchic in nature or by design in his refusal to submit to the dominance of laws. Instead, Paul can be seen as introducing a subtle compromise between abiding religious laws and defining sinful behaviour otherwise. Paul’s overwhelming view that total coherence to the laws and abiding them in letter and spirit was not physically possible for everyone relies on the assumption that human beings are weak by design. Keeping this in mind, Paul contended that human beings have a duty to the Lord above their duty to laws enforced by human beings such as the Jews. He felt that the principles of exclusion used by the Jewish tradition to limit laws to themselves were nothing more than attempts at limiting salvation to themselves. In comparison to the rigid and orthodox views on the law, Paul presents a more balanced approach. Given the shortage of early written tradition from Paul’s times, it is pertinent to use any available sources to document Paul’s views on law. One possible source for extracting such information are the letters addressed by Paul to the Romans and the Galatians. Taking into consideration pieces of Paul’s work such as Gal 3:1-14 provides a useful understanding on the exact views of Paul on the law. This paper will look into Paul’s letters in detail in order to clarify Paul’s position on the law and salvation. Law in the Early Church The Jewish tradition has had strong roots in the strict observance of the law. The Jewish position on the observance of law came into direct conflict with early Christian beliefs. At the time when Paul wrote letters to Galatians and Romans, Christianity was novel and foreign to the Jewish civilization that insisted on the strict observance of the law. Paul’s contention in writing these letters was to address the different churches facing different conditions. To understand Paul’s utterances about law, it is important to have an understanding of the viewpoint of the people he was addressing in his letter. Pauline epistles were written to a society that revered Judaism, which demanded austere compliance to Jewish laws. Such laws include bodily male circumcision as a compulsory requirement for salvation. Those who did not abide were considered gentiles and unrighteous.1 In his letters to both Galatians and Romans, Paul clarified that circumcision, which was a cherished Jewish tradition was not a constituent of the gospel of Christ. He asserted that salvation is by God’s grace and not out of our efforts, thus it is for all but not Jews alone as Judaism proposed. Paul’s efforts to dismantle these orthodox customs received opposition to such an extent that some went following him from church to church to revise his teachings2. Within the same Church were Pharisees who believed in Jesus as the Christ and the means to salvation and believed that observance of the law was an obligation and not a compulsory requirement for salvation. In the society were the lawless gentiles that Paul hoped to convert. The gentiles were unwilling to adopt Jewish laws, which resulted into great criticism from the Jews. Paul’s Views on the Law Paul’s letters are filled with a constant comparison of the law, righteousness, and salvation. It must be kept in mind that Paul initially had a Jewish background before his conversion to Christianity. He had been a persecutor of Christ’s church. In his writings, Paul considers himself to have been blameless before his conversion in matters pertaining to righteousness. Like the Pharisees, and Jews, he then believed in strict surveillance of the laws3. After conversion, he revolutionized his view and began viewing observance of law as an aid in attaining righteousness but not a symbol of righteousness in itself4. His views about the law seem to have been influenced by the struggles he went through before conversion. Another factor that could have contributed to his disputing the Judaic set of beliefs was the attempt of the Jews to use it to impose limits on gentiles. Such laws as circumcision were used by Jews to segregate gentiles. Paul’s desire was for the gentiles to convert to Christianity and thus he felt the laws were blocking the gentiles from adapting Christianity5. Some scholars view Paul’s arguments as an attestation that law is a bogus path to salvation given that it depends on toil. They argue that Paul’s outlook is that law cannot be fulfilled as one is obliged to work in order to attain salvation, which results in self-righteousness barring reliance on God. Yet other scholars claim that Paul’s argument is that there are two type of righteousness; one given by God and the other achieved through one’s efforts. However, most scholars agree that Paul prefers passive righteousness that is given by God based on faith6. Others posit that Paul lacked an understanding of law due to the conflicting ways he describes the law in his letters to Galatians and Romans. The commentators thus claim that Paul must have changed his views on the law between writing to the Romans and Galatians7. This might have been possible if Paul’s views are considered on the extremes but such a situation could not have resulted if Paul’s views are treated as pluralistically divided between Godliness and human struggle for salvation. According to Paul, laws should only provide guidance on what God expects of us. However, for proper interpretation of Paul’s views on the law, it is important to assume that he was consistent, which is somehow true on pondering at some consistent statements used in both letters8. At times, Paul might appear to have deviated from what Judaism advocated for but for other instances, he used deduction from Judaism to explain himself. Paul tends to portray law pessimistically but he still verifies that it is good, sanctified, spiritual, and virtuous. This interpretation of Paul’s views on the law affirms the belief that Paul was a moderate and looked for a balance between law and personal human struggle. The negative manner in which Paul seems to portray the law could be attributed to a lack of Greek terminology to describe lawfulness. In several instances, Paul seeks to dethrone the endurance of law as the route to salvation9. He considers the law as an accuser, looking for any ambiguity to attack and enslave those who choose to abide to it. According to him, law is for the anarchic and unbelievers but not for the believers. He appears to deviate from Judaism, which focussed overwhelmingly on self-righteousness. According to Paul, all the law had done was to take away the freedom of its followers and make them slaves and hypocrites at the same time. His approach in the letter directed to the Romans is comparably friendlier while his latter to the Galatians openly condemns their act of feigning to be law abiders. Paul compares the Galatians’ attempts as hypocrisy. Furthermore, Paul disputes that the gentile are not defiant against the law. He argues that since they did not study it, they had it written in their hearts. He however warns gentiles who may understand but fail to abide to the law that they will be condemned by their standards of knowledge on the commandments. Paul uses the term ho nomos to identify the law as an entirety of God’s will for Israelites while in other instances the term is in reference to God’s will for humanity. Yet in other instances, Paul describes the gentiles as the law, whom he says have the laws written on their hearts. All these descriptions depict that there is a correlation between Jewish law and the law known to the rest of humankind. Paul’s understanding is that it is impossible for anyone to keep the law confined to themselves. Thus, the law cannot be a means to salvation as there is no one who completely abides by the law. He considers anyone’s endeavour to abide entirely to the laws without God’s grace as disgraceful as it illustrates one’s solo hunt for self-righteousness. He in fact views such attempts as sinful since they depict men’s striving to forget the existence of God. Paul appears to rebuff the law as a means of salvation since no one can tolerate the entirety of the law. He consistently advises new gentile converts not to focus more on fulfilling the laws of Moses but to be attentive in realizing and fulfilling the will of God. He asserts that any trial to rely on one’s capability to acquire salvation is cursed10. In his attempt to demonstrate how the tendency to abide blindly to the laws was insignificant and sinful, Paul uses a comparison from the Old Testament. The two sons of Abraham are used in Galatians as an analogy to law and promise. Sarah symbolizes promise and his son Isaac represents Abrahamic covenant, which is the promise. On the other hand, Hagar is a slave and the son Ishmael, born out of slavery signifies Mosaic covenant or the law, which leads to slavery. He cautions the believers against being the slaves of the law11. In Romans 7, Paul uses himself as an example of how his attempt to abide totally to the law can lead to sin and make one a prisoner. He conceives that law binds us just as a wife is bound to his husband all her life. He however concedes that law has already been broken and, we are no longer bound by it but are now liberated. This is also evident in Galatians when he states that Christ has abolished the law by his death and resurrection. He feels law is a bondage that cannot procure any righteousness and thus requires liberation12. To a certain extent, Paul views the law as a problem when he argues that the understanding of the law leads to slavery, sin, and eventually death. He feels that God’s will annihilate all since the stringent righteousness that the law demands is unachievable. To him, law enhances sin by pioneering conscious intractable defiance that results in transgression. It is by being a sentient of God’s will that we defy and rebel against His laws. According to Paul, law is there not to correct and guide but to punish and enslave. Law is like a disciplinarian, always awaiting us to make a blunder in order to discipline us. However, Paul alleges that the law was not initially difficult but sin has seized it and uses it to achieve death13. Pauls Views on Righteousness and Law Paul feels that the habit of the Jews associating salvation and righteousness with the law was hypocritical. They were only proclaiming commitment to the law while their actions lacked righteousness. Only God is righteous whereas the law is just a means for God to communicate with us. He asserts that those who found righteousness before the coming of Christ remain righteous since the rules of salvation have not changed. He therefore challenges the Jews to accept the converted gentiles and consider them as believers14. Paul’s Views on Law as a Condition to Salvation Paul avers that obedience to the law cannot act as a criterion to quantify righteousness since no one fully abides to the commandments. He says that if the law is used to revile, then all will be condemned. He feels that pretence to be strict abiders of the law is in itself a sin and ignominy to God who gave the law so that we may follow it not because of the promises it offers but because it is good and His will. We should therefore be obliged to study and keep the law not out of the benefits we anticipate but for the sake of understanding it. However, Paul is not apparent on whether obedience of commandment is an indication of devotion for God. Paul out rightly condemns certain parts of the law particularly on circumcision and laws relating to diet. He felt that physical circumcision showed complete devotion to laws as means to salvation. He uses this in defending himself from critism that he blends with the gentiles. Paul strongly opposes the strict observance of the Jewish calendar and diets when he argues that those were earthly particulars that could not be considered as prerequisites to salvation15. Pauls Views on Law as a Gauge of Morality In his letter to the Galatians, Paul alluded that the obedience of laws seized being a measure of moral values. He claims that a true believer is the one who has been salvaged from it since all law does is to enslave. He uses an analogy of a married woman who is set free if the husband dies and can remarry. He feels that in the same way the law that bound the Romans is dead and they have been set free. The death of Christ led to abolishment of the law. Converting gentiles have no duty to follow the law. He views the law to have died together with Christ, that is, the death of Christ was a means of liberation from the bondage. Paul asserts that circumcision was a spiritual issue, which meant doing what was right but not just alleging to keep the law16. The Role of the Law in Paul’s Gospel According to Paul, law was meant to enlighten people of their sinfulness. Conforming to it could not be a sign of uprightness given that no one is capable of abiding to the laws utterly. To him, salvation must have been meant for nobody if custody of the laws is what will lead to deliverance. To him law is acceptable but people must not depend on their aptitude to fulfil it since it is unattainable17. Law is for guiding people to enable them identify sinful situations but not condemning sinners since we are all sinners18. However, on understanding the law, we are able to acknowledge our sinfulness and repent hence reunite ourselves with God. Law is supposed to actualize our sinfulness but not to lead us to wickedness. He also argues that law was given to human beings to prepare them for the coming of Christ since by accepting it they would admit misdeeds and repent. Another role of Law suggested by Paul in His epistles is that of creating transgressions19. Application of Pauline Epistles to Modern Christians The understanding of Pauline epistles is important and can shape modern Christianity. The controversy especially in Galatia exhibits that there is a need for Christians to understand the features of holy ecclesia. Modern Christians should thus not consider themselves more righteous than the non-believers as salvation comes from God but not from knowledge of the scriptures20. Conclusion In Paul’s letters to the Galatians as well as to Romans, Paul seeks to deviate from the Jewish belief that abiding to the law was equivalent to Salvation. Instead, he is adamant that salvation is only achieved through faith in Christ and conformance to God’s will. Paul contended that those who judge others on basis of observation of the law are in fact distorters of the Gospel. To Paul, the law was meant to be temporary and to help believers understand God’s will but not to use it to punish or condemn others while they themselves were depraved of the same laws. Permitting the law to be above everyone only made law an enslaving mechanism. According to Paul, salvation cannot be based on one’s ability to keep the law since no one is perfect which could mean that everyone is cursed. The law is supposed to guide but not to enslave or condemn. Pauls warns gentiles that they are accountable and will still face judgement since it is possible to be disobedient even in absence of the laws. He ascertains that the laws will also judge those who commit offences by the laws. The main theme Paul wants to clarify is that salvation from sin is through faith as opposed to the Jewish believes that it was on basis on strict observation of the law. The arguments presented in this paper overwhelmingly prove that Paul’s views on the law were balanced and kept a balance between observance of God’s will and abiding to the laws. Bibliography Berton, Anthony. The Law of the Spirit: Experience of the Spirit and Displacement of the Law in Romans 8:1-6. Bern: Peter Lang, 2005. Burnett, Gary. Paul and the Salvation of the Individual, Volume 87. Leiden: Brill, 2001. Polhill, John. Paul and his Letters. Toronto: B&H Publishing Group, 1999. Keith, Robert. The meaning of “Works of the Law” in Galatians and Romans. Bern: P. Lang, 2001. Schnelle, Udo. Apostle Paul: His life And Theology. Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005. Schreiner, Thomas R. Is Perfect Obedience to the Law Possible? A Re-Examination of Galatians 3:10. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 27:2 (1984): 151-160. Schreiner, Thomas. Interpreting the Pauline Epistles. Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011. Thielaman, Frank. From plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans. Leiden: Brill Archive, 1989. Tsang, Sam. From Slaves to Sons: A New Rhetoric Analysis on Paul’s Slave Metaphors in His Letter to Galatians. Bern: Peter Lang, 2005. Read More
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