Paul and the Law

I feel like I am procrastinating on the schedule I set for myself here. By now I had planned on reading and writing about lst and 2nd Corinthians. As I read over these two letters at, I must say there is reason to procrastinate. For those who view Paul as a chauvinist, Corinthians provides their proof text. Perhaps.

But I do want to discuss one last and important theme running through Galatians and into Paul’s later letters. It is that of the law. In all of Paul’s letters we hear him warning the people about their behavior. In a word, it should exemplify behavior which does credit to Jesus, to be an example to others as bearers of the Christ they have received, faithful witness in their lives to the faith Paul has preached and that is now theirs. They can imitate the behavior of Jesus Christ in Paul himself. On the one hand Paul hears about their misbehaving warning them to shape up and they have asked him what in fact it does mean to be a follower of The Way, of Jesus.  I live now not I but Christ lives in me.

This is where Paul will launch into his diatribe on the Law. As I said earlier, it is something Paul wrestles with and within himself; at one point in his life he was a faithful Jew and kept to the Mosaic Law. His Gentile followers want to know if in order to follow Jesus do they too, like Paul and Jesus before them, follow the Mosaic Law, become Jewish as an entree into their life in Christ. Paul begins his schema citing the promise made to Abraham and follows it through to finding fulfillment in Christ. This is something the law, Paul says, could not do. Then he talks about the law bringing sin. I always had a hard time understanding this, if the Mosaic Law was good?  If it brought sin why would Yahweh go to all the trouble, and he did, of giving it to the people and telling them that observing the law was requisite Yahweh being their God and them being his people? Abraham was not justified, or made righteous, by the Law. Only by faith in God.  Part of what Paul is getting at is the laws only tells you when you are misbehaving. The key here is in Deuteronomy. In Chapter 4 of Deuteronomy Yahweh tells the people that as they go into the land he had given them, that they are to keep the laws and customs he enjoins on them. This is how they will demonstrate their fidelity to him. In Deuteronomy 6:4-13, begins with the Hebrew prayer called the Shema, that beings Hear, O Israel, Yahweh is God, Yahweh alone…This prayer is still prayed by the Hebrew community today.

Yahweh gave the law to the people to take with them as they went into the Promised Land. The law was given them so that they would have something that governed their relationships with the other people they would be neighbor to, to each other and to God. In other words the law was given to set out the parameters of their relationships with others and with Yahweh.  You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. Let these laws I urge on you be written on your heart. There it is. The Mosaic Law and its purpose. This is not a law written on stone.  It is the law to be carried in one’s heart. It is the law to carry with you in your heart, repeat to their children, take with you walking or at home, rising up or lying down. In other words, make it the very part of your being. In this was right living. To be righteoused–which means to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

So what is Paul talking about? There is the Law and then there is the law. Sometimes Paul is referring to the Mosaic Law and at other times he is referring to the minutia that the law had evolved into; prescriptions for every little thing, like you could be stoned by pulling your ox out of hole on the Sabbath.

The story of Israel will break your heart. It is the story of repeated captivity, oppression, wandering and waiting for a savior to come to end the exiles and oppressions. But it wasn’t happening. So along the way some decided that they needed to do better, to be better. Of course, the Hebrew Scriptures has a lengthy accounting of the Prophets also railing at the people to get back on track. Repent. But by the time of Jesus and Paul it was primarily the Pharisees who set out these laws; really superstitions they believed would cause the messiah to come and save them. The monks at Qumran were thus motivated as well.

In Galatians Paul finally comes back to the spirit of Deuteronomy and concludes that the sum total of the law resides in what we now call The Golden Rule. Love your neighbor as yourself.

I suggest you read Deuteronomy. It is significant in the story of Israel. It is the story of Israel. And it is wonderful, beautiful. In it is the heart of a loving God. The God in Christ that Paul brings to us.

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