The Law: Jesus and Paul

I would like to explore what Jesus and Paul had in common in their view of the Law. This may seem like an odd way to approach the topic. But for those who know the arguments within theological circles it may not seem that weird.

For many the views given of the continued place of the law for the church have a different place.

Jesus is quoted by Matthew as having encouraged the continued observance of the law, though in a very different way. Some might say well because Matthew’s audience was Jewish and Paul’s was gentile that there is a strong difference and the way we continue to approach the law in the church today is more towards Paul’s comments about the law bringing only death. Jesus Preaching the Sermon on the Mount Gustave Dore

One primary issue with this interpretation is that it assumes that the Gospel of Matthew was not written to the church which consisted of Jews. What this unfair interpretation does is assumes that Matthew was written to the Jewish community and not the church. The other point to keep in mind is that Jesus’ frustration with the current understanding of the law in his time was that people did not know it or follow it. What they knew was the oral traditions developed by the rabbinical community. These oral laws had an equal or higher place in the life of the Jews. The nature of that oral law lead people to what they must do in order to not break the law. It was not however teachings on how to best follow the law. Not breaking the law and following the law are two different things. Jesus addressed this head on and re-taught the law in the way he wished the church to continue to teach the law in order to bring more of his kingdom. paul

So in what way then does oral law factor into Paul’s comments about the “law bringing death”. Paul had spent his entire life wrapped up into the culture of oral tradition. He was like the scribe or Pharisee that Jesus mentions in his sermon on the mount. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus in this passage affirms that well taught law makes you great in the kingdom of God. He then affirms that the current version of ‘law’ teaching (the oral law) has nothing to do with those who would be considered truly righteous. Paul explains in his letter to Galatia that the law for him (maybe oral law) was something that brought death. Maybe because following the oral law meant actually breaking the Mosaic law, which was about loving God and people.

The law can continue to bring death when it is treated in this way. But Law existed in the Garden in the way that it exists now under Christ. We are free like in the garden to do all that God has made available to us. But there are still things we must not do. But its about doing not about not doing. We get to follow the example of Christ. We get to study and examine the application of the law because Christ is in us and his spirit may guide us. We can study the law in order to learn to love God and love people for building his kingdom.

The other problem with the discussion regarding the Law is that that word is a bit of a metonymy. Included in the use of the metonymy is the what was spoken by the prophets, the narrative throughout the law, and some of the most odd and abstract laws and standards given by God for his people Israel. There is much that Jesus fulfilled and completed in the law and there is much that has been left incomplete. He has left it for his church to accomplish the and for himself to accomplish in the future. But none of the law is obsolete. In that same breathe, once we have been freed from the curse of the law by Christ, the law is also no longer bringing death in and through those who believe. It will continue to bring death for those who depend on it for righteousness and reject or turn from Christ. But it become clearer that the law and in particular the whole OT has many deep principles for bringing the kingdom of God into every area of life around us.

Jesus has in fact given the keys to the kingdom to the church. The church is to continue not only the work of Israel, but the work of Christ in bringing redemption to all of creation, man, women, Jew, Gentile, free, slave, and eventually to the whole of the created world. If we are to do this we need God the Father and his instruction, God’s son making redemption possible, and the holy spirit continuing in us to accomplish the work given by God, initiated by Christ.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, New Testament, Old Testament, Salvation, Theology | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The Law: Jesus and Paul

  1. Jesse. I have read this a number of times. And I end up the same place each time.

    I have neither wish to offend, nor desire to debate. Simply a desire to understand. I understand “Love God self neighbour” to underpin all else – law, oral, written, doing, not doing. Yet if Love is the key, a need-less transaction-free perfect Love, then I end up with confusion here. Help!

    • Well when explaining these things it always helps to know where my students are coming from. I dont know you. So not really clear what stuff you get and dont get about this. Often what Paul says is taken as if the law is now obsolete. This is not what he meant to say of course because Jesus certainly said that the law had a continued value. Jesus’ sacrifice makes following the law about building character and building his kingdom. Paul makes the point that following the law is only an outward thing that can not make a person righteous before God. Only Christ’s sacrifice does that for us. The Law is something for the believer to observe in order to grow in Love for God and people.

  2. Thank you.

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