Friday, October 21, 2011

Paul, the Law, the Gentiles, and Becoming Part of God's People

I'm still going through Stephen Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The "Lutheran" Paul and His Critics. The question I have been asking is how scholars conceptualize Paul's attitude towards the law: Did Paul believe that the law was for Israel only, or for the Gentiles as well?

In what I read today, I saw the view that Paul maintained that the law was for Israel alone and separated Jews from Gentiles, which was why parts of it became nullified through the work of Christ, which had the aim of uniting Jews and Gentiles into one people. But I also encountered the view that the Mosaic law was for Israel and illustrated Israel's tendency to seek to accomplish her own righteousness before God, as well as her failure to do so. According to this view, the law was for Israel alone, yet the law was an example of a phenomenon that pertained to all of humanity: our misplaced desire to please God through our accomplishments, and our failure to be righteous before God through our own efforts. Israel illustrated this principle through her interaction with the law, whereas others presumably demonstrate it in other ways. The former view (that the law was for Israel and separated Jews from Gentiles) is part of the New Perspective, which focuses on the inclusion of Gentiles into the people of God rather than issues such as becoming righteous before God, dealing with sin and guilt, and the pitfall of self-righteousness. The latter view, however, represents the Old Perspective, or a belief in the "Lutheran" Paul, for it focuses precisely on issues such as self-righteousness and dealing with sin and guilt.

Westerholm's discussion of Terence Donaldson also pertained to the universalism and the particularity of the law, and, eventually, I will be reading and blogging through Donaldson's Paul and the Gentiles. According to Westerholm, Donaldson tries to arrive at an answer to the question of why the mission to the Gentiles was so important to Paul. Donaldson does not believe that the Jewish idea that Gentiles could be righteous by observing the seven Noachide commandments played any role in Paul's mission to the Gentiles, for the "righteous Gentiles" idea did not presume that righteous Gentiles were part of God's covenant with Israel (whereas Paul thought that Gentile believers were entering that covenant), and it held that there were separate paths to salvation for Jews and Gentiles, something that Paul denied. Donaldson argues (on page 275-284 of his book, which I note for future reference) that pre-Christian Paul agreed with Jews who thought that Gentiles needed to become proselytes to Judaism to be saved. Christian Paul held a similar belief, only he felt that Gentiles became part of God's people by faith in Christ, not by circumcision and Torah observance.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog