Thursday, December 8, 2011

Completing Raisenen's Paul and the Law

I finished Heikki Raisenen's Paul and the Law. Raisenen says that Hellenistic Christians had a mission towards Gentiles, one that did not require them to be circumcised or to observe the law of Moses to enter the people of God. According to Raisenen, Saul of Tarsus had issues with that, as well as the Christian belief that the Messiah was hung on a cross (which the Christian Paul said was a stumbling-block to Jews in I Corinthians 1:23). When Paul became a Christian, he embraced the beliefs that he once persecuted----that Gentiles could enter the people of God without circumcision and Torah observance. This is my understanding of Raisenen's argument, and it overlaps with what Terence Donaldson later argued in Paul and the Gentiles. Raisenen believes that this scenario best accounts for Paul's view on the Gentiles and the Torah----that Paul was embracing the belief that he once persecuted. Raisenen does not think that Paul got his ideas from a belief within rabbinic Judaism that the Torah would be changed or abolished under the Messiah, for Raisenen contends that such a belief was late and marginal in Judaism.

Raisenen appears to believe that Paul mis-conceptualizes Judaism, which did not maintain that Jews were saved through Torah observance or had to observe the Torah perfectly. According to Raisenen, Paul did not buy into covenantal nomism, the view that Jews were saved through membership in the covenant, which had provisions of atonement for the times that they sinned. Paul obviously did not believe that repentance within the covenant was sufficient, and so atonement had to occur through the work of Christ. Raisenen still acknowledges that Paul overlapped some with covenantal nomism, however, for (like Jews) Paul believed that blatant and unrepentant sin could cause a person to lose his place in the people of God. As Sanders often conceptualizes Judaism, one became a part of the covenant through grace, but one stayed in the covenant through obedience to the law, and Paul had a similar view regarding the church (only Paul did not believe that Christians had to observe the ritual laws of the Torah, but he did agree with certain moral laws of the Torah, even as he averred that the Torah was abolished).

Raisenen does not hold that Paul was reacting against IV Ezra and II Baruch, with their view that Jews needed to keep the law perfectly, for those books were written after the destruction of 70 C.E. to explain the catastrophe----that it came because the Jews failed to keep the law perfectly. But Raisenen does travel the middle ground between the Lutheran Paul and the New Perspective, for, while Raisenen argues (like the New Perspective) that a chief concern of Paul was the inclusion of the Gentiles and that Paul tried to develop a view of the Torah (however inconsistent) from that standpoint, he does not dismiss the possibility that Paul felt burdened when he was a Jew attempting to obey the law, for Paul the Christian often talks about liberation from the law.

I'll stop here. I'll take a little break from posts on Paul, the law, and the Gentiles, for the next book that I will read and blog through will be The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume Two: The Hellenistic Age.

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