Monday, December 5, 2011

Nullifying Non-Authoritative Laws?

I finished Hans Hubner's Law in Paul's Thought. I also started Heikki Raisenen's Paul and the Law. In this post, I will use as my starting-point something that Raisenen says about Hubner on page 8:

"In Galatians Paul, according to Hubner, maintains that the law has been abolished; in Romans, however, Christ is only seen as the end of the Jewish misunderstanding of the law and not of the law itself."

This was slightly different from how I understood Hubner, but I will admit that I didn't find Hubner to be that easy to read. I thought that Hubner believed that Paul in Romans sees Christ as the end of the law, meaning that the law was temporary (although Paul in Romans does view the law as good, which, for Hubner, differs from Paul's negative outlook towards the law in Galatians). I agree with Raisenen that Hubner makes a big deal about Jewish misunderstanding of the law----that, for Hubner, prominent strands of Judaism made observance of the law into a matter of boasting as well as atomized the law into individual commands rather than looking at the law in a holistic manner. I also agree with Raisenen that Hubner's Paul in Romans holds that the law has continuing relevance for Christians, who fulfill the purpose of the law when they love. But I still thought that Hubner was arguing that Paul in Romans saw Christ as the end of the law, not just the misunderstanding of the law. I suppose that I could reread Hubner, but, to be honest, I want to move on and read other things.

I want to focus, though, on Raisenen's characterization of Hubner: that Paul in Romans was saying that Christ is the end of Jewish misunderstanding of the law, not the law itself. That sort of view reminds me of arguments that I heard in Armstrongite circles. Armstrongites believed that God required Christians to observe Old Testament practices, such as the seventh-day Sabbath, the holy days, the dietary rules, etc. Consequently, Armstrongites interpreted certain New Testament passages differently from many Sunday-keeping Christians (at least the ones who thought about those passages).

As an example, I'll quote Ephesians 2:14-16 (in the King James Version): "For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us]; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby".

Many Sunday-keeping Christians have argued that Ephesians 2:14-16 is about God abolishing something in his law. Some see the word "commandments" and conclude that the passage is saying that God has abolished the Sabbath. Some contend that what is being abolished is the Torah rituals that separated Jews from Gentiles, and often they identify these rituals as the Sabbath, circumcision, and the food laws. But I heard Armstrongites offer an alternative view: that what is being abolished in Ephesians 2:14-16 is not commandments of God, but rather commandments of men. I do not know entirely what Armstrongites who used this argument had in mind. Were they thinking of Pharisaic regulations, which Jesus called "commandments of men" in Mark 7:7 and Matthew 15:9? Probably so. It's interesting, though, that there are even many Sunday-keepers who argue that Ephesians 2:14-16 is talking about Christ's abolition of a human (as opposed to a divine) commandment, namely, the way that Herod's Temple barred Gentiles from certain Temple areas where Jews were allowed to be. According to this view, Christ abolished that separation between Jews and Gentiles by giving both equal access to God. Come to think of it, this view entails Christ overturning divine and human institutions: Christ abolished the need for an earthly temple (which was divinely-sanctioned), and that abolished the humanly-sanctioned separation between Jews and Gentiles at that Temple.

I have a problem with the Armstrongite view that Christ in Ephesians 2:14-16 abolishes commandments of men, and it's the same problem that I have with Hubner's argument that Christ abolished a Jewish misunderstanding of the law and not the law itself. My problem is this: Why would Christ need to abolish something that wasn't divinely-authoritative in the first place? If God at the outset didn't require people to obey commandments of men or to follow a misunderstanding of the law, why would Christ need to die to put an end to those things? There's no substance to them in the first place, for God is not sanctioning them! Why would Christ need to die to end human commandments, when the solution is simply for people to realize that they don't have to observe them, because these commandments lack authority and legitimacy?

It makes a little more sense to me that Ephesians 2:14-16 is saying that God abolished laws that God himself enacted, for I can see God officially nullifying his own laws, but (in my opinion) it doesn't make sense for him to nullify laws that he did not enact in the first place----human religious regulations that have no divine sanction or authority at the outset. But perhaps, by nullifying some of his own laws, God also nullified the human abuse of them. If God now recognizes the church and not the Temple, for example, that means that the humanly-ordained separation between Jews and Gentiles at the Temple no longer has an impact, for God now acknowledges a new Temple (the church) where such barriers do not exist.


  1. It looks to me like Torah was for the Jews and transgressions against it were specifically wrong for Jews. The types of behaviour regulated in Torah were also how God wanted Jews and everyone to behave, so not behaving like that was sinning. Torah was brought to an end, but not how people should properly behave.

  2. Romans 2 may point to the sort of thing you say----whether that's referring to Gentile pre-Christians or Christians.


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