Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God– Part Forty Five

What follows in pp. 860ff. is an exposition of Galatians, an exposition which clarifies some things, and makes more of a puzzle of other things. First of all, Tom is absolutely right that the logic of the arguments in Gal. 3-4 is narratival in character more than anything else. Paul will connect the community of Christ back to Abraham and his covenant, and will stress that the role of Torah was temporary for the people of God. In other words, this is not basically argument about law vs. grace, or legalism vs. antinominianism, but rather what community is inheriting the promises given to Abraham and in the end is in fact Abraham’s descendants and heirs. Tom rightly points out that Abraham frames the argument in Galatians 3.6ff. and 3.29. The promise to Abraham, which came before Torah logically must take precedence over Torah as something that constitutes the people of God, the founding charter is ‘pistis’ as with Abraham, not Torah. Torah’s purpose. according to Tom, was essentially negative. It was never meant to be the means through which the promise to Abraham would be realized (p. 862). Then he adds “the God given role of Torah has now come to a proper and honourable end– not that there was anything wrong with it, but that it was never designed to be permanent….Torah belongs to a period of history which the Messiah’s faithful death and resurrection have now brought to its appointed goal.” (pp. 862-83). With this I quite agree, but what this means is that a fair bit of what Tom said earlier in this study is misleading. Specifically, the notion of covenant renewal is misleading, and the notion that the Law referred to as the ‘law of the Spirit’ being the same law as the Mosaic law is misleading. If Torah is at an end in Christ (Rom. 10.4), then so is the law covenant we know as the Mosaic covenant. You cannot separate the essential core of the Mosaic covenant, it’s law, from the covenant itself and say that one element is somehow carried forward into the new covenant while the covenant itself is at an end. This is a matter of covenant replacement not covenant renewal. Indeed, as Paul’s use of nomos in Galatians makes clear over and over again, the Mosaic Law is a package deal. If you submit to the covenant sign of circumcision you are accepting the duty to keep all 613 commandments. In short, Paul is arguing that the new covenant is indeed a new covenant, not a renewal of the Mosaic one, but it is seen as a fulfillment of the Abrahamic one. There is an irreducible contrast in Galatians between the Abrahamic and new covenants on the one hand, and the Mosaic covenant on the other, as the allegory in Gal. 4 makes evident.

Despite the clarity about Gal. 3 at the outset, on p. 864 Tom goes back to his old ways and says “Paul is differentiating between the two different routes by which these two groups came into the one, single family: gentiles were brought in from the outside; Jews already in a sense within the covenant, were renewed as such by the gift of the Spirit, whose first evidence is faith.” But this will not do. In the first place, as Acts suggests, Paul has both Jews and Gentiles in his Galatian audience, though the majority of them are the latter, clearly enough. In the second place, Jews are not already ‘in a sense’ in the covenant Paul is talking about! They, like Paul himself have to embrace the dying and rising Jesus to be in that covenant.

We are not talking about a situation in which some people had to go to an evangelistic meeting and be saved or converted, whereas others only had to go to a revival meeting, being already within the saved group, and get refreshed by the Spirit. Not so. Paul’s argument to Jew or Gentile is the same in essence— ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved’, and this presupposes what Jesus himself announced that Israel are lost sheep that need to be saved, or as it is put in John 3, even the Nicodemus’s of this world, the good pious learned Jews, must be born again.

In other words, though Acts is clear enough that Paul himself had to go through a radical change of worldview, what we would call a religious conversion on Damascus Road, Paul himself is no less clear about what needs to happen for both Jew and Gentile, for the Gospel is for both of them— they must become new creatures in Christ and the old had passed away. In other words, Paul’s message for both Jew and Gentile is more radical than Tom allows in the sentence quoted above. Christ as Gal. 4 puts it who was born under the law had the quite specific purpose of redeeming those under the law out from under the Mosaic Law. That is a statement about Jews.

Tom goes on to reference (n. 254) various passages that are supposed to be about covenant renewal– Rom. 2.25-29;3.26-30;7.4-6; 10.6-13;2 Cor. 3.1-6; Ephes. 2.11-12. But 1) that is not how covenants worked in antiquity in the first place, and 2) that is not what those passages are about. 2 Cor. 3 for example contrasts the Mosaic ministry which results in death with the new covenant ministry of Paul which leads to life. Letter characterizes the former covenant which is death dealing, Spirit characterizes the latter covenant which is life giving. Letter and Spirit are not both referring to the same ministry, the same covenant etc. Spirit does not revive the letter written on tablets of stone. It replaces and indeed abolishes it as Paul will go on to say there. Thus we come to the rather odd notion of Tom that while Jews are still ‘within the covenant’ are at the same time ‘unredeemed Israel’ (p. 867). It can’t be both, especially if the Mosaic covenant referred to is at an end and has been abolished, or at best is obsolescent and is passing away.

It is possible indeed, I think Tom is right about 3.13 that Paul is saying that Christ bore the curse of the Mosaic law on lawbreakers, and this in particular refers to his bearing the curse of the Mosaic covenant for those under it— Jews and proselytes/converts to Judaism. He does so as the representative of Israel. Right, so far. The Mosaic covenant was a package deal requiring performed obedience, and when one broke the law, one was under the covenant curse. The punishment however we meted out on the representative of God’s people– their Messiah. Yet on the very same page he goes on to say that Jews come into new covenant membership by faith in their Messiah. Right. and 3.14b may well refer to ‘we Jews’ receiving the promise of the Spirit by the same faith in Messiah as Gentiles had to have to receive it. But no… there are not ‘two doors to get into the same destination’ (contra Tom). The Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the dying and rising Messiah, is the only basis for both Jew and Gentile, the only door they must both pass through. Indeed, that Gospel is for the Jew first and foremost.

The argument about Gal. 3.18-19 on pp. 868-70 are less problematic. Tom is right that one of the keys here is that Paul considers Christ an incorporative personality, thus the argument about ‘seed’ as a collective noun is not an example of strange midrashic exegesis, but rather quite natural if incorporative personality ideas are allowed to be in play. Cf. 2.21 to 3.18– neither righteousness nor inheritance comes through Torah, or Torah keeping for that matter (p. 870). God intended in the end for there to only be one family of Abraham, one people of God, and actually the Mosaic Law caused a bifurcation or road block to Jew and Gentile being united in Christ. This is why the Law had to be temporary if the promise to Abraham was to be fulfilled. Here, I think Tom is on more solid ground.