Not a “better law”, but a “better righteousness”

This is a quite extraordinary quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer about the Mosaic Law. He writes these lines in his exposition of Matthew 5:17-20.

The is the law of the Old Covenant, not a new law, but the one old law, to which the rich young man and the tempting scribe were referred as the revealed will of God. It becomes a new commandment only because Christ binds his disciples to the law. His concern is not for a “better law” than that of the Pharisees. It is one and the same, it is the law which must remain and be carried out in every letter until the end of the world, which must be fulfilled to the letter. His concern really is for a “better righteousness.” Those who do not have this better righteousness will not enter the kingdom of heaven. This will be because they have dispensed themselves from following Jesus, who referred them back to the law. But no one is able to achieve this better righteousness except those addressed here, those called by Christ. Christ’s call, Christ himself, is required for that better righteousness (116).

Can the preceding statement be appropriately summarized with the now famous dictum of E.P. Sanders [albeit revised for our purposes]: “What Jesus thought was wrong with Judaism was that it wasn’t Christianity”?

  • S Wu

    Amazing quote. Thank you, Joel.

  • S Wu

    Amazing quote. Thank you, Joel.

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  • Blue_steel14

    One must wonder with Sanders whether his Christ is entirely void of content. Yet does there not stand a whole new world, a division that extends quite beyond the infinite division provided by east and west, with the one word “Christ”? Does not the whole of the NT, when it says “Christ,” mean “the genuine, once for all fulfillment of the ageless law”? How can one then thoughtlessly see the same old, same old “pattern of religion” in matters of Law when one stands Christianity alongside of Judaism? Can you find me any old pious second temple jew who would say, “The whole law has been fulfilled, and that vicariously, in event x by person y!”?

  • Blue_steel14

    One must wonder with Sanders whether his Christ is entirely void of content. Yet does there not stand a whole new world, a division that extends quite beyond the infinite division provided by east and west, with the one word “Christ”? Does not the whole of the NT, when it says “Christ,” mean “the genuine, once for all fulfillment of the ageless law”? How can one then thoughtlessly see the same old, same old “pattern of religion” in matters of Law when one stands Christianity alongside of Judaism? Can you find me any old pious second temple jew who would say, “The whole law has been fulfilled, and that vicariously, in event x by person y!”?

  • Emerson (blue steel dude)

    And allow me to be clear that the word “vicarious” does in fact have something to say about humanity as it is before the law. In other words, “Christ” does very eternally effect the “pattern of religion.” “In him” we, the real we’s of this sodding earth, have fulfilled the law, have done all of its requirements down to the last jot and tittle. Judaism (as a veritable representation of religious humanity in all of its immanence) could never claim for itself such a pattern!

  • Emerson (blue steel dude)

    And allow me to be clear that the word “vicarious” does in fact have something to say about humanity as it is before the law. In other words, “Christ” does very eternally effect the “pattern of religion.” “In him” we, the real we’s of this sodding earth, have fulfilled the law, have done all of its requirements down to the last jot and tittle. Judaism (as a veritable representation of religious humanity in all of its immanence) could never claim for itself such a pattern!


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