Paul, Romans and the Jewish ‘Law’ of the OT

A lecturer has just said something quite inflammatory concerning Jesus bringing an end to the Law outlined in the OT (Rom 10:4) and beginning a new period of a semi-subjective ‘law’ under the Spirit.

There is no need to hang onto specific laws in the Old Testament. The OT Law system has been superseded, and a new dispensation has been introduced, whereby the indwelling of the Spirit leads us in all righteousness; the Spirit guides our morality in each context and scenario we may happen to find ourselves in. It is the universal behind the specifics of the Law that are of importance. 

I haven’t seen the majority of our class so wound-up since studying the Historical Jesus, or the deconstruction of some of our ideas of the presentation of Jesus as divine in the Gospels. You would think that 60 theology students would be used to their theological matrix being shaken up once in a while during the past 3 years of study. Or even being willing to look at the text as it stands and make critical thought-out judgements rather than depending on their previous presuppositions.

Apparently not; they still have their blind-spots and theological prejudices, not willing to loosen their grasp of them and explore the possibilities that lie so nearby. Many want to hang onto specifics, rules and laws that make defining right and wrong an easier, more clinical exercise.  

To broaden out the concept we can take other texts from the New Testament. The principle of finding the universal behind the Law can be found in the teaching of Jesus himself in Matthew 22:34-40 (cf Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28).

Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” 

The focus moves away from a dead set of rules that cease to have a culturally relative outworking, and into the essence of the Law; Jesus sees the focus of the Law being to repair relationships with God and neighbour. And Jesus didn’t pluck this out of thin air. These principles are there in Deuteronomy 6:5 (to love God) and in Leviticus 19:18 (to love neighbour).  

Being human though, we know that it is never that simple, and the reasoning can not stop there. As T.W. Manson puts it;

‘It can further be urged that closer examination of the second great commandment shows that it lacks something. I am to love my neighbour as I love myself. How do I love myself? Most of us, if we are candid, must answer “selfishly”.To love my neighbour as myself may therefore be no more than sublimated selfishness.’1 

To move the focus into a true and workable ethical model, we must add another aspect of the teaching of Jesus. Or more precisely, the life of Jesus. Again we can turn to T.W. Manson;

‘”Love as I have loved you” [John15:12] calls for a love which has forgotten the meaning of self-regard, of what we call “looking after number one”. It is totally unselfish.’2

Our thinking must not be a fixation upon lists of regulations and rules, of right and wrong. Our thinking must be on the imitation of Jesus in his servanthood and self-sacrifice as we love our neighbour3 , and as we love God in every situation we find ourselves in; moving in the direction of becoming truly human in all we do, and bringing about true community in the process.

1] Manson, T.W., Ethics and the Gospel, London:SCM Press, 1978 (1960), p.61. 
2] Manson, T.W., Ethics and the Gospel, London:SCM Press, 1978 (1960), p.63.
3] A vast term that needs expanding upon at some point, rather than being thrown about without a thought.

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This entry was posted in academic, Christian ethic, Christianity, church, Historical Jesus, LST, theology, worldview. Bookmark the permalink.

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