Paul and the law
Brian S. Rosner
Apollos/IVP, 249 pages, £14.99
Star rating : 5
Anyone interested in understanding Paul’s apparent contradictory statements concerning the Mosaic law will welcome this most helpful contribution to the debate. The book is volume 31 in the New Studies in Biblical Theology monographs, and the series’ editor, Don Carson, suggests that it should be read ‘slowly and appreciatively’.
The author, former lecturer at Aberdeen University and Moore College, Sydney, and now Principal of Ridley Melbourne Mission and Ministry College, begins by setting out the complex nature of Paul’s relationship to the law of Moses and seeks to flesh out what he had written in an earlier study.
Commencing with Paul’s paradoxical statement in 1 Corinthians 7:19, he considers the traditional Christian distinction between the civil, ceremonial and moral parts of the law to be useful only in a limited sense.
He criticises the view for being anachronistic, impractical and failing to do justice to the absolute nature of Paul’s negative statements about the law.
Rosner believes that Paul does three things with the law viewed as a unity. Each of these must be fully appreciated: a polemical repudiation of the whole law; a radical replacement of it; a whole-hearted re-appropriation of the whole law in two ways — as prophecy witnessing to the gospel and as wisdom for Christians to live by. The rest of the book unpacks these ideas in a well-argued, readable and fascinating fashion.
The author not only considers those passages where Paul explicitly states that the Christian is ‘not under law’, but, interestingly, he notes that Paul in his ethical teaching never urges Christians to ‘walk according to the law’ and never expects good fruit to flow from obedience to the law. Paul’s emphasis is on faith in and union with Christ as Lord and on the Christian’s new life in the Spirit.
On the other hand, Paul states that the law was written for the instruction of Christians. After showing how the law itself indicates the priority of grace and faith over works and law, as well as the need of the new covenant, Rosner emphasises the ‘prophetic’ character of the law in witnessing to the message of the righteousness of God through faith in Christ.
It is the author’s views concerning Paul’s positive use of the law for moral teaching that demand the most careful consideration and where further work needs to be done.
While the law as law-covenant has been abolished, the law is still of value for Christian living. The law is Scripture and profitable for instruction in righteousness and Rosner considers the use of the law in the Psalms as a preview of Paul’s employment of the law as wisdom, with Paul viewed as a wisdom teacher in the tradition of the biblical wisdom literature.
Examples of Paul’s use of the law as wisdom for living are presented: tithing, greed as idolatry, stealing, murder, incest, homosexual conduct, fleeing sexual immorality and marriage and divorce.
Even though questions remain, no one can read this book and not gain helpful insights and be made to reflect on pre-conceived ideas. It is a most valuable contribution to the subject.
Philip H. Eveson