Saturday, March 08, 2008

Witherington weighs in . . .

Ben Witherington (professor at Asbury Seminary and Wesleyan theologian) has recently blogged on the New Perspective in Paul discussion. I liked some of his insights and conclusions. It's well worth a read:

My favorite two paragraphs . . .

Gal. 3-4, despite evasions to the contrary, tells us that Paul saw the Mosaic Law as having a temporary function in the life of God’s people, a function that was completed when Christ came and fulfilled the Law, thereby bringing it to an end. This is why Paul uses the analogy between the slave guardian of a child, until he comes of age, and the Mosaic Law. Paul’s handling of the Mosaic Law is that it is a good thing, given to keep God’s people in line and alive until God sent forth his Son. What the Law could accomplish was telling God’s people what rectitude looked like. What the Law could not accomplish was enabling people to do it. Understanding the Law, in Paul’s thought world, is a matter of understanding where it comes in the story of God’s people, and what, or in this case who eclipses it, in that Grand Narrative. Did this view turn Paul into an anti-nomian? Well, no.

In fact Paul thinks that Law still plays an important part in the life of a follower of Christ, but it is a different Law, the Law of Christ which seems to involve the following components: 1) the imitation of Christ and his apostles; 2) the keeping of those commandments reiterated by Christ and his apostles from the past (e.g. some of the ten commandments); 3) the new imperatives urged by Christ and then his apostles. Paul’s answer to the question as to how Christ’s followers should live is not ‘adopt Christ’s interpretation of the Mosaic Law and follow it’ but rather ‘whilst walking in the Spirit, follow and be fashioned by the Law (or rule) of Christ’. Paul is happy to sum up the essence of this Law of Christ, for example in the form ‘bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the Law of Christ’ (Gal. 6.2).

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