Watson on Lawful/Unlawful Acts and Romans 2

I have two items for my write-up today on Francis Watson’s Paul, Judaism and the Gentiles: A Sociological Approach:

1.  On page 68, Watson talks about how old Jewish norms reappear in a new guise in some writings of Paul.  He states:

“The tension between revolutionary theory and surprisingly conservative practice is perfectly exemplified by 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23.  ‘All things are lawful’: this statement (perhaps a part of Paul’s original preaching to the Corinthians) expresses the liberating and exhilarating rejection of the old norms, whether Jew or Gentile.  But the practical application of this principle is another matter: it may not be used to justify free sexual love or participation in idolatrous worship.  Old Jewish norms have reappeared in a new guise.  The same is true of Galatians.  Paul claims that the old norms belong to a life which is now dead and gone (Gal. 2:9f) and enthusiastically proclaims ‘freedom’ from them (2:4; 4:1-10, 21-21; 5:1, 13), yet in 5:19-21, the old Jewish attitudes towards fornication, idolatry, sorcery and so on reappear.”

I must admit that this does confuse me when I read Paul.  In I Corinthians 6:12, Paul says (in the KJV): “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”  The context here is Paul’s discussion of fornication.  So is Paul saying that God allows fornication, but that it’s not expedient?  That Paul does not believe this way is apparent in vv 9-10, where Paul declares that fornicators will not enter the Kingdom of God.  If fornication can bar a person from God’s Kingdom, then it must be against God’s still-normative law, right?  But, if that’s what Paul thought, then why couldn’t he have simply responded to “All things are lawful unto me” by saying that not all things are lawful?

The same issue appears in Galatians.  In Galatians 5:13, Paul says (again, in the KJV), “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”  So is Paul’s point here that Christians can use their liberty as an occasion for the flesh—-in the sense that God won’t send them to hell (or whatever Paul envisions as the consequences of sin) for that—-but that they shouldn’t do so because it is inappropriate?  Why, then, does Paul warn in vv 19-21 that those who do the works of the flesh will not inherit the Kingdom of God?  That doesn’t sound like Christians have liberty that they shouldn’t use inappropriately, but rather that there are certain things that God does not permit Christians to do.  

2.  Watson had some interesting thoughts about Romans 2.  Watson argued (if my impression is correct) that Paul was contending against what was (in Paul’s mind) a Jewish antinomianism, one that held that Jews were saved on account of their circumcision and their ancestry from Abraham; Paul refutes that by saying that those things will not help Jews at the judgment if they are not keeping the law.  According to Watson, Paul also takes the radical step of separating the law from the Jewish community by saying in Romans 2 that Gentiles follow the law when they obey the dictates of their conscience, and that an uncircumcised person can keep the law.  Watson also speculates that Paul may have had something specific in mind when he told people who called themselves Jews in Romans 2:22: “Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?”  Like Lloyd Gaston, Watson refers to Josephus’ story in Antiquities 18:81-84 about a Jew who misappropriated a proselyte lady’s donation to the Temple.  But Watson also says on page 114: “Jewish teachers of the law were male, whereas many proselytes were female.  In the passage referred to above, Josephus tells how the proselyte Fulvia began to meet regularly with the Jewish teacher and his companions, and it is easy to see how the charge of adultery could arise from such meetings as these.”  Things like this led God’s name to be blasphemed among the Gentiles.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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