Torah or Moral Freedom?; Davies on I Corinthians 9

I have two items for my write-up today on W.D. Davies Jewish and Pauline Studies:

1.  On page 216, Davies states: “The battles of Paul over the observance of the Law in Galatians and Romans especially have made it easy to think of him as the apostle of liberation from all restraint.”

Paul certainly did try to dispel any notion that his stance on the law entailed liberation from all moral restraint.  In Romans 6:14-15, Paul emphatically denies that his view that we are under grace and not the law entails that we are free to sin.  In Romans 3:8, Paul says that people slander him when they accuse him of teaching that we should do evil so that good may come.

A question that I have been asking as I have read books on Paul and the law (or books on Jews and Gentiles) concerns the relationship of Gentiles to the Torah: Was there a belief that Gentiles were obligated to obey the Torah that God gave to Israel?  I learned from Terence Donaldson’s Paul and the Gentiles that, yes, there was this sort of belief within Second Temple and rabbinic Judaism, but it was not the only approach that Jews had to this issue.  Many believed that Gentiles could be righteous simply by observing the seven Noachide commandments, for example.  When Paul enters the picture, the debate that emerges is which Jewish view Paul was assuming.  Did Paul believe that Gentiles were guilty before God because they failed to observe the Torah, or the seven Noachide commandments, or something else?

Paul’s attempt to refute the charge that he preaches moral liberation makes me take another look at the issue of Paul and the law, and whether or not Paul considered the Torah to be universally binding.  Why would Paul’s perceived attack on the law come across as an assault on moral restraint itself, if Jews (at least the Jews Paul knew) acknowledged that one could be righteous outside of the parameters of the Torah that God gave to Israel?  Doesn’t the choice between Torah and freedom from moral restraint imply that, in the eyes of Paul’s critics, Torah is necessary for morality and thus is binding on all people, Jew and Gentile?

2.  Some of you know that I grew up in the Armstrongite tradition, which maintained that God required all people (Jew and Gentile) to observe the Torah.  Christian arguments that people liked to throw at Armstrongism is that God only gave the Torah to Israel, not to the Gentiles, and so Gentiles were not required to observe it, and that the law of Moses is not authoritative for Christians, for it has been replaced by the law of Christ.  There were many retorts that Armstrongites made in response to those arguments, but one of them was by Ron Dart, who pointed to I Corinthians 9:9, in which Paul appeals to the law of Moses as an authority to convince his Corinthian audience that churches should support their leaders.  As Dart noted, Paul is writing to an audience that includes many Gentiles, and so that challenges the argument that the Torah is not authoritative for Gentiles.  Plus, Paul is treating the Torah as authoritative for the church, which nullifies the view that the law has been “done away”.

On page 238, Davies comments on I Corinthians 9: “It became clear to Paul early in his ministry that obedience to the law of Christ sometimes demanded obedience to the old law (1 Cor 9:19-20).  In giving rules to churches Paul even drew upon the law (1 Cor 9:8, 13).  Nevertheless, he did so parenthetically, and he finally appeals to a commandment of the Lord (1 Cor 9:14).  Here, as elsewhere, the law is understood in the light of Christ.”

Davies’ overall view is that Paul regarded Christ as a new Torah that we are to follow, for Paul does appeal to the example and (sometimes) the words of Christ in his moral exhortations.  Davies still believes that Paul regarded the Mosaic Torah as relevant to Christians, for it was (after all) from God, but Paul’s appeal to the Mosaic Torah was parenthetical, and what finally settled issues (for Paul) was the commandment of Christ himself.

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.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Torah or Moral Freedom?; Davies on I Corinthians 9

  1. Pingback: Posts I Wrote Engaging Ron Dart’s Thought | James' Ramblings

Comments are closed.