Hubner on Paul and Boasting

I’m continuing my way through Hans Hubner’s Law in Paul’s Thought.  In this post, I will use as my starting point something that Hubner says on page 108:

“In the presentation of the detailed exegesis of Gal 6.1-5 or rather 5.26-6.5 and in the discussion thereof…[i]t is clear that Paul does recognize a genuine claim on the part of the Christian to ‘glory’ on the basis of his life’s work and sees this work as something which is relevant to judgement…In the course of developing this argument, he does certainly make it quite clear that he assumes there is a claim to ‘glory’ before the final judgement of God, not indeed for works of the law which have been duly performed, but indeed rather for a Christian life understood as a ‘work’.”

Galatians 6:4 states (in the King James Version): “But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.”  Is this saying that Christians can boast about the work that they do in living the Christian life?  Hubner appears to answer in the affirmative, which is ironic because (like Rudolph Bultmann) Hubner argues that Paul in Romans criticizes boasting in the performance of the law, which (for Huber’s Paul) is a misuse of the Torah.  Romans 4:2 states that, even if Abraham were justified by works, he could not boast before God, which is interesting because it seems to say that Abraham could not legitimately boast even if he were righteous by his works.  Hubner contends that the reason for this is that boasting contradicts the recognition of dependance upon God that God wants us to have. 

Another issue that comes up in that passage on page 108 is the contrast between the works of the law and the Christian life.  A point that Hubner makes continually throughout his book is that there is a difference between atomizing the law into a matter of individual righteous deeds and transgressions and a more holistic treatment of the law.  For Hubner, the former was what much of Judaism did to the law, although Hubner acknowledges that there were Jewish attempts to sum up the Torah into general principles, such as refraining from covetousness or hurting one’s neighbor.  Paul in Romans, by contrast, has a more holistic perspective.  Paul does not criticize individual transgressions as much as the power of sin itself.  And, for Hubner, Paul regards walking according to the Spirit to be “the true character and substance of the law” (page 145) and believes that the Spirit is God’s internalization of the law on the hearts of believers, which contrasts to the external observance of the law that prominent elements of Judaism promoted.  For Hubner, that does not mean that Paul thought that circumcision or the food laws were mandatory, for Hubner believes that Paul regarded those particular laws as annulled.  And yet, Hubner still maintains that Paul in Romans views the law as a standard for Christian conduct (not a method of salvation), but a standard that is fulfilled when Christian walk according to the Spirit (which entails love for neighbor).  My impression is that, like many other Christian interpreters, Hubner thinks that Paul redefines what observing the law means: For the Christian, fulfilling the law is not obeying a bunch of individual commands, but rather yielding one’s life to the main point of the law, love.

Hubner overlaps a little with the New Perspective on Paul, but he mostly goes with the Old Perspective.  In my opinion, he overlaps with the New Perspective in his acknowledgment that Paul encouraged Christians to boast on account of their work of living the Christian life.  My impression is that the Old Perspective’s Lutheran Paul would not have supported that, for he would have expected Christians to see their good works as not good enough for God, which was why they needed grace.  But I would not bet the farm on my impression here, for perhaps even the Lutheran Paul saw a place for God to reward Christians who do good works; granted, their works are not good enough to justify, but maybe God still honors Christians for doing good under the influence of God’s spirit.  I think of C.S. Lewis’ statement that God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.

Where Hubner differs from the New Perspective is in his characterization of Judaism as a religion that encourages boasting and the atomization of the law.  The New Perspective views Judaism differently.  Moreover, while I thought that Hubner wrote this book before E.P. Sanders’ revolutionary work, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, was released, Hubner actually does engage Sanders’ work.  Perhaps Hubner’s book originally came out before Sanders’ work, but what I read was a later edition in which Hubner added a section critiquing Sanders.  I thought that Hubner’s critique of Sanders was fair, particularly his interaction with Sanders’ statement that “The subject of Galatians is not whether or not humans, abstractly conceived, can by good deeds earn enough merit to be declared righteous at the judgement; it is the condition on which Gentiles enter the people of God.”  Hubner says that Paul talks about both issues: the entrance and condition of Gentiles in the saved people of God, and whether or not circumcision and the observance of the law played a role in that.

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, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.