Nullifying Non-Authoritative Laws?

I finished Hans Hubner’s Law in Paul’s Thought.  I also started Heikki Raisenen’s Paul and the Law.  In this post, I will use as my starting-point something that Raisenen says about Hubner on page 8:

“In Galatians Paul, according to Hubner, maintains that the law has been abolished; in Romans, however, Christ is only seen as the end of the Jewish misunderstanding of the law and not of the law itself.”

This was slightly different from how I understood Hubner, but I will admit that I didn’t find Hubner to be that easy to read.  I thought that Hubner believed that Paul in Romans sees Christ as the end of the law, meaning that the law was temporary (although Paul in Romans does view the law as good, which, for Hubner, differs from Paul’s negative outlook towards the law in Galatians).  I agree with Raisenen that Hubner makes a big deal about Jewish misunderstanding of the law—-that, for Hubner, prominent strands of Judaism made observance of the law into a matter of boasting as well as atomized the law into individual commands rather than looking at the law in a holistic manner.  I also agree with Raisenen that Hubner’s Paul in Romans holds that the law has continuing relevance for Christians, who fulfill the purpose of the law when they love.  But I still thought that Hubner was arguing that Paul in Romans saw Christ as the end of the law, not just the misunderstanding of the law.  I suppose that I could reread Hubner, but, to be honest, I want to move on and read other things.

I want to focus, though, on Raisenen’s characterization of Hubner: that Paul in Romans was saying that Christ is the end of Jewish misunderstanding of the law, not the law itself.  That sort of view reminds me of arguments that I heard in Armstrongite circles.  Armstrongites believed that God required Christians to observe Old Testament practices, such as the seventh-day Sabbath, the holy days, the dietary rules, etc.  Consequently, Armstrongites interpreted certain New Testament passages differently from many Sunday-keeping Christians (at least the ones who thought about those passages).

As an example, I’ll quote Ephesians 2:14-16 (in the King James Version): “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us]; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby”.

Many Sunday-keeping Christians have argued that Ephesians 2:14-16 is about God abolishing something in his law.  Some see the word “commandments” and conclude that the passage is saying that God has abolished the Sabbath.  Some contend that what is being abolished is the Torah rituals that separated Jews from Gentiles, and often they identify these rituals as the Sabbath, circumcision, and the food laws.  But I heard Armstrongites offer an alternative view: that what is being abolished in Ephesians 2:14-16 is not commandments of God, but rather commandments of men.  I do not know entirely what Armstrongites who used this argument had in mind.  Were they thinking of Pharisaic regulations, which Jesus called “commandments of men” in Mark 7:7 and Matthew 15:9?  Probably so.  It’s interesting, though, that there are even many Sunday-keepers who argue that Ephesians 2:14-16 is talking about Christ’s abolition of a human (as opposed to a divine) commandment, namely, the way that Herod’s Temple barred Gentiles from certain Temple areas where Jews were allowed to be.  According to this view, Christ abolished that separation between Jews and Gentiles by giving both equal access to God.  Come to think of it, this view entails Christ overturning divine and human institutions: Christ abolished the need for an earthly temple (which was divinely-sanctioned), and that abolished the humanly-sanctioned separation between Jews and Gentiles at that Temple.

I have a problem with the Armstrongite view that Christ in Ephesians 2:14-16 abolishes commandments of men, and it’s the same problem that I have with Hubner’s argument that Christ abolished a Jewish misunderstanding of the law and not the law itself.  My problem is this: Why would Christ need to abolish something that wasn’t divinely-authoritative in the first place?  If God at the outset didn’t require people to obey commandments of men or to follow a misunderstanding of the law, why would Christ need to die to put an end to those things?  There’s no substance to them in the first place, for God is not sanctioning them!  Why would Christ need to die to end human commandments, when the solution is simply for people to realize that they don’t have to observe them, because these commandments lack authority and legitimacy?

It makes a little more sense to me that Ephesians 2:14-16 is saying that God abolished laws that God himself enacted, for I can see God officially nullifying his own laws, but (in my opinion) it doesn’t make sense for him to nullify laws that he did not enact in the first place—-human religious regulations that have no divine sanction or authority at the outset.  But perhaps, by nullifying some of his own laws, God also nullified the human abuse of them.  If God now recognizes the church and not the Temple, for example, that means that the humanly-ordained separation between Jews and Gentiles at the Temple no longer has an impact, for God now acknowledges a new Temple (the church) where such barriers do not exist.

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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5 Responses to Nullifying Non-Authoritative Laws?

  1. mackquigley says:

    You are comparing apples and oranges. The OT is Jewish law – a national code, a theocraticy system of government. Christianity is entirely different – it is the spiritual new birth of individuals without any regard to their national identity. There is no need for a saved gentile to keep any Jewish laws.


  2. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comment, Mack. There may be truth to what you say, from a Christian perspective, but the fact that so many books have been written on Paul and the Law shows, in my mind, that things are more complicated. Why, for example, does Paul appeal to the Ten Commandments or the law in writings to audiences that include Gentiles? Why does Paul present the law as something from which Christ has redeemed us? You may have your own answers to these questions, but they’re still good questions.


  3. mackquigley says:

    If the Penal Code says “Do not steal” then it coincides with moral law – but if it says “Dogs must have a city license” it is ceremonial and varies by local custom. The Sabbath was a ceremonial law – a national custom God applied to Jews as a special sign.
    In Romans 13:8-10 Paul never mentions ceremonial laws, Jewish or Roman. So being redeemed from the curse of the law, for a gentile, is being redeemed from our own moral condemnation, as it says: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts…” Romans 2:14-15.
    But Jewish Ceremonial laws will have future relevance for all the earth during the 7th millennium: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” Col 2:16.
    Notice it says “things to come” future. Now compare the prophesy in Ezekiel 45:17 to that verse.
    The sabbath day is strictly a ceremonial sign given to the Jewish nation, not to gentiles: Exodus 31:16-17.


  4. James Pate says:

    Good stuff, Mack. I recognized much of your perspective—-we all have to keep the moral law, but only the Jews were under the ceremonial law—-but your interpretation of Colossians 2:16 I did not recognize. Many interpret that passage to be about Christ fulfilling the Sabbath, food laws, and holy days at his first coming. Armstrongism, however, said Colossians 2:16 says these institutions are shadows of things to come, meaning they’re fulfillment is still future. That seems to be what you’re saying, if I’m understanding you correctly.


  5. mackquigley says:

    Yes, it’s prophetic. You’ll notice the last chapters of Ezekiel confuse the commentators: Why are Jews offering sacrifices in the future (Ez. 43:18+) since Christ’s sacrifice was once forever? Those future sacrifices aren’t personal – they are offered for the nation. Future OT sacrifices reinstituted will remain ineffective to take away any intentional individual sins (Numbers 15:30); but they will commemorate Christ’s sacrifice and have a national significance. The distinction between national and individual is like the distinction between physical and spiritual and between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God.


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