Raisenen and the Degree of Contradiction

I started Heikki Raisenen’s Paul and the Law.

A few months ago, I wrote about Stephen Westerholm’s summary of Raisenen’s approach to Paul and the law in my post, Raisenen Calls a Spade a Spade.  From Westerholm’s summary and from other things that I read about Raisenen’s book, I walked away with the impression that Raisenen saw Paul as confused and inconsistent in his view on the law, but I did not know how exactly Raisenen accounted for that confusion and inconsistency (which is not to say that these books did not address that, but I don’t remember how, if they did).

After reading some of Raisenen himself, however, I get slightly more of a feel for how a human being like Paul could come up with inconsistent thoughts, without being “feverish in mind” (which, according to Raisenen, the third century Neoplatonic philosopher Porphyry accused Paul of being).  To account for how Paul could present the law as being only for Israel yet binding on Gentiles as well, for example, Raisenen says that Paul had a clear conception of the solution (Jesus Christ), but his thoughts were muddled as he sought to define the precise problem that Christ came to correct.  Raisenen also mentions possible analogies to Paul’s approach to the law.  Raisenen compares Paul to the Hellenistic Jews whom Philo criticizes, the ones who said that people had to obey the moral laws but not the ritual laws, since the ritual laws had a moral meaning that one could follow instead.  Raisenen says that this is essentially the position at which Paul arrives, for Paul thought that some laws were normative but not others (even though, according to Raisenen, Paul also presents the law as temporary and now obsolete).  But Raisenen is also clear that Paul does not define his position in this way, for Paul himself does not compartmentalize the law into “ceremonial” and “moral”.  For Paul, the law was the law, and even the commands of the law that we label “moral” had an ill effect because they were conducive to condemnation.

Personally, I’d like for Paul to make a degree of sense and to have some order in his thought, even if I do not impose on him the burden of having to be completely consistent (as many fundamentalists do when they treat Paul’s words as God’s words).  None of us is entirely consistent or logical, for we’re human beings.  But I think that there should be at least some degree of consistency, for I have a hard time believing that even human beings are overly contradictory in their thoughts.

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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