- Religion and Philosophy
Paul and the Law
Does Paul Negate the Law?
Paul and the Law
Roy Blizzard III © 2017
Text: Romans 7
“1) Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2) For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3) So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. 4) Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. 5) For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 6) But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”
Lately, I have been reading more and more comments from people on social media that want people to stop reading anything written by Paul because they believe him to be preaching doctrine different than Jesus’ doctrine. They honestly are trying to lead people away from reading and studying Paul’s writings and only reading the words of Jesus because they believe that Paul was leading the flock away from truth into error. Is Paul against the Law? I think not but let us first understand that in Hebrew the word Torah, often translated as Law, usually means Instruction not Legal Edict but can be sometimes understood in this light given context. This misunderstanding arose when the Hebrew Text was translated into Greek and the Greek word Nomos – which means a legal edict, was substituted for Yarah the Hebrew word for hitting a mark or instruction, probably due to a rise in the legalistic group called the Pharisees who took pride in strict regulations.
In Romans 7:1-6 there is a curious passage about a dead husband? In verse 2, it says, “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.” So should we think of the Torah or the Word of God to be considered like a dead husband which nobody really liked so now that he’s dead we can stop regarding anything that he said? No, I don’t believe so. Paul is in fact referring to an ancient Jewish Halachic principle to illustrate his own new relationship to the Torah because of his faith in Jesus.
However, when readers today see this passage they fail to ask two important questions and those are, 1) Was Paul referring to the death of the Torah or was he referring to the death of his flesh? 2) Does Paul believe the Torah to be “a dead husband”?
It is imperative for we as believers to remember that Paul took the study of God’s Word and the surrounding Jewish laws and rulings very seriously and this issue as related to the study and implementing of these Laws and rulings almost consumed him as they related to his missions work amongst the pagan gentiles.
It is unfortunate that today many people fail to recognize that much of what Paul speaks about must be interpreted and understood in light of his educated understanding of all the Jewish Laws and rulings as relates to the their new found relationship as equal partners in God’s family.
In addition to this failing, the Greek text of Romans 10:4 has been severely mistranslated so that it reads, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” KJV instead of the way it should read in Hebrew as, “For the Messiah is the aim (or goal) of the Law…” If it didn’t mean this then how can we explain Paul’s affirmation in Romans 3:31, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: No, we establish the law.”
Either we have to believe Paul to be a crazy, schizophrenic or certain of his interpreters and translators neglected key aspects of his beliefs and thought processes and have only based their own interpretations on selected texts that are divorced from their context in Paul’s overarching message to the faithful.
It is critical for us to establish some sort of background to Romans 7:1-6 so that we can properly understand Paul’s approach to the Law, the flesh, and the dead husband within the confines of first century Jewish thought. If we fail to do this, then Paul’s message will be distorted and our theology will be askew.
Our first duty is to recognize that the Jewish saying, “When a person dies he is free from the law and the commandments” was a well-known concept in Jewish theology and was almost proverbial (well-known saying) in Jesus’ day – [b.Niddah 61b and parallels]. So, by Paul stating in Romans 7:1 that he was writing to those who know the “Law”, it is clear that he is speaking of a practice within Jewish Halachah – legal law, that all the Jews in the synagogue / congregation of Rome would have been familiar.
In addition, the Jewish marriage laws were also very familiar to the readers and as such Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder, who taught Paul, taught that “a woman – one whose husband is missing without giving her a writ of divorce - is free to remarry even if only one witness gives testimony that her husband had died.[m. Yeb 16:7] Some people take note of the similarities between the two teachers on this point of Law but in truth this was probably pretty much common knowledge amongst the Jews of the day and Paul could have learned it just about anywhere.
It was really because this point of Law was so well known that Paul decided to use it and it shows the value that Paul placed upon his Jewishness.
Most interpreters today destroy Paul’s true message by saying that Paul died to Torah and now he can do whatever he wants and we believers as well can do whatever we want because we are no longer in bondage to the Law. But, this doesn’t make sense in light of Romans 6.
The Rabbis taught that …”a servant is free from his master.” Job 3:19, meaning that a person, as long as he is living is a servant to two masters. He is the servant of his creator (Yotzer) and of his evil inclination (Yetzer) – [this is rabbinic word play]. Whenever he does the will of his creator he angers the evil inclination and when he does the will of the evil inclination he angers the creator. When he dies he is freed, “the servant is free of the master.” This concept parallels Paul’s words in Romans 7:1-6 and makes it clear that a person is enslaved to either his creator and righteousness and will obey God or is enslaved to his evil inclination and sin and will obey the flesh.
Remember that Jesus says a man can’t serve two masters, Matthew 6:24. The Rabbis taught that while a man was alive he was a slave to the evil inclination but when he dies his only master is God. This is exactly the concept that Paul is using in his marriage analogy. Paul didn’t want to tell us that the Law was abolished because a person had died spiritually through faith in Jesus. He was trying to tell us that a person dies to the sin nature so that we can become a servant of God alone. The sinful flesh dies so that a person can become a servant of righteousness.
Are Christians given a pass to violate the Law with impunity? No! He maintained his high standards of morality and ethics even writing to the Galatians in 5:13-25 and telling them exactly the works of the flesh to avoid and the works of the Spirit to seek. Paul didn’t consider the Torah a legalistic system opposing Grace because the Law was imbued with God’s grace and compassion.
Through the Law Paul recognized Jesus’ mission and realized that while no one could be “saved” by just keeping the Law, the Law specified actions that gave meaning to Grace and it was this Grace and the Holy Spirit that gave the believer the power to live a righteous life and fulfill the Torah to the best of their ability.
To Paul, the Law was not Sin and the individual had to die to his sinful flesh so the point Paul makes in Romans 7:1-6 is that the sinful flesh dies so that the individual may Live and thereby Serve God! Paul even comments in Romans 7:7, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Certainly not!” Paul states that the Law is spiritual, Holy and good and it is a guide that leads the believer to Jesus because it clearly shows the person’s need for a salvation and spiritual power necessary to live.
The problem in people’s lives is Sin. However, the Torah is neither the solution to sin nor the problem itself. Let’s look at a Jewish text called 2 Esdras 9:36-37 found in many Bibles, “For we that have received the law perish by sin, and our heart also which received it. 37) Notwithstanding the law doesn’t perish, but remains in its glory.” Paul’s concern for sin is deeply imbedded in his psyche but he understands that Sin doesn’t and can’t negate the Law.
God’s Law, the Torah, reveals man’s sin by exposing it in light of God’s Divine Holiness. We don’t see Paul’s love for the Torah lessened by his love and experiences with Jesus. What we do see is Paul’s entire world view refocused and shifted from a Torah centric view to a Jesus centric view of how to live his life. This can only be accomplished by a correct understanding of the divine will of God as expressed through the Torah and brought to life by Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate aim of the Torah, the Law, and the believer fulfills that by faithfulness to Jesus.
Paul doesn’t consider the Torah to be someone’s dead husband, someone or something to be discarded because it is of no more use. Paul wants us to serve only one master and that is the master that the Torah pointed him and us to Jesus, our Messiah. We do that by dying to the flesh so that our Spirit can live and serve its true master.
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