|PAUL'S TEACHING ON THE JEWISH LAW
When we become acquainted with Paul as a teacher, quite naturally a few major questions arise. What did Paul really mean when he spoke of the fulfilling of the Law through Christ? How did he justify his idea of "justification by faith"? What is the so-called 'theology of death' about? On what is his Christ mysticism based? What did he teach about the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit? And what did he think of the future of Israel and eschatology? At the same time one should attempt to understand the basis of his thinking in the biblical and Jewish tradition.
Academic Discussion about Paul's Teaching on the Law
Stances on Paul's teaching on the Law vary from one extreme to the other. About his views there are, as Peter A. Tomson, in his excellent book "Paul and the Jewish Law", three main traditional assumptions: 1. first of all, it is thought that Paul was polemic and negative in his attitude towards the Jewish Torah; 2. secondly, this Law was no longer of practical value in the life of the individual and 3. ancient Jewish literature is of no value as source material in the interpretation of his letters." Tomson also wonders that although interest in rabbinic literature has increased during the past centuries, nevertheless Greek sources have had more influence on Christian theology than Hebrew or Aramaic ones -- "and least of all value has been given to the halakhah - i.e. the rabbis' interpretation of the Law."117 In this light is to be understood, for instance, Professor Heikki Räisänen's strange claim that one should be aware that "the more Jewish models for the matter can be found, if they can be found, the easier it is to explain it as unhistorical." And "ancient Jewish methods of exposition cannot be taken as the model for Bible exposition."118
Tomson is aware that historical criticism does not in the least value Paul as a "systematic theologian". But it is mainly because Paul's "logic represents homiletic and pastoral rather than systematic thinking" and they were "written in different situations to different churches" (p. 56). Also, the Finnish theologian Räisänen is aware that Paul wrote his main letters in a relatively short interval, having previously worked for twenty years as a preacher of the Gospel. And this prevents the so-called theory of development -- nor does Räisänen regard interpolation, that is, later changes made to Paul's letters, as probable.119
Because modern theology is awash with ideas which have no connection with the actual sources of Jewish Torah discussion, I may quote a few of the main assertions made by the the liberal Professor Räisänen, which are also found in studies by others of the same school. In the preface to his book Paul and the Law, Räisänen tells that E.P. Sanders' "illuminating" book of the same title was to him "like a gift from heaven," where he found support for his critical presuppositions. And Räisänen repeats his beloved word "never". "Paul never defines the content of the term nomos (law)." He "never distinguishes between the written and the unwritten Torah." And "Paul never makes any explicit distinctions within the law." (pp. 16 and 200) His doctrine is characterized by"laxity" (p. 82), it is "inconsistent." By denying the Law he "also annihilates the meaning of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) as such." Räisänen draws a parallel between Paul and "Hellenistic antinomian groups." "Paul assumes within the framework of his theological theory first that the law cannot be fulfilled apart from the union with Christ and, secondly, that the Christians fulfil what is required by the law (Gal.5:14, Rom. 13:8-10, Rom. 8:4, 2:29)" (ibid. pp. 113 and 201). Räisänen "summarizes": "I am not able to find in the relevant literature any conception of the law which involves such inconsistencies or such arbitrariness as does Paul's." And "the common view that Paul is the thinker in early Christianity is, I must conclude, misleading" (p. 228).
To these "never" assertions one can only say briefly that Paul does indeed distinguish between oral and written Law when he says in Ephesians 2:14-15 that Christ "destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall" and "made inoperative (Gr. katargesas, i.e. made powerless) the Law with its commandments and regulations" -- this presupposes a knowledge of the written and oral Law and the so-called "fence around the Law" (Heb. seyag ha-Torah), that is the extra protective regulations of the Law. The second assertion that Paul does not define the Torah nor, for instance, distinguish the three main uses of the Law, seems strange. Neither do other Jewish scholars make this distinction of Christian theology. Paul did not speak the language of academic theology, for he addressed his words "to those who know the Law" (Rom. 7:1). And when referring to the Ten Commandments the Bible in the original language does not use the word "commandments" but "words of the covenant" or "the ten words", that is, the basic conditions upon which all fellowship with holy God is based. All of Paul's letters show that he expected the church to live a life of absolute morality based on the Ten Commandments. Strangest of all are Räisäsen's repeated antitheses and the verses he chooses in support of the assertion that, according to Paul, "Christians" fulfil the Law and Jews do not. It is Paul who wished to emphasize that "all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin" and "all have turned away, all become worthless" (Rom. 3). Both Peter and Paul emphasized that in the matter of salvation and in God's eyes there is "no distinction" between Jew and Greek (Acts 15:9, Rom. 3:22 and 10:12).
Nor should one say of Paul's "unsystematic" presentation that it is "inconsistent and arbitrary." J.P. Sanders saw that the rabbis' teaching is not systematic in the Western sense of the word. Nevertheless, the rabbis' winding presentation, where different interpretations of tradition are weighed, is in its own way very consistent. In order to understand Paul's teachings one needs two basic conditions: 1. Only a person who himself has attempted to fulfil the will of holy God and his commandments can understand the background to Paul's thinking. Usually a person's thinking arises from his empirical experience. 2. The genuineness of Jewish interpretation of the Torah can be interpreted only if one knows "Jewish methods of exposition." Most of this interpretative material collected in the Middle Ages is written in Hebrew "Rashi" characters and demands systematic study over a period of decades. Only "real manna-eaters" are properly capable of it.
The Basic Premisses of Paul's Interpretation of the Torah
We have previously stated, in the words of Pinchas Lapide, that Jesus was not a theologian because he was a Jew. The same principle applies to Paul. However, when one examines his teachings from the "topical" perspective and attempts to find their "leading points" and the place (topos) of each thought in Paul's world of values, then his main emphases are clearly distinguished from the broad totality. Hardly any other Jewish rabbi represents as consistent thought as does Paul. It is another matter whether a Jew bound to traditional Torah interpretation can accept it. It also requires of him an acknowledgment of Jesus' Messiahship. Therefore Jews usually say that Jesus wanted to create only an internal "sect" (Heb. "kat") of their religion, but Paul turned it into a new "religion" ("dat").
Here is the heart of the whole problem. Paul's ideas can only be understood in a "post-Messianic situation." If the Messiah has already come, all inferences must be drawn on the basis of a theology of fulfilment. It would be strange and ungenuine if Paul's thoughts were identical with other rabbis' assertions. When this is assumed, the entire discussion remains in "stalemate".
Almost all studies on our subject refer to Rabbi Hillel's famous saying: "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your neighbour; here is the whole Torah in its entirety, and all else is its commentary, go and learn it" ("veidekh peirusha hu zil gemor").120 Jacob Neusner has suggested that this was not Hillel's doctrinal statement but that of one of his followers.
Since, however, in the very same discussion the prospective proselyte foreigner also meets Hillel's contemporary Shammai, this criticism is hardly correct -- but if it were, then the instruction could even come from Paul's teacher Gamaliel. It was used in interpreting the obligations of the Law required of a foreigner. On the other hand, it reflects also the rabbis' attempt to define what is of the essence in the Law. In order for us to understand Paul's "post-Messianic" thinking, which is based on the conviction that the Messiah has already come, there is reason to quote in a concentrated way some words of the rabbis which are connected with the future of the Law.
The future of the Law occupied the scholars of the Talmud and mediaeval rabbis too. Maimonides or RaMBaM, in articles 8 and 9 of the thirteen articles of faith drawn up to protect the heart of Judaism, presents the assertion that "the Torah which is now in our possession was given to Moses" and "this Torah will not change nor will the Creator, blessed be He, give another Torah." He himself, however, later explained "the Regulations of the Kings" in his book; the anointed Messiah-King will "sit on his throne and will write for himself a new book of Torah in addition to the Torah given to the fathers" and "he will compel the people to observe these commandments." First he begins with the so-called "milhemet mitzvah", that is, commands of war, and compels the people to observe them; only afterwards will he begin his war of conquest.121 Only the Messiah has the right to give "teamei Torah hadashim," that is, "new principles of Torah exposition." "Holy God, blessed be He, sits (in the garden of Eden) and draws up for Israel a new Torah, which will be given to them by the Messiah."122 Pesiqta Rabbati says that then "the Torah returns to its renewal," "hozeret lehidushah."123
The Talmud also states that "the commandments will be abolished in the future"124 -- the expression "le-atid lavo" usually means the Messianic future. Similarly, the Midrash Mekhilta from the first two centuries states that "at the end the Torah will be forgotten."125 Also Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar, who lived and worked c. 170-200 A.D., points out: "This is how it will be in the days of the Messiah - then there will be no 'do'- and 'do not'- commandments (zekhut ve-hova)."126 The Jewish Professor Joseph Klausner explains in his book "The Messianic Idea in Israel" that "by this is meant naturally that the Torah and commandments lose their significance in the days of the Messiah."127
In these traditional sources of Judaism there appear to be two main emphases. On the one hand, in the Messianic era there will be prevalent Messianic interpretation with emphasis on the central message of the Law. Therefore the question is posed: "Torah, what will happen to you?"128 Here it is not a question of denying the Ten Commandments and the will of holy God but rather of a new interpretation of traditional ritual and purification regulations. Already in the Talmud there is discussion of what the nucleus of the Law is. "Moses was given six hundred and thirteen commandments; three hundred and sixty-five of them ('do not'- commandments) are in accordance with the number of days of the year and two hundred and forty-eight ('do'- commandments) in accordance with the number of a person's bones ... David came and limited them to eleven ... Isaiah came and limited them to six ... Micah came and limited them to three ... Isaiah returned and limited them to two ... Habakkuk came and limited them to one, as is written (Hab. 2:4), 'and the righteous shall live by his faith.' "129
On the other hand, any of the precepts of the Torah which are considered unnecessary in the new situation are "abrogated" and "abolished" (Heb. bittel). Reading RaMBaM's expositions of the six hundred and thirteen commandments, that is, the so-called "taryag ha-Torah", one gain the best idea of what it is that one is possibly freed from by "fulfilling" the Messianic Law.130
These commandments and prohibitions are an interpretation of the Law in the five books of Moses: First it is emphasized that one should love and serve God. Then it is stressed that one should also listen to the rabbis and be obedient to them. Then follow instructions about offerings, dietary rules, the priesthood and Levites and, for instance, cities of refuge. Also 'good works', instructions about relating to foreigners and servants and mixed marriages are dealt with. A kohen, that is, a man from a priestly family, may not marry an immoral or divorced person. Even a Gentile woman who has converted to Judaism is still counted in this respect in the classification of "immoral" persons. The prohibition of sexual intercourse with animals, people of the same sex or blood relatives is also dealt with.
"Do not"- commandments numbers 363-365 end with the restrictions given to the king: he may not take for himself "many horses, wives or private property." It is illustrative that actual Sabbath commandments are "forty minus one" and that their auxiliary commandments or "the fence of the Law" comprehend either seven times or 39 x 39 precepts, that is, a maximum of one thousand, five hundred and twenty-one instructions. Only pious Law-abiding Jews knew these contents of the "taryag".
The idea of abolition of "the Torah" hits a tender spot of rabbinic interpretation. Pharisaic Law exposition represented, however, a contemporary reform movement, and one would think nowadays that their heirs, the Orthodox Jews, would know how to deal with reforms demanded by the time. Especially Hillel's doctrinal trend solved Law problems "mipnei tiqun ha-olam" or literally "for the correction of the world." It meant that halakhah instructions were "applied according to the needs of renewing life." "Taryag" precepts do not, however, apply to the modern day.
Already Isaiah found that the contemporary interpretation of tradition might lead one astray. The word of the Lord had become "commandment upon commandment" and "rule on rule". Therefore believers become exhausted under their burden, so that they "fall and are injured" and they are "snared and captured" inwardly. Instead they should have said, " 'This is the resting-place, let the weary rest'; and, 'This is the place of repose.'" (Isa. 28:10-13). "The LORD says, 'These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men'"; "'the wisdom of the wise will vanish'" (29:13-14).
The problem of Judaism is that these "sages" (Heb. hakhamim) are not authorised to alter traditional precepts. Only the Sanhedrin or the Messiah can do that. In the situation subsequent to the coming of the Messiah everything needs to be re-evaluated.
The Messiah gives "a new Torah." The Midrash on the book of Ecclesiastes says, "The Torah which man learns in this world is vanity alongside the teaching of the Messiah."131 The Messianic era requires new solutions to, for instance, the multiplicity of dietary rules. This idea is reflected in, for example, the midrashic interpretation of the Psalms. Psalm 146:7 says that "the Lord frees the imprisoned"; the Midrash explains that there are "those who say that in (the Messianic) future holy God will cleanse every unclean animal to make it fit to eat."132
The Hebrew words "asirim" or "imprisoned" and "asurim" or "forbidden things" derive from the same verbal root. The idea of actually eating forbidden foods, such as pork or blood, is an abomination to most Jews.
However, the "kashrut" rules also apply to the far-reaching applications of these basic things. Jews may not eat dairy and meat products from the same dishes; they must be kept separate. When they eat meat foods, they need to wait five hours before eating dairy products -- and if they drink milk, they need to wait three hours before eating meat products, etc. In addition, there are a great number of regulations concerning washing different dishes. In Israel they sometimes wonder that Abraham did not keep "kosher", but, according to Gen. 18:8, offered his guests "butter and milk and veal that had been prepared" (Heb. "hem'a ve-halav uben-habakar").
The prohibition in Ex. 23:19 of "boiling a kid in its mother's milk" may be generally accepted, for it is felt not to be appropriate to cook meat in milk. In addition, "for sentimental reasons" such a custom feels strange, at least to a sheep- or cattle-breeder.
When Jesus was rebuked because his disciples ate with unwashed hands without performing the so-called "netilat ha-yadayim," he "called the crowd to him and said, 'Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean', but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean' ' " (Matt. 15:10-11).
Mark 7: 18-23 describes this discussion still more widely. It continues: "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean' -- for from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean' ."
If Jesus was the Messiah, he had the right to give such new grounds to the Torah or "teamei Torah hadashim."
In Israel, where religion and the state are not separated, legislation is adapted according to rabbinic laws. Principally the Ministry of Social Services and the Ministry of Religion and the officials responsible for education and schools have to follow the instructions of the taryag and later religious interpretation. Thus restaurants, hotels and factories must observe the "kashrut" laws of purity. National traffic has to be planned so that ancient Sabbath rules are observed. The Rabbinate, which has this authorisation, receive considerable payment for their supervision. Also all family problems, matters to do with marriage and divorce, and funerals are under their control.
Society suffers from this situation. But it ultimately harms the land's pious minority, who lose the respect of the rest of the population when they act as "religious police". If the Messiahship of Jesus were recognized, it would be, to use Paul's words, "like life from the dead" (Rom. 11:13-15).
However, Israel's religious leadership is already in a position to produce a more flexible interpretation of the Law in the spirit of Rabbis Hillel and Gamaliel -- "in order to maintain the peace." Lev. 11:43-44 forbids eating unclean animals, saying twice, "Do not defile 'your soul,' 'et nafshoteikhem'!
Jesus' interpretation of the dietary rules, where he points to the inward parts and heart of man, corresponds to this Old Testament emphasis. In the discussion about the traditions of the elders and the custom of giving an offering or "qorban" to the Temple, in order thus to be freed from the obligation of the fourth commandment, Jesus said forthrightly, "You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition!" (Matt. 15:1-6) Small wonder that "the Pharisees were offended when they heard this." Already in those days people were struggling with these matters. Afterwards numerous new regulations have been added to the Torah which bind a modern orthodox Jew's life even more.
The Logic of Paul's Teaching on the Torah
The Apostle Paul had to clarify the foundations of his teaching on the Torah under pressure from, on the one hand, the first Christian congregation in Jerusalem and, on the other hand, the synagogues of the Diaspora. Therefore, especially in Romans and Galatians, he touched upon his views of the new status of the Law in the "post-Messianic" situation after the coming of Christ. The Messiah faith indeed included other points. However, it was now decisive what the Messianic "new Torah" meant in practice both to the Jew and to the Gentile.
The prophecy in Gen. 49 of the Messiah as the coming "ruler of nations" refers to him also as a "lawgiver". The prophecy continues: "The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his"; here is used the term "mehoqeq" or literally "lawgiver".
All rabbinic sources, such as the Targum and Midrash, see the Messiah here.133 Rabbi Hanin says, "Israel will not need the Torah of the Messiah-King, because in Isa. 11:10 it is written: 'On that day the Gentiles will seek the root of Jesse, not Israel.' " And in a discussion of the "lawgiver" he continues: "If it is so, why will the Messiah-King come and what will he do? He will restore Israel from its dispersion and give them thirty commandments."134 The Hebrew commentary called "the Gift of Priesthood" gives an interpretation of what this means from the viewpoint of the Torah: "The Messiah-King will clearly illuminate to them the Torah and the errors of which they have been guilty up to now" ... "Thirty commandments means the regulations which the peoples of the world will observe."135
According to the rabbis, the Messiah will bring about so-called "tiqun ha-olam," that is, "correction of the world." Modern theology calls it by the term "rehabilitation". One can also make so-called "tiqunim" or "corrections" and adjustments to the Torah. Paul's logic is based on the fact that the Messiah has such authorisation. And all God's work aims at this Messianic fulfilment and at the new obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5 and 16:26).
The new Messianic status of the Law in Paul's thought may be expressed in his three central passages: 1. Romans 10:4 says, "Christ is the goal of the Law (in Greek "telos") so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." Using the same concept, Paul writes in 1 Tim. 1:5, "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."
2. Galatians 3:23-25 says, "Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the Law has become for us an educator to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under an educator." The word 'educator' or 'director' (Gr. paidagogos) points to the fact that the Torah's many "pedagogical" interpretations later lose their significance. Just as the canes used to support plants or the scaffolding of a building are later removed, so the "fence of the Torah" is meant to be only temporary. In Jeremiah 31:31-34 God promises to his people that "in the new covenant" he will place "his Law within them and write it on their hearts."
3. But this will happen only when the Messianic era has dawned. Galatians 4:1-5 says that we are "as minors subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by the father." "But when the time had fully come,God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under Law, to redeem those under Law, that we might receive the full rights of sons."
Paul's relation to the Law was always based, however, on the fact that, according to the Bible, God is holy and demands holiness. Moses received from time to time the command: "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy" (Lev. 11:44, 19:2, 20:26 etc.). It was the Pharisees who emphasized this holiness. Therefore Paul wrote his hard words: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men... trouble and distress for every human being who does evil; first for the Jew, then for the Greek"(Rom. 1:18; 2:9). "So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12). The Law is similarly "spiritual" in essence (Rom. 7:14). "The Law is good if one uses it lawfully " (1 Tim. 1:8). Paul was not thus negative in relation to the Law. It functioned and continues to function as Christ's pedagogue.
The Talmud also sees the Torah as protecting man. Abodah Zarah says beautifully, "Israelites are happy when they are busy with the Torah and do good deeds; then their evil impulse ("yetzer ra") is under their control and they are not subject to their evil impulse."136
This passage raises a question which reveals the correct perspective of Paul's interpretation of the Torah. When liberal theology claims that Paul had an anti-law or "antinomian" attitude and that he made the Ten Commandments of no significance, the reason for this view is a kind of "error in make-up" -- Paul's supposed negativeness does not appear in his relation to the Law but rather in his pessimistic view of man.
It was just because the first Christians or "minim" emphasized the binding nature of the Ten Commandments as a rule of life that in c. 90 A.D. the great Council of Jamnia took the decision that in the synagogue the Ten Commandments were no longer to be read every day -- according to the Talmud, this was so that no one should be mistaken into thinking that God gave only these Ten Commandments on Sinai. Also the movement led by the false Messiah, Shabbetai Zvi, in the 17th century renounced the Ten Commandments and accepted the Jewish ritual precepts. This was followed by a fatal moral decline. He proclaimed, "Blessed be you who free us from prohibitions." "Denying the Law is fulfilling the Law." The believer should descend to "superficiality" (Heb. "qlipot") and "open the gates of uncleanness," doing so much that it no longer disturbed anyone. His devotees, the so-called "atzilim" or "noble ones" or "super-men", were all above morality.137
Paul did not have a negative attitude towards the commandments nor even towards the Torah. The Torah only had a determined task "to guard" (Gal. 3:23) and protect the people under the Law until the Messianic era. In its post-Messianic period the Messianic Law holds sway and the time of the "guardian" is past. This truth of salvation history also appears in the interpretation of the Elijah tradition, with reference to which Professor Joseph Klausner said that two thousand years of the Torah and two thousand years of "the days of the Messiah" means "naturally that in the days of the Messiah the Torah and commandments lose their significance."138
In Hebrew the phrase "the Law and commandments", "Torah umitsvot", means general teaching of the Law and the associated "halakhah" and sacral legislation as a whole and not thus the so-called "words of the covenant", that is, the Ten Commandments. This interpretation of the Torah is thus not needed in the Messianic era.
The Apostle Paul's View of Man
In studying such problems it is good to be aware of a comment made by the Jewish Talmudic expert Professor Shmuel Safrai that "the information in the Talmud gives essential background for the correct understanding of the New Testament."139 A Jew is, according to Avodah Zarah 5b, "happy" studying the Torah, for then his "evil impulse", the so-called "yetzer ra", is under his control. Paul found, on the contrary, that his "good impulse" , the "yetzer tov", is also corrupted by sin. In this respect Paul was pessimistic.
We have already stated that the historian Josephus, who himself went through a Pharisaic stage in his life, saw in the Pharisaic movement two characteristic features. On the one hand, they drew up for the people a great number of such traditions "which are not written in the Law of Moses," and on the other hand, "some deeds, if not all, are subject to fate and some of them depend upon our own ability." And although they believed that "fate directs everything," they always aimed in practice at "rational solutions."
Perhaps Paul's shocking background as a persecutor of the church and consciousness of his own weakness and limitations brought him to write Romans 7, about which Christian theologians have debated a great deal. It is debated whether here he describes himself before or after his conversion.
Paul writes in this chapter, however, in the first person and in the present tense. "We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. For I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do ... I know (Gr. oida) that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh (Gr. sarx. Another translation is: "in my sinful nature" = yetzer ra) ... So I perceive (Gr. heurisko, I find, I observe) this law in myself: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me... but I see (Gr. blepo) another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind (Gr. "nous" or reason)" (Rom. 7:14-23).
Only the man really trying to live the Christian life experiences his own corruption. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal the depths of our sin. And then we know, perceive and see that we need the grace of God. In Rom. 8:18 Paul uses the word "logidzomai", "to deduce", and returns to the subject of what the believer, however, knows and sees. Although "the creation" is subject to corruption, one day it will also be liberated "from its bondage to decay" (8:18-22). And "we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons," full liberation in eternity. The hallmark of the work of the Holy Spirit is precisely this longing faith, which looks in hope to eternity. "But hope that is seen is no hope at all." And now "the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit ... we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him." (8:23-30) And nothing can separate us from the love of God (8:35-39).
This "logic" of Paul's is not "inconsistent and arbitrary." He only found to be true what we read of the generation of Noah: "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart (Heb."kol yetzer mahshevot libbo") was only evil all the time." "God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people ('flesh') on earth had corrupted their ways ('walk')" (Gen. 6:5,12). Sin always appears also in a person's life and "walk". However, we are aware of this only in the light shed by the Holy Spirit. In this stage of salvation history we do not yet break loose from our corruption.
Also, in the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered at Qumran the term "yetzer" is repeated dozens of times. Its background is the phrase in Gen. 6:5, "mahshevet yitzro," that is, the thoughts "of the heart" or, even better, the thoughts arising from the "impulse" or "our inherited inclination." For example, in the "hodayot" or hymns of thanksgiving are used the expressions "deceitful nature", "creature of clay", "creature of dust" or "fleshly nature" (yetzer remiya, yetzer haheimar, yetzer afar or yetzer basar). Also Paul spoke a lot of "fleshly nature", "of the mind of the flesh" and "fleshliness."
In their content these ideas of the Essenes make contact with Paul's view of man. The idea that I am a "creature of clay" reminds one of the words of 2 Cor. 4:7 that "we have this treasure in jars of clay." And the Essenes also wrote, "To God Most High belong all the acts of justice, and the path of man is not secure except by the spirit which God creates for him." "And I, creature of clay ... my nature of dust I have known by the spirit which you have given me." "What, then, is flesh to understand?... And how can dust direct its steps?" "In contemplating your glory I recount your wonders, and on understanding it I trust in the abundance of your compassion and hope in your forgiveness. Because you have fashioned my being of clay ("yetzer heimar") ...nor have you put within me fleshly nature" ("yetzer basar").140
Paul found that nothing good lived in him, that is, "in his flesh." He had done his utmost to observe the precepts of the Jewish Law.
The Essenes had a still stricter interpretation of the Law and view of man than had the Pharisees. They believed, however, that they could overcome their human wretchedness by ever stricter ascetism, thus mortifying sin from their bodies.
Paul too tried it, but failed. Therefore he writes that he "has died to the Law through the Law" (Gal. 2:19). The Torah, which "should have been life for him, was death for him". It "deceived him and through the commandment put him to death" (Rom. 7:10-11). And he asks: "Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But on order that sin might be recognised as sin, it produced death in me through what was good" (7:13).
All this he experienced in the light of the death of Jesus on the cross. Romans chapter 6 lists that "we died to sin," "we were baptised into the death of Christ," "we were buried with him," "our old self was crucified" and therefore "we count ourselves dead to sin." But at the same time we walk "in new life," because we have been "united" with Christ and we have been "brought from death to life" with him. Thus Paul began with pessimism and concluded with a truly optimistic attitude. Romans chapter 8 describes this revolutionary inner renewal, to which he then devoted his entire life: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature ('flesh'),God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man ('flesh') to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man (the 'flesh')." So now we "do not live according to the sinful nature ('flesh') but according to the Spirit," we have "the mind of the Spirit," we are "controlled by the Spirit", the Spirit "makes alive," "the Spirit leads," "the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" and "the Spirit helps us in our weakness." Paul spoke in terms that his contemporaries understood -- and everyone who is aware of God's holiness, will arrive sooner or later at the same conclusions.
Paul's view of man has led scholars to speak of the fact that the believer is "at the same time both justified and a sinner," "simul iustus et peccator." We live here "in the flesh," which the heredity of original sin (yetzer ra) binds till the very end. But when "we are in Christ," then "the law of the Spirit of life" frees us from what "was impossible for the Law." And so we are not "controlled by the flesh" but the Holy Spirit governs our life and actions. Jesus' brother James referred to the same thing when he said that we "look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom." And we "speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom" (James 1:25 and 2:12). In practice this means that the Law which demands perfection makes us thoroughgoing sinners, and only then can we experience perfect freedom.
Paul's thought is considered difficult to understand. It is, nevertheless, inwardly consistent and observes rabbinic logic. The Apostle Peter describes Paul aptly in his second letter. Referring to the last days, when "the heavens will disappear with a roar.. and the elements will melt in the heat," Peter says, "Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat!" The rabbis often use the saying "lehahish et ha-qetz", "to hasten the end-times" and the coming of the Messiah. And Peter continues that about this "our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3:10-16).
A well-known doctor surprised his six-year-old son reading the Old Testament genealogies. Then he said to this little man, "I can show you much more interesting passages." The young child replied with wondering eyes, "Daddy, is it supposed to be interesting?" Understanding Paul demands time, questioning and seeking. The first Christians and the Essenes used the word "way" when speaking of faith. Only the traveller on the road realizes the holes, bends and dangers of the road. The Arabs say that "the road is wiser than man." If one finds a road in the wilderness, it takes one back to civilization.
Evaluating Paul's religious life presupposes that we are ourselves on the same road and that we live out the laws of the spiritual life. Music cannot be understood without a musical ear; art is incomprehensible to the colour blind. The most profound discoveries of Paul's life open up only to those who attempt to do the will of holy God in their lives. When these mysteries open up, they are really "interesting." "The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple." "He who travels the Way will not get lost, and the simple will not stray from it" (Ps. 119:130 and Isa. 35:8).
The Grounds of Justification by Faith
Paul loved the word "logidzomai", that is, to make "logical" deductions. "For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the Law" or "count yourselves (logically) dead to sin" (Rom. 3:28 and 6:11). "I conclude that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (8:18). "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned (made my logical deductions) like a child" (1 Cor. 13:11). Also, the word "logical", "logigos", was one of his favourite terms. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your logical act of worship" (Rom. 12:1). According to Paul, "we are God's temple" and "the temple of the Holy Spirit," which one must not "destroy" (1 Cor. 3:16-17 and 6:19). Similarly, he uses the Greek word "analogia" when speaking of prophesying, which should be used "according to the analogy of faith," "kata ten analogian tes pisteos" (Rom. 12:6). In practice, all theological thinking should observe this analogy of faith.
Paul adopts the rabbinic way of thinking. Analogical study of the different viewpoints had used the word "middot" or "measures" by which each problem was weighed. Rabbi Aqiba loved "expanding and contracting." Rabbi Ishmael the son of Elisha, who also lived in the second century of the Christian era, applied his expositions to "generalisation and individualization."141 Rabbi Hillel had seven basic premises or "middot", Ishmael son of Elisha had thirteen, some had thirty-two, forty-nine or even seventy different ways of study. The Western theologian should not complain that Paul lacks a logical approach. He basically followed the instructions of the school founded by Hillel.
Some of these instructions appear in the grounds of Paul's doctrine of justification. Hillel's first rule was the so-called "qal va-homer", that is, reaching a conclusion "from the lighter to the heavier," from small things to broader ones. Jesus too used this way of thinking when he spoke of "the birds of heaven" which God takes care of -- and are we not much more valuable? or "whoever is faithful with very little will also be faithful with much" (Matt. 6:26 and Luke 16:10). Hillel's second "middah", "gezerah shavah", aimed at analysing the inner causal connections of the same matter. According to Romans 4:1-5, Abraham was not justified on the basis of his works; and this applies to everyone else. In verses 4:9-12 we are told that Abraham was justified when he was uncircumcised, and "he received circumcision as a seal of this justification by faith"; this too applies to us all.
Hillel's third rule, "binyan av mikatuv ehad," meant classification of Bible verses, opinions and facts into one family. In midrashic literature there may be in one chapter as many as one hundred different Bible passages. It was sufficient for one to mention only the beginning of the verse and the word "va-gomer," that is, "and it continues," and each person would repeat the whole verse in his mind. This is also demonstrated by the fact that, for example, in the footnotes to Stephen's sermon there are sixty-two different verses. In addition, it was allowed to borrow only the main idea of the verse or combine in the name of a prophet ideas belonging to the same "family", slightly modified into its own unit. This too occurs here and there in the New Testament.
These principles create the impression that Jewish thought is by nature associative, winding in different directions. However, the rabbis aimed to proceed generally both from details to rules and from concrete observations to the conceptual. It is for this reason that one should be able to analyze which matters belong together. Hillel's other points were based on classifying different themes, their generalisation or emphasizing something basic and "conclusions" drawn from different verses.142
With these principles were also connected the homiletic stylistic methods of synagogue midrashic literature. They also occur in Paul's letters. "Al tiqra", "do not read like that but like this," occurs in Galatians 3:16: "The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say 'and to seeds', meaning many people, but 'and to your seed', meaning one person, who is Christ." Similarly, the so-called "muqdam umeuhar" aims at "earlier and later" study. In Galatians chapter 3 Paul speaks at length of the "covenant established" to Abraham, which "the Law, introduced four hundred and thirty years later, does not set aside." "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Gal. 3:6,15 and 17).
"Tartei mashma", that is, the word has "another meaning"; e.g. the saying "dammim tartei mashma", or "blood has two meanings - "blood" and "payment", gives a new dimension to blood sacrifice and redemption.143 General word explanation observed the so-called "PaRDeS" rule, when the consonants of this "orchard", according to the Bible, should be explained in the light of the "pshat" or "simple" basic meaning, "remez", in accordance with its associative "references", "drashah" or in accordance with the "sermon" and message of the verse or "sod", that is, studying the "mysteries" it contains. But because the Bible is God's Word, all possible viewpoints should always be taken into consideration.
In addition, transposition of the letters of word-roots, the interpretation of the meanings of different names or so-called "gematria", where the total numeric value of the letters of different expressions are studied, might function at least as a mnemonic for pupils.144 Since, for instance, the words "Mashiah" and "nahash", that is, Messiah and snake, have the same numeric value of 358, it can lead to the interpretation that the Messiah will crush the head of the serpent. And in the "Qabbalah", esoteric Jewish interpretative material deriving from the time of Paul, the words meaning God, "ein sof", that is, "endless, "Adon olam", "the Lord of the world", "raz" or "mystery", "zer" or "crown" and "or" or light" have the same numeric value of two hundred and seven, so these expressions were combined.145 In the Old Testament Psalms, in the Qumran writings, in the teachings of Jesus and in Paul one can indeed see midrashic features and argumentation adopted by the rabbis. However, the Old and the New Testaments renounce all the esoteric significations of the Qabbalah.
We have already stated that Paul used in Romans and Galatians Hillelite argumentation. He anchored his conviction in two main verses: Abraham was justified "by faith" (Gen. 15:6). Similarly, the words of Habakkuk 2:4, "the righteous will live by his faith" (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11 and Heb. 10:38), were for Paul a decisive discovery. The Septuagint translates this verse to mean that the righteous lives "ek pisteos mou," that is, "out of my faith" -- this is thus faith engendered by God.
A third slightly odder key idea is found in Deut. 30:11-14. They can be regarded in one sense as the words of institution of the doctrine of atonement. Paul writes, "Christ is the end (Gr. telos or goal) of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the Law: "The man who does these things will live by them." But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend to heaven?' " (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the deep?' " (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.) But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: -- For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved -- there is no difference between Jew and Greek." (Rom. 10:4-12)
Deut. 30 twice states the words "Who will ascend or descend "on our behalf," "pro nobis," to collect the Law for us?" The Jerusalem Targum interprets it as follows: "Oh, if only we had the prophet like Moses, who would ascend to heaven and give us the Torah and proclaim its regulations!" Verse 4 of the same chapter speaks of Israel exiled to the "ends of heaven", and the Targum of Jonathan explains that they are returned "by the high priest Elijah and he collects them from them by the Messiah-King."
Midrash Rabbah opposes the idea that another Moses is necessary, who would give "another Torah from heaven." Applying this logic, Paul testified that Christ is this "second Moses" -- he has risen "on our behalf" into heaven and he has descended "on our behalf" into Hades to fulfil the Law. Therefore he says of the same thing in Ephesians 4:9-10: "What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended to the depths of the earth? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe." Theology has created out of this "rising and descending" (Gr. anabesetai and katabesetai) of the work of atonement pertaining to the Messiah the concepts "ascending" and "descending". Thus sin is atoned for and death conquered. Also the Wisdom of Solomon, which presents the serpent of bronze raised by Moses as meaning a "sign of salvation", continues by saying: "You lead men down to Sheol and back again."146 And Proverbs 30:4 says, speaking of God's "Son", "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? -- What is his name and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!" Paul speaks of these "mysteries" using characteristic contemporary Hillelite logic.
This justification is based on the Messiah's atoning death. The central Old Testament prophecies of Christ and their Jewish interpretation support this Pauline idea. To this cluster of ideas belong the most central passages of Old Testament Messianic prophecy and their rabbinic interpretation. Daniel 9:24 tells of "the Anointed One" or Messiah that when he comes "sin will be sealed, evil deeds atoned for and eternal righteousness brought in." Jeremiah 23:6 and 33:16 and also its interpretation in the Talmud states that the name of the Messiah, "the righteous root of David," is "the Lord our righteousness." The synagogue prayer-book used on feastdays, the Mahzor Rabbah, has a long Messianic prayer, the main message of which is: "Then before creation God had already instituted the Temple and the Messiah ... the Messiah our righteousness has turned away from us, we are perturbed, and there is no one who can justify us. The yoke of our sins and trangressions is a burden, but he was wounded for our sins ..."147
Joel 2:23, the continuation of which occurs in Peter's Pentecost sermon, promises that God will give them "autumn rain according to righteousness, pour out autumn rain and spring rain." The expression "more litzdaqa" can indeed also be interpreted as autumn "early rain", but literally it means "Teacher of Righteousness". Therefore some rabbis and the Essene community at Qumran on the Dead Sea connected it with the Messiah as the "Teacher of Righteousness". In his exposition of the beginning of the book of Zechariah RaSHI explains that we cannot understand the words of the prophets "before the Teacher of Righteousness arrives." In his exposition of the book of Joel RaDaK says that the entire prophecy is concerned with "the days of the Messiah" and that then God "will pour out his Holy Spirit upon them."
Eben Ezra interprets the word 'teacher' as referring to the fact that "he teaches the way of righteousness," but "between the early rain and the late rain is a long time."
Isaiah 53:11 combine justification from sin with forgiveness: "By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities." Isaiah 54:17 emphasises that justification is a gift of God: " 'This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their righteousness from me,' declares the LORD." In Psalm 22:32, the meal described at the end speaks, according to RaSHI, of "the time of salvation, the days of the Messiah." The psalmist says that then they will come and proclaim "his righteousness, that he has done this." In Christian theology this psalm of suffering is with Isaiah chapter 53 the most important evidence of the Messiah's atoning death.
These Bible passages uniformly testify that the Messiah brings about "eternal righteousness," he is "the Lord our righteousness," he is the "Teacher of Righteousness" awaited by the scholars, without whom we cannot rightly understand the prophets, he "justifies many, bearing their evil deeds," this righteousness is "received" from God and the church "proclaims his righteousness." We also see from this all that in reaching conclusions Paul acted "analytically" and "logically" and that, in accordance with the school of Hillel, he combined different Bible passages into uniform related "families". Thus we find "basic principles" set as the topical goal and their "place" (Gr. topos) in Paul's thought.
Paul writes of justification by faith as the greatest discovery of
his life. Sometimes he speaks of it abstrusely, sometimes in a very
down-to-earth way; sometimes, as scholars expressed it, "in the language
of the Torah," sometimes "in the language of idiots" -- Hebrew "hediot"
and the Greek word "idiotes" mean "lay-people". Paul says too, "I am
bound both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish."
And immediately afterwards there follows a profound confession: "I am
not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation
of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Greek. For in
the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,
just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith'" (Rom. 1:14-17).
He also related he same unchanging mystery to the simple "five-finger"
lesson: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith
-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works,
so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).