The Diffictult Task of Pauline Ethics – Part I

Two weeks ago I said that I would be writing about some aspects of my thesis and would like to keep my promise. Therefore in today’s post (and the one to come) we will be investigating the complex task of Pauline ethics. The major question which will be addressed is: What are the foundations for Pauline ethics?

The Purpose of these Posts

In this study I want to investigate Paul’s usage of Torah for the New Testament churches. There are many debates (past and present) on Paul’s understanding of the Law,1but in my opinion more attention needs to be paid to Paul’s actual usage of Law/Torah in his letters, so that a better picture of the broader issue of Paul and the Law can be achieved and we can actually see how the apostle is coherent in his writing. As this would be too broad of an investigation, my purpose is to investigate Rom 13:8-10 to show Paul’s view of Torah and its continuing validity for the NT believer.
Why do I choose Rom 13:8-10? Romans 13:8-10 seems to build the climax of Paul’s argument concerning Torah in Romans. The broader issue is to understand Pauline ethics in general, but the main subject area for me will be to clarify Paul’s understanding of Torah’s role in the life of the believer. I am researching Rom 13:8-10 in order to find out what Paul means by stating “love is the fulfillment of the (Mosaic) Law” (πλήρωμα νόμου ἡ ἀγάπη). This will help the reader to understand some aspects of the Christian’s relationship to the Law/Torah. Hence, subsequent questions which will be addressed are: In what ways does Paul understand the relation between Torah and the New Testament believer? Why does Paul use Torah for ethical instructions in the churches? In what ways does Paul’s view alter our reading of Torah?
Let us now move to the question of significance. Why is this investigation important? An understanding of Paul and Torah will help significantly to appreciate the Law and to rightly handle and apply it today. We will be able to more accurately understand Paul’s “contradictory” statements about the Law, if we are able to grasp the meaning of Rom 13:8-10. Further, the question “Why does Paul use Torah (Pentateuch) in his paraklesis if he tells the believer that she is free from the Law?” can be answered in two ways. One, Paul sees that “love fulfills the law” and a second, he does so, because he sees a continuing validity of Torah in the believer’s life—not as law (or regulation) but as instruction.2

Pauline Ethics – A Difficult Task

Here we are challenged with many aspects. First, there is no one ultimate characteristic which determines Paul’s ethics, as will become clear in this section, and second “the most interesting—and, to be sure, most challenging—aspects [sic] of New Testament theology is the problem of continuity and discontinuity between the old and the new.”3This then is one of the major challenges which need to be dealt with. As stated above however, this thesis will focus on one aspect—i.e., Paul’s climactic statement in Rom 13:8-10. Nevertheless, we will be looking at some other aspects as a way of introduction, before we will leave those matters behind.
Foundations for Pauline Ethics
Why is Pauline ethics such a difficult task? There are two possible answers. One is that it is so many faceted. Second, Pauline ethics seem in stark contrast to justification by faith. The question being raised is: “[I]f God offers salvation without human deeds, why does God make ethical demands?”4As “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13) why do we need to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12)? Paul answers this by stating that we are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29) and that we need to be “transformed by the renewal of [our] mind” (12:2) because one day “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). Morna Hooker terms this the “interchange” and writes (leaning on Irenaeus): “Christ became what we are, in order that we might become what he is.”5In other words, we are not fully yet what we will be when Christ appears. Hence we need moral instructions to conform to God’s plan.
Before we will have a brief overlook on some of the secondary literature concerning Pauline ethics, it is of utter importance to let some of the ipsissima verba Paulispeak to the problem. Here our focus is on Paul’s statements about the OT in the Corinthian correspondence and the letter to the Romans6as in those two letters Paul specifically states that the Scriptures were written down for our instruction.7
In 1 Corinthians Paul urges his brothers and sisters “that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written” (4:6).8Later in 9:10—after he quotes Deut 25:4—he asks “Does he not certainly speak for our sake?” To which he himself answers: “It was written for our sake” (9:10; emphasis mine). Further, in the pericope of 10:1-11 where Paul is referencing the exodus and wilderness wanderings of Israel and quotes from Exod 32:6 he says that “these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (v. 6) and concludes by saying that “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (v. 11; emphasis mine). We see here that Paul is not only alluding to Old Testament references, but actually quoting from the Pentateuch because it was written down for us.
Let us see if we find similar language in his letter to the Romans. The purpose of the Law and Paul’s positive and negative language about it will be further examined in chapters two and three. Here we simply want to note two passages. One is found in 7:12 where he writes that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” which shows Paul’s positive evaluation of the Law. The other reference we see is found in 15:4. After quoting Ps 69:9 he writes: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (emphasis mine). The Scriptures were written down for “our instruction”; i.e., for the instruction of the New Testament believer. In my opinion Brian Rosner is right that we find here Paul’s confession of “his profound dependence upon the Scriptures for ethics.”9In this verse we can see “Scripture’s role in shaping the behavior of the community” of the saints.10
That Paul is not solely dependent on the Scripture will hopefully become clear below. But that the Old Testament does play a major role in his ethical reasoning should be obvious from the passages cited above. Therefore it comes as quite a surprise to read Adolf von Harnack’s statement concerning the Corinthian correspondence that Paul “does not use Scripture in these letters directly as a book of edification.”11And the letter to Romans finds the same evaluation in Harnack’s reasoning.12We find the same sentiment in Andreas Lindemann who writes: “Paul understands the Old Testament, his Bible, no longer as Torah in the proper sense; it is no longer the source of the instructions of God for conduct of the people in so far as they are Christians.”13And R. G. Hamerton-Kelly states even more drastically: “The Mosaic Law played no constructive role in his [i.e., Paul’s] ethics.”14We will return to this issue at the end of the next post which will deal with some of the secondary literature of Pauline ethics.
1For some overview and initiatory discussion see e.g. J. M. G. Barclay, “Paul and the Law: Observations on Some Recent Debates,” Themelios 12, no. 1 (1986): 5–15. Douglas J. Moo, “Paul and the Law in the Last Ten Years,” Scottish Journal of Theology 40, no. 2 (1987): 287–307. T. C. Geer, “Paul and the Law in Recent Discussion,” Restoration Quarterly 31, no. 2 (1989): 93–107 and Thomas R. Schreiner, 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010). See also e.g. (the list given here is alphabetical and does not imply any priority of importance; nor is this list exhaustive) A. Andrew Das, Paul, the Law, and the Covenant (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001); William David Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology (London: SPCK, 1948); J. D. G Dunn, ed., Paul and the Mosaic Law (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1996); J. D. G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul: Collected Essays (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005); T. David Gordon, Paul’s Understanding of the Law: A Tri-Polar Analysis, 1984; D. A. Hagner, “Balancing the Old and the New : The Law of Moses in Matthew and Paul,” Interpretation 51, no. 1 (1997): 20–30; Morna D. Hooker and Stephen G. Wilson, eds., Paul and Paulinism: Essays in Honor of C K Barrett (London: SPCK, 1982); H. Hübner, Law in Paul’s Thought, Studies of the New Testament and Its World (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1984); Colin G. Kruse, Paul, the Law, and Justification (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997); Reinhold Liebers, Das Gesetz Als Evangelium: Untersuchungen Zur Gesetzeskritik Des Paulus (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1989); Heikki Räisänen, Paul and the Law (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1987); Heikki Räisänen, Jesus, Paul and Torah: Collected Essays (Sheffield, Eng.: JSOT Press, 1992); Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993); Frank Thielman, From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1989); Frank Thielman, Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994); Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles, Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum Ad Novum Testamentum 1 (Assen [Netherlands]; Minneapolis: Van Gorcum; Fortress Press, 1990); Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988); Ulrich Wilckens, “Zur Entwicklung Des Paulinischen Gesetzesverständnisses,” New Testament Studies 28, no. 2 (1982): 154–190. For further bibliographical material please refer to chapter 2 and 3 where the topic Paul and the Law will be treated in more detail.
2Cf. e.g. Peter W. Gosnell, “Law in Romans Regulation and Instruction,” Novum Testamentum 51, no. 3 (June 2009): 252–271.
3D. A. Hagner, “Balancing the Old and the New : The Law of Moses in Matthew and Paul,” Interpretation 51, no. 1 (1997): 20. For different views concerning the relationship of the Law and the Gospel see e.g. Wayne G. Strickland, ed., Five Views on Law and Gospel, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999). See also discussion in Peter Balla, Challenges to New Testament Theology: An Attempt to Justify the Enterprise (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 187–194; Bruce A. Demarest, The Cross and Salvation the Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 86, 420–423; and J. Julius Scott, Jr., Customs and Controversies: Intertestamental Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), especially his treatise in ch. 17 “Covenant and Law in the Final Age”, 325–333.
4James W. Thompson, Moral Formation According to Paul: The Context and Coherence of Pauline Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 4. Victor Paul Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 279, after surveying the many interpreters of the 19th and 20th century states that “the central and decisive problem” one faces in dealing with Pauline ethics is to relate the “concrete ethical materials to the apostle’s preaching as a whole, especially to his basic theological presuppositions and convictions.” Contra Martin Dibelius, From tradition to Gospel, trans. Bertram Lee Woolf (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935), 238–39, who states that the paraklesis of Paul has “nothing to do with the theoretic foundation of the ethics of the Apostle, and very little with other idea peculiar to him.”
5Morna D. Hooker, “Interchange in Christ and Ethics,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, no. 25 (1985): 6.
6Even F.C. Baur would consent that 1 Corinthians and Romans are authentic Pauline letters.
7See also G. W. Knight, III, “The Scriptures Were Written for Our Instruction,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39, no. 1 (1996): 3–13.
8If not otherwise indicates the Scripture references are taken from the ESV.
9Brian S. Rosner, “‘That Pattern of Teaching’: Issues and Essays in Pauline Ethics,” in Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches, ed. Brian S. Rosner (Grand Rapids, MI : Carlisle, U.K: Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1995), 7.
10Thompson, Moral Formation, 125.
11Adolf von Harnack, “The Old Testament in the Pauline Letters and in the Pauline Churches,” in Understanding Paul’s Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches, ed. Brian S. Rosner, trans. George S. Rosner and Brian S. Rosner (Grand Rapids, MI : Carlisle, U.K: Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1995), 41. This article was originally published as “Das Alte Testament in den paulinischen Briefen und in den paulinischen Gemeinden“, Sitzungsberichte der Preußischen Akadmie der Wissenschaften (Berlin; 1928): 124-41. Harnack also believes that “Judaistic controversy played a strong part” in the Corinthian church (36) and maybe that is why Paul needs to reference Scripture here and there.
12 Ibid., 41–44.
13Andreas Lindemann, “Die Biblischen Toragebote und die Paulinische Ethik,” in Studien zum Text und zur Ethik des Neuen Testaments (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1986), 263; Rosner, “‘That Pattern of Teaching’: Issues and Essays in Pauline Ethics,” 6.
14R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, “Sacred Violence and ‘Works of Law.’ ‘Is Christ Then an Agent of Sin?’ (Galatians 2:17),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52, no. 1 (1990): 6.; quoted in Rosner, “‘That Pattern of Teaching’: Issues and Essays in Pauline Ethics,” 6.

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