New Perspective on Paul and the Law
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New Perspective on Paul and the Law
Paul wrote his letter to the Romans around the mid 50вЂ™s as Paul resided in Corinth right before his final trip to Jerusalem. In the letter, he establishes himself as the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul sees himself and his primary role as to be the heralder of the one true King, Jesus Christ, and that the foretold coming of the Messiah had been fulfilled in ChristвЂ™s death and ultimate resurrection: a cosmic unveiling of GodвЂ™s faithfulness to his covenant . The letter was written to the early Christian community of Rome, who at that time was fragmented as was the Jewish community in general who had no central authority in Rome. Jews represented a significant percentage of the Roman population, and while tolerated, was still subjected to Roman law and ruling, which Jews considered pagan and corrupt. Because of this, there was a great hatred and loathing within Rome by Jews for the Gentiles, whom they considered inferior and unclean in the eyes of Jewish Law and traditions. Jews at this time were longing for the coming of a Messiah, whom they believed would wipe out the pagan order and restore Israel to its glory as GodвЂ™s chosen people. PaulвЂ™s mission was to herald that the Messiah in Jesus Christ was here.
As Paul writes to them, he specifically and systematically targets and distinguishes the nature and role of the law in order to break apart and then ultimately piece back together the idea of GodвЂ™s intent for justification and ultimately salvation for all his people. In one event on the cross, the Messiah simultaneously restoring the past (AdamвЂ™s original sin), the present (all manвЂ™s sin), and the future (final judgment by God) in one complete act of obedience and love. The problem to solve for in addressing his Roman Jewish audience was to begin to move their love and focus away from the law itself and back onto a right relationship with God.
God gave the law to the Jews and they will be judged under it (NRS Romans 2:12); however knowing the law (having heard it) and doing the law are examined differently by Paul (NRS Romans 2:13) as he starts to lay out the argument for comparing and contrasting, which scenario is worse: knowing the law and breaking it or not knowing the law and keeping it? Or, which is better: knowing the law and keeping it or not knowing the law and keeping it? Time and time again in Romans, Paul seeks to put all, Jews and Gentiles, into a broader context, which is all of GodвЂ™s creation. How then in this society based upon Hebrew law court, can Paul solve for the need for addressing the accusation of guilt as well as the corresponding sentencing (judgment) that the law requires comes with it?
In T. WrightвЂ™s book, What Paul Really Said, he argues that PaulвЂ™s justification language is three-fold: a covenant language, which clung to the covenant promises during politically difficult times, a law-court language, which rested within the covenant language promising GodвЂ™s justice would prevail, and lastly through eschatology bringing all things into the subjection of Jesus in a declaration to be made at the end of time. Therefore, all who believe in Jesus Christ are drawn into the family of Abraham (NRS Romans 4:13-16) with their sins being forgiven. He distinguishes it from the practice of keeping the law in order to become a member, but rather professing yourself a member through your declaration of belonging to the true God in and through Jesus Christ.