Just over three years ago now, Scot McKnight wrote a series on being liberated from legalism. You can actually find almost everything Scot wrote about, in this book by Longenecker several years earlier: Paul the Apostle of Liberty
I’ll link you to McKnight’s posts and then put in summarized form what Longenecker wrote about. But before I do that I just want to say how important I think this issue is.
First, what McKnight and Longenecker clear up are questions concerning the nominism/anti-nominism debate. Basically, as Christians, are we suppose to follow rules, imperatives, law, principles, etc? You will find that both authors agree that there are indeed divine imperatives that we should follow.
Second, because of this, then, the next thorny question to be raised has to do with the Holy Spirit. If we know that there are imperatives that should be followed, then what need is there for the Holy Spirit and faith if things are so clear?
But there is another related question as well. For example, what about, as I heard a “Christian atheist” say one time about Christianity, following Paul, has become a system of belief and not doing. Well, that is put to rest by addressing Christian ethics, especially within this context of Law and Spirit as spoken of by McKnight and Longenecker.
Anyhoo, without further a due, I will put up the first of what Longenecker wrote about and then over the next few days put up the rest. But before that, here are the links to McKnight’s thoughts on the matter.
From Longenecker (my title though)
It’s A Bad Day To Be A Pharisee…Or Is It??? Hmmm…
When you hear or read the word, “Pharisee” or “Pharisees” what automatically comes to mind? In part because of unfavourable connotations attached to this word through constant usage and taking that usage for granted such as to not see something from a different perspective, most Christians over time have tended to perceive of the Pharisee or Pharisees as something negative or derogatory such as, “hypocrite” or “holier than thou.”
As Kenneth Bailey points out in his book, “Jacob &The Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story” in the history of interpretation of Scripture, there is the tendency that “the more familiar a passage becomes, and the more central it is to the life and faith of the church, the more interpretive ‘barnacles’ it acquires.” Barnacles are marine crustaceans that attach themselves to rocks or the hulls of ships, that, in the case of ships need to be removed or else they become a detriment to the ocean or seafaring vessel. In other words, there are ways of seeing the story that become fused with the text itself such that the given interpretation does an injustice to the story or in our case here, to the character of the Pharisee (which in turn does an injustice to the story).
Right off the bat, one might object to this and say that the Pharisees have a negative connotation because that is the way the Gospels actually portray them. But that is exactly the point and this is where some of the human element comes into the picture. According to some scholars, the Pharisees appeared as rivals and opponents of the early Christians AFTER the lifetime of Jesus on into the first century. Thus, a confrontation with Pharisaic Judaism that characterized this early situation as well as the portrayal in the Gospels will be of some importance in assessing the picture of the Pharisees in the Gospels. That is, it is plausible that to those who authored the Gospels, a Pharisee, as an opponent, would have loomed larger than some of the actual opponents from the lifetime of Jesus and a opposition party which stood against their lord as well as continued to stand against them might get more play or blackballed than a group that would have dropped out of the picture after Jesus day.
Having said that, I want to take another look at the Pharisees and hopefully reorient our view not only of the Pharisees themselves but also of the radicalism of what Jesus had to say to them. It might have been that Jesus does not so much focus his attack on hypocrisy (as Matt 23 alleges) but against the desire within EVERY human being (and not just the Pharisees) to attain righteousness by self and works. In other words, the conflict and antithesis between Jesus and the Pharisees is more so against “extravagant legalism” (extreme righteous?) which is sustained not only by his words but also by his life.
Much of modern theology is prone toward the kerygmatic (pronouncement, preaching–something less formalized) as opposed to didache (commandment). But we need to be reminded that though there is a danger with focusing some attention on law, Jesus did say, “these words of mine” yes, Torah, “the law of Christ” is part of the New Testament Word of God as well. Could it be that “Law” is an expression of Grace?