Monthly Archives: July 2013

Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt. 4

As a prerequisite most of the information on pneumatic direction that I will be sourcing is from the Gospels and Pauline thought. Having said that…

Some Christians think that what separates a/the Christian ethic from legalism is pneumatic direction. That is, the Christian life is neither established nor guided by human wisdom (those who lean towards a pneumatically directed ethic see almost all forms of external criteria as legalistic, though I would argue that they intuitively work out of a external criteria on many levels) 1 Cor 1:18-2:5, but revealed to us through the Spirit 1 Cor 2:10 (along with the idea of assessing what the most loving thing to do in any given situation would be). This pneumatic direction, for Paul, he designates as “the mind of Christ” 1 Cor 2:16. That is, the mind of Christ is applied by the Spirit. Thus, the Christian is one who lives not by the letter of the Law but is controlled by the Spirit. The “flesh” is the distinguishing feature which controls the unbeliever, but the Spirit is the distinguishing feature in the believer’s guidance and life. This is the “new Covenant.”

What the exact relation between Christ and the Spirit in terms of immediate and direct guidance is not explicit in Paul. It could be that the “mind of Christ” became operative in the life of the Christian THROUGH the activity of the Spirit (this is how I’d usually think of it personally) as in 1 Cor 2:16. However, in II Cor 3:17 Paul seems to equate the two when he says, “the Lord is the Spirit.” Either way, the Christian, it seems, has a knowledge which no human wisdom can approximate or even test. Indeed, life in the Spirit (having the mind of Christ) seems to lie implicit in Paul’s whole conception of the Christian life and of his own apostolic ministry.

However, the question to be raised is this: While there is an emphasis on pneumatic direction, does this EXCLUDE ANY TYPE OF EXTERNAL CRITERIA? Or to put it another way, is there a “morality beyond rules?” (which, by the way, seems somewhat characteristic of Kierkegaard’s “suspension of the ethical”). Well, there have been exegetical issues raised against seeing this as decidedly one sided.

First Exegetical Problem: New Lawgiver and Torah in Messianic Thought
First, in Judaism there was the EXPECTATION of a new Torah. For example, Jer 31:31-34 speaks of a new covenant wherein God’s law would be written on the heart. What should be noted is that these verses do not automatically exclude the thought of external type of direction as well. Though this passage goes beyond others in speaking of a “new covenant” it can be paralleled by Ps 37:31, 40:8, Deut 30:14, 6:6 and 11:18 in its reference to the law contained in the heart with none of these passages ruling out the presence of the external Law. Indeed, there were many expectations in both the Old Testament and Jewish literature that some type of external and divine teaching would continue to be valid in “the latter days.” In the discoveries of Qumran there is evidence that the expectation of a new lawgiver and Torah was a part of the common Messianic thought of Judaism. For example, it has been long known that the Qumran community was awaiting “him who will teach righteousness.” (Dead Sea Scrolls).

Thus, while this thought may have been contained within Judaism and influenced Paul, it is more probable, according to some scholars, that the Church was probably more influential than Judaism at this point. Secondly, we see in Peter’s sermon on Solomon’s porch and Stephen’s defence before the elders that there is some sort of providential continuity between Moses and Christ via the quote of Deut 18:15: “A prophet shall (the Lord) God raise up unto you from among your brethren like unto me.”

Lastly, we see in the gospels a new law, new lawgiver, prophet, rabbi (written under the influence of a “high” Christology) where Jesus is seen as a TEACHER with his school of disciples teaching them to keep his COMMANDMENTS and where his person is in some sense a new Torah.

Second Exegetical Problem: Law of Christ
Paul presents the “law of Christ” in two passages:
Gal 6:2 where bearing one another’s burdens the Christian is fulfilling “the law of Christ.” In 1 Cor 9:21 Paul speaks of himself as not being without law before God but as being “under the law of Christ” or “in-lawed to Christ.” So the question to be asked is this: Does the “law of Christ” exclude any thought of a standard in the Christian life which possesses an external significance and validity?

Well, there are two interpretations. One is that the “law” is understood as the old pre-Christian mode that Paul understood unintentionally and the other interpretation is referring to a law where the “law of the Spirit” refers to an inward non-propositional guidance. However, there are problems with this because there is evidence that Paul understood “law of Christ” as more than acting in a Christian spirit and to be different in some respects from “law of the Spirit” Rom 8:2.

So it seems that “the law of Christ” has to have some external validity to it. Now, some scholars have pointed out that Paul was not opposed to “tradition” (paradosis) for the instruction and teaching of Christ and the Church even though:
1. It carried the idea of external authority within Judaism and
2. Jesus strongly denounced the “tradition of the elders” as being the “tradition of men” and
3. Paul had abandoned “the tradition of the fathers.”

In Paul’s day however, pious Jews were told to “hold fast” the traditions” and Paul exhorted his converts to “hold fast the traditions which you were taught” and praised them when they did hold fast the traditions though he opposed what he called “the traditions of men.” Thus, for Paul, it does not follow that he also opposed the external validity of all traditions and principles.

C.H. Dodd said: “…maxims which formed part of the tradition of sayings of Jesus are treated as if they were in some sort elements of a new Torah.

And we see this when Paul, in discussing marriage in 1 Cor 7 claimed for his own view the direction of the Spirit and contrasts it favourably with what Christ said on the subject. Yet, it appeared that what Christ said remains uniquely authoritative.

This also occurs with regard to the maintenance of the Christian preacher 1 Cor 9:14, Matt 10:10, Lu 10:7 the institution of the Lord’s Supper 1 Cor 11:23-25, Matt 26:26-29 and the blessedness of giving, Acs 20:35 and Lu 14:12-14 as though such words of Jesus carried a decisive validity. Lastly, in Romans, there are at least eight passages where Paul is clearly dependent upon the words of Jesus and uses them as external guidance for the Christian life–for example, Rom 12:14, 17, 21

Though Luther insisted that Christ is “no Moses, no exactor, no giver of laws, but a giver of grace, a saviour, and one that is full of mercy” that statement should be understood in its context of justification by faith alone and as a reaction to the “schoolmen” and “merit-mongers” who commercialized righteousness. So the idea that “Christ is the end of the law” for those who believe should not be understood that we receive our guidance ONLY from the Holy Spirit. Though Paul’s usage of the word “law” should not be understood as identical with Judaic usage, it is not accidental. It would be a mistake to understand “the law of Christ” as equivalent of the rabbinic Halakah or to even confine it to the teachings of Jesus. For Paul, immediate Spirit guidance for the Church (no small institution) though valid, did not exclude that which the Lord commanded and ordained.

Bringing The Two Elements Together
So let’s bringing the two apparent polar opposites together. For Paul it seems that he views the teaching of Christ as the embodiment and one true interpretation of the Old Testament, ie. 1 Cor 15:3 where the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies came about in the first instance through the instruction of Jesus. It was not only through this though but also through Jesus’ tangible portrayal and instruction of the divine standard. For Paul, “The Law of Christ” must be understood as both Christ’s teaching and the example of the person of Christ.

So Paul brings both to the table in ethical reflection–Law of Christ and Mind of Christ. However and THIS is an important point, HE NEVER REPRESENTS THE NEW TORAH AS BEING A DETAILED CODE WHICH HAS A READY MADE ANSWER FOR EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE (something my buddy Randy was questioning as he was thinking way ahead of the game. Right on Randy! Tracking me perfectly!). Paul never exchanges the Halakah of the rabbis for the Halakah of Christ. Even where Paul has a definite command of the Lord with regard to marriage (as noted above), we should not understand Paul to be speaking about “law” in the sense of a detailed code covering every conceivable exigency. Instead, this command partakes of the nature of PRINCIPLE. A principle is something that POINTS THE WAY to the solution in a particular circumstance but which must be applied anew to differing situations. And we see this with regard to marriage. Christ establishes marriage as permanent from the beginning. However, he says nothing specific about ascetic separation within the married state or how this works out when one party becomes a Christian. 1Cor 7:10, 1Cor 7:3-6, 1Cor 7:12-16.

Thus, in a negative sense, these principles will objectively pass judgement on the self-assertion and waywardness of the Christian. In their positive sense, they will give authoritative guidance. E.F. Scott is appropriate to quote at this juncture:

“Instead of framing laws he stated principles, and made them so few and broad and simple that no one could overlook them…It is true that he enounced a large number of precepts which appear to bear directly on given questions of conduct…But when we look more closely into the precepts we find that they are not so much rules as illustrations. In every instance they involve a principle on which all the stress is laid; but it is applied to a concrete example, so that we may not only grasp it as a principle but judge for ourselves how it works.”

Let me use a few examples of what I mean. Think of when Jesus tells us to “forgive seventy times seven.” Matt 18:22. This should not be interpreted so precisely such that once we reach that number then we don’t have to forgive anymore. Or the example of prayer in Matt 6:9-13 and Lu 11:2-4 . This does not mean that such a prayer was binding on us in its order and phraseology for a truly proper intercession. What about when Jesus was on trial? Did he literally turn the other cheek?” No, though we believe he was true to the principle in Matt 5:39. The fact that Jesus spoke so much in parables is evidence of the fact that principles were the vital elements while the concrete situations in which those principles were encased were meant to be only illustrative. In Eph 5:2, 25 we read, “…walk in love, even as Christ loved us and gave himself for us” or in his praise of the Thessalonians that they “become…imitators of the Lord.” Are these to mean that we should actually repeat the sacrifice of Christ or that we should punctiliously conform to the external activity of the Lord’s ministry?

Personally, I don’t think Paul, who insisted that “the written code killeth” was prepared to view the Law of Christ as more than authoritative principles set in concrete illustrations.

So, going back to Dodd, the ethical precepts of the gospels “…serve two purposes. On the one hand they help towards an intelligent and realistic act of ‘repentance,’ because they offer an objective standard of judgement on our conduct, so that we know precisely where we stand in the sight of God, and are in a position to accept His judgement upon us and thereby to partake of His forgiveness. On the other hand, they are intended to offer positive moral guidance for action, to those who have, in the words of the gospels, received the Kingdom of God.”

Paul, it seems viewed the Law of Christ as both propositional principles and personal example that stood as valid external signposts all of which are bounds for the operation of liberty and are concerned with the quality of direction of Christian liberty.

Now, up until this point, I have not mentioned anything about pneumatic guidance of the “Mind of Christ.” So what do we mean by the “Mind of Christ.” Because we have the Law of Christ, does this mean then that we don’t need ANY guidance via the Holy Spirit? It would seem that if we were to rely solely on the Law of Christ there would be nothing distinctly Christian about it. As a matter of fact, to do so would be more in line with Stocism. While, the Law of Christ is A DEFINITIVE factor in the direction of Christian liberty, it is not the most DISTINCTIVE factor which ACTUALLY produces the CHRISTIAN ethic. What is the most distinctive factor is the “Mind of Christ” through the activity of the Spirit at work in the believer without whom the principles of the Law of Christ remain remote and unattainable. If all we needed was the principles, then it would seem that all we have is religion. Thus, the Christian is ultimately guided by the Spirit if guidance and Christian life is to be truly Christian, John 16:12-15

Paul uses the word dokimazo–testing, determining, proving. Of this, Cullmann says:

“The working of the Holy Spirit shows itself chiefly in the “testing” (dokimazein), that is in the capacity of forming the correct Christian ethical judgment at each given moment, and specifically of forming it in connection with the knowledge of the redemptive process, in which indeed, the Holy Spirit is a decisive figure. This “testing” is the key to all New Testament ethics….Certainty of moral judgment in the concrete sense is in the last analysis the one great fruit that the Holy Spirit, this factor in redemptive history, produces in the individual man.”

Under the Old Covenant the individual was to “DETERMINE the things which are best being instructed out of the law” Rom 2:8, however, in the New Covenant the Christian is to “TEST all things” and “DETERMINE the things which are best” Phil 1:10 by reference to the working of the Holy Spirit in his life.” (Side note: There is a close proximity of the exhortations “test all things” 1 Thess. 5:21 and “quench not the Spirit” 1 Thess 5:19 End side note). Thus, Paul will exhort, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may DETERMINE what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

So guidance for Paul, will involve both “the Law of Christ” and “the Mind of Christ.” It is not productive of the Christian life if one is to stand alone. It is significant that both the Law of Christ and Spirit directed testing are joined together in the opening verses of Gal 6 and are subsumed under the broader heading of “walking in the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians stresses the Mind of Christ, but it also contains the reference to being “in-lawed” to Christ.” Thus, the “spiritual man” ie. the man who not only notes the principles and example of the Law of Christ but who also allows the Mind of Christ to make application to his ethical judgment at each given moment, “judges all things” 1 Cor 2:15. Such a person realizes that as he is guided by both the Law of Christ and the Mind of Christ” he need not worry about what men say for it is the “Lord who judges” 1 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 2:15, 2 Cor 10:7, Col 2:16. At the same time he will allow the same freedom of ethical decision for his fellow Christian. He may see his brother taking a different course of action, but as his brother so desires to act within the bounds of the Law of Christ and be guided by the Mind of Christ, he ultimately recognizes that it is “before his own Lord that he stands or falls” Rom 14:4, Rom 14 1Cor 2:5 and 2 Cor 5:10.

So. All of this, it seems, goes to show that we are not totally without guidance when it comes to ethical decision making. We have SOME EXTERNAL CRITERIA in helping to guide us in these things. This does not mean that we have to have complete exhaustive knowledge to cover every possible situation. But neither should it mean that those who hold to a “more principled” Christian ethic should be seen as either claiming exhaustive knowledge or being legalistic. What I’m seeking to do is to counter the pendulum swinging in the OTHER, OPPOSITE direction of merely Spirit guidance (along with an ethic of love) which can lead (though not necessarily so) into ethical relativism. Given this, I hope it is starting to shape up as to how one could be a Pharisee with a genuine heartfelt faith and in turn how Christians can follow a new Torah with a genuine heartfelt faith as well.

Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt 3

I want to begin where I left off from the last post. Essentially, the idea that I was trying to convey there was that one could be a Pharisee, attending to the law out of a heart felt and genuine faith-that not everything was formalism and externalism–that there could be a genuine love and “trust in” AND “obedience to God.”

Now, my point was not to say that one could be made righteous upon doing such works and therefore there is no need for a Messiah. The Messiah has come and for our BEING MADE RIGHTEOUS, the works of the law no longer apply.

However, in much recent theological literature what this has translated into is that because we have no need for the law in our being made right with God all we have to do is follow the Spirit (listening to that “still small voice”) in whatever situation we are in without ANY external criteria to follow. In other words, freedom in Christ means freedom from the domination of the Law which is to say that the Christian lives a life no longer under a detailed code which regulates each particular action but in the new life of the Spirit (a point that my buddy Randy was attempting to get across in one of his responses to my first post where he says that the Pharisees always asked “Why” to have perfect knowledge in order to know how to respond [live for God] in any given situation).

However, before commencing any further (I will deal with following the Spirit within the next couple of posts) I think it is needful that we recognize two strains in Pauline thought. As indicated above, one is the “indicative.” That is, the indicative is that we are “free ‘in’ Christ”–Christian liberty and the other is, the imperative–our part. Such that it would look something like this:

Indicative: “God is at work in the Christian’s life.”
Imperative: “Work out your own salvation.” Phil 2:12
Indicative: “You are ‘in’ Christ.”
Imperative: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom 13:14
Indicative: “dead to sin and alive to God ”
Imperative: “…consider yourself so to be…” Rom 6:11
Indicative: “Sin will have no dominion over you.”
Imperative: “…so do not permit sin to have dominion over you.” Rom 6:12-14
Indicative: “You are free from the law.”
Imperative: “…so stand fast.” Gal 5:1
Indicative: “You live by the Spirit.”
Imperative: “Walk by the Spirit.” Gal 5:25

It seems that one cannot separate the two for to do so, is a “satanic parody” as one scholar put it. And the question then arises as to what the relationship of the imperatives to the indicative are. Two points come to the fore. One is that the they are based in the fact of a new nature and the other is that they are motivated by love.

New Nature–In Romans 6 Paul says the Christian has become “a new creation” and out of this capacity Christians are exhorted to PRESENT THEMSELVES “as those alive from the dead.” (out of the actuality–‘hosei’ Rom 6). That is, Paul declares the very fact of the believer’s death to the old nature and his resurrection to the new ought to settle the question of his allegiance.

The same can be said of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Gal 5:19-24 where the contrast between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruits of the Spirit” points out the same emphasis of the changed nature as the basis for the acceptance and fulfillment of the Gospel imperatives. The word, “fruit” seems to have been deliberately chosen to suggest that the good deeds of the believer are characterized by a certainty spontaneity. That is, they are the natural outcome of a transformed nature rather than the laborious attempt to conform to an external code ie. again, not mere gruelling formalism or externalism.

Also, Luther’s translation of Rom 6 “presenting their bodies IN ORDER that you become holy” is probably more appropriately read in light of Rom 12 where Paul again urges his readers to present their bodies WITHOUT the idea that by so doing they gain a further degree of holiness but rather, that they thereby but respond to the mercies of God. Again, here, not a mere formalism but rather arising out of a “trust in” and “obedience to” dichotomy.

Motivated by Love-The imperatives find their motivation in the indicatives of the Gospel. That is, that Christian ethics is motivated by love and not impelled by the desire to gain righteous. In other words, Christian ethics has the character of works which doesn’t establish the relation of man to the Transcendental but rather it takes the form of OBEDIENCE to the One who has already established that relationship. For Paul, righteousness was already realized in Christ such that New Testament ethics–Gospel ethics is a “therefore-wherefore” ethic.

This should be a reminder to Christians who so many times, quote Philippians 2:12 which exhorts us to “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” but what they often neglect is that this verse starts off saying, “…as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now MUCH MORE in my absence…” assumes that the works of the Christian is to be under the caption obedience.

So there is a distinction between works in order to gain righteousness and works taking the form of obedience based on righteousness which ultimately lead Martin Luther to declare: “Our faith in Christ does not free us from works, but from false opinions about works.”

Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt. 2

Under King Solomon there was a mastery and unity over the land of Palestine. After his death, around 722 B.C., that unity was broken. The Northern Kingdom of Israel in which 10 of the 12 tribes consisted was conquered by Assyria and it is probable that those Hebrew people went into exile and/or became absorbed into the people with whom they dwelt. Essentially, they ceased being Jews.

In 586 B.C. the Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon. The Temple was destroyed, the rituals brought to an end and most of its inhabitants were taken into captivity. Questions that had befallen the Northern Kingdom would now be the same for the Southern Kingdom. Would Judah give way to the seductions of the surrounding alien culture? Would she become assimilated and absorbed into it? However they survived, one thing seems sure, the people maintained their identity through the Law.

The religious leaders of Jewry by and large realized that Israel could attain a separate entity and keep it that way only on a religious basis. As a result, the synagogue, the place where the Law would be read and studied came into being and the scribe or the instructor came to the fore in the community. And it is over against this background that Pharisaism is to be understood. That is, out of the fires of exile, a people were pledged to a life of conformity to the revealed will of their God made known in Law.

Most scholars derive the term Pharisee from the Hebrew word, “parush” meaning “separated” or “isolated.” The question then arises, “Separated from whom or from what?” One theory says, that this separation is from the nations based on Ezra 6:21–“So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbours in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel.” However, the term Pharisee does not appear at all in Ezra and though the idea of Pharisaism is beginning to come into being, it is not fully explicit.

A second more acceptable theory is that separation was from the later period of the second century B.C. in which Jewry was in a struggle against Greek culture that was being forcefully imposed on it by Antiochus Epiphanes

However, though the idea of separation is prominent among scholars, the question as noted above arose as to whom this applied too. Was it to the whole community, the people of Israel or was it applied to a separate group?

Though some scholars have pointed out that it applied to the whole community, the reason this was so was because it was thought that the whole community itself struggled against the priests who claimed to be the SOLE interpreters of the law they (the community) thought that ALL who obeyed the law could interpret it as well. The bottom-line though for most scholars is that the term referred to a group or sect and that it is probable, that the separation was from some furious political nationalism which marked the emergence of the Pharisees as a distinct party.

Now, though Pharisaism connoted the idea of separation, that is only the negative side to it. The positive side was that Pharisaical saintliness demanded obedience to the commandments–a submission to the yoke of the Law. As noted in my comments in the previous post (and I will say more about this later) this was not always some mere formalism or externalism and at this point one should begin to wonder about not only the caricature of the Pharisee as has been portrayed throughout most of Christendom, but should also cause us to pause and reflect upon our own spirituality–about our own “walk with the Lord”—about our own separation, consecration and obedience to the God. Jesus tell his disciples that their obedience should out do the righteousness of the Pharisees, but one has to wonder if the Pharisees obedience is out doing ours. If God has told us not to bear false witness against our neighbour, should we not be OBLIGATED to reconsider the witness that we have assented to and scrape the barnacles off?