SBL Review (4): Paul and the Law in 1 Corinthians
- Discussion on Paul and the Law focuses in on just two letters: Romans and Galatians. It’s easy to see why: it plays a far bigger part in the shape of those letters (if Law in Romans and Galatians is a character, in 1 Corinthians, it’s a prop).
- The main question in view with Paul and the Law is why he has such a negative view of it. Paul’s letters evince both positive appropriations and negative critiques of the Law: does the gospel katargeō the Law? Yes, according to Eph 2:15; no, according to Rom 3:31.
- But Paul is negative about the Law in certain ways, and positive about it in other ways: he repudiates it as a law code, and reappropriates it as wisdom and as prophecy.
- So: what would Paul’s view of the law look like, if all we had was 1 Corinthians? Paul reads the law in 1 Cor in three ways.
1) Negative critique: Law as law-code or covenant (7:19; 9:20; 15:56). The threefold distinction in the law (moral, civil, ceremonial) is anachronistic, and it also doesn’t work (muzzling the ox is a “civil” law with a “moral” application, for instance). Paul does not call unbelievers to obey the Law.
2) Positive appropriation: wise instruction for living. 9:10, the Law of Moses was written di hēmas. 10:1-12, Paul talks about “our fathers” and proceeds to show how relevant Israel’s story is to the lives of the Corinthians, specifically with reference to idolatry; he explicitly states that these things were written for our instruction (nouthesia), a word which only appears in the LXX in Wis 16:6, and the verb form of which (noutheteō) he uses in conjunction with wisdom (Col 1:28; 3:16). In that sense, Paul internalises the law, and reflects on it in light of the moral order of creation, the character of God, and of course Christ. This is also behind the infamous “women must be silent, as the Law also says” in 14:34-35.
3) Positive appropriation: Law as prophecy of the gospel. 1 Cor 15:3-4: Christ died for our sins and rose “according to the scriptures.” The “for our sins” may echo the suffering servant, and also the Psalms which speak of vindication of the righteous sufferer. “The scriptures”, when used in the plural, includes the Law of Moses. And Paul also regards Gen 2:7 as prophetic in 15:42-49.
(On top of repudiation and reappropriation, there is also replacement, of course.)
- Brian’s analysis is “almost entirely convincing ... I’ve been hard-pressed to find any major areas of disagreement.”
- But: what is Paul doing when he says that keeping the commandments of God is what counts (7:19)? Surely Paul is referring to some body of teaching that Christians ought to keep, rather than (as Rosner has it) a polemic. Aren’t the commandments the Lord’s own instructions (e.g. on divorce, 7:10-11, and on the Lord’s Supper, 11:23-26)? Did Cephas not transgress the law of Christ - love of neighbour - when he separated from Gentiles (Gal 2)?
- “Fulfil” is a way of saying “obey” in eschatologicalese. Does Paul regard “the law of Christ” as a combination of the teaching of Jesus and a reinterpretation of the Mosaic Law?