Discussion broke out on a message board recently about Christians keeping the law. This began as the attempt of skeptics to make yet another silly Bible contradiction. They point out that only Paul says Grace is in for the Christian and law is out. No other NT writers back Paul on this subject. Thus the Christian has been sold a bill of goods by a Pauline reformation and has missed the boat by not keeping the law. Yes this argument raises a good point.. There must be more to law than just rule keeping. The skeptic's motive to boil down soeteriology to a squabble between those who want a sort of "cheap grace" (no effort just beilef) vs. legalistic rule keepers, is the work of legalistic rule keepers. What they are missing is that in graduating to the higher level of conceptual morality, where one outgrows the rule keeping phase and comes to internalize moral concepts, this is actually the "end" of the law, its fulfillment of which Christ speaks.
Grace and law are not opposed. What is in opposition is the spirit of the law vs the letter of the laww ("the letter kills but the Spirit gives life" as Paul says). The idea that merit as defined by one's rule keeping acity vs Grace, defined as unmerited favor, these are the true oppositions; legalism vs anomianism. But the true understanding of God's law is never opposed to the true understanding of Grace. Jesus was all over this stuff. This is the heart of what makes his message so on point for any age. As the Lord himself said "which of you if your ox is in the ditch on the sabbath will not pull him out. But a human is worth more than an ox." So he's saying the spirit of the law is the point, the law is made to help us. Rule keeping is just a facilitation device that we outgrow when we find the power of God in our lives.
Now let's examine some passages, and let's see if it is true that Only Paul undertands Grace.
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath." 3 He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread--which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that one greater than the temple is here.
Priests break the law and it's ok. David borke it, it's ok.
7 If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
what's this? the son of man is more important than the law, how could that be?
9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" 11 He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." 13 Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.
he does good on the sabbath rather than keep the law. This is saying the spriit of the law is more important than the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is love it is helping people.
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 "Teacher,
which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord
your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38
This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love
your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two
The law is predicated upon love. All the law is fuflilled in love, that's the spirit of the law and it's more important than the letter of the law.
Mat 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Mat 7:21 Not
every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of
heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not
prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name
done many wonderful works?
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto
them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
7:24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will
liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
Noice he doesn't say "keep the law." He says whoever does what my commands, but does that mean the law of Moses? Of course not. Not according to the previous passage where he breaks the to prove that it's more important to do the spirit of the. The law is predicated upon love. He tells us in the same Gospel that upon the twin principles of love God and love neighbor the whole law and prophets (pretty much covers God's whole revlation) are predicated. ie the predication of the law is love.
37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with
him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee, noticing that
Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. 39 Then the Lord said
to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but
inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the
one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give what is inside the
dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. 42 "Woe to you
Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of
garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have
practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. 43 "Woe to you
Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and
greetings in the marketplaces. 44 "Woe to you, because you are like unmarked
graves, which men walk over without knowing it." 45 One of the experts in the
law answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also." 46
Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people
down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one
finger to help them. 47 "Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets,
and it was your forefathers who killed them. 48 So you testify that you approve
of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their
tombs. 49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets
and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.' 50
Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the
prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood
of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the
sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
52 "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to
knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were
entering." 53 When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law
began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54 waiting to
catch him in something he might say.
see doing the law doesnt' save you. It's the inner motive that count not just keeping rules. The rule keepers were hypocrites. Those who only focus on the rules are only giving heed to the outer life of the individual not the basic movies of life, they are missing the boat.
1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he
was being carefully watched. 2 There in front of him was a man suffering from
dropsy. 3 Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, "Is it lawful to
heal on the Sabbath or not?" 4 But they remained silent. So taking hold of the
man, he healed him and sent him away. 5 Then he asked them, "If one of you has a
son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately
pull him out?" 6 And they had nothing to say.
he breaks the law to heal and make better.The spirit of the law over the letter. Moving on from Chist to the writers of the NT. James is suppossed to be the ant-Paul right? surely James will say to keep the law, or does he?
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who
looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and
immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into
the perfect law that gives
freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he
has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone
considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he
deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father
accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their
distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
what's this now? What law is liberty? Since when does perfect religion amount to helping widows and orphans? Surely he should say perfect religion is keeping the rules. Why didn't he say that? Because he had been listening to that renigade brother of his who said love is the spirit of the law and that helping people is more improtant than keeping the rules.
8 If you really keep the royal law found in
Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing
Here he agrees with what Jesus says that the law is predicated upon
love and love and helping people is more important than rules.
So here we see it defined before our eyes on the page. This "royal law" is not the law of Moses, not the purity laws, not keeping Kosher, but the predication of the law, the law of love. Love is the background of the moral universe (Augistine) and the predication of all divine revelation (Jesus of Nazareth).
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right.
Here we see it defined again, and this time he tells us "this is right." He doesnt' say rule keeping is the thing to do, he says loving is the thing to do.
9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. 12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
So doing Jesus comands and keeping the the law Jesus style is defined as loving your neighbor as yourself, not keeping a list of rules.
Now we move to Acts where something amazing happens. The whole church council says Gentile Christians will not be burdened with the purity rituals of the law. This is extraordinary and contradicts the skeptical argument that only Paul says Christians are not under law.
5But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses.__________________
Act 15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
Act 15:7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men [and] brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
Act 15:8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as [he did] unto us;
Act 15:9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.
Act 15:10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
Act 15:11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
Act 15:12 Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.
Act 15:13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men [and] brethren, hearken unto me:
Act 15:14 Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
Act 15:15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
Act 15:16 After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up:
Act 15:17 That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.
Act 15:18 Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.
Act 15:19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
Act 15:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and [from] fornication, and [from] things strangled, and [from] blood.
Act 15:21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Act 15:22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; [namely], Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:
Act 15:23 And they wrote [letters] by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren [send] greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:
Act 15:24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, [Ye must] be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no [such] commandment:
Act 15:25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Act 15:26 Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Act 15:27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell [you] the same things by mouth.
Act 15:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
Act 15:29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
Act 15:30 So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle:
Act 15:31 [Which] when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.
Act 15:32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed [them].
So the law, with circumcism and all was not laid upon the gentiles. It was not Paul saying this but the whole chruch council including James.
One of the skeptics linked to a website .(Pascal's Wager) which is really an anti-apologist site. On this site the anti-apologist argues that this council's decision only mirrors Rabbinical notions about the sons of Noah which were used as rules for "God fearer" Gentiles so that they could be "right" with God without having to be actual converts to Judaism.
This view is hardly unbiased, since the whole purpose of the site is to find problems with the Bible. I've looked at the stie before I find it is loaded with historical inaccuracies. For example, in this article "James the Jew" his ultimate objective is to show that Jame's view were not so different from those of Jesus and even Paul, and he takes that in the direction of arguing that the notion of "Judaizers" was false. First of all, the NT doesn't say there were that many Judaizers. I think Gnosticism was a bigger problem frankly. But his historical innacuracy is in assuming that James had the only Jewish Christian faction or that James was in full control. Yes, he was Jesus' brother and he was head of the chruch in Jerusalem, but he was not Jesus. There were other Jewish factions that were more hardline. Just a few decades latter these would emerge as the Ebionites and the Elkassites both of whom conmened Paul as the anti-Christ.
Secondly, the whole issue he blows out of proportion.His basic argument is useless.He says the council rulilng is like Rabbinical rulings concerning the sons of Noah, whereby Gentiles "God fearers" can follow a minimal version of the law without really having to follow the whole." It seems as though he, like most legalists, is stuck he rule keeping phase of moral development and he doens't understand what it means to move on to the higher level of conceptual development.See Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development.
Law can be looked upon as a set of rules, or it can be understood in a higher sense as a system of concepts. The rule keeper looks at the conceptualist and says "O he must hate the law and want to destroy it because they aren't into rule keeping." The rule keeper can't understand the concept of keeping the spirit of the rules without keeping the letter of the rules. The conceptualist can only shake his head and sigh and think "well maybe the little guy will out grow it." This is the difference in law, and mere rule keeping.
Those who think they have a fatal blow to Christian concepts of Grace imagine that Grace is oppossed to the law. Such people need to get a copy of Karl Barth's Commentary on Romans and read Romans over and over and over and read Barth over and over.
The Jewish sons of Noah law is not saying that Gentiles have to follow the law. As James said if you don't follow one aspect of the law you miss it all. If you break one law you break the whole law. So there can't be a minimalized version of it. But what he Rabbis understood and what Jesus understood and what the Apostles finally understood is that the law is a set of rules but thsoe ruels are made to faciliate concepts. If the concepts are fufilled apart from the rules the law is not broken or cheated, it's fulfilled.
Thus it matter not at all that the council was doing the sons of Noah thing, they were Jews after all. they were not putting Christians under law and they were not saying salvation is not by Grace or that we don't need the law, they are both saying the same thing. Grace is the fuifllment of the law. Grace is not opossed to law.
The legalist is oppossed to law because he reduced the concept of the law to mere rule keeping, which is lower