Sunday, August 10, 2008
W's commentary on Romans, 2
Regarding chapter 2:17-3.20 Dr. Witherington writes on page 98, in his "bridging the horizons" section:
"There is a trap in focusing on Paul's insistence on a Law-free Gospel, the trap of cheap grace. Paul is not encouraging lawlessness by making clear that Christians are not under the Mosaic law and covenant. Indeed he will argue that Christians are under the Law of Christ. The issue here, however, is not only how one obtains right standing with God (by grace through faith), but also one's attitude and approach to the Word of God when it has been entrusted to believers as a gift. Paul's theology is that a gift never becomes a possession in the sense of something one can do with as one pleases. The Word of God, including the Law, was entrusted to Israel as a gift, and therefore there could be no ground for boasting. A gift is not an accomplishment or achievement."
I notice that Dr. Witherington writes very often about the "Law of Christ". I've never heard so much about the "Law of Christ" except from my friends and neighbors who are of the Mormon persuasion. Did the Mormons get Christ as lawgiver from the Methodists?
Dr. Martin Luther has Christ as an interpreter of the law, not a new law giver. When Witherington says that when Paul is writing against the law, he means the "Mosaic law", because now there is a new law, the Law of Christ--I have my alarm bells ringing. The question remains: what does it mean that Christ is the end of the law, and yet sometimes we hear about the law of Christ?
The way one of my professors and Bible study teachers, Dr. Russ Nelson, (also a famous biblical scholar) explains the change in the law from the OT to the NT is that there were, for one thing, several types of law. There is not just this overarching "Mosaic" law. There was the law that applied to the running of the ancient nation of Israel. That does not apply to us. There is the sacrificial and ceremonial law, which does not apply in the NT after Christ's death and resurrection. But there is also the moral law and the Decalogue, which is timeless and generally known instinctively also by the heathen. This moral law remains. In my understanding "Christ's law" is an interpretation/explanation of this moral law. It is not a "new" law, per se. The essence of the law has been and still is the love of God and neighbor. Paul does give specific instructions to the churches that would be expressions of morality, loving behaviour, as well as other instructions for good order for the times and location.
Christ is chiefly our Redeemer and thus: the "end of the law". The law will not reign in our consciences and terrify us any more. The Gospel, the good news, will reign, instead. It will make us glad to serve Christ and fellow man. If we mix the law into this, we do not have any Gospel. So yes, we need always insist on and focus on having a Law-free Gospel.
The text says quite clearly what the law does in the conscience: "But we know that whatever the Law says it speaks to those under the Law, in order that all mouths might be stopped and all the world be held guilty before God. Therefore, no one, from works of the law, will be declared righteous, from among all humans before him, for through the Law we become conscious of sin."
Dr. W. brings up "cheap grace". I guess, we can get that from Paul's question " 'Do evil so good may come?' The judgment of them is deserved." Of course, no one is saying that one should do evil so good would come of it. I don't know who would teach such a thing. Is the Augustinian/Lutheran/Calvinist way of thinking promoting cheap grace, according to W? He is not saying that. But I feel, he may be thinking/implying it. That would be a misrepresentation. He is not simply warning that there can be a danger with the Law-free Gospel. He says "there is a trap." Does he mean that focusing on the Law-free Gospel is definitely a trap?
Ok, so far my thoughts on that. I will add a quote from Luther here that shows how he handles justification and law keeping for the Christian. They must be carefully distinguished and separated as not to nullify the Gospel, and make Christ's suffering superfluous. From the commentary to letter to the Galatians (Luther’s works, volume 26, commentary on Galatians, p. 137):
” ‘ But the Law is good, righteous, and holy.’ Very well! But when we are involved in a discussion of justification, there is no room for speaking about the Law. The question is what Christ is and what blessing He has brought us. Christ is not the law; He is not my work or that of the Law; he is not my love or that of the law; He is not my chastity, obedience, or poverty. But He is the Lord of life and death, the Mediator and Savior of sinners, the Redeemer of those who are under the Law. By faith we are in Him and He is in us (John 6:56). This Bridegroom, Christ, must be alone with his bride in His private chamber, and all the family and household must be shunted away. But later on, when the Bridegroom opens the door and comes out, then let the servants return to take care of them and serve them food and drink. Then let works and love begin.
… Victory over sin and death does not come by the works of the Law or by our will; therefore it comes by Jesus Christ, alone. Here we are perfectly willing to have ourselves called ’sola fideists’ by our opponents, who do not understand anything of Paul’s argument. You who are to be the consolers of consciences that are afflicted, should teach this doctrine diligently, study it continually, and defend it vigorously...”
But we do make a distinction here; and we say that we are not disputing now whether good works ought to be done. Nor are we inquiring whether the law is good, holy, and righteous, or whether it ought to be observed; FOR THAT IS ANOTHER TOPIC (my emphasis). But our argument and questions concerns justification and whether the law justifies. Our opponents do not listen to this. They do not answer this question, nor do they distinguish as we do. All they do is to scream that good works ought to be done and that the law ought to be observed. ALL RIGHT, WE KNOW THAT. (my emphasis). But because these are distinct topics, we will not permit them to be confused. In due time we shall discuss the teaching that the law and good works ought to be done.”