Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.
Professor of Theology, Andrews University
Dear Members of the Endtime Issues Newsletter:
This newsletter comes to you as a surprise. Undoubtedly you were expecting the third installment of "The Bible and Alcohol." Instead you are receiving my review of Elder Will Eva's article, "Why the Seventh Day?" which appears in the September 1999 issue of Ministry. You may be wondering, What happened? Let me explained it to you briefly.
Last Sabbath, September 4, 1999, I was finally home after having been away for a dozen of weekend seminars. On Sabbath afternoon I sat in the family room next to a pile of church papers I intended to read or scan. I began with the latest issue of Ministry that just arrived in the morning. For those unfamiliar, Ministry is the international journal of the Seventh-day Adventist Ministerial Association. My attention was immediately caught by the editorial viewpoint "Why the Seventh Day?," written by Elder Will Eva, the editor of the magazine. This is a two parts article, the first of which appeared in July.
The 9 pages article offers compelling Biblical arguments that refute the recent attacks against the Sabbath, especially by former Adventists. Overall the article does a very good job in exposing the fallacies of the anti-Sabbath arguments. My critique of a section of the article should not be interpreted as a negative reflection on the article as a whole, which I highly recommend. Nor should my analysis be seen as a personal attack against Elder Eva, a personal friend whom I highly respect.
My concern is solely to examine Elder Eva's interpretation of the relationship between Christ and the law. I view myself as a Biblical scholar and I am not in the business of attacking people but to examine what the Bible teaches in vital areas of our beliefs and practices. It is in this spirit that I present this review, which I hope will encourage a healthy dialogue. If Elder Eva finds time to respond, I plan to post his response, so that we can all benefit from this dialogue.
Eva's interpretation of the impact of Christ's coming on the role of the law, including the Ten Commandments, deserves careful consideration, because it departs from the traditional Adventist position. If Eva's interpretation is right, then our Adventist church needs to do some serious rethinking. On the other hand, if our Adventist position is right, then Eva needs to do some rethinking himself. Incidentally, there is nothing wrong with rethinking our Biblical interpretations. I have done it many times through the years. It is just part of growing into a fuller understanding of God's revealed truths.
In view of the fact that this review already exceeds the 50K limit of my newsletters, I will dispense this time with the update report on recent Sabbath/Sunday developments. God willing, I plan to mail you my next newsletter on September 14, that is, the day before I leave for the Australian lecture tour. In the next newsletter I will post the third installment of our study on "The Bible and Alcohol," as well as some encouraging news about Sabbath developments in China. After the next newsletter, you will not hear from me again until about October 20. This may give you some extra time to catch up with the reading of my lengthy documents. Thank you again to all of you for promoting this newsletter which now has over 7000 subscribers.
A REVIEW OF WILL EVA'S ARTICLE "WHY THE SEVENTH DAY?"
In the July and September 1999 issues of Ministry, Will Eva, the editor of the magazine, presents a most important two parts editorial viewpoint entitled: "Why the Seventh Day?" The article provides a fresh response to evangelical Christians and especially former Adventists pastors and Bible teachers who recently have adopted the so-called "New Covenant Theology," that negates the continuity and validity of the Sabbath for Christians today. Their fundamental claim is that the Sabbath is a Mosaic institution given to the Jews as part of the Old Covenant. Its function was to typify the redemption rest fulfilled by Christ at His coming. Consequently New Testament believers no longer need to observe the Sabbath literally by resting on the seventh day, because they can experience the salvation-rest every day.
Eva's article caught my attention because I devoted much of 1998 to write my latest book The Sabbath Under Crossfire which examines the same recent attacks against the Sabbath. Within the space limitations of 9 pages, Eva offers a compelling refutation of the major arguments used to reduce the Sabbath to an Old Covenant institution. My overall appraisal of the article is favorable, especially since Eva rightly shows in the last part of the article that a careful reading of the Sabbath material of the Gospels reveals that Christ's provocative method of Sabbathkeeping, was designed not to terminate its observance, but to liberate the day from "the encrustations and oppressive legalisms that some of the tradition-bound religious leaders of His day had placed in and around the Sabbath."1
My critique focuses on Eva's interpretation of how Paul and the New Testament understand the relationship between Jesus and the Law. This topic is addressed in the second and most important part of the article. In my view, Eva's interpretation alarming, not only because it lacks Biblical support, but also because indirectly it plays into the camp of anti-sabbatarians who argue that Christ's coming introduced fresh moral principles which replace the OT law in general and the Sabbath in particular. Eva rejects the "replacement view," suggesting instead that Christ coming altered the role of the law, by introducing fresh moral and ethical definitions. For most people the difference between replacing and altering the function of the law, is relative.
The purpose of this review is NOT to discredit the thrust of the article as a whole, which is I find to be very positive, nor do I wish to undermine the credibility of Eva himself, a personal friend whom I greatly respect. Rather, my aim is solely to examine Eva's interpretation of how the coming of Jesus impacted the role of the law for His followers. It will soon become evident that the issues at stake have enormous implications for the Adventist understanding of the perpetuity of the law.
A dialogue such as this seldom occurs in our Adventist church. We seem to be afraid to examine critically studies published by colleagues, least this be interpreted as a personal attack. Experience has taught me that ideological differences can engender considerable personal animosity. I hope that this will not be the case this time. It is the hallmark of Christian maturity to be able to discuss differing view points without becoming disagreeable or hostile to one another. It is in this spirit that I submit this review.
In view of the importance of a correct understanding of the relationship between Jesus and the law, I decided to share this review with the 7000 plus subscribers to my bi-weekly ENDTIME ISSUES NEWSLETTER. My aim is not merely to review Eva's article, but primarily to present the findings of my research on this crucial subject. If Eva finds time to respond, I will certainly post his response in our newsletter. I welcome the opportunity of an open and friendly dialogue on this crucial topic that affects our Adventist understanding of the perpetuity of God's moral law.
EVA'S UNDERSTANDING OF THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN JESUS AND THE LAW
It will be helpful to state at the outset Eva's understanding of the relationship between Jesus and the law. Fortunately, he expresses his views with enviable clarity. In summing up his interpretation of Galatians 3 and Romans 7, he says: "The decisive message . . . [of these passages] is not merely that the role of the law, including the Ten Commandments, has been altered by the coming of Christ, the Seed, but a fresh center of moral or ethical definition has been introduced-not now a written code, but the living Word Himself. Paul's point is not the actual setting aside of the moral law or any part of it, but through the Christ event, a far more complete, definitive and effective rendering of all that is true and right (gospel and law) in the person of Jesus Christ Himself."2
In this statement Eva says that "the role of the law, including the Ten Commandments, has been altered by the coming of Christ."3 He defines the altering as the introduction of "a fresh center of moral or ethical definition," which is "a far more complete, definitive and effective rendering of all that is true and right."4 This statement caught my attention because in all my studies of the relationship between Christ and the law, I have never found indications in the New Testament that Christ's coming "altered" in some way the function of the law.5
Eva contends that "historically, Adventists have not grasped this watershed reality. Thus they have suffered from the permeating fear that if the Ten Commandments are 'removed,' then nothing will be left to govern human behavior, including the matter of worshipping on the seventh day. Meanwhile, what Paul is saying is that since Messiah's arrival, discipline and guidance have been established on a front better than that of even the Ten Commandments, and that front is nothing less than the definitive person of the Lawgiver Himself"6
The same view is restated two paragraphs later. "The point is that under the 'old covenant' the ethical and moral emphasis was on the validity of the written code, the law. Since the arrival of Jesus the emphasis has shifted to the divine, definitive person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the giver of the law in the first place."7
Simply stated, Eva contends that Paul teaches that Christ's coming has "altered" "the role of the law, including the Ten Commandments," by introducing "a fresh center of moral and ethical definition." The alteration allegedly consists in the fact that Christ established "discipline and guidance . . . on a front better than that of even the Ten Commandments."8
These statements greatly surprise me for two reasons. First, because in my studies of Paul's view of the law, to which I devoted the longest chapter in The Sabbath Under Crossfire, I do not find any indication that Christ's coming has altered the function of the law by providing a fresh moral definitions or principles allegedly "better than that of even the Ten Commandments."
Second, I was surprised because to a large extent this is the view espoused by the so-called "New Covenant Theology," recently adopted by some former Adventist pastors, Bible teachers, and fellow believers. They have rejected the continuity and value of Sabbathkeeping for today, because they believe that Christ's coming terminated the Old Covenant based on laws, of which the Sabbath was a distinguishing sign, and inaugurated the New Covenant based on new moral principles of love, of which Lord's Supper is a remembrance sign.
Obviously Eva rejects such radical interpretation of the alleged break between the Old and New Covenants brought about by Christ's coming, but he accepts the notion Christ's coming has altered the role of the law, by introducing "a fresh center of moral and ethical definition" which is "far more complete, definitive, and effective"9 than even the Ten Commandments. I am concerned about this view, not only because I find it devoid of Biblical support, but also indirectly it supports the anti-sabbatarians propaganda that is troubling our Adventist church today.
I dare to predict that our Sabbath critics will be only too glad to capitalize on Eva's statements which they will twist to support their cause. They will argue that even the editor of Ministry acknowledges that Christ's coming has altered the role of the law by introducing more complete and definitive moral principles. They will appeal to these statements to justify their antithesis between the Old and new Covenants, an antithesis which Eva rejects. There is no reason to support, albeit indirectly, the anti-sabbatarian cause by proposing a distinction between Christ and the law which does not exist in the New Testament.
My concern is not over the fact that Eva departs from the traditional Adventist understanding of the relationship between Christ and the law. We ought to commend anyone who is committed to define the teachings of Scripture, irrespective of traditional denominational positions. On few occasions I myself have departed from some historical Adventist interpretations which in my view cannot be legitimately defended by Scripture. Rather, what concerns me is the fact that Eva's contention that "historically Adventists have not grasped this watershed reality," namely, that Christ's coming altered "the role of the law, including the Ten Commandments" is based on a unilateral interpretation of few selected passages, which distort the broader and more balanced view found in Paul's letters and the rest of the New Testament.
The Issue at Stake. The issue at stake can be stated as follows: Do Paul and the New Testament really teach that "the role of the law, including the Ten Commandments, has been altered by the coming of Christ" who provides "a far more complete, definitive, and effective" revelation of the moral principles by which we ought to live? Did the coming of Christ shift the ethical moral emphasis from "the validity of the written code" to "the divine, definite person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself"?10
The answer to these questions is "NO!" In the New Testament there is no dichotomy between the moral principles contained in the Ten Commandments and those revealed by Christ Himself. Christ's coming does not alter the role of the law by introducing a fresh revelation of moral principles by which to live. Rather, Christ came and labored to clarify through His teachings and ministry how to live out the love principles embodied in God's law, especially the Ten Commandments.
Eva works out his interpretation of the New Testament view of the relationship between Christ and the law, primarily on the basis of Galatians 3:19-25, which he cross-references with Romans 7:4-14. He interprets Paul's reference to the law being "our custodian" until the coming of Christ (Gal 3:24), as meaning that with the coming of Christ "the law had come to maturity and complete fulfillment in Jesus Christ."11 (p. 4). The law in question for Eva includes the Ten Commandments. He writes: "Paul includes the Ten Commandments in his teaching in Galatians 3."12
The few selected Pauline texts used by Eva to sustain his thesis, hardly do justice to the overall teachings of Paul and of the New Testament regarding the relationship between Christ and the law. This is the problem I have encountered constantly in dealing with the anti-sabbatarian literature-especially the material produced by former sabbatarians, like Dale Ratzlaff. They use the Bible in a "cafeteria style," selecting those few texts that support their views, and ignoring those which contradict them.
Responsible Biblical scholarship takes into consideration all the Biblical passages relevant to the topic under investigation. To define Paul's view of the relationship between Christ and the law primarily on the basis of some negative statements about the law found in Galatians 3:23-25, means to ignore the many positive statements which helps us to put Paul's teaching on the nature of the law in a more balanced perspective.
Paul's Treatment of the Law Varies. Before we examine Eva's interpretation of Galatians 3:19-25, it is important to remember that Paul's treatment of the law varies in his letters, depending on the situation he was facing. Brice Martin makes this important point in concluding his scholarly dissertation Christ and the Law in Paul. "In his letters Paul has faced varied situations. In writing to the Galatians he tends to downplay the law because of their attempts to be saved by means of it. In 1 Corinthians he stresses the law and moral values since he is facing an antinomian front. In Romans he gives a carefully balanced statement and assures his readers that he is not an antinomian."13
In his article on "St. Paul and the Law," published in the Scottish Journal of Theology, C. E. Cranfield offers a similar warning. Referring to Galatians, he writes: "To fail to make full allowance for the special circumstances which called forth the letter would be to proceed in a quite uncritical and unscientific manner. In view of what has been said, it should be clear that it would be extremely unwise to take what Paul says in Galatians as one's starting point in trying to understand Paul's teaching on the Law."14
It is unfortunate that this is exactly what Eva does in taking Galatians 3 as the starting point to understand Paul's view of the law. The result is that he comes up with the view that Christ's coming "has altered" "the role of the law, including the Ten Commandments" by introducing "a fresh center of moral and ethical definition."15 A balanced study of Paul's teachings shows otherwise. The function of Christ's coming was not to "alter" the role of the law, but to clarify its divine intent and to enable believers to live out in their lives the principles of God's law. To these points we shall return later.
A DOUBLE CONCEPT OF THE LAW
A balanced study of Paul's teachings on the law indicates, as several studies have shown, that Paul has a "double concept" of the law, "sometimes saying that it is good and has been fulfilled in Christ and sometimes that it is bad and has been abolished in Christ."16
An Apparent Tension. In Ephesians 2:15, Paul speaks of the law as having been "abolished" by Christ, while in Romans 3:31 he explains that justification by faith in Jesus Christ does not overthrow the law but "establishes" it. In Romans 7:6, he states that "now we are discharged from the law," while a few verses later he writes that "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (7:12).
In Romans 10:4, Paul writes that "Christ is the end of the law" while in chapter 8:3-4, he explains that Christ came "in the likeness of sinful flesh . . . in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us." In Romans 3:28, he maintains that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law," yet in 1 Corinthians 7:19 he states that "neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." In 2 Corinthians 3:7 Paul designates the law as "the dispensation of death" while in Romans 3:2 he views it as part of the "oracles of God" entrusted to the Jews.
A Resolution of the Tension. Responsible Biblical scholarship must attempt to reconcile Paul's apparently contradictory statements about the law. One must ask, How can Paul view the law both as "abolished" (Eph 2:15) and "established" (Rom 3:31), unnecessary (Rom 3:28) and necessary (1 Cor 7:19; Eph 6:2, 3; 1 Tim 1:8-10)?
A popular explanation has been to say that Paul's negative statements refer to the Mosaic, ceremonial law, while the positive ones refer to the moral law of the Ten Commandments. Such an explanation, however, is based on an arbitrary distinction between moral and ceremonial laws which is seldom found in Paul's writings.
The correct explanation is to be found in the different contexts in which Paul speaks of the law. When he speaks of the law in the context of salvation (justification-right standing before God), he clearly affirms that law-keeping is of no avail (Rom 3:20). The reason is that the law was never intended to function as a way of salvation, but to reveal sin and point to the need of a Savior.
On the other hand, when Paul speaks of the law in the context of Christian conduct (sanctification-right living before God), then he maintains the value and validity of God's law (Rom 7:12; 13:8-10; 1 Cor 7:19). For example, when Paul speaks of the various forms of human wickedness in 1 Timothy 1:8-10, he explicitly affirms "now we know that the law is good" (v. 8). The law "is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12) because its ethical demands reflect nothing else than the very holiness, righteousness, and goodness of God Himself. This means that the way people relate to the law is indicative of the way they relate to God Himself.
The Christian, then, is under the law as a revelation of God's ethical standards for his life, but he is not under the law as a method of salvation. Paul rejects the law as a method of salvation but upholds it as a standard for Christian conduct.
CHRIST AND THE LAW
Did Paul teach that the coming of Christ "altered" the function of the law, including the Ten Commandments, by introducing "a far more complete, definitive, and effective rendering of all that is true and right"?17 There is no question that Christ's teachings and ministry clarified and magnified the love principles embodied in the Ten Commandments. For example, Christ explained that the sixth commandment can be transgressed not only by murdering a person but also by being angry and insulting a fellow being (Matt 5:22-23). The seventh commandment can be violated not only by committing adultery but also by looking lustfully at a woman (Matt 5:28).
Christ spent even more time clarifying how the principle of love is embodied in the Fourth Commandment. The Gospels report no less than seven Sabbath-healing episodes used by Jesus to clarify that the essence of Sabbathkeeping is people to love and not rules to obey. Jesus explained that the Sabbath is a day "to do good" (Matt 12:12), a day "to save life" (Mark 3:4), a day to liberate men and women from physical and spiritual bonds (Luke 13:12), a day to show mercy rather than religiosity (Matt 12:7).
Christ's efforts to clarify and demonstrate the true intent of God's commandments can hardly be described as "altering" the function of the law, or as establishing a "discipline and guidance . . . on a front better than that of even the Ten Commandments."18 Christ coming did not alter the function of God's law, but revealed its true meaning, and enables believers to fulfill its requirements.
Eva expresses the same view when he speaks of "the magnification of the law in Christ."19
He writes: "Jesus did not negate law. In his life and person, He simply gave the written code its fullest expression, thus confirming and affirming it, while at the same time He placed its principles on a higher plane than they had been placed at Sinai."20 By giving "the written code its fullest expression," Christ hardly altered the function of the law. He simply revealed its divine intent. The Supreme Court does not alter the law when interpreting it in connection with specific cases. Perhaps Eva may wish to reconsider the use of the term "altered" and the concepts connected with it, because they contradict his later statements that Christ "gave the written code its fullest expression, thus confirming and affirming it."
Did Christ, as Eva says, place the principles of God's law "on a higher plane than they had been placed at Sinai."?21 At Sinai God revealed His moral principles in the context of His divine deliverance. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex 20:2). Does not Christ also place His call to obey the moral principles of God's law in the context of His deliverance from the bondage of sin? It is in the context of His gracious deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and of sin, that God invites His people at Sinai and at the Cross to obey His commandments.
To appreciate more fully the relationship between Christ and the law, let us take a closer look at how Paul defines such a relationship.
Christ Enables Believers to Obey the Law. For Paul, an important function of Christ's redemptive mission is not to alter the function of the law, but to enable believers to live out the principles of God's law in their lives. Paul explains that in Christ, God does what the law by itself could not do-namely, He empowers believers to live according to the "just requirements of the law." "For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:3-4).
The new life in Christ enables the Christian to keep the law, not as an external code, but as a loving response to God. This is the very thing that the law by itself cannot do, because, being an external standard of human conduct, it cannot generate a loving response in the human heart. By contrast, "Christ's love compels us" (2 Cor 5:14) to respond to Him by living according to the moral principles of God's law. Our love response to Christ fulfills the law because love will not commit adultery, or lie, or steal, or covet, or harm one's neighbor (Rom 13:8-10).
The permanence of the law is reflected in Paul's appeal to specific commandments as the norm for Christian conduct. To illustrate how the principle of love fulfills the Law, Paul cites several specific commandments: "The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in the sentence, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom 13: 9-10).
Paul's reference to "any other commandment" presupposes the rest of the Ten Commandments, since love fulfills not only the last six commandments that affect our relationship with fellow beings, but also the first four commandments that govern our relationship with God. For example, love fulfills the Sabbath commandment because it motivates Christians to truly love the Lord by giving priority to Him in their thinking and living during the hours of the Sabbath.
Central to Paul's understanding of the law is the Cross of Christ. From this perspective, he both negates and affirms the law. Negatively, the Apostle repudiates the law as the basis of justification: "if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal 2:21).
Positively, Paul teaches that the law is "spiritual, good, holy, just" (Rom 7:12, 14, 16; 1 Tim 1:8) because it exposes sin and reveals God's ethical standards. Thus, he states that Christ came "in order that the just requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us" through the dynamic power of His Spirit (Rom 8:4).
Three times Paul states: "Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision;" and each time he concludes this statement with a different phrase: "but keeping the commandments of God . . . but faith working through love . . . but a new creation" (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15). The parallelism shows that Paul equates the keeping of God's commandments with a working faith and a new life in Christ, which is made possible through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
The Law Is Established by the Ministry of the Holy Spirit. Christ's ministry enables His Spirit to set us free from the tyranny of sin and death (Rom 8:2) and to re-establish the true spiritual character of the law in our hearts. In Romans 8, Paul explains that what the law, frustrated and abused by sin, could not accomplish, Christ has triumphantly accomplished by taking upon Himself the condemnation of our sins (Rom 8:3). This Christ has done, not to release us from the obligation to observe the law, but "in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4).
The Spirit establishes God's law in our hearts by setting us free from tampering with God's commandments and from "boasting" of presumptuous observance (Rom 2:23; 3:27; 4:2). The Spirit establishes the law by pointing us again and again to Christ who is the goal of the law (Rom 10:4). The Spirit establishes the law by setting us free to obey God as our "Father" (Rom 8:5) in sincerity. The Spirit enables us to recognize in God's law the gracious revelation of His fatherly will for His children. The final establishment of God's law in our hearts will not be realized until the coming of Christ when the "revealing of the sons of God" will take place (Rom 8:19).
The slogan of "New Covenant" Christians-"Not under Law but under love"-does not increase the amount of true love in the world, because love without law soon degenerates in deceptive sentimentality. Christ was aware of this danger and consequently He summoned His followers to love Him by obeying His commandments. Clearly and repeatedly Jesus said: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me" (John 14:21). "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love" (John 15:10).
There are no indications in the New Testaments that Christ's commandments are an improved set of moral principles, which offer "a fresh center of moral and ethical definition" which is "better than that of even the Ten Commandments."22 Christ gave no hint that with His coming the Old Testament moral law was altered by the introduction of "a far more complete, definitive, and effective rendering of all that is true and right."23 Christ's commandments are and remain the commandments He promulgated at Sinai.
The Law Pointed to the Savior to Come. Both the moral and ceremonial law pointed to Christ. The moral law pointed to Christ by revealing the nature of sin and thus the need of a Savior. The ceremonial law pointed to Christ through its typological rituals like circumcision, sacrifices, sanctuary services, and priesthood, all of which foreshadowed the work and the person of Christ. Paul acknowledges this function of the law when he says that "the law was our tutor . . . to Christ, that we may justified by faith" (Gal 3:24, NASB).
Eva contends that the tutor or schoolmaster to which Paul alludes in Galatians 3:24-25 "includes the Ten Commandments."23 This interpretation makes it possible for him to argue that Christ's coming brought about an alteration in the role of the law. The problem with Eva's argument is the failure to recognize that the issue in Galatians 3 is not so much the moral or ceremonial law, but rather the function of the law as a historical document of divine election, which according to the Jews and the Judaizers, included the circumcised, and excluded the uncircumcised. This is indicated especially by the fact that Paul was engaged in a theological controversy with the Judaizers who made circumcision a requirement of salvation (Gal 2:3-4; 5:2-4), because that rite marked the entrance into the covenant community. To this important we shall return later.
When Paul speaks of the law as pointing to Christ and teaching that justification comes through faith in Christ (Gal 3:24), it is evident that he was thinking especially of sacrificial ordinances that typified the Messianic redemption to come. This was true also of circumcision that pointed to the "putting off of the body of flesh," that is, the moral renewal to be accomplished by Christ. "In him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ" (Col 2:11). It is especially in this sense that the law, as a document of election that marked the entrance into the covenant community through circumcision, "was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal 3:24).
Paul insists that now that Christ, the object of our faith, has come, we no longer need the tutorship aspect of the Mosaic law that pointed to Christ (Gal 3:25). By this Paul did not mean to negate or alter the function of the law. This is indicated by his explicit affirmation in 1 Corinthians 7:19: "For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." Usually Paul does not distinguish between the ethical and ceremonial aspects of the Law, but in passages such as this the distinction is abundantly clear. Commenting on this text, Eldon Ladd notes: "Although circumcision is a command of God and a part of the law, Paul sets circumcision in contrast to the commandments, and in doing so separates the ethical from the ceremonial-the permanent from the temporal."24
The failure to make such a distinction has led many Christians to mistakenly conclude that Paul teaches the abrogation or the alteration (Eva) of the law for the Christian life. This conclusion is obviously wrong, because while Paul presents to the Gentiles "the commandments of God" as a moral imperative for the Christian life, he adamantly rejects ceremonial ordinances such as circumcision as counting nothing, for these were a type of the redemption accomplished by Christ (1 Cor 7:19).
For Paul, the typological function of the ceremonial law, as well as the unlawful legalistic use of the Law, came to an end with Christ; but the law as an expression of the will of God is permanent. The believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit is energized to live according to "the just requirements of the law" (Rom 8:4).
The starting point of Paul's reflection about the law is that atonement for sin and salvation come only through Christ's death and resurrection, and not by means of the law. This starting point enables Paul, as well stated by Brice Martin, "to make the distinction between the law as a way of salvation and as a norm of life, between the law as it encounters those in the flesh and those in the Spirit, between the law as a means of achieving self-righteousness and as an expression of the will of God to be obeyed in faith. . . . The moral law remains valid for the believer."25
CHRIST AND THE LAW IN GALATIANS 3:19-25
Eva develops his understanding of the impact of Christ' coming on the role of the law, primarily on Galatians 3:19-25. This is not surprising, because this passage, more than any others, has misled people into believing that the law was done away with by the coming of Christ. The reason is that in this passage Paul makes some negative statements about he law which, taken in isolation, can lead a person to believe that Christ terminated the function of the law as a norm for Christian conduct. For example, he says : "The law was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made" (Gal 3:19). "Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian" (Gal 3:25).
The Galatian Crisis. To interpret correctly these negative statements about the law, it is important to remember what was said earlier, namely, that Paul's treatment of the law varies in his letter, depending on the situation he was facing. In Galatians Paul's treatment of the law is influenced by the sense of urgency of his converts' situation. False teachers had come in to "trouble," "unsettle," and "bewitch" them (Gal 1:7; 31:1; 5:12). Apparently they were leading his converts astray by teaching that in order to be saved, one needs not only to have faith in Christ, but must be circumcised. They taught that the blessings of salvation bestowed by Christ can only be received by becoming sons of Abraham through circumcision. Faith in Christ is of value only if such faith is based upon circumcision.
The false teachers accused Paul of accommodating and watering down the Gospel by releasing Christians from circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law. His Gospel disagreed with that of the Jerusalem brethren who upheld circumcision and the observance of the law. Realizing that his entire apostolic identity and mission in Galatia was jeopardized by these Judaizers infiltrators, Paul responds by hurling some of his sharpest daggers of his verbal arsenal. "Credulity (Gal 1:6) is the operative principle of the foolish Galatians (Gal 3:1). Cowardice motivates the troublemakers (Gal 6:12). Seduction is their method of proselytizing (Gal 4:17). Castration is their just deserts (Gal 5:12)."26
The message of the agitators was primarily built around the requirement of circumcision. This is underscored by Paul's warning: "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all" (Gal 5:2, NIV). That circumcision was the main tenet of the "other Gospel" preached by the false teachers is indicated also by Paul's exposure of their motives: "Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the Cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised, that they may boast about your flesh" (Gal 6:12-13).
The emphasis of the false teachers on circumcision reflects the prevailing Jewish understanding that circumcision was required to become a member of the Abrahamic covenant and receive its blessings. God made a covenant of promise with Abraham because of his faithful observance of God's commandments (Gen 26:5) ,and circumcision was the sign of that covenant. We shall discuss later how circumcision came to be seen as the sign of divine election and the law as a document election. It is this understanding of the law as a document of election that Paul addresses in his response to the false teachers.
Paul's Response. In his response, Paul does admit that being a son of Abraham is of decisive importance. He does not deny or downplay the importance of the promise covenant that God made with Abraham. But, he turns his opponents' argument on its head by arguing that God's covenant with Abraham was based on his faith response (Gen 15:6; Gal 3:6) before the sign of circumcision was given (Gen 17:9-14). From this Paul concludes: "So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham" (Gal 3:7).
Paul uses the same Scripture to which his opponents appealed to show that God announced in advance to Abraham that He would justify the Gentiles by faith: "The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying: 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.'" (Gal 3:8). And again Paul concludes: "So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith" (Gal 3:9).
Paul's argument can be briefly summarized by means of the following syllogism:
God justified Abraham because of his faith before instituting circumcision.
In Abraham all people are blessed.
Therefore, all the people are blessed in Abraham (in the sense of
being justified) because of their faith (as in the case of Abraham), irrespective of circumcision.
Paul develops this argument further by setting the promise given to Abraham (in Genesis 18:18) against the giving of the law at Sinai which occurred 430 years later (Gal 3:15-18). Making a play on the word diatheke, which in Greek can mean both will-testament and covenant, Paul points out that as a valid human testament cannot be altered by later additions, so the promise of God given to Abraham cannot be nullified by the law, which came 430 years later. The fact that the covenant with Abraham was one of promise based on faith excludes the possibility of earning righteousness by works. "For if the inheritance is by the Law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise" (Gal 3:18).
The same thought is expressed in Romans where Paul says that Abraham attained righteousness by faith before the sign of circumcision had been given (Rom 4:1-5). Circumcision, then, in its true meaning, is a sign or seal of a justifying faith (Rom 4:9-12). "The implication of the line of thought in Galatians 3 and Romans 4," as Eldon Ladd points out, "is that all the Israelites who trusted God's covenant of promise to Abraham and did not use the law as a way of salvation by works, were assured salvation. This becomes clear in the case of David, who, though under the Law, pronounced a blessing on the man to whom God reckons righteousness by faith apart from works (Rom 4:6-7)."27
The examples of Abraham and David as men of faith under the Old Covenant help us to interpret Paul's statement: "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian" (Gal 3:25). The coming of faith for Paul does not mean that saving faith was not exercised prior to the coming of Christ, since he cites Abraham and David as men of faith. Rather, he uses "faith" in a historic sense identical to the proclamation of the Gospel (Gal 4:4-5; Rom 1:16-17). Salvation was by faith in the Old Covenant, but faith was frustrated when people made the law as a document of election, the basis of their righteousness and boasting. It is evident in this context that Paul is talking about "faith" and "law" from a historical perspectives, rather than from the personal exercise of faith or obedience to God's commandments.
If salvation was by way of promise (faith) and not law, what then was the role of the law in God's redemptive purpose? Paul's answer is both novel and unacceptable to Judaism. The law "was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promises had been made" (Gal 3:19). The law was not added to save men from their sins, but to reveal the sinfulness of their transgressions. This response must have shocked the Jews who saw the law given to them at Sinai as a revelation of their divine election as a chosen people.
The Law as a Custodian. In this context, Paul speaks of the law in its narrow, negative function of exposing sin, in order to counteract his opponents' exaltation of the law as a document of election, that guaranteed their salvation.
To explain the function of the "bare law" before Christ's coming, Paul compares it to a paidagogos, a guardian of children in Roman and Greek households. The guardian's responsibility was to accompany the children to school, protect them from harm, and keep them from mischief. The role of a paidogogos is an apt illustration of how some aspects of the law served as a guardian and custodian of God's people in Old Testament times. For example, circumcision, which is the fundamental issue Paul is addressing, served as a guardian to constantly remind the people of their covenant commitment to God (Jos 5:2-8).
When God called Israel out of Egyptian bondage, He gave them not only the Decalogue that they might see the sinfulness of sin, but also ceremonial, religious laws designed to exhibit the divine plan for the forgiveness of their sins. These laws, indeed, had the function of protecting and guiding the people until the day of their spiritual deliverance through Jesus Christ. With the coming of Christ, the ceremonial, sacrificial laws ended, but the Decalogue is written in human hearts (Heb 8:10) by the ministry of the Holy Spirit who enables believers to "fulfill the just requirement of the law" (Rom 8:4).
It is difficult to imagine that Paul would announce the abolition or alteration of the Decalogue, God's great moral law, when elsewhere he affirms that the law was given by God (Rom 9:4; 3:2), was written by God (1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 14:34), contains the will of God (Rom 2:17,18), bears witness to the righteousness of God (Rom 3:21), and is in accord with the promises of God (Gal 3:21). So long as sin is present in the human nature, the law is needed to expose its sinfulness (Rom 3:20) and reveal the need of a Savior.
On the basis of the above considerations, we conclude that Paul's negative comments about the law must be understood in the light of the polemic nature of Galatians. In this epistle, the apostle is seeking to undo the damage done by false teachers who were exalting the law, especially circumcision, as a document of election that guaranteed their salvation. In refuting the perverse and excessive exaltation of the law, Paul is forced to depreciate it in some measure, especially since the issue at stake was the imposition of circumcision as a means to ensure salvation within the covenant community.
THE LAW AND THE GENTILES
To bring into sharper focus Paul's criticism of the law in Galatians, we need to consider why the Gentiles were tempted to adopt legalistic practices like circumcision. Paul's letters were written to congregations made up predominantly of Gentile converts, most of whom were former "God-fearers" (1 Thess 1:9; 1 Cor 12:2; Gal 4:8; Rom 11:13; 1:13; Col 1:21; Eph 2:11). A crucial problem among Gentile Christians was their right as Gentiles to enjoy full citizenship in the people of God without becoming members of the covenant community through circumcision.
A Jewish Problem. This was not a uniquely Christian problem. W. D. Davies has shown that the relationship of Israel to the Gentile world was the foremost theological problem of Judaism in the first century.28 Basically, the problem for the Jews consisted in determining what commandments the Gentiles had to observe in order for them to have a share in the world to come.
No clear-cut answer to this question existed in Paul's time. Some Jews held that Gentiles had to observe only a limited number of commandments (Noachic Laws). Other Jews, however, like the House of Shammai, insisted that Gentiles had to observe the whole Law, including circumcision. In other words, they had to become full-fledged members of the covenant community in order to share in the blessings of the world-to-come.29
Lloyd Gaston perceptively notes that "it was because of this unclarity that legalism-the doing of certain works to win God's favor and be counted righteous-arose a Gentile and not a Jewish problem at all."30 Salvation was for all who were members of the covenant community, but since the God-fearers were not under the covenant, they had to establish their own righteousness to gain such an assurance of salvation.
Marcus Barth has shown that the phrase "works of the Law" is not found in Jewish texts and designates the adoption of selected Jewish practices by the Gentiles to ensure their salvation as part of the covenant people of God.31 Recognition of this legalistic Gentile attitude is important to understand the background of Paul's critical remarks about the law in Galatians.
A Christian Problem. The Jewish problem of whether Gentiles were saved within or without the covenant soon became also a Christian problem. Before his conversion and divine commission to the Gentiles, Paul apparently believed that Gentiles had to conform to the whole Mosaic law, including circumcision, in order for them to be saved. The latter is suggested by the phrase "but if I still preach circumcision" (Gal 5:11), which implies that at one time he did preach circumcision as a basis of salvation.
After his conversion and divine commission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, Paul understood that Gentiles share in the blessing of salvation without having to become part of the covenant community through circumcision. To defend this conviction, Paul appeals in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 to the example of Abraham who became the father of all who believe by faith before he was circumcised.
In proclaiming his non-circumcision Gospel, Paul faced a double challenge. On one hand, he faced the opposition of Jews and Jewish-Christians because they failed to understand ("Israel did not understand"-Rom 10:19) that, through Christ, God had fulfilled His promises to Abraham regarding the Gentiles. On the other hand, Paul had to deal with the misguided efforts of Gentiles who were tempted to adopt circumcision and other practices to ensure their salvation by becoming members of the covenant community (Gal 5:2-4).
Law as Document of Election. To counteract the double challenge from Jewish and Gentile Christians, Paul was forced to speak critically of the law as a document of election. Several scholars have shown that the concept of the covenant-so central in the Old Testament-came more and more to be expressed by the term "law" (torah-nomos).32 One's status before God came to be determined by one's attitude toward the law (torah-nomos) as a document of election and not by obedience to specific commandments.
The law came to mean a revelation of God's electing will manifested in His covenant with Israel. Obviously, this view created a problem for the uncircumcised Gentiles because they felt excluded from the assurance of salvation provided by the covenant. This insecurity naturally led Gentiles to "desire to be under law" (Gal 4:21), that is, to become full-fledged covenant members by receiving circumcision (Gal 5:2). Paul felt compelled to react strongly against this trend because it undermined the universality of the Gospel.
To squelch the Gentiles' "desire to be under law," Paul appeals to the law (Pentateuch), specifically to Abraham, to argue that the mothers of his two children, Ishmael and Isaac, stand for two covenants: the first based on works and the second on faith (Gal 4:22-31)-the first offering "slavery" and the second resulting in "freedom." The first, Hagar, who bears "children of slavery," is identified with the covenant of Mount Sinai (Gal 4:24).
Eva interprets the reference to Mount Sinai as an indication that Paul has the moral law in mind. He writes: "The reference to Mount Sinai shows unequivocally that Paul has the moral law or the Sinai decalogue (the Ten Commandments) in mind in his Galatians teaching, and not just the 'ceremonial' law as many Adventists have maintained."33 The problem with this interpretation is the failure to recognize that Paul is not talking about moral or ceremonial laws, but about "two covenants," one based on the faith acceptance of God's provision of salvation, the other based on human efforts to earn salvation. The failure to understand this basic truth has caused endless and senseless discussions about the law in Galatians in our church before and after the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference.
Why does Paul attack so harshly the Sinai covenant which, after all, was established by the same God who made a covenant with Abraham? Besides, did not the Sinai covenant contain provisions of grace and forgiveness through the sanctuary services (Ex 25-30), in addition to principles of conduct (Ex 20-23)? The answer to these questions is to be found in Paul's concern to refute the prevailing misunderstanding of the law as an exclusive document of election (largely identified with circumcision) which included the Jews and excluded the Gentiles.
To establish the legitimacy of the salvation of the Gentiles as Gentiles, Paul attacks the prevailing misunderstanding of the law (covenant) as an historical, exclusive document of election. This is does by pointing to the fact that 430 years before Sinai, God's covenant with Abraham was based on his faith response. For Paul this means that the security of salvation depends not on belonging to the covenant community that came into existence at Sinai, but on the faith response exemplified by men of faith like Abraham and David.
This does not mean that Paul denies the possibility of salvation to Jews who accepted Christ as the fulfillment of the Sinai covenant. On the contrary, he explicitly acknowledges that just as he was "entrusted with the Gospel to the uncircumcised," so "Peter had been entrusted with the Gospel to the circumcised" (Gal 2:7).
Paul does not explain what was the basic difference between the two Gospels. We can presume that since the circumcision had become equated with the Sinai covenant, the Gospel to the circumcised emphasized that Christ through His blood ratified the Sinai covenant by making it operative (Matt 26:28). This would make it possible for Jews to be saved as Jews, that is, while retaining their identity as a covenant people.
Note that Paul does not deny the value of circumcision for the Jews. On the contrary, he affirms: "Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision" (Rom 2:25). Again in Romans 9 to 11, Paul does not rebuke the Jews for being "Jewish" in their life-style (Rom 11:1), but rather for failing to understand ("Israel did not understand"- Rom 10:19) that the Gentiles in Christ have equal access to salvation because Christ is the goal of the law.
Conclusion. The conclusion that emerges from the foregoing discussion is that what Paul rejects in Galatians 3 is not of the ceremonial or moral law, but legalism, that is, the attempt to establish one's righteousness through the external observance of the law. Legalism ultimately blinds a person to the righteousness which God has made available as a free gift through Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 10:3). This was the problem with the Galatians false teachers who were promoting circumcision as a way of salvation without Christ. By so doing, they were propagating the false notion that salvation is a human achievement rather than a divine gift.
The mounting pressure of Judaizers who were urging circumcision upon the Gentiles made it necessary for Paul to attack the exclusive covenant concept of the law. "But," as George Howard points out, "under other circumstances he [Paul] might have insisted on the importance of Israel's retention of her distinctiveness."34
ROMANS 7:4 "YOU HAVE DIED TO THE LAW"
The second major text used by Eva to support his thesis that Christ's coming "altered" "the role of the law, including the Ten Commandments," is Romans 7:4. He writes: "In verse 4 Paul tells the Roman believers that through the death of Jesus they died to the law. Which law? In Romans 7:7 Paul definitely includes the decalogue (and thus the fourth commandment) in his thinking. In this verse he quotes the tenth commandment as illustrative of his argument about the role of the law and Christ: 'For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, 'Do not covet.'"35
Eva's interpretation of this passage deserves careful examination. He maintains that "through Christ we died to the law (including every one of the Ten Commandments" (p. 5). I wish that Eva would explain what he means by "dying to the Ten commandments"? It seems that "dying to the law" for Eva means to be released from a literalistic observance of the Ten Commandments in order to belong more fully to Jesus Christ." He writes: "When we die to the law, the way is opened for us to belong to Another Who is far more capable than the law of bringing forth 'fruit to God' (Rom 7:4). And companion to that: By dying to what bound us (the law), we are released for the specific purpose of serving 'in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code' (Rom 7:6)."36
Eva continues saying: "The law, specifically the Ten Commandments, was perfectly fulfilled, spelled out and re-constituted with consummate and ultimate beauty and definitude in the person of Jesus Christ, so that the believer could, by the Holy Spirit, come to 'walk, even as he walked'(1 John 2:6)."37 I wish that Eva would explain in what way Christ "fulfilled, spelled out, and re-constituted" the Ten Commandments. Does he mean that Christ reformulated the Decalogue in a simpler and better terms? Was there a problem with its initial formulation?
Eva seems to believe that through Christ's death we are released from a literalistic observance of the Ten Commandments in order to accept the "far more complete, definitive, and effective rendering of that is true and right (gospel and law) in the person of Jesus Christ."38 Again, I wish that Eva would explain in what way does Christ offers us "more complete, definitive, and effective" moral principles. There is no hint in the New Testament Christ came as a kind of New Lawgiver to perfect what was deficient in the moral principles promulgated at Sinai. The work that Christ did in clarifying and magnifying the intent of the law, can hardly be described as "altering" the function of the law by introducing fresh "moral and ethical definitions."
"You Have Died to the Law." What does Paul mean when he says: "Brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ . . . . Now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive" (Rom 7:4, 6). In what sense believers have died to the law through Christ's death? Is Paul saying that Christ's death releases believers from the moral obligations of the Ten Commandments?
The immediate context clearly suggests that Paul is not speaking of the termination or alteration of the moral law. Through Christ believers "have died to the law" in the sense that they have been released from their "sinful passions" and have become "dead to that which held us [them] captive" (Rom 7:5-6). The meaning here is that through Christ's death, Christians have been discharged from the condemnation of the law (Rom 8:1) and from all the legalistic misunderstanding and misuse of the law. To put it differently, Christians have died to the law and have been discharged from it insofar as it condemns them and holds them in bondage as a result of sinful passions and its unlawful, legalistic use. But they are still "under the law" insofar as the law reveals to them the moral principles by which to live.
This interpretation is supported by the immediate context where Paul affirms that "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12). Again he says: "We know that the law is spiritual" (Rom 7:14). And again, "So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin" (Rom 7:25). These statements clearly indicate that for Paul the law is and remains the Law of God, which reveals the moral standard of Christian conduct.
Christ's death does not release believers from the moral obligations of God's commandments, but enables them to live according to them. This is the Good News of the Gospel, namely, that "God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:3-4).
Conclusion. In the light of these considerations, we conclude that "the role of the law, including the Ten Commandments, has [NOT] been altered by the coming of Christ."38 The purpose of Christ's coming was not to establish "discipline and guidance . . . on a front better than that of even the Ten Commandments,"39 but to clarify the intent of God's law, to release us from the condemnation of the law through His death (Rom 8:1), and to enable us through His Spirit to fulfill "the just requirement of the law" (Rom 8:4).
Paul criticizes not the moral value of the law as guide to Christian conduct, but the soteriological (saving) understanding of the law seen as a document of election that includes Jews and excludes Gentiles. Failure to distinguish in Paul's writing (especially Galatians 3-4) between his moral and soteriological usages of the law, and failure to recognize that his criticism of the law is directed especially toward Gentile Judaizers who were exalting the law, especially circumcision, as a means of salvation, has led many to fallaciously conclude that Paul rejects or alters (Eva) the role of the law. Such a view is totally unwarranted because, as we have shown, Paul rejects the Law as a method of salvation but upholds it as a moral standard of Christian conduct.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.
Professor of Theology and Church History
4990 Appian Way, Berrien Springs, MI 49103
Phone (269) 471-2915 Fax (269) 471-4013
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