Blessings or Curses: Reflections on Deuteronomy 11

Hi Dave…

While I agree with some of what Hart says regarding the need of liberation from the power of sin and death as opposed to the assuaging of the inherited guilt of “original sin,” I don’t buy all of it.

Paul is making the point in Romans 5:12 onward that sin was in the world before Moses and the Law/Torah. The proof is that all died. This is in line with the Genesis narrative, Adam’s sin brought death, not the other way around. It is also in line with later OT thought, the soul that sins will die, not the soul that dies will sin.

Strands of first century Jewish thinking was that the Law, and observance of the Law, was the antidote to universal sin and death, and would bring eschatological life. Paul’s main point is not how sin and death came to all, he assumes that. It is that the Law/Torah, and observance of its written code, no matter how stringent, provides no advantage and no solution to the problem, and could never give life.

This is why he had already said in 4:15 that, “…The Law brings wrath, and where there is no Law, there is no transgression.” He does not say there is no sin without law, as you have rendered it, a hopeless contradiction with Chapter 5, where he said that sin was already in the world before the Law. Paul was saying that all the Law could do was turn sin into transgression, the crossing of an explicit boundary or norm.

To use a rough illustration, if we drive 85mph down a neighborhood street with no posted speed limit, we instinctively know that we are doing something wrong, we are missing the mark of safe driving, and we know that it is not safe for us or anyone else. We might even see people get hurt and killed, reinforcing that knowledge. But, if we see a sign that says 30mph speed limit, that turns our speeding into transgression of a known law or community norm. This was Paul’s point about the Law. Without it, there was no explicit transgression. With it, sin became transgression. Iow, the Law, in opposition to Jewish belief, could not serve as an antidote to sin, it made the whole situation more dire, shutting people up under its explicit pronouncement and penalty. The promises of righteousness and life that were attached to Torah observance were a mirage in Paul’s thinking. Only God could bring such through his messiah and the Spirit.

Paul’s reference to Adam vis a vis Paul’s picture of sin and death, is that Adam’s sin unleashed a power that enveloped all people, (which Hart seems to say) even over those who did not sin in the manner Adam did by violating a known command. The dominance of that power could be seen in that all humans sinned between Adam and Moses (living a distortion of true humanity and missing its mark like the speeding driver)…the evidence being that all died. The introduction of the Torah at Sinai did nothing to solve the situation. It actually increased sin’s stranglehold, turning sin into transgression, and reinforcing the result…death. Jews with the Law had no advantage regarding this, over Gentiles without it.

1 Cor 15 is making a similar point…death unleashes its venom through the sting of sin, and what energizes sin is…the Law! This is a vortex from which there is only one escape…“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory (over these combined and aligned powers) through our Lord Jesus, the messiah!”

Thanks…

Frank

I do like this, Dave. An interesting way of plotting out Paul’s thought. The life that Christ gives to all who believe and align themselves with him, leads to righteousness.

I might turn it around a bit, righteousness is found in the very act of joining oneself to Christ in death and resurrection. This is the substance of faith for Paul. It is the fulfillment of the new covenant terms that brings new life. Iow, righteousness is truly seen in faithful response to Jesus, and issues forth in new creation life for all who believe…Jew/Gentiles, etc.

“The one who is righteous by faith shall live.” (Rom. 1:17)

Thanks…

Frank

I was trying to use Paul’s statements. Paul was really upset with the (entirely Gentile) Galatians for doing what the law had required before Jesus had fulfilled it.

The way I see it, the Galatians had only three possible responses to the Torah’s circumcision commandment: (1) obey it and get circumcised, (2) disobey it and don’t get circumcised and (3) simply pay no attention to it because it wasn’t talking to them.

Paul convinced James (and me) that God had never given the law to non-Israelites and it had never applied to them.

[Everybody’s right. Understanding Paul is tough.]

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I agree…the Torah as covenant legal code never applied to Gentiles. This is why Paul argued that Gentile believers in Jesus were not to be brought under the written code of the law, ostensibly through circumcision. It is also why he said that no one is justified by the works of the law, which in Galatians was first said in the context of Peter leading a Jewish walkout in Antioch from the fellowship table with uncircumcised Gentiles. Iow, justification, being put right with God, was not based on being an ethnic or converted Jewish adherent to the Torah, it was solely through faithful allegiance to Jesus as messiah…for both Jews and Gentiles.

To me, this does not mean that Torah was to be totally ignored by Gentiles. In his letters, Paul instructed his churches from the Torah, using it as a source of wise instruction when needed. He also pointed them to the Torah as a prophetic witness to the crucified and risen Christ, and the promised blessing of the Spirit through him being poured out upon Gentiles who came to faith, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham…all in the Torah.

It is why Paul could say in the same sentence in Galatians, “You who desire to be under the Law/Torah, do you hear what the Law says?” Paul then used the story of Sarah and Hagar to point them to the freedom of the children of promise vs. the enslavement of those born of the flesh and who sought righteousness and life through the observance of the Torah and its letter…and how one doesn’t mix with the other. Paul was saying that the Torah itself points away from an adherence to the letter through circumcision to bring life, to the promise and power of God to bring the freedom and life of new creation. How one reads and relates to the Torah is what mattered, Christ, the Spirit, and the power of the gospel making all the difference.

I think that this indicates that Paul continually differentiated how the Torah was to function and be related to by believers in Christ and the new covenant community. The picture from his letters is nuanced and demands really close, contextual reading.

Thanks…

Frank

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Yes, exactly! And, comically, regarding the food laws we get it so very wrong. We think if we avoid unclean animals that’s what’s required, but the same passages that define what is clean and unclean, also regulate how clean animals must be butchered in order for their meat to remain clean for consumption. If those rules aren’t followed, a steak is just as unclean as a pork chop. (Bacon, of course, gets a free pass.)

Luckily, the fix for eating unclean meat is basically to take a cleansing bath and wait until sunset. Then you’re good. No need to have a body part removed or be stoned.

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Hi Frank,
Thanks for your replies to my comment containing the quote from D. B. Hart.
I haven’t responded earlier because I have been struggling trying to find the right way to do so. I believe Hart has it right and stand by what he wrote in his footnote to Rom 5:12.
As Harry said on this thread (and Peter said two thousand years ago), Paul can be hard to understand and to be honest, I’m not sure how much we are disagreeing.

One of the things I have come to appreciate as I study and read comments in forums such as this is the critical role one’s theology plays in how one reads and understands the Bible.
The Arminian view is that each of us is responsible for her/his ultimate fate, and that God would like to save all but He will not interfere with one’s free will. (So, many, probably most people who ever lived will not make a good choice and will end up annihilated.)
To some people that is the only way which aligns with their concept of God’s agapé love for us. It is a view that is based on the idea that each of us has a reasonably accurate view of the nature of God and man and of spiritual reality. That leads one to interpret passages such as the one in question in certain ways. I know Hart’s theology and think I know yours and I see that difference in your criticism of Hart’s take on Rom 5:12-14.

The real question for us is what is Paul’s theology, because he claimed to have gotten the gospel by revelation directly from Christ.
I think it helps to look at the argument Paul is developing. As I’m sure you know, one of the main phrases of Paul’s theology is ‘in Christ’. In Rom 5:14, Paul says ‘Adam was a type of Him who was to come.’ I think one needs to keep that theme in mind over the entire passage from v12 to v21 to appreciate Paul’s reasoning.
As you trace through Paul’s thought process (including all the ways that Adam’s sin has impacted everyone who followed him) in the rest of Romans 5, you get his idea of the situation Adam has put us into and the solution provided by his antitype, Christ.

Also, your distinction between ‘sin’ and ‘transgression’, two different Greek words, is interesting.
Thanks again for responding to my comment.

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