One of my favorite book series is New Studies in Biblical Theology. I’m sure I’ve said that before, but I’ll say it again (and probably again). This summer I actually read quite a few volumes in the series that were either new or that I hadn’t gotten around to before now. One of those in the new category is Brian Rosner’s Paul and The Law: Keeping The Commandments of God. I read it during a beach weekend, because that’s what I do, and as usual, was not disappointed.
Though most scholars come to a study like this via Romans or Galatians, Rosner comes via 1 Corinthians and Paul’s ethics and Jewish background (13). His goal is to “bring some neglected evidence to the discussion and to defend some proposals that sharpen and build on the work of others (13).” His main focus is on “what Paul does with the law, especially for questions of conduct,” rather than on what Paul says about the law.
Chapter 1 open by noting many of the attendant puzzles related to Paul and the law. A key verse for the study is introduced (1 Corinthians 7:19) and terms are defined. The New Perspective on Paul enters into the discussion. As Rosner wraps up, he summarizes his basic outlook and maps out the way ahead:
In his letters Paul undertakes a polemical rereading of the Law of Moses, which involves not only a repudiation and rejection of the law as ‘law covenant (chapters 2 and 3) and its replacement by other things (chapter 4), but also a reappropriation of the law ‘as prophecy’ (with reference to the gospel; chapter 5) and ‘as wisdom’ (for Christian living; chapter 6). This construal finds support not only in what Paul says about the law, but also in what he does not say and in what he does with the law. And it highlights the value of the law for preaching the gospel and for Christian ethics (43-44).
This gives you a general idea of the ground covered in Rosner. However, one of the strengths of this book is Rosner’s closing summaries/paraphrases in each chapter. I’ll highlight of couple of these to give you more of a feel for the kinds of conclusions Rosner makes.
First off, in chapter 2, Rosner explains that Christian are no longer under the law as “law covenant.” He closes the chapter “in Paul’s own words” (a summary and paraphrase):
Unlike Jews, believers in Christ are not under the law, nor are they in the law or from the law. They are not imprisoned and guarded under the law, nor are they subject to the law as to a disciplinarian. Those who are under the law are under a curse and under sin. Even though the law promises life to those who keep it, it is evident that no one keeps the law. Consequently, no one recieves life through the law. The law used as law is for the lawless. Christ has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances (81).
Further along these line, Rosner concludes chapter 3 with this summary:
Paul never says, as he does of Jews, that believers in Christ rely on the law, boast about the law, know God’s will through the law, are educated in the law, have light, knowledge and truth because of the law, do, observe and keep the law, on occasion transgress the law, or possess the law as letter or a written code, as a book, as decrees, or as commandments. Paul also never says, as he does of Jews, that Christians learn the law, walk according to the law, and expect good fruit and good works to flow from obedience to the law (109).
Rather than relying on the law or interacting with it in the ways for Jews delineated above, Christians rely on Christ. Rosner explains this in more detail in chapter 4. In his conclusion he contrasts more fully: “Believers in Christ do not rely on the law, but on Christ; do not boast in the law, but in God through Christ; do not find God’s will through the law, but in apostolic instruction, wisdom and gospel; are not instructed by the law, but by the gospel; and are not obliged to obey the law, but rather must obey apostolic instruction (134).”
With this in mind, Rosner goes on to explain that the law (speaking as Paul), “was written for us Christians and is part of the prophetic writings which disclose my gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ, which was a mystery kept secret for long ages, and is now made known to the Gentiles to bring about the obedience of faith (157-158).” Further, “the law was written for us Christian to teach us how to live. It was written for our instruction and the events it records were also written down to instruct us. In fact, all of the law is useful for moral teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (205).”
The final chapter of the book ties everything together and Rosner repeats all the concluding paraphrases in one place back to back. In that sense, you could read the final 2 pages of the book and get a clear snapshot of what Rosner is arguing (if you’re not satisifed by my presentation of the same material so far).
The result, to me, is a very helpful work explaining in an accessible way, how Paul uses the law in his writings, and so how it is applicable to Christians of the first as well as the twenty first century. Rosner is attentive to questions raised by the New Perspective. But at the same time, he is more or less charting his own way forward. This isn’t to say that his view is without precedent. Rather, he is not simply repeating Old Perspective positions. Neither is he following New Perspective trajectories uncritically. Instead, he is wrestling with the text from his unique perspective and coming to what I think are exegetically sound conclusions. If you are serious about understanding Paul or are interested in the theological question of how the law fits in the Christian life, this is a book you can’t miss.
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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!