Here is an interactivity post in which I do regurgitate some of my other stuff on Paul and the Law. Here is the question:
I was finishing up When Time Had Fully Come: Studies in New Testament Theology by Herman N. Ridderbos, and I thought that the following topic could make for an interesting discussion. Ridderbos says, “The question arises, then, of the relationship of Jesus to Paul. When for example, the Sermon on the Mount greatly stresses compliance with the commandments, as we believe we are able to maintain, is it then at all possible to speak of a unity between the Gospels and the epistles of Paul, because the former stress is laid upon the positive meaning of the law, and in the latter upon the negative meaning? (pp. 61-62) I would love to read what others may think about the actual or so-called negative Pauline remarks of the law.
What a wonderful question and topic for discussion. Regarding Paul’s view of “the Law”, I believe his view depends upon what Law is being referred to in a particular context, because without defining our terms ambiguity will abound. I think that Paul makes a distinction between the Sinai Code/Law of Moses (Old Covenant/Letter) and law of God/Christ (New Covenant/Spirit).
In two specific sections in his writings he discusses at length historical-redemptive covenant theology in 2 Cor.3:1-18 and Gal. 3-4. In these passages, he gives his rationale for why the Mosaic Law offers only death and how the New Covenant transcends by it offering life. In 2 Cor.3:1-18, he zeroes in on the Letter/Spirit contrast resident in the two covenants. He even goes as far as to label the Law of Moses as â€œthe ministry of deathâ€ (vs.7) and â€œcondemnationâ€ (vs.9) as it was, written on tables of stone. He contends that this â€œletterâ€ brings death, surely drawing from his argument in Rom.7:7-11:
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, â€œYou shall not covet.â€ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment deceived me and through it killed me.
He likens the Law to the glory that was on Moses face which needed to be concealed to Israel by a veil over his face (vs.7). Even then, there was a veil over their hearts every time they read the Law (vs.15) because their hearts were hardened by it (vs.14). However, the glory of the New Covenant revealed in Christ is infinitely superior because it does not fade and has no end (vs.11). It is written not on a tablets of stone, but on the tablet of the heart (vs.3), drawing on Ezek.36:26 and Jer.31:33. Since this covenant is imparted directly by the Spirit on the heart with no outside mediator, those in it are now with â€œunveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord and being transformed into the same imageâ€ (vs.18). So we can summarize by saying that the Letter/Spirit contrast is about the difference in the nature of the Mosaic and New Covenants.
In Galatians 3-4, Paul focuses on the purpose of the Mosaic Covenant in light of the New Covenant. He is trying to remind the Galatians very forcefully that no one will be justified by the works of the Law (3:11). In other words, no one can please God escatologically by trying to execute their duties as prescribed by the Law of Moses. The reasons for this are because no one is truly able to execute this covenant so we are cursed in trying to do so (3:10), and the purpose of the Law was to make transgression fully visible and never to offer eternal life (3:18-19). This covenant came to bring us into slavery and imprisonment so that we could be rescued by Christ (vs.23-24). So Paul is setting up two different covenantal strands that find their culmination in the allegory of Hagar and Sarah in 4:21-31. Hagar corresponds to the slavery that exists under the Mosaic Law and is demonstrated in the contemporary Judaism that is visible in Jerusalem (vs.25). Sarah corresponds to the freedom that exists under the New Covenant and is demonstrated in the promises God offers His people in the New (spiritual) Jerusalem (vs.26-28). So the Mosaic Covenant existed to serve as a physical template that would anticipate the spiritual realities to come in the new age that has been inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ. Thus, in order to partake of this inaugurated Covenant, we need to believe in what Christ accomplished on our behalf and so cast out the â€œslave womanâ€ (the Mosaic Covenant) (vs.29-31).
In light of these passages, I think it is evident that the Mosaic/Old Covenant was an external code which does and can only demand. God designed it this way in order to magnify sin in Israel, as Israel is simply Adam on a corporate/national scale (Hosea 6:7). Neither Adam nor Israel could ever have kept, executed, or complied to the Law given to them. Even if they could have, there was no promise for eternal life. It wasn’t the function of the Law given to them. But, both Adam and Israel’s failure have become the canvas for God to promise grace in the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus ratified the New Covenant which does and can only promise eternal life. In the New Covenant there is no code to keep or demand upon us, but the promise of life in Christ itself produces faith in us which will result in us keeping the law of God/Christ, which is essentially loving God and loving our neighbors.