Monday, June 08, 2009

Galatians: Biblical Theology and the role of the Law

Australian Newfrontiers blogger Mick Porter is blogging through my favourite New Testament book, Galatians. In Part 12: Biblical Theology and the Law, he offers these diagrams and conclusions:

* Despite what commentaries by some very respected authors say, we were not all under law before Christ and the law is not the universal form of slavery that all people are under today if they don't know Christ.
* Salvation history is vitally important - Paul's arguments in Galatians have everything to do with the order in which things have taken place from Abraham to Christ.
* The role of Israel prior to Christ is essential for all Christians to understand. Israel was the son living under a guardianship waiting to enter the inheritance - and the law was the guardian. The inheritance came but they were unwilling to give up the guardian. Gentiles were under slavery to idols, were offered positions of sonship, but threatened this by also starting to place themselves under the guardian.


  1. Am I right that you doesn't believe in a covenant of works made by God with Adam?
    What about Christ's active righteousness in behalf of his people? I am wondering for a long time in what way this is a benefit for me if I don't believe that I ever was under law.
    In a nutshell, Did Christ fulfilled the law for me (in terms of doing what I should have done)?

  2. This is good.

    The biggest issue in the New Testament is the inclusion of Gentiles into God's people. The crisis facing the church in New Testament times is being tempted to go back to being like the Jews prior to the coming of Christ, and not the temptation to try and earn our forgiveness through good works.

    I heard a great sermon yesterday on Hebrews 5.11.14, which made the point that the author is saying that the church has reached its maturity with the coming of Christ; the immaturity being criticised here is going back to living as if Christ had never come.

  3. Somehow there is an embarrassment that feels that we have to start adopting the law in the Christian life as the rules for living...

    Certainly its Christian scripture but how much better to let it tell us of Christ, displaying all the types and models that help us to know what he has done in the heavenly realities... what if the the Passover and Tabernacle became the favourite places to go in Exodus rather than the 10 commandments...

  4. Excellent stuff on Galatians from the sounds of it.

    'Somehow there is an embarrassment that feels that we have to start adopting the law in the Christian life as the rules for living...'

    'Certainly its Christian scripture but how much better to let it tell us of Christ,'

    Why are these two mutually exclusive? Does Christ not have commands for us? Doesn't the law tell us about Christ with respect to his demands of us? Like his demand that we not murder, that we do honour our parents, that we do love the Lord our God with all our...

    ...and so on and so on.

  5. The 10 commandments are great for codifying our sin (the summary 'two' both make it more vague and also more clear - they are better). However, I would far rather spend time in the Passover, the Abrahamic covenant, the promise of an eternal King, suffering servant, serpent-crushing seed, etc if using the OT evangelistically, or discipling new Christians, or at all. Unless, of course, speaking to a Jewish person. Many not-yet-Christians consider themselves to be under the 10, so it may be useful, but I'd still prefer to show the God who saves, rather than the God who legislates.

    Romans 6-8, especially chapter 7 are really important on this - the law, however, only condemns, never helps us do it. Those who are Christians are not under the law of sin and death, but the law of the Spirit of life that doesn't condemn, but spurs us on to holy living - not a list of 'do nots', but a changed heart that doesn't want to do evil.

    Christ's active obedience gives us a positive righteousness, that's why it's important.

  6. Here we go again...
    Yes he commands, but that's not quite the same is it?

  7. ;-)

    When we affirm that he was "pierced for our trangressions" what are we Gentiles supposed to have transgressed?

  8. 'Yes he commands, but that's not quite the same is it?'

    I don't know, because I don't know what exactly it is you're ruling out by saying we shouldn't adopt the law as the rules for the Christian life.

    Honestly, I'm not trying to be a pain in the neck, I promise. :)

  9. I think, what I'm saying is not 'no commands' but that the OT law commands aren't for us, and that the way to live is 'in step with the Spirit' - at least as far as Galatians is concerned.

  10. 'in step with the Spirit' amen to that. What I don't understand is how that is to be co-ordinated with this:

    'the OT law commands aren't for us'

    If 'aren't for us' you mean

    a. Directly, that is, without due consideration of biblical theology, and especially the way things are different now Christ has come.


    b. They aren't the only thing for us (the NT has more to say)


    c. They aren't for us divorced from the framework of the cross and resurrection as the ethic of the christian life

    then fine, I couldn't agree more.

    But if you mean

    d. We aren't to seek ethical instruction from the OT law (even when we do all the hermeneutical work necessitated by positions a. to c.)

    then I have problems with what you mean. And I struggle to see how it fits with the NT apostolic use of the law. And I struggle to see how it fits with 2 Timothy 3:15ff. And I struggle to see how that can be keeping in step with the Spirit when the Spirit is about writing the law on our hearts.

  11. Another angle on this is to put it like this:

    a. How do we keep in step with the Spirit?

    b. Is heeding the commands of Jesus anything to do with it?

    c. What's the relationship between the commands of Jesus and the OT law?

    If the answer to b. is (in any way, shape, or form) a 'yes' then I think the OT becomes something we must read for ethical instruction. Unless our answer to c. is 'no relationship whatsoever' or 'one of antithesis.' Which would be really quite odd. Given the command to love God and love yr neighbour and all that.

  12. Great discussion. Post Christ, the Mosaic Law still exists and still functions as scripture, but it doesn't function as law for believers (and never did for Gentiles). It was a prophetic sign to lead to Christ, a shadow of which he is the reality. When you have the reality you don't go back to the shadow, when you have Christ you don'g go back to grasp on to the signpost instead. The reality is better. Hebrews says that when there is a new priesthood there is a new law. A new covenant, because convenant is given on the basis of priesthood (Heb7:11-12).

    It leaves the obvious question "how does it function for believers today?"

    1. It doesn't produce holiness (in fact the opposite). Holiness comes from being mastered by Christ and living by the Spirit
    2. We are therefore to read and teach the Law in Romans 3:21 ways - as testifying to the righteousness that is in Christ. The law was prophetic of Christ and his glory, is redolent with it. Therefore we always come to Law passages in the Old Testament with one paramount question: "how does this tell me about the glory of Jesus so as to draw forth faith and worship in my heart."