Thursday, November 09, 2006

Paul & The Second Torah

Reading on Paul, Judaism, questions of Law and Grace.

Pauline studies have gone under a mass revision in the last 20 years. Namely like James Dunn, E.P. Sanders, and (recently deceased) Lloyd Gaston (taught at VST, where I attend).

A recurring thread, particularly in Protestant circles, in Christian discourse is that Chrsitianity is a religion of grace and Judaism a religion of law.

Gason argued that Paul actually was not writing about Judaism at all. Paul was writing (in Galatians, Romans, and 1 Corinthians) against Gentile Christians who tried to convince other Gentile Christians that they had to become Jews before they could become part of the people of God.

Gaston's main piont is to take Paul at his word: that he is an Apostle to Gentiles and therefore his gospel is only for Gentiles. Paul never thought that Jews had lost the covenant or that the Torah. He was saying that Gentiles had been called--a branch grafted onto an olive tree--through grace via the death/ressurection of Jesus Christ.

For Jews of Paul's day God was the sole ruler of the Universe and his "law"--better Torah--made Jews holy and was administered through intermediaries (principalities, powers, angels) which also created a standard whereby Gentiles would be judged.

That is why Paul says that Christ is the Mediator, the Second Adam whose death has disarmed these forces--this objective system of condemnation known as Sin (akin to the notion of Karma in the East).

It is here that Luther, without this context, argued that all Law was to bring a sense of impending doom only to be freed by the evangelical gospel. But for Paul, is never an individualist meaning (I'm not sure Paul really believe in individual salvation frankly) and 2. it was only for Gentiles.

Luther as well as mainline Christian theology for nearly 2,000 years has never understood that for the Deutoronomic Tradition of Judaism--particularly Rabbinic Judaism--the Torah (translated as Law but is actually better understood as Instruction) is Grace.

God answered for no reason the Jews who cried in slavery in Egypt. God freed them and became their God for no apparent reason other than love and a desire to do so. This Covenant brings with it obligations, commandments and the like which is where the notion arose that Judaism was an immature religion of trying to appease an otherwise angry God by slavishly following rules.

But the Psalmist says: I meditate on your Torah (law) day and night.
Your Torah, Your Instruction is my delight.

If the Law, Capital L, was this awful oppressive force weighing the person down, why is it his delight?

The Torah of the Lord is perfect,
Refreshing the Soul.

It is a joy, both Judaism and Christianity at their best understand, to follow the "Law" of Love. The truest freedom is to obedient unto the Maker. Not to gain reward or feel righteous but out of a sacrifical love, out of joy.


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