On the blog Paul’s Passing Thoughts there is a recent article about the rapper Lecrae, Re: Lecrae; Dear Spiritual Peasantry, Please Help Me Understand and in that article, Dohse makes the statement:
Ask five pastors to define the words, “law” and “gospel” you will get five different answers for each. That’s what academia has done for us: zilch.
But can we blame academia for this? Really? I mean, really? I don’t meant to imply that I support the seminary system, because I don’t. But this same problem would exist with or without that system.
Why? Well, what does historic Christianity say on the Law? I mean the real one, not the revisionist version peddled by the Calvinists. The fact is that historic Christianity–Christianity as it was practiced by the majority (and primarily, the laity) throughout time–has REJECTED Paal’s view of the Law. (Paal = the epistular “Paul”, as distinct from the Paul of Acts who is the true historical Paul, by the way. Its a shorthand. It also insinuates that the epistular “Paul” is a sort of Baal that people worship instead of God.)
Yes, the majority of Christians throughout time have rejected Paal’s views on the Law. None of the 4 or 5 explanations you find in the Paaline epistles has been believed by the many in Christianity. Not until very recently, like the last 100 years, or really, probably the last 30 or even 20. [Actually, the view that is truly dominant among the laity today has probably not really changed, but pastors (and guys like Paul Dohse too) are working overtime to convince them to drop this historic Christian doctrine and replace it with a context-less ahistorical interpretation of Paal which has been proven time and again to be a failure devoid of any explanatory power.]
The primary explanation of the relationship of the Law to the Christian has always been Justin Martyr’s explanation rather than Paal’s. Namely, the division of the Law into moral and ceremonial/civic, with the moral Law still binding on Christians. This division is similar to Acts 15, and can be harmonized with it, unlike Paal’s 4 or 5 contradictory explanations in the Paaline epistles which cannot be harmonized with themselves much less with Acts.
If you read the “church fathers” prior to Augustine–first 3 centuries of the church–you will find not one of them accepts the Paaline theories on the Law; all accept the Lukan or Justin Marturian theory.
Catholic and Greek Orthodox theologians, even after Augustine, have tended to accept the single Justin Marturian theory over Paal’s several theories.
Even in Protestant churches where the Justin Marturian theory (the separation of the Law into Moral vs Ceremonial/Civic, with the Moral still binding) is spit upon and puked upon explicitly from the pulpit, you will find laymen who both openly and secretly hold to it.
So why has the majority of the church (by whatever definition we might use, from a more universalist/ecumenical even to a more sectarian) always rejected the Paaline theories on the Law in favor of a different theory, somewhat like the theory of Acts 15 but more well defined, and even a theory whose clearest definition seems to post-date the Bible (i.e. the writings of Justin Martyr circa 140 AD)???
Because the Paaline theories simply make no sense. They are too confusing, and they are contradictory to each other. It is hard to make Paal’s theory from one epistle play nice with his theory from another–nay rather, impossible. And so the whole wrangling superstructure is rejected (by thinking laymen) in favor of something that actually works.
But “pastors” today reject historic Christianity in favor of their own individual interpretation of Paal as verified in their little “pastor” echo chamber: i.e. all their other elitist intellectual “pastor” friends telling them they are right and “lay” Christian tradition going back to the 2nd century is wrong. And then “pastors” have the nerve to refer to their echo-chamber results as “historic Christianity” because it goes back as far as the Westminster Confession, though no further(!), and even though, basically, nobody but “pastors” has ever really believed it.
For an in depth of analysis on how the various theories on the Law given in the Pauline epistles are incoherent and contradictory, read the book Paul and the Law by the scholar Heikki Raisanen. Its a scholarly work, so unfortunately for those who don’t know Greek, when he quotes a passage from the New Testament he always quotes it in Greek. But if you have a Bible handy you can always look it up. Anyway, he shows conclusively that the various theories on the Law put forth in the Pauline epistles are at odds with each other.
I will append here some of Raisanen’s treatment of Justin Martyr’s view of the Law, from page 223-224:
Justin breaks new ground in the Christian interpretation of the law. Apparently his conception was first formed in a battle with Marcionites; in the Dialogue he later puts forward the same points of view in a confrontation with Judaism. The significant features are Justin’s ‘tripartite division of the law’ and his ‘historical concept of the purpose of the law’.
From certain passages in the Dialogue (45.3, 67.4, 10, 44.2) it can be inferred that Justin actually, if not explicitly, divides the law into three parts: ethics, prophecy, historical dispensation. This helps him to preserve ‘the principle of the absolute authority and consistency of Scripture’. It is only the ritual part of the law that is a problem for Justin; God’s moral law is permanently valid. To solve the problem, Justin develops his view of the ritual law as historical dispensation.
….To be able to maintain this against the Marcionites, Justin had to find a purpose for the ritual law. This was given on account of the sinfulness of the Jews.
Thus Justin’s view is much clearer and much more logical than Paul’s. He divides the law into different parts and deals with them differently: some parts have been abolished, others not. The abolished parts, too, had a historical meaning in their time; Justin struggles to avoid the problem of theodicy, inherent in so many Christian views of the law. While his explanation is logical, its individual parts (the reasons given for the precepts of circumcision and Sabbath in the first place) are naive. Nevertheless, his was a bold attempt to combine a theology of the absolution of the law with the principle of the absolute divine authority of the OT scripture. Without a relativization of one of the two, a much better solution was indeed hardly to be attained.
He goes on to defend Paal by suggesting that since Justin lived in the time after things concerning the Law had settled down, he had more presence of mind to formulate all this than did Paal. The Law was not a “personal existential problem” for Justin, as he puts it. This assumes that Paal is the historical Paul, which I reject. Its more likely that Paal was Marcion, a contemporary of Justin, so this defense of Paal rings hollow to me. Nonetheless, the admission that Justin’s view is “much clearer and much more logical” than Paal’s satisfies me!