- Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God by Brian S. Rosner
Any attempt to decipher the complicated web of relationship between Paul’s theology and the place of the law requires care, attention to details, and awareness of large swaths of biblical materials and themes. Rosner’s Paul and the Law integrates these important elements as Rosner defends his thesis by examining the way in which the law functions rather than to what extent the law, or various pieces of it, remain valid for Christians. In doing so, Rosner recognises the tension between Paul’s affirmation and (apparent) disparagement of the law throughout his letters. This tension may be resolved, he suggests, by examining the way in which the law is functioning. Rosner’s study is organised around this notion, with chapters examining the law as “law-covenant,” prophecy and wisdom. Rosner summarises these three functions with associated verbs: the law as law-covenant is repudiated, the law as prophecy and wisdom is replaced and reappropriated.
In chapter one, Rosner summarises the difficulties involved with examining this contentious area of NT studies and lays out three of the major approaches to Paul and the law: the Lutheran, the Reformed, and the New Perspective. As he summarises, the Lutheran view emphasises the law as leading to despair in order to provoke repentance, the Reformed position stresses the importance of obedience to the moral law (postconversion), and the New Perspective sees Jewish ethnocentrism as the impetus for Paul’s negative law speak. Rosner also clarifies three terms in the opening chapter. In examining “Paul,” Rosner suggests that the entire Pauline corpus (including those texts questioned as authentic), should come into the discussion. Concerning “the law,” Rosner recognises that the term does not always exclusively mean “legal material in the Pentateuch” (27), but references the five books of Moses as a whole, with varying degrees of attention on specific parts of that collection in specific [End Page 208] passages. Rosner also sets out to define “believers” as Jews and Gentiles in general, although he recognises that there is “a more limited sense in which Jewish believers may choose to live under the law” (31), suggesting Rom 14:1–15:6 is a passage that illustrates such a distinction. Rosner concludes the chapter with a brief analysis of 1 Cor 7:19 and a summary of his approach. He suggests we should recognise that Paul repudiates the law, radically replaces it, and whole-heartedly reappropriates it (39). Here the question is not “which bits of the law are still useful, but in what sense is the law valuable for Christians.” The evidence which Rosner intends to examine are summarised as follows: “(1) what Paul says about the law; (2) what he does with the law; (3) what he does not say about the law (that one might have expected him to say); and (4) what he says about other things (that one might have expected him to say about the law)” (41).
The rest of the text is organised around Rosner’s categories of “repudiation” (chs. 2 and 3), “replacement” (ch. 4), and “reappropriation” (chs. 5 and 6). Chapter two offers what Rosner sees as “explicit repudiations” of the law-covenant and chapter three gives the implicit repudiations. Central to Rosner’s thesis is that believers are not “under the law” and that the law is a “failed path to life.” In examining Paul’s “under the law” phrases, primarily from Romans and Galatians, Rosner suggests that Paul depicts the law as an enslaving power, and thus those under it (i.e., the Jews) need rescuing from it. Rosner concludes that the law failed its purpose to bring life because it could not be kept perfectly (66–67). So, Paul’s explicit repudiation of the law as a law-covenant is due to its failure to be perfectly obeyed and thus its inability to give life. The law is thus “for the lawless” and, for Rosner, is abolished by Christ (81). In chapter...