Cancellation of the Law: Questions and Objections

I promised to answer some questions people raised when I blogged on Paul’s Cancellation of the Law some weeks ago.

If we’re radically freed from the Law and no longer bound by it, then why privilege Leviticus 19’s ‘one law for alien and Israelite?’

Not being bound by the Law doesn’t mean we don’t use it as a tool and a resource for ministry. When Paul wrote that all scripture is inspired by God and useful for various ministries, he was referring to the law, the prophets, and the writings.  Jesus certainly used these ancient writings in his ministry, as did Paul, Priscilla, and the others who wrote what we have agreed to as Christian scripture.

We won’t completely agree on how to use the Law in our various ministries. We won’t agree on what to use, or not use. And that’s okay. That’s to be expected. Fortunately we are ultimately answerable to God alone.

How do you resolve this argument [that Paul cancelled the Law] with Paul’s frequent condemnation of many actions condemned by the OT law?

There are a variety of people and belief systems with which I may agree on particular points, but wouldn’t want to cite as authoritative. And if one of my specific goals was to detach people from a slavish and debilitating dependence on a particular written text, I would exercise caution and restraint in how I used that text.

Before he met the Lord, the bicultural rabbi Saul of Tarsus had struggled to minister to his mixed congregation of Jews and God-fearing gentiles, the way all pastors have to problem-solve in their ministries.  He says he spent a bit under three years in Arabia, where I’m sure he was creating his whole new theology, based understandably on the Hebrew scriptures, in the light of his new understanding that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

During his time in Arabia Paul changed his theology completely–because of his experience. His ministry was then so persuasive, and his theology so compelling and heretical, that a group of more than forty Jewish leaders swore an oath to eat nothing until they had killed him (Acts 23).

The abolition of the Law, the essential Hebrew scripture, was one of the central elements of Paul’s whole new theology.

Isn’t a lot of the distinction between ceremonial and moral law drawn from NT discussions about food served to idols and other parts of the law that are deemed no longer applicable, even as others aspects of the law are affirmed? I think of Acts 15 here.

Paul made no distinction between the so-called ceremonial law and the so-called moral law. The Torah does not acknowledge such a distinction.  “The distinction between ceremonial law and moral law” does exist, but not in the Bible. That distinction was devised by pastors and theologians centuries ago.  The distinction is, as you note, based largely on Acts 15, but James illustrates the Jewish attitude that the Torah was a Unity: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”

If you insist on preserving the notion of the Christian’s subjection to the so-called moral law, you need to acknowledge (if only to yourself) that there is no Biblical justification for your position.  You must take personal responsibility for it yourself.  And guess what–that’s okay.  Just realize that while there may be an upside to that position, there is a serious downside. If you insist on placing us in subjection to the Law, you can pretty much take the Deeper Life, Walking in the Spirit, Abiding in Christ–and kiss them good-bye.

Jesus certainly quoted the law. The two great commandments, after all, come straight from the Torah.

Absolutely true. Jesus said, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Paul wrote that “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…. love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Finally, and this may not be relevant from your point of view, the United Methodist Articles of Faith specifically endorse the following of the moral law of the Old Testament.

Paul taught that the Law brings condemnation and wrath, that where there is no Law sin is not taken into account, that when there is no Law there is no transgression.  I feel
confident following what I understand to be Paul’s understanding.

I don’t feel uncomfortable disagreeing with my denomination’s acceptance of these so-called distinctions. There is no danger in disagreement; my salvation is secure.  The denomination is safely following centuries of tradition that dates to before the Reformation. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about when I say I believe Christians should learn to think for themselves.

Paul cancelled the commands and demands of the O.T. law of sin and death, and in their place gave us for guidance the law of love, the law of the spirit of life in Christ, human conscience, scripture, and human government.


About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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