Hahn tips his hat to E.P. Sanders, insisting that Sanders is largely responsible for the recent "paradigm shift" in Pauline studies and the focus on the centrality of covenant in the apostle's thought. But Sanders is somewhat shortsighted, Hahn argues, in his failure to do justice to Israel's plight to which divine grace is the solution. "Sanders," writes Hahn, "underestimates the degree to which the sins of Israel had introduced tensions and discontinuity into the covenantal relationship." He continues:
Sanders paints a picture of first-century Judaism in which covenant is primary, but there is no internal tension or predicament for which Paul's Gospel of Jesus Christ provided the solution. Thus his famous but hapless conclusion: "This is what Paul finds wrong with Judaism: it is not Christianity." However... a large portion of first-century Judaism embraced considerable internal tension: God's people were under a curse (cf. Gal. 3:10) because of past transgressions (the golden calf and subsequent infidelity) and in need of eschatological deliverance. Paul claims this deliverance has taken place in Christ (pp. 240, 241).
In fact, Hahn, echoing F. Weber, proposes that "the incident of the golden calf was to Israel what the fall was to Adam," a "virtually unpardonable offense... the evil consequences [of which] were never exhausted" (emphasis original).
As I pointed out in my last post, Hahn is of the opinion that it is not the Sinaitic but the Deuteronomic covenant specifically that Paul has in mind when he speaks of the "curse of the law" from which Christ has redeemed his people. It is this covenant, imposed in response to Israel's idolatry, that is called "the book of the law," and it is this covenant that not only threatens curses the likes of which are found nowhere in the Sinaitic, but also promises that the covenant will be broken and the curses will be enacted (Deut. 30:1). In a word, the Deuteronomic covenant was "intended to fail and thus invoke a new initiative of mercy (the circumcision of the heart) from God, which Paul sees realized in Christ" (p. 249).
And just to whet your appetite for our next post, it is the Deuteronomic covenant that Paul had in mind when he wrote in Galatians 3:19, "Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions."