Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Heaven and Earth, Abraham and Moses

We've been talking about how Paul could say, on the one hand, that the law's purpose is to stop every mouth and silence the boasting of man, but then on the other hand claim that he was blameless with respect to the law's demand for righteousness.

I think he meant what he said in both cases. Accordingly, in neither case was he talking about a Pharisaical or legalistic perversion of the law. Let me explain....

In Paul's allegorical interpretation of Abraham's family, he likens the patriarch's handmaid, Hagar, to the covenant made at Mount Sinai, which both produces bondage and points to the present, earthly Jerusalem. Sarah, however, corresponds to "the Jerusalem which is above," and points to the heavenly and eternal realities promised in the Abrahamic Covenant.

This is key to having a properly formed covenant theology. The Abrahamic Covenant promised a heavenly reward that is received simply by faith in the coming Messiah. The Mosaic Covenant, on the other hand, promised earthly, temporal, and typological rewards (long life in the land). And further, to retell the story of Adam's failure and typify the work of true Israelite and second Adam, the earthly blessings promised in the Mosaic Covenant were gained by obedience to the law. The principle that Paul extracts from the Mosaic Covenant is "Do this and live" (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12; cf. Lev. 18:5).

But think about it: How could God expect Israel to obey his law in that complete, perfect, Romans 2 sense? Weren't they fallen and sinful? On that standard, wouldn't they have gone into exile the moment they crossed the Jordan?

Of course. This is why, in order to maintain the theocracy and tell the Adamic story they were supposed to tell, the "righteousness" God required of Israel consisted of having a relative measure of national fidelity to the law's demands.

The mistake of the Pharisees, then, was not that they thought the law demanded works (which it did) or that they thought they had earned the righteousness that Moses demanded (which they did). But their mistake was that they confused the relative fidelity required by the national covenant to retain the earthly land, with the perfect fidelity required by the creation covenant to secure the heavenly land.

And as I hope to flesh out later, conflating the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants (the way the New Perspective on Paul does) is an easy way to morph law and gospel into golawspel. And that doesn't save anyone....