Friday, August 14, 2009

Kinship By Covenant, Part 4: Why Then the Law?

“Paul has argued for a radically different view of salvation history from that of his Jewish opponents,” writes Scott Hahn in Kinship By Covenant. “The foundational covenant with God’s people was not at Sinai but at Moriah.” If the Abrahamic covenant takes precedence over the Mosaic, then the question Paul needs to answer is the one the apostle anticipates in Galatians 3:19, “Why then the law?”

The answer has baffled many commentators, but perhaps unnecessarily: “It was added because of transgressions....” Many argue that what Paul means here is that the law was given in order to accentuate Israel’s lawlessness and heighten their sin. Hahn, on the other hand, argues that the verse is more straightforward, that it means exactly what it says.

It seems that Paul, like Ezekiel before him (Ezek. 20), has recognized an important literary-historical pattern woven into the fabric of the Pentateuch, with its continual oscillation between narrative and law. The pattern is consistently the same: Israel sins and laws are added (p. 264).
The main episodes in this pattern of sin-to-law, Hahn argues, are Israel’s sin with the golden calf which led to the Tabernacle legislation and imposition of the priestly code, and the idolatrous apostasy of the second generation at Baal-peor which gave rise to the Deuteronomic “book of the law” being imposed on the people.

So, Hahn asks, what does Paul mean in v. 19 by “law”? Is it all law, or an additional body of laws that were added later?

Hahn insists that it must be the latter for a couple reasons that are suggested in the text itself. First, it makes more sense to think of the Deuteronomic covenant as being something that was “added” to something that came earlier (such as the Decalogue). Secondly, if “the law was added because of transgressions,” how does this comport with the view that sees the law as being the Sinaitic covenant? Nothing in the narrative of the giving of the Ten Commandments suggests that some set of transgressions occasioned the giving of the Decalogue. Plus, Paul says explicitly in Romans 4:13 that “where there is no law, there is no transgression,” meaning that whatever “law” the apostle intends in Galatians 3:19 must be given over and above some law already in existence.

The “book of the law” from whose curses Jesus redeems his people, therefore, is the Deuteronomic covenant in particular.