For those who read yesterday about the standard way Christendom has looked at the Bible, you may be wondering: if the usual pattern (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) is not the most accurate, what do you suggest in its place? We will get to that soon.
First, another thought inspired by my reading of Soulen. I was reading about Justin Martyr, the very early Christian theologian who already, before 150 C.E., had explained our faith with Israel only as a footnote in God’s plan. Justin said that Christ had come with a new law, that this new law is, in fact, Christ himself, and that the tenets of the new law are the right and wrong that all men through history have known all along in their hearts.
I thought about the issue of the Law of Christ, as it is called. The phrase occurs in two biblical texts, which we will quote later. But first, I think about about some ways I have heard people use the idea of the Law of Christ:
“The Jews were under the (oppressive/primitive/obsolete/fleshly/unspiritual) Law of Moses which was done away with by Christ and replaced by the Law of Christ.”
Well, to those who would say that: what is the Law of Christ?
I think people generally have one of two answers:
1. It is the commandments of the New Testament which could themselves be formed into a law code.
2. It is natural law, which means morality as determined by human reason and experience.
I would like to give the lie to both of these answers.
First, the Law of Christ cannot mean the commandments of the New Testament. Paul uses the term in Galatians, one of (if not the) earliest Christian writings. There was no New Testament corpus of laws. Also, the New Testament books were written as letters to specific situations. They are not, like the Torah of Moses, a corpus of laws.
Second, the Law of Christ cannot be natural law (morality as determined by human reason). This appeals to people because it easily dismisses such things as Sabbath (not a command we could reason on our own) and dietary law. The Law of Christ cannot be natural law for several reasons: (1) we would not need a Bible if we could just follow our own reason, (2) we need God’s revelation to settle disputes about what is right and wrong (homosexuality?), and (3) while natural law is a sign of God’s work inside humankind it is not sufficient and never could be.
What is the Law of Christ? He told us himself. Read Matthew 5:17-20 carefully. Note that the word “fulfill” is misunderstood. It is the simple verb for “fill.” Messiah came to “fill up” the law, not abolish it. Too many people make the word “fulfill” mean the same thing as abolish (clearly going against the intention of Yeshua’s saying). Yeshua then goes on to show us what his law is in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. It is not just to avoid adultery, but lusting. Not just murder, but hatred. Messiah’s law is the Law of Moses interpreted in its fullest sense, spirit and letter, so that we imitate God by avoiding all evil.
Now let’s think about the places where Paul uses the term “Law of Christ.” In 1 Cor. 9:20-21, Paul is contrasting Jews and Gentiles. He notes that Gentiles are not under the law. Why? Because the Law was given to Israel. Does this mean Gentiles can sin freely? No, they are under the Law of Christ.
This is the key to understanding 1 Cor. 9:20-21: the coming of Christ extended the borders of Israel to include Gentiles by faith. That does not mean Gentiles become Jews or that they must live the special calling of Israel (see my book Paul Didn’t Eat Pork for a detailed case of Jew-Gentile distinction). It does mean they receive the spiritual blessings of Israel and must follow the Law that applies universally (commands of the Torah which are not limited to Jews as a sign).
Let me say it simply, in 1 Cor. 9:20-21, Paul refers to Gentiles as not being under the law, but he notes they are under the Law of Christ. This means, in Christ, Gentiles must keep the majority of the Law interpreted in its fullest spiritual sense.
In Galatians 6:2 Paul says we should bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the Law of Christ. He does not mean that bearing one another’s burdens is the sum-total of the Law. He means that if we interpret the Law the way Messiah taught us to, we will love our brother deeply and bear his or her burden together. This is evident from Genesis: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. This is evident from other parts of the Torah: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Here is the sum of what I am saying, the Law of Christ is the Law of Moses interpreted in its fullest sense, spirit and letter, and applied properly with distinction to Jew and Gentile. I know this raises thousands of questions. I try to be concise on this blog and I’ve already run a little long. If you grasp what I am saying, good. If not, perhaps as time progresses this will begin to make sense.