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Paul & the Law: A Contextual Approach Paperback – December 14, 1995
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"The last two decades have seen an explosion of new approaches to Paul's theology and especially to his theology of the Old Testament and Judaism. This so-called new perspective on Paul has demanded response from various theological traditions. Frank Thielman's book on Paul and the law is the most thorough response to these issues to date. Not everyone will agree with all of his perspecitves and conclusions, but his book forms a fine starting point for further discussions of these matters." (Douglas J. Moo, professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)
"Frank Thielman's exposition of the issues surrounding Paul's interpretation of the Jewish law is lucid and helpful. Students should find this book a reliable guide through a thicket of formidable exegetical problems. Thielman's method of examining the role of Paul's statements about the law within the argument of each individual letter is an important advance in the study of this central topic in Pauline theology." (Richard B. Hays, associate professor of New Testament, Duke Divinity School)
"This book reasserts Reformation concerns about Paul and the law in a manner that will be very appealing to conservative Protestants; it provides a kind of neo-Calvinist slant on the law. It does so in a fair-minded way, and quite persuasively, dealing far more cogently with the different historical contexts of the Pauline letters than is normal in books on this topic." (Robert Jewett, professor of New Testament interpretation, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary)
About the Author
Thielman is associate professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul's View of the Law in Galatians and Romans. (Brill).
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No doubt they were chosen and they had the Law but, because of their attitude and actions, they gave a bad impression about the Law God gave them at Mount Sinai. Christians, however, by looking into the lives of the same Jews in Jesus' time may arrive to the wrong/distorted conclusion that the Law was evil, unnecessary, and totally irrelevant to the New Covenant that Jesus inaugurated through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. This is far from the truth for stated that "We know that the law is good when used correctly." So the Law has a place in Christianity and it is relevant to Christian's understanding of it and of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
In his book, "Paul & the Law", author Frank Thielman takes a meticulous exegetical quest into, and a contextual approach to, Paul's view on the Law. In the back cover of the book there is a statement that goes as follows: "No issue in contemporary Pauline studies is more contested than Paul's view of the law." This statement is really an understatement because the negative view Christians have, or have had, on the Law has caused incongruent conclusions because steps into proper biblical interpretation have not been taken. Paul, no doubt is not a novice in the interpretation of Scripture but a well-prepared expositor with great theological and doctrinal background that was also coupled with the revelation of the living Christ. How Paul addresses or views the Law is a matter of being wise and tactful. He uses the Law according to the issues encountered or as a preventive measure in the churches he has planted or has helped built. Reading this book has caused me to shift my negative view of the Law and see the Law as something, though obsolete under the New Covenant, necessary, revealing, intriguing, and important in understanding the concept of living under the New Covenant.
Paul, soaked in his knowledge of Scripture and seeing through the eyes of Christ, sees now that all the promises God made under the Old Covenant have come to pass in Jesus Christ. Abraham, for example, the father of many nations and a great patriarch for the Jews, was called by God while he was uncircumcised but was circumcised as a mark of God's covenant with him. Now Christians, have been circumcised but not with a physical circumcision but by having a circumcised heart. God promised that one day He will replace the stony hearts of His people with a heart of flesh and that He will put His Law on their minds and write it in their hearts instead of the stone tablets as in Mount Sinai when He gave the Law to Moses. Paul sees the fulfillment of these promises in those who, by faith in Christ, have received the Spirit of God who searches all things; even the deep things of God. What Paul is doing with the Law is using it to his advantage in order to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Jews as well as to the Gentiles. Even in his view of the Law, and according to the way author Frank Thielman presented Paul's view of the Law, Paul sees that there is a new chosen generation; the new people of God. I believe that Paul is seeing both Jews and Gentiles under the New Covenant as the Israel of God in contrast to the God of Israel, which was a chosen people settled in a geographical place and separated from other nations because of the precepts and ordinances of the Law of Moses. Paul addresses his churches as the new people of God who are called to be holy, separated from the world system they now live in. I believe that Mr. Thielman did an excellent exegetical study of Paul's view of the Law. He took many of the diverse opinions and interpretation and dealt with them by letting Scripture, with the help of the Holy Spirit, interpret Scripture.
This makes for a great reference book to get information about each passate were Paul mentions the law. Especially in how there are paralells to the prophets. I'd not read any writtings that did this to any where near this extent before.
My view is that the guiding princible for fulfilling the law in the NT is loving God and loving people. I'd love to read a book dealing with not being under the law but under grace that enables us to love people with an emphesis on the freedom we have in Christ. Since I've not found this idea developed very fully, I'm plugging along myself.
However, some of Thielman's points may not sit well with advocates of the traditional Protestant view of the Law. Thielman follows too closely with the "letter-Spirit" approach to the Law (Daniel Fuller). He argues that the Pauline antithesis between Law and Gospel should not be understood as a fundamental antithesis between works and faith. Works are good and even required under the new covenant. In fact, according to Thielman, Paul's gospel has the same structure of promise-demand as the Mosaic covenant. One of the main differences between the two covenants is that in the new covenant the believer is enabled to obey the Law through the Spirit. Thus, the issue of Law vs. Gospel is merely a salvation-historical issue. Thielman argues this point based on the renewal-prophetic passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Though it is true that the Law will be written in the hearts of believers as prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34, Thielman does not discuss in detail what the implications of this is. Does it mean that redeemed people will obey God's Law because they are justified (Luther, Calvin, the Puritans, etc.)? Or is this new obedience to the Law a requirement for final justification alongside Christ's righteousness (New Perspective)? Thielman should have spent some time (perhaps several pages) discussing how his approach to the Law coincides with justification by faith and Christ's righteousness imputed to believers. In fact, one gets the impression that Thielman removes the wall between the Law and Gospel, a wall that traditional Protestants have always kept in place. Overall, though, this book is worth reading. Many students of Paul's theology will find this book quite interesting and resourceful.