Paul the Apostle, Law, and Sin, Parts 7 & 8

The Pauline Concept of Law and Sin

The Pauline Concept of Law and Sin

Civil Law

During Paul’s ministry, Roman government represented a stabilizing and equalizing element which afforded Paul, as a Roman citizen, ample opportunities to travel freely, and a certain amount of protection from abuse.  Caesar, as well, he saw as “not a terror to good works, but to the evil” (Rom. 13:3), ready to punish the lawless and unruly.  At the same time, Paul bridled at abuse of his rights, under Jewish as well as Roman law.  One may only speculate that he might have professed, with Peter, the mandate to “obey God rather than men” if it suited his purpose.  Nevertheless, Paul did not perceive the government, apart from the Jewish authorities, as an obstacle to the furtherance of the Gospel and growth of the Church.

Obey civil authorities, with qualifications

  • Paul objects to violation of his rights (but yielded to Exodus 22:28), Acts 23:2-5
  • Paul asserted his citizenship rights, Acts 21:39, 22:25-29, 23:27, 25:1-26:32, 28:17-19
  • Earthly rulers are allowed by God to keep order and punish wrongdoing, Romans 13:1-8
  • Pray for rulers and conduct yourself honorably, 1 Timothy 2:1-3
  • See also 1 Peter 4:15, do not commit crimes and improprieties that incur just punishment
  • Compare:  Acts 4:19-20, 5:29 (Peter), “obey God rather than men”

Cultural Mores & Customs

The Apostle Paul was not in favor of license or Libertinism which in the name of grace flaunted the customs and mores of societies in which he ministered, see Romans 6:1, 1 Corinthians 8:9, Galatians 5:13.  Rather, he upheld the best conservative moral ideals and traditions of the Jews as well as Gentiles.  His views on the rights and comportment of women, while informed by the principles of Original Creation and Moses’ Law, also appear to reflect the influence of strongly patriarchal societies, especially that of observant Jews of the day.

Matrimony is holy and honorable

  • One is bound in marriage till released by death, Romans 7:1-4
  • Marital bonds, cares, and obligations, 1 Corinthians 7:1-40
  • Those who wish or need to marry are free to do so, 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, see also Matthew 19:10-12
  • Marriage ought not be forbidden, 1 Timothy 4:1

Marital faithfulness demonstrates worthiness of honor and responsibility

  • “Espoused to one husband,” 1 Corinthians 11:2
  • “Husband of one wife,” 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6
  • “Wife of one man,” 1 Timothy 5:9

Families are responsible to care for their own elderly and destitute

  • 1 Timothy 5:4-8, 16

Men chosen for leadership should be faithful husbands and fathers

  • 1 Timothy 3:1-13
  • Titus 1:5-9

The deportment of women compared to men

  • It is seemly and comely for women to wear their hair long, and to cover their heads during worship; but unnatural for men to wear long hair, and inappropriate for them to cover their heads in worship, 1 Corinthians 11:1-16
  • Women are not allowed to speak publicly in church, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
  • Women are not allowed to teach publicly, or oversee a man, 1 Timothy 2:11-12
  • Women are admonished to dress and act modestly, 1 Timothy 2:8-11
  • Only elderly widows of good report deserve church financial support, younger widows should remarry, raise children, and work in the home, 1 Timothy 5:4-15

Incest disreputable even to the Gentiles

  • 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Summary Conclusions

Referring to the diagram, as supported by Scripture passages, one sees that God’s eternal will and plan for man, as created, falls within God’s moral and natural law, represented by the large yellow circle.  Elements of Moses’ Law, and cultural mores and customs, are overlapped by God’s eternal will, to the extent that those spheres ratify, or rather are ratified by, God’s plan.  Noahide Law, originally limited to a symbolic reverence for blood as life, remains valid in principle, though not in letter of the law.  Later additions regarding fornication and idolatry, besides being integral with Moses’ Law, can be said as well to be valid as part of God’s original, revealed will.  (Therefore, those circles partly overlap.)  The Abrahamic Covenant, which featured only one law, that of circumcision, has been transcended by the Law of Faith, which was the effective element all along (circumcision being the seal and testimony of the Covenant, the theological equivalent to Christian water baptism—as is, arguably, the Lord’s Supper).  Moses’ Law, which incorporated in totality the laws given to Noah and Abraham, was “fulfilled” by the work of Christ by several standards, including the fulfillment of Law’s overall prophetic, moral, and salvific purpose.  Therefore, those who by faith have entered “into Christ,” while bound to God’s eternal moral law, are free not only from the letter of Moses’ Law (the temporal rituals, ordinances, observances, and strictures external to God’s eternal law), but from the “Law of Sin and Death” that Moses’ Law actuates (Rom. 7:1‒8:4, 10:4, Gal. 3:19-26, et al.).

Therefore, the elements of Moses’ Law, apart from God’s moral and natural law, are rendered irrelevant and non-binding to the Christian, just as they remain ineffectual to observant Jews, who are unable to “keep the whole law” (Rom. 2:12-29, Gal. 5:3, 6:13, see also James 2:10).  Thus the Christian reverences life, but is not forbidden from eating meat containing blood.  The Christian honors the Creator for the Sabbath, as suggested in Genesis 2, but is not prohibited from work or travel on the Sabbath, a commandment added by Moses’ Law.  The Christian is forbidden no food, “for every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4).

Those elements of civil law and culture which do not violate Biblical faith or a pure conscience are acceptable to the Christian.  Governments in general “are not a terror to good works, but to bad ones” (Rom. 13:3), though just rights can be claimed and abuse of rights disputed.  Christians must not participate in ungodly pagan practices, though innocuous differences may be overlooked if not made an issue.

One concludes that the laws for which Christians are responsible are those which make for peace and godliness, and which edify the brethren (Rom. 14:19, 1 Tim. 2:2, et al.), all of which surely fall within the sphere of God’s moral and natural law.  Christians are saved, like Abraham, by the Law of Faith, not by external laws or rituals.  All that is not done in faith being sin, a Christian ought to do nothing which cannot be done in faith, in the sight of God—not in unbelief, by which some imagine that they will escape judgment.  The ultimate criterion for all we do must be the Law of Christ, which is love and gratitude for Christ’s work displayed not in self-actualization or self-motivation, but in serving to edify, profit, and benefit others.

© 2013 Paul A. Hughes

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