Monday, October 15, 2007

Paul, the Law, Identity

The Ann Coulter interview, which I've posted on a bit, raises a number of questions. Coulter is not a good theologian, in fact, she has no clue as to the meaning of the Christian faith. In her mind Jews seek to earn their salvation by carrying the heavy burden of the Law. This is similar to the charge that Catholics seek to earn/merit salvation. Protestant Christians, are different, they don't have to obey any laws, they just have to say -- I believe and then everything is groovy. Or at least that's the way it's told sometimes.
What Coulter espoused is what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." It is a kind of grace that doesn't seek transformation. The problem, of course, is understanding what Paul means by the law. Biblical scholars are still arguing about this, and likely will for some time to come. So, I don't profess to have any final answers. But because the issue has come up, and I'd like to post on the issue of the relationship of Judaism and Christianity, having some idea of what Paul was getting at is helpful.
Clark Williamson is a Disciples of Christ theologian, a student of Tillich and Process Theology -- now retired from Christian Theological Seminary. He writes theology self-consciously from a post-holocaust perspective. Here is a piece from his book A Guest in the House of Israel (WJK, 1993).

Yet, what did Paul mean when he denied (three times) in this passage [Gal. 215-16] that justification comes "by works of the Law"? The context of the passage makes clear that the concerns were circumcision (at Jerusalem) and the dietary laws (at Antioch); it is these that Paul has in mind. [James] Dunn and Alan Segal make it clear that when we find negative statements about the law in Paul, the context is always one in which "membership requirements" are under discussion. Paul's positive statements about the law, on the other hand, reflect contexts where questions of behavior are raised. Circumcision and the dietary laws were widely looked upon as peculiar to Jews. To Gentile outsiders they functioned as "identity markers," identifying their practitioners as Jews; to Jews they worked in the same way, function as "badges of covenant membership." Their role was similar to that of Baptism and the Eucharist in the church today; it is almost impossible to think of the church without them ("almost" because there is the
Society of Friends). In any case, this is what Paul attacks: "the idea that God's acknowledgment of covenant status is bound up with , even dependent upon, observing of these particular
regulations."
(Williamson, p. 95 -- final quote from JDG Dunn).

Williams, following Dunn and Segal, clearly states that while Paul might get see the identity badges as an unnecessary sign of distinction, he wasn't in any way abandoning the moral Torah. The point of the Torah, of course, is to be the sign of transformation.

1 comment:

Tia Lynn said...

Very thought provoking! thank you for sharing.