Thursday, February 21, 2008
Torah in Early Christianity: Diversity
One of the hobgoblins of New Testament Theology is "diversity". I think there are at least seven different views of the Torah in the early church. From my very brief survey of the NT, I identify them as follows:
(1) For Judean Jesus believers with a pharisaic background adherence to Torah is still the definitive marker of covenant identity and obedience to its precepts is the grounds for entrance into the new age even with the advent of the messiah (Acts 15.1, 5).
(2) For some Judean Jesus believers connected to the Jerusalem church, the coming of Christ compliments rather than replaces the Torah so that Jews and Gentiles are still bound to follow the Jewish way of life (Gal. 2.12, 14; 4.10; 5.2-4; Gal. 6.13).
(3) The apostolic decree states that Gentiles should obey minimally the noachide commandments as a mark of respect to their Jewish brothers and sisters (Acts 15.28-29).
(4) For some Diasporan Jesus believers living outside of Palestine Jesus is God’s supreme agent of salvation, but the Torah remains holy and good and should be followed (Mt. 5.17-20; Jas. 2.8, 12; Barn. 2.6).
(5) In groups connected to the Greek-speaking Jesus-believers the Torah has a limited role in redemptive history that has been completed by arrival of the messiah with the result that the Torah is relativized rather than abrogated (Acts 6.13-14; Col. 2.17; Heb. 10.1).
(6) For many Jesus believers with a history of Torah observance (i.e. the ‘weak’ who are easily offended), adherence to the mosaic law’s precepts is part of their social, familial, and devotional life and while professing faith in Jesus as messiah and Lord, they lack the maturity/insight to see that they are free to relinquish submission to its commands (Rom. 14.1–15.7).
(7) According to Paul the Torah exists in a set of binitarian antitheses between Christ and Torah and Torah and Spirit (e.g. 2 Cor. 3.1-9; Rom. 8.2; 10.4). The Torah points to salvation but does not provide it (Gal. 3.21-25; Rom. 3.21). Torah is bound up with the old age of sin, law, and death which those in Christ are free from (Rom. 7.5-6; 8.2; 1 Cor. 15.56). The Torah remains good and holy (Rom. 7.12). While the Torah can still inform the righteous behavior of the Jesus-believers (Rom. 13.9-10), the basis for upright living is the example of Christ (e.g. Phil. 2.5-11), the teaching of Christ (1 Cor. 9.20-21; Gal. 6.2), and life in the Spirit (e.g. Gal. 5.18; Rom. 7.6; 8.2-4). In the context of defending the integrity of his Gentile converts Paul regards law observance as leading to a curse (Gal. 3.10; cf. Acts 15.10), slavery (Gal. 4.22–5.1; Rom. 7.6) and he likens compelled obedience to Torah as to submission to hostile pagan deities (Gal. 4.8-9; Col. 2.14-15). What counts is not circumcision but new creation (1 Cor. 7.19; Gal. 6.15).
I wonder what we would could add to this list in terms of diversity if we included the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, and early non-canonical literature?
See further Raymond Brown and John Meier, Antioch and Rome: New Testament Cradles of Catholic Christianity (New York: Paulist, 1983): 1-9; Peter Stuhlmacher, ‘The Law as a Topic of Biblical Theology,’ in Reconciliation, Law and Righteousness (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986): 110-33.
Why do I suspect that James Crossley will have a comment or two about this?