Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Incident at Antioch and the Making of Paulinism

Here's a segment from the conclusion of my "Antioch" article:

In the incident at Antioch we confront the first public expression of Paulinism understood as the antithesis between Christ and Torah. This paradigmatic shift from Torah to Christ as the locus of God’s saving actions was impregnated in Paul’s Damascus road experience, publicly debuted in Antioch, unleashed with the fury of a scorned woman in Galatia, clinically applied in 2 Corinthians 3, given its mature and prudent form in Romans, and eventually lent itself towards the genesis of two competing theologies of proto-orthodoxy and Marcionism in the second century that both claimed ancestry from Paul. This Paulinism is aptly captured by Martin Hengel:

For him, the encounter with the Resurrected One near Damascus set before him the question of the law or Christ in the form of a soteriological alternative. For Judaism of that time the Torah was in manifold expression the essence of salvation, and could be identified with the fundamental religious metaphor, “life”. Since the opposition between Torah and Jesus of Nazareth had made him into a persecutor, now the relationship between Christ and Torah had to become a fundamental issue, in which the inversion of the opposition immediately because apparent: he, the Resurrected One is zwh& for those who believe (2 Cor 4:11-12; cf. 2:16).[1]

While I demur from Hengel’s treatment of the incident at Antioch for the reasons given above, I remain convinced that Hengel has tapped into the nerve of Paul’s thought and demonstrated the radical stance of Paul and the Torah that made him the controversial figure that he was. Yet this Christ-Torah antithesis needs some qualifications as I suspect that it does not mean what many Protestant commentators think it means. It does not mean that Jewish Christians should cease observing the law, nor does it mean that the Torah has nothing binding on the ethical life of Gentile Christians. Rather, the advent of Christ means that his death and resurrection has effected the end of ages and broken the link between law, sin, and death. Christ turns the condemnation of the law into justification. Christ made the curse of the law into redemption. Faith in Christ is the testimony of the law and yet faith in Christ places believers beyond the jurisdiction of the law. Christ terminates the Mosaic dispensation in order to fulfil the Abrahamic hopes. Christ serves the circumcision by making Gentiles heirs of the Patriarchs.



[1] Martin Hengel, “The Stance of the Apostle Paul Toward the Law in the Unknown Years Between Damascus and Antioch,” in Justification and Variegated Nomism: Volumes 2 – The Paradoxes of Paul, eds. D.A. Carson, P.T. O’Brien, and M.A. Seifrid (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 84.

4 comments:

Joel Willitts said...

Given your caveat I think then to use the word "antithesis" is inappropriate. If the Torah is still binding on Jewish believers in some way or to some degree and Gentile believers are to draw ethical implications from the Torah how is Christ antithetical to Torah? We should use another word.

吳庭 said...

當我微笑時,世界和我一起微笑;當我快樂時,世界和我一起活躍。..................................................

Michael F. Bird said...

Joel, Christ does what many Jews thought the law would do: define and save a people. Paul believes that they law can't even do that and was never intended to do that. So the antithesis remains in my thinking.

Joel Willitts said...

Mike: But at least "some Jews" (what defines "many"), Paul included, thought there was no contradiction, no antithesis, between Christ and the Torah. Antithesis suggests contradiction. The Messiah comes as the eschatological legislator. It is his Torah. The Mosaic administration has been superseded, but not the Torah.