Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Critical Assessment of Rosner's "Paul and the Law", Part 3

Who is the Christian of whom Rosner speaks?

Perhaps this will appear to you to be a quite unusual question at first. Of course Christians are followers of Jesus Christ both Jew and Gentile you might say. This certainly seems to be the way Rosner is using the term. He states in the conclusion: “although Jews are under the law, believers in Christ are not” (p. 418). This understanding of identity in Paul however is anachronistic and false. It is true that in one place Paul distinguishes Jew, Gentile and the ekklesia of God (1 Cor 10:32). But this type of categorization is exceptional and whatever it might mean, it does not denote the so-called “third race” theology prevalent in the some circles today. Paul’s categories for identity are binary sets: Jew and Greek, male and female, and slave and free (Gal 3:28). For the sake of argument, even if the term "church" were taken as a category for Paul alongside the ethnic distinctions, the term "Christian" was not.

Rosner’s study exhibits this common category error and consequently the thinking does not reflect the complexity of the issue adequately. The result of this weakness is that his conclusion that “a major shift in the way the people of God relate to the law” has occurred for Paul cannot be sustained. While it may be true, the argument in this essay is too weak to establish it.

Let me put my point in a simple a question: Was a Jewish believer in Jesus at the time of Paul a Jew or a Christian?


Mike W said...

And is a Jewish believer (or NT scholar) today a Jew or a christian?

sujomo said...


Thanks for your comments and analysis.

To be fair to Rosner we may have to wait for his forthcoming New Studies in Biblical Theology volume on Paul and the law which he is currently researching and writing. His conclusion seems to be "the Law of Moses functions as witness to the gospel and as wisdom for living in his letters. The law as law is the way in which Christians do not relate to the Law of Moses." This for Rosner is the Christian's "positive relationship to the law".

Your posts indicate that not all will be convinced by Rosner's conclusions.

I note that Rosner does not refer to Jason C Meyer's "The End of the Law" which reminds us that a correct understanding of covenant is the substratum to Paul's epistles.

Can anyone explain why in Romans 2:17-29 (which is the passage that Rosner studies in his article)half of the time nomos is arthrous and the other half of the time it is anarthrous. Is it just stylistic?


Mr Veale said...

A very good question.

At the risk of sounding uninformed, was there a clear category that *gentile* believers in Jesus could attach themselves to? "Christian" seems a little anachronistic.

It's interesting that the first "heresies" seem to pull the Church either towards a traditional Jewish identity, or towards categories that the pagan world would have been familiar with.

Did gentile "Christians" have an identity crisis of there own to contend with?

(I'm a high school teacher, which is why I come up as Mr Veale...don't know how to change that, sorry if it sounds pretentious)

Jason B. Hood said...

Sujomo et al, do you know of any reviews on The End of the Law?

sujomo said...

Hi Jason,

Here is one:



Steven Coxhead said...

A careful reading of the Old Testament leads to the conclusion that the message of the Old Testament is that the solution to Israel's covenant rebellion is the coming of the Suffering Spirit-filled Servant who will (among other things) pour out the Spirit to move Israel and the nations to keep torah. This is the Spiritual circumcision of the heart talked about in Deut 30:6; Jer 31:33; and Ezek 36:26-27. Rosner's argument seems to imply that Paul was unaware of this eschatological expectation of Moses and the Old Testament prophets.

And if the law-keeping Gentile of Rom 2 is understood as being the Gentile Christian who has undergone such Spiritual circumcision (as it should be), then Rosner's thesis is blown out of the water: "if a [Gentile Christian] who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?" (Rom 2:26). Those who have the Spirit can actually submit to God's law (Rom 8:7)!