A perceptive Lutheran reader asked whether I was endorsing an antinomian position in my favorable summary of Kolb's article on Luther and Chemnitz. He pointed out that Kolb's position relies on an illegitimate separation of God and His Law, and argued that instead the Law should be seen as an expression of God's character. Since I've been accused of being a "neo-legalist," it's a nice change of pace to be read as an antinomian. But this reader's response did make it clear that I needed to clarify my comments. For the record, I am not an antinomian. But herewith are some clarifications on the earlier posting:
First, I caused some confusion, I'm sure, with equivocation on "law." As a matter of exegesis, I believe that by "law" Paul normally (if not invariably) means "Torah," and I take that to mean the whole system of life, government, and worship that was instituted at Sinai. This includes permanent commandments, but it also includes requirements that remain in force only until a time of reformation, until the coming of the new covenant in Christ. I think I imported this definition into my discussion of the Forde book without explanation; and I suspect I read the Kolb piece through the screen of this understanding of law. In short, I'm thinking of law in a different way from the way it's normally discussed in systematic theology, and I tend to slip back and forth between thinking of law as "moral demand" and thinking of it as "Mosaic system" in confusing ways. I'll try to do better.
Second, when "law" is taken in the sense of "Mosaic system," it is entirely Pauline to say that Christ delivers us from law per se, and not merely from its curse. Because we are in the flesh, the good and holy law becomes an enemy, an ally of sin and death. Transformed by Spirit, we are enabled to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law (Rom 8:1-4). Those who walk by the Spirit are never at liberty to violate the moral demands of Torah, but walking by the Spirit is not the same thing as living under law. Jesus came to bring in a new covenant, not to renew and refresh the old covenant.
Third, if we take "law" in the sense described above, then there does appear to be some "distance" between God and His Law. Torah reflected the righteous character of God, but it's also evident that there are demands in Torah that are no longer demands on us. Torah was "redemptive-historically relative" in many specific ways, a covenant for Israel's "minority" (Gal 3-4). In fact, at times it would be sinful for Christians to conform to Torah (eg, obviously, imposing circumcision as a duty). So, Torah expressed God's character, but within the limits of a particular redemptive-historical setting.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, February 14, 2005 at 08:52 AM
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