When we turn our attention to Paul’s reappraisal of Jewishness in Romans 2, he says that the Torah was given to the Jews as a way to be truly human i.e. the kind of human God approves. It was a way to fulfil the original human vocation that was given in Eden. Since it was about being the type of person God made you to be, it was not only Jews who should live by God’s law. The Torah was given to them for the sake of the world. Being truly Jewish meant being a member of God’s people but God wants all people to be a part of his family. In fact this was the promise he gave to Abraham. This theological through line from Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch all the way to the New Testament shows that it was never God’s intent to get rid of the law. The major concern was rather how humans could keep God’s law.
Paul thought that people who were not ethnic Jews could fulfil God’s law without the Mosaic code. He saw this happening under the New Testament where what law is, how we understand it and what it means for humans to keep it is radically reworked around the Messiah Jesus, the truly human one. Instead of being discarded or treated suspiciously, it literally remains vital to the New Testament people of God. Law is life giving. Even though we are not under the Mosaic code the believer still has law and that law is Christ, the fully human one.
Law is essential to who we are because it is the way to be human, the reason being that it ultimately comes from God and through it we are instructed on how to be the people he made us to be. God’s law is life giving because living by it means we are depending on God’s vision of who we ought to be, bringing us into an everlasting relationship with the eternal one.
New circumstances require a new law and that is what happens in the New Testament. At each level in the categories of law, narrative, contract and code, there are significant differences in the testaments. Instead of the Exodus, ritual sacrifice and the Mosaic commandments, we have the Gospel, resurrection and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Since the New Testament is the pivotal fulfilment of the Law, it shows similarity and dissimilarity with the Old. This means it either abrogates, modifies or supersedes the Old. This is consistent with the theology of new creation which is not the rejection of the old but rather renewal. The New Testament is actually a renewed testament.
Unlike the Old Testament, the law of God is not codified in the New Testament. Yet it does have a distinctively Trinitarian form in its focus, function and aims, which we can clearly reflect on, understand and authoritatively practice. We obey God by submitting to the Messiah and living by the Spirit. Its function is defined by story and praxis, that is, the good news of Jesus and his example, which is shared in the life of Christian community. Its aim is to bring personal, societal and environmental restoration and renewal. In other words the commands of God in the New Testament are redemptive bringing about new creation. This is what the New Testament ethic of love looks like. John the apostle sums up our discussion best,
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. – 1 John 5:3 ESV
Law is something for us and not against us.
The above are some highlights from a series of posts I did on the significance of law in the Bible.