Paul and the Law: Keeping the commandments of God. By Brian S. Rosner. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Editor D.A. Carson. IVP, 2013.
This book was EXTREMELY helpful for me as I continue to try and figure out what we Christians are to do with Biblical law. I’m always trying to discern: as a Christian, am I under law or grace? How should or shouldn’t Biblical law (especially the OT) affect my ethics? Am I supposed to love the law, or hate it? Should I try to obey God’s law (and which ones?) or am I to live according to the Spirit? The answer hasn’t been immediately forthcoming for me when I read the entire Biblical corpus and especially when I try to take ALL of Paul seriously. Rosner describes the tension well. He says,
The subject of Paul and the law is rightly regarded as one of the knottiest puzzles in the study of the New Testament. Paul affirms that ‘the law is holy, just and good’, insists that ‘we uphold the law’ and asks rhetorically, ‘Does the law not speak entirely for our sake?’ Yet the same Paul also holds that believers in Christ ‘are not under the law’, believes that ‘the law brings death and works wrath’ and maintains that ‘Christ is the end of the law’ (Page 207).
For the most part, before reading this book my hermeneutical approach to Biblical law was to try to discover which bits of the law I was meant to follow and which ones I should ignore (mostly following the Reformed rubric of discerning which laws are ceremonial, moral, or civil). Based on context, exegesis and trying to discern authorial intent, I would then haphazardly come up with my decisions on what Biblical laws still seem to “stand” and what other ones are “not for us today’. But after reading this book, Rosner has taught me to do otherwise. He shows how a better approach to Biblical law is not to ask “which ones” should Christians follow, but instead we should ask “in what sense” is the law still valuable for Christians today? When we ask that question, we come up with a bigger and better answer. It is impossible to describe how important that distinction is without going into detail. But, long story short, this is a paradigm shift for me.
In a nut-shell, Rosner’s overall argument is that Paul always does three things with the law:
- Paul repudiates the law
- Paul then replaces the law
- Paul then re-appropriates the law both prophetically and also as wisdom.
In the end, I think Rosner is right. Impressively, Rosner shows how all 3 of these moves are in action in each Pauline book (210-216). This is a significant insight and I found it to have extraordinary explanatory power. My favorite thing about Rosner’s rubric is that it allows us to take ALL of Paul’s comments about the law seriously. We don’t have to pick and choose which Pauline statements on law we will focus on and which ones to marginalize. I loved this! Rosner’s “rubric” as I’ll call it is the most comprehensive system for understanding Biblical law I have ever read and is far superior to the system I was using previously. Reading this book was akin to reading D.A. Carson’s Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension. But if you ask me, Rosner went one step better than Carson. Where D.A. Carson was content to simply show the fabric of tension within Scripture, Rosner is so bold as to find solutions. Mind you, not solutions for altering the texts or even worse, ignoring certain ones, but solutions with how to interpret and synthesize the whole. Perhaps the student has become the master? (Notice D.A. Carson is the editor of Rosner’s work :)
I learned SO much from this book and I will never look at Biblical law the same. It should be sufficient for me to just state a few of Rosner’s statements that I agree with after tracing his arguments:
- Believers in Christ are not under the law, in the law, or even from the law. We are not subject to the law as disciplinarian because of Christ and His Spirit within us (81).
- Christians are not meant to “do” the law, we are meant to fulfill it (83-88)
- While the law does not disclose righteousness, yet it bears witness to it (152)
- Thus, while we are not subject to the law, we still value it as we value the ground underneath our feet. It is a foundation to us. It is our “floor” (166, 193)
- The law helps us in understanding the Gospel both prophetically (it showed the way of Christ before Christ and prepared us for Him) and as wisdom. Without the law, we don’t see the “shadow” of Christ’s wisdom as clearly as we would have.
- Maybe most pertinently and practically for my case: When approaching the law, one of the best things we should do with it, is ask: “any wisdom here?” (188) If we ask that question, we are well on our way to properly using all of Scripture (and all of Biblical law!) as prescribed ethics for today.
The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. By Sinclair Ferguson. Crossway: 2016.
Quite simply, this is one of the best books I have ever read in my life. Absolutely unbelievable. I bought it because the reviews on it were insane. My expectations were high. But even still, this book blew my socks off. I would use words for it such as, “stunning,” “breath-taking,” “brilliant,” and absolutely “life-changing.” I’m not joking. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of this book (particularly chapters 4-5) become REQUIRED reading for most every seminary student in the country within 20 years. This is an IMMEDIATE classic and should become one of the primary texts on “legalism” in the English language. I am left in awe, in so many ways.
This is one of those books that I hesitate to write anything about because all my good words about the book will ruin your potential for realizing how amazing it actually is. I would venture to say this type of book is impossible to write by a young person. It has the weight of a wise, experienced intellect-theologian-pastor-sage-disciple. Reading this book completely revolutionized my ideas and even definitions of what legalism is, what antinomianism is, what grace means, who Christ is, and how core these things are to the Christian life – and really, to every human.
Please, if you are a minister, or a Christian, and you want to learn about what it means to follow Christ and learn to love His grace – you have to read this book! You’ll gain some knowledge of early 18th century Scottish history on the way (and on top of that, substantial amounts of the history of reformed theology), but really, that’s just the cherry on top. Do yourself a favor. Buy this book. Now! Please…
(Disclaimer: The publisher did not send me a free copy of this book for my review. I spent my own money on it, and I’d do it a million times over if I had to, or if I had that much money)