Paul & The Law: The New Perspective

I’ve always found it a source of amazement to note how, even up till this 21st e-century, many many theological issues are as yet unresolved.  God’s Word is indeed a paradigm-shattering one, leaving us breathless in the wake of how much more there is to learn from it.

The issue of Paul’s view of Law is no exception.  The publishing of E.P. Sanders’ seminal work, Paul & Palestinian Judaism, in 1977 resulted in a necessary reconsideration of everything Protestantism used to believe about Judaism, the law, justification, legalism, etc.  The new perspective of Paul and the law is more or less summarised by James Dunn:

“The issue…was nothing to do with earning or achieving God’s favour, and not even so much about Gentiles ‘getting in’ to the covenant people…it was about Jews breaking down the ‘walls’ that separated Jew from Gentile.” (Paul & the Mosaic Law, p.314)

I wish to explore and elaborate this perspective (in dialogue with the more traditional readings of Paul and law) by addressing the questions (and as there are many passages to look at, I won’t bother listing them down just yet):

1.      What was the nature of Judaism in Paul’s day?  Did it involve EARNING one’s salvation?

2.      What did Paul mean by ‘works of the law’, ‘justification’, ‘faith’, ‘justification by faith’, etc.? 

3.      What is the link (if any) between Christians and Israel?  And what is the continuing role (if any) of the law for Christians?

See also:

·         Why did Paul issue an anathema in Gal 1:7-9, and what are the implications for Christian intra-community expulsions?

·         “Why don’t Christians keep the Law?” (some musings)


If nothing else, I believe that an honest thoughtful studying of the relevant issues and verses is something we need to engage in, if only because Paul

didn’t specify the ‘test scope’ of 1Thess 5:21 (smile).  Often in biblical/theological studies, the journey is the reward itself - especially for this

wannabee theologian, always amazed by His Lord.


Alwyn Lau

1st Feb 2002

Back to Main Page