Israel's Law and the Church's Faith

Israel's Law and the Church's Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters

A clear and concise view of recent scholars on Paul's understanding of law.

Reviewed by Sakae Kubo, retired vice president for academic affairs, Atlantic Union College, now living in Chico, California.

This book deals with the place of law in Paul's thought. Paul regards the law in a pejorative way in most cases, and yet he talks about fulfilling the law and living out its ethical content. The question is, How does Paul view law?

Westerholm first presents an overview of recent interpreters of Paul who deal with questions relevant to Paul's view of the law. Scholars generally no longer regard Judaism as a religion of works righteousness. They believe that the law was given to the Israelites as a gift of love subsequent to their covenantal relationship—which was based on grace.

Recent interpreters also point out Paul's apparent inconsistencies concerning the law. At times Paul speaks against it, at other times upholds it, and at yet other times uses a more balanced approach, keeping in tension the relationship between justification and the fulfilling of the law.

The second part of the book gives Westerholm's own views on Paul's understanding of law. He first states that the word nomos refers to the Old Testament Scriptures (generally, the Pentateuch); when Paul uses it, however, he means specifically the Sinaiatic legislation. Nomos never refers to the perversion of law.

On justification by faith the author sees Paul agreeing with Judaism that the law promises life. However, Paul says that human failure keeps us from ever achieving this promise. Judaism does not regard sin as radically as Paul does. So Judaism does not emphasize divine grace to the same extent—Paul totally excludes human works.

Westerholm sees a kind of dichotomy in Paul's theology. There is a dispensation of law from Sinai to Golgotha, followed by a dispensation of grace. God in His foreknowledge had given the law to bring out sin, which was already latent in humans, in order to set the stage for granting mercy through Christ.

With Christ's coming, the Spirit replaces the law. The Christian is not under compulsion to do the law, but nevertheless in the Spirit "completely satisfies" what the law requires.

This book requires a lengthier review than can be presented here. It is important enough for careful study by every Adventist minister. It presents clearly and concisely the views of recent scholars on Paul's understanding of law and the author's own careful explanation of the problems raised by these scholars.


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Reviewed by Sakae Kubo, retired vice president for academic affairs, Atlantic Union College, now living in Chico, California.

June 1991

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