Side Notes on Law in Romans

There are a couple of loose ends from earlier comment threads that I haven’t been able to wrap up. One has to do with Wright’s claim about the law’s purpose being to focalize sin upon Israel, the other with what Paul means by Law.

In Paul’s summary… the law functions to intensify the sin of Adam… (“the law came in on the side in order that the trespass might increase,” 5:20)… Torah, instead of lifting up Israel to a level above the rest of the human race, simply throws a bright spotlight on the fact that Israel, too, is “in Adam,” is “fleshly,” is “sold under sin.”…

“In the very place where sin abounded, grace also abounded.” Here is the rhetorical argument of the letter in a nutshell. Yes, the Torah simply intensifies the sin of Adam in the people of Israel. No, this does not lead to Marcionism… (“Romans and the Theology of Paul, 46-47)

Wright sees ch. 7, where Paul defends the Torah, as being the point where Paul works things out a bit more fully (pp. 52-53 of the same essay):

  1. Covenant was put in place to deal with the sin of the world. This is, thus, Torah’s ultimate purpose.
  2. Torah came in order that sin might abound (Rom 5:20)–“That is, the divine purpose in the giving of Torah was in order to draw Adam’s trespass to its full height precisely in Israel.”
  3. This is repeated in 7:13: “in order that sin might become exceedingly sinful”
  4. God draws all this sin on Israel in order to pass it on to Israel’s Messiah and there deal with sin once and for all: “‘Sin’ is lured into doing its worst in Israel, in order that it may exhaust itself in the killing of the representative Messiah, after which there is nothing more it can do.”
  5. Thus, the apparently negative force of Torah (to draw in and focus sin over Israel’s head) has as its ultimate purpose God’s final dealing with sin, once and for all
  6. “Israel’s ‘failure,’ therefore, was part of the strange covenant plan of the creator god whereby this god intended to deal with the world’s sin.”

What I have liked about this articulation of things is that it places the dying of Christ within the story of Israel. Moreover, it takes seriously the idea that for Paul nomos in Romans often refers quite specifically to the Torah, the Law given to Israel as such.

This leads to the second point.

Yes, in Paul, Torah comes to play a part in the cosmic story of the powers that govern the earth.

But no, it is not inclusive of the cosmic powers that govern the sun, moon, stars, and Gentile morality. At least, not in Romans.

When Paul enters his complex discussion of Law in chs. 5-8, he begins by telling us that Adam trespassed, and that the thing called “law” comes in with Moses. He has specific events in mind, specific Torah given by a specific God to a specific people–and not to others. Without this piece in place, it becomes impossible to make sense of how Paul’s articulation of the gospel is, in fact, for the Jew first–and even through Israel, which was entrusted with the very words of God.

Put differently, it is not the “law” of the planets in orbit that bears witness to the crucified and risen Christ, but the Pentateuch.

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