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Fayette County


An understandable discord

James Studdard is an attorney and a fan of Tertullian. He may be reached for comment, if absolutely necessary, at studlaw2000@yahoo.com.

Genesis, chapter 7, says: “As for me this is my covenant with you. I will establish my covenant between you and your offspring (other Jews) after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant. As for you, you shall keep my covenant. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you…every male among you shall be circumcised. Any uncircumcised male shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
This covenant to Abraham (a Jew) was made by God six hundred years before Paul or Jesus, for that matter, was born. Fast forward to around 50 AD. Paul, a former Jew turned gentile as a result of a holy vision near Damascus, imagined that it was his duty to establish a new religion; A religion that rejected the limiting of God’s covenant to Abraham exclusively to Jews.
The main thrust of Paul’s argument against covenantal nomism (law of the covenant to Abraham) had three approaches. First, the expression of life within the law should be consistent with its beginning. Paul makes this clear in his initial appeal in Galatians: They, the Galatians, are abandoning the grace of God, who brought them to faith in favor of a different gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).
Secondly, Paul avers that God’s promise always had the Gentiles in view from the beginning. This is obviously the point of Galatians, 3:6-9. According to Paul, the promise originally offered to Abraham and his “offspring” included gentiles by faith through grace. Paul was not overly kind with his remarks about the Jewish covenant. He taught that it had anti-Christian features, and that the “works of the law” condemns Gentiles as lawless sinners solely on that fact of being a gentile, and prevents them from benefiting from the covenant/ promise. Further, Paul contends that the law is inherently restrictive by marking boundaries for Jews as well as Gentiles.
Basically, Paul decried Judaism as separate from Christianity and worked successfully, as history records, to establish his own covenant using faith vs. works and grace vs. law scenario. This scenario of Jew’s obedience to the law as an expression of faith in response to grace just did not fit Paul’s argument; consequently, he either distorted it on purpose, or more subtly allowed himself to caricature it. When Paul criticizes Judaism, he does so with a wide brush, i.e., he has only two main foci; one is the lack of faith in Christ and two; the lack of equality for Gentiles. For Paul, salvation is in Christ alone; therefore, it cannot be by the law.
Further, Paul considered the law as a sign of Jewish privilege, therefore nationalistic and exclusive. To the contrary, Paul believed that one need not be Jewish to be righteous. Simply, Paul’s polemic is not an argument against the role of human effort in salvation, yet is more an argument against Jewish exclusiveness.
To the doubters of Paul’s new religion, he resorted to his default argument that Christ’s crucifixion redeemed man from the curse of the law so that the blessing (and covenant) of Abraham might flow to the Gentiles (Galatians, 3:13, 14). So long as salvation was based on the old covenant, i.e., obedience to Jewish law, they were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the new covenant, with no hope, and without God. A new covenant based on the notion of faith and forgiveness had been inaugurated by the very blood of Christ.
The issue of circumcision remained a particularly vexing problem for Paul, and was clearly an issue he had to address, and in a convincing way. Paul was able to do this by juxtaposing circumcision with baptism. Paul’s posit was that circumcision is replaced by baptism and that through baptism all are sons of God through Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29)  are the only verses that contain a pointed reference to baptism, but is one of the most important Christian reference in all of Paul’s writings.  It was no accident that Paul
considered baptism to be the intersection where historical and corporate character of salvation cross. Baptism in the New Testament implies a radical personal commitment involving a decision to change ways of living from former to the latter, post baptism.
Paul beat the drum that his opponents were wrong in urging that apart from the law no good standing with God was possible. To the contrary, Paul preached that faith in Christ
was the only requisite to salvation and that the interpolation of circumcision as a prerequisite for a right standing with God was ill advised by false prophets. [Whoa, was Abraham a false prophet?] Paul believed that baptism is recalled as a supremely concrete moment in a person’s life and is accepted as a recognized confirmation of an investment in Christ.
Baptism, for Paul, was the re-definition of the people of God, the family of faith, and the true children of Abraham. Baptism, though, was not a new demonstration of faith. There are many skeptics of Paul’s way; namely, Albert Schweitzer, for example, contended that Paul developed his doctrine of baptism from the sacramental practices of the Hellenistic mystery religions that was prevalent during the Roman world of Paul’s day.
Paul’s theological thesis has influenced many lay and laity personages over the millennia, from the anti-Semite, Martin Luther,   to the monstrous Catholic, Adolf Hitler. It is regretted but understandable that Paul’s very name is anathema in the Jewish psyche.