In Rom. 5:20 Paul said:
The law was added so that trespass might increase.
This thought conjures up a picture of the Law as a trap. People are enticed into accepting it in order to catch them when they deviate. Then they become transgressors. This is a variation on the theme Paul expressed in ROM 4:15: no law, no sin.
Paradoxically, though, Paul saw sin all over--with or without the Law. His idea of sin was a generalized condition under which all mankind labors. This is quite a contrast to the approach toward sin in the Torah. The Torah is concerned with concrete aces of humans done to others and defiance of theological injunctions. Paul's concept of sin was more abstract. Because Adam sinned in disobeying God's commands, Paul postulated that all mankind was horn under the shadow of this sin. The Christian concept of Original Sin and the Fall of Man stand in sharp contrast to the Rabbinical idea of Original Virtue as expressed in the belief of "zekhut avot." This Hebrew term means the virtue or merit of the Fathers and refers to the beneficial influence of righteous ancestors on subsequent generations. The Talmud considers the goodness of such men as Abraham, Moses, and Samuel as assuring God's compassion on their descendents. Paul's notion of sin may have a remote connection to the concept of the evil inclination or "yetzer hara" that the rabbis believed was present in humans. However, they also maintained that people are endowed with a good inclination or "yetzer tov." The aim, is for the good to gain mastery over the evil and such "training" is accomplished in life by the effort expended in trying to live the Commandments of God.
According to the doctrine of Original Sin an infant at birth is not innocent; he carries with him the original sin which can only be removed by baptism although human weakness and proneness to depravity remain in him. The Torah does not contain such an esoteric view of sin. The Five Books of Moses are not philosophic. They are pragmatic and straightforwardly tell people what is expected of them. Doing good deeds, which is part of obedience to the Law, keeps the person upright and right with God. Sin or transgression consists of not doing what the laws prescribe; which means the person has strayed off the path. There is no vague cloud of sin hanging over the Jewish spiritual landscape.
Paul claimed that knowing the Law and not fulfilling its tenets brought more sin than not knowing it. As a result, Jews who had the Law and did not live up to it were subject to dire penalties while Gentiles, who did not know it, were exonerated for infractions of the moral code. Jews were subject to a double jeopardy according to his theory. Not only wore they liable to punishment for sins but they could never live up to the Law. It was too stringent and demanding. The Law was a "Catch-22." According to Paul Jews were obligated to obey that which was impossible. And just to add to this anomaly, Paul claimed in Phil 3:6 that he was "blameless" in following the law. This certainly implies that he had none of the difficulties in following it about which he cautioned his converts.
Answer for yourself: If Paul is "blameless" in following the Law then can you explain the difficulty within himself that he express below?
Rom 7:18-23 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (KJV)
Nevertheless, let us take Paul's arguments one by one and also note, in passing, to whom he directed them. Paul wrote to different audiences. Much of Roman was addressed to Judaizing Christians. Galatians was written to Gentiles or Gentile God-fearers whom Paul was vigorously pursuing as converts and whose interest in and attraction to Judaism he wanted to discourage. Regardless of the community he addressed, Paul did not limit his attacks to the beliefs of its members. He also denounced the Law which, as the basis of Jewish belief and practice, was an attack on Judaism and its adherents-the Jews.
There are basic laws of morality and decency to which all humans are subject according to the Bible. They were given expression in the Seven Noachic Laws in Genesis. It is easy to get hung up here on theoretical discussions of what constitutes morality. To paraphrase a judge in a pornography case, we may not always be able to define immorality, but we know it when we see it. And most people have no difficulty in recognizing what the phenomenon was in Sodom and Gemorrah or Auschwitz and Treblinka. Even if laws mandating ethical and humane conduct are not on the books, it does not follow that people are morally justified, at least before a ''higher court," of violating those precepts. From the viewpoint of' both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures there is an assumption of divine justice for sins. The principle has been formalized in the United States in the words, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." Nor could the Gentiles Paul was addressing plead, in good conscience, ignorance as an excuse for not observing a moral code despite the apostle's assurances. Certain behavior is incumbent on all people.
Paul's polemic against the Law continued as he proclaimed, "The power of sin is the law" (1 Cor. 15:56). Whether due to his zeal in seeking converts or his ignorance of the contents of the laws (of which he claimed intimate knowledge), Paul overlooked the Law as a power against sin. Both through its prohibitions of certain behavior and its requirements for positive acts of generosity and kindness, the Torah endeavored to eliminate transgression and encourage benevolence. Paul labeled a body of laws with the name of the conduct it tried to avoid.
Still another of the baffling charges made by Paul against the Law was that it was made for sinners, not for the law-abiding. 1 Timothy is a document inspired by, and developed out of, Paul's thoughts on the Torah (although it contradicted other ideas of his). We read in 1:8-11:
We know that the law is good if a man uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for good men, but for law-breakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers--and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
Answer for yourself: If the law was made for such a collection of malefactors, is it likely that they would use it properly?
It seems that they would be more inclined to ignore or bypass the law. It would be a credit to any legal system which prevented such criminal behavior. It is, however, the function of a legal code to preclude, wherever possible, crime and to bring transgressors to justice. Apparently, Paul's teaching and preaching inspired this view of the Law in many of his followers. The advocates of the Law can find inadvertent praise of it in the words of such opponents and proudly support its accomplishments.
Just as his listeners might have begun to tire of one set of accusations, Paul presented them with another. From charges that the Law encouraged sin, he escalated his onslaught to claims that it brought wrath and a curse. The following quotations are examples of Paul's negative remarks on the subject:
The wrath and the curse were, in Paul's view, the result of the sin incurred by those who accepted the Noachic or Mosaic Law and breached it. This depiction made the Law seem like a monster waiting to swoop down on unwary and unfortunate believers.
Answer for yourself: Is there any legitimate basis for Paul's characterization? Did Israel's violation of the Law lead to wrath?
The Torah helped form the Israelite tribes into a nation and gave it a uniqueness and cohesion. Periodic neglect of its laws and principles seemed to result in a loss of morale and a weakening of the people's sense of distinctiveness and destiny. Without this awareness of purpose and identity, they were vulnerable to assimilation and conquest. The prophets in the Bible and Jewish leaders afterward attributed the people's defeat and exile to their forsaking the Torah and all that this implied. Paul's solution for avoiding the consequences which come from deviating from the Law was abandoning it altogether. His philosophy extended from "no law, no sin" to "no wrath." His proposal, if followed, constituted self-annihilation for Jews. If they would no longer be responsible for practices and ceremonies identified with Judaism, they would cease to exist as Jews. Those who renounced the Torah gave up their separate identity, their continuity with the past, and their unique destiny as members of the "Holy Nation," that treasured people who have a special relationship with God. This is one way of sidestepping the challenges of abiding by the customs and precepts of the laws. For many, however, Paul's cure was by far, worse than the problem, even when observance entailed persecution.
However, Paul raised another, and more philosophical, question in his writings. He felt that the law can tell people what is right but it gives them no power to overcome the yetzer hara or evil inclination within them. Although the Law did not uproot the evil in people, it gave them a means of choosing the good or the yetzer hatov. (Ephraim Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, p. 472). Studying Torah and doing good deeds help a person combat the evil impulse. Man's victory by the grace of God over the yetzer hara is effected by his efforts to oppose it. (S. Schechter, Some Aspects Of Rabbinic Theology, p. 310).
Paul expressed concern that God's law which was meant to lead to life was overcome by Sin which caused the law and its followers to fail in realizing God's will. In other words, according to Paul's formulation, Sin is beyond God's control and humanity is also outside of His power. To solve this dilemma, Paul postulated that since God didn't succeed with the Law, He provided for salvation by sending Jesus. Through the Spirit mankind would then be saved (E. P. Sanders, Understanding The New Testament, pp. 231-232).
By contrast the Talmudic rabbis recognized the concept of good versus evil, but this dualism in no way corresponds to the dualism of body and soul as Paul expressed due to his Gnostic beliefs. The sages of Rabbinical literature did not believe that the evil inclination resided in the body and the good impulse, yetzer hatov, in the soul. This Hellenistic view found its sharpest and most popular expression in the words of Paul. Ephraim Urbach points out that the body-soul dichotomy was an idea current in the Hellenistic world and also in Jewish Hellenism. But it was not at all accepted in normative Judaism and that means Paul was outside "normative" Judaism. Evidently again it is hard to reconciled Paul's beliefs about the Law with his testimony of being a "Pharisee or Pharisees" (E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs, p. 144-162). Paul's views were conditioned by Hellenistic pessimism in which humans had no control over outside forces (E. P. Sanders, Ibid., p. 152) as well as his Gnostic leanings upon several of their main theological doctrines of this dichotomy between soul/flesh and spirit.
Paul's solution for the inadequacy of the Law to root out wickedness in people was to substitute a belief in Christ. We do not have to look beyond the headlines in today's newspaper to realize that the apostle's recommendation has not provided the answer to this age old problem. In dealing with evil in individuals or countries, governments have resorted to establishing standards by means of laws and ethics which brings us back to the principles of Torah. The Pentateuch stresses the responsibility of people for their behavior and the choice they have between right and wrong actions. This interpretation imparts to people a sense of greater control over their fate and reduces the feeling of helplessness.
Before leaving the subject of Paul's view of sin and his unique views on it's remedy, let us note that the term had different meanings according to its users. For the prophets and rabbis sins were avoidable transgressions against God's commandments for which wrongdoers were supposed to repent, atone, and perform acts of retribution. For Paul, even when he did refer to specific transgressions as in Gal. 5:19-21, Sin was a pervasive condition from which only faith in Christ could bring relief.
As Paul's attacks on the Law reached a climax, he thundered his ultimate accusation: it brought death. Here are some characteristic verses containing this allegation:
Again, Paul, in contrast to the teachings of the Jewish Bible, told his respondents that adherence to the laws did not bring salvation (life). He now added that it brought death to Jews. It has already been shown above how the former assertion is a denial of words and messages in the Tanakh. The latter allegation--that the Law brings death--is also directly contradicted by verses in the Torah which assure the Hebrews:
Paul seemed to imply that any infraction brought automatic death, an assumption obviously not supported by observable evidence in the passages of the Jewish Bible. He also inferred that Gentiles who failed to abide by any laws in the Torah, even those related to ethical behavior, would be exempt from divine punishment.
This is a reversal of views which he expressed in Gal. 519-23. There he recited a litany of sins from sexual immorality to idolatry, and from envy to drunkenness which would deprive the sinner of the kingdom of God. He asserted that those who "belong to Christ" have purged these wrongs from their nature. This might have been true for Paul's contemporary followers. Empirical evidence would challenge this assertion for subsequent generations.
Alongside his attacks on the Torah Paul expressed both approval and praise of it. His confusion or ambivalence is reflected in these statements in Romans:
Despite these positive statements, Paul returned to his basic philosophy and threw the greater part of his considerable energy and tortuous reasoning into discrediting the Law. He rejected it as a means of salvation and wavered in his evaluation of it even as an ethical guide for his converts. For if it were valid and true (i.e., observance led to kindness and goodness and it was irrevocable since it came from God), then there would be no need for his new religion. Paul unconsciously disclosed this realization when he said:
If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21).
If Paul's new ideas and radical divergence from Judaism were not accepted, he also would not be accepted in a leadership role. Despite his repeated claims to having been a Pharisee (Acts 23:6, 26:5, Phil. 3:5), he had long departed from the mainstream of (Pharisaic) Judaism where he found no prestige or position of power. Within the Nazarene cult of Judaism he was a mere functionary with little influence. By leaving the establishment and striking out on his own, he could build his own religious domain where he reigned supreme. He had to persuade his listeners of the righteousness that only came through faith in Jesus and the salvation which his death brought them. Thus we find the need for his synthesis of Gnosticism, Mystery Religions, and Judaism). If Paul's interpretation of Jesus' death were not valid, these promises of salvation which he held out to the people would not be realized and would be understood as false. His assurances of righteousness, salvation, and grace without deeds (such as even the minimal requirements of the Noachic laws) were seductive, especially to a Gentile audience while the threats of curses, wrath, and death were fearsome. It was not too difficult for Paul to convince his Hellenistic listeners of the meaning with which he invested the death of Jesus. They were familiar with that interpretation from their heathen beliefs.
Closely related to the saving grace of Jesus' death was the conviction that the value of the Law terminated. When Paul said, "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4), he connected Jesus' death to the cessation of Judaism. For Paul's revised interpretation of Torah and his explication of Jesus' death was a contradiction and denial of Judaism's foundations as well as the teachings of Moses and the Prophets. The redemption which Christ brought meant the end of venerating and observing Torah.
Paul also made certain claims which most of his Gentile respondents were unable to check for truth and accuracy. In Rom. 3:21 he declared:
"But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify."
Answer for yourself: Can you name me one Prophet or Old Testament writer which taught what Paul just said? There are none!
Paul offered no Biblical citation as back-up for his assertion. He would have been hard put to find one since his claim is contradicted by the spirit and the letter of virtually every passage in the Torah and Prophets.