Paul’s Perspective – Part I

Hope you enjoy chewing on this!

[Both this post and the one after it (Part II) are from the book: The Letter Writer: Paul’s Background and Torah Perspective by Tim Hegg; First Fruits of Zion; 2002]

“But this message of the Gospel which centered upon the exercise of faith in Messiah in no way diminished nor negated the Torah.  To Paul’s antagonists, the position that a Gentile could become a covenant member without being circumcised sounded as though the Torah had been ignored.  In reality Paul was restoring the Torah’s message of salvation by faith.  He understood that a Gentile who thought he could actually gain right standing with God through becoming a proselyte was trusting in something that could never actually save him.  He may feel content in his new social status as a “Jew,” but before the bar of God’s justice he was still counted as unrighteous.

“Paul realized, then, that he would need to take a very hard-line approach toward Gentiles who were being persuaded that becoming a proselyte gained them salvation.  In their ill-founded confidence, such Gentiles were doomed.  Thus, denying a Gentile the ritual of a proselyte (circumcision) [as it was called in shorthand and thus seen as such in the New Testament – my addition] must be read in this context, and not as a negation of Torah.  Paul needed to teach the Gentiles that the first step in their conversion was one of genuine faith in Messiah.  Only after they understood that their righteousness was reckoned to them and not earned were they in a position to appreciate both the value and necessity of Torah-obedience.

“Once again, Abraham becomes the example, for his faith was evidenced by his obedience.  God’s sovereign choosing had brought Abraham to the covenant, and his faith in God had sealed his membership in it.  But as a chosen covenant member, Abraham obeyed God and circumcised both himself and all the males of his household.[1]  For Paul the order of events was crucial: faith comes first (gaining the status of covenant member), then obedience to God’s commandments (living as a covenant member).

“This order was no doubt emphasized in Paul’s mind by the arrangement of the covenants as well.[2]  The Abrahamic covenant precedes the Mosaic covenant.  But what is the significance of this order?  For Paul it was that justification, i.e., right standing before God (emphasized in the Abrahamic covenant and the faith it requires) comes before sanctification, i.e., being set apart unto God in one’s actions (the emphasis of the Mosaic covenant with its required obedience).  Redemption (the exodus from Egypt) comes first and then Torah (standing at Sinai).

“To suggest that the ritual of circumcision is the gateway to right standing with God is to teach that Sinai (submission to Torah) precedes the exodus, or that the Mosaic covenant comes before God’s promise to Abraham.  It reverses the biblical order and is contrary to Torah.  This was crucial for Paul.  The gospel he preached was the same gospel given to Abraham,[3] a gospel which first centers upon the blessing in Messiah (appropriated through faith) and then effects radical changes in one’s life (accomplished through obedience).” (pgs. 111 – 113)


[1] Genesis 17:23-27 [footnote 229 in book]

[2] Note Galatians 3:17 [footnote 230 in book]

[3] Galatians 3:8 [footnote 231 in book]

Published in: on 7 PMpTue, 14 Jun 2011 19:43:16 -040043Tuesday 2016 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

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