H. St. J. (Henry St. John) Thackeray.

The relation of St. Paul to contemporary Jewish thought : an essay to which was awarded the Kaye prize for 1899 online

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theUw. j^j^jg ^jg^^ pjjg theoretical, and the out-

come of reflection on the meaning of Christ's death ;
the other practical, and based on the contrast between
the weakness of humanity and the stern uncom-
promising character of the law, which merely forbids
certain actions and threatens punishment for the
non-fulfilment of the opposite actions, but offers no
assistance to man in his struggle to fulfil its
requirements, no inward motive to inspire him in
his seeking after righteousness.

The first of these views appears in Gal. 2. 2i,
€1 yap Sia vo/jlou SiKaioarvvi], apa XpKTTOi Swpeav
aire'Oai'ei'. If righteousness was attainable
of'ch'riBtT* by law, then Christ's death was gratuitous,
''*'"'• superfluous, unmeaning. A crucified Mes-

siah was the stumbling block of the Jew. But St.
Paul, even before his conversion, may have been led
by the early Christian martyrdoms to reflect whether
there was not some meaning in that death which
could induce those martyrs to face death so readily.
And the explanation at which, at any rate after his
conversion, he arrived was that the death of Christ was
intended to take the place of the death which all man-
kind had incurred by their failure to fulfil the law.
The law exacted its full penalty, and it could only be
paid by one who fulfilled all its claims by being born
under the law (G. 4. 5), being circumcised (11. 15. 8),
and while remaining sinless, yet taking the whole
curse of the law upon Himself (G. 3. 1 3). Thus the
law came to an end in Christ (R. 10. 4). The perfect



fulfilment of the law was necessary, according to
St. Paul, to produce its abrogation ; but once fulfilled,
it was superseded and its place taken by a new mode
of salvation, namely, faith in the redemptive power of
Christ's death. This belief in the abrogation of the
law by its perfect fulfilment in Christ and by His
death is of course the outcome of St. Paul's Christ-
ianity, and without parallel or direct antecedent in
Jewish theology. The Jew, indeed, looked for a
perfect fulfilment of the law by the nation to usher
in the Messianic age. ' If all Israel together for
a whole day were to do penitence, then would the
redemption through the Messiah follow,' 'If Israel
only kept two Sabbaths as they should be kept, they
would forthwith be redeemed ' ; * the Messiah Himself
was regarded as the great or second Redeemer, the
antitype of Moses the first redeemer, and was by
fulfilment of the law and by penitence (for he was
not to be sinless) to attain to perfect righteousness.
But the redemption was merely the deliverance of
Israel from its earthly foes : and of an abrogation
of the law, or of a Messiah dying to atone for the
sins of the world, Jewish thought knew nothing.*

The other reason given for the impotence of the
law is the weakness of the flesh, or man's unaided
humanity, and the objectivity of the law,
which could merely forbid, but could not fleshly nature
eradicate man's proneness to sin or offer "rrpabifof"'"
any help in his struggle to fulfil it.^ The '"'"."•^s tiie
law itself was spiritual, but man is carnal,
and there is a continual struggle between his better

' Weber, 348-9. » Ihid., 359-362.

'See the paraphrase of R. 8. 3-4 in S.-H., pp. 189-190.



and his worse self; the reasoning here turns on
St. Paul's opposition between c'l/o^ and -Kvevfia, an
opposition which was formerly attributed to the
influence of Greek thought, but is now rightly
referred solely to an Old Testament basis.^ It was
impossible, according to St. Paul, to fulfil the whole
law. And yet there was a Jewish doctrine that
' whosoever keepeth the whole law but stumbleth in
one point has become guilty of all' (Jas. 2. lo):
so St. Paul says, ' Every circumcised person is a
debtor to do the whole law' (G. 5. 3). Notwith-
standing this Jewish belief in the solidarity of the
law, some Rabbinic writings did maintain the pos-
sibility of sinlessness : the Patriarchs and other holy
men, it was said; passed sinless lives. Still there
were not wanting Jews of St. Paul's time, who, like
the writer of 2 Esdras, approximated to the Apostle's
belief that fulfilment of the law was impossible.
2 Ks. 8. 35, ' For in truth there is no man among
them that be born, but he liath dealt wickedly ;
and among them that have lived there is none which
hath not done amiss'; cf. 7. 46, 'For who is there
of them that be alive that hath not sinned, and who
of the sons of men that hath not transgressed Thy
covenant ? '

The law being thus set aside as a means to attain

to righteousness, the question which naturally forced

itself upon the Apostle and had to be

of the true met was, Wiiat was the meaning of the

a™ of the j,^^ jjj ^|jg divine ordering of the world's

history ? The question is put and

answered in two verses of the Epistle to the Galatians

'S.-H. 181.



(3. 19-20), 'What then is the law? It was added
for the sake of transgressions {twv -irapa^iaewv -xapiv
Trpoaeredn) until the seed should come to whom the
promise was made, being ordained by angels in the
hand of a mediator, but the mediator is not [a
mediator] of one, but God is One.' The passage
IS one of notorious difficulty, but the general sense
seems to be: the law was an institution which
came in subsequent to 'the promise/ not so much
to check sin, but rather to produce transgression:
It was of temporary duration, not eternal : it was not
given directly by God to man, but was indirectly
communicated to him through the intervention of other
agents (who were not divine), and it partook of the
nature of a contract.

The word x^p'" used in the above passage might
possibly bear the meaning of ' because of (which both
A.V. and R.V, here adopt : cf 1 Jo. 3. 1 2),
'as the result of,' though it is doubtful "fth*^"""''"'
whether it could depart so far from its
original sense of ' in favour of as to mean ' to check '
sm. But St. Paul's language elsewhere shows that he
uses it here in the sense of 'to produce' or 'create'
transgression; the passage which shows this most
clearly is Kom. 5. 20, .oVoy Si ^ap.icrijXe^, %a
xXeoi/ao-w to TrapaiTTWfxa. From the substantive used
m each case— 7ra/ja'/3a<r«f 'transgression,' mi^aVTw/xa
• trespass,'— it appears that St. Paul does not directly
say that law produced am, but merely that it produced the
violation of a code. Where there was no code of law
in force, there could be no violation of it (P. 4 15)
Still the general tenor of his language is that the law
not merely revealed sin, that is awakened the con-



acicnce to the sinfulness of sin (R. 3. 20, 7. 7), but
also incited to sin, and so increased the amount of sin
in the world. And, moreover, he does not merely say
that this heightening and increase of sin was the result
of the institution of the law, but that it was the actual
divine object with which it was given (tva TrXeorao-fj).
This was the height of paradox, the culmination of
insult to the Jew who set his hope in the law. To
answering the Jewish rejoinder, ' Is the law then
sinful ? ' a section is devoted by St. Taul (It. 7. 7 fP.),
in which he emphatically denies such an inference,
while attributing the result produced by the law to the
weakness of the flesh.

Tliese startling statements with regard to the aim
of the law required to be supported by proofs if they
AreiimenU vyere to gain any acceptance with Jews, if
used to prove not merely to satisfy the Apostle himself.

the BubBiiIiary it , i , ^-rn i.- i

character of He had to meet the dimculties: how
the law. could the diviuely-given law be temporary,

if a revelation of the eternal will of God ? How could
it be a revelation of the holy will of God if its aim and
its result was to produce sin ?

The main argument which St. Paul adduces for
the subsidiary position of the law is the late date in
(i)Chronoiogi- Jcwish history at which it was introduced.
T.!A?I!I!!f.^'' If it was intended to be an institution of

1 ne promise

and the law. eternal significance, why was it not given
to the Patriarchs at the first ? The Jews too had
raised this question, and in their reverence for the law
had shown a tendency, as we have seen, to antedate
its institution, or at least to imply that it was not
unknown to the Patriarchs. Adam, they said, was to
have been the recipient of the law, but he broke the



six commandments which were given to him (a
sort of compendium of the Decalogue, to which a
seventh, it was said, was added in the time of
Noah). Abraham knew and fulfilled the whole law.'
St. Paul opposed this tendency to anachronism, and
recalled his opponents to the historical fact that 430
years intervened between the time of Abraham and
the lawgiving (Gal. 3. 17). Looking back into the
pre-Mosaic period he found mention of an earlier and
an 'eternal covenant' made between God and Abraham
(Gen. 17. 7 f.), and a promise several times repeated to
Abraham and his seed. The promise, it is true, was
primarily that Abraham's descendants should inherit
the land of Canaan : but the addition that in his seed
should all the families of the earth be blessed was
capable of, and could not fail to receive, a much wider
interpretation than earthly blessings. The idea of a
promise or promises, signifying the redemp-
tion that was to be wrought by the ''•'*»>«"»''<=•■
Messiah, had taken a hold upon the Jewish mind
shortly before the coming of Christ. We find it in
Ps. Sal. 12. 8, ' Let the saints of the Lord inherit the
promises of the Lord,' and repeatedly in 2 Esdras and
Baruch {e.g. 2 Es. 4. 27, ' quae in teniporibus justis
repromi,ssa sunt');= 'the promises' are among the
privileges of Israel enumerated by St. Paul (R. 9. 4).

Considering, then, this current Messianic use of
the term 'promises,' it was natural that St. Paul
should associate the promises made to Argument
Abraham with the coming of Christ Rut {["'»"'« u»e of

iU .1 1 . . ■ J 111/ t|,g smgular

the argument by which he seeks to estab- "-^ipf-^-
lisli a Messianic reference in Genesis must be con-
' Weber, 263-5. J See S.-H. on Rom. 4. 13.



sidered extremely fanciful and sophistical. He has
recourse here to the dialectical methods in vogue
among his opponents. " To Abraham were the promises
spoken and to his seed : he saith not, And to seeds,
as of many, but as of one, And to his seed, which is
Christ" (G. 3. 16). The word (nrep/xa and its
Hebrew equivalent ynj are ordinarily collective words
denoting a race of descendants : and the use of
a-irepfia of a single descendant, and of o-TepfiaTa of
several descendants, though not without examples, is
quite the exception. Instances of the first we have in
Gen. 4. 25 ((nrepjuLa erepov avTi'AfieX), 21. 1 3 (on
aTTepfia aov ea-riv), and in a few other passages;
instances of the second use are found occasionally in
Attic poetry and prose, not in the O.T. proper,
but in the later apocryphal books and Josephus
(4 Mace. 18. I , fo Ttov ' Afipafxialiisv aTrtpfiaTaiv airoyovoi,
Jos. Ant. 8. 7. G). To quote the words of Meyer's
Commentary,^ ' we must confess that St. Paul has not
merely given to the O.T. passage a Christian applica-
tion which goes beyond its historical sense, but has
also . . . supported this application by an argument
from the language which is untenable, and which
clearly belongs to the Kabbinical artificial style of
interpretation.' Instances of similar Rabbinical argu-
ments (drawn e.i/. from the use of the plural D'^TST
[iilfjiaTa] instead of the singular m) are quoted by
Surenhusius,^ who points out that inferences were
drawn from the use of the singular even where the
word possessed no plural. This undue stress on
the grammatical form of a word was not confined to
Palestinian Judaism. Philo, in a very similar manner

' Galaliaw (1899), p. 196. « B</3\oi KoTaWoy^t, 84 f.



to St. Paul, lays stress on the use of the singular
T€Kvov in Gen. 17. i6: irpwrov fxev to'ivvv a^iov
davfiao'at to fU] ttoXXu tckvu (bdvai Swtreiv, ev Se
yapieicrdai fxovov. Sia Tt Se ; OTi to koXov ovk ev
irX^Oei fiuWov tj ovvaixei irecbvKev e^eTaZccdai} It
is clear that St. Paul did not always interpret
erirfpfjia in this way ; in 11. 4. 13, 1 6, the seed
to whom the promise was made is explained as
referring to the spiritual descendants of Abraham,
Jews and Gentiles. But in the contest for Gentile
liberty he did not refuse on occasion to have recourse
to his adversaries' weapons. Though the form of
argument used cannot be regarded as satisfactory,
the truth conveyed by it that the promises to
Abraham pointed to sometliing beyond the posses-
sion of Caanan need not be disputed.

But this digression has carried us away from the main
point. Finding this promise to Abraham, and inter-
preting it as looking forward to and receiving its
fulfilment in Christ, St. Paul regarded the law which
intervened as a mere parenthesis {irapeKrijXQev, It 5. 20)
in the divine ordering of the world to bridge over the
interval between promise and fulfilment. It was some-
thing adventitious: it could not be regarded as a clause
or condition superadded to the earlier covenant and of
equal validity with it, for ' even in the case of a man's
covenant which has been ratified no man maketh it
void or addeth additional clauses thereto' (Gal. 3. 15).

Two metaphors are used to describe the office

performed by the law ; it is regarded as the jailor

(G. 3. 23, VTTO vofxov ecjipoupoufieOa a-vvKXetofxevoi, cf. 22,

a-vveKXettrev) and as the Ti:tttSa'ywyni (24). The first

' De mnt. worn. , 26.



metaphor conveys the idea that the Jews were, prior to
the coming of Clirist, kept under strict supervision and
prevented from escaping (of. 2 0. 11. 32) to seek any
other method of salvation than faitli in Christ. ' The
law, hy calling out the knowledge of sin and increasing
the enticement to it, heightened the feeling of guilt
and tlie need of redemption from the divine wrath,
without, however, itself being able to introduce this
redemption.'' The second metaphor carries on this
idea of confinement and restraint. From St. Paul's
language elsewhere we cannot press the meaning of
the latter metaphor so as to regard the law as the
guardian of the morals of the Jewish race in its
infancy. The idea of constraint is the most prominent.
The law is regarded as a negative preparation for the
final redemption to be brought by Clirist.

A second ai-gument for the inferior position of the
law as compared witli the promise is derived from
,01 « t ^^^ manner in which it was given and

(2) Manner of "

of the law- from its nature. It was ' ordained through
^"""^' angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a

mediator is not [a mediator] of one, but God is One.'
The last words have received a great many interpreta-
tions, but we may say generally that the drift of the
passage is first to show the inferiority of the law from
tlie number of persons through whom it was transmitted
to the Jews — it was not given directly from God as
was the promise to Abraham, but there were inter-
mediate agents employed, the angels and Moses ; and
secondly to prove its inferiority from its nature — it was
of the nature of a contract between two parties, and
therefore its end could not be attained unless both
' Meyer.



parties fulfilled their part of the contract, wliereas the
promise was a free gift without conditions on the part
of the recipient. The law, as Lightfoot puts it, is
' contingent and not absolute,' whereas in the promise
' there is nothing of the nature of a stipulation.'

Such seems to be the meaning of the rather obscurely-
worded argument in Gal. 3. 20. The only other
interpretation of the last words which appears to
deserve serious consideration is that maintained among
others by Klopper.' He takes St. Paul to say that ' a
mediator is usually found only as a delegate of a
plurality,' and the plurality here intended is the com-
pany of the angels ; Moses therefore received the law
not directly from God, but from a plurality of persons,
namely the angels ; St. Paul, according to this inter-
pretation is arguing that tlie law lias only a relatively
divine origin. But the premiss that a mediator is not
employed between man and man, but only as the
representative of a plurality is not universally true,
and this meaning would seem to require the insertion
of ■JToXXto*' before a-yyeXwi'. We may take it then that
the unity or oneness of God is contrasted not with a
plurality (whether of angels or Israelites), but with a
duality, the two parties who are necessary to any con-
tract or agreement.

In this argument St. Paul makes use of a Jewish
tradition and a Jewish traditional name for tlie law-
giver. The An/fels. The passages which illustrate this
contemporary tradition (not found in tlie original
account) of the presence and agency of the angels at

^ Zeitschr. f. Wins. TKeol., 1870, pp. 78 ff., 'Zwei incrkwiirdige
AeuBseruagen del P. uber die (iencais dca Mosaischen Gesetzea.
This interpretation is revived in an article in the Expontor for
Sept. 1809, 'Mnses the Angelic Mediator.'



the giving of the law are adduced elsewhere.^ The
mention of 'myriads of holy ones' in the song of Moses
(Dent. M8. 2) gave rise to the tradition of their presence,
as adding to the glories of Sinai ; from being passive
attendants gi-owing tradition represents them as active
agents in the lawgiving. But to the Jew their presence
and agency always added lustre to the law (Acts 7. 53).
St. Paul, on the contrary, uses the tradition as a point
of attack to depreciate the law. It was not given, he
says, as you admit, directly by God, but was trans-
mitted through the angels; you cannot therefore be
sure that you have in it the direct, unadulterated ex-
pression of Ciod's will, as you may be when God delivers
a promise in His Own Person. The whole context, as
well as St. Paul's doctrine elsewhere on Angelology,
shows that they are here mentioned to detract from
the law.

The Mi'dialor, Here St. Paul uses a common
Jewish title for Moses. The name does not occur in
the O.T., although it is implied by Deut. 5. 5, Ka-yi
e(VT))/c€(v aca/xeaoi/ Kvptov Kai vfxwv. In contemporary
writings we may quote Assumpt. Mos. i. 13, 'Accord-
ingly He designed and devised me and He prepared me
before the foundation of the world that J should be the
mediator of His covenant,' and Philo, Vit. Mos. iii. 19,
Ota fxfcrtTris Koi StaWdKTtjv ; the title is also found in
the Talmud.^ It is implied by the designation of
Christ in Hebrews (8. 6, etc.) as the mediator of a
better covenant. St. Paul again takes up a current
plirase of his opponents and uses it as u point of

Though St. Paul does not directly deny the divine

'pp. 161 ff. '-IIDHD



thjS r.AW


authorship of the law, it can hardly be unintentional
that the name of God occurs several times in connexion
with the earlier covenant, ' foreordained of God,' ' God
hath granted it to Abraham by promise,' * the promises
of God,' but never in connexion with the law. He is
silent as to the authorship of that, and though passages
in the Romans show that he would shrink from setting
aside its divine origin altogether, his argument here
seems to lead him to attribute to it only a relatively
divine origin.

In 2 Cor. 8.4-18 St. Paul contrasts the openness
and plain speaking of the Gospel with the obscurity of
the law, here described as ' the ministry of ^^^ ^,^^ ^„^
death ' or ' of condemnation,' and the veil gory m 2
which it throws over tlie hearts of those
who trust in it. For this purpose he allegorises the
story told in Exodus 34 of Moses putting a veil over
his face when his face shone after his intercourse with
God. 'Having therefore such a hope, we use great
plainness of speech and are not as Moses who put a veil
upon his face, that the children of Israel should not
look steadfastly on (or unto) the end of that which was
passing away.' In plain language St. Paul's allegory
seems to mean that Moses knew of the transitoriness
of the law, and wished to hide the fact from the
Israelites ; he supposed that they would infer from the
vanishing of the glory on his face the ultimate vanish-
ing of the law, and therefore put the veil on his face
when he had done sjyeaking to than and the glory was
in the act of fading away. He purposely withheld
from them the knowledge that the glory of the law
was evanescent.

So far as the interpretation of the O.T. language goes,


St. I'aiil is strictly correct in representinp; Moses as
only veiling his face at the end of his speech. The
A.V. misinterprets the passage by translating ' till ' for
'when' in E.x. 34. 33 ('And when Moses had done
speaking with tiiem he put "... , Heb. yry\ . . . 5311,
lAX Kai iiretSri KUTewavaef \a\wv), and has thus
given rise to tlie erroneous idea tliat Moses veiled his
face during his speech to the Israelites because they
could not bear to look upon it. The fanciful inference
which St. Paul draws from the passage is in keeping
with the allegorical methods of interpretation of the
time, and is another instance how in meeting Jewish
objectors he has recourse to their own inodes of thought
and interpretation. But it cannot be regarded as more
than a fanciful allegory: it is used as an illustration,
but not as u proof of tiie subordinate position of the
law. It certainly is not to be considered as a correct
exegesis of the passage in Exodus.

We must briefly consider in concluding this section
liow far St. Paul's view of the law was exhaustive and
Criticism of ''""^ ^^^ *''"' ^""ctions wliich he ascribes to
St. Paul's it were its true functions as recognised by
jioai ion. ^j^^ lawgiver and the Jews to whom it was

given. We have seen that St. Paul arrived at his
conclusions by reflection on the meaning of Christ's
death. He looked back from the new to the old,
carrying the light shed by the appearance of Christ
into his interpretation of the Mo.saic system, and en-
deavoured, as Pfleiderer says, to represent the new as
the oldest of the old. He was in a difficult position, as
he endeavoured to establish his doctrine of tiie transi-
toriness of the law out of the law itself: 'do we then
make the law of none effect through faith ? God forbid,



nay we establish the law' (R 3. 31). On the one
hand he upheld the divine authority of the O.T. writings,
while on the other he rejected to a great extent their
literal historical meaning.

One must admit that from the historical standpoint,
his Jewish opponents had right on their side. The law
was given, and was regarded by Moses and the Israelites
as given, to be a check upon sins, and not merely to
multiply sin and so to awaken an expectation of some
great redemption in the future. There was no opposi-
tion between the covenant to Abraliam and the law ;
the law was the complement of the promise, and the
covenant itself was accompanied by the giving of cir-
cumcision, and therefore was not absolutely uncondi-
tional, but contingent upon the fulfilment of a legal
ordinance by the descendants of Abraham. This argu-
ment is met by St. Paul in Pom. 4 by the answer that
the recognition of Abraham's faith was prior in time
to the giving of the ' seal of circumcision.' Pfleiderer's
words' sum up the position well : " however profound
and true from the standpoint of a Christian philosophy
of history is the relation which the Apostle established
between the law and the divinely-appointed method of
salvation, and however keen in details is the dialectic
with which he sought to prove this relation in Rom. 4
and Gal. 3 from the position of the law with regard to
the promise, yet it cannot be denied that all this lay
far from the historical intention of the lawgiving, and is
quite without ground in the letter of the law."

It may be questioned whether the law was not
unduly depreciated by St. Paul. With a revolutionist
such as he was, seeking arguments to convince his

' Pautmixmus, 106.



opponents of the correctness of his position, it was
nntural tliat in the heat of the controversy for Gentile
liberty, there sliould be some exaggeration. ' The weak
and beggarly elements ' is an instance perhaps of such
undue disparagement ; but then it must be remembered

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