Sunday, March 23, 2014

Apologetics toolbox: Sunday worship II — St. Paul and the Law of Moses

Part I concerned itself with the basic case for Sunday worship against those communions which argue that we ought to worship on Saturdays, that Sabbath worship is mandated by “God's law” (i.e., the Law of Moses). Part II looks at a particular argument, which tries to reintroduce the Law of Moses via St. Paul.

Yesterday (3/22/14), I engaged in a Facebook argument in which a Seventh-Day Adventist attempted to lecture The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named on St. Paul and Sabbath worship. Apparently it carried over from someplace else, for when she posted to The Blogger’s wall a link to a video that asked, “Can the Majority Ever Be Wrong?”, he replied (quite lucidly), “Of course the majority can be wrong. But that is useless for demonstrating that you are right.” He then asked SAD why Christians are bound to observe the Jewish Sabbath when we’re not bound to observe anything else the Law of Moses mandates (i.e., phylacteries, kashrus, etc.).

Someone else noted that the Israelites were never bound to observe all 613 mitzvoth, a contention on which I held my piece though I felt it didn’t really answer the question. So I cited Colossians 2:16-17, with the punctuation, “Saint Paul FTW.” The Blogger, probably after heaving a mental sigh, advised me, “I’ve cited that previously. [SDA] shrugs it off with ‘you don’t understand Paul’ and then supplies no explanation of what he ‘really’ means.”

To her credit, SDA tried to enlighten The Blogger and me. However, within two sentences, her analysis went off the rails: “When the NT was written it had to line up in agreement with the OT.”

This is a problem we encounter quite frequently in combox controversies with less sophisticated sola scriptura types: Although we all acknowledge Scripture to be “inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) — literally, Theopneustos, “God-breathed” — and thus to have a unity in the Holy Spirit, some Protestants treat the New Testament as if the books and letters were intended to be treated the same way they treated Old Testament Scripture. In fact, though, the NT works, especially the letters, were “occasional” in nature, written ad hoc to address contemporary issues and needs, without any obvious consciousness that they would one day be gathered together in a single codex.[*]

This makes a difference, because SDA continues, “The OT was the reference guide for Paul used [sic]. Paul had to learn and memorize the entire OT and not only that he was taught by the top notch Rabbi [Gamaliel]. Who is better at understanding and writing the NT. Obviously the NT had to be in agreement with the OT.”

While SDA comes perilously close to treating Paul as the sole author of the New Testament, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. There’s no doubt Paul had memorized the law and the prophets. However, her premiss that the New Testament had to be written to agree with the Old is her grounds for arguing that Paul’s citations of Scripture were meant to incorporate the Law of Moses into Christian life.

And that’s where the analysis runs afoul: if there’s anything St. Paul didn’t want, it was for Christians to be bound by the Law of Moses, and he used a considerable amount of his knowledge to argue against it.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them” [Deuteronomy 27:26]. Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for “He who through faith is righteous shall live” [Habakkuk 2:4]; but the law does not rest on faith, for “He who does them shall live by them” [Leviticus 5:18]. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree” [Deuteronomy 21:23] — that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal 3:10-14; bold font mine).

And a little later in the same book: “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (vv. 23-26; bold font mine).

You can also find parallel thoughts in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Do you not know, brethren — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law is binding on a person only during his life? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brethren, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit (Rom 7:1-6; bold font mine).

Saint Paul held that the Law was a temporary construct interpolated between the promise God gave to Abraham and the redemptive sacrifice Jesus made on the Cross. For Paul faith in Christ obviated the Law, rendered it unnecessary, and those who fell back on the Law for their redemption rejected Christ (Galatians 5:2-6). Here the author of the letter to the Hebrews backs him up: “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins [such as the priests of the Temple offered; q.v. Hebrews 10:1-14], but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Any argument that depends on the usually-hidden premiss that the Bible was a single work is going to get hung up on the details. Moreover, the root contention — Christians have erred for over nineteen centuries in worshipping on Sunday — pays scant attention to Christ’s promises that the Holy Spirit would teach, remind and guide the Church. SDA can’t help but imply that the Spirit was asleep at the wheel all those centuries, and only woke up within the last hundred and fifty or so to find the Church had been worshipping on the wrong day.

Once again, Saint Paul for the win.

[*] The codex, the precursor of the modern book, was just being introduced to the world during first century CE, and wouldn’t completely replace scrolls until the Middle Ages.