N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.
(Rom. 3:29-31 ESV) 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one — who will justify [declared included in the covenant faithful community] the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law [Torah] by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law [Torah].
Yesterday’s post was way too long. So I’ll keep this short.
The point of verses 29-30 is obvious enough. As the Torah itself proclaims, there is but one God and he is the God of both Jews and Gentiles. The Torah was given only to the Jews. But the promise of crediting faith as righteousness was given to Abraham to bless all nations. How do we reconcile these things? Well, God will justify (include in the covenant community, as explained in Rom 11) those with faith in Jesus.
So what is the point of the Law (Torah) if it doesn’t define the boundaries of God’s covenant community? Well, Paul will get there. At this point, he’s just going to advise us that he “upholds the Torah.” As Jesus himself said, the Torah is not repealed —
(Matt. 5:17-20 ESV) 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Now, there is much to be said on this subject — and much for me to learn so I can try to say it. But for now, let’s leave it that we shouldn’t be surprised that Paul is not about to repudiate the Torah. Jesus said what he said, and the Torah is from God himself. But the Torah has to be given its proper place in the narrative of salvation — which Paul will be getting to — although, personally, I do wish he’d said more on the subject.
On the other hand, the Sermon on the Mount can be read as Jesus’ own explanation of how to read Torah in light of his coming, death, and resurrection. He seems to both loosen and strengthen the Law — ignoring the Sabbath, circumcision, and such — as soon to be obsolete, but insisting that we read the moral commands with circumcised hearts so that we apply the spiritual heart of God that is behind the command, which will often require us to go beyond the literal words of the Torah to a deeper understanding of the heart of God.