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. 8:7 ESV) For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
(Rom. 8:7 NET) because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.
(Rom. 8:7 HCSB) For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so.
In this verse, Paul simply summarizes what he’d already said in chapter 7. The “outlook of the flesh” speaks to the lost, those not “in Christ Jesus” (8:1).
Wright insists that we should read “law of God” as the Torah of God, to be consistent with the earlier chapters, but we should understand Torah in a new way.
Can it really be that “the law of the spirit of life” is a further reference to Torah, introducing now a new facet to Torah not visible in chap. 7? Most commentators draw back from this conclusion. I am persuaded, however, that reaction is wrong. When scaling the sheer rock of Paul’s thought it is important not to lose one’s nerve and settle for an apparently easier path, a seemingly more natural route.
The explanation of v. 2, after all, is found in vv. 3–4; and there, as the heart of the chapter so far, we find that the “righteous verdict of the law,” the δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου (dikaiōma tou nomou), is now fulfilled “in us who walk … according to the Spirit.” We then find, by implication, that whereas “the mind of the flesh” does not submit to God’s law, the mind of the Spirit actually does (v. 7), and that by the Spirit God will do what the law wanted to do but, through no fault of its own, was unable to do (8:3, 10–11; cf. 7:10).
It is not fanciful, then, but strictly in keeping with the thrust of the whole passage, to say that when Paul speaks of “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” he is indeed referring to Torah, in a way for which we have only distantly been prepared by 3:27, 31. After all, ho nomos in vv. 3, 4, and 7 is clearly Torah. How obscure do we suppose Paul to have been?
N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 576-577.
So does this mean we should be circumcised and eat kosher? Obviously, this is not the case, as shown by Gal and Rom 14. So how is Paul thinking of the Torah as it applies to Christians, who possess the Spirit?
Commenting on Rom 10:4, Wright writes,
Romans 7:1–8:11, likewise, does not undermine Torah. It does not suggest that when God acts in Jesus Christ and by the Spirit Torah is abrogated or made to look bad. On the contrary: it is “the mind of the flesh” that cannot submit to God’s law (8:7). In Christ and by the Spirit God has at last done what Torah wanted to do but could not do, that is, to give life (7:10; 8:11). This points on to the theme of 10:5–9.
In fact, if we wanted to summarize 2:17–29; 3:27–31; and 7:1–8:11, one good way of doing so might be to say: “Christ (and the Spirit) are the goal of Torah, so that all who have faith, all who are in Christ Jesus, may have righteousness and life.” …
I conclude that in 10:4 Paul does not intend to declare the law’s abrogation in favor of a different “system,” but rather to announce that the Messiah is himself the climax of the long story of God and Israel, the story Torah tells and in which it plays a vital though puzzling part. God’s purposes in Torah, purposes both negative and positive, have reached their goal in the Messiah, and the result of that is the accessibility and availability of “righteousness” for all who believe.
Both of those emphasized words are important, underlining the contrast (a) with the restriction of “righteousness” to Jews, and (b) with the badge of covenant membership seen as “works of Torah” in the sense already discussed.
N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 658.
Commenting on Rom 10:5-11, Wright continues to explain his thinking —
In fact, however, once we discover what Paul is doing in these verses–and they display one of his more subtle readings of Scripture–we shall see that here, too, somewhat as in 8:1–11, he envisages the fulfillment, not the abrogation, of Torah. …
Deuteronomy 30 comes immediately after the chapters in which Moses has held out to the people the covenantal blessings and curses. … The final and most emphatic curse is exile: Israel will not simply suffer blight, mildew, barrenness, poverty, sickness, and a hundred other evils in the land, but will ultimately be driven off the land itself, scattered among the nations of the earth (28:63–68; 29:22–28; see esp. 29:28: … .
But after they have all happened, and in particular after the exile has done its worst, then there will come a great reversal. Deuteronomy 30 is a prediction of the return from exile, pointing to the spiritual and moral renewal that will make that return possible and appropriate. Israel will return to YHWH with all its heart and soul (30:2, 6). YHWH will turn Israel’s captivity around, and regather his people (vv. 3–5). YHWH will circumcise Israel’s heart, to love YHWH, so that Israel may live (v. 6). Blessing will once more follow, if Israel will now be obedient (vv. 8–10).
And the central blessing is life itself: God has set life before them (v. 15), the life that results from keeping the commandments (v. 16) as opposed to disobeying and so incurring death (vv. 17–18). Life is what they must choose (v. 19). They must love YHWH, obey his voice, and cleave to him, “for he is your life, and the length of your days” (v. 20). The whole chapter might be entitled, “the new obedience which brings new life.”
In the middle of Deuteronomy we find vv. 11–14, the passage Paul quotes in 10:6–8. The commandment is not too hard; it is not far off. You do not need someone to go up to heaven and bring it down, so that you may hear it and do it; you do not need someone to cross the sea and fetch it, so that you may hear it and do it … . “The word is near you; it is in your mouth, and in your heart, so that you may do it” (v. 14). The chapter, in other words, presumes that Israel has been sent into exile and is now going to turn to YHWH from the heart, and proceeds to explain what it really means to “do” the law and so to “live.”
This life-giving “doing” will be a matter, not of a struggle to obey an apparently impossible law, but of heart and mouth being renewed by God’s living “word.” It will not be a matter of someone else teaching it to them as from a great distance. Verse 14, significantly, omits even the mention of “hearing” the commandment; it will be inside them, in their mouth and heart.
We cannot but think of Jer 31:33–34: In the restoration after the exile, the people will not need to be taught the commandments, because they will be written on their hearts. And this cannot but remind us of Rom 2:25–29, a passage that Paul is about to echo in 10:9–10. It should be clear already that Paul has the context, and overall meaning, of Deuteronomy 30 firmly in mind. …
This should make it clear, too, that Paul’s quotation of Lev 18:5 in 10:5 is not set in opposition to Deuteronomy 30. … Lev 18:5 brought together two things, “doing the law” and “living”: “the one who does these things shall live by them.” This is what the “righteousness which is from the law” declares; that is how Leviticus 18 was heard in Paul’s own day. … It offers, he insists, a fresh explanation, granted exile and return, for what “do the law and live” might actually mean.
In the original passage, the lines Paul quotes each end with “so that you may do it.” Here, as in 2:25–29 and elsewhere, Paul’s point is that those who share Christian faith are in fact “doing the law” in the sense that Deuteronomy and Jeremiah intended. Those who believe that Jesus is Lord, and that God raised him from the dead, are the new-covenant people, the returned-from-exile people. …
Now all who believe in the Messiah, whether they be Jew or Gentile, are thereby “fulfilling the law”; they are “doing” it in the sense Deuteronomy 30 intended; and they thereby find “life,” as 8:9–11 demonstrated, the life that Torah wanted to give but could not (7:10), the life that can now be spoken of more specifically as “salvation” (10:9, 10, 13). And that, of course, was all along the point of the paragraph (10:1–13). Paul has prayed for the salvation of his kinsfolk; now, starting with Torah itself, he has shown the way by which that salvation may be found.
N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 658-660.
Let me see if I can simplify this a bit:
- The promises in Deu 30 of the end of Exile and the restoration of Israel as God’s people is a part of the Torah. “Torah” does not mean “Law of Moses.” It refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The same is true of “law” when Paul is writing in Torah terms. Thus, the promises of Deu 30 are as much “Torah” as are the Ten Commandments. And that means that the covenant with Abraham is part of the Torah, since its recorded in Genesis.
- The Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants both point to Jesus. It’s much easier to see in Abraham, but Deu 30 especially is a promise that will be fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah and the outpouring of the Spirit.
- The Torah of the Spirit of Life (Rom 8:2) speaks first to gaining eternal life, that is, escaping the curses of Gen 3 and Exile so that God’s people may re-enter the Garden so that they will no longer “surely die” by losing immortality by losing access to the Tree of Life.
- Thus, when Moses promises in Deu 30:6 that God will circumcise the hearts of the Jews so that they “may live,” he is speaking of undoing the curse of Gen 3 as well as the curses of Lev 26 and Deu 28-29 (Exile). In retrospect, “live” has to refer to immortality, since the curse of Gen 3 took away immortality and the Exile separates Israel from God. Besides, of all the curses threatened, God never says the Jews will suffer physical death and be exterminated from the cosmos. So if they aren’t threatened with physical death, what is “life” in Deu 30:6? Surely, regaining the immortality that Adam and Eve once had.
- Therefore, the Torah of the Spirit is the Torah re-read to include the story of God’s relationship with Israel and the rest of the world from Adam to Moses. The Spirit is how God will circumcise hearts. Faith in Jesus is how the promises to Abraham will be kept.
- Therefore, the Torah is not repealed so much as fulfilled. It has come to its natural and intended conclusion: life (immortality) is given to God’s people by the Spirit thanks to the forgiveness made possible by the work of Jesus on the cross accessed by faith.