Law and Lawlessness in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
Series: Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament
- ISBN: 9783161567087
- Published By: Mohr Siebeck
- Published: May 2019
Law and Lawlessness in Early Judaism and Early Christianity is a collection of essays that came out of the Lautenschlaeger Colloquium held at Mansfield College, Oxford in 2015. Much ink has been spilled describing the relationship between early Judaism and the law. This work has a much broader scope, seeking to analyze both legalistic and antinomian dimensions in early Judaism and early Christianity. The editors, David Lincicum, Ruth Sheridan, and Charles M. Stang, do not hope to solve any debates; rather, they want to describe “how law and lawlessness are in tension throughout this early, formative period, and not finally resolved in one direction or the other” (1).
The volume consists of eleven essays. I focus on five, and offer some general remarks on the remaining six as I conclude. Lutz Doering analyzes the Qumran community’s understanding of law and lawlessness. Focusing primarily on the Damascus Document and The Community Rule, two ancient documents discovered near Qumran, now known as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Doering shows that the Qumran community understood themselves as “blameless,” whereas Israel had fallen into lawlessness. The community themselves (corporately first, then individually) was also in constant danger of lawlessness, both from external and internal temptations. Doering rightly points out that it is the charge of lawlessness itself that helped shape the identity of the Qumran community: they were striving for law-keeping while all others were ultimately under the dominion of Belial. In all these descriptions, Doering’s analysis proves accurate and insightful.
Grant Macaskill’s excellent essay on law and lawlessness in the Enoch literature stands out as one of the highlights of the book. Macaskill observes that law is assumed but not explained in 1 Enoch, and 2 Enoch has no place for forgiveness and is seen as legalistic. The essay is clear enough to explain the details for the uninitiated but detailed enough to further the conversation for experts in the field.
Joshua D. Garroway provides a creative analysis of Paul’s relationship with the law by contrasting Paul and the German rabbi Samuel Holdheim (1806–1860). For Garroway, Paul’s critiques of the law (e.g., Gal 3:6–29; Rom 5:20; 2 Cor 3:6) make him a certain kind of “antinomian.” Garroway is conversant with both the “New Perspective(s) on Paul” and the “Paul within Judaism” schools and essentially argues for the Bultmannian perspective, albeit from a slightly different angle. Though Garroway provocatively maintains that “Paul the Christian was no longer Paul the Jew,” (51) the argument is more nuanced than this bald assertion. Here Garroway distinguishes between “doing” the law (obedience unto boasting) and “fulfilling” the law (expressing Christ-empowered love for neighbor). Garroway concludes: “For Paul, Judaism in the messianic age remained Law-bound to the extent that the capacity to love afforded by the life in Christ made it possible to fulfill the Mosaic Law, something doers of the Mosaic Law had ineluctably failed to achieve” (64–65).
Paula Fredriksen offers a perspective on Origen’s and Augustine’s understanding of law and lawlessness. There is much to glean from this chapter, but the scope was perhaps too large to be covered in a single chapter, leaving generalizations rather unsupported. For example, Fredriksen writes of “God’s ethnicity,” referring to the fact that God is the “God of Abraham” and the “God of the Gentiles.” To say that with the development of Gentile Christianity, God was no longer “Jewish” (69) reflects a category mistake. Fredriksen did not adequately argue how God had an “ethnicity” in the first place. Just because he is the “God of the Jews” does not make himself Jewish. Furthermore, Fredricksen’s description of Augustine’s doctrine of predestination as “bleak” and “sad” (86) is too much of a generalization to carry much weight.
David M. Moffitt’s chapter on the Mosaic law in Hebrews stands out as another highlight. Moffitt is a master expositor of the book of Hebrews, and this chapter is no exception. Moffitt explains that there are two parallel Jewish purity systems, namely ritual and moral, and full atonement requires cleansing from both. Hebrews declares that Jesus provides this full atonement. As a result, “Jesus’ humanity was no longer mortal, no longer subject to death. Jesus is, therefore, never again subject to the problem of ritual impurity” (101). David Lincicum’s chapter on the Epistle of Barnabas includes an excellent four-part taxonomy for early law-criticism. Lincicum places Barnabas in the fourth category, “hermeneutical approaches.”
Some of the other chapters exemplify the book’s main downside: they cover such a broad spectrum of topics and information that the treatment moves almost to the realm of obscurity. Two chapters cover monastic movements, two chapters analyze rabbinic material, one chapter is devoted to the reception history of antinomianism, and the final chapter covers issues of modern contextualization. Perhaps these chapters serve to highlight more of the tension between law and lawlessness, but they seemed less relevant to the overall thrust of the book. Nevertheless, the essays by Doering, Macaskill, Garroway, Moffitt, and Lincicum stand out as top-notch contributions to the field, and they all deserve wide readership.
Mark Baker is director of the Heart of Texas Foundation | College of Ministry in Houston, Texas.Mark BakerDate Of Review:February 28, 2022