How can one man make you stand up and cheer one minute and send a wave of discouragement over you the next? And a godly man at that?! (I know, I know…it’s the reality of human nature.)
First the cheering:
In order to understand Paul properly we must grasp how his perspective both continues and modifies the religious tradition in which he was reared, especially his understanding of his Old Testament roots.
First, we must recognize his own sense of continuity with his heritage. Paul sees himself and his churches as being in a direct line with the people of God in the Old Testament; and despite his deep convictions about the radical implications of the coming of Christ and the Spirit, he regularly reaffirms that continuity. He includes a primarily Gentile church in the events of the exodus: “all our forefathers were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:1-2). … Paul never speaks of a “new Israel” or “new people of God”; his language is now composed of Jew and Gentile alike as the one people of God.
Now the weeping:
But just as clearly, there is significant discontinuity. The people of God have now been newly formed. Christ is the “goal of the law” (Rom 10:4), and the Spirit is “the promised Holy Spirit” (Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13). Christ’s death and resurrection have brought an end to Torah observance (living on the basis of the Old Testament law, (Rom 7:4-6; 8:2-3); being led by the Spirit has replaced observance as God’s way of fulfilling Torah (Gal 5:18); indeed, the righteous requirement of Torah is now fulfilled in those who walk in/by the Spirit (Rom 8:4).
Argh!!! Gordon Fee is one of the most excellent exegetes of the 20th century (he lived mostly in the 20th century and it’s too soon to tell what impact he will have on the 21st century), and yet here is a grievous misunderstanding, in the midst of a book titled Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God that is jam-packed with excellent material on the Holy Spirit! It makes me want to scream. His reputation and excellence give added weight to his words; do I dare give this book to eager learners?
I sure wish I could call up Dwight Pryor and chat about this one.
But, here we are, so let’s deal with the section I referred to as “the weeping.”
The people of God have now been newly formed.” Well, yes and no.
Yes, they are now re-invigorated with a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit specifically for the expansion of the Gospel to the nations (Acts 2) and given an awareness that God specifically intends for the Jewish nation to be the agent for the spreading of His message to the nations. This had been prophesied all along, but it was a new awareness for the Chosen People. They’ve been newly formed in that they now believe in Jesus Christ as their long-awaited Messiah, and they’ve been re-invigorated with a new and fuller understanding of the tools God had given them all along for the purpose of transformation into His image. Those who felt they could earn their way into God’s graces, have been disabused of that notion, and their entire heritage has been re-cast in the light of Messiah’s identity and teaching.
No, the same people have always been the people of God, and “those of faith,” to use Paul’s language in Galatians 3:7 have participated in the New Covenant all along, whether they were aware of that fact or not. They’re not so much “newly formed” as newly added to, and newly invigorated with a renewed or new understanding. And, they are being taught about the reality that they are new creatures in Messiah–the old has gone and the new has come. But this is not a new reality, just a new understanding, and there is much evidence that it’s not even entirely new understanding. Certainly new to the majority of the Gentiles, to whom Paul is writing, but not new to all the Jews.
“Christ is the “goal of the law (Rom 10:4).” For sure, and assuredly Fee gets it right when he renders telos as “goal” rather than “end.” Certainly also, “the Spirit is ‘the promised Holy Spirit’ (Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13),” and yet the Spirit is not new either. Joshua was “a man in whom is the Spirit,” as were all the prophets, Moses, David, etc. Assuredly there were Jews not filled with the Holy Spirit, but in whose name do you think R. Hanina ben Dosa performed miracles? It seems that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost with a fresh infusion, with an anointing for a task of newly epic proportions–take the Gospel to the nations, rather than let the nations come to you–but it was not as if He had not already been indwelling “those of faith” for centuries already.
“being led by the Spirit has replaced observance as God’s way of fulfilling Torah (Gal 5:18)” What? No! Being led by the Spirit is synonymous with observing God’s law…after all, who was it that was to write the law on our hearts? “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jer 31:33) It was the Spirit, aka, the “finger of God” that wrote God’s law on the stone tablets, and it is He who also writes God’s law on our hearts.
“indeed, the righteous requirement of Torah is now fulfilled in those who walk in/by the Spirit (Rom 8:4).” Well, yes, of course, for now that we are in Christ and His law is being written in us, as we walk by the Spirit, He guides us in the Way (Ps. 25:8-9,12; Ps 119:1, 30-33)
1 Gordon D. Fee. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996. pp 3-4.