This week, one of my nice readers, Joel Burman, posted some questions in response to one of my blogs in which I advocated for a return to Torah observance as a necessary component of Jewish repentance. Since this is Q&A Friday, I thought I would deal with one of his questions which revolves around this issue.
He asked four questions. Here is the first one, together with my short answer. I will answer another question or perhaps all of his other questions next week. His question: "How do you deal with Hebrews 7:14 and Romans 7:1-6?"
I don’t know why he asked about Hebrews 7:14 which states, “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” If he is wondering if I realize that Messiah inaugurated a new priesthood at variance with the Levitical priesthood, the answer is “Yes.” The second part of that question asks about Romans 7:1-6, a passage which some would take to mean that the Law is now a dead issue for us. Let’s look for a moment.
Arnold Fruchtenbaum is a well known teacher who speaks at length about this text. Here is what he says:
When a husband dies, a wife becomes a widow, and , so, no longer bound to ‘the law of the husband’ (vv. 1-3). Therefore, she is free to remarry without committing the sin of adultery; she is now ‘free from the law,’ because a death has taken place. Paul then makes the theological application (vv. 4-5). Here, again, a death has taken place, the death of the Messiah. Believers have been ‘made dead to the law through the body of Christ’ (v.4). The sin nature can no longer use the law as a base of operation (v. 5). Finally, Paul states that ‘we have been discharged from the law’ (v. 6). One is either married to the Law of to the Messiah but cannot be married to both. (Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missiong Link in Sytematic Theology0.
However, hear what I say, and I believe what Paul is saying! The text does not speak of the death of the Law, nor of its being rendered inoperative. It is not the law that has died with Messiah, it is us! Paul explores how this death has changed our relationship to God’s law. Our death in Messiah alters the Law’s ability to condemn us, and that death also weakens sin's power to entice us. Dead people are impervious both to the law’s censure and to its power to incite rebellion. Paul’s point is not that the Law is “inoperative” (Fruchtenbaum’s point) but rather that the believer is now judicially dead to the Law. In fact, Paul’s metaphor and argument turns upon the Law’s continuing power to condemn and to incite rebelliion, which power would fall upon the believer were he/she still alive and not judicially dead in union with Messiah. Paul’s argument derives its force from postulating the Law to be alive, but the Yeshua believer to be dead, and therefore exempt from the Law’s resident power to condemn and to incite.
For Paul the focus and texture of our spiritual lives now is not Law centered, but rather Messiah/Spirit centered, “so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (7:6). While there is much to unpack as to what that might mean, the point in focus now concerns Fruchtenbaum’s allegation that through the death of Messiah, Torah itself has been rendered inoperative. On the contrary, instead Paul argues that in Messiah, our relationship to the Law is altered, not by the Law’s death, but by our own. All that Paul is saying is that our death with Messiah nullifies the Law’s power to condemn and incite us. And that is his ONLY point. The law remains the standard of life by which Jews are called to honor God as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.