Friday, October 4, 2013

"Under the Law": A Look at Paul's Ambiguous Referential Language

Read this today and would like to know what you all think about it:

"[Paul uses] one group identifier ['the Jews'] in [1 Corinthians 9:20a], and another Jewish group identifier ['those under the law'], in [1 Corinthians 9:20b].  In this social categorization, 'the Jews'...describes the vast majority of Jews living around the Mediterranean basin, while 'those under the law'...represents a subgroup identity within this broader classification of Jews....
Paul uses the phrase ['under the law'] four times in 9:20b, which raises the following questions:  To whom does Paul refer by the group descriptor, 'those under the law'?  How does Paul become 'as one under the law'?  What does he mean when he claims that he is 'not under the law'?  Finally, what does it mean to 'win those under the law'?
Schrage claims that ['under the law'] refers to 'Jews living under the authority of Mosaic law.'  However, the use of this phrase to simply refer to Jews is redundant and would not explain why Paul would use it right after writing ['the Jews'] in the first part of verse 20.  This suggests that Paul has a different referent in view here.  Ciampa and Rosner contend that it refers more specifically to 'proselytes.'  While this is possible, the phrase ['under the law'] is quite ambiguous in Paul's letters.  For example, in Gal 3:10, 13 ['under the law'] can mean 'under the curse of the law'], while in Rom 6:14-15, it can be understood as 'under the sin-strengthening regime of the old age.'...
Lightfoot and Bockmuehl have suggested another reading for ['under the law'], one that refers either to those holding to a more 'strict interpretation of the law' or more specifically to the 'Pharisees.'  This view is preferred for the following reasons:  First, in Phil 3:5, Paul says of himself ['as to the law, a Pharisee'.  This makes for a good conceptual parallel to the language of 1 Cor 9:20.  Second, Pharisees were known for a more strict observance of the law compared to the halakhah of Jesus.  Third, this understanding distinguishes the small group from the previously mentioned larger group, i.e., 'the Jews.'  This distinction between the Pharisees and the rest of the Jews is furthermore evident in Mark 7:3 ('the Pharisees and all the Jews') and Luke 7:29-30, as well as Josephus JW 1.110.  So this proposed understanding of ['under the law'] as 'those following a [strict interpretation] of the law' would suggest that Paul no longer follows the Pharisee sect....
So, in answer to the questions raised by the presence of ['under the law'] in 9:20, Paul uses the group descriptor, 'those under the law,' to designate those living under a strict halakhic interpretation of the Pharisees.  How does Paul become 'as one under the law'?  He does this by sharing table-fellowship with those who hold to these strict standards, and he, himself, follows them on those occasions.  What does he mean when he claims that he is 'not under the law'?  Paul is no longer following the strict halakhot of the Pharisees.  Finally, what does it mean to 'win those under the law'?  It could mean to convince those in this group that gentiles in Christ are not required to follow similar halakhic standards; rather, they are to keep the commands appropriate to them (1 Cor 7:19)," (pg. 102 of Remain in Your Calling:  Paul and the Continuation of Social Identities in 1 Corinthians by J. Brian Tucker)


  1. See Tim Hegg's article "All Things to All Men."

    At www.

    1. Here's the direct link btw:

    2. I love his analysis which is summed up on pg. 7:

      "For Paul, the phrase 'under the Torah' (hupo nomon) describes those who have not confessed Yeshua as Messiah, and whoh continued to rely upon their Jewish identity, bound up in observance of the Torah, as the grounds for their acceptance by God. This being the case, it is understandable why Paul quickly reinforces the fact that he was not himself 'under the Torah.' He no longer trusted in his Jewish status, identified by Torah observance, as the means of justification before God. Now, living according to the Torah was the inevitable response of love to the One who had redeemed him."

    3. Paul valued Jewishness but didn't over-value Jewishness. He believed that all Jews despite their Jewishness still needed Yeshua in order to be reconciled to G-d. They needed to relate to the Torah through Yeshua (not get rid of Torah altogether as some suppose Paul is saying).

    4. Peter,
      I find Hegg's interpretation of the phrase "under [the] law" (hupo nomon) convincing in dealing with some of the texts, yet I wonder how this interpretation works in the case of Yeshua himself. I'm referring to Galatians 4:4, where it is said: "[...] when the fulness of the time was come, G-d sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under [the] law". Here too the expression: "hupo nomon" is used. Hegg's interpretation of this phrase can hardly apply to Yeshua. I would prefer an interpretation which is able to deal with all cases in which this expression occurs.

      What do you think that "hupo nomon" means when applied to Yeshua?

    5. Messianic 613,

      It's possible that "under the law" refers to how Jewishness was conceived in pre-New-Covenant terms: "cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Yeshua found Himself in this situation, under the Law, subject to a possible curse. And He defeated this curse.

      Post-New-Covenant then the antithesis of "under the Law" is being "en-Lawed to Christ" (ennomous Christou, 1 Cor. 9).

      Paul simply used the expression "under the Law" to refer to Jewish identity that was wrapped up in a burdensome view of Torah and, consequently, an overly-burdensome system of Tradition.

      Do you disagree?

    6. I can follow you up to a certain point. But the curse you quote belongs to the Torah and is found in Dt. 27:26. So if the Torah applies to us, its curses is still in force. It is not a consistent position, I think, that in Messiah the commandments apply but that the curses and punishments are removed. View for example Hebr. 10:26-31, which contains an a fortiori reasoning in the opposite direction and considers transgression a heavier matter after the appearance of Messiah than before.

      Now Paul supposedly opposes being "under the Torah" to being "under Grace", without denying the authority of the Torah. So "under the Torah" doesn't just mean being subject to the Torah. It must mean something more than that. My attempt to an interpretion would be that it may refer to the legal regime of the Torah. Thus interpreted those "under the Torah" are those who ultimately rely on the Torah and its regulations — including of course its means of atonement — for attaining a portion in the World to Come.

      This reliance according to Paul must fail, because all have transgressed the Torah. Even if a person only committed sins for which atonement was possible, this atonement would only apply to the life in this world. Death is the ultimate and universal wages of all sin, which cannot be escaped.

      According to this interpretation, "under the Torah" eternal life could only be granted to a person who perfectly obeyed the Torah and never sinned. This only happened once, in the case of Yeshua. Since Yeshua never sinned in any thing, he merited or earned eternal life, according to the adage that "whosoever does these things shall live by them".

      So being under the Torah refers to a test situation, and the result of it was that all failed except Yeshua. Thus Yeshua for himself earned eternal life by his merits in perfectly living according to the Torah, and for all others he earned it by means of his sacrifice.

      This would allow to interpret the phrase "under the Torah" in Gal. 4:4 and in other texts in the same manner.

    7. I would like to add to this that Yeshua removed the curse of the Torah not by making this curse in itself invalid or inapplicable, but by introducing an atonement which exceeds the means of atonement provided by the legal system of the Torah. For in and through his sacrifice we can be justified from all things, from which we couldn't be justified by the Torah of Moses (cf. Acts 13:39). In becoming a curse for us by being hanged on a tree, Messiah provided a means of atonement which results in eternal and definite forgiveness for those who truly repent, and in this manner he redeemed us from the curse of the Torah (Gal. 3:13).

    8. If I can through my understanding into the mix, it goes like this:

      Everyone is born "born under Law" in the most general use, this is why 'all' need redemption, not just Jews, but also Gentiles, all have fallen short, all have sinned. We actually use this same language in our court systems today "Under a Court of Law", being under a Law, means to be under its ultimate judgement, for better or for worse, in our case, it will end in all of us being judged guilty, but in Yeshua's case, it ended in Him being declared righteous.

      So now that we are no longer under Law in the Messiah, does not mean we are no longer responsible to the Law, it simply means that the ultimate conclusion of the Law (the Judgement) will not be held over us, instead Yeshua will. It says that He removed the curse (in reference to eternal damnation), not the curses (pertaining to temporal consequences), many people who trust in God today are sick and dying, and some of that would be due to their sins, clearly proving the curses did not disappear.

      The other spin is that Paul considers some to not have been been "born under the Law", and this would mean he is referring to Jewish identity for those who were born 'under law' and gentiles for the opposite. Dan already made this point though...

  2. You are making too much out of this...Paul uses the term "under the law" as he used the term "circumcision," to denote the Jewishness of Yeshua. nothing more, nothing less.

    1. I think it should be remembered that there were many traditions Yeshua did keep. The cup, presumably the third cup, after the meal at the Passover seder , reclining at the Passover Seder, reading the haftorah in the synagogue...In Matthew 23:23, Yeshua upholds the Rabbinic stringency of tithing spices etc. The only "burdensome" traditions that Yeshua was against were those that transgressed the literal or intentional meaning of the Torah itself or those that emphasized ritual purity over compassion.