Quote of the Week

This week we hear from G.K. Beale, as he has been influenced by  C.M. Pate:

The NT perspective on the role of the law can best be understood in the light of the beginning destruction of the old creation and the emergence of the renovated creation. For example, some have observed that Paul has apparently contradictory views of the law in Romans and Galatians, sometimes viewing it quite negatively and at other times positively. The fact that the end-time new creation has broken into the old world means that these two worlds overlap and that the old world is already beginning to crumble. Consequently, the law for unbelievers living in the old creation results in enslavement to sin and judgment. This judgment begins during the old age…and is consummated at the end of the age, when the old cosmos will be judged by being destroyed and old-age inhabitants will be consigned to the second death because of their violation of the law…On the other hand, the law is a source of blessing for spiritually resurrected believers living in the new creation because in Christ they have power to fulfill the law in Christ in a way that spiritually dead people do not. (footnote: I am indebted to C.M. Pate, The End of the Ages Has Come (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 124-148, for his excellent discussion of how the overlap of the ages solves the dual Pauline perspective on the law, though he does not relate this to old creation and eschatological new creation.) G.K. Beale, “The New Testament and New Creation,” in Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect, edited by Scott Hafemann (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), pp. 159-173, quote on p. 168.

This struck me forcefully as a very helpful way of thinking about the law, as long as one does not take a dispensational spin on it. The statement would also require some clarification. For instance, in Galatians, where Paul is more negative on the law, it is the forward-looking pedagogical use of the law that he has in mind (see the particularly evocative picture of “tutor” in the end of chapter 3). Beale does not mean that the law is part of the old age, and that it is therefore done away with in the new creation. Rather, there is a typological function of the pedagogical use of the law. This can help explain why the same covenant of grace is differently administered under the time of the law and the time of the gospel, as the Westminster Standards puts it. The pedagogical and typological function of the law is especially (though not exclusively) associated with the old age. The third use of the law (as a guide for the Christian life) is especially (though not exclusively) associated with the new age now that the fulfillment has come. It is not as though the pedagogical use of the law has been completely discontinued, or that the third use of the law sprang up de novo in the New Testament. However, in the eschatological view of things, as the law points forward, the typology is more in view because the antitype had not yet come. Now that the antitype has come, the normative aspect is more in view.

If N.T. Wright had only realized that this was what Paul was getting at in his different treatments of the law, he might never have started on his course of leaving the Reformational doctrine of justification. There are other ways of reconciling Romans and Galatians without resorting to a Roman Catholic limitation of “works of the law” to the ceremonial aspects of the law.

4 Comments

  1. roberty bob said,

    May 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    “On the other hand, the law is a source of blessing for spiritually resurrected believers living in the new creation because in Christ they have the power to fulfill the law in Christ in a way that spiritually dead people do not.” — Beale

    I’m wondering . . .

    Does Beale acknowledge the law as a source of blessing for the righteous who walked with God during “the time of the law?” I have Psalm 119 open, which gushes with praise for the law, and for how “blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.”

    Were the righteous who walked with God during “the time of the law” given “the power to fulfill the law in Christ in a way that spiritually dead people do not?”

    I read Psalm 119 with the assumption that there were righteous people living in those days who were spiritually alive, and therefore knew from experience the blessedness of obeying the law as a way of life — even as they trusted the Lord with all their hearts.

  2. roberty bob said,

    May 21, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Now that “faith” has come — now that the Christ has come — why would anyone not believe that the pedagogical function of the law has been abolished? The “tutor” is no longer employed to supervise those who are under the law because no one is under the law anymore — and thus does not receive “tutorials” — now that “faith” has come.

    In what context would the church apply the law’s pedagogical function? I cannot think of any.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    May 21, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    RB, first of all, Scripture speaks of the faith of Abraham as being the same faith as our faith (see John 8, Romans 4, and Galatians 3 in particular). He saw Jesus’ day, and was glad (John 8). The article itself did not address the third use of the law in OT times, but I’m sure Beale would acknowledge that.

    Secondly, the pedagogical use of the law is still very much alive today, however much we may no longer be under the sway of the covenant of works as believers. The law still teaches us about our inability to keep the law. The law still drives us to Christ, even after conversion, because we still need the forgiveness of our Father, even if He is never more our judge. Before conversion, the law still functions as the taskmaster that prods our consciences, telling us when we do wrong. That is very much pedagogical. The sense in which it no longer functions as a pedagogical use is the redemptive-historical sense. In that sense, the law only functioned pedagogically in the OT. But there is more than one pedagogical function that the law performs.

  4. roberty bob said,

    May 21, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    The Law did not have the power to bestow life / righteousness.
    Only the Spirit of the Son bestows the power of life / righteousness.
    Life / righteousness comes through faith [in Christ].

    Before the coming of faith [Christ], the law functioned as a tutor / child minder to keep the covenant child in custody until the time he attained unto majority status of Son. While held in the law’s custody, the child received the following tutorials:

    1) The Law Cannot Bestow Life Despite Its Urgings to Do and Live

    2) Righteousness Cannot Be Attained by Keeping the Law

    3) Being Under The Law Administration Creates a Yearning for a Better Administration that Will Eventually Drive Me to the [Grace of] Christ

    It seems that the same “time of the law’ tutorials are being offered in this day of grace. You say that “the sense in which it no longer functions as a pedagogical use is in the redemptive-historical sense.”

    The tutor is not in charge anymore, but the tutoring goes on nonetheless — even with the coming of the faith [in Christ]. Are you saying that it is in some sense necessary, even in the Age of the Faith, to make everyone experience the custody of being under the law so that we all learn that it’s a dead end, and that only in Christ can we find the way, the truth, and the life?


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