We’re continuing on with Preston Sprinkle’s Paul and Judaism Revisited. Sprinkle begins to look through the Deuteronomic and Prophetic lenses at five different aspects of salvation that Qumran and Paul had in common (see last post). The first is the curse of the Law.
Paul and Judaism Revisited: The Curse of the Law
The Old Testament records Israel’s disobedience to God’s Law and their subsequent exile from the land. Israel was under God’s curse, and the awareness of this status even continued into Paul’s time; despite Israel being restored to the land, God’s promises of their restoration had not yet been fulfilled. This was not exclusive to Paul, as both “Paul and Qumran believed that national Israel still lived under the curse of the covenant, yet both writers believed that their respective communities had escaped this curse” (p68). The question is, how did they escape the curse? Sprinkle carefully walks through five Qumran documents and concludes that the community believed they were experiencing God’s blessings because they had returned to the law (or the “works of the law” in one document). The texts reveal primarily a Deuteronomic attitude towards their restoration – God’s blessing followed their activity.
For Paul, however, things are different. While Paul shares the same background concepts as the Qumran community, his hope for restoration is Prophetic – God intervenes and restores His people unilaterally apart from the law (though the law prophesied it, Rom 3:21). For the rest of this post I want to attempt to summarize Sprinkle’s unique take on a key text for Paul, Galatians 3:10-12.
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”
What should we think of Paul’s quotation of Deut 27:26 in verse 10? How does that prove Paul’s point about relying on the law, when the quote is about the curse upon those who don’t keep the law? Sprinkle summarizes three common interpretations.
- The law requires perfect obedience but no one is able to meet that standard (Schreiner)
- Paul quotes Deut 27:26 out of context (Sanders)
- The works of the law are boundary markers separating Jew from Gentile, but the promise to Abraham was fulfilled outside of the law, so the universal blessing is being restricted (Dunn).
Sprinkle’s view of Gal 3:10-12
Sprinkle presents a fourth view, which I’ll outline here. The problem for Paul is that by returning to the law, one is identifying with a covenant that inevitably led to a curse, as seen in the larger context of Deut 27-32. By (re)turning to the law, one is not resolving the curse of Israel, but partaking in the curse! The answer to the curse is only found in Christ (Gal 2:13).
But why are works of the law insufficient for escaping the curse? Here Sprinkle (rightly, I think) argues that the works of the law are more than boundary markers, instead they are the epitome of the Deuteronomic scheme of restoration, which doesn’t work in light of humanity’s sinful incapability and Christ’s redemption. The Galatians ought to know this, since they were not justified by works of the law, neither did they receive the Spirit (Gal 3:1-4) nor the blessing of Abraham (Gal 3:8-9, 14) by the law. Since God’s blessings in Christ didn’t come by faithfulness to the law, why would one return to it?
Habakkuk 1:4 and Leviticus 18:5
What of Habakkuk 1:4 and Leviticus 18:5? Sprinkle argues that Paul uses Habakkuk to represent the Prophetic hope (faith in God’s action) and Leviticus to represent the Deuteronomic hope (God’s blessing as response to our action). Seeing these passages in context reveals that Habakkuk 1:4 emphasizes faith in God’s future restoration, while Leviticus is used by the Qumran community and Paul to reach opposite conclusions.
The Qumran community believes that they have escaped the curse by means of returning to and obeying the law:
But with those who remained steadfast in God’s precepts, with those who were left from among them, God established his covenant with Israel forever, revealing to them hidden matters in which all Israel had gone astray: his holy Sabbaths and his glorious feasts, his just stipulations and his truthful paths, and the wishes of his will which man must do in order to live by them [Lev 18:5]
— The Damascus Document (CD) 3:12b-16a
In contrast, Paul believes (with Ezekiel 20:11, 13, 21) that deliverance can only come through God’s action, not our own attempts. (Gal 3:13).
So does this reading make sense? I am certainly intrigued by this interpretation. I see it having strengths in looking to the context of Paul’s quotes, and in reading the quotes narrativally rather than only principally. In other words, the quotes point to actual experiences in Israel’s history, not only true principles. Also this interpretation responds to the New Perspective, whilst not falling into a systematic and generic faith vs. works system. However, my praise for this view could be an example of Prov 18:17 in action! So comments and feedback are welcome.
I’m not entirely decided on I will post next on Paul and Judaism Revisited but I think we will skip a few chapters, look at Sprinkle’s sections on justification and final judgment, then give concluding thoughts on the book.
Many thanks to IVP UK for providing a copy of Paul and Judaism Revisited for review. I was not required to provide a positive review.