Joshua Jipp’s Christ is King has garnered much discussion and rightfully so: he argues against a common dismissal of Christ as being a royal title, by comparing ancient royal discourse (Jewish and Greco-Roman) to the writings of Paul. Along the way, he also presents some unique exegetical insights. In this post I want to present one of these insights that potentially unravels a very knotty problem: to what does Paul refer when he speaks of “The Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; 1 Cor 9:22)?
Common views of “the Law of Christ”
The Law of Christ is interpreted in diverse and often mutually exclusive ways:
- The Law of Moses
- The Law of Moses, but transformed
- A new Torah to replace the old
- A principle for Christians to follow
- The teaching of Jesus
For Jipp, this question will not be properly understood unless read “within the context of ancient kingship discourse, particularly discussions devoted to the relationship between king and law” (p45). When consulting this literature, one discovers that,
the best governance is not one in which the law rule supreme, but one in which the virtuous king submits himself to the laws and thereby internalizes them such that he himself becomes an embodiment of law – a “living law”…whereby the king’s subjects imitate the king who provides the perfect pattern for their own character
In other words, the law must be read in light of the king, who internalizes and embodies the law, thus providing a perfect example for his followers. So the king’s subjects (re)interpret the law in light of the king and his faithful example.
Jipp provides much examples through Greco-Roman and Jewish literature. These are well worth reading (buy the book!), but I want to draw attention to the interesting suggestion for reading Galatians 5:14.
Galatians 5:14 as Christ’s Embodying the Law
For Jipp, one must understand the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2) in light of Galatians 5:14.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Reading these passages in light of one another results in the following insights:
- The Law of Christ cannot entirely exclude the Torah, since it is quoted in Gal 5:14
- Both passages refer to “fulfilling” the Law
- Gal 6:2 sees the fulfillment as a potential future
- Gal 5:14 has the fulfillment in the passive perfect tense. Jipp translates Gal 5:14 as “the whole law has been fulfilled”.
Rather than reading Gal 5:14 as synonymous to Rom 13:9 (i.e. all the laws are summarized by Lev 19:18), Jipp suggests that Gal 5:14 goes one step further. Since the language of “fulfillment” often has eschatological overtones of carrying out God’s covenantal purposes (Gal 4:4), Jipp suggests that Rom 8:2-4 is a better parallel. That is, the law is brought to completion through Christ. In other words, yes, the entire law is summed up in Lev 19:18 (Rom 13:9), but Christ best embodies Lev 19:18 in His self-giving death (Gal 5:14). By perfectly embodying the intention of the law, Christ brings the law to fulfillment and completion (Rom 8:2-4), and provides an example for believers to follow, and thus fulfill in their own life-contexts (Gal 6:2).
This means there are elements of both continuity and discontinuity between the Law of Christ and the Law of Moses. Christ’s example “[brings] Torah to its completion” by “supremely embodying the love of neighbor called for by Torah“. This means that Christ is now “the supreme focal point of imitation for Christians” (p61).
On a related note, this seems to fit fairly well with Brian Rosner’s pedagogical tool in Paul and the Law (my review). Christ fulfils the Law, bringing it to completion (repudiation), but reconfiguration of it through His example for believers (replacement), but retaining the Mosaic Law as a witness to Christ and source of wisdom for embodying Christ (reappropriation).