Torah, not theonomy

Of course, by Torah we mean after Christ, apart from works of Torah.   I am saying that seeing the “Law” as Torah and not theonomy provides a better model for understanding Scripture.  Theonomy runs into difficulties because it assumes the legal categories of late Western modernity.  That’s not necessarily its fault.   Everyone has to apply the word in the culture he lives in.  But a quick perusal of the Pentateuch will show that it was not written with late Western modernity in mind.  In fact, seen in our categories, much of it is quite bizarre.

That’s not to deny its importance.  If anything, the strange ways in which Torah is organized should invite the reader to reflect even deeper about reality and the way that God’s world works.  Let’s consider a few and ask how these can possibly work on the theonomic thesis:

  1. While there are covenantal-sequential patterns and typological motifs (riffing off of the days of creation–Ex. 25-40), many of the laws are apparently haphazardly organized together.  This should alert us to the fact that maybe God didn’t intend for these laws to be understood in a post-common law framework.
  2. If you find a bird’s nest on the ground, you are given certain commands on how you can gather the eggs. Is anyone in the modern Western world really going to do this?  Is this law judicial or moral or both?
  3. Torah is also story.  In Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans Torah is not functioning as a list of dos and don’ts, but as story.  How do you put story into a law code?

In where I differ with E. P. Sanders

I am currently reading E. P. Sanders’ Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People. It is his expansion on his earlier work on the Apostle Paul.  He tries to correct some of the caricatures of his thesis and expand on other points.   It’s an interesting read because it is still an early “New Perspective” text.  One can see moves that Wright and Dunn will later make, but clearly different from the conclusions Wright will later draw.   Even in some parts of the New Perspective, Sanders is seen as the “dark uncle.”  I disagree with a lot of his conclusions, and I am not particularly thrilled by his lower view of Scripture, but I don’t find him all that controversial.

In any case, Sanders insists on translating Romans 3:27 as “principle of works/principle of faith” rather than “law of works/law of faith.”  I think given his reading of “nomos”  he thinks it is not warranted to speak of a “law of faith,” and in this case he is consistent.  However, I think this also weakens part of his thesis.  He wants to (correctly) see the law as “Jewish ethnic markers” and an “entrance requirement,” and from this assumes that “law of faith” is nonsensical.

However, I think we can indeed speak of a law of faith and still keep Sanders’ gains.  Richard Hays notes that Paul’s reading of Torah inevitably subverts the function of Torah for the Christian community.  Since the law promises the Messiah and the future inclusion of gentiles into the worldwide people of God, the law (for the Christian) is now the narrative of promise.  Therefore, we can indeed speak of “a law of faith.”