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SIDIC Periodical XIX - 1986/3
Law: A Way of Life (Pages 14 - 15)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

The Law of Christ
Jacques Golostain


We all know the famous words of Christ to be found in Mt 5:17:
"I have not come to abolish (the Law and the prophets) but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, tilt heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until is accomplished."

It can be taken for granted that this passage reflects the conflict situation in which the Jewish-Christians of Matthew and the Paulists found themselves; some think that Jesus did not speak these words and they attribute them to the Jewish-Christian community, which did not see any contradiction between faith in Christ and fidelity to the Law. James stresses this strongly after the arrival of Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 21:20).
The first question which comes to mind when reading this passage, especially when it is taken in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, is this: is this new Law: You have heard that it was said... But I say to you._ in opposition to the Torah of Israel?

Jesus and the Accomplishment of the Law
On closer inspection there does not appear to be this opposition, even in the context of the antitheses of the Sermon. This is because the Law of Jesus is understood to be the accomplishment of the Law and the Prophets. This accomplishment it to be understood as a concentration on the Law of Love. Paul sums h up thus: "Love is the fulfilling of the Law" (Rom 13:10; Gal 5:14). But this Law of Love springs from the ethical tradition of Israel: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Lev 19:18), quoted expressly by Paul in Rom 13:9 and Gal 5:14.
In fan, not an iota, not a dot must pass from the Law of Christ understood in this way. The words of Mt 5:18 on the Law which will not pass away, have their parallel in Lk 16:17: "It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one dot of the law to become void." This certainly signifies for Luke that the Kingdom of God is not "without law" even though publicans and sinners now enter it. Would Luke have given these words a piace in his gospel, written for. pagan Christians, if he had not considered them the words of Jesus himself?
Thus there is to be found in Jesus a certain internalization of the law. Not only the accomplished act but also the intention is decisive. This is not simply a characteristic peculiar to Jesus; the pharisaic theologian also knew the kavvanah intention which alone gives value to the accomplished act. In things that concern the accomplishment of the law, Jesus could be considered a Reformer, the most important and most radical Reformer ever to be born of Judaism. But Jesus' criticism of the observance of the law as understood by the Palestinian Judaism of his day was not outside the framework of Judaism, any more than was that of the prophets. The most important thing for Jesus in the accomplishment of Torah is what is called in Mt 23:23 "the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith".
Obviously this implies a shift in the fundamental requirements for the accomplishment of Torah. Yet for all that, Jesus did not go outside the framework of Judaism. In fast le remained in line with the prophets of Israel. To tell the truth, the non-Judaism of Jesus is to be found rather in questions other than those of the law.

Freedom in relationship to the Law: St Paul
Under Paul's pen the perspective changes and the program of freedom proposed by Christ is seen as a program implying liberation from the Law as a way of salvation. To tell the truth, Jewish tradition, the piety and mysticism of Israel, are unable to recognize themselves in this concept of a Law, made to be life-giving, which leads instead to death (Rom 7:10; Gal 3:12).
As far as Paul is concerned, Christ does not deepen understanding of a Law in order simply to extract the essential from it, but rather he frees us from a Law
because it is impossible to fulfil, has become Law of sin and death because, strangely, it can arouse passions in man by the very fact of its prohibitions. In the whole of the New Testament it is only Paul who adopts such a thesis, in which the writer of Deuteronomy, among others, would scarcely have recongized himself; for him Grace and Law converge, obedience to Torah and love for the God who gives it, and he affirms so clearly, in opposition to Paul, that this law does not belong to the realm of the impossible but is very close to each one, always to hand (Deut 30:14).
Nevertheless, in the statements made by the apostle, there is a new expression which his much in common with one strand of Jewish tradition. He speaks of the "Law of Christ". A happier translation would be the "Law of the Messiah" or "Torah of the Messiah". This expression comes from Judaism and one text reads: "the Torah which a man learns in this world is nothing compared with the Torah of the Messiah" (Midrash Qoheleth 11.8.52a). The Torah of the Messiah does not mean a new Torah which replaces the old one, but simply the final perfection of the same Torah. Paul user the rabbinic formula of the "Torah of the Messiah" in the Greek translation. For him the Messiah Jesus is the "Lawgiver" for his community and in this he finally rejoins the gospel of Matthew which sees the Sermon on the Mount as the new Torah of the Messiah. Contrary to the reproaches often levelled against it, Christianity even Pauline Christianity does not present the Messiah without the Torah.

The Law of Christ
Looked at more closely and from certain angles, the prescriptions of the Messiah Jesus are even more exacting than those of the Torah of Moses, because they are less limited, perhaps less clearly defined.
The Christian freedom which Paul proclaims and celebrates is a freedom regulated by the "Law of Christ". Christian freedom is far from beeing anarchical liberty; it has nothing in common with a Messianism without Law. In common with the numerous exhortative passages in the Epistles, the fine-drawn psychological analyses of the triple structure of the human being and the choice this imposes on him (I Cor 2:11-14), the diptychs on the works of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit prove, if proof is needed, that the Christian life according to Paul remains well-regulated by the categorical imperatives of the Decalogue "summed up" in the one commandment of Love (Ram 13:9).
It is true that such a "Law" is less explicit than that of Sinai, and h is scarcely ever easy taking everything into account to draw up an exact list of these "commandments" of Christ, which he talks about throughout the discourse after the Last Supper (Jn 14: 15,21)1), because the big difference between what we call the two Testaments is that the first is centered on a Law and the second on a person. In actual fact the "Law of Christ" is not a text, even of invitations rather than imperatives, and certainly not merely a simplification, albeit an onerous one, of the Law of Sinai. It is much more the person of Christ himself becoming the norm; the Christian must walk in his footsteps (Lk 23:26), act as he acted (I Jn 2:6), have his sentiments (Phil 2:5) and follow rather him (Jn 8:12). As he lived when on earth, so must we; we are conformed to him (I Jn 4:17).
It is the person of Jesus who becomes Law for the Christian. This is as it should be, because he is the Incarnate Word. Also, he has left neither text nor writings, but only a memory, the memory of a life, of acts and gestures to which the believer must relate in order to find what the Jewish believer finds in Torah: way, truth and Fife (Jn 14:16).
This internalization of the Law and its understanding, already announced by the prophets (Jet 31:31-34) is brought about for the Christian by the anointing which he receives from Jesus; this anointing is the Spirit who teaches him all things (I Jn 2:27), gives him the spirit of sonship and conforms him to his image (Rom 8:1517,30).
The Christian on his side must let himself be led by the Spirit and resist the demands of the flesh. But he finds himself like a battle field for two opposing armies, so that he does not do those things he would like to do (Gal 5:16-17). This is because, if he knows how to be docile, the Spirit often leads him, like Peter at the end of his life, where he does not wish to go (of. Jn 21:18).

* Don Jacques Goldstain is a Benedictine monk of the Abbaye Ste. Marie of Paris. Ile is well-known as a writer on biblical research and Jewish tradition.


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