What Did Paul Mean by Fulfilling the Law? (I)

I will answer the question in detail later, but for now I’d like to see the opinions of others. So please vote in the following poll. For detailed explanations of the choices, see underneath the poll box.

UPDATE: I stopped the poll after 30 votes (almost 200 blog visits yesterday but not many voters!). The results:

Nanos — 6 votes (20%)
Dunn/Wright — 5 votes (17%)
Witherington — 7 votes (23%)
Esler — 12 votes (40%)

I think Esler is right and will explain why in a follow-up post.

(1) The Torah remained in force (Mark Nanos). For Judean Christians nothing changed, but Gentile Christians were exempt from ethnic parts of the Torah in view of the new age. The Torah was fulfilled in either case, by meeting its demands as much as ever before (Judeans) or by meeting its truncated demands (Gentiles).

(2) A kernel of the Torah remained in force (James Dunn, Tom Wright). Ethnic works were obsolete period, in view of the new age. The Torah was fulfilled by meeting its truncated demands.

(3) A new law succeeded the Torah (Ben Witherington). The Torah was finished, and the new law was about imitating Christ, keeping certain commandments from the past and new imperatives iterated by Christ. The Torah was fulfilled by putting it aside and embracing its messianic successor.

(4) Christians weren’t under any law (Philip Esler). The Torah was finished, because the best that it promised but never delivered (“love of one’s neighbor”) was now available by an entirely different route — the spirit. The Torah was fulfilled precisely in the sense that “law” no longer had any force. Commandments and moral imperatives were irrelevant to the moral dimensions of faith.


4 thoughts on “What Did Paul Mean by Fulfilling the Law? (I)

  1. What do you mean by this, James? These advocates have done anything but bypass the big debates — they’ve been right at the center of the debates for the past two decades. Keep in mind these are summary-statements of their views which are spelled out in considerable detail (and with the nuances Paul’s theology demands) in books and articles elsewhere.

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