Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Legalism Part II

In my previous post I discuss an article by Timothy Gombis in Christianity Today titled "The Paul We Think We Know". Specifically, I address Gombis' New Perspectives notion that Paul would not have considered Judaism legalistic and that the early church was not tempted toward legalistic works--based righteousness. In that post I covered some examples from Luke's and Matthew's gospels showing the grip legalism had on the Pharisees, who in turn were regarded as experts and teachers (John 3: 10) of the people of Israel.

In this post I want to discuss examples of the first-century church's struggle against legalism. While Paul's letter to the Galatians provides one prominent indication of this struggle, his letter to the Colossians is also instructive in this area. It highlights the syncretized nature of the legalistic attack on that particular church which came not only from a background of pharisaical law, but also mystical pre-gnostic ideas and attempts to achieve righteousness through a rigid asceticism. Paul deals with all these legalistic forms in his letter to the church there.

So he warns, "Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day, or a new moon, or a sabbath day (2: 16)." Then, "If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances, handle not, nor taste, nor touch...(2: 20,21)" He describes these things in verse 23 as having only a show, or appearance of wisdom and religiosity. Earlier in verse 8 he commanded the believers to "see to it" that they not be taken captive according to human tradition, human wisdom, and worldly tenets. It shows a concern on the apostle's part that there was danger and he wanted them on guard against legalistic tendencies.

It is interesting to note that at the end of the letter Paul sends greetings from Luke, who was obviously with him at the time. The emphasis in Luke's gospel on Christ's adamant rebuke of the legalism of the scribes and Pharisees shows that Paul's perspective was shaped by Christ.

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