freedom from the law under paul

no step on snek

Pauline theology champions freedom from the law. To Paul, the law brought death, but the spirit gave life (2Co 3:6). To Paul, those who are under the law are under a curse (Gal 3:10). To Paul, the law was a teacher, for which we no longer have need (Gal 3:24-25). To Paul, he was a special apostle, entrusted with this new message, never before revealed to man (Eph 3:5). When Paul is called to account in Acts 21, it is because he is offending Christians who are zealous for the law (Act 21:20). James makes Paul perform a ritual to prove to all he is not teaching Jews to forsake the law (something we have every indication to believe Paul was actually doing). What is Paul’s teaching? Why is it offensive? Why does James take issue with Paul?

Pauline theology, however it is framed, came in contrast to the previous messages of the law. Pauline theology, to most modern Christians who are familiar with the subject, is largely considered as freedom from just the symbolic/ritual laws of Moses. To these Christians, Paul taught not against laws on morality, but laws about priestly holiness (they may not use this term). But in several places throughout the Bible, Paul describes a somewhat more nuanced view, one of freedom from “all law”. In Pauline theology, Christ’s death absolves all sins and thus makes sin irrelevant for salvation. To Paul, one refrains from sin, not because it will send one to hell, but because of the natural consequences of sin.

In 1 Corinthians 6, this aspect of Pauline theology is hard to deny. Chapter 6 begins with Paul chastising the Corinthians for how they treat each other. He basically accuses them of being the same as sinners. He lists out an entire series of sins by which they may be guilty:

1Co 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,
1Co 6:10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul, in verses 9-10, informs his readers that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God, which reads almost as a threat that they might lose their salvation, or that they themselves might not inherent the kingdom, or that they themselves may be classified as these sinful categories. But this does not line up with Paul’s overall message, so he clarifies:

1Co 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

Although Paul almost accuses his readers of being sinners, he then switches to claim that they “were” some of these things. There was a process by which they were cleaned: they were washed, sanctified and justified. At this point, the reader might be wondering how Paul’s argument is shaking out. He nearly accuses them of being sinners, but then explains their sanctification. What if they sin after they are sanctified and justified? Do they then need new justification? Doesn’t being justified clear them of wrongdoing? Can they still be sinners even after justification?

Paul anticipates the questions and explains:

1Co 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

Paul is drawing a Venn diagram. All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful/expedient/useful. This means there is a class of action that is both lawful and not helpful. A critic of Paul might claim: “if what you are saying is true, then murder would be lawful.” Paul’s rebuttal is that, sure, it might be lawful, but that doesn’t give you go reason to do it. There are perfectly good reasons to avoid bad things other than their status under the law. In effect, Paul is saying that just because someone has the freedom to do something, doesn’t make it a good idea. Just because someone in America has the freedom to dress like a chicken and wander the sidewalks with an axe, doesn’t make it a good idea (and no one in their right mind would defend it).

All things are Lawful

Paul does not stop here, he illustrates his point:

1Co 6:13 Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
1Co 6:14 And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.

Paul is giving two examples of what he means. He needs something that is both lawful but not helpful. He attacks dietary law. Sure, his converts COULD take up kosher law, but why? Our bodies will just be destroyed and remade. What does it gain them? Paul’s second example is very critical. Paul uses sexual immorality as an illustration. What this means is that Paul is saying sexual immorality (seeing prostitutes, in context) may be lawful, but we still should not do it. Paul lists some basic reasons, and then elaborates. Apparently some of his readers were frequenting prostitutes. Paul does not tell them they are not Christian, but explains to them the consequences of their actions:

1Co 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!
1Co 6:16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “THE TWO,” He says, “SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”
1Co 6:17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
1Co 6:18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.
1Co 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?
1Co 6:20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

Paul’s argument against sexual immorality is multi-faceted. First, our bodies should be dedicated to God. Second, our bodies are part of a corporate body of Christians. If Christians have sex with prostitutes (and because sex is the uniting of bodies) then Christians are making prostitutes part of the body of the Church (which may be a mixing of metaphors, but the point still holds). Finally, Paul argues that sexual sin is us harming our own bodies. There is a physical consequence of sexual sin (perhaps STDs, emotional pain, or just general ill consequences).

Notice per the second reason, Paul does not say that Christians who have sex with prostitutes are no longer Christians. If that was the case, his analogy would fall apart.

Paul truly did belief that “all things are lawful.” In context, he lists fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners, and then he illustrates by exampling the sexually immoral. It is a bold and contextless claim to think that Paul suddenly starts talking about only ritual law in the middle of talking about a whole host of sin, before and after. Pauline theology can best be summed up by Paul himself: “All things are lawful… but all things are not helpful.”

When people arguing against “all things being lawful” by claiming that these teachers are teaching that people should sin, they miss the point. Paul’s critics literally made the same arguments against Paul, and Paul responds! Paul counters them by giving long lists of reasons that although something is lawful, it might not be expedient and people should not do them. “Losing your salvation” or “no longer being a Christian”, was not in his list of reasons. This should be very telling.

It is important for modern Christians to understand the workings of Paul’s theology and how it contrasted for the teaching of Jesus and the 12. This is particularly true, as Pauline theology took dominance in the Christian church after the destruction of Jerusalem. Attempting to explain Paul’s teaching as a continuation of Jesus’ gospel just is not a tenable position. Most modern Christians have given up Kosher food laws and observance of the Sabbath. Even circumcision is largely out of favor. Jesus and the 12 apostles never taught against these things, but affirmed them wherever they address the subject. Paul advocated against the law. It was Paul’s theology that revolutionized the ancient world.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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21 Responses to freedom from the law under paul

  1. Hello brother,

    I would like to challenge your view of Paul’s teaching.

    • That’s great. I am looking for commentary on Romans 3 and 1 Cor 6. Something that follows the arguments and doesn’t treat Paul as if he is not building a coherent argument.

      • Thanks. Well I’m just about finished my reponse to this but I did not put anything about Romans 3 in it. There wasn’t anything about Romans 3 in this so. . . But yeah, I do want to write something about it in the future. Paul letters go into deep and complex topics but are not enough to be concrete and assume upon his audience (who he wrote epistles to in response to epistles we don’t have) knowing what he is talking about through oral traditon and other apostolic texts (2Thessalonians 2:15). On the surface Paul’s letters are many times quite astract in relation to the detailed and complex topics he covering and the great exegeises which is required to fully understand everything he is saying in context. There is lots of work to do concerning Paul. Hopefully my repsonse paper will edify you though and even more hopefully we can eventually come to an agreement.

        • The Romans 3 comment was because there are interesting dynamics between Jews-Gentiles, sin-law in those passages as well. It is interesting to figure out what Paul is thinking about. Romans 3 is a case study in how Paul thinks about the law in relation to sin and Jewish-Gentile dynamics.

          Some of your papers are not shared (or I cannot see them):
          -Paul’s Teaching on Meat Slaughtered to Idols
          -Living in Uncleanness is still a Sin in the New Covenant
          -Matthew 15.1-20; Mark 7.1-23 Anti-Torah Interpretation Refuted

          I think Paul’s ministry had some interesting dynamics with that of James. We see James presiding over a “trial” of sorts over Paul. James may be writing in a underhanded way towards Paul in his own letter (similar but opposite references to works-law and Moses). It is followers of James that Paul runs into conflict with in Acts 15. I am not convinced James liked Paul all that much, and their relationship might have been more of political necessity than friendship. Many see Galatians as a polemic against the disciples of James, which makes a lot of sense. With that being said, if James were have to considered Paul a heretic, I would definitely side with James and adopt much of what you have laid out.

          Maybe not you, but most Christians see Paul as an end of the Mosaic Law to all who believe. This is definitely not what Jesus was teaching. This is definitely not what James was teaching. And you seem to agree about Jesus and James.

          It is going to take me a while to read everything of yours I want to read. I’m not sure the easiest way to comment. Stand by?

          • I fixed the links and also cleaned up the paper of errors a bit.

            I once rejected Paul like you and so I have been there and done that and know where you are coming from. But eventually overwhelming evidence led me back to him. It took me years to come to the understanding of Paul I have now. Much of my misunderstandings were due to a misuderstanding of the Torah, Old Covenant and their purpose. I was also deceived by philosophy that came out of the French Revolution and Enlightenment which clouded my thinking about the biblical worldview to a good extened. Most of what I have though is in my head and not recorded. I actually thought to talk over Skype but last time I suggested that you said you wanted it recorded in writing on here so others could learn. I wish I had the time and especially energy and strength to put out everything coherently and elooquently in documentation for all. It isn’t easy with physical limitations and family to look after.

            You know it is funny, I know a Calvinist guy who does the opposite and rejects James instead of Paul. And he is Torah observant!

            If we assume Galatians lines up with Acts historically, which isn’t easy but I have done it before (but I need to put it in writing but I’d have to look at it again a ot to remember how I did it), the James meeting in Galatians would be able to be Acts 15. It just doesn’t fit. Another guy I read makes a good case in following the line of reasoning of the scholars to reject certain epistles of Paul as forgeries to reject Galatians as a forgery. But it ignores certain early Church writers I accept as authoritative, so I am quite reluctant to accept that.

            I highly doubt James’ letter is a stab at Paul. Taking that one part isolated seems to suggest so. But reading the whole letter in context and seeing who the audience is (Jews, probably mostly pharisaic), I really doubt it.

            Looking at Jewish and Church History and extrabiblical Scriptures would help Christians a lot I think to not misconstrue Paul. But most I think read into Paul what a bad heart wants to read. 2Peter 3’s warning is so clear. And I think God allowed things like this on purpose to make manifest the tares. I know when I first read the Bible, KJB version, I never got from the Bible that I was not to stop sinning, obey God and that I was unconditionally saved forever no matter what I did. I had some misunderstandings about the Torah, but yeah, I was an unlearned Gentile with an imperfect Bible translation with missing books and no truly historically orthodox Assmebly to guide me, like those saints in my book I shared with you.

          • O, and I guess you could either just comment here or write response posts. But yeah, I’ll stand by as long as it takes. I’m in no rush. I’m overworked anyway.

  2. wstaylor711 says:

    Essentially Chris lists some presuppositions about Paul’s Apostleship, presuppositions that are lightly supported by a very weak line of argumentation. But the real rub comes in the following.

    // ” But in several places throughout the Bible, Paul describes a somewhat more nuanced view, one of freedom from “all law”. In Pauline theology, Christ’s death absolves all sins and thus makes sin irrelevant for salvation. To Paul, one refrains from sin, not because it will send one to hell, but because of the natural consequences of sin.” //

    And it is right there that the investigative mindset is arrested by its inconsonance with other Apostolic teaching. It is not “nuanced” but diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Apostles who taught that forgiveness of sins through repentance from sin and by faith in the blood of Jesus. So no semantic legerdemain can cover the importance of his claim. It is first order and needs to be demonstrated, not just assumed.

    But before I go on in response to this thesis, I note that Chris practices a very natural and consistent hermeneutical method of referring to other passages of Scripture to substantiate his claims. So to hear criticism, which he has leveled at others who have taken issue with him on this point elsewhere, that leaving the immediate context for corroborative and precedential material is somehow an attempt to “harmonize” illegitimately is a rather striking reversal from his own method just demonstrated. Needless to say, but desirable for emphasis, “what is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

    But the very first problem that Chris’s thesis encounters is the natural question of authorial intent of Paul’s statement:

    “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” 1Co 6:12

    I’ve been reading the Bible for over 40 years and have never inferred or thought to take the Apostle’s meaning here as anything other than ‘all things that are not in themselves sinful’. The larger backdrop of the moral authority of the law could never be abrogated.

    This is naturally explained in the following passage.

    “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom. 13:8-10 KJV)

    The dispensation that he had Apostleship in was all about “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

    “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom. 8:1-4 KJV)

    “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.”

    But let us look for pointers in 1 Corinthians chapter six that would show that Paul never intended to be understood as promoting the kind of absolute “All” things in the legalistic sense that Chris is asserting.

    I posit that we find just such a phrase in – “God forbid!” (v 15). That phrase, as will be seen, is the estoppel that strikes through Chris’s thesis and makes it void.

    ” … shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.” (1 Cor. 6:15) Who cannot see that the phrase stands as the logical denial of “all things are lawful to me….” as being “ALL THINGS”?

    But it should be pointed out that phrase is used by Paul 14 times in the New Testament and in every case it is an emphatic denial against a proposed behavior, either contemplated or real. ( see Rom 3:6, 31, 6:2, 15, 7:7, 13, 9:14, 11:1, 11, 1 Cor 6:16, Gal 2;17, 3:21, 6:14.)

    Consequently it is concluded that there is no justifying basis Scripturally or Logically to support the following thesis of Chris Fisher:

    // But in several places throughout the Bible, Paul describes a somewhat more nuanced view, one of freedom from “all law”. In Pauline theology, Christ’s death absolves all sins and thus makes sin irrelevant for salvation. To Paul, one refrains from sin, not because it will send one to hell, but because of the natural consequences of sin. //

    In light of the fact that the preponderance and even estoppel level of evidence that has been described here reveals a problematic exegesis and consequently a failed thesis it is hoped that Chris will reconsider the value of whatever presuppositional material that stands behind his thesis.

    wst/8.2016

    • You need to address the actual arguments in the article, if you want to actually build an intelligent response. Deal with the context of “all things are lawful” and show how it relates to the verses before and after.

      Also, try to deal with Paul’s list of reasons not to practice sexual immorality. Is losing one’s salvation or not being a Christian one of the reasons?

      This is an article about 1 Cor 6, can you build a case from the context as to what you are trying to prove? You are imposing the theology you want over the text rather than letting the text speak for itself.

      • wstaylor711 says:

        Actually, you are merely making unsubstantiated assertions ( i.e. imposing your theology) in the beginning of your text. You have presuppositions that you think justify the thesis you are proposing.

        What you don’t like is that I don’t meet point for point your lesser arguments that are used to establish your primary supposition. I don’t think you understand how a thesis is properly defended. If the core element of assertion is shown to be false then the rest of your arguments are void. I merely identify the fundamental proposition on which the rest of the argument stands.

        This is the fundamental proposition that you are advancing:

        // ” But in several places throughout the Bible, Paul describes a somewhat more nuanced view, one of freedom from “all law”. //

        You have also, I believe, mischaracterized Paul’s own argument in engaging his audience who were at one time sinners, a point that is without ambiguity I might add, and then suggest that:

        // “….Paul uses sexual immorality as an illustration. What this means is that Paul is saying sexual immorality (seeing prostitutes, in context) may be lawful, but we still should not do it. Paul lists some basic reasons, and then elaborates. //

        That is a subsequent point that follows from the first proposition listed in the first quote above. It should be clear that the surrounding discourse presumes the validity of the primary one. In essence, “begs the assumption.”

        But to return again to your fundamental proposition (which you say is supported outside of the immediate context, but strangely suggest that it is inappropriate for me to do the same) I pointed out why I believe you have

        You subsequently use Paul’s statement “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” 1Co 6:12 as the “proof text” of your first assumption.

        And since the question is, by logical necessity, what did Paul actually mean by the phrase I show first of all that it cannot mean “freedom from *all* law” as you have merely asserted.

        Paul’s subsequent argument “…shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. (1 Cor. 6:15), as I have already showed, gives the strongest possible moral imperative against doing such a thing. That is, as translated “God forbid”. We both know that the translation of “μὴ γένοιτο” – lit. ‘may it never be.’ although tantemount to acknowledging Divine prophbition, it is the same in purpose. And that is it stands as a moral and ethical imperative aginst the hypothetical action of “takeing members of Christ and make them mebers of a harlot!” The core of his argument is not practical, but ethical. It is intrinsically morally wrong and tantemount to adultery, and that as forcing Christ (as His body) into committing adultery or whoremongering.

        The fundamental proposition that you have made has been clearly identified and tested by the Apostles subsequent argumentation and has been shown to have grave complications. Complications that are fatal to your thesis.

        Consequently, the assertion that people in “Paul’s dispensation” are no longer required to repent from their sins has no logical support. You have merely begged your assumption and failed to show authorial intent by Paul matches your supposition.

        The upshot is, your notion of “no repentance from sin to enter the Body of Christ in “Paul’s” dispensation is not demonstrated and the corollary, that if a christian were to join himself to a prostitute that he does not hazard his salvation is totally false as well.

        Finally, a point of lesser disagreement, but certainly one of irony, and that is you are a Whiskey Calvinist”! That is, you hold to only “one” of the five points of the acrostic T.U.L.I.P., i.e., a 1/5th Calvinist. You stated that sin does not mean one can lose their salvation which is tantamount to affirming the”Perseverance of the Saints.”

        • Guess what, when detailing a text, it is just fine to make allusions to other texts that hold similar concepts. The terrible way to do theology is like the Gordon Olson / AW Pink methods of “Bible study” where they talk emotionally while occasionally referencing the text. It is brutal to listen to.

          We could look at each text I reference in detail, I am not scared. And here is the point: 1 Cor 6 does not stand alone (which you would accuse me of if I didn’t have the allusions). You think I have to write a book on the subject to have an article? Ugh.

          “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.”

          What does that mean?

          And guess what. In America we have free speech. But if someone where to say “all speech is lawful, but not helpful”. And the topic is about profanity. Then that someone can easily say: “What shall we say then, that we should use profanity? And make everyone hate us. God forbid.” This doesn’t mean profanity is now illegal. That would be a terrible conclusion, showing poor reading skills.

          I am literally asking you to use reading comprehension when approaching the text. You cannot assume your theology. Your points only work if you bring your theology onto the text in question. It makes the text read awkwardly.

          One last thing. You like to be emotional. You argue like this: “You at me and my Biblical training. I came to this conclusion after study and thus you should just trust me.” Yeah, plenty of people have studied the Bible for longer than you and have come to Mid Acts Dispensationalism. They are better at Greek than you and at Hebrew. Your appeal to authority is not a rational one.

          And an education for you on “Perseverance of the Saints”. This doctrine is the doctrine that God makes people physically incapable of performing damning sins and being rejected from salvation. This has nothing to do with God making rules which give blanket forgiveness.

          • wstaylor711 says:

            We’re done on this topic. I’ve made my points. I believe a dispassionate examination of them will be explanatory of the problems that exist in your proposition. I will say it again, I don’t think you understand how to defend a thesis. As for emotional content in this exchange I think you’ve demonstrated that with largess.

            • Tom Torbeyns says:

              “I am literally asking you to use reading comprehension when approaching the text. You cannot assume your theology. Your points only work if you bring your theology onto the text in question. It makes the text read awkwardly.” To be honest, I think this is also applicable to your article above, Chris Fisher.

              • Tom Torbeyns says:

                W Scott Taylor wrote: “”Consequently, the assertion that people in “Paul’s dispensation” are no longer required to repent from their sins has no logical support. You have merely begged your assumption and failed to show authorial intent by Paul matches your supposition. ” This is a very strong point, even a “headshot” I would say (gamer language).

                • Tom Torbeyns says:

                  Chris Fisher wrote: “Guess what, when detailing a text, it is just fine to make allusions to other texts that hold similar concepts. The terrible way to do theology is like the Gordon Olson / AW Pink methods of “Bible study” where they talk emotionally while occasionally referencing the text. It is brutal to listen to.”

                  John Piper yes but not Gordon Olson.

                • Feel free then to explain Paul’s use of sexual immorality as an example of not being under the law.

    • Tom Torbeyns says:

      I believe this little OP by W Scott Taylor, really counters Chris Fisher’s claims. As W Scott Taylor wrote somewhere else: “To see no conceptual boundaries from that passage, while at the same time refusing to be balanced by other contexts is beyond any that I’ve encountered from atheists even.”

  3. Pingback: 1 corinthians 10 as a parallel to 1 corinthians 6 | reality is not optional

  4. Tom Torbeyns says:

    This article makes my stomach turn… :-/ Paul writes about the man of lawlessness (antinomianism)…

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