Pentecost: End of the Law, Beginning of Judgement

Tony SigMoses and the Israelites received the Law on the fiery mount.  Israel was bound to it by covenant and its violation meant judgement upon them.  This Law governed all aspects of life from agricultural to sexual policy and marked the people as God’s own.  But the Law itself and the prophets too understood that the Law itself would one day be transcended (Rom 3.21).

The Church received the Spirit in the fiery upper room.  She was bound together by another covenant; and it was a covenant that has no Law but Judgement.  The Feast celebrated the giving of Torah, but in Jerusalem was given no new law, rather unfettered possibility of human and divine reconciliation under the one Lord in one Spirit.  John 20.19-23 means the book of Acts.  To bind and loose, to forgive and retain, these are not self-grounded proclamations of a new authoritative community – No!   There is no authority handed over to the Church to make a new Law; rather Judgement is the necessary way of living beyond the Law, and all judgements are provisional as even the apostolic ‘Council of Jerusalem’ is.  The Spirit blows now where She wills and perpetually gives Judgement, which the Church tries to discern.  The Spirit can fall before baptism; She can proclaim clean what was formerly unclean.

The Spirit is not bound by any Law whatsoever.

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13 Comments

  1. Here’s my FB comment, as per your request… 🙂

    I just don’t think the picture is quite that simple (and I’m not referring to the icon). Torah, as teachings for Israel’s theo-social order, was meant to teach a way of life (thought, action, etc.) that embodied the reign of God on earth in such a way as to invite the world to join Israel under that reign. That Torah was systematically instrumentalized, adulterated, and turned into something supporting a particular power structure (first the monarchy, then the temple/religious hierarchy) was the primary matter of Jesus’ ongoing critique. I think Paul needs to be read through that, in great part. Jesus fulfilled, not dismissed, the law, which allowed it to be written on the hearts of the people. That fulfillment is what the Sermon on the Mount is about – getting to the center of what Torah aiming toward from the beginning – and Jesus’ definitive fulfillment then marked a new epoch.

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    1. So I’m rereading this and I’m thinking, ‘Where did I really contradict this?’ Granted I just don’t have the same level of experience you do in theologizing the purpose and place of Torah, this wasn’t an antinomian reflection. It’s about the fact, very well established in the NT, that following Torah closely simply isn’t necessary and can even be harmful to a truly Christian life.

      What I’m saying is that ‘the Law being fulfilled’ looks like this, like Pentecost, like Acts, etc…

      So rather than counter a comment that for the most part I agree with, perhaps you can tell me whether or not in the narrative of Acts, the Spirit doesn’t actually ‘supersede’ Torah observance. Or, more directly, how does ‘having the Law written on our hearts’ look like?

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      1. Tony, you’re right that you don’t directly contradict it. I think it’s more the nuances I’m concerned about, and keep in mind that those at a certain other blog would likely disagree with me, so take what I say with a grain of salt. As an example, Torah being “transcended” is so in fulfillment, i.e., Jesus does Torah as Torah was always meant to be done. I think there’s a sense in which the Israelites would have grown closer to Yahweh’s intent over time, but that was derailed by state centralization and the theopolitics that went along with it. (You mention there are no “self-grounded proclamations” in the church, and you’re certainly right, but I hope you’re not implying that there were for Israel.)

        You say the covenant in Jesus has no law, but I’m not sure if that makes sense if Jesus has fulfilled Torah. Wouldn’t it be better to say that the Law is fulfilled in him, thus we have it in him now, and we have it in its truest sense? By grace, we are brought into that fulfillment, and the church is called to embody Torah so fulfilled (as part of its calling; I don’t mean to reduce anything here). The notion of having it written on our hearts means that we are able to perfectly follow it by grace in Christ; there is nothing that necessarily prevents us, since he has triumphed over the powers. This is probably not an adequate explanation, but that’s how I’d start.

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        1. I think you’re downplaying the extent to which the OT Law is actually concerned with following explicit and direct commandments, some of which are clearly undone and rejected under the new Covenant. So did Jesus fulfill, literally and stringently, every commandment set down in the Torah? I’m not sure that’s what we’re supposed to be getting at with his relationship to Torah.

          It seems closer to the mark to say that Jesus lived/fulfilled the ‘essence,’ ‘telos’ or what have you, that the Law was ultimately meant to enact, but the *actual* laws of the Law…What would it mean and/or look like to say that we fulfill the Law by grace in Christ? What I’m saying is that John, Luke and Paul all would see this as a question which cannot be given a final, fixed and ultimately authoritative shape because fulfilling the Law is going necessarily to look different at different times in different places, and this is not a mere relativism or self determination but the freedom of the Spirit to conform creation to the form of Christ.

          And so, ‘fulfilling Torah’ or what have you, necessarily ‘transcends’ the specific shape of Torah. Grace is always busting out and breaking forth before, within and outside the visible form and practices of the Church whose job it is to stumble along after.

          Additionally, I want to make sure that the polyphonous interlocking signs in Scripture that talk about Christ are maintained in all their fullness. So while Christ’s relationship to the Law is important, it is not his ‘defining feature’ so to speak, ‘in him all things inhere.’

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  2. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Jeremiah 31:33

    The Holy Spirit, especially spiritual gifts, are manifestations of God in the world today. God is real because the Spirit’s work can be seen in the people of the church. The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, and Jesus represents and is sacrificial love.

    Oh Lord, please write the law of love in the hearts of the “grafted in” church today

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  3. “The Spirit can fall before baptism”

    You make an important point, Tony, about the Spirit being available without prior need of the churchy ceremony of baptism-membership. I assume you are referring to Acts 10:44?

    I think that event was the thing that really ‘lit up’ Saul, who up til then was back in his hometown probably knocking his head against the wall trying to convince his old Jewish friends. Note that Barnabas went and got him in Acts 11, and shortly afterward he takes a new name and a new evangelical salient to the Gentiles (Acts 13).

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    1. Yes, John, I was referring to Acts 10.44. Now of course you know I’m not an anti-institutionalist, so it’s not like I don’t affirm that baptism into the Church is actually efficacious, or that the Church isn’t a particularly visible ‘avenue’ of grace…I’m not quite the primitivist that you seem to be, but I don’t see how we can’t but see that the Spirit is bringing all of creation to birth.

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      1. On the basis of Acts 10 it certainly looks as though in those early days the Spirit (and the Word) were together bringing all of creation to birth. But what body do we already find resisting the work at Acts 11:2ff. ?

        This is still a little before the existence of a Church which can be called an ‘avenue of grace’ I think. But I would gladly defend the argument that the churches have such a role now – if not as ‘avenues of grace’ at least as ‘hatcheries’ of grace-filled beings 🙂

        More on topic (though not in full agreement) when I say ‘Word’ (above) I emphatically do not mean ‘Torah.’

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        1. I don’t think separating Torah and Word like this is really feasible, unless we want to pit the God of the OT against the God of the NT.

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        2. Brad, not two Gods but two God-concepts. There are ways of reading Torah that end up in crucifixions. Only when we understand the Torah’s fulfillment in Christ do we avoid crucifixions I think. What Jesus fulfilled he fulfilled, but the Sanhedrin and Pharisees also fulfilled Torah (or at least saw themselves enforcing it).

          What I meant is only that I don’t see any piece of ‘Torah’ in the Word by which Peter aided the outpouring in Acts 10:44. This ‘Word’ was encompassed (as far as we know) in Acts 10:34-43.

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          1. Well, of course there are multiple “God-concepts,” because there are multiple “God-concepts” even in the OT – hence the competing narratives told by the powers vs. prophets in Israel, which carried in certain forms into Jesus’ own day. The outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 10 is, of course, post-resurrection, following Jesus’ own life and cross in which Torah was definitively fulfilled. I don’t see how this is a problem, since I’ve not argued that we have to follow OT Torah in order to receive the Holy Spirit. I see Torah as important for understanding the theopolitics of what Yahweh was doing then and what was done in Jesus, i.e., the communal implications of the people of God in the world, for the world, and against the powers. I see it as important for understanding especially how Israel messed up (which helps the church discern where it, too, is messing up). Check out work by Scott Bader-Saye or Doug Harink to see what I’m talking about.

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  4. Tony, it looks like I can’t reply further on our thread, so I’ll do it here. Torah was concerned with particular commandments, but they were to shape a people toward a certain life, rather than being absolute in and of themselves. That’s why Torah can’t really be boiled down merely to “commandments,” but rather indicates a more holistic way of life and social order that embodied the reign of God on earth. That is ultimately what Christ fulfills (not to mention that he pretty much replaces anything having to do with the temple system). I think Matt 5 needs to be taken very seriously on this point. It sounds like we’re fairly in agreement on that, although we might parse out the language in somewhat different ways. I really don’t disagree with your point about the ability of the Spirit to do things in different ways at different times – that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking about a kingdom-of-God-people, which necessarily will look somewhat different in different contexts, given the configuration of the powers therein. As far as how definitive Christ’s relationship to the law is, I don’t really think we’re in danger of overstating that; quite the opposite, actually. If Israel found its identity in Torah (understood in such a holistic manner), and Christ is in part the incarnation of Israel, then yes, that relationship is hugely important. I have never, and would never, say that it’s exhaustive.

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    1. Brad, a few things:

      First, you’re right that you’ve never indicated that Christ and the Law is exhaustive of his identity, nevertheless I think your focus on that ends up judging other roles of Christ in much the same way you feel many prematurely judge the Law. For instance, on this and other threads you seem to indicate that both the monarchy and temple system are deviations from the more ‘pure’ place of Torah in the people; yet Christ is also the fulfillment of God’s promises to David and is also priest, whose body now is the Temple of the Spirit.

      So you say that “Christ…pretty much replaces anything having to do with the temple system,” yet you seem wary of me using that same language with respect to the Law.

      What helps to make many of these various significances cohere much better, in my humble opinion, is to understand that there is a mixed economy of response to all of these OT resonances including fulfillment, affirmation, subversion/judgement, inversion and extension. Be it Christ’s relationship to the Law, the monarchy, the temple structure, the hopes and aspirations of Israel in the Psalms, prophets and apocalyptic literature, so on and so forth.

      I’ve no doubt you’ll for the most part agree with me in this.

      Returning to the theme of the post, though: I’m convinced that Acts is actually equating and contrasting Pentecost with Sinai; so for me, though clearly in truncated form, this is an important exegetical move to make and not merely a bit of speculative theology…For Luke, the two are related and the phenomenon of the Spirit resists the same kind of codification that Torah experienced both in the canonical texts and in the lived life of Israel.

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