Tag Archives: straw man

Schreiner’s Law of Torah and Sin

clinging_to_torahLook up Deuteronomy 30, Psalm 19, and Psalm 119 as just a few of the many examples of how the Torah was upheld, esteemed, thought beautiful, a source of wisdom, on, and on, and on, how wonderful the Law of Moses was.

How did it get morphed in the late Second Temple period to be such a pain in the neck for the Jewish people?

-from my previous blog post
Blessings, Curses, and Works of the Law

When I wrote those words, I was unaware that Question 13 of Schreiner’s book was titled “How Do Paul’s Negative Comments About the Law Fit with the Positive Statements About the Law in Psalm 19 and Psalm 119”. Before going on to that part of the book, let’s take a look at some revealing portions of the two Psalms in question.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:7-14 (NASB)

I included the part where the Psalmist prays that God keep him from his presumptuous sins and so forth, since that plays into Schreiner’s answer.

My soul cleaves to the dust;
Revive me according to Your word.
I have told of my ways, and You have answered me;
Teach me Your statutes.
Make me understand the way of Your precepts,
So I will meditate on Your wonders.

Psalm 119:25-27 (NASB)

This is a very long Psalm, so I’ll only include this short sample here, but you should really read it, if you haven’t already. It’s a virtual monument to the wonders of the Torah. I find it very refreshing.

So how does Schreiner respond to his own question?

Despite the initial appearance to the contrary, the psalmist does not contradict what we find in Paul. The writer of Psalm 119 recognizes that the power to keep God’s precepts comes from God. Autonomous human beings are unable to please God or keep his law (cf. Rom. 8:7). For instance, we read in Psalm 119:159, “Give me according to your steadfast love.” Life comes from God’s steadfast love, that is, from his grace and mercy. Human beings do not merit or gain life by observing the law.

Schreiner, pp 85-6

I don’t know why Schreiner continues to beat a dead horse except that it sounds good, but who said that just keeping the commandments apart from God’s mercy and grace grants life? I don’t see a lack of faith in either Psalm and frankly, I see these Psalms heaping gratitude and thanks upon God for all his gifts including His written word. Even John MacArthur, as I previously noted, cites Psalm 19 as an example and an inspiration for Christians to love and revere the Bible. Schreiner seems to need to denigrate and discount any positive depiction of Torah in the Bible in order to support his belief of Jesus totally killing the Torah at the cross and then appointing Paul as his head henchman, making him responsible for burying it.

Schreiner’s answer to his question is never convincing, but his summary puts the icing on the cake:

Paul’s negative statements on the law do not contradict Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. Paul emphasizes that the law puts human beings to death and never grants life to those who are unregenerate. Psalms 19 and 119 consider the situation of those who are regenerate. In that case, God’s commands by the work of his Spirit cast believers onto the grace of God, and God uses the commandments in conjunction with his Spirit to strengthen believer so that they rely upon God’s grace to please him.

ibid, pp 86-7

Schreiner just shot himself in the foot, maybe more than once.

simhat-torahFirst off, he’s making an assumption that the Psalmist(s) is/are regenerate. Here, we could accuse Schreiner of eisegesis, that is, he’s reading his theology into the text in order to support his conclusions about Paul. Also, in constructing a rather convoluted explanation for how Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 don’t contradict Schreiner’s version of Paul, he seems to have forgotten about Occam’s Razor (not that this principle must always be applied to Biblical hermeneutics, but you can get just about any collection of contradictory data to “fit” if you weave a complicated enough tale).

However, Schreiner has a much bigger problem. He contradicted himself. He said that it was possible for Old Testament Jewish people to be regenerate, to receive the Holy Spirit, and through faith and God’s mercy and grace, perform the commandments of the law in such a way that it is pleasing to God.

But what about this?

The purpose of the law is to reveal human sin so that it will be clear that there is no hope in human beings. The law puts us to death so that life is sought only in Christ and him crucified.

Schreiner, pg 84
Question 12: According to Paul, What Was the Purpose of the Law?

I find Schreiner’s summary statement of his short chapter offensive because it discounts the lives and experiences of countless generations of Israelites, whose only purpose in life were to be human failures so that, once Jesus was born, aged a little past thirty, died, was resurrected, and ascended, that subsequent Jews and non-Jews could realize the futility of trying to please God by “works” and turn to Jesus and his grace.

Poor Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, Solomon, and so on. They didn’t know their existence was meaningless and that they were just fodder to prove what worthless lives they led without Jesus, having to rely on a law that only increases sin and brings death.

As my Jewish wife might say, “Oy!”

That’s right, according to Schreiner, citing Romans 5:20, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass.” (pg 81) He further states, “Nevertheless, the law has been co-opted by sin, so that sin has increased with the addition of law.” (pp 81-2)

I wonder when that happened?

If one looks at God’s transcendent purpose, then, the law was given to increase sin and reveal sin…Even though the Jews enjoyed the privilege of knowing God’s law, the privilege brought no saving advantage since Israel transgressed the law. The law did not secure Israel’s salvation, but revealed her transgression and her hard and unrepentant heart. The law has disclosed that none is righteous…

-ibid

Really, Dr. Schreiner. You can’t have it both ways and you can’t dance on the edge of a razor hoping that your readers won’t notice. Also, and I’ve said this several times before, it was never a function of the law to secure salvation, so this is a straw man argument.

Schreiner, like many Christians, seems to be so focused on salvation, he believes that everything must be directly related to salvation or it has no purpose in God’s plan at all. He says that no one can keep the law perfectly or even adequately. He says that the sole reason for the law’s existence is to reveal man’s sinfulness in general and Israel’s sinfulness in specific. Further, he says that the purpose of the law was to actually increase sin in anyone attempting to keep it.

And yet, the writer(s) of Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 was/were apparently completely fooled.

And what about this?

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.

Luke 1:5-6 (NASB)

levitesHow can this even be possible, especially from Schreiner’s perspective? And yet it’s right there in scripture. Zacharias was obviously not a perfect person. In verse 20, the angel Gabriel causes Zacharias to become mute because he doubted the angel’s prophesy that he and his wife would have a son in their extreme old age. So Zacharias wasn’t perfect and yet he and his wife “were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.”

Schreiner is good about citing his sources and drawing from many different slices of the Bible to support his arguments, but he can’t fix the glaring inconsistencies that he chooses to ignore.

How can the law be good but Paul still seemingly denigrates it? How can a Psalmist love the Torah if it only increases sin and produces death? How can the keeping of the law be pleasing to God by a “regenerate” Psalmist, but impossible for anyone to keep, even the Jewish disciples of the Messiah, in the late Second Temple period?

I know Schreiner is attempting to craft a completely seamless and cohesive explanation that supports his view of the elimination of any value to the law, both in the Old Testament times and especially after the death of Jesus on the cross. This is classic Christian doctrine and has been used for countless centuries to support a supersessionist and anti-Jewish theology in the church.

However, the theological hoops this author and scholar has to jump through to prove his case are so vastly complex that it stretches credibility to the breaking point and beyond.

I’ll certainly continue to read this book to its conclusion, but I can’t imagine how Schreiner will pull the proverbial rabbit out of his hat in order to repair the damage he’s already done to his argument and his book.