Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
TrinJ 16:1 (Spring 1995) p. 101
Frank Thielman. Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1994. 336 pp.
Having recently completed my own book on Paul’s theology of law and having read Frank Thielman’s important dissertation From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans (1989), I was eager to read his newest work and was not dis-appointed since it is a splendid book. With so many books emerging on Paul and the law, one looks immediately for what is distinctive in Thielman’s work. The subtitle conveys his particular angle in that he examines the law in Paul by investigating each letter in context instead of adopting the approach of studying the law topically. All thirteen of the Pauline letters are accepted as authentic, and all the letters are consulted for what they communicate about the law, with more discussion naturally on Galatians and Romans. The circumstances which called forth the letters are surveyed, and the false teaching or situation which prompted Paul to write are summarized. This approach is a helpful supplement to topical approaches and is sensitive to the unique context which summoned forth the letters.
It should be noted that before Thielman delves into each of the Pauline letters, he provides a useful survey of Pauline scholarship relative to the law. He begins with Aquinas, sketches in briefly the contributions of Luther and Calvin, and then focuses on the modern debate which was largely initiated by the work of E. P. Sanders, although precursors who anticipated some of Sanders’s conclusions are noted. The inclusion of Aquinas proved to be especially interesting since his work on this topic is usually neglected, at least in Protestant circles. Thielman concludes that Luther was correct to oppose Aquinas’s view that grace cooperated with works in justification, and he asserts that Calvin, even more than Luther, understood the gracious character of the law, and the positive role of the law in Christian living.
The second chapter, which precedes the analysis of the individual letters is programmatic for the entire book. Here Thielman attempts to demonstrate that Jews in the time of Paul believed that they were subject to Roman oppression because they had not kept the law, and that God had promised to liberate them in the future from domination by foreign powers. A number of sources are marshaled to support this view including Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Baruch, and especially Josephus. Thielman concludes from this that most Jews in the Second Temple Period would have agreed that they were under the curse of the law since they were not liberated from Roman domination. It has become increasingly popular in NT scholarship to say that Israel was under the curse of...
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