The Law and Christianity -- By: Moisés Silva

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 53:2 (Fall 1991)
Article: The Law and Christianity
Author: Moisés Silva


The Law and Christianity*

Moisés Silva

* James D. G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville, KY: Westminster/Knox, 1990. x, 277. $19.95, paper).

During the past eight years or so, James Dunn has written a number of articles, published in various journals and anthologies, touching on the complicated question of the relationship between the Mosaic Law and the NT. The present volume brings these articles together and provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate Dunn’s contribution to this important subject.

The advisability of publishing a scholar’s “collected essays” has usually been a matter of some debate. In the present case, however, there is no room for argument. This particular collection of papers can not only be justified—one could argue that this is precisely the way that scholarship ought to operate. In the first place, these pieces do belong together, not simply because they deal with the same general topic, but because they are clearly joined by a common thread. Indeed, the reader can detect a thesis developing throughout the material. Second, Dunn has provided a model for responsible scholarship by resisting the temptation to reprint these papers unchanged, as though nothing had happened since their original publication. On the contrary, each chapter (except for the last one, a recent piece that has been extensively revised) is followed by an additional note in which Dunn brings the discussion up to date and, when appropriate, responds to criticisms of his work. Moreover, Dunn has provided an enlightening introduction that summarizes the thrust of the articles in chronological order and thus traces the evolution of his views. The author is to be highly commended for this effort, and one could hope that other scholars will follow his example.

Of special interest, however, particularly for readers of this journal, is that out of these essays emerges a coherent reformulation of a fundamental theological locus. The doctrine of justification through faith alone, and not through the works of the law, stands at the center of the Protestant Reformation. Closely tied to Luther’s personal experience of salvation, this doctrine led to a sharp distinction between law and gospel in Lutheran dogmatics. In the Reformed

tradition, to be sure, the distinction was more carefully nuanced—particularly through a recognition of the positive “third use” of the law—but Calvin and his successors no less than Luther continued to insist on the centrality of the faith/works antithesis in soteriology.

This so-called Lutheran view has come under considerable attack in the past several decades. Ver...

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