This is the 11th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

T. J. Deidun: New Covenant Morality in Paul

T. J. Dei­dun: New Covenant Moral­ity in Paul

There is one more pas­sage in which Paul speaks against the law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, and that is . It is per­haps the most spe­cific com­par­i­son between a law of let­ters and of the Spirit – the γράμμα/πνε̣̣ῦμα antithesis.

[1] Are we begin­ning to com­mend our­selves again? Or do we need, as some do, let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion to you, or from you? [2] You your­selves are our let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion, writ­ten on our hearts, to be known and read by all. [3] And you show that you are a let­ter from Christ deliv­ered by us, writ­ten not with ink but with the Spirit of the liv­ing God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

[4] Such is the con­fi­dence that we have through Christ toward God. [5] Not that we are suf­fi­cient in our­selves to claim any­thing as com­ing from us, but our suf­fi­ciency is from God, [6] who has made us com­pe­tent to be min­is­ters of a new covenant, not of the let­ter but of the Spirit. For the let­ter kills, but the Spirit gives life. ()

, the com­par­i­son between the let­ter and the Spirit, is often used to con­trast the inef­fec­tive­ness of the Mosaic law against the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. And indeed, the con­text of the fol­low­ing verses in which the “min­istry of death, carved in let­ters on stone,” clearly refer­ring to the tablets given at Sinai as opposed to the min­istry of the Spirit, sug­gests a com­par­i­son between the Deca­logue and the Holy Spirit given to believers.

But the letter/Spirit antithe­sis actu­ally goes fur­ther. It is not only the Deca­logue – the law which is indeed “holy and right­eous and good” () accord­ing to Paul – which is inef­fec­tive. It is any exter­nal code, any exter­nal effort what­so­ever that does not rely upon the Spirit of God for transformation.

T. J. Dei­dun advances that propo­si­tion in his dis­cus­sion of :

Now we may safely pre­sup­pose that Paul did not arrive at the con­clu­sion that the γράμμα ‘kills’ by way of anthro­po­log­i­cal reflec­tion on the effect that law has on man. It is the [C]hristian expe­ri­ence of the life-giving Spirit as escha­to­log­i­cal new­ness that enables Paul to see that only the Spirit brings life and hence only the ‘new cre­ation’ effected by the Spirit can bring man from death to life and from sin to [jus­ti­fi­ca­tion]. The pri­mary datum of [C]hristian expe­ri­ence is not that the γράμμα ‘kills’ (that is a sub­se­quent infer­ence) but that the Spirit (and only the Spirit) [gives life].[1]

It is impor­tant to note that nei­ther Dei­dun, nor this author, are advo­cat­ing for a moral­ity that is devoid of any exter­nal imper­a­tives. Those imper­a­tives – grounded in the indica­tive of the believer’s posi­tion in Christ and as a tem­ple for His Spirit – are indeed nec­es­sary on this side of glory while we remain imper­fect. Indeed, Dei­dun remarks, “even in the [C]hristian econ­omy exter­nal imper­a­tives are to be seen chiefly as a sign of imper­fect lib­er­a­tion. …”[2]

As our series con­tin­ues, we shall see how Paul uses imper­a­tives, com­mands and exhor­ta­tions in coop­er­a­tion with the Spirit to encour­age our growth in holiness.

But those imper­a­tives are not the exter­nal code of a for­mer covenant that failed to pro­duce right­eous­ness. It is that exter­nal code of death that pro­duced sin in the flesh of the unre­gen­er­ate Paul. It is that exter­nal code of death that was given to increase trans­gres­sion until Christ came. It is that exter­nal code of death that the Judaiz­ers wanted to impose upon the Gala­tians who had been run­ning well and now were stumbling.

And it is that exter­nal code of death that is the antithe­sis of a life in the Spirit.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 12: Love is the Ful­fill­ing of the Law


[1] T. J. Dei­dun, New Covenant Moral­ity in Paul (Rome: Editrice Pon­tif­ico Isti­tuto Bib­lico, 1981, 2006), 206. Eng­lish is sub­sti­tuted in the brack­ets the author’s Greek for clarity.

[2] Ibid., 209.

 


3:1 Are we begin­ning to com­mend our­selves again? Or do we need, as some do, let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion to you, or from you? You your­selves are our let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion, writ­ten on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a let­ter from Christ deliv­ered by us, writ­ten not with ink but with the Spirit of the liv­ing God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the con­fi­dence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are suf­fi­cient in our­selves to claim any­thing as com­ing from us, but our suf­fi­ciency is from God, who has made us com­pe­tent to be min­is­ters of a new covenant, not of the let­ter but of the Spirit. For the let­ter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the min­istry of death, carved in let­ters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the min­istry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the min­istry of con­dem­na­tion, the min­istry of right­eous­ness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that sur­passes it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is per­ma­nent have glory.

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the out­come of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hard­ened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day when­ever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is free­dom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, behold­ing the glory of the Lord, are being trans­formed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)


3:1 Are we begin­ning to com­mend our­selves again? Or do we need, as some do, let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion to you, or from you? You your­selves are our let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion, writ­ten on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a let­ter from Christ deliv­ered by us, writ­ten not with ink but with the Spirit of the liv­ing God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the con­fi­dence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are suf­fi­cient in our­selves to claim any­thing as com­ing from us, but our suf­fi­ciency is from God, who has made us com­pe­tent to be min­is­ters of a new covenant, not of the let­ter but of the Spirit. For the let­ter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (ESV)


who has made us com­pe­tent to be min­is­ters of a new covenant, not of the let­ter but of the Spirit. For the let­ter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (ESV)


12 So the law is holy, and the com­mand­ment is holy and right­eous and good. (ESV)


3:1 Are we begin­ning to com­mend our­selves again? Or do we need, as some do, let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion to you, or from you? You your­selves are our let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion, writ­ten on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a let­ter from Christ deliv­ered by us, writ­ten not with ink but with the Spirit of the liv­ing God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such is the con­fi­dence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are suf­fi­cient in our­selves to claim any­thing as com­ing from us, but our suf­fi­ciency is from God, who has made us com­pe­tent to be min­is­ters of a new covenant, not of the let­ter but of the Spirit. For the let­ter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the min­istry of death, carved in let­ters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the min­istry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the min­istry of con­dem­na­tion, the min­istry of right­eous­ness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that sur­passes it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is per­ma­nent have glory.

12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the out­come of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hard­ened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day when­ever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is free­dom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, behold­ing the glory of the Lord, are being trans­formed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)