From letter to spirit : the transformation of Torah in Paul's symbolic world as reflected in his Letter to the Romans
In this thesis the transformation of Paul's thought regarding Torah is analyzed. A combination of theological and sociological approaches are used in the attempt to discern what sociological factors underlie the change in his theological perspective on the law, sin, the Spirit, and Christ as expressed in Romans 1 and 7:1-8:13. Toward this end, a method derived from Peter Berger's sociological theory of religion in The Sacred Canopy is applied to these chapters. In Berger's view, religion is viewed as a forming a symbolic social universe that exists perpetually in a state of uncertainty and threat and which therefore requires legitimation. Although Romans 7-8 was written long after Paul's conversion, it is my contention that certain sociological threats to his Jewish symbolic universe underlie his writing here. Paul experienced a greater degree of resolution to these threats in his vision of Christ than he did in his life under Torah. Specifically, these threats are not only Gentile cultural and political oppression, but also the deeper threat of Israel's sin which has brought about this oppression. In his vision, Paul experienced not only a personal transformation through the indwelling spirit of Christ, the law itself underwent a transformation from letter to Spirit. I argue that that this transformation is to be understood on the basis of a Hellenistic kingship ideology which contrasts the written law as lifeless letter with the king as the living embodiment of the law. For Paul, Christ is the exalted king, the embodiment of righteousness and divine law. So the law is no longer merely an external set of commands written on stone, but is identified with the Spirit of the exalted and enthroned Christ. Christ himself is the living embodiment of the law, who now dwells within his people by his Spirit to live the divine law out through them. In this way, the exalted Christ answers the threat of Israel’s sin to his Jewish symbolic universe.