Apostle Paul’s Mysticism & Theology of Christ as the End of the Law

Road-to-Damascus

F. F. Bruce’s use of “Mysticism” in regards to Paul and his visions:

            Mysticism in the life of Paul and his theology has at times been overlooked, exaggerated or completely disregarded. F. F. Bruce has provided varying views from Adolf Deissmann, Evelyn Underhill, and Albert Schweitzer, who all ascribe a different meaning to Paul’s mystic experiences. According to Bruce, “Deissmann’s use of mysticism was a term applicable to every religious tendency that discovers the way to God through inner experience without the mediation of reasoning.”[1] For Underhill, she believed, “mysticism was the name of an organic process which involves the perfect consummation of the love of God: the achievement here and now of the immortal heritage of man.”[2] Bruce asserts this definition, “may cover Paul’s religious experience, if we bear in mind that for him the love of God was mediated and indeed embodied ‘in Christ Jesus our Lord.’[3][4] Lastly, Schweitzer saw Paul’s mysticism, “being unique because in spite of its high intellectual level, it does not take the form of direct union with God, but rather union of Christ… This being-in-Christ is the prime enigma of the Pauline teaching.”[5]

How did the “mysteries” that Paul received relate to his ministry and the church?

            Paul had two specific mystical and supernatural encounters, which had divine and lasting effects on him and his ministry. Paul’s first encounter with the exalted Christ occurred on the road to Damascus. Bruce explains this encounter allowed Paul to proclaim a direct and personal acquaintance with the exalted Christ despite not knowing Him during His earthly ministry.[6] Thomas Lea and David Black illustrate, “Paul’s entire belief system was Christocentric, [meaning,] he did not emphasize theology for its own sake, but to stress the urgency of a vital, living encounter with Christ.”[7][8] This divine encounter allowed Paul to receive a supernatural revelation of Christ and the redemptive work of the cross. D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo also contend this experience would turn, “Paul into more than a follower of Jesus, rather it would turn him into a preacher of Jesus.”[9]

Paul’s second mystical experience occurred around 42/43 A.D., which was fourteen years following his first. In his letter to the Corinthians, he tells them, “To keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, I was given a splinter in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, and to keep me from being too elated.”[10] This thorn in Paul’s side has been said to be many things, but it ultimately led him to truly understand and embody how the Lord’s grace was completely sufficient and how His power was made perfect in humanity’s weakness. Bruce adds, “the sequel to Paul’s mystical experience was a distressing, indeed humiliating, physical ailment which he feared at first might be a handicap to his effective ministry, but which in fact, by giving his self-esteem a knock-out blow and keeping him constantly dependent on the divine enabling, proved to be a help, not a handicap.”[11]

Was Paul’s theology based on mystical experiences?

            This writer is of the belief that while mystical experiences played a large role in Paul’s early understanding of God’s redemptive plan, he did not base his theology solely on mystical experiences. Bruce agrees with this conclusion stating:

The Damascus-road revelation coincided with his call to preach Christ among the Gentiles, but not until he was fully launched on his career of Gentile evangelization could he understand what this call entailed. [This meant] the essence of his gospel was not affected by these experiences, but his comprehension of it was enriched, as was his appreciation of the ways in which it was to be effectively presented and defended.[12]

Paul’s early Judaic education from Gamaliel, his understanding of the Torah, and his life as a Pharisee would become complete and fully realized in his acknowledgement and encounter with the risen Lord. Bruce demonstrates, “that for Paul, dying and rising with Christ was not only a matter of sacramental theology or church doctrine, but of personal experience.”[13] Paul went through life teaching and believing he too had been crucified with Christ and in his letter to the Galatians, he writes, “it is no longer I who lives, but Christ in me.” Ronald Y. K. Fung illustrates Paul’s point is that, “Although in seeking to be justified in Christ believers become “sinners” in that they do not possess the law, this is but an outworking of the principle of dying to the law in accordance with its own demands, and the purpose and result of freedom from the yoke of the law is not to lead them to sin, but to enable them to live for God; hence, Christ is not ‘an abettor of sin’”[14]

How would you respond to a person today who claimed to have mystical revelations from God with little or no reference to the Bible?

            For a mystical revelation to truly come from God, it must line up doctrinally with scripture, and it must come to pass. This was the process the early church fathers used in determining what text made it into the canon of scripture. When dealing with revelations pertaining to other people, God will not reveal something about someone that He has not already revealed to that specific individual, so others can only confirm what God has already laid on that person’s heart. This is dangerous territory, especially for hyper-spiritual faiths, as people claim God told them what others should do. While this writer believes God actively speaks in and through people, all believers must maintain their own personal intimacy with God, so they are able to determine what is holy and what is false. The book of Joel also tells us, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”[15]   As the Life Application Study Bible illustrates, Peter quoted this passage in Acts,[16] when the outpouring of the Spirit predicted by Joel occurred on Pentecost. While in the past God’s Spirit seemed available to only kings, prophets, and judges, Joel envisioned a time when the Spirit would be available to every believer. Ezekiel also spoke of an outpouring of the Spirit[17] and today; God’s Spirit is available today to anyone who calls on the Lord for salvation.[18][19]

According to Paul, was Christ the “goal” or the “end” of the law?  Be sure to offer reasons for your answer.  Briefly discuss the various interpretations Bruce offers for the statement: “Christ is the end of the law.”  How is this statement understood in the various traditions?  Which understanding do you think is best explanation?  Why?

Did Paul see Christ as the “goal” or the “end” of the law?

            Lea and Black demonstrate Paul, “viewed the law in itself as holy, righteous, and good… [And] the law kept people under protection until Christ came.”[20][21] Bruce adds, “The law was God’s law; it was the revelation of His will.”[22] In essence, to keep the law was to do the will of God, so it must have been an immense paradigm shift to view the law’s fulfillment in Christ and His sacrifice. Still, as Bruce explains, “Jesus was shown to be the Messiah, and He had accomplished for Paul and in Paul something beyond what the law had accomplished. Whereas the law had led him, all unconsciously, along a path contrary to God’s will, his new faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord broth him consciously into a state of righteousness and peace before God.”[23]

Whether or not Paul saw Christ as the goal or the end of the law is still highly debated among scholars. As Bruce points out, “the word ‘end’ (telos) can mean ‘goal’ or ‘terminus’ and in Romans 10:2-4, it probably means both. Christ, for Paul, was the goal of the law in the sense that the law was a temporary provision introduced by God until the coming of Abraham’s offspring.” At the same time, Paul also viewed the law as a temporary provision, which was no longer needed after the coming of Christ.

Various interpretations for the statement: “Christ is the end of the law.”

Bruce illustrates that when Paul calls Christ the end of the law, he is expressing a “theological insight based on sound historical fact: many of Paul’s fellow-Pharisees who engaged in debate with Jesus during His ministry must have felt that, on a practical level, His conduct and teaching involved the end of the law not only because of His rejection of their oral tradition, but because of the sovereignty with which He treated such elements of the written law.”[24] Bruce goes on to explain that, “Paul believed and taught the law had been in a major sense abrogated by Christ.”[25] George Howard illustrates:

(1) Some believe that the word means simply “termination” or “conclusion.” The advent of Christ spelled the eclipse of the law as a system of salvation. No longer does a right relationship with God rest upon the performance of man. Now, with the coming of Christ, salvation rests solely on faith in him as Redeemer. (2) Some take the word to mean “fulfillment” or “goal.” Many of the ante-Nicene fathers understand τέλος in this way. (3) A third position which some take is a combination of the first two. Christ is both the fulfillment and the termination of the law. But whatever explanation scholars give, the general consensus is that the law, so far as man is concerned, has come to an end. Either it has been terminated completely or man finds its fulfillment in Christ. Whichever the case, the result is the same. The system of law, as known before, has been ended by Christ and the new eon of grace and faith now prevails.[26]

Julian Hills adds some additional insight through his interpretation and translation stating:

That Christ is the end of the law signifies, not that the law has come to an end, but that it has reached its final purpose in him; Christ was the goal to which the law was directed (cf. Rom. 3:21); he has achieved its destiny. To argue that in Rom. 10:4 Christ was’ the law’s goal is not, of course, to indicate that the past tense here is to be taken exclusively, as if to say that for Paul Christ no longer fills that role. But one translation of τέλος would appear to be eliminated. It is hard to see how the proposed reading of 10:4a could be compatible with the still popular interpretation of τέλος as ~end’ termination’ in some absolute sense. If Christ was the law’s or ~termination, then the law lingers on only as a venerable but otiose religious monument – an unlikely conclusion for Paul (see, for example Rom. 3:31; 7:12).[27]

Various traditions in understanding: “Christ is the end of the law.”

            Bruce illustrates, “The Lutheran doctrine of the threefold use of the law envisages it (1) as a means of preservation and administration of the law; (2) as a summons to repentance, although Paul did not use the law in this manner; and (3) as guidance for the church, which Paul taught the law of the Spirit did.”[28]

In the Reformed tradition derived from Geneva, “It has been frequently said that, while the man in Christ is not under law as a means of salvation, he remains under it as a rule of life.”[29] To this, Paul would emphasize man was not under the law, but instead grace. While sin’s power was broken, Moo illustrates:

To put a stop to the reign of sin—to stop engaging in those sins that have too often become so habitual that we cannot imagine not doing them—is a daunting responsibility. We feel that we must fail. But Paul then reminds us of just what we have become in Jesus Christ: “dead to sin, alive to God.” There has already taken place in the life of the believer a “change of lordship” (Paul could hardly use the verb kyrieuo without thinking of the real kyrios of the Christian), and it is in the assurance of the continuance of this new state that the believer can go forth boldly and confidently to wage war against sin.[30]

Best explanation of: “Christ is the end of the law.”

            While Bruce demonstrates, “When Paul calls Christ ‘the end of the law,’ he is expressing a theological insight based on sound historical fact.”[31] Still, others have attempted to show how even though those in Christ are no longer under the law as a means of salvation, but that they still should follow the law as rules for daily living. Grace is not a license to sin, just as the law should not put followers of Christ under the yoke of bondage and according to Paul, “The believer is not under the law as a rule of life – unless one thinks of the law of love, and that is a completely different kind of law, fulfilled not by obedience to a code but by the outworking of an inward power.”[32] The gospel Paul preached was one of liberation and while Bruce points out, “It is sometimes said that Christ is the end of the ceremonial law, but not of the moral law,” this writer believes Christ is better represented as the beginning of new life.

Bibliography

Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Deissmann, Adolf. “Prolegomena to the Biblical Letters and Epistles,” Bible Studies. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1901.

Fung, Ronald Y. K. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Hills, Julian V. “‘Christ was the goal of the law …’ (Romans 10:4).” The Journal of Theological Studies 44.2 (1993): 585+. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA14732381&sid=summon&v=2.1&u=vic_liberty&it=r&p=ITOF&sw=w&asid=8a85299b998fe414bb6584f7e2f352d4  (accessed June 1, 2016).

Howard, George E. “Christ the End of the Law: The Meaning of Romans 10:4 Ff.” Journal of Biblical Literature 88, no. 3 (1969): 331-37. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3263725      DOI: 10.2307/3263725 (accessed June 1, 2016).

Lea, Thomas D. and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.

Moo, Douglas J. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.


[1] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 136.

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Romans 8:39

[4] Ibid., 137.

[5] Ibid.

[6] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 113.

[7] Colossians 3:1-5

[8] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2003), 354.

[9] D. A. Carson, and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 2005), 359.

[10] II Corinthians 12:7-10

[11] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 135.

[12] Ibid., 188.

[13] Ibid., 138.

[14] Ronald Y. K. Fung, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Galatians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 123.

[15] Joel 2:28 (ESV)

[16] Acts 2:16-21

[17] Ezekiel 39:28-29

[18] Joel 2:32

[19] Life Application Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1432.

[20] Galatians 3:23-25

[21] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. 2003), 355.

[22] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 189.

[23] Ibid., 190.

[24] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 104.

[25] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 190.

[26] George E. Howard, “Christ the End of the Law: The Meaning of Romans 10:4 Ff.” Journal of Biblical Literature 88, no. 3 (1969): 331-37. (accessed June 1, 2016).

[27] Julian V. Hills,  “‘Christ was the goal of the law …’ (Romans 10:4).” The Journal of Theological Studies 44.2 (1993): 585+. (accessed June 1, 2016).

[28] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 191.

[29] Ibid., 191.

[30] Douglas J. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 387.

[31] Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 104.

[32] Ibid., 192.

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