Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His Servant?

The NT and Dead Sea Scrolls IV (Paul and the “Works of the Law”)

In Peter Flint’s presentation in Seoul (December 2007) he also discussed the relationship between apostle Paul’s expression “works of the law” (ergon nomou) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).  He believes that the DSS also affects our understanding of Paul, especially in connection with this special term found in Romans 3:20, 28 and Galatians (2:16; 3:2, 5, 10).  Here is the text in Galatians 3:10:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Flint notices that “many scholars have interpreted such passages to mean that Paul is proclaiming a gospel of grace, which is by faith in Jesus Christ, as opposed to Judaism, which is based on “the works of the law.”  To Flint thin interpretation is problematic because “there are many examples in the Old Testament of people being saved by God’s grace (Hebrew: chesed).  One such example is found in Exodus 35:5-7.

Then – what is Paul really trying to say when he mentions “the works of the law”?

He founds the answer to this puzzle in the Qumran scroll 4QMMT which contains the same key words (“some works of the law” or “some precepts of Torah.”  This scroll has three sections: a calendar of 21 lines, about 24 religious laws (halakhoth), and an epilogue on the separation of the group from those who disagree with their laws.

Notice the following example from 4QMMT:

Now, we have written to you some of the works of the Law (miqsat ma‘ase ha-Torah), those which we determined would be beneficial for you and your people,… And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness, in that you have done what is right and good before Him, to your own benefit and to that of Israel (4QMMT C, lines 26-32).

Flint notes that “a search of ancient literature reveals that the key phrase “works of the law” is found only in Paul’s writings (Romans and Galatians) and in 4QMMT.”

Since this is the case (the phrase is found outside of Paul only at Qumran) – Flint concludes that “Paul must be arguing against Essene Jews or Christians who are influenced by their teachings.  In other words, Paul is not arguing against Judaism in general, but rather against a group specifically influenced by Essene teaching, for whom “the works of the law” was a characteristic term.”

Now – I found this presentation of Peter Flint interesting and useful, but also unconvincing. 

1)      While I agree that salvation in the OT was by grace, it does not necessarily follow that “mainstream” 1st century Judaism also understood salvation in those terms (note that the Judaisms of today have various ways of thinking about salvation – if they think about it at all).

2)    I think it is much more likely that Paul is not speaking against the Essene Jews, but rather against the Pharisaic Jews from among whom he himself was coming.  His critique does not seem to be directed against these (rather) marginal Essene Jews, but rather against a significant portion of that day’s Judaism which later developed into rabbinic Judaism.  Of course – Paul is also arguing against the Christians influenced by the teachings of these Jews.

What do you think?



3 responses

  1. I believe he may have been arguing against the proto-gnostics (for this view see Schmithal’s book “Paul and the Gnostics”)

    or against the writers of 1QS 11:9-15. It was important to justify a break with Judaism because of the beliefs that if one was apostate, one could not be resurrected. (see the 18 benedictions)” And for slanderers let there be no hope, and let all wickedness perish as in a moment; let all Your enemies be speedily cut off, and the dominion of arrogance uproot and crush, cast down and humble speedily in our days. Blessed art thou, O L-rd, who breaks the enemies and humbles the arrogant.” see also 4Q270

    Most of these groups, seen themselves justified due to their perception of a corrupt religious system in the main stream. Same happens today. A book that addresses this topic detail is called Judaism of the Second temple Period. By David Flusser vol 1 pg. 70-118. Loved the post! nice Job!

    July 18, 2008 at 1:14 pm

  2. Wayman29

    P.S. 4Q394-399, 4Q470, and 4q477 2ii 4, 7 might be helpful here also.

    July 18, 2008 at 3:50 pm

  3. Thanks Wayman for your comments and sorry for the delay but I have been away from my office. It is interesting what you are saying and I know about Flusser. I will try to take a look at this book, but the question is: how great was the “corrupt religious system” in the mainstream??

    July 26, 2008 at 3:40 am

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