October 20, 2009

Frank Thielman, The Law and the New Testament

Frank Thielman is a Pauline scholar at Beeson Divinity School. In addition to his very readable commentary on Philippians in the NIVAC series, which I enjoyed studying through, he has written a number of books focusing on Paul's understanding of the law. This book broadens that focus out to include a survey of the relationship between the law and the New Testament, especially as it is envisioned in the five major streams of the NT that directly take up the question: Paul, Matthew, John, Hebrews, and Luke-Acts. Thielman deals with each author in turn, looking at their distinctive approaches to the law, with a focus on areas of both continuity and discontinuity. In the final chapter, he draws these streams together by both looking at how they differ in emphasis but also how they hold essential elements in common. He summarizes his comparison of the five authors by placing them in three categories:

1. Paul and Matthew stand together in their interest in the ethical use of the Mosaic Law.
2. John and the author of Hebrews stand together in their symbolic use of the law.
3. Luke stands by himself in his use of the law not only in ethical and symbolic ways but also to construct the story of Gods saving purposes. (168)

He also highlights three basic issues that are common ground among the five authors:

1. The Mosaic law no longer regulates the lives of God's people.
2. A new "law" has taken its place.
3. the Mosaic law remains valid, but in a new way. (176)

His final sentence sums up his study well, "Continuity is present, but the gospel is something new" (182).

Thielman's study of the law is well written, and provides a very clear introduction to this area. He is careful to look at each author in his own right, looking at the major arguments of the various letters and then highlighting how the issues surrounding the law fit into this larger picture. His chapter on Paul was especially well done, and is a very helpful study that illuminates these major components of the letters to the Romans and Galatians. This was a worthwile read, and I'm glad to have it on my shelf for future reference. It is clearly a textbook, but is no worse for that fact.


KC Armstrong said...

I am a student at Beeson Divinity School and Dr. Thielman is my faculty mentor. His work in Pauline and New Testment theology will serve the church for many years to come. However, he is not only a first-rate scholar, but he is also one of the finest, humble, and gracious men I have ever met.

Thank you for drawing attention to this most important work, and to the incredible man behind it.

James K. said...


Thanks for your comment. Those fine qualities you mentioned certainly seem to come through in his work, so I am not surprised at all. I look forward to delving into some of his other books as well. Blessings in your studies. I am appropriately jealous.