The Impartiality of the Law--Part 2
Aug 15, 2011
The Law was a gift to all mankind. All are liable when they violate its precepts, for Paul says in Rom. 3:19,
(19) Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God.
Paul goes on to prove the universality of sin, saying in verse 23, "all have sinned." Sin, by definition, is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4), and Paul sets forth clearly the fact that the whole world is liable for sin. "Where there is no law, neither is there violation" (Rom. 4:15). Hence, if all have violated the law, then it follows that there IS a law to violate. The fact that all have violated the law shows that it applies to all men equally.
Paul then shows us the path to justification, or how to obtain the favor (grace) of the court in view of this universal crime problem.
The foundation of Paul's logic is based upon his understanding of the impartiality of the law. We see James, the brother of Jesus, also concerned with partiality, saying in 2:9,
(9) But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
Because the law forbids partiality, anyone who shows partiality is "convicted by the law." James well knew this problem, for after the death of the other James in Acts 12, the brother of Jesus was made the head of the Jerusalem church. This was in 44 A.D. It appears that Peter had provided the leadership up to that time in Jerusalem, but after his arrest and escape, he fled to Caesarea and from there took a ship to other parts of the Roman Empire. James was then elected to replace him until his own martyrdom in 62 A.D.
The other apostles also understood the problem of partiality, at least by the time that they actually wrote their gospels, for they all portray Jesus as showing impartiality to Greeks, Romans, Ethiopians, and Samaritans. If you examine it more closely, it is apparent that this issue of partiality in the law was the most volatile conflict of the New Testament.
Judaism was built upon a long tradition of partiality, whereas Christianity broke from this tradition. Whereas Malachi 2:9 chides the Jewish priests for their partiality, Jesus astounded even His own disciples by His impartial dealings with other nations (ethnos). Perhaps we owe Paul the most credit in preserving this impartiality, for he had the courage to stand up to Peter and Barnabas when they were being hypocritical in this matter.
It is obvious that partiality was still a problem among the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea. Though James agreed with Paul, he did not have the courage (or perhaps the ability) to correct their views and take a solid stand against them. So when certain believers came up to Antioch from Judea, Peter separated himself from the Greeks at meal time, according to the Jewish tradition of not eating with non-Jews (Gal. 2:12).
Paul, however, decided that the law of impartiality meant that he should not show special favor to "those who were of high reputation," but chose to defend the equal citizenship rights of the Greek believers. Paul writes in Gal. 2:6,
(6) But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.
Wherever Paul went on his missionary trips, he went first to the synagogues, since that was a good place to discuss the Messianic prophecies with people who were interested. He usually found an interested audience until he came to the part about showing impartiality to the Greek proselytes that were present. Inevitably, that proposition made the Jews angry, and Paul then found a house to teach the gospel. More often than not, it was the house of a Greek Christian who had desired to get close to God, but was always relegated to the position of a second-class citizen in the synagogue. The Greek Christians, of course, were overjoyed to hear that they were as acceptable to God as the others.
But Jewish tradition had long included a "dividing wall" (Eph. 2:14) in the outer court of the temple in Jerusalem. Although there was no divine command in the law or prophets to erect such a dividing wall, they had done so anyway. Women and "gentiles" had to remain farther away from God. If fact, they would be executed if they passed through the gate into the inner part of the courtyard.
When Paul was falsely arrested at the temple for supposedly bringing a Greek through that gate, he asked the Roman commander, Lysias, if he could speak to the people in his own defense. The story is recorded in Acts 22. He told the people how he had been a zealous persecutor of the Church in his early years, and how his miraculous vision on the Damascus Road had changed his entire perspective. He told how Ananias had baptized him, knowing that many in his audience had heard of Ananias and knew of his good reputation.
Then in Acts 22:21, Paul finally got to the part about God calling him to bring the gospel "far away to the ethnos." Verse 22 then says,
(22) And they listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!"
Why would "this statement" elicit such a violent reaction? It was because of their traditional belief that Jews were "chosen" and that God did not care as much about other nations. For Paul to say that God actually sent him to nations made them very angry.
This issue was so important in the first century that the gospel writers make a point of including stories about Samaritans and others. It really was the "hot" issue of the early Church. More than that, it was an important point of law. Was the law truly impartial? or did those statements only apply to impartiality among Israelites? Were the people allowed to mistreat and despise foreigners who desired to live among the tribes, attach themselves to the covenant, and abide by His law? Or were such people to be treated with love and with impartiality?
The traditions of men, as taught by the religious leaders of the day, had destroyed proper understanding of the law. Jesus said in Mark 7:7-9,
(7) "But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." (8) "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." (9) He was also saying to them, "You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition."
Jesus openly accused the religious leaders of violating the law. He said that their "traditions" (or understanding of the law) was not only wrong but actually caused the people to violate the law. One very important violation was in this area of impartiality. They did not seem to grasp the fact that the Abrahamic promise was to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:2, 3). That covenant was NOT a mandate to oppress all other families or nations. It was NOT a mandate to treat people unequally or with partiality.
God then brought Abraham's descendants to Egypt in order to teach them what it feels like to be oppressed as strangers in the land. The idea was to teach them by personal experience what NOT to do. Egypt had enslaved them. Israel was NOT to enslave others, but to set them free by the power of God and by the law of Jubilee.
This is how we may truly worship God in spirit and in truth. Isaiah says that to do otherwise means that "in vain do they worship Me."
This is the second part of a series titled "The Impartiality of the Law." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones