A Proposed Solution of the Matthew/Paul Problem

In a previous post I discussed (one of) the hermeneutical problems that the Gospel of Matthew presents for Christians: Christians must keep the Torah. This, of course, causes problems because the Apostle Paul says precisely the opposite, “You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ.” (Galatians 5:4) So, it seems here we have a contradiction between to different writers (schools?) on a fundamental doctrine of Christianity.

My proposal to this solution is not based on a supposed univocal voice of Scripture, that is, all Scripture agrees with itself or the view of inerrancy. The solution is the result theological exploration and nothing else. If my proposed solution is wrong my faith is not in jeopardy because I do not need to have all Scripture “agree” or be “right.”

In order for my solution to work a couple of things must be explained. First, the hope for 2nd Temple Israel was for YHWH to become God of the whole world and Israel would live as Law keepers in their land. This is a very important point and should not be missed. Before I move on I need to point out that I am not committed to any theological system that demands that I need Israel to return to their land or a temple to be rebuilt. I am only saying that much of the literature from around that period invasions Israel in the land living as law keepers and worshiping in their temple. That is not to say that all of the literature has this desire (Josephus doesn’t care about the land only the temple) but that much of it did. (A good discussion of this can be found in the edited book by Scott.)

Second, there were two distinct missions within Christianity. One mission was to the Circumcised and the other to the Uncircumcised. More importantly though, the mission to the Circumcision became bifurcated due to unforeseen circumstances. Persecution became unbearable in Judea for Christians and Peter had to leave and James eventually took control of the Church in Jerusalem. Now, it is clear to all that the leader of the mission to the Uncircumcised was led by Paul and he clearly advocated a Christ-centered/Torah-free mission. The Gentiles were not to keep the Law. As for the mission to the Circumcised things get a little more tricky. We know that Peter was called the leader of the mission to the  Circumcised and in some way was not as strict law keeper. By this I do not mean that Peter stopped keeping the Law or even that the narratives in Acts are to be trusted as historical but that Paul makes this statement to Peter in Galatians 2. The problem is that when Paul said made that statement to Peter they were both in Antioch a land which was not in Judea proper (although may have been the edge of what many thought to be the Restored Israel). When Peter left, due to persecution, James took over the mission to the Circumcised that was in the land (remember that geography plays a huge part in my line of thought). I propose here (and will discuss more in detail later) that the Jewish-Christians inside the Land were expected, if not required, to keep the Law. This is where the Gospel of Matthew comes in to play. It was written for the community of believers that were living inside of the land. If Jesus did start the restoration of the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ then Israel was to look like Israel, that is, they were to be Law keeping Temple worshipers. I will have more to say about this later but for now here is a review of what I just said:

1. The Gospel of Matthew is evidence of Christians being required to keep the Law

2. Paul’s letters are evidence of Law keeping being forbidden.

3. The hope for Restoration usually included Israel being restored to their Land and Law.

3. There are two missions recorded in the New Testament Letters.

4. The two missions had different rules regarding Law keeping.

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