Thursday, May 06, 2010

Book review: The End of the Law, by Jason C. Meyer

The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology, by Jason C. Meyer
Nashville: B and H Academic: 2009

Largely because I was looking for the wrong thing, I was disappointed — and that's mostly my fault. If you know what to expect, and are looking for what The End of the Law delivers, you'll be glad.

Let me explain.

The issue of the relationship of the OT and NT is a large matter, looking over many subsidiarly concerns. It affects hermeneutics theology, preaching, and practice.

From the title, I had hoped that this book would delve in systematically and address that issue. I had expected help on the role of the law in Romans 7, the thorny issues related to that passage, and other related matters. I was disappointed.

Instead, what this reads like is a very detailed doctoral dissertation on a series of individual trees, with a brief overview of the forest at the end.

Meyer's "central question" is identified thus: "What is the character of the Mosaic covenant in the theology of Paul?" (268; cf. 1). His thesis is
Paul conceives of the Mosaic (old) covenant as fundamentally non-eschatological in contrast to the eschatologicalnature of the new covenant. Paul declares that the Mosaic covenant is now old because it belongs to the old age, whereas the new covenant is new because it belongs to the new eschatological age. ...The old age is transitory and impotent, and therefore the Mosaic covenant is both transitory and ineffectual. The new covenant is both eternal and effectual because it belongs to the new age and partakes of the power of the new age, the Holy Spirit. (1-2)
Meyer's procedure is painstakingly detailed and primarily exegetical. He spells out alternatives, and closely reasons his way to his conclusion, always with thorough documentation.

The first three chapters are introductory, setting the stage in scholarship and identifying the questions. Then in chapters 4-6, Meyer takes a microscope to passages in 2 Corinthians 3—4, Galatians 3—4, and Romans 9—11. It is easy, in this section (to return to my analogy) to feel as if a guide has you by the hand and is pulling you up sharply to touch your nose to a tree, which he then describes; followed by a second tree, and a third, and a fourth... and pretty soon, you're lost.

My interests were better addressed in chapters 7 and 8, which returned to more synthesis (particularly in the latter). Meyer stresses his observation that the OT calls for what it does not produce, while the NT provides what it calls for through the Spirit's ministry. He does this in part by focusing on the OT themes of circumcision (of flesh and heart), and of rebellion. This is a helpful discussion, as is the final chapter's summary and synthesis. I would have liked to see this chapter expanded, and/or its elements spread more prominently throughout the book.

Summary: this is probably largely a reader-fail on my part. Meyer cannot be blamed for my mistaken expectations. I think he did what he set out to do. If that is what you are looking for, you'll find it a solid and helpful guide and instructor.

B and H provided me with this review copy.


Fred Butler said...

Just one question matters:

Will the Reformed Baptist, Covenant people be satisfied or will this book merely cause them grief and consternation resulting in withering accusations of "dispensationalist"?

jmb said...

Dan - My experience is similar to yours, except that, when I realized the book would focus far more on the trees than the forest, I only read parts of it. Amid all the very detailed scholarship, I was grateful when the author summed up the "forest" view by quoting an old, probably 18th Cent., poem, on page 2:

To run and work the law commands,
Yet gives me neither feet nor hands;
Yet better news the gospel brings:
It bids me fly and gives me wings.

I'm starting to read The Meaning of the Pentateuch, by John H. Sailhamer. Page 14 has this intriguing sentence: "The purpose of the Pentateuch is not to teach a life of obedience to the law given to Moses at Sinai, but to be a narrative admonition to be like Abraham, who did not live under the law and yet fulfilled the law through a life of faith."

Stefan said...

I am a New Covenant believer, but I have a minor semantic problem with the assertion that the Old Covenant law is "ineffectual."

After all, God said to Moses: "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD." (Numbers 18:5).

The catch is that it is impossible for us sinners to keep His law perfectly, apart from one man who was without sin: Jesus Christ, God incarnate who lived among us in human flesh, was crucified and buried, and on third day raised from the grave.

In that sense, the Law is effectual: it's our sin renders it ineffectual, and since our depravity is total, it is thus rendered totally ineffectual—except through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Does this make sense?

Anonymous said...

Dan, I had a similar starting experience as you on this book. I picked it up for the same reason.

I wanted a book that would effectively argue that the Old Covenant has been replaced entirely.

Fred, covenantalists will wince, purse their lips, and develop a nervous tic from this book.

Zaphon said...

This book is probably not an easy read for most average readers who are not used to reading exegetical/seminary level works. It's not like reading Michael Horton in Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. The NAC Studies in Bible & Theology was developed for pastors mainly, if my understanding is correct.

I started out months ago on it, and I'm only in the middle(Parental dutites keep me busy).

Nevertheless, it's worth having in your collection of good reading.

Zaphon said...

Interestingly, a brand new book in the same series on the TEN COMMANDMENTS just came out this month.

Pastor Pants said...

Glad you posted this. I have bought most of this series after reading Jim Hamilton's excellent volume "God's Indwelling Presence". Not got around to this volume yet. It still seems worthy of the time though.

@Stefan: It does. Perfectly. But it does seem a little pedantic too. My understanding is as yours, but I have no issue with the existing terminology.

Stefan said...

Pastor Pants:

Thanks for the feedback.

jmb said...

FWIW - Arnold Fruchtenbaum uses the word "inoperative" concerning the Mosaic Law after the death of Christ. "In other words,the law in its totality no longer has authority over any individual; it is no longer the rule of life." Of course, some of the commands of the Law of Moses have been carried over into the NT.

Anonymous said...

Well if it is any help to anyone he is coming out with a more user friendly/less dense, not his dissertation, version of this book with in the next year.