This is the 2nd blog in a series in which I am reflecting on St. Paul’s comment, “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God” (Galatians 2:19). The first blog was entitled, “Through the Law, I died to the Law: St. Paul and Torah.” For St. Paul the failure of the Torah was that the Jews made keeping the Torah the center of their spiritual life, rather than keeping faith in God. They should have done both, but became focused on the minutiae of rules.
The proof of the problem for St. Paul is that when God acted and sent the Messiah, Jesus, into the world, the Jews were so intent on keeping Torah, and defining their relationship to God wholly in terms of keeping Torah, that they did not recognize what God was doing. They didn’t see the Christ for whom the Torah was meant to prepare them and help them recognize because they made keeping the Law the goal of their spiritual life. They had substituted an active faithful relationship with God by embracing the form of religion while denying its power. They replaced faith in God with keeping the Law. For St. Paul the Law ended up blinding them to God, and what God was doing for them.
As St. Paul sees it, the Jews had substituted strict adherence to the law for the faith it was supposed to show they had. They became obsessed with watching who was or wasn’t keeping every jot and tittle of the Law, and became obsessed with the fact that since they alone were keeping Torah, they alone were favored by God. They were supposed to keep faith with God in order to be a Light to the world’s other nations, but instead saw themselves as the only people God cared about. They could not see that God was actually continuing to act in the world – sending the Messiah into the world for the life of the world, and for its salvation, to be the Light to the nations, to bring all people to Himself.
St. Paul in his conversion experience recognized that what he was aiming to perfect as a Pharisee – strict adherence to Torah — in fact had become a failure in faith; for the Jews had missed God’s chosen One when He appeared on earth. Keeping Torah was meant to keep all of Israel faithful, but it wasn’t working as the Jews had rejected God’s chosen Messiah. In Paul’s conversion he realized that God in fact had fulfilled His promises to His people in Jesus. Keeping the Law did not prevent Paul from seeing the truth, rather what Jesus revealed to him was that the coming of Christ was the very thing for which keeping Torah was preparing him and all Jews. The Law had done its job in Paul: in seeing Christ, he was temporarily blinded which led to his proclaiming that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s plan and promises. The Law had thus kept Paul faithful to God, to His promises, to His plan. But now that the Christ had come, Paul realized keeping Torah was not what God had wanted for His people, but rather keeping Torah was the means to the end; the end being remaining faithful to God. Astoundingly, the strict adherence to keeping Torah had caused many Jews to reject Jesus as the Messiah and to demand his crucifixion for not keeping Torah! It turns out that keeping Torah didn’t mean just strict adherence to the Law, but rather being faithful to God and His plan of salvation which He revealed in Jesus Christ. Having faith in God was always both the goal and the desired behavior.