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Torah, Life, And Salvation

Torah, Life, And Salvation

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Torah, Life, and Salvation: Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and the New Testament 
Simon J. Gathercole 
Leviticus 18:5b deals with the responsibilities of everyday existence, the Torahand God’s promise of the reward of life. Because such broad and weighty subjectmatter is encapsulated so neatly in one short phrase (“the one who does thesethings shall live by them”), it is small wonder that the phrase became an oft-quoted text in early Judaism.
1
Again because of its subject matter, the way it isused sheds light on the particular practices and priorities of the groups that pro-duced the documents citing it.The aim of this essay is to challenge the understanding of Lev 18:5 advo-cated by E. P. Sanders, J. D. G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright and, more particularly,their understanding of its
Nachleben 
in early Judaism and the
NT
.
2
It is generally agreed that Galatians 3 and Romans 10, which cite Lev 18:5, are central texts forthe understanding of Paul’s “doctrines”of Torah and justification,so the early in-terpretive history of Lev 18:5 not only is of interest to scholars of the use of Scrip-ture in Second Temple (and later) Judaism, but also is of great importance to
NT
scholars. Like most texts that encroach on the territory of Paul’s understandingof Torah and justification, it is hotly debated, and there is no sign of consensus.Dunn talks of the “the puzzle of Paul’s use of Lev. 18.5.”
3
This essay aims to study neglected evidence that has not been harnessed for the debate, so as to point inthe direction of a solution to “the puzzle.”
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1
I am grateful to J. D. G. Dunn for his comments on sections of this article as wellas to the New Testament Seminar, University of Aberdeen, and the Scripture in Early Ju-daism and Christianity Group at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature,Nashville, November 2000, for helpful observations and feedback.
2
This understanding of Lev 18:5 goes back to G. E. Howard, “Christ the End of theLaw: The Meaning of Romans 10.4ff,”
JBL 
88 (1969): 331–37.
3
J. D. G. Dunn,
The Theology of Paul the Apostle 
(Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998),153. Similarly, N. T. Wright on Gal 3:10–14 writes, “There are several passages of whichone might say . . . that ‘this one of the most complicated and controverted passages inPaul.’ But Galatians 3:10–14 must surely be well up the list in the battle for any such acco-lade” (
Climax of the Covenant 
[Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991], 137).
 
Dunn makes explicit the understanding of Lev 18:5 contested here:
“he who does these things shall live by them”(Lev. 18:5). Paul seems to understandthe passage in its most obvious sense—that keeping the statutes and ordinances of the law was the way of living appropriate to the covenant, which the covenant re-quired. Moses did
not 
say, and Paul did not understand him to say, that keeping thelaw was a means of earning or gaining life (in the future . . . ). Rather the law prescribes the life which is to be lived by the covenant people (cf. Hab 2:4). Thelife sustained by God is life in accordance with the regulations and institutionsof the law.
4
In Dunn’s view, this applies not only to Moses and Paul but also to the Jewish un-derstanding of the text in the postbiblical period.Citing texts from Deuteronomy through
Psalms of Solomon 
to
4 Ezra,
Dunn writes that “Lev. 18.5 can be regardedas a typical expression of what Israel saw as its obligation and promise under thecovenant.”
5
Two problems come to the fore here. The first is Dunn’s interpretation of “live” in the verse. Dunn excludes (generally) the aspect of an eternal life not yetattained,
6
and this is in part a function of focusing on the meaning of the originalcontext of Lev 18:5 and the “first commentary” on it in Ezekiel 20.
7
Further,Dunn initially points to two elements in Lev 18:5: the regulatory aspect, and thedeuteronomic promise of “lengthening of days.” But it is only the first that really has an impact on the interpretation of the Jewish and Pauline usage. Thus Dunncan conclude that what Paul is ruling out is that
life 
should be
governed or regu-lated 
by the Torah. We shall see that Wright reads Gal 3:12 in a similar manner.The second problem, and the focus of the study here, is that Dunn’s inter-pretation of the texts that he sees as referring to Lev 18:5 is somewhat inaccurateand incomplete. (It is, however, more comprehensive than that of Howard, whogeneralizes about “Tannaitic Judaism” and Paul’s “contemporaries” on the basisof one line from
Sipra 
).
8
We will examine here the use of Lev 18:5 from the sec-ond century 
B.C.E.
to the second century 
C.E.
. Dunn focuses on the original con-text of the Pentateuch and its interpretation in Ezekiel 20 at the expense of laterinterpretations of the text. His situation of the verse in the context of deutero-nomic theology is sound, but his focus on the regulatory aspects of the law inthese texts is considerably overplayed. This leads to an essentially tautologous
Torah, Life, and Salvation 
127
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4
J. D. G. Dunn,
Romans 9–16 
(WBC 38B; Waco: Word, 1988), 612.
5
Ibid., 601.
6
Although, in his exegesis of Gal 3:12, J. D. G. Dunn (
Galatians 
[BNTC; London:A. & C. Black, 1993], 175) concedes the possibility of reference to eternal life, this aspectdoes not crop up again; that is, it does not affect his understanding of Lev 18:5 in Gal 3:12or Rom 10:5.
7
Dunn,
Theology of Paul,
152–53.
8
Howard, “Christ the End of the Law,” 334–35, understands the focus to be notupon “perfection, but rather in terms of making Yahweh’s law the foremost aspect of one’s life,” which he takes from
Sipra Lev.
§193 (on Lev 18:5). Since
Sipra 
dates from thethird century 
C.E.
, this essay will leave it out of consideration.
 
meaning of Lev 18:5
9
and does not make sense of the meaning of Ezekiel 20 (alsoEzekiel 33 and Nehemiah 9:29), which refers to
deuteronomic lengthening of days 
rather than to the regulatory function of Torah.
10
Philo,
Prelim. Studies 
86–87:Regulatory Understanding of Lev 18:5
Dunn’s interpretation of Lev 18:5 is correct for Philo,
Prelim. Studies 
86–87. HerePhilo identifies the Greco-Roman ideal of the good life with keeping the com-mandments of God, a deduction that he makes from Lev 18:1–6:
Therefore, real true life, above everything else, consists in the judgments and com-mandments of God, so that the customs and practices of the impious mustbe death.
So here there is clear reference to the kind of 
regulatory 
understanding of (probably) Lev 18:5, such that it is what the “good life” consists in that is at issuefor Philo. Philo is using Lev 18:1–6 to answer the kinds of questions posed by theGreek and Roman philosophical traditions.
11
As mentioned above, this is an ex-ample of the way the use of Lev 18:5 sheds light on the special concerns of the au-thor because of the wide-ranging and general religious topics in its purview. Butalthough Philo’s exegesis is worthy of study in its own right,the questions of whatconstitute “life” that determine Philo’s discussion are quite unique. We shall seethat all the other intepretations are quite different.Philo’s distance from Palestinemeans that in many cases his exegesis is radically different from what goes on intexts that hail from in and around Jerusalem. And when it comes to relating early Jewish and Pauline texts, Dunn rightly emphasizes the lack of relevance of Philofor an understanding of Paul’s exegesis of Scripture.
12
Red Herrings:Bar 4:1 and
Let. Aris.
127
Other passages to which Dunn makes reference are Bar 4:1 and
Let. Aris.
127. Butit is difficult to see how these texts can refer to Lev 18:5.
Letter of Aristeas 
127 talksin terms very similar to those of Philo, about the nature of the good or noble life:
to\ ga\r kalw6q zh6  +n e]n tw6  + ta\ no/mima sunthrei6n ei9nai.
Again, it consists in the
128 Simon J. Gathercole
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9
Thus, “the one who does these things does them,” or “the one who lives by thesethings lives by them.” I owe this observation to F. B. Watson.
10
Also noteworthy is Ezek 20:25, which refers to law that Israel will
not 
live by.
11
See, e.g., the introduction to Michael Grant., ed. and trans.,
Cicero, On the Good Life 
(Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1971), 7–44.
12
See Dunn,
Romans 1–8 
(WBC 38A; Waco: Word, 1988), 202, in the discussion of Abraham’s faith in Philo and Romans: “As usual,Philo’s exegesis is determined by his ownapologetic religious and philosophic concerns and shows no other contact with Paul.”

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