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Historical Observations On The Relationship Between Letter And Spirit

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Chapter Summary

This chapter considers the famous opposition between "letter" and "spirit". The dictum of Paul, famously rendered by the King James Version: "For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" has itself been appropriated in their different ways by lawyers and theologians. It argues that the historical background indicates that the real dispute was one over the semiotics of revelation: through what means was the divine will made manifest and to what extent was that form of communication both effective and accessible to human reason? The history of division between Judaism and Christianity may be viewed as a conflict over the acceptable forms of communication of divine message. When discussing biblical law, the historical and social realities of the period must be distinguished, and claims of the authors of the biblical texts, which frequently reflect their own, normative views. The chapter focuses is on the latter, rather than the former.

Keywords: biblical law; Christianity; dictum of Paul; divine message; historical observations; Judaism; letter; revelation; spirit



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