Bultmann the great “demythologizer” took his turn at examining the halakah of the New Testament.
The “problem” he identified was that the “imperative” (obedience through exertion of the human will) was linked to the indicative (obedience is predicated on the “miracle” of prevenient divine action). Given the balance of his career, this was noted because the presence of any “miracle” was a problem for Bultmann! Miracle, for him, was a relic of mythology and that could not be tolerated by modern man in his view at the time.
The ethical pattern stated as the “indicative/imperative” is not only a New Testament reality (or “problem”) depending on one’s viewpoint. It underlies the entire covenantal structure of the Old Testament.
The Ten Commandments are prefaced by the reminder that it is Yahweh’s miraculous deliverance that precedes and, in fact, enables the obedience to the commands which follow.
The indicative and imperative are bound of necessity in Biblical ethics, otherwise salvation would be “of works” or based on “merit”. The indicative/imperative structure reminds us that after all is said and done, we are simply servants and unworthy ones at that (Luke 17:10)
Carrington picks up where Bultmann leaves off by observing at length the relationship between the “indicative” and “imperative” within the epistles.
A commonality exists between the prohibitions from the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 to avoid idolatry, fornication and “blood”* and related formulations in the Epistles of Paul. The significance of these prohibitions extends further because the Acts 15 prohibitions point back to the Levitical “Holiness Code” (Lev.17-19). These sins epitomized in the code are those whose presence cause the glory of God to depart from the land.
The recapitulation of these commandments in these commands in Acts and the Epistles point to a view of the people of God as a universalizing of boundaries of YHWH’s presence… His presence bursts forth from the boundaries of the “Holy Land” and the holy presence extends through the nations wherever the “brotherhood” (Peter), “synagogue” (James), or “ekklesia” (Paul) can be found. Hence they are called “holy” or “saints” because they are envisioned as the corporate “Neo-Levitical” community where the Holy Spirit dwells.
The holiness the “Neo Levitical” community is called to “walk” in is not any product of human effort unaided. Such holiness is derived only from the prior empowering and enlivening action of God who brings about – as it is variously termed – “new creation” or “new birth” who brings life out of the midst of the spiritual death that characterizes us prior to being given this new life.
The commonality between Peter, James, and Paul on these issues show that – most likely – they all have inherited a common catechetical approach and demonstrates a shared approach to the Christian LIfe. Previous debates that juxtaposed James and Paul regarding the article of justification are – by such study – demonstrated to be overblown. Both teach the requirement of holiness for the Christian, but just as demonstrably teach that such holiness is the byproduct of God’s new creation.
*”blood” likely refers to consuming the blood of slaughtered animals instead of handling it properly. It’s consumption is a violation of the life of the animal. Such a violation is linked (perhaps obscurely to us) with another possible reference to another Jewish high taboo and crime – murder.