Jurisprudence of Love in Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Joshua Neoh   | Bio
PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge as well as a Lecturer in Law at the Australian National University


Paul proclaims that Christ is the end of law. The new Christian community promises to be a community sustained not by law, but by love. His zeal for love reinforces his proclamation of Christ as the end of law, for love is lawless, literally outside of law. In contrast to Moses who establishes the rule of law on Mount Sinai, Paul proclaims the power of love over law and asserts the inherent lawlessness of love. Legal rules predict human behaviour; but love makes human actions unpredictable. Legal rules dictate outcomes; but love is, by definition, free. However, inasmuch as love is free, love is also fleeting. According to Paul, Christianity marks the end of law and the dawn of love, but it does not take long for the first church council to be formed and decrees to be issued. The promise of a lawless community ends up with codes of canon law. The modern political state carries with it this ancient theological baggage. We inherit from Paul a particular cognitive dissonance: we dream in the language of love, but speak in the language of law. The radical ideal of love as the ultimate negation of law remains a powerful eschatological vision in our theo-political imaginary.


1 Paul Kahn, Law and Love: The Trials of King Lear (Yale University Press, 2000) xvi.
2 Charles Taylor, ‘Perils of Moralism’ in Dilemmas and Connections: Selected Essays (Harvard University Press, 2011) 347-366.
3 Jeremy Waldron, ‘What is Natural Law Like?’ (Working Paper No 12-27, Public Law & Legal Theory Research Paper Series, New York University School of Law, 2012) 4-5.
4 Ibid, 1.
5 Neil MacCormick, Institutions of Law (Oxford University Press, 2007) 251.
6 Leslie Green, The Authority of the State (Clarendon Press, 1988) 19-20.
7 Jeremy Waldron, ‘Dead to the Law: Paul’s Antinomianism’ (2006) 28 Cardozo Law Review 301, 306.
8 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Harvard University Press, 2007) 705.
9 Waldron, above n 3, 13; Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Mary Gregor trans, Cambridge University Press, 1991) 24ff.
10 Nigel Simmonds, ‘Judgment and Mercy’ (1993) 13 Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 52, 65, 68.
11 Peter Goodrich, Law in the Courts of Love (Routledge, 1996) vii.
12 Taylor, above n 8, 743.
13 Simmonds, above n 10, 68.
14 Giorgio Agamben, The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (Patricia Dailey trans, Stanford University Press, 2005) 1.
15 Alan Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (Ray Brassier trans, Stanford University Press, 2003).
16 Taylor, above n 2.
17 Char Miller, ‘Time of the Antichrist: Pauls’ Subversion of Empire’ (2009) 37 Political Theory 562, 565.
18 See, for example, Douglas Campbell, Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography (Eerdmans, 2014); Robert Jewett, Dating Paul’s Life (SCM Press, 1979); Rainer Riesner, Paul’s Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology (Eerdmans, 1998).
19 John Caputo, ‘Postcards from Paul: Subtraction versus Grafting’ in John Caputo and Linda Alcoff (eds), St Paul among the Philosophers (Indiana University Press, 2009) 1.
20 Paul Kahn, Out of Eden: Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil (Princeton University Press, 2006) 12.
21 John Austin, Lectures on Jurisprudence or the Philosophy of Positive Law, Volume 1 (John Murray, 1885) 32.
22 Waldron, above n 3, 305.
23 Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (George Schwab trans, MIT Press, 1985) 37.
24 A more religious reading of Paul, whether more pious or more theological, is always available. A more religious reading may even be richer. I am willing to go as far as to concede that one cannot get a complete picture of Paul without adopting a religious lens. However, the purpose of this paper is not to present a complete picture of Paul. The richness of the religious reading has been widely canvassed in the past, indeed in the past two millennia. This paper wants to do something different. For Paul to speak to a contemporary audience, Paul has to be, for want of a better term, ‘secularized’. Contra Alex Deagon, ‘On the Symbiosis of Law and Truth in Christian Theology: Reconciling Universal and Particular through the Pauline Law of Love’ (2015) 23 Griffith Law Review 589.
25 Tracy McNulty, ‘The Event of the Letter: Two Approaches to the Law and Its Real’ (2008) 29 Cardozo Law Review 2209.
26 EP Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress, 1977) 544.
27 Waldron, above n 3 307.
28 Joshua Neoh, ‘Text, Doctrine and Tradition in Law and Religion’ (2013) 2 Oxford Journal Law and Religion 175; Ngaire Naffine and Joshua Neoh, ‘Fictions and Myths in PGA v The Queen’ (2013) 38 Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy 32; Joshua Neoh, ‘The Rhetoric of Precedent and Fulfillment in the Sermon on the Mount and the Common Law’ [2013] Law, Culture and the Humanities .
29 Jacob Taubes, The Political Theology of Paul (Dana Hollander trans, Stanford University Press, 2004) 121.
30 Romans 4:15 (Revised Standard Version, 1946).
31 Waldron, above n 3, 311.
32 Ibid, 315.
33 Ibid, 316.
34 Ibid, 317, 325.
35 Romans 3:20.
36 Romans 7:5.
37 Craig Hill, ‘Romans’ in John Muddiman and John Barton (eds), The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford University Press, 2007) 1096.
38 Waldron, above n 3, 313.
39 See Rene Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976).
40 Caputo, above n 19, 5.
41 Genesis 3:5 (Revised Standard Version, 1952).
42 WD Davies, ‘Paul and the Law: Reflections on Pitfalls in Interpretation’ (1978) 29 Hastings Law Journal 1459, 1480.
43 Hill, above n 37, 1094.
44 Ibid, 1086.
45 Badiou, above n 15, 82.
46 Hill, above n 37, 1097.
47 Romans 7:9.
48 Hill, above n 37, 1096.
49 Romans 10:4.
50 Or of hate: Nietzsche calls Paul the ‘genius of hatred’ with a ‘relentless logic of hatred’, who ‘falsified the history of Israel, so as to make it appear as a prologue to his mission’: Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘The Antichrist: An Attempted Criticism of Christianity’ in Oscar Levy (ed), The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Volume 16 (Anthony Ludovici trans, Macmillan, 1964) 184ff.
51 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (Revised Standard Version, 1946): ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends’.
52 Taubes, above n 29, 26.
53 Romans 13:8-10.
54 Caputo, above 19, 5.
55 Romans 14:17.
56 Romans 14:15.
57 Badiou, above n 15, 89.
58 Agamben, above n 14, 108. We can call it the ‘law of love’, so long as we understand that this ‘law of love’ is a figure of speech, a rhetorical flourish and a paradox to drive home the point that, for Paul, love has replaced law. Whether that replacement or substitution is achieved, or is even achievable, is a separate question that will be addressed later in the paper.
59 Romans 12:9, according to Hill’s translation: Hill, above n 37, 1104.
60 Badiou, above n 15, 91.
61 Ibid, 76-77.
62 Ibid, 78.
63 ‘His grace as a gift’: Romans 3:24.
64 The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1989) defines ‘grace’ as an ‘unmerited favour’ in contrast to a right.
65 Badiou, above n 15, 84.
66 Romans 5:20.
67 Agamben, above n 14, 126.
68 Ibid, 129.
69 Romans 4:13.
70 Agamben, above n 14, 122.
71 Romans 7:6.
72 Agamben, above n 14, 137.
73 Mark Poster, ‘Review of Niklas Luhmann, Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy (Jeremy Gaines and Doris Jones trans, Harvard University Press, 1986)’ (1988) 93 American Historical Review 1294, 1295.
74 The claim here is that the Pauline conception of love is antinomian, not that all conceptions of love are antinomian. The Johannine conception of love, for example, is strongly nomian in character. Jesus in John’s Gospel presents a distinctly nomian kind of love when he says, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’: John 14:15 (Revised Standard Version, 1946).
75 Agamben, above n 14, 1.
76 EP Sanders, Paul, the Law and the Jewish People (Fortress Press, 1983) 152.
77 Hill, above n 37, 1087.
78 Ibid.
79 Ibid.
80 Davies, above n 42, 1478.
81 Romans 3:31.
82 Romans 7:7-12.
83 Badiou, above n 15, 93.
84 Ibid, 94.
85 Sanders, above n 76, 159.
86 John Gager, Reinventing Paul (Oxford University Press, 2000) 9.
87 Agamben, above n 14, 135.
88 Taylor, above n 2, 347-366.
89 Jeffrey Bloechl, ‘Between Love and Law: Paul and Philosophy’ (Paper presented at the Simone Weil Lecture 2013, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, 30 May 2013).
90 There is the perennial problem of the transposition of ideas across time and space. The problem should be acknowledged, but not exaggerated. In response to this problem, this paper appeals to love as a universal human experience and law as a universal mode of social relations. These concepts may have different conceptions across time and space, which result in them adopting different registers and idioms. Notwithstanding their polyvalence, they remain the same concepts if abstracted from their local conceptions. For the distinction between concepts and conceptions, see Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire (Harvard University Press, 1986) 71-72.
91 Jerome Hall, ‘Paul, the Lawyer, on Law’ (1985) 3 Journal of Law and Religion 331, 379.
92 Paul Kahn, above n 1, xi-xii.
93 Paul Kahn, ‘Political Theology Defended’ (2012) 5 Jerusalem Review of Legal Studies 28, 33.
94 Ibid.
95 McNulty, above n 25, 2238.
96 Or ‘the negation of law’: Roberta Kevelson, ‘The New Realism and Lawlessness in Kaleidoscope’ in Roberta Kevelson (ed), Law and Semiotics, Volume 2 (Plenum Press, 1988) 189, 194.
97 This proverb, in its current form, is often attributed to Francis Smedley, Frank Fairleigh (W Scott, 1850).
98 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Andrew Crooke, 1651), in which he describes the state of nature as ‘a condition of war of every one against every one’ at ch xiv.
99 William Golding, Lord of the Flies (Faber and Faber, 1954).
100 Christopher Lasch, Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged (Basic Books, 1977) 8.
101 Ibid, xiii.
102 Daniel Rodgers, ‘Oedipus Deposed’ (1978) 6 Reviews in American History 293, 294.
103 ‘All who believed were together and had all things in common … The company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common’: Acts of the Apostles 2:44, 4:32 (Revised Standard Version, 1946).
104 Joan Landes, ‘Hegel’s Conception of the Family’ in Jean Elshtain (ed), The Family in Political Thought (University of Massachusetts Press, 1982) 125.
105 Kahn, above n 1, xvi.
106 Judith Shklar, Legalism (Harvard University Press, 1986); Zenon Bańkowski, ‘Law, Love and Legality’ (2001) 14 International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 199; Jay Michaelson, ‘Hating the Law for Christian Reasons: The Religious Roots of American Anti-Lawyerism’ in Suzanne Last Stone and Ari Mermelstein (eds), Jews and the Legal Profession (forthcoming).
107 Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse (The Free Press, 1991).
108 Vivian Liska, ‘A Lawless Legacy: Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben’ in Marco Goldoni and Christopher McCorkindale (eds), Hannah Arendt and the Law (Hart Publishing, 2012) 89, 96.
109 Werner Jeanrond, A Theology of Love (T&T Clark, 2010) 228.
110 Taubes, above n 29, 121.
111 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press, 1958) 51.
112 Ibid, 52-53.
113 Shin Chiba, ‘Hannah Arendt on Love and the Political: Love, Friendship and Citizenship’ (1995) 57 Review of Politics 505, 523.
114 Ibid, 524.
115 Ibid, 517.
116 Martha Nussbaum, Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (Harvard University Press, 2013) 384.
117 Contra The Beatles, All You Need is Love (1967).
118 Heikki Raisanen, ‘Paul’s Conversion and the Development of His View of the Law’ (1987) 33 New Testament Studies 404, 416.
119 Hall, above n 91, 378.
How to Cite
Neoh J. Jurisprudence of Love in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. LiC [Internet]. 2018Dec.21 [cited 2022Sep.28];34(1). Available from: https://journals.latrobe.edu.au/index.php/law-in-context/article/view/45

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