A study of the Law of God, considering the purposes of the Law, and whether those purposes still apply to Christians today.
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Law, by its very definition, conveys the idea that someone, or a collection of persons, has the legitimate and binding authority to institute, establish or impose certain standards, expectations, rules, regulations, principles, etc. on others. Since our concern is divine law, that One in authority is God, with authority over all His creation including mankind. More specifically, God established a law for His particularly chosen people in the Old Testament, the Jewish people, and made that known through Moses.
The Hebrew word for "law" is torah. The Hebrew word torah is etymologically derived from another Hebrew root word, yara, which means "to cast, to indicate, to direct." Torah therefore means "direction, guidance, instruction." Specifically it pertained to divinely revealed instruction and guidance and directives in the law. The Hebrew word torah is used 220 times in the Hebrew Old Testament.
There are numerous other Hebrew words that are used as synonyms to torah in referring to God's law in the Old Testament. A partial list includes the following words:
There are many other Hebrew words that also
refer to the instructions, the law of God.
Within the New Testament the word nomos is often used to refer back to the Old Testament law, and thus to translate the Hebrew word torah.
Sometimes nomos refers to the entire Old Testament writings. Jesus refers to the "Law" and then quotes from the Psalms (John 10:34; 15:25). The Jews refer to the Law in reference to the writings of the Psalms and the Prophets (John 12:34).
Elsewhere nomos is used only in reference to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Books of Moses or the Books of the Law. Jesus mentions that all the things written about Him "in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets and the Psalms" should have been fulfilled (Luke 24:44). Paul mentions that the righteousness of God was witnessed to "by the Law and the Prophets" (Rom. 3:21).
On other occasions nomos refers more specifically to the Law given by God through Moses, often called the Mosaic Law. Paul mentions the Law being introduced by Moses (Rom. 5:13,14), and also that the Law came 430 years after Abraham, that is by Moses (Gal. 3:17).
Just as the Hebrew language had many synonyms for "law," the Greek language likewise has many synonyms that are employed in the Greek New Testament. A few examples include:
Throughout the remainder of this study we will be using the phrase "the Law" to refer to the entirety of the regulatory instructions that God gave throughout the Old Testament, most explicitly detailed in the directives given to Moses at Sinai, but not limited to such.
God, the rightful authority over all creation,
established regulatory laws, and had every right to expect mankind
(the Jewish people in particular) to abide by them, to behave
in accordance with them. Burton L. Goddard, writing in the Zondervan
Pictorial Dictionary of the Bible, notes that "the commandments
constitute the regulative core of revelation as to acceptable
lines of human conduct."1
There can be no doubt that the Old Testament laws were designed
to regulate external human behavioral activity. These behavioral
laws were stringent, restrictive and very detailed, pertaining
to almost every kind of behavioral activity one can think of,
including dietary regulations, land use regulations, and when
a man could have sexual relations with his wife.
Law, by its very definition, requires behavioral action. Persons who come within its jurisdiction are expected to keep it (Gal. 5:3), do it (Rom. 2:14), perform it (Gal. 3:10), and practice it (Rom. 2:25). Inherent within the idea of "law" is the demand for people to act and to work in order to keep the law. Thus it is that Paul refers to the "works of the Law" (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10). It might be noted, therefore, that there is a general form of "works" and "legalism" that is inherent within law itself, not just in the abuse or misuse of law, but within the very idea of law with its behavioral standards and expectations. Larry Richards notes that
Some have objected to the idea that the Law was behaviorally regulatory. Failing to put themselves into the contextual mindset of the Jewish people of that period of time, they project new covenant concepts back into the old covenant historical context. Old Testament law was indeed behaviorally regulative law.
We do not want to be guilty of a revisionist reading of Old Testament history. Historical revisionism is often employed by those who desire to justify their own presuppositions and agenda. This unscrupulous method has been employed by some when they read back into the Old Testament certain Christian concepts which were not present or known until centuries, over a millennium, later in the new covenant. R.E.O. White cautions:
The behavioral regulations of God's Law are often divided into categories of behavior. We must first ask whether the Law should be thus categorized. Such categorizations are not Biblically explained or documented. They are arbitrary man-made categorizations.
In Jewish thinking, the Law included God's direction for all of life. It could not be divided into categories, and certainly not into categories which made some laws obligatory and other optional, some laws permanent and others temporary, or some laws more important that others. Writing from a knowledge of that unified Jewish perspective of the Law, Paul explains the necessity of "abiding by all things written in the Book of the Law" (Gal. 3:10), and of being "obligated to keep the whole Law" (Gal. 5:3). Likewise, James understood that the Law could not be partitioned for "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all" (James 2:10).
Despite this unified understanding of the Law by the Jews, theologians and expositors throughout the centuries have observed categories in the behavioral laws of the Old Testament. The permissability and beneficiality of such categorization is to be questioned. Much of the human categorizing of the Law has been done with a theological agenda of presuppositions as to which categories will be rendered valid and which will be determined to be invalid in their application to Christian peoples. When these arbitrary categories become the criteria by which New Testament references to the Law are interpreted, it should be evident that fallacious hermeneutics are being employed.
Throughout the history of Christian thinking the behavior that the law regulated has often been divided into these categories:
1. The religious, ceremonial, ritual or cultic behavior category. It is obvious that God's law related to the worship behavior of the Israelites. There were laws concerning sacrifices, feast and festivals, their house of worship, the priesthood, etc.
2. The civil, social, political or judicial behavior category. God's law certainly regulated how people related to one another. There were rights of the poor and underprivileged, proper treatment for servants, property regulations, and particular crimes against individuals and society.
3. The moral, ethical, personal or individual behavior category. We are quite familiar with the commandments against lying, stealing, murder, etc. The Law had explicit regulations concerning sexual perversions and sexual violations, such as adultery.
Again it should be noted that these categories were so integrated in Jewish thinking and so over-lapped one another that they were never distinguished as distinct categories. Christians today must be very cautious about developing any theological thinking based on these arbitrary categories. It is probably best to reject them as having no validity whatsoever. Their inclusion in this study is simply to explain their historic usage in order to understand the discussion of such in so much of Christian literature on this subject.
Behavioral categorization and behavioral function were not necessarily the purpose of the Law. The behavioral directives were for much larger, broader and eternal purposes.
God's purposes for the Law were within the context of human history. There was an occasion, there was a place, and these within the context of time and space, that God chose to introduce His Law and employ His Law. The task at hand will be to explore those historical purposes and document such Scripturally.
The first historical purpose of the Law might be called its essential purpose since it pertains to the revelation of the essence of the character of God. A brief historical review of God's intent for man will serve to explain.
God created man to bear His image in a receptive-faith relationship, and thus to allow the invisible character of God to be manifested visibly in the behavior of man. Man was created for God's glory (Isa. 43:7), but God does not give His glory to another (Isa. 42:8;48:11). God can only be glorified by the divine expression of His all-glorious character in man's behavior enabled by His indwelling presence and dynamic of grace. God only desires the expression of Himself within His creation.
In the fall of man into sin "in Adam," man forfeited the presence of God indwelling his spirit. Mankind was "without God" (Eph. 2:12), and "devoid of the Spirit" (Jude 19). The absence of the presence of God in natural man meant that there was no divine dynamic for man to function as he was originally designed to function, i.e. to express the character of God.
The Law revealed God's intent for the behavior of mankind by revealing the character of God. God told Moses to say to the Israelites, "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" (Lev. 19:2). The Decalogue (Exod. 20:3-17), at the very heart of the Mosaic Law revealed the character of God: God is singular, exclusive, worthy to be worshipped, personally relational. God is life, faithful, truth, lacking nothing, the provider and sustainer of all we need. Man was created to express such divine character.
Though the Law revealed the character of a good and righteous God, it did not provide the divine dynamic whereby that divine character of goodness and righteousness might be expressed in man's behavior. The Law did not provide grace. Behavioral goodness in man can only be derived from God (III John 11), from the dynamic indwelling expression of God's character of goodness when God functions as Himself in man.
That God did not provide the dynamic of His own activity unto man in the Law, does not imply that there was something wrong or deficient with the Law. The Law served a good purpose in that it revealed a good God, and also served a good beneficial purpose as the instrument whereby man could recognize his own lack of ability to function as intended in the expression of God's character without the presence of God in the man.
The second historical purpose of the Law
was its instrumental purpose. The Law was an instrument
which God employed at that juncture of history between Moses
and Jesus Christ.
The Law was an instrument, a tool God used. It was a "thing," an entity, an object, which was formed into a legal system. Even though Paul sometimes personifies the Law to explain its effects, the Law was just a static, stone-cold object. Nevertheless it was an instrument which God used to serve His purpose. It served as a "means to an end," which is what "instrumental" implies. The Law was an entity which served as an agent in God's hands to facilitate, implement and accomplish God's purposes expeditiously.
Two processes of instrumentation will be noted: (1) revelation of sin and (2) preparation for the Savior.
The essential purpose of the Law sets up the first of the instrumental purposes. The revelation of the character of God is the basis for revealing sin. By understanding the character of God, man can begin to recognize that the motivations from within him are contrary to the character of God. Man can begin to recognize that he is a sinner, his behavioral activities are sinful, and he is incapable of manifesting the character of God for he is alienated from God (Col. 1:21) and without God (Eph. 2:12).
God wanted to penetrate the minds of the Israelite people, in order to cause them to understand what the problem was. The impossibility of keeping the regulations of the law behaviorally would reveal that men apart from God are sinners. Paul explained that "through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). In a more personal, biographical context, Paul wrote "I would not have come to know sin except through the Law" (Rom. 7:7); "through the commandment sin became known as utterly sinful" (Rom. 7:13). James wrote, "You are convicted by the Law as transgressors" (James 2:9).
It must be explained that the Law did not make man a sinner. That was not the fault of the Law. The Law was not sinful (Rom. 7:7), nor did it encourage sinful behavior. We must not blame on the Law what should properly be blamed on Satan (Eph. 2:2,3; I John 3:8).
The Law was used by God to reveal the sin that was in mankind, and more specifically in the Israelite people. "Sin...produced the violation of the Law," Paul explains in Rom. 7:8.
"Sin...deceived me through the commandment" (Rom. 7:11). "Sin...effected my death through the commandment" (Rom. 7:13). "Sin indwells me" (Rom. 7:17). The problem is "sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3).
James Denney correctly observes that "the explanation of the disastrous working of the Law...is to be found in man himself, and especially in his nature as flesh..."4 "I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin" (Rom. 7:14). Law cannot remedy the sin problem; it is "weak through the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). Law just provides an "opportunity for the flesh" (Gal. 5:13).
Does the Law of God promote sin or instigate sin, as some have suggested? "The Law came in that the transgression might increase..." (Rom. 5:20). This does not mean that the Law promoted the increase of sin, but that the personal Satanic source that activates sin responded to the Law with intensified and increased sin. "When the Law came, sin became alive" (Rom. 7:9); it was agitated and aggravated and aroused in defiance and antagonism toward God. When Paul writes in I Cor. 15:56 that "the power of sin is the law," this is not to say that the Law had any functional power to produce or promote sin. Rather, the Law provided the opportunity for the fleshly sinfulness of man to be aroused, and thus to reveal the spiritual condition of man's sinfulness.
God used the Law to penetrate the understanding of the Israelites, to reveal the impossibility of keeping the whole law since it demanded "all or nothing" (Gal. 3:10; 5:3; James 2:10), and to reveal the inability of man to be righteous, to express the character of God as God intended apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It was necessary for man to understand that he did not have what it takes, in and of himself, to be man as God intended him to be. So God used to law to penetratingly reveal man's sinfulness and his inability for any righteousness.
Secondly God used the Law as a preparational instrument to prepare the Israelite people for what He was going to do in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Law was provisional. Not provisional in the sense that it provided the provision of God's dynamic to keep the Law, for the Law did not provide grace, but the Law was provisional in that it served as the supplied instrument to facilitate that which was to follow. The Law was a pre-arranged, pre-planned preliminary prelude and precursor to the person and work of God in Jesus Christ.
The preparational purpose of the Law can be subdivided into its pictorial and custodial preparations.
The Law provided pictorial illustrations, a typological pre-figuring of what God intended in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Law served as the blueprints of the reality, the shadows of the substance. It was a promise of something more to follow, the One who was "promised through the prophets" (Rom. 1:2), "witnessed to by the Law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:21), that One who "by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known" (Rom. 16:26). The Law for the Israelites was an "example, written for our instruction" (Rom. 15:4; I Cor. 6:6,11). It was "a copy and shadow of heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5), "a shadow of good things to come" (Heb. 10:1), a "symbol" (Hev. 9:9) and a "type" (Heb. 11:19). The Old Testament serves as the picture-book of God's intent of what He will do in Jesus Christ.
The custodial preparation of the Law is explained by Paul in Galatians 3:23-4:7. "We were kept in custody under the Law" (Gal. 3:23). "The Law became our guardian" (Gal. 3:24). The Greek word used in Gal. 3:24 is paidagogos. It is derived from two other Greek words, pais meaning "child," and agogos meaning "leader." A young male child in Graeco-Roman society was often entrusted to a trustworthy slave, a "child-leaders", who was responsible to guide, direct, guard, protect, attend to, and discipline the child until he grew up. The child was "in his custody. It was a temporary job of one who was still in a servile and inferior position, a slave serving an instrumental purpose. The art from those early centuries often depicted the paidagogos with a stick in his hand disciplining the child. The child remained "under guardians and managers" (Gal. 4:2) until he "came of age."
(Some have suggested a different translation of the eis Christos of Gal. 3:24. Instead of "the law became our leader unto Christ," it has been suggested that it might be translated "the law became our guardian unto the time of Christ." This translation emphasizes the temporality of the paidagogos rather than the direction, but is not the translation of preference.)
The paidagogos was the "child-leader," not necessarily the didaskalos, i.e. the teacher. This despite the fact that in the English language "pedagogy" has come to refer to teaching. The paidagogos was usually not the teacher, the educator, the instructor, the schoolmaster or the tutor, though these are often the translations used in English translations of Gal. 3:24.
This point is being emphasized because the analogy of the Law to the paidagogos, as used by Paul in Galatians, does not necessarily mean that the Law served, or now serves the purpose of being educational, instructional, tutorial, didactic or pedagogical. Rather the Law served the purpose of being custodial, managerial, directional, guardian or attendant, and that in a temporary and servile or inferior manner.
During the childhood period when physical Israel was the designated "people of God," the Law served a custodial and directional preparational purpose, to keep leading and directing physical Israel to Jesus Christ, to the real Teacher, to the real Truth, to real maturity. The Law, with penal stick in hand, kept saying, "Just hold my hand; I am taking you to the Teacher. You are under my custody until the time of maturity." Then Israel "came of age" in Jesus Christ, and the guardian, the Law, was not needed any more. Christians are adult Israel in Christ. The entire preparational purpose of the Law has been served.
There are two other purposes which the Law is sometimes alleged to have served or to serve. These are not purposes of the Law and have never served as purposes of the Law.
There was not, and there is not, any behavioral or functional purpose of the Law, nor any indirect moral purpose of the Law. Did God expect the Israelites to keep the law perfectly and completely, and thus to function as God intended man to function behaviorally, manifesting behavior that expressed the character of God? The answer is "No." Such a behavioral expression requires the presence of God in the man to activate the character of God. The Law did not provide the indwelling Life of God. The divine life was not made available to indwell man until Christ took the death of man in order to give His divine life to man.
The Law had to do with behavioral regulations, but all of them were only to serve the historical essential and instrumental purposes of God. They were not commanded for any function, behavioral or moral purpose of God.
Did the Law serve to restrain sinfulness among fallen, natural, sinful men? The Israelites ran off to Baal, chose human leaders, disobeyed and were taken into exile. Did the Law serve as a moral guide to living righteously? No one is made righteous by the law (Gal. 2:16). Did the Law serve to regulate functional moral behavior? Law cannot regulate behavior. The behavior of man is derived from a spiritual source and chosen by man with freedom of choice.
Religious men often try to make the law serve as a functional, behavioral, moral standard to which man is to conform by self-effort and develop self-righteousness. Political men often try to use the law as a political tool for the deterrent of social chaos, the basis of a social morality to provide social constraints enforced by social penalties such as ostracism, economic deprivation, incarceration or death.
Writing to Timothy, Paul seems to admit that the divine Law has been and can be used by man for the social and political purposes of attempting to restrain lawless and ungodly men. "We know that the Law is good (serves a beneficial purpose), if one uses it lawfully, realizing that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching" (I Tim. 1:8-10). Such a political, social, or religious usage of God's Law by man, may serve man's purpose, but not necessarily God's purposes. Elsewhere Paul informs us that such legal regulations "are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Col. 2:23). They are just elementary legal principles of the world (cf. Gal. 4:3,9; Col. 2:8,20).
When man attempts to use God's Law in this manner for his own social, political and religious purposes, he abuses God's Law, by using it for purposes other than God intended. He takes God's Law and sets it up as an independent, autonomous standard of righteousness apart from the historical purpose of God and apart from the personal dynamic of a Righteous God. Just as man want to posit an autonomous standard of "good" as the basis of a "natural morality," so man wants to posit an autonomous standard of "righteousness" as the basis of a "natural law" to be imposed on all men, trying to induce godly character apart from God. Such usage of God's Law is not of God, ek theos, and does not serve God's purposes.
Jacques Ellul addresses this perversion of God's Law by the formation of "natural law."
The divine law of God in the Old Testament was indeed comprised of behavioral laws and regulations pertaining to human behavioral activities, but the divine purpose of the divine Law was not to regulate human behavior in a morality system. The divine purpose of the divine Law was not to create a functional behavior in mankind so that man would function as God intended. Functional enabling and empowering of behavior that would glorify God was not part of the Law. Grace was not part of the Law.
God's Law pertained to human behavioral practice, but there was not a divine behavioral purpose. The Old Testament Law had only the two historical purposes of essential purpose and instrumental purpose. Granted, religionists, politicians and moralists often try to use God's Law for their own purposes, man-made purposes. They construct moral systems of acceptable behavior, social and political systems of expedient behavior, but these are not God's divine purpose for the Law. When they thus use God's law for their own social, political, religious and moral purposes, they really abuse God's Law, by using it for purposes other than what God intended.
Finally, we must add that the Law of God did not have, and does not have, a vital purpose. The word "vital" is etymologically derived from the Latin word vita meaning "life." The English word "vital" refers to that which is "concerned with, or the basis of, manifesting life." It was not God's divine purpose to provide divine life in the divine law. Instrumentally, the Law pointed to the Life that was to come in Jesus Christ.
The denial of the vital purpose of the Law is clear in Scripture. "If a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would have been based on the law" (Gal. 3:21). But law cannot impart life, and righteousness is not based on the law.
Jesus, Himself, said to the Jewish religionists, "You search the Scriptures (Old Testament Law) because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life" (John 5:39,40). Later Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes unto the Father but through Me" (John 14:6). In His statement about their use of the Scriptures, Jesus exposes how the Jewish religionists (and religionists of all kinds in all ages) think that there is a vital purpose in the Law, that the Law brings life and righteousness and salvation.
Those who believe in the vital purpose of the Law advocate the grossest form of "legalism." Not only is there the general legalism or "performance legalism" of exercising human effort to try to perform the dictates of the law, but to try to keep the Law with the false expectation of divine benefits of life and righteousness and salvation accrued from so doing, such "salvific legalism" is the worst kind. Yet, the false teaching that there is vital purpose in the Law or in the Scriptures is the foundation of so much popular religion today.
Likewise, it is not the vital purpose of the divine Law to produce divine righteousness in man, either as spiritual condition or as behavioral expression. But again, the religionists indicate that there is righteousness in keeping the Law. The Jews sought to establish their own righteousness by practicing the Law (Rom. 10:3). As a Pharisaically religious Jew, Paul thought he had a "righteousness of his own derived from the Law" (Phil. 3:9), even to the extent that by the religious definitions of righteousness by the Law, he was found blameless (Phil. 3:6), but he then recognized that this was all a pseudo self-righteousness, and that divine "righteousness comes only from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:9).
In his epistles to the Romans and Galatians, Paul explicitly denies that righteousness comes from the Law. "By the works of the Law no flesh will be made righteous in His sight" (Rom. 3:20). "A man is made righteous apart from works of the Law" (Rom. 3:28). "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness" (Rom. 10:4). "A man is not made righteous by the works of the Law...by the works of the Law shall no flesh be made righteous" (Gal. 2:16). "If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21). "No one is made righteous by the Law before God" (Gal. 3:11). "Seeking to be made righteous by Law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal. 5:4).
Rather than producing righteousness, the Law brought only guilt (James 2:10), condemnation (II Cor. 3:9), "curse" (Gal. 3:10) and "wrath" (Rom. 4:15).
Judaic religion thought there was a vital purpose to the Law, that there was life and righteousness and salvation in the keep of the Law. They put their faith in the Law. It was idolatry! Religionists today still think that the Law has behavioral and vital purpose.
If the purposes of the Law were behavioral and vital, then Jesus was not needed. Jesus would have been superfluous and redundant. The Law would have sufficed as man's savior. Paul says, "If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21).
If the purposes of the Law were behavioral and vital, then the Law failed in its purposes. It did not produce functional behavior that was righteous evidencing the life of God. God's purposes were thwarted, which Job denies in saying "no purpose of Thine can be thwarted" (Job 42:2).
If the historical purposes of God in the Law were essential and instrumental, as we have explained, then God's historic purposes for the Law were fulfilled. God did what He intended to do with the Law of the Old Testament.
Just to reiterate, all of the valid purposes of the Law are historical. The Law was given at a particular point in time for a particular period of time, perhaps to be termed the "old covenant instrumental period." That period of time was preliminary to another period of time which might be called the "new covenant incarnational period."
The Law "came in" (Rom. 5:20) to world history, was "added" (Gal. 3:19) into divine history when Moses received the tablets on Mount Sinai. It was valid "until the seed should come" (Gal. 3:19), "that is, Christ" (Gal. 3:16). The law served its purposes during the intermediary interim period between Moses and Jesus Christ, between Sinai and Calvary. The historical parameters of the Law are clearly defined in Galatians 3:19, from Moses, the mediator, to Jesus Christ, the seed. It was a temporary and probational period.
The Law had its "day of glory" (II Cor. 3:7-11). "The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). "The Law and the prophets were proclaimed until John (the Baptist), since then the gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed" (Luke 16:16). "All the prophets and the Law prophesied until John (the Baptist)" (Matt. 11:13).
The purposes of the Law have been served historically in the context of the people for whom they were intended, the Israelites. But the Law was not God's last word to man. The ten words of the "decalogue" were intended to direct the Jews to the final Word of God, the personal, living Logos, Jesus Christ (John 1:1,14).
In response to the declaration that God's purposes for the Law have been fully served historically, some have queried, "But isn't God the same yesterday, today and forever?" Indeed He is immutable and unchanging in His character and ultimate purposes. Though His character and the purposes that proceed from His character are always the same, this does not mean that God is limited to always acting in the same manner. God is not a mechanistic God. He is not a programmed computer-chip. He is not comprehensible by the finite mind of man, so as to be stereotyped by His precedent action. God is the personal and living God. He can change His modus operandi. Otherwise He could never have done the "new things" referred to in the book of Hebrews, providing the "new and living way" (Heb. 10:20) in the "new covenant" (Heb. 9:15).
God instituted the Law with planned obsolescence. It did not fade away in accord with the law of entropy. It did not die of old age. There was a divinely determined termination of the Law. Our task is now to consider the Scriptural evidence for the finality of the Law and the awareness that "Christ is the end of the Law..." (Rom. 10:4).
We will commence by considering Biblical assertions concerning the affirmation of the Law. The first sequence of verses will be primarily from the gospel accounts where we find the relation of Jesus and the Law.
Jesus was "born under the Law" (Gal. 4:4) and circumcised according to the Law (Luke 2:21). He went to the temple at twelve years of age (Luke 2:42), apparently to become a "son of the Law."
During His ministry He was agitated at the Jewish leaders and lawyers who "neglected the commandment" (Mark 7:8), "set aside the commandment" (Mark 7:9), "transgressed the commandment" (Matt. 15:3), and "invalidated the word of God" (Mark 7:13; Matt. 15:6), by setting their own religious traditions and interpretations ahead of the Law.
On the other hand, we observe Jesus disassociating Himself from the Law. When speaking to the Jews He referred to "your Law" (John 8:17; 10:34). When speaking to His disciples of the Jews, He refers to "their Law" (John 15:25).
On occasion He seems to reinterpret the Law. Repeatedly in Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus contrasts the statement of the Law and His own statement. "The Law says....., but I say.....," thereby reinterpreting the Law.
The relativity of the Law is indicated in
Mark 10:2-12 when Jesus explained that it was "because of
your hardness of heart that Moses wrote this commandment"
granting the right of divorce.
Despite the admonition not to "add to" commandments (Deut. 4:2; 12:32), Jesus does just that, saying, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).
Having disassociated Himself from the Law by referring to "your Law" in John 10:34, Jesus goes on to quote their Law from Psalms 82:6. In His explanation of the use of this quotation Jesus makes a parenthetical comment, "and the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Those who assert the inviolability of the Law use this verse to affirm the continuation of the Law. It is more likely that Jesus is being somewhat facetious and sarcastic, throwing their superstitious hermeneutical attitudes about the Law right back into their faces. His intended meaning seems to be, "You want to take every detail of the Old Testament in a direct, physical, literal sense; and if you do so, using your hermeneutics, then you cannot object to My calling Myself, God." He was exposing how religion so often reveres the Law, deifies the Law, and uses it for its own purposes.
On another occasion just after explaining the historical parameters of the Law "until John" (Luke 16:16), Jesus goes on to say, "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail" (Luke 16:17). Skirting around the contradiction with the preceding statement, some have used this verse as a proof-text for the continuation of the Law. The context, once again, lends itself to the understanding that Jesus was caricaturing the rigid religious hermeneutics of the Pharisees. "It is more likely that the sky will fall down in a cosmic melt-down, than that you fellows will give up on a single point of your traditional and invalid Law-interpretations, which you use for your own self-justification (vs. 15); and what you do with the Law is detestable in the sight of God (vs. 15)."
The most popular proof-text of those who argue for the continuity of the Old Testament Law is Matthew 5:17-20. A more prolonged explanation of these verses is therefore in order.
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish,..." (Matt. 5:17). The Greek word for "abolish" is kataluo, which has a root meaning "to set loose." Jesus was fully aware than He was inaugurating a "new covenant," radically different from the old covenant and the purpose of the Old Testament Law. But neither was it His purpose to disconnect or detach the old from the new. The same God was acting perfectly from the beginning. Jesus did not come to be an iconoclast, a Law-basher! He did not come to set loose the Law from its moorings in the activity of God. He did not come to set the Law adrift as a meaningless "social experiment" in religion and morality from the past. He did not come to "trash" the Law, to denounce it derisively as God's disaster of the Old Testament. He did not come to discount and devalue and defame the Law of the Old Testament as a failure, a fiasco, a "dud," a "raw deal," a plan that did not work. He did not come to write the Law off as God's mistake, as wrong, useless, having no good purpose. He did not come to demolish and tear down the Law in contempt and disgust. He did not come to denigrate, deprecate, depreciate, or decimate the Old Testament Law with disdain and derision. Jesus knew that the Law had served God's good purposes historically, both essentially and instrumentally.
Jesus then continues, "I came to fulfill the Law" (Matt. 5:17). In other words, "I came to fill the Law full; to bring to full fruition all that the Law pointed to pictorially and custodially." "I came to fulfill the Law, by being the dynamic directive of God, the living Torah, in the lives of His People." To "fulfill" means more than just to fulfill the promises and the prophecies historically. It carries with it the theological meaning of completing, actualizing, consummating the Law by becoming its full intended content.
"Until heaven and earth pass away, not iota or even one stroke of the Law shall pass away..." (Matt. 5:18). God's purposes for the Law are as firmly positioned as the heaven and the earth. There is a definite purpose for how the earth turns in the heavens. There was a definite purpose for the Law. But they both "come around" (parerxomai) to a "new day."
The Law does not "pass away until all is accomplished." The Greek word for "accomplished" is ginomai meaning "to become, to happen, to take place, to come to pass." When did all that God intended for the restoration of His creation in mankind happen or take place? In the death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecostal outpouring of Jesus Christ. God's purposes for the Law were accomplished in Jesus Christ. God's purpose for the restoration of His life to man was accomplished.
"Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19). Christians are participants in the "kingdom of heaven." (Luke 17:21). A Christian who "sets loose" (same Greek word, kataluo, as was used in vs. 17) to the Law, who discounts, devalues, derides, denigrates or disconnects the Law from the perfect activity of God, shall be called "least" because he is doing a disservice in misrepresenting God's perfect activity in human history.
"...but whoever keeps and teaches the commandments of God shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19). How are we as Christians going to keep the commandments? The essential intent of the commandments is kept as Jesus functions as the Law-keeper in and through the Christ, manifesting the character of God by the grace of God. Those who live by grace and teach grace shall be called "great" in the kingdom of heaven.
"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Righteousness does not come by the law (Rom. 3:20,28; 10:4; Gal. 2:16,21; 3:11; 5:4). Human efforts to keep the Law produce only pseudo-righteousness, self-righteousness, unrighteousness. Such was the religious striving of the scribes and Pharisees. The righteousness that God desires in the Christian "comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:9). It is the result of Jesus Christ, "the Righteous One" (I John 2:1) living in us. Righteousness in Christian behavior is the fruit (Eph. 5:9) of the Spirit of Christ manifesting His divinely righteous character in our behavior, evidencing "good works" which "glorify the Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Such righteousness certainly surpasses the so-called righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and evidences that we are participants in the kingdom of heaven.
In this important passage Jesus has affirmed the historical purposes of the Law but has not necessarily "confirmed" the continued efficacy of the Law. Much of the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the import of Jesus' words is due to mistranslation of key words such as "set loose" and "fulfill."
Continuing then, we shall consider the affirmation of the Law in other passages of the New Testament.
Writing to the Romans Paul rhetorically asks, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary we establish the Law" (Rom 3:31). Those who advocate continued application of the Law are quick to affirm that "the Law is not nullified," rather "the Law is established." Paul uses the Greek word katargeo, which is here translated "nullified." At the root of this word are two other Greek words, a meaning "no," and ergeo meaning "work." Paul is asking, "Are we saying that the Law did not work, that it was a failure historically? Most definitely not. We establish that the law served God purposes. We affirm that the Law "stands" within its historic purposes and validate the Law as having fulfilled its purposes." Contextually, Paul seems to be making the point that the disengagement of the Law does not necessarily crate an antinomianism which would allow for behavioral chaos in lawlessness, as would have been the assumption of Jewish thinking.
In Romans 7 Paul affirms the Law and its purposes in several verses. "The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12). "The Law is spiritual" (Rom. 7:14). "...I agree with the Law, ...that it is good" (Rom. 7:16). Obviously Paul is not equating God and the Law as some seem to do, and thus in effect deify the Law. God is good and holy and righteous. Nothing else can be said to be "good and holy and righteous, in the same sense that God is essentially good and holy and righteous. Attributes of God are not to be attributed to something else. The statement that Paul makes here in Romans 7 must mean that the Law serves a beneficial purpose that is good, holy and righteous. Contextually, Paul is making the point that the Law is not to be faulted for our sinfulness. "Is the Law sin? May it never be (Rom. 7:7). The Law is good. There is nothing wrong with the Law. It served an instrumental purpose to expose our indwelling sinfulness (7:17). The Law is "spiritual." Not that it provided the indwelling dynamic of the Spirit of Christ, but it was used by the Spirit of God to serve the purposes of God. It was used instrumentally for a spiritual purpose, so that the law-directive of God might be internalized in out spirits (Heb. 8:10; 10:16), rather than just externalized in directives for external behavioral activities.
In Romans 8:4 Paul explains that "the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." Walking by the Spirit, allowing the Spirit of Christ (8:9) to live in and through us, allows the character of God in Christ to be expressed in our behavior. This is what the Law required, but it did not provide the necessary enabling to fulfill.
I Cor. 7:19 is another text which affirms the Law but is often used to confirm the continued application of the Law. "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God." Using the man-made categories of Law, some argue that the ceremonial Law does not matter, but what matters is keeping the commandments of the moral law. Such employment of arbitrary categories for Biblical exegesis is illegitimate. It is more contextually appropriate to recognize that Paul was combatting the legalism that was being introduced into the Corinthian congregation by false teachers in contradistinction to his gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Why would Paul capitulate and say that we should keep some of the Law, but not all of the Law, when he notes the inconsistency of such elsewhere? (Gal. 3:10;5:3) Paul is eschewing the keeping of all law and indicating that since we are "joined in one spirit with the Lord Jesus Christ" (6:17), what really matters is allowing the divine directive of the Lord Jesus Christ to function in and through us to manifest the character of God.
"Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be!" (Gal. 3:21) Paul is arguing that the promises given by God to Abraham (3:16) 430 years prior to the giving of the Law to Moses (3:17), have precedence over the Law. This does not mean that the Law is to be disdained or discounted as contrary or contradictory to the promises of God. The Law simply served its historical, instrumental purpose "until the seed" (Jesus Christ) should come, concerning whom the promise had been made.
James writes, "...if you judge the Law, you are not a doer of the Law, but a judge of it" (James 4:11). Some have claimed that to teach the inefficacy of the Law for Christians today is to "judge the law" as invalid, and thus to violate the intent of God. James is writing to Christians within a new covenant context. He explains that when we set ourselves up as self-appointed arbiters to criticize, condemn, find fault and judge our Christian brother, we set ourselves up to "play God," to "play Holy Spirit" in the life of another. This is an attempt to usurp the role of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the life of our brother. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the Savior, Jesus Christ. We must never set ourselves above Him, attempting to judge or criticize or find fault with how He wants to implement His activity and character in another Christian brother. Instead, we are responsible to allow the "royal law" (2:8) of God's love, the "perfect law" (1:25), to be expressed in our behavior.
Another favorite proof-text of those advocating continued efficacy of the Law is I John 2:3,4 - "We know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." "Keeping His commandments" is not synonymous with keeping all the commandments of the Old Testament Law. All that Jesus inculcated by way of commandment in all of His imperatives, carry with them the understanding that He, Himself, is the keeper of His own commands, the dynamic of His own demands. The behavioral outworking of the character of Christ evidences that we "know Him" in personal relationship, union, communion and intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the personal Truth of Jesus Christ (John 14:6) dwells in us, which is the only way anyone can manifest the character of God.
John later writes, "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness" (I John 3:4). Those who advocate continued law-keeping usually define sin as the failure to keep the Old Testament Law, and that because they have effectively equated Law with God and deified the Law. Sin is not to be defined merely as violation of Law, but as that which violates and is contrary to the character of God, which the Law was used to reveal partially in its essential purpose. The "mark that is missed" in sin is not a Law target, but the character of God. This verse is set in the context of explaining the incongruity of sinful behavior in the Christian life, because it is misrepresentative of the character of the One who indwells the Christian.
Again in I John 5:2,3, John urges Christians to "love God and observe His commandments. This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." The keeping of God's commandments is fulfilled in the outworking of Christ's life in Christian behavior. Loving character is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom. 13:8,10; Gal. 5:14). The character of the "God who is love" (I John 4:8,16) is manifested in the Christian. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us" (Rom. 5:5).
In the sequences of Scriptures we have quoted concerning the affirmation of the Law, we note that the Old Testament Law is affirmed throughout the New Testament by Jesus, Himself, and by the New Testament writers. The Old Testament Law is affirmed as having been enacted, and thus the activity of a perfect, righteous God. There is nothing wrong with the Law. The Law is not sinful (Rom. 7:7). The Law is not to be denigrated or deprecated. These verses affirm God's historical purpose in using the Law as His instrument. They affirm that God accomplished what He wanted to accomplish with the Old Testament Law. It was not a failure or a disaster. It is not to be denounced and discounted as having had no good purpose.
What these verses do not affirm is the necessity of the continued use of the Old Testament Law today. They do not confirm the contemporary and/or perpetual efficacy of the Old Testament Law. Those who insist on the continued implementation of the Old Testament Law so often wrest their proof-texts from the context of the Scripture passages where they are found. These interpreters reveal an inadequate understanding of the new covenant provision of the grace of God in the risen Lord Jesus.
The Old Testament Law is affirmed as having been used historically by God, but not confirmed as continually efficacious. The next series of Scripture references explain the abrogation of the Law, that the Law has been repealed, annulled, abolished and rescinded.
The Law was inadequate to restore God's
intent for man. The Law did not have a vital or functional purpose.
It could not impart life (Gal. 3:21), and could not make anyone
righteous either in spiritual condition or behavioral expression
(Rom. 3:20,28; Gal. 2:16,21; 3:11; 5:4).
There was no perfection through the Levitical priesthood and the Law (Heb. 7:11), therefore "a change of law" was required (Heb. 7:12), which involved "setting aside the former commandment" (Heb. 7:18), the Old Testament Law, invalidating the Law because of it weakness and uselessness. "The Law made nothing perfect" (Heb. 7:19). It was unable, inadequate, deficient to bring about God's intended objective to restore mankind by the presence of God in the man.
The Law was inadequate. "If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second" (Heb. 8:7).
The Law was also temporary. It was not established as a permanent basis of relationship between God and man. The Law and the Levitical priesthood were temporary, whereas Jesus Christ "abides forever, and holds His priesthood permanently" (Heb. 7:24).
The temporality of the Law is explicitly revealed in Heb. 8:13 - "He made the first (covenant) obsolete." The writer of Hebrews explains the obsolescence of the Law by using the Greek word palaioo, meaning "to make old, antiquated, out-moded, out-dated, a thing of the past." It was growing old, decaying, falling apart, and ready to vanish, disappear, be abolished. The service of the Law "fades away" (II Cor. 3:11) and no longer has glory. God "takes away the first (covenant) in order to establish the second (covenant)" (Heb. 10:9). The old is rescinded, removed, repealed, revoked.
An important verse for our consideration is Romans 10:4 - "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." It has already been noted that the Law was not an end in itself, but an instrumental "means to an end." That "end" is Jesus Christ. The Greek word for "end" is telos. This word can mean terminal-end, objective-end, or completion-end; terminus, objective or fulfillment. It could be argued that in Christ Jesus God intended the termination of the law being used to try to establish religious righteousness. We know, of course, that the Law continues to be misused by religionists to establish righteousness. Jesus Christ was the end-objective of the Law, the One to whom the Law was pointing in its instrumental purpose. Jesus is therefore the fulfillment and completion of the divine objective for the Law, thereby terminating the purposes thereof. The temporality of the provisional purposes of the Law were fulfilled, so that Christ is seen as the end-objective of the Law.
The Scriptures also indicate the abolishing of the Law. Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians of Jesus Christ "abolishing...the Law of commandment in ordinances" (Eph. 2:15). Jesus idled the Law. He unemployed the Law. He "laid it off," terminated its work. He disengaged the services of the Law, discharged the Law. Its job, its purpose was abolished.
The occasion of Christ's negating the effectual employment of the Law is revealed in Colossians 2:13,14 where Paul refers to Christ's "having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us...", that on the cross. "Canceling out" translates the same word used in Heb. 7:18, "setting aside." The word was used as a legal term and meant to annul, to repeal, to revoke, to rescind. It implies that the Law was abrogated and invalidated. The behavioral requirements of the Old Testament Law were "set aside," "canceled out," made void, vacated, negated, terminated and displaced. Jesus "paid the price" and "redeemed us from the curse of the Law" (Gal. 3:13), "redeeming those who were under the law" (Gal. 4:5).
Disassociation from the Law is also evidenced in Romans 3:21, when Paul explains that "now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, having been witnessed to by the Law and the prophets." Jesus Christ, "the righteousness of God," has been manifested by His incarnation. This was prophetically witnessed to be the Law and the prophets, but Jesus has come without any association with the Law to bring righteousness by God's grace.
The subjective implications of the abolishment of the Law's authority in the lives of Christians are explained in several New Testament passages.
In the beginning verses of Romans 7 Paul uses the analogy of a wife no longer subject to a dead husband, but subject to a new husband. The point he makes is that Christians are no longer subject to the Law. "You were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God" (Rom. 7:4). The Law no longer has jurisdiction in the Christian's life. We are spiritually joined to the Lord Jesus Christ who has all jurisdiction in our life. L.S. Chafer writes
Continuing his argument Paul writes, "We died to that (the Law) by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (of the Law)" (Rom. 7:6). The Law binds people up in rule-keeping. Christians are no longer bound to the law regulations, but are free to serve "in newness of the Spirit," in the spontaneity of the activity of the Spirit of Christ operative in us. Paul contrasts Law and Spirit indicating that they are mutually exclusive. There can be no combination or integration of the two.
The same either/or distinction is seen in Galatians 2:19, "I died to the Law that I might live to God." If one has not died to the Law, then he cannot live to God. If a Christian has not rejected the Law as having any efficacy in his life as a Christian, then he cannot live to God. All faith must be in Jesus Christ with no allowance for faith in the Law. This is why there is so little "living unto God" in Christian lives today. They have not accepted that they have died to the Law, and that they must therefore abandon and forsake all law-keeping. When there is any continued adherence to the Law, the Christian will not understand what Paul writes in the next verse: "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). Thus it is that we "live to God" (2:19) by the "grace of God" (2:21), as the dynamic of the Christ-life is lived out through us. To fail to put all faith in the efficacy of the life of the indwelling Christ is to nullify the grace of God (2:21). Grace is rejected, negated, invalidated whenever the Christian in any way accepts that righteousness has any relation to law-keeping.
James S. Stewart explains the alternative like this:
One other verse may pertain to "dying
to the Law." In Colossians 2:20 Paul refers to the Christian
"having died with Christ to the elementary principles of
the world." The concept of "elementary principles"
may correspond to the Old Testament Law in Paul's thinking. (Cf.
Several Scriptures indicate that Christians are not "under the Law." They are not under the jurisdiction of the Law and therefore not subject to the Law.
Using the analogy of the paidagogos for instrumental purpose of the Law, Paul explains that "we are no longer under a paidagogos" (Gal. 3:25). Christians are no longer under the directives and disciplines of the Law serving as a child-leader. We have "come of age" as full-grown "sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26), and are subject only to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
In I Corinthians 9:20 Paul again indicates that he, himself is not "under the Law," but the Jews, who had not received Jesus Christ, were still in a self-imposed, religiously imposed subjection to the Law. Paul continues to explain that he is "under the law of Christ," subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
To the Romans Paul writes, "You are not under law, but under grace. Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be!" (Rom. 6:14,15). Christians are not subject to the Old Testament Law and its requirements. Does that mean that we become antinomian and revel in lawlessness, and run off into all sorts of sordid sin? No! Such would be to misunderstand "grace." Subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Christians become "slaves of righteousness" (Rom. 6:16-22) as God activates His character of righteousness in our behavior by the dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus. "Living under grace" will not lead to sin. The righteous character of God is contrary to all sin and will not manifest sinfulness in our behavior (I John 3:9).
Once again to the Galatians, Paul writes, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." To be "led by the Spirit of Christ" is to be living "under grace," subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That dynamic of living is incompatible with being subject to the Law, and trying to keep the commandments of the Old Testament Law. Paul's argument here in Galatians chapter 5 is to explain the radical dichotomy of either being "under obligation to keep the whole Law" (5:3) or "walking in the Spirit" (5:16). He warns the Galatians Christians that they are mutually exclusive, entirely incompatible. There can be no merging, no integrating of Law and grace. It will be one or the other, and such will be evidenced either in "deeds of the flesh" (5:19-21) or the "fruit of the Spirit (5:22,23).
This sequence of Scriptural evidence seems to make abundantly clear that the Law has been abrogated and abolished for Christians. Though the Law if affirmed in its historic purposes, it is abrogated as God's means of relating to mankind.
Finally we must consider the application of the Law. Does the Law of the Old Testament have any application today? If it does apply, to whom does it apply, and what are its purposes?
What purpose would the Old Testament Law serve if it were still in effect? It might be said that the essential purpose of the Law is still served as the character of God is still revealed by the written Law. The essential purpose of the Law has been so far superseded by the superior revelation of the character of God by the Son, Jesus Christ, as to be severely limited and unnecessary. The "Son...reveals Him" (Matt. 11:27); "He has explained Him" (John 1:18); "Christ is the image of God" (Col. 1:15; II Cor. 4:4). If one wants to know about the character of God, he should look to Jesus, not to the Law.
The essential and instrumental purposes of the Law have both been served historically. Based upon the essential purpose of revealing the character of God, the Law served to reveal the sinfulness of man. Looking at the life of Jesus Christ serves as a far better revelation of God whereby man can recognize that sin is everything contrary to the character of God as revealed in the perfect life of Jesus Christ. The awareness of sinfulness is made in many other ways other than by the Old Testament Law. Self-centeredness, selfishness, narcissism, self-effort, inadequate performance, self-sufficiency, dysfunctionality, negativism, controlling tendencies, unlovingness, unhappiness, bitterness, resentment, anger, the inability to meet our own expectations, obsessions, compulsions, addictions, etc. are revealed to man over and over again by his own failures. It does not require Old Testament Law to reveal man's sinfulness today.
The preparational purpose of the Law has been completed. The pictures have become reality. The custodian is unemployed because the "people of God" have "come of age" in Jesus Christ. Only when the paidagogos is mistakenly cast in to the role of teacher or tutor does the misunderstanding of the analogy issue forth in the false projection of the Law as still having an educative, didactic or instructional purpose.
The Law never did have a behavioral or functional purpose, and it does not have such today. There is no dynamic for the doing of God's demands in the Law. The Law did not have a vital purpose. Life and righteousness and salvation are not a result of the Law. There is no valid purpose for the Old Testament Law to serve today.
To whom would the Old Testament Law apply if it did have a purpose?
Does the Law still apply to Jews? Is it
still the basis of Judaism? The Law had a valid historical purpose
for the Jewish people only from Moses until Jesus Christ. On
the cross, Jesus exclaimed, "It is finished" (John
19:30). The preliminaries of the Law and of Judaism were terminated.
The Jewish people, as an ethnic race, have disappeared. This
is verified by the Encyclopedia Britannica: "The
findings of physical anthropology show that, contrary to the
popular view, there is no Jewish race."11 The religion of Judaism is but the shell
of an antiquated religion that was rendered useless from Jesus
Christ onward. God loves the people who still call themselves
"Jews," whether on the basis of race, religion or nationality,
but the Law has no application for them, and they must receive
Jesus Christ by faith in order to be "God's People,"
Throughout history, social moralists, politicians and religionists have attempted to use the Old Testament Law as a universal standard that can be held up before, and "held over," societies of natural, fallen, sinful men to attempt to regulate their behavior. The Old Testament Law is thus cast as a divinely given "natural law" to be imposed on natural men and utilized for social constraint. How often have you heard someone say: "If men would just live by the Ten Commandments, we would have a just society."? False. It will never work. Laws, no matter what they are, "are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Col. 2:23). Morality may be legislated, but it will never produce righteousness.
Is it wrong then to "use" God's Law as the basis of a "natural law" to control a natural society of natural men? Should the Old Testament Law be used for purposes other than those for which the Law was originally intended? When the Law of God is not used supernaturally by God for His own divine purposes, then the use of the Law by any other is a "natural" use of the Law, rather than God's supernatural use of the Law. If God is not utilizing His divine Law by His supernatural activity for His divine purposes, then the natural use of the Law is a misuse and abuse of the Law. If God is not using the Law in accord with His revealed purposes, then any other use of the Law is not of God. If the use of the Law is not derived out of God, ek theos, then it is necessarily Satanic, diabolically motivated to "control" other people, to put people in bondage, to manipulate people, to make them feel guilty and condemned and shamed. So the "use" of God's Law as "natural law," whether utilized as church law, governmental law, parental law, moral law, etc. is an "abuse" of God's Law, for it does not serve God's intended purposes for the Old Testament Law. God's Law used apart from God's purpose and function will never produce God's intents. Jacques Ellul comments,
Some would claim that to use the Old Testament Law for social behavioral constraint allows the Old Testament Law to continue to serve an instrumental purpose, an educative, tutorial, didactic, instructional teaching purpose to expose sinfulness and the inability of behavioral righteousness. This thesis is based, as we have noted, on a misunderstanding of paidagogos. It does not coincide with the historical purposes of the Law. It still suffers from the false premises of "natural law."
There is one New Testament passage that
does seem to allow for the use of the Law as a basis for governmental
law regulating social conduct. In I Timothy 1:8-10 Paul refers
to "using the Law lawfully, realizing the fact that law
is made for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly
and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their
fathers or mothers, for murders and immoral men and homosexuals
and kidnapers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary
to sound teaching." It should still be noted though that
political, social and religious usage of the Law does not necessarily
serve the intended purposes of God for the Law.
Christians who develop their theology around
the man-made behavioral categories of the Law, and fail to grasp
the historic purposes of the Law, often end up with a misplaced
reverence for the Law that quickly degenerates into a deification
of the Law, and makes them liable to such labels as "law-lovers,"
philonomists or nomophiles. Outlandish assertions are often made
which evidence that they regard the Old Testament Law to have
both vital and behavioral contemporary purpose.
Greg J. Banhsen writes that
Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. concurs with their statements, saying,
To thus advocate that the Law is the basis of righteous living is but a blatant denial of Paul's writings which indicate that the Law does not make us righteous.
Other writers hold an entirely different opinion of the application of the Law to Christians today, denying that the Old Testament Law is still applicable. D.R. De Lacey explains that
In his article on the "Law" in the Dictionary of the Bible, James Denney asks,
Reginald E. Showers states very clearly that
In the book entitled Grace: The Glorious Theme, L.S. Chafer makes the following statements:
In unison with these last authors, I must conclude that the Biblical evidence indicates that the Old Testament Law has no applicable purpose and no jurisdiction in the new covenant community of Christians. None of the categories and none of the purposes of the Law apply to Christians.
The Scripture passage most often used to justify continued application of the Law for Christians is Romans 7:7-14. Is this autobiographical passage to be taken as typical of every Christian's experience? Or is this passage just Paul's personal experience in that transitional period of early Christianity? Paul had been a Pharisaical Jew, totally committed to the Old Testament Torah. The Law had an effect on him that is not necessarily effected in every Christian in every age, although the repetitive patterns of sin, of the "flesh," that Paul mentions in 7:15-8:2 are generally experienced by all Christians.
Even though the Law does not apply to Christians, how should Christians view the Old Testament Law?
First, we must always recognize the historical connection of that preparatory period when the Law was employed by God in the Old Testament with the fulfillment of God's intent in Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament. The Old Testament and the New Testament, and the themes of law and grace, must never be disconnected or detached or disassociated. There is an indissoluble connection in the flow of God's dealings with man from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation. Christians must never seek to do away with the Old Testament, to cut it out, sever it from their Bible. Such would leave the New Testament hanging in mid-air without its essential historical foundation.
Secondly, Christians should appreciate God's
preliminary dealings with the Jewish people in the Old Testament,
using the Law to point to Jesus Christ. In Romans 3:2 Paul explains
that the Jewish people "were entrusted with the oracles
of God." There is a "heritage" that Christian
peoples should appreciate as they look back at the Hebrew peoples
and the Law of the Old Testament. Torah served the divine purposes
that God intended as a prelude to Jesus Christ, and "is
entitled to an honored emeritus status in the household of Christian
faith."29 Christians should not denounce, disclaim, disdain,
denigrate, deprecate or depreciate the Old Testament Law of God.
In what ways is the Law of God fulfilled in Christians today?
God's intent has always been to restore mankind to His created intent so that the character of God could be displayed in the behavior of man by the grace of God unto the glory of God. The Law of God given to the Jewish people was a prelude to that over-arching salvific and sanctifying intent of God.
So it is that Paul can say in Romans 8:4 that "the requirement of the Law can be fulfilled" in Christians who "walk according to the Spirit." The character of God is expressed in our behavior by the grace of God, by the life of Jesus Christ lived out through us. More specifically, the character of God's Love is to be evidenced in the behavior of Christians. "God is love" (I John 4:8,16). Paul explains that the manifestation of God's Love is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom. 13:10). "He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law" (Rom. 13:8). To the Galatians Paul writes, "the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14). In so loving our neighbor, we will "bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the Law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).
By referring to "the Law of Christ," Paul brings the concept of Torah all the way around to its original meaning of "the divine directive." The living Lord Jesus who indwells Christian people is the Living Torah! Jesus Christ is the dynamic divine directive in the lives of God's People. Jesus Christ is Lord, implying the authoritative direction and guidance of God in the lives of Christians. The static written Law has come to the completion of its purposes so that the dynamic directive of God in Christ, "the law of Christ," may be operative in Christian behavior. Thus it is that Paul speaks of himself as being "under the law of Christ" (I Cor. 9:21), and exclaims with gratitude the Christian liberty of functioning by "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:2).
The writer of Hebrews quotes from Jeremiah, indicating that new covenant Christians have God's laws "put into their minds and written on their hearts" so as to become the People of God (Heb. 8:10; 10:16). Jesus Christ, the living Torah, does indeed live in the Christian to become the divine directive in his life and to manifest the divine character.
James writes in his epistle of "the perfect law" (James 1:25). The Greek word translated "perfect" is teleion derived from telos, the word used by Paul in Romans 10:4 to describe Christ as the "end" of the Law. The end-objective of God in the Old Testament Law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who now becomes the "perfect law," divine directive brought to its divine end, allowing God to function within man according to His created intent, God's perfect order restored. Christians can "fulfill the royal law" (James 2:8) as the King, Jesus, reigns in their hearts and manifests God's love toward others. What a privilege to not have to live by a law of bondage to external regulations but by "the law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12), enjoying the freedom to be and do all that God wants to be and do in us.
Though the fulfillment of the Law of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ is alluded to within this study of the Law, it is of utmost importance for the Christian to adequately understand the Grace of God even more clearly. The sequel to this booklet is entitled "The Grace of God."
Merrill C., The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary.
Article on "Law" by Burton L. Goddard. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Pub., 1963. pg. 477.