What Law?

Jono Linebaugh, theologian-in-residence for LIBERATE, asks and then answers the question: Is what Paul refers to as “law” synonymous with the law given to Moses? This is a big question that has received a lot of attention in recent years. Jono writes:

In a recent post entitled “Ifs Kill,” Tullian Tchividjian explored the definition and the effects of the law. His basic claim was this: When Paul refers to the law in his letters he usually means “a command attached to a condition” and it is the conditions – the “ifs” – that diagnose and deal death to sinners. This raised a question for some readers: Is what Paul refers to as “law” synonymous with the law given to Moses or is he attacking a 1st century misunderstanding of the law, or perhaps even some humanly created ordinances masquerading as God’s will? As one commenter on Tullian’s post expressed the concern, when Paul writes “law” he is not referring to “the true law” but “to the additional man-made laws created by the Pharisees during the 1st century.” The evidence given: “Throughout history most theologians have agreed.”

Read the whole thing here.

  • the Old Adam says:

    The law, as St. Paul speaks of it, is any demand that our existence places upon us to fulfill our humanity. It goes much deeper than the law of Moses.

    As Gerhard Forde said, “Things aren’t that bad. They are much worse than that.”

  • Moe Bergeron says:

    The question, in fact the entire Gospel/Law conversation needs to be framed following the apostle Paul’s lead. Note carefully how he established the direct connection between works of the law and being perfected by the flesh and their opposition to life in the Spirit, both the beginning of this new life and its continuance.

    Galatians 3:2-6.
    Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

    We shouldn’t be surprised seeing how in Romans 7:6 he says….

    But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

    Given such clear statements of Scripture wouldn’t it be far more profitable for us to speak in terms of Letter and Spirit rather than Gospel and Law?

  • Moe Bergeron says:

    A helpful quote from Luther on a right understanding of Paul’s understanding of the Law.

    Luther on Gal 4:3

    “Only Paul among the apostles calls the Law “the elements of the world, weak and beggarly elements, the strength of sin, the letter that killeth,” etc. The other apostles do not speak so slightingly of the Law. Those who want to be first-class scholars in the school of Christ want to pick up the language of Paul. Christ called him a chosen vessel and equipped with a facility of expression far above that of the other apostles, that he as the chosen vessel should establish the doctrine of justification in clear-cut words.”

    Zoom in on Luther’s first sentence. Now read the passage in its larger context. Key in on why Paul wrote; “In the same way we also…” to what he said before it.

    “Now I say that as long as the heir is a child, he differs in no way from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. 2 Instead, he is under guardians and stewards until the time set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elemental forces of the world. 4 When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father! 7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”


  • John Dunn says:

    Indeed Moe, the apostolic distinction found in the NT Scriptures is between Old Covenant letter vs. New Covenant Spirit. Law cannot be properly contrasted with Gospel unless the distinctions between the Old Covenant and New Covenant are clearly defined first.

    The Law was a covenant administration made with fleshly Israel, which has been abolished in toto.

    And the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the new covenant administration, which is eternal and is administered, not according to letter, but according to the Spirit of the Living God. (see Rom 7:1-6 and 2 Cor 3:1-18).

    O that we would make much of the Biblical covenants, and put to death the theological covenantal inventions of the academy.

  • P St Jean says:

    Dr. Linebaugh
    thank you for the distinction between Law and Grace.

  • P St Jean says:

    And thank you John Dunn for further expounding toward the
    end that we may not be confounded, confused,or otherwise misled.

  • John Dunn says:

    There are three key passages that show Law and Spirit as radically opposing elements which belong to two major covenant events, Old Covenant at Sinai and New Covenant at Calvary. (Gal 4:21-31, Rom 7:1-6 in the context of marriage covenant, 2 Cor 3:1-18) Law and Spirit cannot be mixed because their respective covenantal events cannot be mixed.

    The Law was the written regulation of the Old Covenant community, engraved on tables of stone. It was given to a fleshly people after their Exodus-redemption from slavery to Pharaoh, through the blood of lambs. It regulated the external ethics and ceremonies of the flesh. It circumcised the flesh. It prescribed fleshly penal sanctions (death) for outward acts of disobedience. Israel’s unfaithfulness to God under the Old Covenant administration ended in her divorce (Jer 3:8). The Old Covenant in its entirety is now abolished because of its weakness and ineffectiveness. It has been replaced by the surpassing glory of the New Covenant of Messiah and the outpoured ministry of his Spirit.

    The Spirit is now the living regulator of the New Covenant community, written upon the tables of human hearts. He was given to Christ’s spiritual people after their Exodus-redemption from slavery to Sin, through the blood of the Lamb. He regulates the heart in Christlikeness and true worship. He circumcises the heart. He gives Life. He teaches, comforts, rebukes, corrects, and guides. He seals us to Christ in an unbreakable bond of betrothal. He transforms us into the image of Christ and leads us to glory.

    Many ‘Law vs. Gospel’ theologies fail to recognize these key eschatological differences because of a failure to locate both the Law and the Gospel in their own covenantal contexts – Old Covenant and New Covenant. Law and Gospel cannot be held in balance precisely because the Old Covenant shadows cannot be held in balance with the New Covenant realities (Heb 10:1).

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