Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University
A PERSONAL NOTE: Several of you have been inquiring about what happened to this essay "Paul and the Law" which I promised to post by October 28, before leaving for Boston to present the Sabbath Seminar. The answer is simple. It took me far more time to complete this essay than I had anticipated. For the past month I worked an average of 15 hours a day on this project. To some this may seem a lot of time just to write an essay of 40 pages. But when you consider that scholars like Roberto Badenas have spent about two years writing a dissertation only on one of the problematic texts that I examine on this essay, namely, Romans 10:4 "Christ is the end of the law," then you can see that one month of research is hardly enough to examine all the relevant texts dealing with Paul's teachings on the role of the law in Christian life.
To my surprise I found several excellent doctoral dissertations dealing with this topic. I tried to digest all of this scholarly research as fast as I could to have a better grasp of the major issues. This essay "Paul and the Law" may prove to be one of the most important studies I have produced in my life. The reason is that today most Christians believe that Paul teaches that Christ has put an end to the Law, and consequently they derive their moral principles from the principle of love revealed by Christ, and not from the moral Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. The obvious implication is that Christians are no longer obligated to observe the Sabbath commandment since that is part of the Mosaic Law that Christ nailed to the Cross.
This prevailing view represents not only a blatant misrepresentation of Paul's teachings on the role of the Law in the Christian life, but also one of the most destructive satanic deceptions of our time. The slogan of "New Covenant Christians" that we have met in the course of our SABBATH DISCUSSIONS, "Not under Law but under love" can hardly increase the amount of true love in the world, because love without Law soon degenerates in deceptive sentimentality. The same is true of Law without Love, which soon degenerates in cold legalism.
The pressing need to counteract the prevailing antinomian deception has given a sense of urgency to this study on Paul's teaching on the role of the law in the Christian life. Truly I can say that I have put forth my best efforts within the limitation of time. It is my sincere hope that this study will make a lasting contribution to clarify one of the most misunderstood Biblical teachings of our time.
If you find this essay of great help, be sure to let your friends know that they also can receive these timely Biblical studies FREE, simply by requesting to have their names added to our ENDTIME ISSUES mailing list. For the next few weeks we will be unmasking the deception of conscious life after death. As a result of your efforts in passing on the word, already well over 5000 persons have joined this list. For me it is a privilege to share the insights and blessings gained from an indepth study of vital Biblical truths.
The essay you are about to read is one of the seven chapters of my forthcoming book THE SABBATH UNDER CROSSFIRE: A BIBLICAL ANALYSIS OF RECENT SABBATH/SUNDAY DEVELOPMENTS. I am working intensively to complete this project by the end of this year because as of January 5, 1999, I will be back teaching fulltime. You might be interested to know that Gregory Watkins, a student missionary in China and a member of our list, has produced an incredibly beautiful cover for this book. If I can find the way to email it to you as an attachment, I will surely send it to you, so that you can admire a fine artistic creation.
Please do not become discouraged if you find some sections of this essay a little deep. I am trying hard to be as popular in my writings as I can possibly can, but certain issues, as you will see, are rather technical and do require indepth analysis.If you are not accustomed to read technical Biblical studies, my suggestion is for you to read a portion at a time.
Thank you again for the privilege of sharing my research with you.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D.,
WWW HOMEPAGE: http://www.biblicalperspectives.com
In the Sabbath-Sunday debate, it has been customary to appeal to Paul in defense of the abrogation-view of the Old Testament Law in general and of the Sabbath in particular. This has been especially true in the recent attacks launched against the Sabbath by former Sabbatarians. For example, in his open letter posted in the internet on April 1, 1995, Joseph W. Tkach, Jr., Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God, wrote: "Paul does not hold the Mosaic Law as a moral standard of Christian conduct. Rather, he holds up Jesus Christ, the suffering of the cross, the Law of Christ, the fruit and leadership of the Holy Spirit, nature, creation and the moral principles that were generally understood throughout the Gentile world as the basis of Christian ethics. He never, I repeat, never, argues that the Law is the foundation of Christian ethics. Paul looks at Golgotha, not Sinai."
Similar categoric statements can be found in the Sabbath in Crisis, by Dale Ratzlaff, a former Seventh-day Adventist Bible teacher and pastor. He writes: "Paul teaches that Christians are not under old covenant Law. . . . Galatians 3 states that Christians are no longer under Sinaitic Law. . . . Romans 7 states that even Jewish Christians are released from the Law as a guide to Christian service. . . . Romans 10 states that Christ is the end of the Law for the believer."1
These categoric statements reflect the prevailing Evangelical perception of the relationship between Law and Gospel as one in which the observance of the Law is no longer obligatory for Christians. Texts such as Romans 6:14; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; Galatians 3:15-25; Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15; and Romans 10:4, are often cited as proofs that Christians have been delivered from the the obligation to observe the Law in general and the Sabbath in particular, since the latter "was the sign of the Sinaitic Covenant and could stand for the covenant."2
For many Christians these statements are so definitive, that any further investigation of the issue is unnecessary. They boldly affirm that New Covenant Christians live "under grace," and not "under the Law," consequently they derive their moral principles from the principle of love revealed by Christ, and not from the moral Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.
For example, Ratzlaff writes: "In old covenant life, morality was often seen as an obligation to numerous specific Laws. In the new covenant, morality springs from a response to the living Christ."3 "The new Law [given by Christ] is better that the old Law [given by Moses]."4 "In the New Covenant, Christ's true disciples will be known by the way they love! This commandment to love is repeated a number of times in the New Testament, just as the Ten Commandments were repeated a number of times in the old."5
This study shows that statements such as these represent a blatant misrepresentation of the New Testament teaching regarding the role of the Law in the life of a Christian. They ignore that the New Testament never suggests that Christ instituted "better commandments" than those given in the Old Testament. On the contrary, Paul unequivocally stated that "the [Old Testament] Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good" (Rom 7:12). "We know that the Law is good" (1 Tim 1:8).
This prevailing misunderstanding of the Law as no longer binding upon Christians is negated by a great number of Pauline passages that uphold the Law as a standard for Christian conduct. When the Apostle Paul poses the question: "Do we then overthrow the Law?" (Rom 3:31). His answer is unequivocal: "By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the Law" (Rom 3:31). The same truth is affirmed in the Galatian correspondence: "Is the Law then against the promises of God? Certainly not" (Gal 3:21). Statements such as these should warn antinomians that, as Walter C. Kaiser puts it, "any solution that quickly runs the Law out of town certainly cannot look to the Scripture for any kind of comfort or support."6
There are few teachings within the whole compass of Biblical theology so grossly misunderstood today as that of the place and significance of the Law both in the New Testament and in the life of Christians. Fortunately an increasing number of scholars are recognizing this problem and addressing it. For example, in his article "St. Paul and the Law," published in the Scottish Journal of Theology, C. E. B. Cranfield writes: "The need exists today for a thorough re-examination of the place and significance of Law in the Bible. . . . The possibility that . . . recent writings reflect a serious degree of muddle thinking and unexamined assumptions with regard to the attitudes of Jesus and St. Paul to the Law ought to be reckoned with-and even the further possibility that, behind them, there may be some muddled thinking or, at the least, careless and imprecise statement in this connection in some works of serious New Testament scholarship which have helped to mould the opinions of the present generation of ministers and teachers."6
I share Cranfield's conviction that shoddy Biblical scholarship has contributed to the prevailing misconception that Christ has released Christians from the observance of the Law. There is indeed an urgent need to re-examine the New Testament understanding of the Law and of its place in the Christian life. The reason for this urgency is that muddled thinking about the role of the Law in the Christian life, affects a whole spectrum of Christian beliefs and practices. In fact, much of the anti-sabbatarian polemic derives from the mistaken assumption that the New Testament, especially Paul's letters, release Christians from the observance of the Law in general and the Sabbath commandment in particular.
Objective of the Chapter.
By way of conclusion I will propose that the resolution to the apparent contradiction between Paul's negative and positive statements about the Law is to be found in the different contexts. When he speaks of the Law in the context of salvation (justification-right standing before God), he clearly affirms that Law-keeping is of no avail (Rom 3:20). On the other hand, when Paul speaks of the Law in the context of Christian conduct (sanctification-right living before God), then he upholds the value and validity of God's Law (Rom 7:12; 13:8-10; 1 Cor 7:19).
PART 1: THE BACKGROUND OF PAUL'S VIEW OF THE LAW
Various Usages of "Law."
Sometimes the term "Law" is used by Paul in a personal way as if it were God Himself: "Whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the Law" (Rom 3:19). Here the word "Law" could be substituted with the word "God" (cf. Rom 4:15; 1 Cor 9:8).
Our immediate concern is not to ascertain the various Pauline usages of the term "Law," but rather to establish the apostle's view toward the Old Testament Law in general. Did Paul teach that Christ abrogated the Mosaic Law in particular and/or the Old Testament Law in general, so that Christians are no longer obligated to observe them? This view has predominated during much of Christian history and is still tenaciously defended today by numerous scholars8 and Christian churches.
Unfortunately, this prevailing view rests largely on a one-sided interpretation of selected Pauline passages at the exclusion of other important passages that negate such interpretation. Our procedure will be, first, to examine the positive and negative statements that Paul makes about the Law and then to seek a resolution to any apparent contradiction. We begin our investigation by looking at the background of Paul's view of the Law, because this offers valuable insights into why Paul views the Law both as "abolished" (Eph 2:15) and "established" (Rom 3:31), unnecessary (Rom 3:28) and necessary (1 Cor 7:19; Eph 6:2, 3; 1 Tim 1:8-10)?
The Old Testament View of the Law.
Contrary to what many people believe, the Old Testament views the Law, not as a means of gaining acceptance with God through obedience, but as a way of responding to God's gracious redemption and of binding Israel to her God. The popular view that in the Old Covenant people were saved, not by grace, but by obeying the Law, ignores the fundamental Biblical teaching that salvation has always been a divine gift of grace and not a human achievement.
The Law was given to the Israelites at Sinai, not to enable them to gain acceptance with God and be saved, but to make it possible for them to respond to what God had already accomplished by delivering them from Egyptian bondage. The context of the Ten Commandments is the gracious act of divine deliverance. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex 20:2). Israel was chosen as God's people not because of merits gained by the people through obedience to the Law, but because of God's love and faithfulness to His promise. "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage" (Deut 7:7-8).
Obedience to the Law provided Israel with an opportunity to preserve their covenant relationship with God, and not to gain acceptance with Him. This is the meaning of Leviticus 18:5: "You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances, by doing which a man shall live." The life promised in this text is not the life in the age to come (as in Daniel 12:2), but the present enjoyment of a peaceful and prosperous life in fellowship with God. Such life was God's gift to His people, a gift that could be enjoyed and preserved by living according to the principles God had revealed.
The choice between life and death laid before the people in Deuteronomy 30:15-20, was determined by whether or not the people would choose to trust and obey the Word of God. Obedience to the Law of God was an expression of trust in God which revealed who really were His people. The obedience demanded by the Law could not be satisfied by legalistic observance of external commands, like circumcision, but by internal love-response to God. The essence of the Law was love for God (Deut 6:5; 10:12) and for fellow-beings (Lev 19:18). Life was understood as a gift to be accepted by a faith response to God. As Gerhard von Rad puts it, "Only by faith, that is, by cleaving to the God of salvation, will the righteous have life (cf. Hab 2:4; Am 5:4, 14; Jer 38:20). It is obvious that life is here understood as a gift."9
It was only after his conversion that Paul understood that the Old Testament view of the function of the Law as a faith-response to the gift of life and salvation, and not as a means to gain life through legalistic obedience. Prior to his conversion, as we shall see, Paul held to the Pharisaic view of the Law as a means of salvation, a kind of mediator between God and man. After his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul was compelled to reexamine his theology. Gradually he came to realize that his Pharisaic view of the Law as a way of salvation was wrong, because the Old Testament teaches that salvation was promised already to Abraham through the Christ, the Seed to come, 430 years before the giving of the Law at Sinai (Gal 3:17).
The Jewish View of the Law.
The view that the observance of the Law is an indispensable means to gain salvation developed later during the intertestamental period, that is, during the four centuries that separate the last books of the Old Testament from the first books of the New Testament. During this period a fundamental change occurred in the understanding of the role of the Law in the life of the people. Religious leaders came to realize that disobedience to God's Law had resulted in the past suffering and deportation of the people into exile. To prevent the recurrence of such tragedies, they took measures to ensure that the people would observe every detail of the Law. They interpreted and applied the Law to every minute detail and circumstance of life. At the time of Christ this ever-increasing mass of regulations was known as "the tradition of the elders" (Matt 15:2).
During this period, as succinctly summarized by Eldon Ladd, "the observance of the Law becomes the basis of God's verdict upon the individual. Resurrection will be the reward of those who have been devoted to the Law (2 Mac 7:9). The Law is the basis of hope of the faithful (Test of Jud 26:1), of justification (Apoc Bar 51:3), of salvation (Apoc Bar 51:7), of righteousness (Apoc Bar 57:6), of life (4 Ezra 7:21; 9:31). Obedience to the Law will even bring God's Kingdom and transform the entire sin-cursed world (Jub 23). Thus the Law attains the position of intermediary between God and man."10
This new view of the Law became characteristic of rabbinic Judaism which prevailed at the time of Paul. The result is that the Old Testament view of the Law "is characteristically and decisively altered and invalidated."11 From being a divine revelation of the moral principle of human conduct, the Law becomes the one and only mediator between God and man. Righteousness and life in the world to come can only be secured by faithfully studying and observing the Law. "The more study of the Law, the more life . . ." "If a person has gained for himself words of the Law, he has gained for himself life in the world to come."12
Paul's Experience of the Law.
As a result of his conversion Paul discovered that his pride and boasting were an affront to the character of God, the only one who deserves praise and glory (1 Cor 1:29-31; 2 Cor 10:17). "What he as a Jew had thought was righteousness, he now realizes to be the very essence of sin, for his pride in his own righteousness (Phil 3:9) had blinded him to the revelation of the divine righteousness in Christ. Only the divine intervention on the Damascus Road shattered his pride and self-righteousness and brought him to a humble acceptance of the righteousness of God."13
The preceding discussion of Paul's background experience of the Law, helps us to appreciate the radical change that occurred in his understanding of the Law. Before his conversion, Paul understood the Law like a Pharisee, that is, as the external observance of commandments in order to gain salvation (2 Cor 5:16-17). After his conversion, he came to view the Law from the perspective of the Cross of Christ, who came "in order that the just requirements of the Law might be fulfilled is us" through the enabling power of His Spirit (Rom 8:4). From the perspective of the Cross, Paul rejects the Pharisaic understanding of the Law as a means of salvation, and affirms the Old Testament view of the Law as a revelation of God's will for human conduct. This brief survey of Paul's background view of the Law, provides the setting for examining now Paul's basic teachings about the Law.
PART 2: PAUL'S VIEW OF THE LAW
This preceding brief survey of Paul's background view of the Law, provides us the setting for examining now Paul's basic teachings about the Law.
(1) The Law Reveals God's Will.
Since God is the author of the Law, "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12). The Law is certainly included among "the oracles of God" that were entrusted to the Jews (Rom 3:2). To the Jews was granted the special privilege ("advantage") to be entrusted with the Law of God (Rom 3:1-2). So "the giving of the Law" is reckoned by Paul as one of the glorious privileges granted to Israel (Rom 9:4). Statements such as these reflect Paul's great respect for the divine origin and authority of God's Law.
Paul clearly recognizes the inherent goodness of the moral principles contained in the Old Testament Law. The Law "is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12) because its ethical demands reflect nothing else than the very holiness, righteousness, and goodness of God Himself. This means that the way people relate to the Law is indicative of the way they relate to God Himself. The Law is also "spiritual" (Rom 7:14), presumably in the sense that it reflects the spiritual nature of the Lawgiver and it can be internalized and observed by the enabling power of the Spirit. Thus, only those who walk "according to the Spirit" can fulfill "the just requirements of the Law" (Rom 8:4).
The Law expresses the will of God for human life. However, what the Law requires is not merely outward obedience, but a submissive, loving response to God. Ultimately, the observance of the Law requires a heart willing to love God and fellow-beings (Rom 13:8). This was the fundamental problem of Israel "who pursued the righteousness which is based on Law" (Rom 9:31), that is to say, they sought to attain a right standing before God through outward obedience to God's commandments. The result was that the people "did not succeed in fulfilling that Law" (Rom 9:31). Why? Because their heart was not in it. The people sought to pursue righteousness through external obedience to commandments, rather than obeying the commandments out of a faith-love response to God. "They did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works" (Rom 9:32).
The Law of God demands more than conformity to outward regulations. Paul makes this point when he speaks of a man who may accept circumcision and yet fail to keep the Law (Rom 2:25). On the surface this appears to be a contradictory statement because the very act of circumcision is obedience to the Law. But Paul goes on explaining that true circumcision is a matter of the heart, and not merely something external and physical (Rom 2:28-29).
For Paul, as C. K. Barrett points out, "obedience to the Law does not mean only carrying out the detailed precepts written in the Pentateuch, but fulfilling that relation to God to which the Law points; and this proves in the last resort to be a relation not of legal obedience but of faith."14 The failure to understand this important distinction that Paul makes between legalistic and loving observance of the Law, has led many to wrongly conclude that the apostle reject the validity of the Law, when in reality he rejects only its unlawful use.
(2) Christ Enables Believers to Obey the Law.
The new life in Christ enables the Christian to keep the Law, not as an external code, but as a loving response to God. This is the very thing that the Law by itself cannot do, because being an external standard of human conduct, it cannot generate a loving response in the human heart. By contrast, "Christ's love compels us" (2 Cor 5:14) to respond to Him by living according to the moral principles of God's Law. Our love response to Christ fulfills the Law, because love will not commit adultery, or lie or steal or covet, or harm one's neighbor (Rom 13:8-10).
The permanence of the Law is reflected in Paul's appeal to specific commandments as the norm for Christian conduct. To illustrate how the principle of how love fulfills the Law, Paul cites several specific commandments: "The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in the sentence, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law" (Rom 13: 9-10).
His reference to "any other commandment" presupposes the rest of the Ten Commandments, since love fulfills not only the last six commandments that affect our relationship with fellow-beings, but also the first four commandments that govern our relationship with God. For example, love fulfills the Sabbath commandment because it motivate Christians to truly love the Lord by giving priority to Him in their thinking and living during the hours of the Sabbath.
Central to Paul's understanding of the Law is the Cross of Christ. From this perspective, he both negates and affirms the Law. Negatively, the Apostle repudiates the Law as the basis of justification: "if justification were through the Law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal 2:21).
Positively, Paul teaches that the Law is "spiritual, good, holy, just" (Rom 7:12, 14, 16; 1 Tim 1:8) because it exposes sin and reveals God's ethical standards. Thus, he states that Christ came "in order that the just requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us" through the dynamic power of His Spirit (Rom 8:4).
Three times Paul states: "neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision" and each time he concludes this statement with a different phrase: "but keeping the commandments of God . . . but faith working through love . . . but a new creation" (1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15). The parallelism suggests that Paul equates the keeping of God's commandments with a working faith and a new life in Christ, which is made possible through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
(3) The Law is Established by the Ministry of the Holy
The Spirit establishes God's Law in our hearts by setting us free from tampering with God's commandments and from "boasting" of presumptuous observance (Rom 2:23; 3:27; 4:2). The Spirit establishes the Law by pointing us again and again to Christ who is the goal of the Law (Rom 10:4). The Spirit establishes the Law by setting us free to obey God as our "Father" (Rom 8:5) in sincerity. The Spirit enables us to recognize in God's Law the gracious revelation of His fatherly will for His children. The final establishment of God's Law in our hearts will not be realized until the coming of Christ when the "revealing of the sons of God" will take place (Rom 8:19).
The slogan of "New Covenant Christians" "Not under Law but under love" can hardly increase the amount of true love in the world, because love without Law soon degenerates in deceptive sentimentality. E. C. Cranfield perceptively observes that "while we most certainly need the general command to love (which the Law itself provides in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18), to save us from understanding the particular commandments in a rigid, literalistic and pedantic manner, we also need the particular commandments into which the Law breaks down the general obligation of love, to save us from the sentimentality and self-deception to which we all are prone."15
(4) The Law Reveals Sin as Sin.
By showing people how their actions are contrary to the moral principles that God has revealed, the Law increases sin in the sense that it makes people more conscious of disobeying definite commandments. This is what Paul has in mind when he says: "Law came in, to increase the trespass" (Rom 5:20; cf. Gal 3:19). By making people conscious of disobeying definite commandments, the Law makes increases the awareness of transgressions (Rom 4:15b).
The Law not only heightens the awareness of sin, but also increases sin by providing an opportunity to deliberately transgress a divine command. This is what Paul's suggests in Romans 7:11: "For sin, finding opportunity in the commandments, deceived me and by it killed me." The term "deceived" is reminiscent of the creation story (Gen 3:13) where the serpent found in God's explicit prohibition (Gen 2:17) the very opportunity he wanted to lead Adam and Eve into deliberate disobedience and rebellion against God.
It is in this sense that "the power of sin is the Law" (1 Cor 15:56). "In the absence of Law sin is in a sense 'dead' (Rom 7:8), that is, relatively impotent; but when the Law comes, then sin springs into activity (Rom 7:9-'sin revived'). And the opposition which the Law offers to men's sinful desires has the effect of stirring them up to greater fury."16
The sinful human desires, unrestrained by the influence of the Holy Spirit, as Calvin puts it in his commentary on Romans 7:5, "break forth with greater fury, the more they are held back by the restraints of righteousness."17 Thus, the Law, in the absence of the Spirit "increases the trespass" (Rom 5:20), by attacking sinful desires and actions. To claim that "New Covenant Christians" are no longer under Law in the sense that they no longer need the Law to expose sin in their life, means to deny or cover up the presence of sin. Sinful human beings need the Law to "come to the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20), and needs a Saviour to " have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1:14; cf. Eph 1:7).
(4) Observance of the Law can Lead to Legalism.
The abuse is found in the attitude of the Judaizers who promoted the works of the Law as a means to achieve self-righteousness before God. Paul recognizes that the observance of the Law can tempt people to use it unlawfully as a means to establish their own righteousness before God. He exposes as hopeless the legalist's confidence of seeking to be justified in God's sight by works of the Law, because "no human being will be justified in his sight by the works of the Law, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20). Human beings in their fallen condition can never fully observe God's Law.
It was incredible pride and self-deception that caused the Jews to "rely upon the Law" (Rom 2:17) to establish their own righteousness (Rom 10:3), when in reality they were notoriously guilty of dishonoring God by transgressing the very principles of His Law. "You who boast in the Law, do you dishonor God by breaking the Law?" (Rom 2:24). This was the problem with the Pharisees, who outwardly gave the appearance to be righteous, Law abiding (Luke 16:12-15; 18:11-12), but inwardly they were polluted, full of iniquity, and spiritually dead (Matt 23:27-28).
The Pharisaic mentality found its way in the primitive church among those who refused to abandon the unlawful use of God's Law. They failed to recognize that Christ's redemptive accomplishments brought to an end those ceremonial parts of the Law, like circumcision, that foreshadowed His person and work. They wanted to "compel the Gentiles to live like Jews" (Gal 2:14). These Judaizers insisted that in order to be saved, the Gentiles needed to be circumcised and to observe the covenantal distinctiveness of the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:1). In other words, the offer of salvation by grace had to be supplemented with the observance of Jewish ceremonies.
Paul was no stranger to the attitude of the Judaizers toward the Law of Moses, because he held the same view himself prior to his conversion. He was brought up as a Pharisee and trained in the Law at the feet of Gamaliel (Phil 3:5; Acts 22:3). He describes himself as "extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Gal 1:14). From the perspective of a person who is spiritually dead, Paul could claim that as far as " legalistic righteousness" was concerned, he was " faultless" (Phil 3:6; NIV).
After his conversion Paul discovered that he had been deceived into believing that he was spiritually alive and righteous, when in reality he was spiritually dead and unrighteous. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Paul recognized that "having a righteousness of my [his] own, based on Law" (Phil 3:9), was an illusion typical of the Pharisaic mentality. Such a mentality is reflected in the rich young ruler's reply to Jesus: "Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth" (Mark 10:20). The problem with this mentality is that it reduced righteousness to compliance with Jewish oral Law, which Jesus calls "the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8), instead of recognizing in God's Law the absolute demand to love God and fellow-beings. When the Holy Spirit brought home to Paul's consciousness the broader implications of God's commandments, it killed his self-righteous complacency. "I was once alive apart from [a true understanding of] the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died" (Rom 7:9).
In his epistles Paul reveals his radical rejection, not of the Law, but of legalism. He recognizes that the attempt to establish one's righteousness by legalistic observance of the Law, ultimately blinds a person to the righteousness which God has made available as free gift through Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 10:3). This was the problem with the legalism which prevailed among the Jews of Paul's time, namely, the failure to recognize that observance of the Law by itself, without the acceptance of Christ, who is the goal of the Law, results in slavery. Thus, Paul strongly opposes the false teachers who were troubling the Galatians churches, because they were promoting circumcision as a way of salvation without Christ. By so doing they were propagating the legalistic notion that salvation is by works rather than by faith, or we might say, it is a human achievement rather than a divine gift.
By promoting salvation through the observance of ceremonies like circumcision, these false teachers were preaching a "different Gospel" (Gal 1:6), which in reality was no Gospel at all (Gal 1:7-9), because salvation is a divine gift of grace through Christ's atoning sacrifice. With this in mind, Paul warns the Galatian Christians: "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourself be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you all. . . . You who are trying to be justified by Law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace" (Gal 5:2, 4; NIV). It is evident that what Paul opposes is the unlawful use of the Law, that is, the attempt to gain acceptance with God by performing rituals like circumcision, thus ignoring the gracious provision of salvation offered through Jesus Christ.
(6) The Law Was Never Intended to Be A Means of
This truth is expressed in Galatians 2:19 where Paul says: "For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God" (emphasis supplied). Paul acknowledges that it was the Law itself, that is, his new understanding of the function of the Law, that taught him not to seek acceptance before God through Law-works. The Law was never intended to function as a way of salvation, but to reveal sin and to point to the need of a Savior. This was especially true of the promises, prophecies, ritual ordinances, and types of the Mosaic Law, which pointed forward to the Savior and His redeeming work. In the great Bible lesson of all time, Christ expounded "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, . . . what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).
Paul insists that the Mosaic Law did not disannul the promise of salvation God made to Abraham (Gal 3:17, 21). Rather, the Law was added "till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made" (Gal 3:19). The function of the Mosaic Law, was not soteriological but typological, that is, it was given, not to provide a way of salvation through external ceremonies, but to point the people to the Savior to come, and to the moral principles by which they ought to live.
(7) The Law Pointed to the Savior to Come.
When Paul speaks of the Law as pointing to Christ and teaching that justification comes through faith in Christ (Gal 3:24), it is evident that he was thinking of the sacrificial ordinances that typified the Messianic redemption to come. This was also true of circumcision that pointed to the "putting off of the body of flesh," that is, the moral renewal to be accomplised by Christ. "In him you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ" (Col 2:11). The moral principles of the Ten Commandments, like "you shall not steal," hardly represented the redemptive work of Christ.
Paul insists that now that Christ, the object of our faith, has come, we no longer need the tutorship aspect of the Mosaic Law that pointed to Christ (Gal 3:25). By this Paul did not mean to negate the continuity and validity of the moral Law in general. This is indicated by the fact he explicitly affirms in 1 Corinthians 7:19: "For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." Usually Paul does not distinguish between the ethical and ceremonial aspects of the Law, but in passages such as this the distinction is abundantly clear. Commenting on this text, Eldon Ladd notes: "Although circumcision is a command of God and a part of the Law, Paul sets circumcision in contrast to the commandments, and in doing so separates the ethical from the ceremonial-the permanent from the temporal."18
The failure to make such a distinction has led many Christians to mistakenly conclude that Paul teaches the abrogation of the Law in general as a rule for the Christian life. This conclusion is obviously wrong, because Paul presents "the commandments of God" to the Gentiles as a moral imperative, while he adamantly rejects the ceremonial ordinances, such as circumcision, for these were a type of the redemption accomplished by Christ (1 Cor 7:19).
For Paul the typological function of the ceremonial Law as well as the unlawful legalistic use of the Law, came to an end with Christ; but the Law as an expression of the will of God is permanent. The believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit is energized to live according to "the just requirements of the Law" (Rom 8:4).
The starting point of Paul's reflection about the Law is that atonement for sin and salvation come only through Christ's death and resurrection, and not by means of the Law. This starting point enables Paul, as well stated by Brice Martin, "to make the distinction between the Law as a way of salvation and as a norm of life, between the Law as it encounters those in the flesh and those in the Spirit, between the Law as a means of achieving-self-righteousness and as an expression of the will of God to be obeyed in faith. . . . The moral Law remains valid for the believer."19
PART 3: A LOOK AT SOME MISUNDERSTOOD TEXTS
Several Pauline passages are often used to support the contention that the Law was done away with Christ and consequently it is no longer the norm of Christian conduct. In view of the limited scope of this chapter, we will examine the five major passages frequently appealed to in support of the abrogation view of the Law.
(1) Romans 6:14: "Not Under Law"
This is a serious misreading of this passage because there is nothing in the immediate context to suggest that Paul is speaking of the Mosaic Law. In the immediate and larger context of the whole chapter, Paul contrasts the dominion of sin with the power of Christ's grace. The antithesis suggests that "under Law" simply means that Christians are no longer "under the dominion of sin" and consequently "under the condemnation of the Law," because the grace of Christ has liberated them from both of them.
To interpret the phrase "under Law" to mean "under the economy of the Mosaic Law," would imply that believers who were under the Mosaic economy were not the recipient of grace. Such an idea is altogether absurd. Furthermore, as John Murray perceptively observes, "Relief from the Mosaic Law as an economy does not of itself place persons in the category of being under grace."20
"The 'dominion of Law' from which believers have been 'released' is forthrightly explained by Paul to be the condition of being 'in sinful nature,' being 'controlled' by 'sinful passions . . . so that we bore fruit for death' (Rom 7:1-6). From this spiritual bondage and impotence, the marvellous grace of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has set believers free; but it has not set them free to sin against God's moral principles."20
Since "under grace" means under God's undeserved favor, the contrast with "under Law" presupposes the idea of being under God's disfavor or condemnation pronounced by the Law. Thus, in Romans 6:14 Paul teaches that believers should not be controlled by sin (cf. Rom 6:1-2, 6, 11-13), because God's grace has liberated them from the dominion of sin and the condemnation of the Law.
In this passage, as John Murray brings out, "there is an absolute antithesis between the potency and provision of the Law and the potency and provision of grace. Grace is the sovereign will and power of God coming to expression for the deliverance of men from the servitude of sin. Because this is so, to be 'under grace' is the guarantee that sin will not exercise the dominion-'sin will not lord it over you, for ye are not under Law but under grace."22
Not Under the Condemnation of the Law.
This interpretation is supported by the immediate context where Paul affirms that "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12). Again he says: "we know that the Law is spiritual" (Rom 7:14). And again, "So then, I of myself serve the Law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the Law of sin" (Rom 7:25). These statements clearly indicate that for Paul the Law is and remains the Law of God, which reveals the moral standard of Christian conduct.
Surprisingly, even Rudolf Bultmann, known for his radical rejection of the cardinal doctrines of the New Testament, reaches the same conclusion. "Though the Christian in a certain sense is no longer 'under Law' (Gal 5:18; Rom 6:14), that does not mean that the demands of the Law are no longer valid for him; for the agape-[love] demanded of him is nothing else than the fulfillment of the Law (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14)."23 The point is well-made, because we have found that in Romans 13:8-13 Paul explains how love fulfills the Law by citing four specific commandments and by including "any other commandment."
In the light of these considerations we conclude that far from dismissing the authority of the Law, Paul teaches that believers should not transgress the Law simply because God's grace has "set [them] free from sin" (Rom 6:18). It is only the sinful mind that "does not submit to God's Law" (Rom 8:7). But Christians have the mind of the Spirit who enables them to fulfill "the just requirements of the Law" (Rom 8:4). Thus, Christians are no longer "under the Law," in the sense that God's grace has released them from the dominion of sin and the condemnation of the Law, but they are still "under Law" in the sense that they are bound to govern their lives by its moral principles. Thanks to God's grace believers have "become obedient from the heart to the standard of teachings" (Rom 6:17) and moral principles contained in God's Law.
(2) 2 Corinthians 3: 1-18: The Letter and the Spirit
The chapter opens with Paul explaining why he does not need letters of recommendation to authenticate his ministry to the Corinthians. The reason is, as he puts it, "You yourselves [Corinthian believers] are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men" (2 Cor 3:2). If on coming to Corinth inquiry should be made as to whether Paul carried with him letters of recommendation, his answer is: "You yourselves, new persons in Christ through my ministry, are my credentials."
Paul continues developing the imagery of the letter from the standpoint of the Corinthians relationship to Christ: "You are a letter from Christ delivered to us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human heart" (2 Cor 3:3). The mention of a letter written by the Spirit in the heart, triggers in Paul's mind the graphic imagery of the ancient promises of the New Covenant. Through the prophets God had assured His people, that the time was coming when through His Spirit He would write His Law in their hearts (Jer 31:33) and would take out their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh (Ez 11:19; 36:26). The change of heart that the Corinthians had experienced as a result of Paul's ministry among them, was a tangible proof of the fulfillment of God's promise regarding the New Covenant.
The Letter and the Spirit. Paul continues summing up the crucial difference between the ministries of the Old and New Covenants, by describing the former as a ministry of the letter and the latter as a ministry of the Spirit. "God . . . has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6; NIV). We must now examine the significance of the distinction which Paul makes between the letter which kills and the Spirit which gives life.
Is Paul saying here, as many believe, that the Law is in and of itself something evil and death-dealing? This can hardly be true, since he clearly taught that "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12) and that "the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it" (Rom 10:5; cf. Gal 3:12; Lev 18:5).
Commenting on this text in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Philip Hughes writes: "Paul is a faithful follower of his Master in that he nowhere speaks of the Law in a derogatory manner. Christ, in fact, proclaimed that He had come to fulfil the Law, not to destroy it (Matt 5:17). So also the effect of Paul's doctrine was to establish the Law (Rom 3:31). There is no question of an attack by him on the Law here [2 Cor 3:6], since, as we have previously see, the Law is an integral component of the New no less than it is of the Old Covenant."24
It is unfortunate that many Christians today, including formers Sabbatarians who have recently attacked the Sabbath, ignore this fundamental truth that "the Law is an integral component of the New no less than it is of the Old Covenant." This is plainly shown by the terms used by God to announce His New Covenant: "I will put my Law within them" (Jer 31:33). The intended purpose of the internalization of God's Law is: "that they may walk in my statutes, and keep my ordinances, and do them" (Ez 11:20). Note that in the New Covenant God does not abolish the Law or gives a new set of Laws, but internalizes His existing Law in the human heart.
Philip Hughes states the difference between the two Covenants with admirable clarity when he says: "The difference between the Old and New Covenants is that under the former the Law is written on table of stones, confronting man as an external ordinance and condemning him because of his failure through sin to obey its commandments, whereas under the latter the Law is written internally within the redeemed heart by the dynamic regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, so that through faith in Christ, the only Law-keeper, and inward experience of His power man no longer hates but loves God's Law and is enabled to fulfill its precepts."25
Coming back to the distinction that Paul makes between the letter that kills and the Spirit that gives life, it is evident that the Apostle is comparing the Law as externally written at Sinai on tablets of stone and the same Law as written internally in the heart of the believer by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. As an external ordinance, the Law confronts and condemns sin as the breaking of God's Law. By revealing sin in its true light as the transgression of God's commandments, the Law kills since it exposes the Lawbreaker to the condemnation of death (Rom 6:23; 5:12; Ez 18:4; Prov 11:29). It is in this sense that Paul can speak startlingly of the letter which kills.
By contrast, the Spirit gives life by internalizing the principles of God's Law in the heart of the believer and by enabling the believer to live according to "just requirement of the Law" (Rom 8:4). When Christ is preached and God's promises made in Christ are believed, the Spirit enters the heart of believers, motivating them to observe God's Law, and thus making the Law a living thing in their hearts.
Paul knew from first hand experience how true it is that the letter kills and the Spirit makes alive. Before his conversion he was a self-righteous observer of the Law: "As to the Law a Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the Law blameless" (Phil 3:6). Yet at the same time he "blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him [Christ]" (1 Tim 1:13), that is, he was a transgressor of the Law under divine judgment. His outward conformity to the Law only served to cover up the inward corruption of his heart. It was as a result of his encounter with Christ and of the influence of the Holy Spirit in his heart that it became possible for Paul to conform to God's Law, not only outwardly, in letter, but also inwardly, in spirit, or as he puts it, to "serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit" (Rom 7:6).
The Ministry of Death and the Ministry of the Spirit. Paul develops further the contrast between the letter and the Spirit, by comparing them to two different kinds of ministries: one the ministry of death offered by the Law and the other the ministry of the Spirit made possible through Christ's redemptive ministry: "Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraven in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!" (2 Cor 3:7-11; NIV).
It should be pointed out first of all that Paul is speaking here of two ministries and not two dispensations. The Greek word used by Paul is "diakonia," which means "service" or "ministry." By translating "diakonia" as "dispensation," some translations (like the RSV), mislead readers into believing that Paul here condemns the Old Covenant as a dispensation of death. But the Apostle is not rejecting here the Old Covenant or the Law as something evil or inglorious, Rather he is contrasting the ministry of death provided by the Law, with the ministry of the Spirit offered through Christ.
The ministry of death is the service offered by the Law in condemning sin. Paul calls this a "ministry of condemnation" (2 Cor 3:9) that was mediated through Moses when he delivered the Law to the people. The ministry of the Spirit offers life and is made available through Christ (cf. Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). Both ministries derive from God, and consequently are accompanied by glory. The ministry or service of the Law coming from God was obviously glorious. This was evident to the people by the glory which Moses' countenance suffused when he came down from Mount Sinai to deliver the Law to the people. His countenance was so bright that the people had difficulty to gaze upon it (Ex 34:29-30).
The ministry or service of the Spirit rendered by Paul and other Christian preachers, is accompanied by greater glory, that is, the light of God's Spirit that fills the soul. The reason such ministry is more glorious is that while the glory reflected in Moses' face at the giving of the Law, was temporary and gradually faded away, the glory of the ministry of the Spirit is permanent and does not fade away. Through His Spirit, God has "made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 3:6; NIV).
Cranfield correctly summarizes the point of these verses, saying: "Since the service rendered by Moses at the giving of the Law, which was actually going to effect 'condemnation' (2 Cor 3:9) and 'death' (2 Cor 3:7), was accompanied by glory (the glory on Moses' face-Ex 34:29ff), the service of the Spirit rendered by himself (and other Christian preachers) in the preaching of the Gospel must much more be accompanied by glory."26
Paul's aim is not to denigrate the service rendered by the Law in revealing and condemning sin. This is indicated by the fact that he calls such service as a "glorious" ministry: "If the ministry that condemns men is glorious . . ." (2 Cor 3:9; NIV). Rather Paul's concern is to expose the grave error of the false teachers who were exalting the Law at the expense of the Gospel. Their ministry was one of death because by the works of the Law no person can be justified (Gal 2:16; 3:11). Deliverance from condemnation and death comes not through the Law but through the Gospel. In this sense the glory of the Gospel excels that of the Law.
The important point to note here is that Paul is contrasting, not the Old and New Covenants as such, rejecting the former and promoting the latter. Rather is he is contrasting two ministries. When this is recognized the passage becomes clear. The reason the glory of the Christian ministry is superior to that of Moses' ministry, is not because the Law given through Moses has been abolished, but because these two ministries had a different function with reference to Christ's redemption.
The comparison that Paul makes in verse 9 between the "ministry of condemnation" and the "ministry of righteousness," clearly implies that Paul is not disparaging or discarding the Law. "Condemnation is the consequence of breaking the Law; righteousness is precisely the keeping of the Law. The Gospel is not Lawless. It is the ministration of righteousness to those who because of sin are under condemnation. And this righteousness is administered to men solely by the mediation and merit of Christ, who alone, as the incarnate Son, has perfectly obeyed God's holy Law."27
With Unveiled Face. Paul utilizes the theme of the veil in the remaining part of the chapter (2 Cor 3:12-18) to make three basic points. First, while the ministry of Moses was marked by concealment ("who put a veil over his face"-v. 13), his own ministry of the Gospel is characterized by great openness. He uses no veil. His ministry of grace and mercy is opened to every believer who repents and believes.
Second, Paul applies the notion of the veil to the Jews who up to that time were unable to understand the reading of the Law in the synagogue because a veil of darkness hided the glory which they had deliberately rejected (2 Cor 3:14-16). Paul is thinking historically. The veil that Moses placed over his face to indicate the rebellion and unbelief of the people which curtained the true apprehension of God's glory, symbolically represents for Paul the veil of darkness that prevents the Jews from seeing the glory of Christ and His Gospel (2 Cor 3:15). But, Paul continues, "when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed" (2 Cor 3:16). "There is here no suggestion," C. E. Cranfield correctly points out, "that the Law is done away, but rather that, when men turn to Christ, they are able to discern the true glory of the Law."28 The reason is aptly given by Calvin: "For the Law is itself bright, but it is only when Christ appears to us in it, that we enjoy its splendor."29
Third, when the veil that prevents the understanding of the Law is removed by the Spirit of the Lord, there is liberty. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17). The point that Paul is making here, as C. E. Cranfield explains, is that when the Law "is understood in the light of Christ, when it is established in its true character by the Holy Spirit,, so far from being the 'bondage' into which legalism has perverted it, is true freedom (cf. James 1:25-'the perfect Law, the Law of liberty')."30
In the light of the preceding analysis we conclude that in 2 Corinthians 3 Paul is not negating the value of the Law as a norm for Christian conduct. The concern of the Apostle is to clarify the function of the Law in reference to Christ's redemption and to the ministry of the Spirit. This he does by contrasting the ministry or service of the Law with that of the Spirit. The Law kills in the sense that it reveals sin in its true light as the transgression of God's commandments and it exposes the Lawbreaker to the condemnation of death (Rom 6:23; 5:12; Ez 18:4; Prov 11:29). By contrast, the Spirit gives life by enabling the believer to internalize the principles of God's Law in the heart and to live according to "just requirement of the Law" (Rom 8:4).
(3) Galatians 3:15-25: Faith and Law
Before examining these passages it is important to remember that Paul's treatment of the Law varies in his letters, depending from the situations he was facing. Brice Martin makes this important point in concluding his scholarly dissertation Christ and the Law in Paul. "In his letters Paul has faced varied situations. In writing to the Galatians he tends to downplay the Law because of their attempts to be saved by means of it. In 1 Corinthians he stresses the Law and moral values since he is facing an antinomian front. In Romans he gives a carefully balanced statement and assures his readers that he is not an antinomian."31
The Galatian Crisis. The tone of Paul's treatment of the Law in Galatians is influenced by his sense of urgency of his converts' situation. False teachers had come in to "trouble," "unsettle," and "bewitch" them (Gal 1:7; 31:1; 5:12). Apparently they were leading his converts astray by teaching that in order to be saved one needs not only to have faith in Christ, but must be circumcised. The blessings of salvation bestowed by Christ can only be received by becoming sons of Abraham through circumcision. Faith in Christ is of value only if such faith is based on circumcision.
The false teachers accused Paul of accommodating and watering down the Gospel by releasing Christians from circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic Law. His Gospel disagreed with that of the Jerusalem brethren who upheld circumcision and the observance of the Law, Realizing that his entire apostolic identity and mission in Galatia was jeopardized by these Judaizers infiltrators, Paul responds hurling some of his sharpest daggers of his verbal arsenal. "Credulity (Gal 1:6) is the operative principle of the foolish Galatians (Gal 3:1). Cowardice motivates the trouble-makes (Gal 6:12). Seduction is their method of proselytizing (Gal 4:17). Castration is their just deserts (Gal 5:12)."32
The message of the agitators was primarily built around the requirement of circumcision. This is underscored by Paul's warning: "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all" (Gal 5:2; NIV). That circumcision was the main tenet of the "other Gospel" preached by the false teachers is indicated also by Paul's exposure of their motives: "Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the Law, yet they want you to be circumcised, they may boast about your flesh" (Gal 6:12-13).
The emphasis of the false teachers upon circumcision reflects the prevailing Jewish understanding that circumcision was required to become a member of the Abrahamic covenant and receive his blessings. God made a covenant of promise with Abraham because of his faithful observance of God's commandments (Gen 26:5) and circumcision was the sign of that covenant.
Paul's Response. In his response, Paul does admit that being a son of Abraham is of decisive importance. He does not deny or downplay the importance of the promise covenant that God made with Abraham. But, he turns his opponents' argument on its head, by arguing that God's covenant with Abraham was based on his faith response (Gen15:6; Gal 3:6) before the sign of circumcision was given (Gen 17:9-14). In all probability the false teachers appealed to the institution of circumcision in Genesis 17 to argue that circumcision was indespensable to become a son of Abraham. Paul also point to Genesis-not of course to Genesis 17 but to Genesis 15:6 which says: "He [Abraham] believed the Lord and he reckoned it to him as righteousness." From this Paul concludes: "So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham" (Gal 3:7).
Paul uses the same Scripture to which his opponents appealed to show that God announced in advance to Abraham that He would justify the Gentiles by faith: "The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying: 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.'" (Gen 15:15:8). And again Paul concludes: "So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith" (Gal 3:9).
Paul's argument can be briefly summarized by means of the following syllogism:
Paul develops this argument further by setting the promise given to Abraham (in Genesis 18:18) against the giving of the Law at Sinai which occurred 430 years later (Gal 3:15-18). Making a play on the word diatheke, which in Greek can mean both will-testament and covenant, Paul points out that as a valid human testament cannot be altered by later additions, so the promise of God given to Abraham cannot be nullified by the Law, which came 430 years later. The fact that the covenant with Abraham was one of promise based on faith, excludes the possibility of earning righteousness by works. "For if the inheritance is by the Law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise" (Gal 3:18).
The same thought is expressed in Romans where Paul says that Abraham attained righteousness by faith before the sign of circumcision had been given (Rom 4:1-5). Circumcision, then, in its true meaning is a sign or seal of a justifying faith (Rom 4:9-12). "The implication of the line of thought in Galatians 3 and Romans 4," as Eldon Ladd points out, "is that all the Israelites who trusted God's covenant of promise to Abraham and did not use the Law as a way of salvation by works, were assured salvation. This becomes clear in the case of David, who, though under the Law, pronounced a blessing on the man to whom God reckons righteousness by faith apart from works (Rom 4:6-7)."33
The examples of Abraham and David as men of faith under the Old Covenant help us to interpret Paul's statement: "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian" (Gal 3:25). The coming of faith for Paul does not mean that saving faith was not exercised prior to the coming of Christ, since he cites Abraham and David as men of faith. Rather, he uses "faith" in a historic sense identical to the proclamation of the Gospel (Gal 4:4-5; Rom 1:16-17). Salvation was by faith in the Old Covenant, but faith was frustrated when people made the Law the basis of their righteousness and boasting.
If salvation was by way of promise (faith) and not Law, what was then the role of the Law in God's redemptive purpose? Paul's answer is both novel and unacceptable to Judaism. The Law "was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promises had been made" (Gal 3:19). The Law was added not to save men from their sins but to reveal to them the sinfulness of their transgressions. The term "transgression" (parabasis), as Ernest Burton points out, implies "not simply the following of evil impulse, but violation of explicit Law."34 By revealing what God forbids, the Law shows the sinfulness of deeds which otherwise might have passed without recognition.
In this context Paul speaks of the Law in its narrow, negative function of exposing sin, in order to counteract the exaltation of the Law by its opponents. Calvin offers a perceptive comment on this passage: "Paul was disputing with perverse teachers who pretended that we merit righteousness by the works of the Law. Consequently, to refute their error he was sometimes compelled to take the bare Law in a narrow sense, even though it was otherwise graced with the covenant of free adoption."35
The Law as a Custodian. It is the "bare Law" understood in a narrow sense as the Law seen apart from Christ, which was a temporary custodian until the coming of Christ. "When once 'the seed' has come, 'to whom the promise hath been made,' the One who is the goal, the meaning, the substance, of the Law, it is no longer an open possibility for those who believe in Him to regard the Law merely in this nakedness (though even in this forbidding nakedness it had served as a tutor to bring men to Christ). Henceforth it is recognized in its true character 'graced' or clothed 'with the covenant of free adoption."36
To explain the function of the "bare Law" before Christ, Paul compares it to a paidagogos, a guardian of children in Roman and Greek households. His responsibility was to accompany the children to school, protect them from harm, and keep them from mischief. The role of a paidogogos is an apt illustration of how some aspects of the Law served as a guardian and custodian of God's people in Old Testament times. For example, circumcision which is the fundamental issue Paul is addressing, served as a guardian to constantly remind the people of their covenant commitment to God (Jos 5:2-8).
When God called Israel out of Egyptian bondage He gave them not only the Decalogue that they might see the sinfulness of sin, but also ceremonial, religious Laws designed to exhibit the divine plan for the forgiveness of their sins. These Laws indeed had the function of protecting and guiding the people until the day of their spiritual deliverance through Jesus Christ. With the coming of Christ, the ceremonial, sacrificial Laws ended, but the Decalogue is written in the human heart (Heb 8:10) by the ministry of the Holy Spirit who enables believers to "fulfill the just requirement of the Law" (Rom 8:4).
It is difficult to imagine that Paul would announce the abolition of the Decalogue, God's great moral Law, when elsewhere he affirms that the Law was given by God (Rom 9:4; 3:2), written by God (1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 14:34), contains the will of God (Rom 2:17, 18), bears witness to the righteousness of God (Rom 3:21), and is in accord with the promises of God (Gal 3:21). So long as sin is present in the human nature, the Law is needed to expose its sinfulness (Rom 3:20) and reveal the need of a Savior.
On the basis of the above considerations we conclude that Paul's negative comments about the Law must be understood in the light of the polemic nature of Galatians. In this epistle the apostle is seeking to undo the damage done by false teachers who were exalting the Law, especially circumcision, as a means of salvation. In refuting the perverse and excessive exaltation of the Law, Paul is forced to depreciate it in some measures, especially since the issue at stake was the imposition of circumcision as a means of salvation.
C. E. Cranfield rightly warns that "to fail to make full allowance for the special circumstances which called forth the letter would be to proceed in a quite uncritical and unscientific manner. In view of what has been said, it should be clear that it would be extremely unwise to take what Paul says in Galatians as one's starting point in trying to understand Paul's teaching on the Law."37
(4) Colossians 2:14: What Was Nailed To The Cross?
Does Paul in this text supports the popular view that Christ blotted out the Law and nailed it to the cross? Is the "written document-cheirographon" that was nailed to the cross the Law in general or the Sabbath in particular? Traditionally this is the way this text has been interpreted, namely, that God set aside and nailed to the Cross the Mosaic Law with all its ordinances, including the Sabbath.
This popular interpretation is unwarranted for at least two reasons. First, because as E. Lohse points out, "in the whole of the epistle the word Law is not used at all. Not only that, but the whole significance of the Law, which appears unavoidable for Paul when he presents his Gospel, is completely absent."38
Second, this interpretation detracts from the immediate argument designed to prove the fullness of God's forgiveness. The wiping out of the moral and/or ceremonial Law would hardly provide Christians with the divine assurance of forgiveness. Guilt is not removed by destroying Law codes. The latter would only leave mankind without moral principles.
The Contest of Colossians 2:14. To understand the legal language of Colossians 2:14 it is necessary, first of all, to grasp the arguments advanced by Paul in the preceding verses to combat the Colossian false teachers. These were "beguiling" (Col 2:4) Christians to believe that they needed to observe ascetic "regulations-dogmata" in order to court the protection of those cosmic beings who allegedly could help them to participate in the completeness and perfection of the divinity.
To oppose this teaching, Paul emphasizes two vital truths. First he reminds the Colossians that in Christ, and in Him alone, "the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9) and therefore all other forms of authority that exist are subordinate to Him, "who is the head of all rule and authority" (Col 2:10). Secondly the Apostle reaffirms that it is only in and through Christ that the believer can "come to the fullness of life" (Col 2:10), because Christ not only possess the "fullness of deity" (Col 2: 9), but also provides the fullness of "redemption" and "forgiveness of sins" (Col 1: 14; 2:10-15; 3:1-5).
In order to explain how Christ extends "perfection" (Col 1:28; 4:12) and "fullness" (Col 1: 19; 2:9) to the believer, Paul appeals, not to the Law, but to baptism. Christian perfection is the work of God who extends to the Christian the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection through baptism (Col 2:11-13). The benefits of baptism are concretely presented as the forgiveness of "all our trespasses" (Col 2:13; 1:14; 3:13) which results in being "made alive" in Christ (Col 2:13).
The reaffirmation of the fullness of God's forgiveness, accomplished by Christ on the cross and extended through baptism to the Christian, constitutes indeed Paul's basic answer to those trying to attain to perfection by submitting to ascetic practices to gain protection from cosmic powers and principalities. To emphasize the certainty and fullness of divine forgiveness explicitly mentioned in verse 13, the Apostle utilizes in verse 14 a legal metaphor, namely, that of God as a judge who "wiped out, . . . removed [and] nailed to the cross . . . the written document-cheirographon."
The Written Document Nailed to the Cross. What is the "written document-cheirographon that was nailed to the cross? Is Paul referring to the Mosaic Law with its ceremonial ordinances, thus declaring that God nailed it to the cross? If one adopts this interpretation, there exists a legitimate possibility that the Sabbath could be included among the ordinances nailed to the cross.
This is indeed the popular view defended, especially in the anti-sabbatarian literature that we have examined during the course of this study. But besides the grammatical difficulties, 39 "it hardly seems Pauline," writes J. Huby, "to represent God as crucifying the 'holy' (Rom 7:6) thing that was the Mosaic Law." 40 Moreover this view would not add to but detract from Paul's argument designed to prove the fullness of God's forgiveness. Would the wiping out of the moral and/or ceremonial Law provide to Christians the assurance of divine forgiveness? Hardly so. It would only leave mankind without moral principles. Guilt is not removed by destroying Law codes.
Recent research has shown that the term cheirographon was used to denote either a "certificate of indebtedness" resulting from our transgressions or a "book containing the record of sin" used for the condemnation of mankind.41 Both renderings, which are substantially similar, can be supported from rabbinic and apocalyptic literature.42 This view is supported also by the clause "and this he has removed out of the middle" (Col 2:14). "The middle" was the position occupied at the center of the court or assembly by the accusing witness. In the context of Colossians, the accusing witness is the "record-book of sins" which God in Christ has erased and removed out of the court.
Ephesians 2:15. To support the view that the "written document" nailed to the cross is the Mosaic Law, some appeal to the similar text of Ephesians 2:15 which says: "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in ordinances"(KJV). But the similarity between the two texts is more apparent than real. In the first place the phrase "the Law of commandments" which occurs in Ephesians is not found in Colossians. Secondly, the dative in Ephesians "en dogmasiv-in ordinances" is governed by "en-in," thus expressing that the Law was set out "in ordinances." Such a preposition does not occur in Colossians.
Lastly, the context is substantially different. While in Ephesians the question is how Christ removed what separated Jews from Gentiles, in Colossians it is how Christ provided full forgiveness. The former He accomplished by destroying "the dividing wall of hostility" (Eph 2: 14). This is a possible allusion to the wall that divided the court of the Gentiles from the sanctuary proper,43 making impossible for them to participate in the worship service of the inner court with the Jews. Such a wall of partition was removed by Christ "by abolishing the Law of commandments [set out] in regulations" (Eph 2:15). The qualification of "commandments contained in ordinances" suggests that Paul is speaking not of the moral Law, but of "ceremonial ordinances" which had the effect of maintaining the separation between Jews and Gentiles, both in the social life and in the sanctuary services. The moral Law did not divide Jews from Gentiles, because speaking of the latter Paul says that what the moral "Law requires is written on their heart" (Rom 2:15).
In Colossians 2:14 full forgiveness is granted, not by "abolishing the "Law of commandments contained in ordinances," but by utterly destroying "the written record of our sins which because of the regulations was against us. The context of the two passages is totally different, yet none of the two suggests that the moral Law was nailed to the cross.
Record of our Sins. The "written record-cheirographan" that was nailed to the cross is the record of our sins. By this daring metaphor, Paul affirms the completeness of God's forgiveness. Through Christ, God has "cancelled," "set aside," "nailed to the cross" "the written record of our sins which because of the regulations was against us." The legal basis of the record of sins was "the binding statutes, regulations" (tois dogmasin), but what God destroyed on the Cross was not the legal ground (Law) for our entanglement into sin, but the written record of our sins.
One cannot fail to sense how through this forceful metaphor, Paul is reaffirming the completeness of God's forgiveness provided through Christ on the cross. By destroying the evidence of our sins, God has also "disarmed the principalities and powers" (Col 2:15) since it is no longer possible for them to accuse those who have been forgiven. There is no reason, therefore, for Christians to feel incomplete and to seek the help of inferior mediators, since Christ has provided complete redemption and forgiveness.
In this whole argument the Law, as stated by Herold Weiss, "plays no role at all." 44 Any attempt therefore to read into the "written record-cheirographon" a reference to the Law, or to any other Old Testament ordinance is altogether unwarranted. The document that was nailed to the cross contained not moral or ceremonial Laws, but rather the record of our sins. Is it not true even today that the memory of sin can create in us a sense of incompleteness? The solution to this sense of inadequacy, according to Paul, is to be found not by submitting to a system of ascetic "regulation," but by accepting the fact that on the cross God has blotted out our sins and granted us full forgiveness.
Some people object to this interpretation because in their view it undermines the doctrine of the final judgment which will examine the good and the bad deeds of each person who ever lived (Rom 14:10; Rev 20:12). Their argument is that if the record of our sins was erased and nailed to the cross, there would be no legal basis for conducting the final judgement. This objection ignores that the imagery of God cancelling, setting aside, and nailing the record of our sins to the cross, is designed not to do away with human accountability on the day of judgment, but to provide the reassurance of the totality of God's forgiveness in this present life.
For example, when Peter summoned the people in the Temple's Portico, saying: "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19), he was not implying that there will be no final judgment for those whose sins have been blotted out. On the contrary, Peter speak of the time when "judgment [is] to begin with the household of God" (1 Pet 4:17; cf. 2 Pet 2:9; 3:7). The imageries of God being willing to "blot out" our sins, or of casting "all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Mic 7:19), are not intended the negate the need of the final judgment, but to reassure the believer of the totality of God's forgiveness. The sins that have been forgiven, "blotted out," "nailed to the cross," are the sins that will be automatically vindicated in the day of judgment.
We can conclude then by saying that Colossians 2:14 reaffirms the essence of the Gospel-the Good News that God has nailed on the cross the record and guilt of our sins-but it has nothing to say about the Law or the Sabbath. Any attempt to read into the text a reference to the Law, is an unwarranted, gratuitous fantasy.
(5) Romans 10:4: "Christ is the End of the Law"
Other Christians contend just as vigorously that in this text Paul teaches that Christ is the goal toward which the whole Law was aimed so that its promise of righteousness may be experienced by whoever believes in Him. Personally I subscribe to the latter interpretation because, as we shall see, is supported by the linguistic use of telos (whose bsic meaning is "goal" rather than "end"), the flow of Paul's argument, and the overall Pauline teachings regarding the function of the Law.
The Meaning of Telos: Termination or Goal? The conflicting interpretations of this text stem mostly from a different understanding of the meaning of telos, the term which is generally translated as "end" in most English Bibles. However, the English term "end" is used mostly with the meaning of termination, the point at which something ceases. For example, the "end" of a movie, a journey, a school year, a working day, is the termination of that particular activity. By contrast, the Greek term telos, has an unusual wide variety of meanings. In their A Greek-English Lexicon, William Arndt and Wilbur Gingrich explain that telos is used not only with the sense of "termination, cessation," but also with the meaning of "goal, outcome, purpose, design, achievement."45
The use of telos as "goal, design, purpose" was most common in classical Greek as well as in Biblical (Septuagint) and extra-Biblical literature. This meaning has been preserve in English compound words such as telephone, telescope. In these instances tele means "designed for," or "for the purpose of." For example, the telephone is an instrument designed for reproducing sounds at a distance. The telescope is an instrument designed for viewing distant objects. These different meanings of telos have given rise to two major interpretation of Romans 10:4, generally referred to as (1) "termination," and (2) "teleological."
Most Christians hold to the termination interpretation which contends that telos in Romans 10:4 means "termination," "cessation," or "abrogation." Consequently, "Christ is the end of the Law" in the sense that "Christ has put an end to the Law" by releasing Christians from its observance. This view is popular among those who believe that Paul negates the continuity of the Law for "New Covenant Christians" and is reflected in the New English Bible translation, which reads: "For Christ ends the Law."
This interpretative translation eliminates any possible ambiguity, but, by so doing, it misleads readers into believing that Paul categorically affirms the termination of the Law with the coming of Christ. The problem with termination interpretation is, as we shall see, that it contradicts the immediate context, as well as the numerous explicit Pauline statements which affirms the validity and value of the Law (Rom 3:31; 7:12, 14; 8:4; 13:8-10).
The teleological interpretation maintains that telos in Romans 10:4 must be translated according to the basic meaning of word, namely, "goal" or "object." Consequently, "Christ is the goal of the Law" in the sense that the Law of God, understood as the Pentateuch or the Old Testament, has reached its purpose and fulfillment in Him. Furthermore, through Christ believers experience the righteousness expressed by the Law. This interpretation has prevailed from the Early Church to the Reformation and it is still held today by numerous scholars.
Two major considerations gives us reasons to believe that the teleological interpretation of Romans 10:4 as "Christ is the goal of the Law," correctly reflects the meaning of the passage: (1) The historical usage of telos in Biblical and extra-Biblical literature, and (2) the flow of Paul's argument in the larger and immediate context. We shall now consider these two points in their respective order.
The Historical Usage of Telos. In his masterful doctoral dissertation Christ the End of the Law: Romans 10:4 in Pauline Perspective, published by The Journal for the Study of the New Testament (University of Sheffield, England), Roberto Badenas provides a comprehensive survey of the meaning and uses of telos in Biblical and extra-Biblical literature. He concludes his survey noting that in classical Greek, the Septuagint, the Pseudepigrapha, Flavius Josephus, Philo, and Paul, the "basic connotations [of telos] are primarily directive, purposive, and completive, not temporal [termination]. . . . Telos nomou [end of the Law] and related expressions are indicative of the purpose, fulfillment, or object of the Law, not of its abrogation. . . . In all the New Testament occurrences of phrases having the same grammatical structure as Romans 10:4, telos is unanimously translated in a teleological way."46 In other words, telos is used in the ancient Biblical and extra-Biblical Greek literature to express "goal" or "purpose," and not "termination" or "abrogation."
Badenas provides also a detailed historical survey of the interpretation of telos nomou ["end of the Law"] in Christian literature. For the period from the Early church to the end of the Middle Ages, he found "an absolute predominance of the teleological and completive meanings. The Greek-speaking church understood and explained telos in Romans 10:4 by means of the terms skopos [goal], pleroma [fullness], and telesiosis [perfection], seeing in it the meanings of 'purpose,' 'object,' 'plenitude,' and 'fulfillment.' Nomos [Law] was understood as the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament (often rendered by nomos kai prophetai [Law and prophets]. Consequently, Romans 10:4 was interpreted as a statement of the fulfillment of the Old Testament, its prophecies or its purposes, in Christ."47
In the writings of the Latin Church the equivalent term finis was used with practically all the same meanings of the Greek telos. The Latin word finis "was explained by the terms perfectio, intentio, plenitudo, consummatio, or, impletio [fullness]."48 Thus, in both the Greek and Latin literature of the Early Church, the terms telos/finis are used almost exclusively with the teleological meaning of "goal," or "purpose," and not with the temporal meaning of "termination," or "abrogation."
No significant changes occurred in the interpretation of Romans 10:4 during the Middle Ages. The text was interpreted as "a statement of Christ's bringing the Old Testament Law to its plenitude and completion. The Reformation, with its emphasis on literal exegesis, preserved the Greek and Latin meanings of telos/finis, giving to Romans 10:4 both teleological (e.g Luther) and perfective (e. g. Calvin) interpretations."49 It is unfortunate that most translation of Romans 10:4 ignore the historic use of telos as "goal, purpose, perfection," and consequently they mislead readers into believing that "Christ has put an end to the Law."
The antinomian, abrogation interpretation of Romans 10:4 developed after the Reformation largely due to the new emphasis on the discontinuity between Law and Gospel, the Old and New Testaments. The Lutherans began to apply to Romans 10:4 the negative view of the Law which Luther had expressed in other contexts .50 The Anabaptists interpreted Romans 10:4 in terms of abrogation, according to their view that the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament.51
The lower view of Scripture fostered by the rationalistic movements of the eighteenth century, further contributed to the tendency of interpreting Romans 10:4 in the sense of abolition.52 In the nineteenth century the overwhelming influence of German liberal theology, with its emphasis on Biblical higher criticism, caused the antinonian "abrogation of the Law" interpretation of Romans 10:4 to prevail.53
The termination/abrogation interpretation of Romans 10:4 is still prevalent today, advocated especially by those who emphasize the discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, the Law and the Gospel.54 During the course of our study we have found that the abrogation interpretation has been adopted even by former sabbatarians, like the Worldwide Church of God and Dale Ratzlaff in his book Sabbath in Crisis. This interpretation is largely conditioned by the mistaken theological presupposition that Paul consistently teaches the termination of the Law with the coming of Christ.
A significant development of the last two decades is that a growing number of scholars have adopted the teleological interpretation of Romans 10:4, namely, that "Christ is the goal of the Law." What has contributed to this positive development is the renewed efforts to analyze this text exegetically, rather than imposing upon it subjective theological presuppositions. Badenas notes that "It is significant that-in general- the studies which are more exegetically oriented interpret telos in a teleological way ["Christ is the goal of the Law"], while the more systematic [theology] approaches interpret the term temporally ["Christ had put an end to the Law"]."55
It is encouraging to know that new exegetical studies of Romans 10:4 are contributing to rediscover the correct meaning of this text. It is doubtful, however, that these new studies will cause the abandonment of the abrogation interpretation, because it has become foundational to much of the Evangelical beliefs and practices. In this context we can mention only few significant studies, besides the outstanding dissertation of Roberto Badenas already cited.
Recent Studies of Romans 10:4. In a lengthy article (40 pages) published in Studia Teologica, Ragnar Bring emphasizes the culminating significance of telos in Romans 10:4, on the basis of the race-track imagery in the context (Rom 9:30-10:4). He argues that in this context telos "signifies the winning-post of a race, the completion of a task, the climax of a matter."56 Bring explains that, since "the goal of the Law was righteousness," the Law served as a custodian (paidagogos) directing people to Christ, who only can give righteousness. This means that "Christ is the goal of the Law" in the sense that He is the eschatological fulfillment of the Law.57
In the article cited earlier "St. Paul and the Law," C. E. B. Cranfield argues that in the light of the immediate and larger context of Romans 10:4, telos should be translated as "goal." Consequently he renders the texts as follows: "For Christ is the goal of the Law, so that righteousness is available to every one that believeth."58 He notes that verse 4 begins with "for-gar" because it explains verse 3 where Paul explains that "The Jews in their legalistic quest after a righteous status of their own earning, have failed to recognize and accept the righteous status which God has sought to give them." On verse 4, according to Cranfield, Paul continues his explanation by giving the reasons for the Jews' failure to attain a righteous status before God: "For Christ, whom they have rejected, is the goal toward which all along the Law was directed, and this means that in Him a righteous status before God is available to every one who will accept it by faith."59
On a similar vein George E. Howard advocates a goal-oriented interpretation of telos in Romans 10:4, arguing that "Christ is the goal of the Law to everyone who believes because the ultimate goal of the Law is that all be blessed in Abraham."60 A lengthier treatment of Romans 10:4 is provided by J. E. Tows who interprets telos as "goal" on the basis of "linguistic and contextual grounds."61
More recently, C. T. Rhyne has produced a perceptive dissertation on Romans 3:31 where Paul says: "Do we then overthrow the Law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the Law." Rhyne shows that there is a theological connection between this verse and Romans 10:4. This connection supports the teleological interpretation of telos, and is more consistent with Paul's positive understanding of the relationship between Christ and the Law in Romans.62
Walter Kaiser, a well-known and respected Evangelical scholar, offers a compelling defence of the teleological interpretation of Romans 10:4, by examining closely the arguments developed by Paul in the whole section from Romans 9:30 to 10:13. He notes that in this passage Paul is "clearly contrasting two ways of obtaining righteousness-one that the Gentiles adopted, the way of faith; the other, a work method, that many Israelites adopted-all to no avail."63
What many fail to realize, according to Kaiser, is that the "homemade Law of righteousness [adopted by many Jews] is not equivalent to the righteousness that is from the Law of God."64 In other words, what Paul is condemning in this passage is not "the righteousness that God had intended to come from the Law of Moses," but the homemade righteousness which many Jews made into a Law without Christ as its object.65 Paul's condemnation of the perverted use of the Law does not negate its proper use.
Kaiser concludes his insightful analysis of this passage, saying: "The term telos in Romans 10:4 means 'goal' or purposeful conclusion. The Law cannot be properly understood unless it moves toward the grand goal of pointing the believer toward the Messiah, Christ. The Law remain God's Law, not Moses' Law (Rom 7:22; 8:7). It still is holy, just, good, and spiritual (Rom 7:12, 14) for the Israelite as well as for the believing Gentile."66
The Larger Context of Romans 10:4. In the final analysis the correct meaning of Romans 10:4 can only be established by a careful analysis of Romans 10:4 in the light of its larger and immediate contexts. This is what we intend to do now. In the larger context (Romans 9 to 11) Paul addresses, not the relationship between Law and Gospel, but how God's plan of salvation-finally fulfilled with the coming of Christ-relate to the destiny of Israel. The fact that the majority of Christian converts were Gentiles and that the majority of the Jews had rejected Christ, raised questions about the trustworthiness of God's promises regarding the salvation of Israel.
The question that Paul is discussing is stated in Romans 9:6: "Has the word of God failed?" How can God's promises to Israel be true when Israel as a nation has jeopardize its election as God's people by rejecting Christ? This was a crucial question in the apostolic church, which was formed by many Jewish Christians and directed by Twelve Apostles who were Jews. "The issue was how to explain that the people of the old covenant, who had been blessed by God with the greatest privileges (Rom 9:4-5), were now separated from the community of the new covenant, which, as a matter of fact, was nothing other than the extension of Israel."67
Paul responds to this question in Romans 9 to 11 by pointing out, first of all, that God's word has not failed because divine election has never been based on human merits, but on God's sovereignty and mercy. The inclusion of the Gentiles following Israel's disobedience, is not unjust because it represents the triumph of God's plan as contemplated in the Scriptures (Rom 9:6-29). "As indeed he says in Hosea, 'Those who were not my people I will call my people" (Rom 9:25).
Second, Paul points out that Israel's rejection of Christ comes from their failure to understand God's purposes as revealed in Scripture and manifested through the coming of Christ (Rom 9:30 to 10:21). Instead of receiving the righteousness of God by faith, Israel sought to establish its own righteousness (Rom 9:31; 10:3).
Lastly, Paul brings out that the failure of Israel is only partial and temporary. God has not rejected Israel, but has used their failure for the inclusion of the Gentiles and ultimately salvation of Israel (Rom 11:1-36). "A hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:25-26).
This bare outline of the larger context of Romans 10:4, suffices to show that the issue that Paul is addressing is not the relationship between Law and Gospel, but how God is working out His plan for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles, "for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek" (Rom 10:12). This means that Romans 10:4 must be interpreted, not on the basis of a "Law-Gospel" debate which is foreign to the context, but on the basis of the salvation of Jews and Gentiles which is discussed in the context.
The Immediate Context of Romans 10:4. The section of Romans 9:30 to 10:13 is generally regarded as the immediate context of Romans 10:4. Paul customarily signals the next stage of his argument in Romans by the recurring phrase: "What shall we say, then?" (Rom 9:30). And the issue he addresses in Romans 9:30 to 10:13 is this: How did it happen that the Gentiles who were not in the race after righteousness obtained the righteousness of God by faith, while Israel who was in the race to attain the righteousness promised by the Law, did not reach the goal?
Badenas provides a convenient concise summary of Paul's argument in Romans 9:30-33. He writes; "Paul presents the failure of Israel in the fact that it did not recognize from Scriptures (eis nomon ouk ephthasen-did not attain to the Law-Rom 9:31) Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, the goal and substance and meaning of the Law. Looking at the Torah [Mosaic Law] from the human perspective-as a code primarily interested in human performance-Israel overlooked the importance of looking at it from the perspective of God's saving acts and mercy. Having failed to take their own Law seriously in that particular respect, they did not see that God's promises had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, Israel's misunderstanding of Torah [Mosaic Law] is presented by Paul as blindness to the Law's witness to Christ (cf. Rom 9:31-33 with 10:4-13 and 3:21), which was epitomized in Israel's rejection of Jesus as Messiah."68
It is important to note that in the immediate context Paul is not disparaging the Law, but is criticizing its improper use as a way to attain one's own righteousness. The Jews were extremely zealous for God, but their zeal was not based on knowledge (Rom 10:2). Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, many Jews tried "to establish their own" righteousness" (Rom 10:3).
The problem with the Jews was not the Law, but their misunderstanding and misuse of it. They did not attain to the righteousness promised by the Law because they misunderstood it and transformed it into a tool of personal achievement (Rom 10:2-3, 5; 2:17, 27; 3:27; 4:2). They insisted on establishing their own righteousness (Rom 10:3), rather than accepting the righteousness that had been revealed by God through Moses in the Law. They did not see that the righteousness of God had been revealed especially through the coming of the promised Messiah. They looked at the Law in order to see what a person could do to become righteous before God, instead of recognizing what God had already done for them through Jesus Christ. They failed to recognize that Christ is the goal of the Law, as Paul says in verse 4.
Romans 10: 4: Goal or Termination? Paul continues his argument in verse 4, which literally reads: "For Christ is the goal of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth." This crucial text begins with the conjunction "For-gar," thus indicating a continuous explanation within the flow of Paul's thought. This means that this text must be interpreted in the light of its immediate context where Paul discusses the failure of the Jews to attain the righteousness promised by the Law.
In Greek the key sentence reads: "telos nomou Christos," which literally translated means "The goal of Law [is] Christ." The structure of the sentence with telos nomou at the beginning, indicates that Paul is making a statement about the Law rather than about Christ. The Law (nomos) has been the center of Paul's discussion since Romans 9:6, and particularly since Romans 9:31, where he speaks of nomos dikaiosunes-the Law of righteousness, that is, the Law that holds forth the promise of righteousness.
Note must be taken of the fact that in the immediate context Paul does not speak of the Law and Christ as standing in an antagonistic relationship. In Romans 9:31-33 he explains that had the Jews believed in Christ ("the stone"), they would certainly have "attained" the Law which promises righteousness. Consequently, in the light of the immediate context, it is more consistent to take the Law-nomos as bearing witness to Christ rather than as being abrogated by Christ. The abrogation interpretation ("Christ has put an end to the Law") disrupts Paul's flow of thought, works against his main argument, and would have been confusing to his readers in Rome accustomed to use telos with the sense of "goal" rather than "termination."
The athletic metaphors used in the immediate context (Rom 9:30-33) suggest also that telos is used with the meaning of "goal," because telos was one of the terms commonly used to denote the winning-post or the finish line. Other athletic terms used by Paul are: diokon (Rom 9:30-31), which denotes the earnest pursuit of a goal; katelaben (Rom 9:30), which describes the attaining of a goal; ouk ephthasen (Rom 9:31), which refers to the stumbling over an obstacle in a race; kataiskuno (Rom 9:33), which expresses the disappointment and shame of the defeat.
The implications of the athletic metaphors are well stated by Badenas: "If by accepting Christ the Gentiles reached the winning-post of dikaiosune [righteousness] and, thereby, acceptance within the new people of God (Rom 9:30), and by rejecting Christ Israel did not reach the goal of the Law and thereby admission into God's new people, the logical conclusion is what Romans 10:4 says: that the goal of the Law and the winning-post of dikaiosune [righteousness] and entrance into God's eschatological people are to be found nowhere else than in Christ."69
The Qualifying Sentence: "For Righteousness . . ." Further support for the teleological interpretation is provided by the qualifying sentence that follows: "for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom 10:4b; KJV). The phrase "for righteousness" translates the Greek eis dikaiosunen. Since the basic meaning of the preposition eis-"into" or "for," is directional and purposive, it supports the teleological interpretation of the text, which would read: "Christ is the goal of the Law in [its promise of] righteousness to everyone that believeth."
This interpretation harmonizes well with the context and contributes to the understanding of such important elements in the context as "the word of God has not failed" (Rom 9:6), the Gentiles attained righteousness (Rom 9:30), Israel did not "attain" to the Law (Rom 9:31), stumbled over the stone (Rom 9:33), and ignored God's righteousness (Rom 10:2-3). All of these major themes fit if Romans 10:4 is understood in the sense that the Law, in its promise of righteousness to whoever believes pointed to Christ.
The abrogation interpretation that "Christ has put an end to the Law as a way of righteousness by bringing righteousness to anyone who will believe," interrupt the flow of the argument and work against it. The same is true of the interpretation which says that "Christ has put an end of the Law in order that righteousness based on faith alone may be available to all men." The problem with these interpretations is that they wrongly assume that prior to Christ's coming righteousness was obtainable through the Law and that the Law was an insurmountable obstacle to the exercise of righteousness by faith, and consequently it was removed by Christ.
This assumption that Christ put an end to the Law as a way of salvation is discredited by the fact that in Paul's view salvation never did come or could come by the Law (Gal 2:21; 3:21). In Romans 4 Abraham and other Old Testament righteous people, were saved by faith in Christ (cf. Rom 9:30-33). The rock that Israel stumbled over was Christ (Rom 9:33; cf. 1 Cor 10:4). Paul explicitly says that the Law was not an obstacle to God's righteousness, but a witness to it (Rom 9:31; 3:21, 31).
Another interesting point to consider is that the key to understand Romans 10:4 may to be found in the proper understanding of the last words of the text: "to everyone who believes." This is the view of George Howard who notes that this is the theme of the inclusion of the Gentiles which dominates the immediate context. He writes: "The Jews based their salvation on the fact that they had the Law, the fathers, and all the blessings which go with these. Their extreme hostility to the Gentiles (1 Thess 2:15-16) had caused them to miss the point of the Law itself, that is, that its very aim and goal was the ultimate unification of all nations under the God of Abraham according to the promise. In this sense Christ is the telos [goal] of the Law; he was its goal to everyone who believes."70
In the light of the preceding considerations we conclude that Romans 10:4 represents the logical continuation and culmination of the argument initiated in Romans 9:30-33, namely, that Christ is the goal of the Law, because He embodies the righteousness promised by the Law for everyone who believes. This is the righteousness which the Gentiles attained by faith and which most Jews rejected, because they chose to establish their own righteousness (Rom 10:3), rather than accepting the righteousness the Law pointed to and promised through Jesus Christ. Thus, far for declaring the abrogation of the Law with the coming of Christ, Romans 10:4 affirms the realization of the goal of the Law in Christ who offers righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:5-8: The Obedience of Faith. In order to support his statement in Romans 10:4 that Christ is the goal of the Law in offering righteousness to everyone who believes, Paul continues in verses 5 to 8 showing how the Law calls for a response, not of works in which a person can boast, but of faith in which God receives the credit. Paul develops his argument by quoting two texts from the Old Testament, Leviticus 18:5 in verse 5 and Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in verses 6 to 8.
Romans 10:5-8 reads: "For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the Law shall live by it [quote from Lev 18:5]. But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend to heaven?' (that is, to bring Christ down) or 'Who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach)" [paraphrase of Deut 30:12-14].
The principal problem with these verses is to establish the relationship between the quotation of Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5 and the quotation of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in Romans 10:6-8. Are the two quotations intended to present two complementary aspects of righteousness or two conflicting ways of righteousness? The common interpretation assumes that the two quotations are used by Paul to contrast two ways of righteousness: the righteousness by works of the Law as taught in Leviticus 18:5 and the righteousness by faith as taught in Deuteronomy 30:12-14. The former would represent the Jewish way of righteousness based on human obedience and the latter the righteousness of divine grace offered by faith.
This popular interpretation rests on two mistaken assumptions. The first mistaken assumption is that the two particles "gar-for . . . de-but," which are used to introduce verses 5 and 6 respectively, serve to contrast the two types of righteousness. "For Moses writes . . . but the righteousness of faith says . . ." This assumption is wrong because the Greek word translated "but" in verse 6 is de and not alla. The particle de is frequently translated as "and" without any contrast intended, while alla is consistently translated as "but," because it serve to make a contrast. George Howard clearly and convincingly points out that "gar . . . de do not mean "for . . . but," but as in Romans 7:8-9; 10:10; 11:15-16, they mean "for . . . and."71 In other words, in this context Paul uses this set of particles not in an adversative way but in a connective way, to complement two aspects of righteousness.
One Kind of Righteousness. The second mistaken assumption is that the two quotations used by Paul are antithetical, teaching two different kinds of righteousness. But this can hardly be true. If Paul had quoted Leviticus 18:5 as teaching righteousness by works, he could hardly have faulted the Jews of pursuing the "the righteousness which is based on Law" (Rom 9:31), since they would have been doing exactly what the Law commanded them to do. But this is contrary to Paul's charge that the Jews had misunderstood the Scripture.
In their original contexts both quotations say basically the same thing, namely that the Israelites must observe God's commandments in order to continue to enjoy the blessings of life. In Leviticus 18:5 Moses admonishes the Israelites not to follow the ways of the heathen nations, but to keep God's "statutes and ordinances" in order to perpetuate the life God had given them. Similarly, in Deuteronomy 30:11-16 Moses tells the Israelites "to obey the commandments of the Lord," because they are not hard to observe, and ensure the blessings of life ("then you shall live and multiply"-Deut 30:16).
Some argue that Paul took the liberty of misinterpreting Deuteronomy 30:11-14 in order to support his teachings of righteousness by faith. But had Paul done such a thing, he would have exposed himself to the legitimate criticism of his enemies who would have accused him of misinterpreting Scripture. Furthermore, neither Paul nor any Bible writer, sets Moses against Moses or against any other Biblical statement. It was not the custom of Paul to seek out contradictions in the Scripture or to quote the Old Testament to show that one of its statements was no longer valid. The fact that Paul quoted Deuteronomy 30:12-14 immediately after Leviticus 18:5, suggests that he viewed the two passages are complementary and not contradictory.
The complementary function of the two quotations is not difficult to see. In Romans 10:4 Paul affirms that Christ is the goal of the Law in offering righteousness to everyone who believes. In verse 5 he continues (note "for-gar") expanding what this means by quoting Leviticus 18:5 as a summary expression of the righteousness of the Law, namely, that "whoever follows the way of righteousness taught by the Law shall live by it." This fundamental truth had been misconstrued by the Pharisees who made the Law so hard to observe that, to use the words of Peter, it became a "yoke upon the neck" that nobody could bear (Acts 15:10). Paul clarifies this misconception in verses 6 to 8 by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 30:12-14 immediately after Leviticus 18:5, in order to show that God's Law is not hard to observe, as the Pharisees had made it to be. All what it takes to obey God's commandments is a heart response: "The word is near to you, on your lips and in your heart" (Rom 10:8).
Daniel Fuller rightly observes that "by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 30:11-14 right after a verse spotlighting the righteousness of the Law which Moses taught [Lev 18:5], and by affirming this paraphrase of Moses which inserts the word 'Christ' at crucial points, Paul was showing that the righteousness set forth by the Law was the righteousness of faith. Since the wording of the Law can be replaced by the word 'Christ' with no loss of meaning, Paul has demonstrated that Moses himself taught that Christ and the Law are one piece. Either one or both will impart righteousness to all who believe, and thus the affirmation of Romans 10:4 [that 'Christ is the goal of the Law'] is supported by Paul's reference to Moses in verses 5-8."72
What Paul wishes to show in Romans 10:6-8 is that the righteousness required by the Law in order to live (Lev 18:5), does not necessitate a superhuman achievement, like climbing into heaven or descending into the abyss. This was Paul's way of expressing the impossible task the Jews wanted to accomplish through their own efforts. By contrast, the righteousness required by the Law is fulfilled through the Word which is in the heart and in the mouth, that is, by believing and confessing the Lord (Rom 10:10).
The reference to the nearness of the Word in Deuteronomy 30:14 permitted Paul to link the divine grace made available by God in the Law, with the divine grace made available by God in Christ, the Word. His commentary on Deuteronomy 30:14 clearly shows that he understood Christ to be the substance and content of both the Law and the Gospel. Because of the unity that exists between the two, he could identify the word of the Law (Deut 30:14) with the word of the Gospel (Rom 10:8-9).
The recognition of the unity between Law and Gospel leads Walter Kaiser to pose a probing rhetorical question: "What will it take for modern Christians to see that Moses, in the same way that the apostle Paul, advocated, wanted Israel to 'believe unto righteousness' (Rom 10:10; cf. Deut 30:14)? . . . Both Moses and Paul are in basic agreement that the life being offered to Israel, both in those olden days and now in the Christian era, was available and close at hand; in fact it was so near them that it was in their mouth and in their hearts." It is unfortunate that so many Christians today fail to recognize this basic unity that exists between the Law and the Gospel, Moses and Paul, both affirming that Christ is the goal and culmination of the Law in its promise of righteousness to everyone who believes.
Conclusion.The foregoing analysis of Romans 10:4 has shown that Christ is not the end but the goal of the Law. He is the goal toward which the whole Law was aimed so that its promise of righteousness may be experienced by whoever believes in Him.. He is the goal of the Law in the sense that in His person and work He fulfilled its promises, types, and sacrificial ceremonies (2 Cor 1:20; Rom 10:6-10; 3:21; Heb 10:1-8). He is the goal of the Law also in the sense that He is the only Man who was completely obedient to its requirements (Phil 2:8; Rom 5:19; Rom 10:5). He is also the goal of the Law in the sense that He enables the believer to live in accordance to "the just requirements of the Law" (Rom 8:4).
PART 4: THE LAW AND THE GENTILES
In studying some of Paul's negative comments about the Law we noted that such comments were occasioned by the Apostle's effort to undo the damage done by false teachers who were exalting the Law, especially circumcision, as a means of salvation. To bring into sharper focus Paul's criticism of the Law, we will now consider why the Gentiles were tempted to adopt legalistic practices like circumcision.
Paul's letters were written to congregations made up predominantly of Gentile converts, most of whom were former "God-fearers" (1 Thess 1:9; 1 Cor 12:2; Gal 4:8; Rom 11:13; 1:13; Col 1:21; Eph 2:11). A crucial problem among Gentile-Christians was their right as Gentiles to enjoy full citizenship in the people of God, without becoming members of the covenant community through circumcision.
A Jewish Problem. This was not a uniquely Christian problem. W. D. Davies has shown that the relationship of Israel to the Gentile world was the foremost theological problem of Judaism in the first century.73 Basically the problem for the Jews consisted in determining what commandments the Gentiles had to observe in order for them to have a share in the world to come.
No clear-cut answer to this question existed in Paul's time. Some Jews held that Gentiles had to observe only a limited number of commandments (Noachic Laws). Other Jews, however, like the House of Shammai, insisted that Gentiles had to observe the whole Law, including circumcision. In other words, they had to become full-fledged members of the covenant community to share in the blessings of the world-to-come.74
Lloyd Gaston perceptively notes that "it was because of this unclarity that legalism-the doing of certain works to win God's favor and be counted righteous-arose a Gentile and not a Jewish problem at all."75 Salvation was for all who were members of the covenant community, but since the God-fearers were not under the covenant, they had to establish their own righteousness to gain such an assurance of salvation.
Marcus Barth has shown that the phrase "works of the Law" is not found in Jewish texts and designates the adoption of selected Jewish practices by the Gentiles to ensure their salvation as part of the covenant people of God.76 Recognition of this legalistic Gentile attitude is important to our understanding of the background of Paul's critical remarks about the Law.
A Christian Problem. The Jewish problem of whether Gentiles were saved within or without the covenant, soon became also a Christian problem. Before his conversion and divine commission to the Gentiles, Paul apparently believed that Gentiles had to conform to the whole Mosaic Law, including circumcision, in order for them to be saved. The latter is suggested by the phrase "but if I still preach circumcision" (Gal 5:11), which implies that at one time he did preach circumcision as a basis of salvation.
After his conversion and divine commission to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, Paul understood that Gentiles share in the blessing of salvation without having to become part of the covenant community through circumcision. To defend this conviction, we noted earlier that Paul appeals in Romans 4 and Galatians 3 to the example of Abraham who became the father of all who believe by faith before he was circumcised.
In proclaiming his non-circumcision Gospel, Paul faced a double challenge. On the one hand, he faced the opposition of Jews and Jewish-Christians because they failed to understand ("Israel did not understand"-Rom 10:19) that through Christ, God had fulfilled His promises to Abraham regarding the Gentiles. On the other hand, Paul had to deal with the misguided efforts of the Gentiles who were tempted to adopt circumcision and other practices to ensure their salvation by becoming members of the covenant community (Gal 5:2-4).
Law as Document of Election. To counteract the double challenge from Jewish and Gentile Christians, Paul was forced to speak critically of the Law as a document of election. Several scholars have recently shown that the concept of the covenant-so central in the Old Testament-came more and more to be expressed by the term "Law" (torah-nomos).77 One's status before God came to be determined by one's attitude toward the Law (torah-nomos) as a document of election and not by obedience to specific commandments.
The Law came to mean a revelation of God's electing will manifested in His covenant with Israel. Obviously this view created a problem for the uncircumcised Gentiles because they felt excluded from the assurance of salvation provided by the covenant. This insecurity naturally led Gentiles to "desire to be under Law" (Gal 4:21), that is, to become full-fledged covenant members by receiving circumcision (Gal 5:2). Paul felt compelled to react strongly against this trend because it undermined the universality of the Gospel.
To squelch the Gentiles' "desire to be under Law," Paul appeals to the Law (Pentateuch), specifically to Abraham, to argue that the mother of his two children, Ishmael and Isaac, stand for two covenants: the first based on works and the second on faith (Gal 4:22-31); the first offering "slavery" and the second resulting in "freedom." The first, Hagar who bears "children of slavery," is identified with the covenant of Mount Sinai (Gal 4:24).
Why does Paul attack so harshly the Sinai covenant which, after all, was established by the same God who made a covenant with Abraham? Besides, did not the Sinai covenant contain provisions of grace and forgiveness through the sanctuary services (Ex 25-30), besides principles of conduct (Ex 20-23)? The answer to these questions is to be found in Paul's concern to establish the legitimacy of the salvation of the Gentiles as Gentiles.
To accomplish this goal, Paul attacks the understanding of the Law (covenant) as an exclusive document of election. This does not mean that he denies the possibility of salvation to Jews who accepted Christ as the fulfillment of the Sinai covenant. On the contrary, he explicitly acknowledges that just as he was "entrusted with the Gospel to the uncircumcised," so "Peter had been entrusted with the Gospel to the circumcised" (Gal 2:7).
Paul does not explain what was the basic difference between the two Gospels. We can presume that since the circumcision had become equated with the covenant, the Gospel to the circumcised emphasized that Christ through His blood ratified the Sinai covenant by making it operative (Matt 26:28). This would make it possible for Jews to be saved as Jews, that is, while retaining their identity as a covenant people.
Note that Paul does not deny the value of circumcision for the Jews. On the contrary he affirms: "Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the Law; but if you break the Law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision" (Rom 2:25). Again in Romans 9 to 11 Paul does not rebuke the Jews for being "Jewish" in their life-style (Rom 11:1) but rather for failing to understand that the Gentiles in Christ have equal access to salvation because Christ is the goal of the Law.
Several conclusions emerge from our study of Paul's view of the Law. We noted that prior to his conversion Paul understood the Law like a Pharisee, namely, as the external observance of commandments in order to gain salvation (2 Cor 5:16-17). After his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul gradually came to realize that his Pharisaic view of the Law as a way of salvation was wrong, because the Old Testament teaches that salvation was promised already to Abraham through the Christ, the Seed to come, 430 years before the giving of the Law at Sinai (Gal 3:17).
From the perspective of the Cross, Paul rejected the Pharisaic understanding of the Law as a means of salvation, and accepted the Old Testament view of the Law as a revelation of God's will for human conduct. We found that for Paul the Law is and remains God's Law (Rom 7:22, 25), because it was given by God (Rom 9:4; 3:2), written by Him (1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 14:34), reveals His will (Rom 2:17, 18), bears witness to His righteousness (Rom 3:21), and is in accord with His promises (Gal 3:21).
Being a revelation of God's will for mankind, the Law reveals the nature of sin as disobedience to God. Paul explains that "through the Law comes the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20), because the Law causes people to recognize their sins and themselves as sinners. It is evident that this important function of the Law could hardly have terminated by Christ, since the need to acknowledge sin in one's life is fundamental to the life of Christians today as it was for the Israelites of old.
The function of Christ's redemptive mission was not to abrogate the Law, as many Christians mistakenly believe, but to enable believers to live out the principles of God's Law in their lives. Paul affirms that in Christ, God has done what the Law by itself could not do, namely, He empowers believers to live according to the "just requirements of the Law." "For God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:3-4).
The new life in Christ enables the Christian to keep the Law, not as an external code, but as a loving response to God. This is the very thing that the Law by itself cannot do, because being an external standard of human conduct, it cannot generate a loving response in the human heart. By contrast, "Christ's love compels us" (2 Cor 5:14) to respond to Him by living according to the moral principles of God's Law (John 14:15).
Paul recognizes that the observance of the Law can tempt people to use it unlawfully as a means to establish their own righteousness before God. This was the major problem of his Gentile converts who were tempted to adopt practices like circumcision in order to gain acceptance with God. Paul exposes as hopeless all attempts to be justified in God's sight by works of the Law, because "no human being will be justified in his sight by the works of the Law, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20). Human beings in their fallen condition can never fully observe God's Law.
What Paul radically rejects is not of the Law, but of legalism, that is, the attempt to establish one's righteousness through the external observance of the Law. Legalism ultimately blinds a person to the righteousness which God has made available as free gift through Jesus Christ (cf. Rom 10:3). This was the problem with the false teachers who were promoting circumcision as a way of salvation without Christ. By so doing they were propagating the false notion that salvation is a human achievement rather than a divine gift.
The mounting pressure of Judaizers who were urging circumcision upon the Gentiles, made it necessary for Paul to attack the exclusive covenant-concept of the Law. "But," as George Howard points out, "under other circumstances he [Paul] might have insisted on the importance of Israel's retention of her distinctiveness."78
An understanding of the different circumstances that occasioned Paul's discussion of the Law, is essential for resolving the apparent contradiction between the positive and negative statements he makes about the Law. For example, in Ephesians 2:15, Paul speaks of the Law as having been "abolished" by Christ, while in Romans 3:31 he explains that justification by faith in Jesus Christ does not overthrow the Law but "establishes" it. In Romans 7:6, he states that "now we are discharged from the Law" while a few verses later he writes that "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good" (7:12). In Romans 3:28, he maintains that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law," yet in 1 Corinthians 7:19 he states that "neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God."
How can Paul view the Law both as "abolished" (Eph 2:15) and "established" (Rom 3:31), unnecessary (Rom 3:28) and necessary (1 Cor 7:19; Eph 6:2, 3; 1 Tim 1:8-10)? Our study suggests that the resolution to this apparent contradiction is to be found in the different contexts in which Paul speaks of the Law. When he speaks of the Law in the context of salvation (justification-right standing before God), especially in his polemic with Judaizers, he clearly affirms that Law-keeping is of no avail (Rom 3:20). On the other hand, when Paul speaks of the Law in the context of Christian conduct (sanctification-right living before God), especially in dealing with antinomians, then he upholds the value and validity of God's Law (Rom 7:12; 13:8-10; 1 Cor 7:19).
In summation, what Paul criticizes is not the moral value of the Law as guide to Christian conduct, but the soteriological (saving) understanding of the Law seen as a document of election that includes the Jews and excludes the Gentiles. The failure to distinguish in Paul's writing between his moral and soteriological usages of the Law, and the failure to recognize that his criticism of the Law is directed especially toward Gentiles Judaizers who were exalting the Law, especially circumcision, as a means of salvation, has led many to fallaciously conclude that Paul rejects the value and validity of the Law as a whole. Such a view is totally unwarranted because, as we have shown, Paul rejects the Law as a method of salvation but upholds it as a moral standard of Christian conduct.