corner graphic

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Law

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

LAW (IN OT). 1 . That the ‘law was given by Moses’ ( John 1:17 ) represents the unanimous belief both of the early Christians and of the Chosen Nation. He was their first as well as their greatest law-giver; and in this matter religious tradition is supported by all the historical probabilities of the case. The Exodus and the subsequent wanderings constitute the formative epoch of Israel’s career: it was the period of combination and adjustment between the various tribes towards effecting a national unity. Such periods necessitate social experiments, for no society can hold together without some basis of permanent security; no nation could be welded together, least of all a nation in ancient times, without some strong sense of corporate responsibilities and corporate religion. It therefore naturally devolved upon Moses to establish a central authority for the administration of justice, which should be universally accessible and universally recognized. There was only one method by which any such universal recognition could be attained; and that was by placing the legal and judicial system upon the basis of an appeal to that religion, which had already been successful in rousing the twelve tribes to a sense of their unity, and which, moreover, was the one force which could and did effectually prevent the disintegration of the heterogeneous elements of which the nation was composed.

2 . We see the beginning and character of these legislative functions in Exodus 18:16 , where Moses explains how ‘the people come unto me to inquire of God: when they have a matter they come unto me; and I judge between a man and his neighbour, and make them know the statutes of God, and his laws ( tôrôth ).’ Originally tôrah (the usual word in the OT for ‘law’) meant, as in this passage, oral instruction or direction. This kind of tôrah survived for long in Israel. It was a ‘method strictly practical and in precise conformity with the genius and requirements of primitive nations,’ W. R. Smith ( OTJC [Note: TJC The Old Test. in the Jewish Church.] 2 339). Cases of exceptional difficulty were brought to the sanctuary, and the decisions there given were accepted as emanating from the Divine Judge of Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 2:25 ; and, for the use of ‘Elohim’ to signify the judges speaking in Jehovah’s name, cf. Exodus 21:6 ; Exodus 22:7 ). The cases thus brought ‘before God’ may be divided into three classes, as they dealt respectively with (1) matters of moral obligation, (2) civil suits, (3) ritual difficulties. We read that Moses found it necessary to devolve some of this administrative work upon various elders, whom he associated with himself in the capacity of law-givers.

In this connexion it is important to remember that

( a ) These decisions were orally given. ( b ) Although binding only on the parties concerned, and in their case only so far as they chose to submit to the ruling of the judge, or as the latter could enforce his authority, yet with the increasing power of the executive government such decisions soon acquired the force of consuetudinary law for a wider circle, until they affected the whole nation. ( c ) Such oral direction in no sense excludes the idea of any previous laws, or even of a written code. The task of the judges was not so much to create as to interpret. The existence and authority of a law would still leave room for doubt in matters of individual application, ( d ) As social life became more complex, the three divisions of the tôrah became more specialized; civil suits were tried by the judge; the prophets almost confined themselves to giving oral direction on moral duties; the priests were concerned mainly with the solution of ritual difficulties. Cf. Justice (II.).

Here, then, we can trace the character of Hebrew legislation in its earliest stages. Law ( tôrah ) means oral direction, gradually crystallizing into consuetudinary law, which, so far from excluding, may almost be said to demand, the idea of a definite code as the basis of its interpretative function. Finally, when these directions were classified and reduced to writing (cf. Hosea 8:12 ), tôrah came to signify such a collection; and ultimately the same word was used as a convenient and comprehensive term for the whole Pentateuch, in which all the most important legal collections were carefully included.

3 . The tôrah of the Prophets was moral, not ceremonial. The priests, while by their office necessarily much engaged in ceremonial and ritual actions, nevertheless had boundless opportunities for giving the worshippers true direction on the principles underlying their religions observances; and it is for their neglect of such opportunities, and not, as is often crudely maintained, on account of any inherently necessary antagonism between priestly and prophetical ideals, that the prophets so frequently rebuke the priests, not because of the fulfilment of their priestly ( i.e . ceremonial) duties, but because of the non-fulfilment of their prophetical ( i.e . moral) opportunities. For the priests claimed Divine sanction for their worship, and tradition ascribed the origin of all priestly institutions to Mosaic (or Aaronic) authorship. This the prophets do not deny; but they do deny that the distinctive feature of the Sinaitic legislation lay in anything but its moral excellence. In this connexion the words of Jeremiah cannot be quoted too often: ‘I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices; but this thing I commanded them, saying Hear my voice, … and walk ye in the way that I command you’ ( Jeremiah 7:21-22 ). The correct interpretation of Amos 5:24-26 corroborates Jeremiah’s contention. It is wholly unwarrantable to say that the prophets condemned the sacrificial system, or denied its worth and Divine sanction; but, on the other hand, we are justified in asserting that the tôrah of Jehovah, ‘the law of the Lord,’ meant to the prophets something wholly different from the punctilious observance of traditional ceremonies; and what is more, they appeal without fear of contradiction to the contents of the Mosaic legislation as completely establishing their conviction that it was in the sphere of morality, rather than in the organizing of worship, that the essence of Jehovah’s law was to be found.

4 . With this test (as well as with the considerations proposed in § 1 ) the character of the Decalogue is found to be in complete agreement. Its Mosaic origin has indeed been questioned, on the ground that such an ethical standard is wholly at variance with the ‘essentially ritualistic character’ of primitive religions. To this it may be replied: we cannot call the prophets as witnesses for the truth of two mutually contradictory propositions. Having already cited the prophets in disproof of the Mosaic authorship of the Levitical legislation, on the ground that the latter is essentially ritualistic (and therefore does not correspond to the prophets’ view of the Law of Moses), it is monstrously unfair to deny the Sinaitic origin of what is left in conformity with the prophetical standard, on the ground that it ought to be ‘essentially ritualistic’ also, and is not. We have rightly had our attention called to the witness of the prophets. But the weight of their evidence against the early elaboration of the ceremonial law is exactly proportioned to the weight attached to their evidence for the existence and authenticity of the moral code.

A more serious difficulty, however, arises from the fact that we have apparently three accounts of the Decalogue, exhibiting positively astounding divergences (Exodus 20:1-26 , Deuteronomy 5:1-33 , and Exodus 34:1-35 ). The differences between Exodus 20:1-26 and Deuteronomy 5:1-33 are not hard to explain, as the Ten Words themselves are in each case identical, and it is only in the explanatory comments that the differences are marked. Stylistic peculiarities, as well as other considerations, seem to show that these latter are subsequent editorial additions, and that originally the Decalogue contained no more than the actual commandments, without note or explanation. It is, however, most instructive to observe that no theory of inspiration or literary scruples prevented the editors from incorporating into their account of the Ten Words of God to Moses, the basis of all Hebrew legislation, such comments and exhortations as they considered suitable to the needs of their own times. The difficulty with regard to Exodus 34:1-35 , where a wholly different set of laws seems to be called ‘The Ten Words,’ has not been solved. Hypotheses of textual displacement abound (cf. OTJC [Note: TJC The Old Test. in the Jewish Church.] 2 336), others confidently assert that the author ‘manifestly intends to allude to the Decalogue’ (Driver, LOT [Note: OT Introd. to the Literature of the Old Testament.] 6 39), while some scholars have suggested, with much force and ingenuity, that we have in Exodus 20:1-26 ; Exodus 21:1-36 ; Exodus 22:1-31 ; Exodus 23:1-33 ; Exodus 34:1-35 a series of abbreviations, re-arrangements, and expansions of ten groups of ten laws each. No final solution has yet been reached; but we may hold with confidence that the traditional account of the Decalogue is correct, and that the Ten Commandments in their original and shorter form were promulgated by Moses himself. On this basis the law of Israel rests, and in the Pentateuch we can distinguish the attempts made from time to time to apply their principles to the life of the people.

5. The Book of the Covenant ( Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33 ) is a collection of ‘words’ and ‘judgments’ arising out of the needs of a very simple community. The frequent mention of the ox, the ass, and the sheep proves that this code of law was designed for an agricultural people. The state of civilization may be inferred from the fact that the principles of civil and criminal justice are all comprehended under the two heads of retaliation and pecuniary compensation (cf. OTJC [Note: TJC The Old Test. in the Jewish Church.] 2 340). Religious institutions also are in an undeveloped and archaic stage. The laws, however, recognize, and even insist upon, the claims of humanity and justice. It is possible that the original code may have been promulgated at Sinai; but if so, it has received considerable expansions to suit the agricultural requirements, which first became part of Israel’s daily life in the early years of the occupation of Canaan.

6. The Law of Deuteronomy shows a civilization far in advance of that contemplated in the preceding code. Life is more complex; and religious problems unknown to an earlier generation demand and receive full treatment. It is not difficult to fix its approximate date. In the year b.c. 621, king Josiah inaugurated a national reformation resulting from the discovery of a Book of the Law in the Temple. All the evidence points to this book being practically identical with Deuteronomy; all the reforms which Josiah inaugurated were based upon laws practically indistinguishable from those we now possess in the Deuteronomic Code; in fact, no conclusion of historical or literary criticism has been reached more nearly approaching to absolute certainty than that the Book of the Law brought to light in 621 was none other than the fifth book of the Pentateuch.

But was it written by Moses? (i.) The book itself nowhere makes such a claim, (ii.) The historical situation (suiting the times of the later monarchy) is not merely anticipated, but actually presupposed, (iii.) The linguistic evidence points to ‘a long development of the art of public oratory.’ (iv.) The religious standpoint is that of, e.g ., Jeremiah rather than Isaiah. (v.) Some of its chief provisions appear to have been entirely unknown before 600; even the most fervid champions of prophetism before that date seem to have systematically violated the central law of the one sanctuary, (vi.) While subsequent writers show abundant traces of Deuteronomic influence, we search in vain for any such traces in earlier literature. On the contrary, Deut. is itself seen to be an attempt to realize in a legal code those great principles which had been so emphatically enunciated by Hosea and Isaiah.

The laws of Deuteronomy are, however, in many instances much earlier than the 7th century. The Book of the Covenant supplies much of the groundwork; and the antiquity of others is independently attested. It is not so much the substance (with perhaps the exception of ( a ) below) as the expansions and explanations that are new. A law-book must be kept up to date if it is to have any practical value, and in Deuteronomy we have ‘a prophetic re-formulation and adaptation to new needs of an older legislation’ ( LOT [Note: OT Introd. to the Literature of the Old Testament.] 6 91).

The main characteristics of Deut. are to be found in

( a ) The Law of the one Sanctuary , which aimed at the total extinction of the worship of the high places. By confining the central act of worship, i.e . the rite of sacrifice, to Jerusalem, this law certainly had put an end to the syncretistic tendencies which constituted a perpetual danger to Israelitish religion; but while establishing monotheism, it also somewhat impoverished the free religious life of the common people, who had aforetime learned at all times and in all places to do sacrifice and hold communion with their God.

( b ) The wonderful humanity which is so striking a feature of these laws. The religion of Jehovah is not confined to worship, but is to be manifested in daily life: and as God’s love is the great outstanding fact in Israel’s history, so the true Israelite must show love for God, whom he has not seen, by loving his neighbour, whom he has seen. Even the animals are to be treated with consideration and kindness.

( c ) The evangelical fervour with which the claims of Jehovah upon Israel’s devotion are urged. He is so utterly different from the dead heathen divinities. He is a living, loving God, who cannot be satisfied with anything less than the undivided heart-service of His children.

It is not surprising that Deuteronomy should have been especially dear to our Lord (cf. Matthew 4:1-25 ), or that He should have ‘proclaimed its highest word as the first law no longer for Judah, but for the world’ ( Matthew 12:28-30 , Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ) [Carpenter, quoted by Driver, Deut . p. xxxiv.].

7. The Law of Holiness ( Leviticus 17:1-16 ; Leviticus 18:1-30 ; Leviticus 19:1-37 ; Leviticus 20:1-27 ; Leviticus 21:1-24 ; Leviticus 22:1-33 ; Leviticus 23:1-44 ; Leviticus 24:1-23 ; Leviticus 25:1-55 ; Leviticus 26:1-46 ) is a short collection of laws embedded in Leviticus. The precepts of this code deal mainly with moral and ceremonial matters, and hardly touch questions of civil and criminal law. We should notice especially the prominence of agricultural allusions, the multiplication of ritual regulations, the conception of sin as impurity, and, again, the predominance of humanitarian principles.

8. The Priestly Code , comprising the concluding chapters of Exodus, the whole of Leviticus, and other portions of the Hexateuch, probably represents a determined attempt to give practical effect to the teaching of Ezekiel. We may approximately fix its date by observing that some of its fundamental institututions are unknown to, and even contradicted by, the Deuteronomic legislation. On the other hand, the influence of Ezekiel is prominent. The Priestly editor, or school, lays special stress on the ceremonial institutions of Israelite worship. We must not, however, conclude that they are therefore all post-exilic. On the contrary, the origin of a great number is demonstrably of high antiquity; but their elaboration is of a far more modern date. It is sometimes customary to sneer at the Priestly Code as a mass of ‘Levitical deterioration.’ It would be as justifiable to quote the rubrics of the Prayer Book as a fair representation of the moral teaching of the Church of England. As a matter of fact, P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] does not profess to supplant, or even to supplement, all other laws. The editor has simply collected the details of ceremonial legislation, and the rubrics of Temple worship, with some account of their origin and purpose. In later history, the expression of Israel’s religion through Temple services acquired an increased significance. If the national life and faith were to be preserved, it was absolutely essential that the ceremonial law should be developed in order to mark the distinctive features of the Jewish creed. It is argued that such a policy is in direct contradiction to the universalistic teaching of the earlier prophets. That may be so, but cosmopolitanism at this stage would have meant not the diffusion but the destruction of Jewish religion. It was only by emphasizing their national peculiarities that they were able to concentrate their attention, and consequently to retain a firm hold, upon their distinctive truths. Ezekiel’s ideal city was named ‘Jehovah is there’ ( Ezekiel 48:35 ). P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] seeks to realize this ideal. All the laws, all the ceremonies, are intended to stamp this conviction indelibly upon Israel’s imagination, ‘Jehovah is there.’ Therefore the sense of sin must be deepened, that sin may be removed: therefore the need of purification must be constantly proclaimed, that the corrupting and disintegrating influences of surrounding heathenism may not prevail against the remnant of the holy people: therefore the ideal of national holiness must be sacramentally symbolized, and, through the symbol, actually attained.

9 . It must be plain that such stress on ritual enactments inevitably facilitated the growth of formalism and hypocrisy. We know that in our Lord’s time the weightier matters of the law were systematically neglected, while the tithing of mint, anise, and cummin, together with similar subtleties and refinements, occupied the attention of the lawyer and exhausted the energies of the zealous. But our Lord did not abrogate the law either in its ceremonial or in its moral injunctions. He came to fulfil it, that is, to fill it full, to give the substance, where the law was only a shadow of good things to come. He declared that not one jot or tittle should pass away till all things were accomplished; that is to say, until the end for which the law had been ordained should be reached. It took people some time to see that by His Incarnation and the foundation of the Christian Church that end had been gained; and that by His fulfilment He had made the law of none effect not merely abrogating distinctions between meats, but transferring man’s whole relation to God into another region than that of law .

10 . ‘The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’ The impossibility of ever fulfilling its multitudinous requirements had filled the more earnest with despair. There it remained confronting the sinner with his sin; but its pitiless ‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Thou shalt not’ gave him no comfort and no power of resistance. The law was as cold and hard as the tables on which it was inscribed. It taught the meaning of sin, but gave no help as to how sin was to be overcome. The sacrificial system attempted to supply the want; but it was plain that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. In desperation the law-convicted sinner looked for a Saviour to deliver him from this body of death, and that Saviour he found in Christ. The law had been his ‘pedagogue,’ and had brought him to the Master from whom he could receive that help and grace it had been powerless to bestow. But Christianity not merely gave power; it altered man’s whole outlook on the world. The Jews lived under the law : they were the unwilling subjects of an inexorable despotism; the law was excellent in itself, but to them it remained something external; obedience was not far removed from bondage and fear. The prophets realized the inadequacy of this legal system: it was no real appeal to man’s highest nature; it did not spring from the man’s own heart; and so they prophesied of the New Covenant when Jehovah’s laws should be written in the heart, and His sin-forgiving grace should remove all elements of servile fear (cf. esp. Jeremiah 31:31-34 ); but it was only the hard discipline of the law that made them realize the necessity and superiority of a more spiritual covenant between man and his God.

11. A word may be said about the giving of the law . Whatever physical disturbances may have accompanied its original proclamation, it is not upon such natural phenomena that its claims to the homage of mankind are based. It is, in a manner, far more miraculous that God should at that early age, among those half-civilized tribes, have written these laws by His spirit on man’s conscience and understanding, than that amid thunder and flame He should have inscribed them with His own fingers upon two tables of stone. The Old Testament itself teaches us that we may look in vain for God among the most orthodox manifestations of a thenphany, and yet hear Him speaking in the still, small voice. Miracle is not the essence of God’s revelation to us, though it may accompany and authenticate His message. The law stands because the Saviour, in laying down for us the correct lines of its interpretation has sealed it with the stamp of Divine approval, but also because the conscience and reason of mankind have recognized in its simplicity and comprehensiveness a sublime exposition of man’s duty to his God and to his neighbour; because ‘by manifestation of the truth it has commended itself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:2 ).

Ernest Arthur Enghill.

LAW (IN NT). This subject will be treated as follows: (1) the relation of Jesus Christ to the OT Law; (2) the doctrine of law in St. Paul’s Epistles; (3) the complementary teaching of Hebrews; (4) the attitude of St. James representing primitive Jewish Christianity.

1 . Our Lord stated His position in the saying of Matthew 5:17 : ‘I did not come to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil.’ The expression covers the whole contents of Divine Scripture (sometimes, for brevity, spoken of simply as ‘the law’; see John 10:34 ; John 12:34 ; John 15:25 ), which He does not mean to invalidate in the least ( Matthew 5:18 ), as the novelty of His teaching led some to suppose (see Matthew 7:28 f.), but will vindicate and complete. But His ‘fulfilment’ was that of the Master, who knows the inner mind and real intent of the Scripture He expounds. It was not the fulfilment of one who rehearses a prescribed lesson or tracks out a path marked for him by predecessors, but the crowning of an edifice already founded, the carrying forward to their issue of the lines projected in Israelite revelation, the fulfilment of the blade and ear in ‘the full corn.’ Jesus penetrated the shell to reach the kernel of OT representations; and He regarded Himself His Person, sacrifice, salvation, Kingdom as the focus of manifold previous revelations (see Luke 4:17-21 ; Luke 16:16 ; Luke 24:27 , John 1:17 ; John 6:45 ). The warning of Matthew 5:17-20 was aimed at the Jewish legists, who dissolved the authority of the law, while jealously guarding its letter, by casuistical comments and smothering traditions, who put light and grave on a like footing, and blunted the sharpness of God’s commands in favour of man’s corrupt inclinations. The Corban formula, exposed in Mark 7:7-13 , was a notorious instance of the Rabbinical quibbling that our Lord denounced. It is a severer not a laxer ethics that Jesus introduces, a searching in place of a superficial discipline; ‘Your righteousness,’ He says, ‘must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.’

Our Lord’s fulfilment of ‘the law’ i.e . in the stricter sense, the body of Mosaic statutes regulating Israelite life and worship included ( a ) the personal and free submission to it, due to His birth and circumcision as a son of Israel ( Galatians 4:4 ; cf. Matthew 3:15 ; Matthew 8:4 ; Matthew 15:24 ; Matthew 17:27 , Luke 2:21 ff.).

His fulfilment included ( b ) the development of its unrecognized or partially disclosed principles . Thus Jesus asserted, in accordance with views already advanced among the scribes, that ‘the whole law and the prophets hang on the two commandments’ of love to God and to our neighbour ( Matthew 22:34-40 , Luke 10:25-37 ) the parable of the Good Samaritan gives to the second command an unprecedented scope. His distinction between ‘the weightier matters’ of ‘justice, mercy, fidelity,’ and the lighter of tithes and washings, was calculated to revolutionize current Judaism.

(c) A large part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-48 ) is devoted to clearing the law from erroneous glosses and false applications : on each point Jesus sets His ‘I say unto you’ against what ‘was said to the ancients’ mere antiquity goes for nothing; nor is He careful to distinguish here between the text of the written law and its traditional modifications. With each correction the law in His hands grows morestringent; its observance is made a matter of inoer disposition, of intrinsic loyalty, not of formal conduct; the criterion applied to all law-keeping is that it shall ‘proceed out of the heart.’

( d ) Further, our Lord’s fulfilment of the law necessitated the abrogation of temporary and defective statutes . In such instances the letter of the old precept stood only till it should be translated into a worthier form and raised to a higher potency ( Matthew 5:18 ), by the sweeping away of limiting exceptions (as with the compromise in the matter of wedlock allowed to ‘the hard-heartedness’ of Israelites, Matthew 19:3-9 ), or by the translation of the symbolic into the spiritual, as when cleansing of hands and vessels is displaced by inner purification ( Mark 7:14-23 , Luke 11:37-41 ; cf. Colossians 2:18 f., Hebrews 9:9 f.). Our Lord’s reformation of the marriage law is also a case for ( b ) above: He rectifies the law by the aid of the law; in man’s creation He finds a principle which nullifies the provisions that facilitated divorce. The abolition of the distinction of ‘meats’ ( Mark 7:19 ), making a rift in Jewish daily habits and in the whole Levitical scheme of life, is the one instance in which Jesus laid down what seemed to be a new principle of ethics. The maxim that ‘what enters into the man from without cannot defile,’ but only ‘the things that issue out of the man,’ was of far-reaching application, and supplied afterwards the charter of Gentile Christianity. Its underlying principle was, however, implicit in OT teaching, and belonged to the essence of the doctrine of Jesus. He could not consistently vindicate heart-religion without combating Judaism in the matter of its ablutions and food-regulations and Sabbath-keeping.

( e ) Over the last question Jesus came into the severest-conflict with Jewish orthodoxy; and in this struggle He revealed the consciousness, latent throughout His dealings with OT legislation, of being the sovereign, and not a subject like others, in this realm. Our Lord ‘fulfilled the law’ by sealing it with His own final authority . His ‘I say unto you,’ spoken in a tone never assumed by Moses or the prophets, implied so much and was so understood by His Apostles ( 1 Corinthians 7:10 , Galatians 6:2 , 1 John 2:3 f. etc.). Christ arrogates the rôle of ‘a son over his house,’ whereas Moses was ‘a servant in the house’ ( Hebrews 3:5 f.). Assuming to be ‘greater than Solomon,’ ‘than Abraham,’ ‘than the temple’ ( Matthew 12:6 ; Matthew 12:42 , John 8:53 ), He acted as one greater than Moses! The Sabbath-law was the chosen battle-ground between Him and the established masters in Israel ( Mark 2:23-28 ; Mark 3:2 ff., Luke 13:16-17 , John 5:9-16 ). In the public Sabbath assemblies Jesus was oftenest confronted with cases of disease and demoniacal possession; He must do His work as God’s ‘sent’ physician. The Sabbath-rules were clear and familiar; His infraction of them in acts of healing was flagrant, repeated, defiant; popular reverence for the day made accusations on this count particularly dangerous. Men were placed in a dilemma: the Sabbath-breaker is ipso facto ‘a sinner’; on the other hand, ‘how can a sinner do such signs?’ ( John 9:16 ; John 9:24 ff.). Jesus argues the matter on legal grounds, showing from recognized practice that the 4th Commandment must be construed with common sense, and that ‘it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath day’ and to work in the service of God ( Matthew 12:5 ; Matthew 12:11 f.). He goes behind those examples to the governing principle (see ( b ) above), that ‘the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’ ( Mark 2:27 f.): the institution is designed for human benefit, and its usages should he determined by its object. But He is not content with saving this: the war against Him was driven on the Sabbath-question à outrance ; Jesus draws the sword of His reserved authority. He claims, as sovereign in human affairs, to decide what is right in the matter ‘The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath’; more than this, He professes to have wrought His Sabbath works as God the Father does, to whom all days are alike in His beneficence, and through the insight of a Son watching the Father at His labour ( John 5:17-20 ) a pretension, to Jewish ears, of blasphemous arrogance: ‘He maketh himself equal with God!’ On this ground Jesus was condemned by the Sanhedrin (cf. John 19:7 ), because He set Himself above the Sabbath, on the strength of being one with God. Thus the law of Moses put Jesus Christ to death; it was too small to hold Him; its administrators thought themselves bound to inflict the capital sentence on One who said, ‘I am the Son of the Blessed’ ( Mark 14:61 ff.).

( f ) At the same time, Caiaphas, the official head of the system, gave another explanation, far deeper than he guessed, of the execution: ‘That Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only’ ( John 11:49 ff.). Virtually, He was offering Himself for ‘the lamb’ of the Paschal Feast, ready to be slain in sacrifice, that He might ‘take away the sin of the world.’ This mysterious relation of the death of Jesus to Divine law He had hinted at here and there ( Matthew 20:28 ; Matthew 26:28 , Luke 22:37 , John 3:14 ; John 6:51 ; John 12:24 ); its exposition was reserved for His Apostles speaking in the light of this grandest of all fulfilments. Jesus made good the implicit promise of the sacrificial institutions of Israel .

2. The word ‘law’ occurs 118 times in St. Paul’s Epistles, 103 times in Romans and Galatians alone. It is manifest how absorbing an interest the subject had for this Apostle, and where that interest mainly lay. Galatians 2:19 puts us at the centre of St. Paul’s position: ‘I through law died to law, that I might live to God.’ From legalism, as from a house of bondage, he had escaped into the freedom of the sons of God. ( a ) Paul ‘died to the law,’ as he had understood and served it when a Pharisee, regarding obedience to its precepts as the sole ground of acceptance with God. He had sought there ‘a righteousness of’ his ‘own, even that which is of the law’ ( Philippians 3:9 ), to be gained by’ works,’ by which he strove to merit salvation as a ‘debt’ due from God for service rendered, a righteousness such as its possessor could ‘boast of, as ‘his own’ ( Romans 4:1-5 ; Romans 9:31 to Romans 10:3 ). Pursuing this path, ‘Israel’ had failed to win ‘the righteousness of God,’ such as is valid ‘before God’; the method was impracticable justification on the terms of ‘the law of Moses’ is unattainable ( Acts 13:38 f., Romans 8:3 ). Instead of destroying sin, the law arouses it to new vigour, ‘multiplying’ where it aimed at suppressing ‘the trespass’ ( Romans 5:20 ; Romans 7:7-13 , 1 Corinthians 15:56 ). Not the ‘law’ in itself, but the ‘carnal’ sin-bound nature of the man, is to blame for this; arrayed against ‘the law of God,’ to which ‘reason’ bows, is ‘another law’ successfully oppugning it, that ‘of sin’ which occupies ‘my members’ ( Romans 7:12-23 ), and which is, in effect, a ‘law of death’ ( Romans 8:2 ).

( b ) But St. Paul’s Judaistic experience had a positive as well as a negative result: if he ‘died to law,’ it was ‘ through law’; ‘the law has proved our pœdagogus [for leading us] to Christ’ ( Galatians 3:24 ). Law awakened conscience and disciplined the moral faculties; the Jewish people were like ‘an heir’ placed ‘under guardians and stewards until the appointed times,’ and trained in bond-service with a view to their ‘adoption’ ( Galatians 4:1-5 ). Even the aggravations of sin caused by the law had their benefit, as they brought the disease to a head and reduced the patient to a state in which he was ready to accept the proffered remedy ( Romans 7:24 ). ‘The Scripture’ had in this way ‘shut up all things under sin,’ blocking every door of escape and blighting every hope of a self-earned righteousness ( Galatians 3:21 f.), that the sinner might accept unconditionally the ‘righteousness which is through faith in Christ’ ( Philippians 3:9 ).

( c ) Contact with Gentile life had widened St. Paul’s conception of moral law; it was touched by the influences of Greek philosophy and Roman government. He discerned a law established ‘by nature,’ and ‘inscribed in the hearts’ of men ignorant of the Mosaic Code and counting with Jews as ‘lawless.’ This Divine jus (and fas ) gentium served, in a less distinct but very real sense, the purpose of the written law in Israel; it impressed on the heathen moral responsibility and the consciousness of sin ( Romans 2:6-16 ). The rule of right and wrong Paul regards as a universal human institute , operating so as to ‘bring the whole world under judgment before God’ ( Romans 3:9-19 ); its action is manifested by the universal incidence of death: in this sense, and in the light of Romans 2:12-16 , should be read the obscure parenthesis of Romans 5:13 f., as stating that ‘law’ is concomitant with ‘sin’; the existence of sin, followed by death, in the generations between Adam and Moses proves that law was there all along, whether in a less or a more explicit form; the connexion of sin and death in humanity is, in fact, a fundamental legal principle ( Romans 8:2 ).

( d ) Having ‘died to law’ by renouncing the futile salvation it appeared to offer, the Apostle had learned to live to it again in a better way and under a nobler form, since he had begun to ‘live to God’ in Christ. St. Paul is at the farthest remove from Antinomianism; the charge made against him on this score was wholly mistaken. While no longer ‘ under law,’ he is ‘not lawless toward God, but in law toward Christ’ ( Romans 6:14 f., 1 Corinthians 9:21 ). The old ego , ‘the flesh with its passions and lusts,’ has been ‘crucified with Christ’ ( Galatians 2:20 ; Galatians 5:16-24 ). God’s law ceases to press on him as an external power counteracted by ‘the law of sin in the members’; the latter has been expelled by ‘the Spirit of God’s Son,’ which ‘forms Christ’ in him; the new, Christian man is ‘in law’ as he is ‘in Christ’ he sees the law now from the inside, in its unity and charm, and it constrains him with the inward force of ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ possessing his nature. He ‘serves’ indeed, but it is ‘in the new’ life wrought ‘of the Spirit, and not in the old’ servitude to ‘the letter’ ( Romans 7:6 ). Constituting now ‘one new man,’ believers of every race and rank ‘through love serve one another,’ as the hand serves the eye or the head the feet; for them ‘the whole law is fulfilled in one word, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ ( Romans 13:8-10 , 1 Corinthians 12:13 ; 1 Corinthians 12:25 f., Galatians 5:13 f., Ephesians 2:16-18 ). The Christian ‘fulfils the law of Christ ,’ as the limb the law of the head. Thus St. Paul’s doctrine of the Law joins hands with that of Jesus (see 1 above). Thus also, in his system of thought, the law of God revealed in the OT, when received from Christ revised and spiritualized, and planted by ‘faith’ along with Him in the believer’s heart (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34 ), becomes for the first time really valid and effective: ‘Do we nullify law through faith? God forbid; nay,’ he cries, ‘we establish law!’ ( Romans 3:31 ).

( e ) Neither Jesus nor Paul makes a formal distinction between the moral and the ceremonial law (see, however, Romans 9:4 ). St. Paul’s teaching bears mainly on the former: as a Pharisee he had no ritualistic bent, and his ambition was for ethical perfection. ‘Circumcision’ has lost in his eyes all religious value, and remains a mere national custom, now that it ceases to be the covenant-sign and is replaced in this sense by baptism ( 1 Corinthians 7:18 ff., Galatians 6:16 , Colossians 2:11 ff.). It becomes a snare to Gentiles when imposed on them as necessary to salvation, or even to advancement in the favour of God; for it binds them ‘to keep the whole law’ of Moses, and leads into the fatal path of ‘justification by law’ ( Galatians 2:2-5 ; Galatians 3:2 ff; Galatians 5:3-6 ). St. Paul’s contention with the legalists of Jerusalem on this question was a life and death struggle, touching the very ‘truth of the gospel’ and ‘the freedom’ of the Church ( Acts 15:1-11 , Galatians 2:1-10 ; Galatians 5:1 ). The same interests were threatened, more insidiously, by the subsequent attempt, countenanced by Peter and Barnabas at Antioch, to separate Jewish from Gentile Christians at table through the re-assertion of the Mosaic distinction of ‘meats’ which had been expressly discarded by Jesus. The assumption of a privileged legal status within the Church meant the surrender of the whole principle of salvation by faith and of Christian saintship ( Galatians 2:11-21 , Romans 14:17 f., 1 Corinthians 8:8 ; cf. Mark 7:14-28 ). In some Churches Paul had to deal with the inculcation of Jewish ritual from another point of view. At Colossæ the dietary rules and sacred seasons of Mosaism were imposed on grounds of ascetic discipline, and of reverence towards angelic ( scil . astral) powers; he pronounces them valueless in the former respect, and in the latter treasonous towards Christ, who supplies ‘the body’ of which those prescriptions were but a ‘shadow’ ( Colossians 2:16-23 ).

3 . Colossians 2:17 Colossians 2:17 forms a link between the doctrine of St. Paul on the Law and the complementary teaching of the writer of Hebrews , a Jew of very different temperament and antecedents from Saul of Tarsus. This author emphasizes the ceremonial, as Paul the moral, factors of the OT; the Temple, not the synagogue, was for him the centre of Judaism. ‘The first covenant,’ he says, ‘had ordinances of divine service,’ providing for and guarding man’s approach to God in worship ( Hebrews 9:1 etc.); for St. Paul, it consisted chiefly of ‘commandments expressed in ordinances’ ( Ephesians 2:15 ), which prescribe the path of righteousness in daily life. ‘The law’ means for this great Christian thinker the institutions of the Israelite priesthood, sanctuary, sacrifices all consummated in Christ and His ‘one offering,’ by which ‘he has perfected for ever them that are sanctified’ ( Hebrews 9:1 to Hebrews 10:14 ). In his view, the law is superseded as the imperfect, provisional, and ineffective, by the perfect, permanent, and satisfying, as the shadowy outline by the full image of things Divine ( Hebrews 7:18 f., Hebrews 8:1-4 , Hebrews 10:1-4 ); ‘the sanctuary of this world’ gives place to ‘heaven itself,’ revealed as the temple where the ‘great high priest’ Divine-human in person, sinless in nature, perfected in experience, and immeasurably superior to the Aaronic order ( Hebrews 4:14 ff., Hebrews 7:26 ff.,) ‘appears before the face of God for us,’ ‘having entered through the virtue of his own blood’ as our ‘surety’ and ‘the mediator of’ our ‘covenant,’ who has won for mankind ‘an eternal redemption’ ( Hebrews 2:9 , Hebrews 7:22 , Hebrews 8:8 , Hebrews 9:24-28 ). Jesus thus ‘inaugurated a new and living way into the holy place’ (in contrast with the old and dead way of the law); as experience proves, He has ‘cleansed the conscience from dead works to serve the living God,’ while the law with its repeated animal sacrifices served to remind men of their sins rather than to remove them ( Hebrews 7:25 , Hebrews 9:14 , Hebrews 10:1-4 ). Equally with St. Paul, the auctor ad Hebrœos regards ‘remission of sins’ as the initial blessing of the Christian state, which had been unattainable ‘under law,’ and ‘the blood of Christ’ as the means of procuring this immense boon. In Paul’s interpretation, this offering ‘justifies’ the unrighteous ‘before God’ and restores them to the forfeited status of sonship; in the interpretation of Hebrews, it ‘cleanses’ worshippers and brings them ‘nigh to God’ within His sanctuary; on either view, the sacrifice of Calvary removes the harriers set up, by man’s sin ‘under the law,’ between humanity and God.

4 . For St. James also the OT law was transformed. He conceives the change in a less radical fashion than Paul or the writer of Hebrews; James stands sturdily on the platform of the Sermon on the Mount. Re-cast by ‘the Lord of glory’ and charged with ‘the wisdom that cometh from above,’ the law is new and glorified in his eyes; like Paul, he knows it as ‘the law of Christ.’ All the disciples of Jesus were one in the place they gave to that which James calls ‘the sovereign law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ ( James 2:8-13 ; cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 ); deeds of pure brotherly love prove ‘faith’ alive and genuine; they make it ‘perfect,’ and guarantee the believer’s ‘justification’ (ch. 2). When he describes this law as ‘a perfect law, the law of liberty,’ James’ idea is substantially that of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Romans 8:2 ; Romans 8:4 , viz. that the law of God is no yoke compelling the Christian man from without, but a life actuating him from within; the believer ‘bends over it’ in contemplation, till he grows one with it ( James 1:24 ; cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18 ). ‘The tongue’ is the index of the heart, and St. James regards its control as a sure sign of perfection in law-keeping ( James 3:1-12 ). James treats of the law, not, like Paul, as it affects the sinner’s standing before God, nor, like the author of Hebrews, as it regulates his approach in worship, but as it governs the walk before God of the professed believer. His Epistle is, in effect, a comment on the last clause of Romans 8:4 , ‘that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us.’

5 . The word ‘law’ is entirely wanting in the Epistles of St. Peter and of St. John. 1 Peter 1:18-19 ; 1 Peter 2:24 ; 1 Peter 3:18 manifest the influence of Paul’s doctrine of salvation on the writer; while 1 John 1:7 ; 1 John 1:9 , indicates a leaning to the mode of representation characteristic of Hebrews, and 1 John 2:2 ; 1 John 4:10 virtually sustain the doctrine of St. Paul on law, sin, and sacrifice.

G. G. Findlay.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Law'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/l/law.html. 1909.

Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
Prev Entry
Laver
Next Entry
Lawgiver
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology