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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Law

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1. Introductory.-The subject of the Law formed one of the main problems, if not indeed the main problem, of the Apostolic Church, inasmuch as it involved the fundamental relation of primitive Christianity to Judaism on the one hand and heathenism on the other. Later Judaism, on its Pharisaic side, had carried legalism to extremes, and thus accentuated the separation between Israel and the Gentiles. The primitive Christian community, on the other hand, had been taught by its Founder to rank the freedom of Divine grace higher than human merit (cf. e.g. Matthew 9:9-13 ||s and, generally, the attitude of Jesus to publicans and sinners), and to regard faith as of more importance than the distinction between Jew and Gentile (cf. Matthew 8:5-13 ||s, Matthew 15:21-28 ||). In the evangelical record, moreover, the early Church had preserved the recollection of its Lord’s outspoken utterances regarding the merely relative validity of the Jewish ceremonial Law (e.g. of the Sabbath, Matthew 12:1-14 ||s; of cleanness, Matthew 15:10-20 ||s)-or, at all events, of the interpretations recognized in the Synagogue (‘the traditions of the elders,’ Matthew 15:2 ff. ||). Still, the same record showed that in principle the attitude of Jesus to the Law as a whole was an avowedly conservative one (Matthew 5:17-20, Luke 16:17), even as He had lived His life within the confines of the Law (cf. Galatians 4:4 : γενόμενος ὑπὸ νόμον); His supreme aim, indeed, was to bring out with full clearness and force the will of God made known in the Law. We thus see that, with regard to the Law, the evangelical tradition seemed capable of a double construction, or, at least, that it did not supply the means for deciding a question that soon became urgent. It is therefore easy to understand why the early Christian community in Jerusalem assumed at first a rigidly conservative attitude towards the Law, and regarded the faithful observance of it as praiseworthy (Acts 21:20; cf. Acts 2:46; Acts 3:1; Acts 10:9; Acts 10:14; Acts 22:12). St. Peter, e.g., required a special revelation before he would enter the house of the uncircumcised Cornelius and admit the first Gentile convert into the Church by baptism (Acts 10:1-48)-a step which did not fail to arouse opposition on the part of those who ‘were of the circumcision’ (cf. Acts 11:1-18).

2. The view of St. James.-The principal representative of this zeal for the Law in the infant Church was St. James, the brother of the Lord, who, according to Acts, as also to the Pauline Epistles, occupied a leading position therein (Acts 15:13-21; Acts 21:18-26, Galatians 2:9; cf. Galatians 1:19). St. James, by reason of his righteous life, is said to have been esteemed scarcely less highly by non-Christians than by believers (Hegesippus, in Eus. HE [Note: E Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.).] ii. 23). His great concern was to smooth the way by which Israel might come to Jesus Christ, and to put no stumbling-block before his people. From this point of view his attitude to the question concerning the Gentile Christians discussed at the Apostolic Council becomes readily intelligible. Here he shows himself to be a genuine disciple of Jesus in recognizing, after the example of Peter, the supremacy of grace, and in refusing to put the yoke of the Law upon the Gentile Christians, whom rather he receives as brethren, while he acknowledges St. Paul as the Apostle of the Circumcision (Acts 15:13-21; cf. Acts 15:11, Galatians 2:9). He thus came into direct conflict with the Pharisaic group of Jewish Christians-those who asserted that the salvation of the Gentiles depended upon their being circumcised and their acceptance of the Law (Acts 15:1-5, Galatians 2:1-5). It was probably only for the sake of brotherly intercourse between circumcised and uncircumcised Christians that James proposed the restrictions to Gentile Christian liberty which were laid down in the so-called Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:20 f., Acts 15:28f.). The reason given for the proposal (Acts 15:21 : ‘For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath’) probably means simply that the four prohibitions in question-which formed the kernel of the so-called Noachian commandments, and correspond to the laws for proselytes-had come to be so impressed upon the minds of the Jews that they could not countenance any disobedience to them if their intercourse with their Gentile brethren in the Church was to be unconstrained. In formulating the injunctions of the Apostolic Decree St. James was in reality only following the practice of the Synagogue with regard to proselytes of the narrower class (‘the God-fearing,’ οἱ φοβούμενοι [or σεβόμενοι] τὸν θεόν), just as that practice no doubt had already prepared the way in the Christian mission to the Gentiles; for the fact that St. Paul makes no mention of the Apostolic Decree in Galatians 2:9 f. probably signifies that he had observed its provisions on his own initiative (so, in substance, A. Ritschl, B. Weiss, H. H. Wendt, etc.; cf., further, article Moses). But the question regarding the Gentiles was in no sense solved, as soon appeared in what occurred at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). If, for the sake of Christian fellowship, St. Peter had in that city ignored the Jewish regulations about food, and had eaten in the company of Gentile Christians, this did not coincide with the views of those who ‘came from James.’ These men took offence at St. Peter’s practice-just as the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem had resented his action at Caesarea (Acts 10; cf. Acts 11:2 f.)-manifestly assuming that Jewish Christians, as the circumcised, were under an absolute obligation to the Mosaic Law, and that they ought not, even for the sake of Christian fellowship, to make any concession whatever to the liberty of the converted heathen. If concessions were to be made at all, they must come from the Gentile, not the Jewish, side. Whether this point of view is to be traced directly to St. James himself, or rather merely coincided with his position, is a much-debated question. It is probable, however, that in his view of the matter his concern for Israel bulked more largely than his regard for the Gentiles, and that accordingly he would have preferred to surrender the possibility of perfect Christian communion between Jewish and Gentile Christians rather than grant the former a dispensation from their regulations regarding food. Perhaps we may, with B. Weiss, see a suggestion of this point of view in what St. James says in Acts 15:14 regarding the mission to the Gentiles, viz. that God had taken out of them a people for His name-i.e. a new people of God, in addition to the old.

To this type of Jewish Christianity corresponds generally the religious standpoint of the Epistle which is ascribed to St. James. The letter shows so little of a distinctively Christian character, that Spitta has in all seriousness hazarded the theory of its being in reality a Jewish work in which the name of Jesus has been inserted here and there. As a matter of fact, however, the writer shows clearly that he is a Christian, not merely in his reference to Jesus Christ in his address (James 1:1; cf. James 2:1), but also in his giving expression to specifically Christian ideas, as e.g. when he speaks of the regeneration of his readers by the word of truth (James 1:18) and of the saving word as implanted in their hearts (James 1:21). He betrays his Jewish Christian mode of thought, however, when, in enjoining his readers to be doers, and not merely hearers, of the word (James 1:22), he presently replaces ‘word’ by ‘law,’ although ‘the perfect law of liberty’ means the law as given to, or as fulfilled in, human freedom. He thus shows that for him the central element in Christianity consists in fulfilment of the Law (cf. James 1:22-25 with James 2:12). It is true that St. James’s conception of the substance of the Law likewise shows the influence of Jesus, as he ranks the law of love to one’s neighbour above the others (James 2:8), and, generally, urges the pre-eminence of the commandments enjoining love and mercy (James 2:1-13; James 2:15 f., James 1:26 f., James 4:11, etc.), just as he specially denounces such sins as judging one’s neighbour (cf. Matthew 7:1) and swearing (cf. Matthew 5:34-37), and condemns hatred as murder (James 4:2). His commendation of the practice of mercy and of keeping oneself unspotted from the world as the true worship of God (James 1:26) is also wholly in the spirit of Jesus (cf. e.g. Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7), while he is silent regarding all outward service and ceremony. It is quite unnecessary to follow modern criticism in regarding this spiritual and ethical conception of the Law as pointing to a post-apostolic date of composition, any more than the attack upon the doctrine of justification through faith alone (James 2:14-26) need be regarded as post-Pauline. St. James’s view of the Law, in fact, coincides on the whole with the view urged by Jesus: in substance the new Law does not differ from that of the OT, and in James 2:9-12 he finds his examples in the latter (the Decalogue and Deuteronomy 1:17); while there is no difficulty in seeing why he never makes the slightest reference to the ceremonial Law-for readers such as his it was quite unnecessary to insist upon that side of the old religion, nor, for that matter, did Jesus Himself lay any emphasis upon it. Further, if the Epistle was addressed to Jewish Christians who had not as yet broken off relations with the Synagogue (cf. e.g. James 2:1 ff.), it may be confidently assumed that they were not neglectful of the ceremonial Law. What they required rather was to be reminded of the ethical aspect of the Law, and above all, to be warned against the common Jewish delusion that hearing and speaking the word could take the place of doing it. In James 2:14 the reference is not to ‘the works of the Law,’ but solely to works in the ethical sense. Moreover, as the theologians of the Synagogue had already turned their minds to the passage Genesis 15:6 (cf. A. Schlatter, Der Glaube im NT2, Calw and Stuttgart, 1896, pp. 29ff. 45ff.), the antithesis of faith and works, and the contrast between a justification by faith and a justification by works, may quite well have been formulated in an age prior to St. Paul.

3. The view of St. Peter.-Besides St. James, the most outstanding representative of the Jewish Christian position in the primitive Church was St. Peter. But just as, according to Acts 10, he had been led by a Divine revelation to enter the house of an uncircumcised man, and to eat with the Gentiles (cf. Acts 11:3), we may infer also, from his speech in the Apostolic Council, and especially from his behaviour in the Gentile Christian community at Antioch, that he had a much clearer view than St. James of the merely relative obligation of the Law even for Jewish Christians. In certain circumstances he thought himself justified, for the sake of brotherly intercourse with Gentile Christians, in disregarding the rigour of the Law, since, after all, salvation did not depend upon the Law, whose yoke, indeed, neither the fathers nor the Jews then living were able to bear, but Jew and Gentile alike could look for salvation only to the grace of Jesus Christ, and to faith in Him (cf. Acts 15:7-11, Galatians 2:12 a). Hence St. Paul takes for granted that the subsequent vacillation of St. Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2:12 b) was nothing but dissimulation, as it was due, not to any change of conviction, but simply to fear of the Jews. In principle St. Peter recognized the religious freedom of the Jewish Christians, not merely as regards the more general intercourse with their Gentile brethren sanctioned by the Apostolic Decree, but also as regards the closer intimacy involved in eating with them (cf. the Agapae). In other words, he had, according to St. Paul, actually acknowledged that the Jewish Christians had the right to accommodate themselves to the freedom of the Gentiles. Only we must bear in mind that St. Peter was, in a much greater degree than St. Paul, a man of moods, and was therefore not always so consistent in his thinking.

It is remarkable that the two Epistles bearing the name of Peter do not refer to the Law. The Second Epistle obviously dates from a time when the question regarding the Law had given place to other controversies, and, at all events, it is concerned with a libertinism and a doctrine that lie beyond the purview of Jewish legalism. It is a striking fact that even the First Epistle, the authenticity of which is open to no decisive objection, does not so much as mention the Law, but speaks from a quite unstudied and non-legalistic point of view. As the writer implies that, e.g. the OT conception of the priesthood was first properly realized in the NT Church, and describes the latter as the true Temple of God (1 Peter 2:5 ff.), it would seem that the OT legal system as a whole had for him only a typological value. This would certainly be strange if the Epistle was written, as B. Weiss and Kühl suppose, to Jewish Christians, i.e. prior to the time of St. Paul, but is quite intelligible if it was addressed to Gentile Christian, Pauline communities, and written under the influence of Pauline Epistles, as Romans and Ephesians-a hypothesis to which, in view of the editorial collaboration of Silvanus, the follower of St. Paul, no exception can be taken.

4. The view of St. Paul.-In point of fact, the first to decide the question of the Law upon grounds of principle was the Apostle Paul himself, though others had already pointed the way. In conformity with what has been said of St. Peter’s views, it is perfectly credible that, as related in Acts, St. Peter was the first to baptize a heathen, and that he should make reference thereto in his address to the Apostolic Council (Acts 15:7-9). Here, however, the most outstanding name is that of the martyr St. Stephen, who anticipated St. Peter in divining the essentially non-legalistic character of the gospel. St. Stephen, as a Hellenist, could of course more easily than St. Peter discern the merely relative validity of the Jewish legal system, and especially of the Temple ritual; and although his adversaries, in charging him with having in his preaching attacked the Holy Place and the Law, were undoubtedly doing him an injustice, yet the accusation was not altogether unfounded. His trenchant speech (Acts 7) not only attacks the Jews for their persistent rejection of the Prophets, but also pointedly criticizes their over-estimation of the Temple: ‘the Most High dwelleth not in houses made with hands’ (Acts 7:47-50). His general plea is that Divine revelation is independent of any particular holy place, and be honours Moses less as the Law-giver than as the prototype of Jesus, and as the one who foretold His coming (cf. Acts 7:35 ff.). The very Law to which the Jews appealed they had not kept (Acts 7:53).

It was no mere accident that in particular the personality and preaching of St. Stephen should have wrought powerfully on the young Pharisee Saul (7:58). Saul probably belonged to the Cilician synagogue, whose members had disputed with St. Stephen, and in any case the latter’s great vindicatory speech must have still further opened the eyes of the zealous Pharisee to the inherently non-legal nature of the gospel, and rekindled his persecuting zeal against the followers of Jesus (cf. 6:9f.).

Even before his conversion Saul must have been sensible of the great alternative which he sets forth in Galatians 2:15-21 : either righteousness is through the Law, and Christ died for nought; or else the Crucified Jesus is truly the Christ, and righteousness is to be attained through faith alone. It need, therefore, occasion no surprise that in his conversion Saul had become convinced of the universality of Christianity, or that thereafter he maintained that the Law was not in a religious sense binding upon either Gentile or Jewish Christians (Galatians 1:2).

According to Galatians 1:15 f. St. Paul saw at once that he was called to be a missionary among the heathen, and he seems to have laboured as such for a time without any interference whatever-a circumstance which will hardly seem strange when we remember that certain Hellenists who had been driven out in consequence of the persecution connected with Stephen had preached the gospel in Antioch even to the Gentiles, and that the numerous converts whom they had won from heathendom were recognized as brethren by the community in Jerusalem (Acts 11:20-24). Nor does the Apostle make the slightest reference to the question of the Law in his earliest Epistles, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. It was in reality the aggression of certain Christian Pharisees-Judaizers (Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5, Galatians 2:4)-that forced him into a thorough-going discussion of the significance of the Law, and this is his special theme in his Epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans. In seeking to delineate here the Pauline doctrine of the Law, however, we must also draw upon the Epistles of the Imprisonment and the Pastorals.

(a) His use of the term ‘Law.’-In discussing the Pauline conception of the Law, we note that the Apostle uses the term νόμος in somewhat different senses. It may mean the whole Pentateuch-the Torah in the wider sense-as in Romans 3:21 (the Law and the Prophets), Galatians 4:21, 1 Corinthians 14:34, and even the entire OT, which might be thus designated a parte potiori, as in Romans 3:19 (the Psalms also included under the term), 1 Corinthians 14:21 (Isaiah 28:11 f.). As a rule, however, νόμος is applied by St. Paul to the Law delivered by Moses, as recorded in the Mosaic Books from Exodus to Deuteronomy (cf. Romans 5:13-14 : ἄχρι νόμου = μέχρι Μωσέως, Galatians 3:17 : the Law given 430 years after the promise). Further, St. Paul sometimes uses the term with, sometimes without, the definite article, and the distinction must not be ignored. It is true that νόμος, even without the article, may mean the historically-given Law of Moses, the possession of which was the special prerogative of the Jews as distinguished from the Gentiles (Romans 2:12-14; Romans 3:20 f., Romans 5:13 f., 20). The omission of the article, however, generally points rather to ‘law’ as a principle; thus what is so said of ‘law’ would hold good of any other positive ordinance of God-if such existed at all (cf. Romans 2:13-15 : ‘For not the hearers of law are just before God, but the doers of law shall be justified; for when Gentiles who have not law do by nature the things of the law, these having no law are law to themselves,’ etc., and Romans 5:13 : ‘For prior to law sin was already in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law’). In both of these passages it is obvious that νόμος and ὁ νόμος equally refer to the Mosaic Law, but it is no less obvious that they assert principles, not merely historical facts; cf. also Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:23, 1 Timothy 1:8 f. (‘The law is good, if a man use it lawfully, knowing that law is not made for a righteous man’). On the other hand, when St. Paul wishes to make a historical statement regarding the Law of Moses, he uses the phrase ὁ νόμος. The extent to which he can abstract from the concrete historical sense of νόμος, however, is seen in the fact that he occasionally uses νόμος, virtually as a purely formal concept, as equivalent to norma, ‘rule’: Romans 3:27 (the law of faith, i.e. the Divine ordinance which enjoins faith, not works; cf. Romans 1:5, Romans 9:31, Romans 10:3, Romans 16:26), Romans 7:23 (the law of sin), Romans 8:2 (the law of life = natural law), Galatians 6:2; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:21 (the law of Christ).

As regards the proper signification of the term, however, the Law may be defined as the positive revelation of the Divine ordinance to the Israelites, who therein, as in the covenants, the promises, and the Temple service (Romans 9:4), had a sacred privilege unshared by other peoples (cf. Romans 2:12, Romans 3:19). The law of God, which in the heathen was but an inward and therefore vague surmise, was for the Jews formulated objectively and unmistakably in the written Law (Romans 2:17-20; cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7), and the Jews, even if they broke that Law (Romans 2:21 ff.), could yet boast of a moral advantage over the heathen (Galatians 2:15).

The Law, however, is a revelation not only of the Divine requirements, but also of the Divine promises and threats attached thereto. The Law, in short, contains a judicial system, in that it determines the relation between man and God by man’s obedience to, or transgression of, the Divine commandments. If man keeps the whole Law, he is rewarded with ‘life’ (Galatians 3:12 = Leviticus 18:5), and this is bestowed not of grace, but of debt (Romans 4:4 : κατὰ ὀφείλημα); while if he does not keep the Law in its entirety, he is accursed (Galatians 3:10 = Deuteronomy 27:26), and passes into the power of death (Romans 6:23; Romans 7:10, 1 Corinthians 15:56).

The Law demands, not faith, but works (Galatians 3:11 f.), and hence St. Paul speaks repeatedly of the ‘works of the law’ (ἔργα νόμου, ‘works prescribed by the law’; cf. Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16). By ‘works of the law,’ however, he means, not simply the externally legal actions in which the heart is not implicated, but no less the morally irreproachable fulfilment of the commandments, which claim the obedience of the soul as well as of the body, and forbid sinful desire as well as sinful action-just as, indeed, the requirement of the whole Law is summed up in the commandments of love (Romans 13:9 f., Galatians 5:14). It is no doubt the case that for St. Paul outward rites and ceremonies are included in the characteristic ordinances of the Law (Galatians 2:12; Galatians 4:10; cf. Romans 9:4; Romans 14:5). The Law as a whole consists of particular commandments of a statutory nature (τὸν νόμον τῶν ἐντολῶν ἐν δόγμασι, Ephesians 2:15; cf. Colossians 2:14).* [Note: Some scholars are of opinion that the word δόγματα here refers to the treatises with which the ancient Rabbis had overlaid the Law, but this is hardly compatible with Colossians 2:14 : τὸ χειρόγραφον τοῖς δόγμασιν.] In Gal. it is especially the ceremonial or ritual ordinances of the Law that are referred to, as St. Paul is here dealing mainly with the question of circumcision (cf. Galatians 2:12 ff; Galatians 4:3-10; Galatians 5:2 ff. also Colossians 2:13 f., Colossians 2:20-22). In Rom., on the other hand, he is treating rather of the moral requirements of the Law (cf. Romans 2:12-23; Romans 7:7 to Romans 8:8). Nevertheless, we must not ascribe the conscious differentiation between moral law and the ceremonial Law to the Apostle himself. For him the Law is an indivisible whole (Galatians 3:10; Galatians 5:3), though he certainly recognizes gradations of value in its commands (e.g. the commandment of love), and finds its kernel in the Decalogue (cf. Romans 13:9 f., 2 Corinthians 3:3-7 : the Law engraven in letters on tables of stone). All the Law is Divine. While it might seem as if in Gal. St. Paul designedly avoids speaking of the Law as the Law of God (cf. Galatians 2:19; Galatians 3:19-21), but rather sets it, as the ‘mere rudiments of the world’ (Galatians 4:3; Galatians 4:9; cf. Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20), on a level with the heathen stage of religion, the absence of any such design is shown by the fact that even in the same Epistle he exhorts his readers to fulfil the Law by love (Galatians 5:13 f.), and thus asserts its holiness, while elsewhere (e.g. Romans 7:12; Romans 7:14; Romans 7:16; Romans 7:22) he insists upon its Divine and spiritual character.

(b) His view of the function of the Law.-The most characteristic feature of St. Paul’s doctrine of the Law, however, is found in his statements regarding its function. Here, in fact, he develops a view directly opposed not only to his own earlier Jewish conception, but also to the thoughts of the natural man, viz. that the Law is not meant to mediate life to man, but is rather a medium of death. In the abstract, of course, he still recognizes that the Law was designed to be a real channel of righteousness and life (Romans 7:10 : ‘the commandment which was unto life,’ Romans 10:5, Galatians 3:12 : ‘he that doeth them shall live in them’). In the actual circumstances of life, however, the matter has quite a different bearing, for no human being has ever fulfilled, or ever can fulfil, the condition of perfect obedience to the Law. The Law is thus quite incapable of bringing life to man; nor, indeed, was it given by the all-foreseeing God with any such design. On the contrary, it has primarily a purely negative aim and effect, viz. to intensify the moral and spiritual misery of the unsaved man, so that the greatness of the Divine grace may be the more clearly displayed; and it is only upon this background that the Law has any positive significance at all.

This estimate of the Law, so obnoxious to the Judaistic mind, the Apostle made good by an appeal to experience as well as to Scripture and sacred history. His demonstration is given more especially in the Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans. In the latter he starts from experience, which shows that not only the heathen who live without the Law but even the people of the Law themselves are all held fast under the power of sin. The Jews glory in the Law with their lips, but, when their conscience is appealed to, they have to confess that their deeds are little better than those of the heathen (Romans 1:18; Romans 2:24). Next he shows from Scripture, from the Torah, which speaks to the Jews in particular, that they, equally with all mankind, are guilty before God (Romans 3:9-20; cf. Galatians 2:16); moreover, the OT plainly declares that by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified (Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16 = Psalms 143:2; the words ‘by the works of the law’ were added by St. Paul himself, but are quite in accordance with the sense). Finally, on the lines of sacred history, he deduces the impossibility of justification by the works of the Law from the fact that God has now manifested a new species of righteousness apart from the Law, viz. the righteousness that is through faith in Jesus Christ, who has been set forth in His blood as a ἱλαστήριον (Romans 3:21 f., Romans 3:25) i.e. an expiation, or a propitiation (Luther: Gnadenstuhl, ‘throne of grace’), and has rendered satisfaction to the Law (Galatians 3:13; cf. Galatians 4:5). This new mode of righteousness, moreover, was foreshown by the Law and the Prophets, as is argued in greater detail in Romans 4, where St. Paul discusses the grand precedent of Abraham; for Abraham, the father of God’s people, was justified not by works but by faith, and while as yet uncircumcised, in order that he should be the father of all who have faith (Romans 4:1-12). Besides the case of Abraham, St. Paul appeals specially to the prophetic utterance of Habakkuk 2:4 (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 : ‘The just shall live by faith’). In Gal. likewise he attaches great importance to the pattern of Abraham. Here he represents the Law as a secondary institution in comparison with the Promise. In man the Promise presupposes faith only, and may be compared to a testament, which could not be invalidated by a positive decree such as the Law delivered 430 years Later (Galatians 3:15-18). In the section of Rom. (9-11) which deals with the rejection of Israel, he returns again to the biblical arguments for the righteousness of faith, which excludes justification by the Law (Romans 10:3-17). But the decisive proof of his contention that the Law is incapable of justifying sinners lies for St. Paul in the Death of Christ proclaimed in the gospel (Galatians 2:16-21; cf. Romans 3:24 f.). It is his absolute conviction that, if righteousness could be secured by the Law, then Christ died for nought (Romans 3:21; cf. Romans 10:3 ff.). Nor is the synthesis of the two kinds of righteousness a possible conception. The Law is no more based upon faith (Galatians 3:12) than the grace of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15) is based upon works (Romans 11:6 : ‘if by grace, then no more of works; otherwise, grace is no more grace’).

How does it come about, then, that the abstractly possible righteousness by the works of the Law (Romans 2:13) is impossible in the sphere of actuality? Or, otherwise, why is man incapable of fulfilling the Law? The answer is given in the Apostle’s idea of the carnal constitution of man, which is antagonistic to the spiritual character of the Law (7:14). Man, by reason of his carnal nature, is sold into the servitude of sin, for the mind of the flesh is hostile to God, and cannot become subject to His (spiritual) Law. No doubt the Law of God includes commandments which, because of their external character, may quite well be obeyed by the ‘flesh’ (Galatians 3:3; cf. Galatians 4:10), but its most distinctive requirement, the law of love, is repugnant to the flesh. For with St. Paul the term ‘flesh’ (σάρξ) is by no means restricted to the sensuous corporeal aspect of human nature-as if the principle of sin were rooted in man’s physical constitution (cf. Galatians 5:12 ff.); on the contrary, the flesh penetrates even to his inmost soul, so that we may speak also of a ‘mind of the flesh’ (Colossians 2:18). The ‘works of the flesh,’ accordingly, embrace not only sins of sensuality, but also sins of the selfish will (Galatians 5:19-21), and hence, in a passage immediately preceding this, St. Paul contrasts brotherly love with the misuse of liberty as an occasion to the flesh (Galatians 5:13 f.). Even in the regenerate man, the Christian, the flesh maintains its power so persistently (Galatians 5:16-24) that he cannot conquer sin by the Law, but can triumph over it only by the Spirit of God (Romans 7:14-25; Romans 8:1-13).

If, however, the Law does not bring salvation to man, and was not designed to do so, what is its real function? The most comprehensive answer to this question is given in Romans 3:20 b: ‘through the law comes the knowledge of sin.’ the answer is defined more concretely in a number of kindred statements (cf. Romans 4:15, Romans 5:13 f.,Romans 5:20, Romans 7:5; Romans 7:7 ff., 1 Corinthians 15:56, Galatians 3:19). The Law not only serves to make sin known as sin, and to condemn the sins of men, but it resolves ill-doing into aggravated sin, giving it the character of trespass against the commandments of God: ‘where there is no law, neither is there transgression’ (Romans 4:15), ‘and therefore sin is not imputed’ (Romans 5:13). But the actual operation of the Law in thus resolving sin into positive transgression and guilt must, according to the teleology of the Apostle, have been the Divine purpose of the Law (Galatians 3:19 : τῶν παραβάσεων χάριν, ‘in order to bring forth the conscious transgressions as such’; cf. Romans 5:20 : ‘that the Fall might he increased’; Romans 7:13 : ‘that sin might be shown to be sin’).

Thus the Law produces a qualitative intensification of sin: sin becomes guilt. The evil done by those who have not the Law is relatively blameless. But the Law, which invests sin with the character of guilt, evokes wrath, i.e. in God (Romans 4:15). Sin, however, is not only qualitatively intensified, but also quantitatively increased, by the Law. For, according to Romans 7:5-13, the Law tends to rouse the slumbering power of sin, which then breaks out in all kinds of appetites and passions. Just as an innocent youth, who has, say, listened to some explanation of sexual matters, may thus be wrought upon by sinful inclinations hitherto unfelt, so-the Apostle’s idea would seem to have been something of this kind-the as yet relatively blameless man is brought under the influence of evil desires by the Law’s very prohibition of such desires. This in no sense, however, proves that the Law is sinful, but simply shows the awful power of the sin that dwells in the flesh; for man’s conscience, his better self, agrees with the Law, and cannot but attest its holiness (cf. Romans 7:5; Romans 7:7-13; Romans 7:16; Romans 7:22). Here the Apostle is probably not thinking of an outward multiplication of sins; he rather assumes, indeed, that generally the Jews live on a higher moral level than the heathen (Galatians 2:15; cf. Philippians 3:6), and his idea is in all likelihood that of an inward development-in the shape of sins of thought.

The Law, in thus aggravating the power of sin both qualitatively and quantitatively, brings man into a state of deeper misery than he ever experienced while still without the Law; it works in him the apprehension of God’s wrath and curse (Romans 4:15, Galatians 3:10), and of death (Romans 7:10; Romans 7:24, 2 Corinthians 3:6-9, 1 Corinthians 15:56), and yet at the same time the most profound yearning for salvation.

It is true that death, as a result of Adam’s sin, reigned over mankind even before the Law (Romans 5:14, 1 Corinthians 15:21 f.). Even so, however, the individual could live in relative unconcern (Romans 5:13; Romans 7:9); the Law written in his heart asserted itself but feebly. Accordingly, when God determined to institute salvation for the race of man, and chose a people as its depositary, He began by giving to Abraham, the father of that people, simply the Promise, the condition of which was faith alone; subsequently, however, He added the Law, not indeed with the design of laying down a new condition co-ordinate with, or as a substitute for, faith, but rather, as it were, for the purpose of keeping His people in ward and custody, the Law acting as a stimulus to the power and guilt of sin in such wise as to exclude every hope except that of justification by faith in Christ as the medium of salvation (Galatians 3:6; Galatians 3:25, Romans 4:13 ff.). Had Christ appeared without the previous intervention of the Law, the misery of man would not have been so great; but also the glory of Divine grace would have been less transcendent (Romans 5:20 f.). In the historical outworking of redemption, therefore, the Law had merely a pedagogic function; it was our moral guardian (παιδαγωγός) until Christ came, so that we might be justified through faith, and through faith alone (Galatians 3:23-25).

(c) The abolition of the Law.-If the function of the Law was, as we have just seen, merely pedagogic, it must also have been but temporary. ‘Now that faith [or its object, Jesus Christ] is come, we are no longer under a tutor’ (Galatians 3:25; cf. Galatians 4:1-7); ‘Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believeth’ (Romans 10:4). In Ephesians 2:15 St. Paul asserts that Christ has actually abolished the law of commandments contained in ordinances; and, objectively, the Law, as a statutory system, was abrogated when Christ made satisfaction to it by His Death, or, as the Apostle puts it, bore its curse (Galatians 4:4; Galatians 3:13; cf. Colossians 2:14). But this is not to be understood in the sense that from the time of Christ’s Death every man, every Jew, is absolved from the Law; subjectively, the individual is freed from its dominion only when he becomes a Christian, and is united to Christ by faith and baptism, so as personally to appropriate His Death and Resurrection. Just as Christ Himself was released from the Law’s domain only through His Death on the Cross, in order that, as the Risen One, He might thereafter live a new life in immediate union with God, so His followers are loosed from the Law only through their communion with their Crucified and Glorified Lord (Romans 7:1-6, Galatians 2:19 f.). This is to be taken, first of all, in a legal sense: ‘the law hath dominion over a man as long as he lives.’ Just as, when a husband dies, a wife is loosed from the law which bound her to him, and may marry another, so, when Christ died, His community became exempt from the Law, and was free to yield itself to another, viz. the risen Christ (Romans 7:1-4). Once the curse of the Law, which is death, has been carried out upon the transgressors of the Law, the Law can demand no more; we are then redeemed not only from its penalty, but also from its obligation (Galatians 3:13; Galatians 4:4 f.). It is true that many interpreters refer this exemption from obligation not to Christ’s passive but to His active obedience to the Law-an interpretation that may be right in so far as His active obedience was the precondition of the propitiatory significance of His passive obedience. But, taken all in all, the Apostle’s view is that we have been made free from the Law by Christ’s Death (cf. also Galatians 2:19 f., Colossians 2:14; Colossians 2:20, Ephesians 2:15).

St. Paul, however, goes far beyond this purely juridical conception. He also represents our deliverance from the Law as a transaction ethically conditioned. From the mystical union with the Crucified and Risen Lord comes a power which transforms and re-creates our nature, and thus enables us of ourselves to fulfil the requirements of the Law (Romans 8:2 ff., Galatians 5:18; cf. Galatians 5:23). The Apostle traces this power to the Spirit of God and of Christ: ‘if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law’ (Galatians 5:18); against such as bring forth the fruits of the Spirit the Law is not valid (Galatians 5:23); the Law is not imposed upon a righteous man (1 Timothy 1:9). Thus freedom from the Law is in no sense a merely legal freedom; it is an ethical freedom which is quite different from mere arbitrary choice, and implies that we fulfil the demands of the Law not through compulsion or fear, but in zeal and love (cf. Romans 8:14 f., 2 Corinthians 3:17 f.). Hence the Christian is not free in the sense of being his own master; on the contrary, he is subject to the Lord Jesus and God (Romans 14:7-9), but serves Him from the dictates of the inmost heart, having yielded himself with consuming gratitude and love to the Saviour who died for him (2 Corinthians 5:14 f.).

(d) The Law abolished yet continuing in force.-St. Paul thus teaches that the Law is abolished, and that nevertheless it abides. It is abolished by Christ in the sense that it has no longer any validity for the Christian as a statutory system; justification is effected through faith alone, and without the works of the Law (Romans 3:28, Galatians 2:16). This holds both for Jews and for Gentiles (Romans 1:16 f., Romans 3:21 f.); here there is no difference between them. The place of the Law is now taken by Christ (Romans 10:4). Everything turns upon our union with Him, and works are not to the purpose; in other words, all depends upon faith, which is simply the acceptance of the gospel, or of Christ, and the invocation of His name (Romans 10:5-17). In particular, the ordinances which had hitherto obstructed religious intercourse between different peoples, as Israelites and Goyim, had all been done away in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22; cf. Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). In Him circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision nothing (Galatians 5:6; Galatians 6:15, 1 Corinthians 7:19). Hence St. Paul, a Jew, can become as a Gentile to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 9:21), just as St. Peter and other Jewish Christians had done in Antioch (Galatians 2:12-14). In the religious sense, i.e. as regards salvation, the Jewish Christians too were now free from the Law.

On the other hand, however, the Apostle also affirms the permanence of the Law. The imperative of the Law remains valid not only because it still retains its juridical authority over non-believers, but also because it furnishes the ethical standard of the Christian life generally, and of the religious life of Jewish Christians in a special degree. Thus the idea of a ‘tertius usus legis,’ of which the Reformers spoke, corresponds exactly to the Pauline view. Not only does St. Paul regard the all-embracing requirement of the Law-the commandment of love-as a permanent expression of the Divine will (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14), but he also borrows moral precepts and rules of discipline from the Mosaic legislation (see article Commandment). He is confident, no doubt, that the Spirit supplies not only moral power but also moral insight (Galatians 5:16; cf. Romans 12:2); but the Spirit does not operate only in the individual soul, but operates also, and mainly, through prophecy and through the written Law, which indeed is spiritual (Romans 7:14), and must therefore be spiritually understood (cf. e.g. 1 Corinthians 9:8-10).

Here we undoubtedly light upon a difficulty in the Pauline view. On the one hand, the Apostle incisively challenges the Judaistic claim to impose the ordinances of the Law upon the Gentiles, while, on the other, he upholds the authority of the Law under the term ‘Scripture.’ The latter contention might readily lead to a new kind of legalism, and has frequently in some measure done so. St. Paul himself, however, rejected this inference, and even suggested a rule for the spiritual application of the Law, viz. in his doctrine of the Law as having a topological or allegorical significance for Christianity; cf. Colossians 2:16 f., where he says that the ordinances relating to foods, feast-days, etc., are only prefiguring shadows of the reality, which is Christ, just as the circumcision of the flesh has found its true fulfilment in Christian baptism (Colossians 2:11 f.).

In connexion with this problem we must also consider the peculiar relation of the Jewish Christians to the Law. According both to Acts and to the Pauline Epistles, the Apostle maintained that the Law had a peculiar binding force upon Christians belonging to the race of Israel. As regards Acts, we need refer only to Acts 21:21-26; Acts 16:3; Acts 18:18. When St. James spoke to St. Paul of the rumour that he taught the Diaspora to forsake Moses, St. Paul promptly gave the required practical evidence for the falsity of the report, and for his own allegiance to the Law (Acts 21:21 ff.). He even circumcised Timothy, a semi-Gentile (Acts 16:3). According to his own Epistles, again, he was to the Jews as a Jew (1 Corinthians 9:19), and he counsels the Jewish members of the Church in Corinth not to undo their circumcision (1 Corinthians 7:18), since every man should remain in the condition in which he was called (1 Corinthians 7:20). In Galatians 5:3 he solemnly declares that every one who receives circumcision is under obligation to keep the whole Law-an assertion designed to traverse the foolish idea which the Judaizers had tried to insinuate into the minds of the Galatians, viz. that circumcision was a matter of no great importance. This declaration, no doubt, was made from the stand-point of those who believed that justification was to be obtained by the works of the Law. At all events, where higher issues are at stake, the Apostle assumes that he is absolved from the strict letter of the Law, as, e.g., for the sake of brotherly intercourse with the Gentile Christians (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:21 with Galatians 2:12-14). There is another fact that points in the same direction. In Romans 11 St. Paul asserts that the Chosen People are to occupy a permanently distinct position in the Divine process of history. But the persistence of the distinctively religious character of Israel would seem to involve their permanent retention of circumcision and the Law.* [Note: on this point generally, A. Harnack, Neue Untersuchungen zur Apostelgeschichte, Leipzig, 1911, p. 21ff.]Copyright Statement
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Law'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/l/law.html. 1906-1918.

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