In this section on Paul’s usage of “law” in Romans, we look at some common contemporary responses many Christians make when discussing the Mosaic law and its status among believers.
Common Contemporary Responses to “the Law”
When one questions the keeping of torah with Christians, most of the time a standard set of answers are given in opposition to keeping it. These can generally be grouped into two categories: “the end of the law” and “a change in law.” A number of scripture references are often given as proof for the answers, even so, there is usually a misunderstanding or a difference in interpretation of the text that leads believers to answer in such a way.
The End of the Law
Several answers are often given as evidence that the law has come to its demise. They are: 1) “We are no longer under the law. We are under grace.” 2) “The law has been fulfilled.” 3) “Christ is the end of the law.” 4) “The law has been nailed to the cross.” and 5) “The law was a shadow, but we now have Jesus.”
“We are no longer under the law. We are under grace.”
This argument is probably the most common, because Paul often speaks about not being “under the law.” What prescribers of this argument miss is that Paul also often speaks about being under a different law. In Romans he tells of four alternate laws that he identifies with: the law of faith, the law of his mind, the law of God, and the law of the Spirit of life.
“The law has been fulfilled.”
This argument and the next are both taken from Romans 10:4, only different translations. They do, however, have different associated meanings. Those who say the law has been fulfilled acknowledge the law as binding, but recognize how Christ embodied the law to its fullest extent by keeping it perfectly; therefore, since he kept it perfectly, we don’t have to. This statement is true, but it fails to prove the argument. Just because Christ fulfilled the law, does not mean one is free to do whatever they want and ignore God’s commandments. They miss out on the numerous points Paul makes in Romans in regard to keeping torah.
“Christ is the end of the law.”
This argument is like the previous one, but those who use this translation often interpret it to mean that Jesus put an end to the law. Those who follow this reasoning are guilty of ignoring the statements Jesus made concerning the eternality of God’s law. The word “end” is a translation that can carry multiple meanings, some of which are not true to the original language.
“The law has been nailed to the cross.”
This argument is a simple misreading of the text of Colossians 2:14. Ephesians 2:15-16 is also often lumped into this one because of similar wording. The charges against us, the enmity against us, is what has been abolished and “nailed to the cross.” Those who misquote this text often do so because preachers and teachers misquote it.
“The law was a shadow, but we now have Jesus.”
This is again, one of those true statements, but one must “read into it” to interpret that this means that the law is no longer relevant. We do have justification now, but technically Jesus is in heaven, and the law that pointed to him before his first coming is the same law that points back to the gospel and points forward to his second coming.
A Change in Law
Some claim an end to the law, while others simply claim that the law has been changed. To both of these claims there is an element of truth, but not the whole truth. Certainly there has been a change, but perhaps it’s not the type of change most Christians believe it is. Some claim that either Jesus or Paul changed the law. Others say that only the “moral” law is relevant, not “ceremonial” law. Still others proclaim that we are under a new covenant.
“Jesus/Paul changed the law.”
People who espouse this argument usually do so out of ignorance. They do not have a good understanding of their Bible and they just assume this is true. This however is contradictory to statements Jesus made, and lacks an understanding of Paul’s teachings.
“We only have to keep ‘moral’ law now, not ‘ceremonial’ law.”
This statement is based on theology rather than the Bible itself. Nowhere in the Bible are any of God’s commandments labeled as “moral” or “ceremonial.” These labels are based off reasoning concerning Christ’s atoning sacrificial death that consequently covered all necessary sacrifice for our sins. Those who adhere to this reasoning label any part of the torah associated with the priesthood or sacrifice as “ceremonial” and no longer valid. Usually, this line of argument is directed against keeping sabbath and observing YHWH’s appointed times (which are usually labeled as Jewish holidays). This philosophic approach makes for poor interpretation of the real change in the law of which the prophets and apostles speak.
“We are under the New Covenant.”
This argument comes closest to the truth, but often those who use it do not really know what it means to be “under the new covenant.” This statement means the same as “new testament” and comes from Hebrews 8:6-7, 13. What many who read these texts in Hebrews miss is the multiple references to the prophets that the writer of Hebrews makes. In missing this, the new covenant being spoken of is misunderstood, for the foundational part of why there is a new covenant is because God wants His law to be “written on our hearts.”
Continue on to Part 4 – Thematic Exegesis in Connection to the Old Testament (link will be added when post is added)