Torah, or not Torah?

A Question of the Law

The continuity or discontinuity of the law in the writings of Paul, the Apostle


1. Introduction

· What is Continuity or Discontinuity?

· Martin Luther

· E.P. Sanders

· James D.G. Dunn

2. What is the Law (Nomos)?

· OT perspective of Torah (Law)

· Use of 'nomos' (Law) by Jesus

· Use of 'nomos' (Law) by Paul

3. Investigating Matt 5:17 and Rom 10:4

4. The purpose of the Law

· Rom 5:20, Gal 3:19

5. The Spirit and the Law: A New Pedagogue?

6. Love and the Law: Christians and fulfilling the Law

7. Conclusion

· What can we say about Continuity or Discontinuity?

1. Introduction
Continuity and Discontinuity- What is it?

This research paper has come about through much discussion with Christians regarding the continuing demands of the Law on the Church. The discussion on continuity or discontinuity is an important one, as it is a major factor in understanding the single greatest human contributor to Scripture, the Apostle Paul.

The discussion revolves around Paul’s Jewish or Non-Jewishness of thought. In other words, is Paul a reformed Pharisitical Zealot, or a Hellenised Jew, who has completely broken away from his Jewish roots? The Law, as traditionally seen as the centre of Jewish life, is a focal point for Paul, and also for Christian thinkers throughout the ages; as Douglas Moo rightly points out a “matter of crucial importance is the degree of continuity accorded to the Mosaic Law in the NT”.[1]

Brendan Byrne observes that the subject of ‘nomos’ (Law) is a focal point around which Paul sees the relationship between Judaism and the Christian Church revolving.[2] It seems that some of Paul’s statements seem to be in opposition to those made by Christ, and the OT. These statements lead many people to believe that there are no Law demands on Christians at all, although others believe that full obedience is required. These are just two extremes, and there are infinite nuances that could be held, falling between these extremes. The issue is probably not as clear cut as this though, as Moo points out: “the straightforward alternatives continuity and discontinuity are much too boldly drawn in reality, it is a matter of emphasis, with positions ranging along a wide spectrum of alternatives.”[3] It will be impossible to cover the entire spectrum here, however there are some key issues around which the debate flows.

We shall look at some of these key issues with the intention of leaving us with a better perspective on what Paul might have meant. Perhaps we will find, as Moo quips, ‘a continuity within discontinuity’,[4] or perhaps a ‘discontinuity within continuity’, to play semantical games. The issues as I have mentioned, are clear-cut, but the conclusions the individual reaches are not so clear. In order to clarify the flow of the discussion, we should very briefly spend some time with some who have struggled with these issues in the past.

There are three main contributors, Martin Luther, E.P. Sanders, and J.D.G. Dunn[5] whom deserve a brief but closer look:

a) Martin Luther

Luther began the reformation with his 95 Theses, and along with that he revolutionised how people saw Paul. To this day, Luther’s understandings about Paul have been the foundation of Christian thinking in this area.

For Luther, the doctrine of ‘Justification by Faith’ is the central tenant of the Church. Opposing this is the idea that one can gain righteousness (before God) by ones own works, which is the principle of the ‘world’.[6] This righteousness gained by ones own works excludes the idea that one might be able to follow commands of the law, and thereby gain righteousness in the eyes of God.

Luther found works to be inadequate for several reasons:

1) The being of God far exceeds human understanding; consequently any approach by humanity on our own behalf will fall short.

2) Only Justification by Faith gives glory where glory is due; to God, whereas works gives the glory to humanity.

3) The Law requires perfect obedience, and yet there is no evidence of this, especially perfection of the human heart.

4) Even our ‘good works’ are unacceptable to God apart from Faith.

5) Works cannot redeem one from this ‘present evil age’ (Gal 1:4).

6) The Death of Christ is proof that works cannot cover sin.[7]

The Law’s function, according to Luther is to point out how short of God’s standards humanity falls. The Law also has a prophetic function, in pointing to salvation in Christ.[8] The Law has still a further function, and that is the ‘Civic’ function, that is, the threat of punishment acts as a deterrent to the wicked.

Luther divides the Law sharply between Law and Gospel, and he will not allow anyone to come under any aspect of the Mosaic code. He does however allow that the law has ‘examples of outstanding Laws and moral precepts”. The Christian spontaneously ‘bears good fruit’, and is exhorted to exercise faith in order to do so.[9]

b) E.P. Sanders

Sanders published a work called ‘Paul and Palestinian Judaism’ in 1977. This work has caused many to rethink the traditional understanding, of which Luther is responsible.

The foundation of Sanders approach is his thinking that ‘Justification by Faith’ is not the central tenant of Paul’s theology, as was supposed by Luther. In fact, the central focus of his argument is that Judaism in Paul’s day was not a religion of legalistic works-righteousness.[10] He claims that the Judaism of Paul’s day functioned more as’Covenantal Nomism’; one does not enter the covenant by performance, but by Grace. The covenant itself was initiated by God, and not by human actions.

The detailed provisions of the Law found in the Mishna, says Sanders, all assume a covenantal relationship, and in the light of this is it not legalistic to specify just exactly what would please God. It could only be legalistic if obedience to these provisions meant salvation.[11]

Westerholm offers Sanders thought on how a first century Judaism might have seen the law, summarised here, in order to see the flow of Sanders thought:

1. Much of rabbinic literature is “halakic” in nature; that is, it is concerned to spell out the precise application of the many provisions of divine law.

2. God’s commitment to the covenant with Israel was believed to be unconditional: he would remain faithful to his promises even when Israel disobeyed his laws.

3. To the question why God chose Israel and granted Israel his covenant, different answers were given in different contexts. Sometimes a picture was drawn in which the covenant was actually offered to all the nations but only accepted by Israel. In other texts, Israel was said to be chosen because of some merit of the patriarchs or of the wilderness generation. Still elsewhere the laws were said to be given with a view to the obedience which Israel would yield to them in the future.

4. Firmly entrenched in the rabbinic conception of God is the justice of his judgments: he rewards obedience and punishes transgressions. And, naturally, for homiletic purposes, the reward and punishment are frequently stressed in the literature.

5. That rabbinic soteriology did not involve the strict weighing of fulfilments of the law against transgressions is proven by the quite different view which is “totally pervasive” in rabbinic literature.

6. That this, and not the theory by which merits are measured, constituted rabbinic soteriology is confirmed by the frequent claims made in the literature about the efficacy of repentance and atonement. “The universally held view is this: God has appointed means of atonement for every transgression, except the intention to reject God and his covenant.”

7. The “righteous” Jew in rabbinic writings is thus not one who earns divine approval by compiling an impressive list of good deeds, but simply “one who accepts the covenant and remains within it.”

8. Thus Pauline theology is not distinct from rabbinic thinking in its insistence that “justification” is by divine grace, not human works. The fundamental point of Paul’s opposition was simply his conviction that salvation is only to be found in Jesus Christ. The inevitable consequence was that Israel’s election, covenant, and law could not bring salvation. Paul’s exclusive soteriology, and not a rejection of “works,” is what set his Christian faith apart from Judaism.[12]

Sanders sees Judaism as a religion of Grace, rather than legalism; Paul’s major problem with it being, that ‘it is not Christianity’.[13]

c) James D.G. Dunn.

Dunn builds somewhat on the work of Sanders, although disagreeing with him in respect to Sanders understanding that Paul’s view of the Law was arbitrary, idiosyncratic, and contradictory.[14] Dunn sees that the problem that Paul has with the Jews, is that they have limited the people of God to their own race. The problem then, is not legalism, but nationalism. By forcing non-Jews to comply with the rules and regulations that separate Jews from the rest of the world, the Jews exalted Jewish Nationalism above all else.

Paul’s rejection of these practices, is not because they are rituals, but because of the impulse to nationalism and exclusivism that lay behind them. Dunn’s understanding is then that the view of Luther should be discarded, because Paul’s criticism was not for legalism, and he did not claim that no one could keep the Law.

All three of these views presuppose continuity of the Law from the OT to the NT. However the point is to gain an overview of the Pauline position, and its development in thought.

The continuity – discontinuity debate has accorded some very definite opinions on just what role the Law plays in the life of the Christian. Not only that, but in the government of society. Bob Enyart, a contemporary ‘HyperDispensationalist’ indicates how the discontinuity perspective impacts the way one sees the Law:

“When believers look to the law for motivation or guidance or growth, they are overlooking God. God or the law, that is the choice, for no member of the body of Christ gets to choose both. To the extent a Christian partakes of the law, to that extent he disregards the Lord.”[15]

Greg Bahnsen, who, like Enyart is a Theonomist,[16] although non Dispensational, stresses the opposite:

“We must assume continuity of moral duty between the Old Testament and the New Testament: Accordingly, by operating upon this biblical assumption, the burden of Scriptural proof lies directly and heavily upon anyone who would deny the validity of the relevant authority of some particular Old Testament stipulation for our day … that kind of assertion will require some explanation and clear biblical truth before any faithful Christian can accept it.”[17]

Both writers use very strong language to get their point across. We shall not indulge in a discussion so much for and against these views. Rather we shall attempt to fathom what Paul means, when he says things that seemingly oppose the Law. In order to do this, we must first look at the use of the two key words, ‘torah’ and ‘nomos’, and then progress into a discussion of some key scriptures from Paul.

2. What is the Law (Torah/Nomos)?

For the purpose of this paper we shall isolate three main ways the word “law’ is used. The purpose of this is in order that we might better understand contextually, how Law is used in Scripture. The three main areas we will look at are OT understanding of torah, Jesus’ use of nomos, and then Paul’s use of nomos.

a) Torah in the Old Testament

The most common word used for ‘Law’ in the OT is ‘torah’, from the root hry commonly rendered ‘teacher’ (27 times in the KJV). The root is found in this way in Isa 30:20. It can also be ‘to teach’ or ‘instruct’ in its hiphil stem. It also has the implication of direction, or guidance, and to ‘shoot’, or ‘throw’ (arrows).[18]

Torah is commonly used in the OT is these ways:

1. Advice or direction from God through Priests and Prophets (Haggai 2:10-13)

2. Human advice or instruction (Prov 1:8)

3. A particular Law or instruction, as in a ‘regulation’ (Lev 6:8)

4. With a definite article or proper name it refers to a whole body of such instruction. The definite article can be YHWH (Ex 13:9), or ‘God’ (YHWH) more generally (Josh 34:26), or Moses (Josh 8:31).[19]

There are other words used to mean ‘Law’; ten words (Deut 4:13), for example, which is translated ‘ten commandments’, however ‘commandment’ is very authoritarian, but ‘word’ is more a revelation. These ten words are authoritive, but they are more than that, they are a revelation about God himself.

This concept is also found in the word ‘dabar’, not being a name for a type of Law, but an attitude to the Law as a whole. All judgement is a sacred task (Deut 1:17); it is also God’s word (Judges 3:20) of un-ignorable authority.

Other words used are ‘statute’ (Ps 2:7), which is a general term, and is quite close to ‘torah’. Also used generally are ‘judicial decision’ (c.f. Num 15:35), and ‘command’, which relates more closely to the English word ‘command’ rather than the word ‘Law’.[20]

So, torah is generally a principle of instruction about YHWH, in the OT, however it can specifically mean the body of commands that were given to Moses, or slightly more expansively, all the body of such commands in Scripture.

b) Nomos in the Gospels

In the NT, we find that the Heb. ‘torah’ is replaced with the Greek novmo" (nomos - Law). The word itself appears 31 times in the Gospels. It appears eight times in Matthew, never in Mark, nine times in Luke, and fourteen times in John.[21] Nomos initially comes from the root nèmo meaning ‘to allot’. It thus can apply very broadly to any norm, rule, custom, usage, or tradition.[22]

Nomos is generally associated by most common usage with the Pentateuch, however add ‘and the prophets’ (Mt 5:17, 7:12, 11:13, 22:40; Lk 16:16; Jn 1:45), it serves to signify the whole OT. This usage is similar to the view taken by the OT itself, however, with the few exceptions (c.f. Mt 12:5), ‘nomos’ is not used of a specific command or aspect of the Law.[23]

Other words that are related are ‘commandment’ (èntole), which can also mean ‘precept’, and is used generally of an order, by right of authority, to the Mosaic Law, or Jewish Tradition. Another word is ‘decree’ (dikaioma) which can also mean ‘righteousness’, or ‘ordinance’ (Lk 1:6). It has the force of ‘that which has been deemed right’.[24] In some places Moses name is used as the authority for a command such as Mt 8:4 = Mk 1:44; Lk 5:14. In this sense, it is still God’s Law that is referenced, specifically the commands of the Law given to Moses.[25] Finally, the word ‘scripture’ (graphe); it is never used to mean the Mosaic Law. It means ‘to write’ (Mk 10:5), and ‘it is written’ (Lk 2:23).

Nomos in the gospels is related closely to the OT understanding of ‘torah’, the general principle of instruction about God, especially that which is contained, but not limited to, those first five books of the OT. When it comes to Paul’s use of nomos it is not as clear-cut.

c) Nomos in Paul

The way Paul uses the term nomos has been notoriously oblique. Byrne notes that in the passage Rom 7:21-23, that nomos appears 5 times, with five, and at least three, different references.[26] This has been somewhat of a problem in trying to determine what Paul means exactly, however there is some consensus.

If we take an example from this above passage we can see that it is referring to the Mosaic Law:[27]

Rom 7: 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self[28]

We find that Paul also refers to nomos as the OT Scriptures (Rom 5:20; 1 Cor 14:21). He refers to the Pentateuch specifically (Gal 4:21). Stephen Westerholm rightly notes that wherever Paul refers to the Law being done, obeyed, kept, and fulfilled, he is referring to the legal parts of the Pentateuch.[29]

Paul also uses nomos in a more general way, as a sort of order, principle, or rule (Rom 3:27; 7:21; 25; 8:2). Because Paul uses the nomos in this more general way, it is not legitimate to apply what Paul says of Scripture in general to the more specific laws. [30] This should lead us to question exactly what Paul means when He specifically talks about nomos in each different context.

3. Investigating Matt 5:17 and Rom 10:4

It is interesting that both Paul and Jesus make similar statements here. Jesus says in Mt 5:17:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

Paul says in Rom 10:4:

“For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

The key words here are tevlo" (télos – end) and plhrovw (pleroo – fulfil). Each of these words are worthy of discussion, as it is from these passages, especially Paul, that lead us to the conclusion that there is a definite termination of the Law with the coming of Christ.

Let us begin in the gospels first of all, with the words of Christ. The key to understanding plhrovw here is by observing it in its context. D. A. Hagner observes that reading verse 17 apart from 18 does not do justice to it, and neither does a word study alone.[31]

Initially plhrovw means ‘fill to the full’, which is essentially ‘accomplish’, ‘complete’, ‘bring to its end’, and ‘finish’, not however, ‘to do’. Jesus does ‘do’ the law, however this is not the intention here. Hagen offers us three main ways that plhrovw is understood:

1. The Law and commandments of the OT are to be done or obeyed entirely.

2. As a reference to Jesus’ life and salvic accomplishments.

3. The Law is:

a. Established or upheld

b. Added to by Jesus, and thus completed in Him.[32]

Hagner, Moo, and Schreiner all agree that Matthew never uses plhrovw in the sense of the first option, obedience. Hagner notes that the first option misses the nuance of fulfilment.[33] The second option is also highly unlikely as Jesus work is not in view at all at this point, nor is it mentioned.

Hagner at the third option says that rather than the sense of establishing or supplementing here, what is in view is Christ’s bringing the law to its intended meaning, in connection with messianic fulfilment.[34] However, Moo disagrees here, saying that Jesus does not simply re-establish the true meaning of the Law; in fact Jesus goes considerably further than any reasonable exegesis of the quoted texts permits.[35] While there certainly is some truth to Moo’s disagreement, it is not necessary to conclude that Jesus’ radical exegesis is not the intended meaning of the text. It is suggested that in fact that any exegesis that does not arrive at the understanding the text that disagrees with Christ is certainly suspect. We should conclude, along with Schreiner that Jesus’ radical departure from the ‘accepted’ exegesis of the text is because he is pointing out the cause of the original misunderstanding.[36] The cause of this understanding is that the human heart[37] is sinful, and because of sin, tends to a false understanding of the Law in the first place. Taking the example of the lex talionis as a case in point, Schreiner shows that Jesus is concerned not to abrogate the Law at this point, but rather prevent license. By this, it is meant the command to take ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, was in all probability taken out of the civil arena for which it was intended, and applied in person’s life. In personal life it becomes an excuse to extract vengeance on anyone who personally wounds another. This is not the way the true Israelite lives; the true disciple is full of forgiveness, and love, not hatred, malice, envy, and vengeance.[38]

Moo regards this understanding as ‘taking it from the external to the internal’, as making better sense of the context, however he does not see it as fitting the Matthean use.[39] What is distinctive about Matthew’ use of plhrovw Moo says, is that it is more than a way of designating the coming to pass of OT predictions. Rather, it is a formula used by Matthew to “present a theology of Salvation History which pictures the entire OT as anticipating and looking forward to Jesus”. Jesus new eschatological demands, says Moo, do not constitute an abandonment of the Law but express that which the law all along intended to anticipate.[40]

While Moo is certainly correct in the last part of that statement, it is not necessary to say that Matthew is claiming a ‘new’ eschatological requirement in Christ, but rather that Christ is the fulfilment of the work of God to fulfil all that he said would come to pass. In fact, Christ’s death and resurrection begins the eschaton, the culmination of which is the redemption of the whole of creation. Matthew understands Jesus to be affirming the validity and the ongoing usefulness of the Law when understood in the light of his person, his work, and all that Scripture says and points to regarding God’s work with humanity; in other words, in the light of its being fulfilled in Christ.

Having established that Christ himself did not regard the Law abrogated, we must then look to Paul, in order to see if he departs from Christ’s teaching himself at this point. Many of those who hold to discontinuity will appeal to verses where Paul claims to have a ‘different’ gospel, ‘my gospel’, he says. They do this in order to show that Paul has departed from Jesus at this point. When they add statements regarding a ‘gospel for the circumcision’ and a ‘gospel for the uncircumcision’, the argument begins to build. However these are straw men that are relatively easy to tear down. What is more problematic is Romans 10:4, which has become somewhat of a slogan for these same people, summarising Paul’s conviction that Christ is the end of the Law. The verse reads:

“For Christ is the tevlo" of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Rom 10:4)

tevlo" is translated as both ‘end’ and ‘goal’ in this passage, and there seems to be no real consensus regarding which one is certain at this point. Those who hold to discontinuity read ‘end’, which makes sense of the words most common usage in the NT,[41] however those who suppose continuity between old and new wish to read it ‘goal’ in order for it to make sense.

In order to make sense of the passage, we must first weigh up the options regarding how the word is used. Before continuing with tevlo" we should note what ‘Law’ is in reference here. This passage should be read in its context, which according to Schreiner is from 9:30 – 10:4.[42] What seems fairly certain from this context is that Israel stumbled at Christ, because they were seeking after righteousness from the Law, which could only be the Mosaic Law. Moo comments here that to imply legalism (seeking after righteousness by the Law) is that same as saying that at some stage prior to Christ salvation was available through the Law.[43] He rightly states that this is contradictory to the OT and to Paul, however, what is in mind here is that Israel was wrong to have been seeking after righteousness from the law. Paul, and the OT for that matter, has the opinion that righteousness comes from ‘believing’ and not legalism. Righteousness has always been a gift from God for those who believe, says Paul, and it is an unenlightened mind that thinks otherwise; thus Israel has stumbled at Christ, who makes it explicit that righteousness comes through belief and no other means.

So, what of tevlo" in this verse? The word is capable of meaning both ‘end’ and ‘goal’, however neither on their own is suitable. Better meaning is had when elements of both words are combined.[44] On the other hand, though, the better translation is ‘end’, as this is more likely.[45] This can be problematic though, because its literal reading in English implies a discontinuity, or abrogation of the Law. It has already been pointed out that Israel was wrong to be seeking righteousness from the Law, as it has never been found there. In this sense, Christ is the ‘end’ of the law, because in Christ is the revelation, and there can be no misunderstanding, that righteousness is always a gift from God, appropriated by faith. Those who believe in Christ, cease using, and recognize the error of attempting to appropriate righteousness by the Law.

In summary, we see that neither Christ nor Paul were under the impression, nor did they teach that the Law was abrogated. Both Paul and Jesus were concerned at misuse and misunderstandings about the Law. Both these key statements made by them are not intended and should not be read as implying an end to the law, but rather that in Christ, all the scriptures are brought to their fulfillment, and as such, there is no excuse for attempting to find righteousness in the Law apart from faith.

4. Purpose of the Law

In this section, we shall look briefly at one of the purposes of the Law, and its strengths and weaknesses, which will lead us on to look at the Law and love and Spirit. If, as we have said, the law is not abrogated, what purpose does it have? Likewise, if it is abrogated, then what purpose did the Law have?

It is often said by those who hold to the abrogation of the law, that purpose of the law was in its first instance, to be a deterrent to law breakers in a civil sense. Secondly, the Law has an evangelical sense, in that it prepares the hearts of the ungodly, leading to Christ, and instructing the unbeliever to repent before God. Thirdly, the Law functions as a tool to guide the believer to righteous living. The believer is delivered at the time of salvation, from the Law, however, finds in the Law all one needs to ‘live a life pleasing to God’.[46]

While there may be aspects of truth here, there is much more to be found in the discussion. Luther pointed out quite rightly, that the second sense mentioned above has a negative function, as Luther has it a ‘mighty hammer with which human self-righteousness is crushed’, can not be positive, in that it leads to salvation.

In order for a person to be righteous by the Law, the whole of the Law must be kept:

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (Gal 3:10-11)

Paul himself says that he was blameless before the law (Phil 3:6), meaning the Mosaic Law, and yet this somehow did not make him righteous in the eyes of God. Prior to His Damascus road experience, Paul had thought that he was righteous in the eyes of God, and yet, in meeting Christ something had changed in his perspective. Paul writes; “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” (Phil 3:7), indicating that this blamelessness before the Law was worthless to him.

So it is clear to see that salvation is not the purpose of the Law. It can never have been, as Paul points out, because to follow the Law to righteousness is to exclude faith. Ethnic Israel, writes Paul, was wrong to strive after righteousness by following the Law, because they, like pre Damascus Paul, have not found righteousness, because righteousness comes by faith:

What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall,

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Rom 9:30-33)

It is obvious that for Paul, the Law should never have been thought of as a method by which righteousness before God is achieved. It is also interesting that in chapter 21 of the Matthean gospel, Jesus’ authority is challenged, and in a series of parables Jesus points out that Israel was sent first into the world as the children of God, but had failed in their mission. He points out to them in verse 42, that the point at which they had stumbled is the ‘cornerstone’, which of course, is himself. There is a striking similarity here between what Christ said, and what Paul said. Jesus continues saying that the kingdom will be taken away from those who have stumbled and been crushed, and given to those who produce the fruit of the Kingdom.

Both Jesus and Paul talk of the ‘real’ Israel, which is not those who are born into ethnic Israel, but those who believe the good news, those of faith. Jesus says in John 8:31-38 that the true descendants of Abraham, are those who believe the message of God. Paul says in Rom 9:6-7 that not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, not all Abraham’s descendant are truly his descendants, because it is through Isaac that descendants shall be named. Paul takes this to mean that true descendants of Abraham are those of the promise, which naturally came before the Law, and is therefore superior to the Law. The following analogy regarding Jacob and Esau serves to show, in one sense anyway, that the Law serves the promise, rather than vice versa.

So, seeing righteousness cannot be obtained (and we will soon see why this is so in a bit more depth in the next section) through the Law, what other purpose does it fulfil? Brendan Byrne offers these functions:

a. To condemn human sin (Rom 3:19-20; 4:15; cf. 8:1; Gal 3:10,13)

b. Inciting sin (Rom 5:20a; 7:5, 7-11, 13 cf. Gal 3:19) in order that

c. Sinners see the need for salvation (Rom 7:13; 8:3-4)[47]

Schreiner offers us a rather fuller, and more in-depth discussion of the function of the Law in regards to the increase of sin, which is worth investigating:

The Law provokes, or increases Sin:

i. Rom 5:20: Schreiner here offers us the suggestion that we can discount the understanding that Law merely ‘makes known’ transgression[48], as there is no corresponding increase in grace, however it is the power of grace over sin that is corresponding, so it is better to see this as ‘the power of Sin’. Paul is also not attempting to define Sin here, as he is speaking of its ‘increase’. So we have further strengthened the argument that Paul is saying that when the Law was given it served to increase the power of sin, which is in turn broken by the superior power of Grace.[49]

ii. Gal 3:19: Law in this verse, is given ‘for the sake of transgression’, and Schreiner finds it hard to believe again, because of the parallel with Rom 5:20, that this verse is defining or making sin known. He affirms rightly that sin here also has the power to ‘increase’ sin.[50] Knox Chamblin concurs saying:

“God gives his law “so that trespass might increase”, in order that His grace might be magnified when his sin is conquered and sins are forgiven in Jesus death and resurrection”[51]

Law is given then, for the purpose of confining all under the power of sin; those who are under the law are cursed, because they can not keep it, and this confirms that the Law has the power to enslave the wicked, and actually provoke sin.

This is certainly not the only function of the Law, as it still does have a civil dimension (as Luther), in which it restrains sin by the threat of punishment in the community. It certainly also has the functions of giving life to those who obey, how ever, to be able to obey requires something the Law does not have, as we shall see.

5. The Spirit and the Law: A New Pedagogue?

We have looked at a major purpose of the Law, as the power that confines human beings under sin. Paul tells us also that the Law functioned as a pedagogue (Gal 3:24-26). There is a large debate around exactly what the word paidagogous means.

Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Gal 3:24-26)

Paidagogous is translated ‘schoolmaster’, ‘teacher’, ‘disciplinarian’ or ‘tutor’. Westerholm comments the ‘pedagogue’ is not a teacher, but rather a slave whose job it was to make sure the child got too and from school, carry their books, protect against molesters and accidents, and also to make sure the child learned good manners. The child would remain under supervision until puberty.[52]

This understanding commonly leads one to the conclusion that the Mosaic dispensation of Law was only ever intended as a temporary one (as Schreiner for example). Has this dispensation suddenly ended with the appearance of faith? It is unlikely, as faith has always been a requirement for righteousness, not the Mosaic Law. What is certain is that there is a need for human beings to be guided, to be led on the path of righteousness. The question might be asked then, regarding whether there is still a paidagogous for humanity, and we would answer yes.

To deviate from the topic of Paul momentarily, and divert to the gospel of John, we find some profound statements by Jesus in regards to the work that the Holy Spirit does with humanity:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14:25-26)

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:7-15)

What we find in these words from Jesus is a promise of a new helper, a new ‘pedagogue’. On investigation it seems clear that Paul rather than implying a temporality to the Law of Moses, is rather following on from what Jesus himself taught, that this function of the law, as pedagogue, is temporary. In fact, Paul goes on to say that this reveals that the law is weak.

The Law is weak, says Paul, because it enslaves people under sin, it does not have the power to free them. The Spirit is a better pedagogue, because the Spirit has the ability to empower people to obey. More importantly than that, the Spirit frees the whole person from the power of sin and death (c.f. Rom 8:10). Once freed from ‘this evil age’ the law no longer has the power to enslave the person, and then becomes life, as the person now has the power and ability to obey the requirements of God.

It is also sensible to not draw a false dichotomy here; the Spirit works in the life of a believer, Jew or Gentile, in order to regenerate, to write the law on the heart (Jer 31:33). It is not that this is a new thing, but rather it is something that is revealed explicitly in Christ, and is the result of the response of faith. As it has been noted, faith is, and has always been the requirement for righteousness, rather than obedience to the Law. We should then assume that the Spirit has always worked to empower obedience, and that this has been part of the mystery revealed in the coming of the Messiah.

6. Love and the Law: Christians and Fulfilling the Law

Having seen that the Spirit has superseded the Law in function as pedagogue, because of the Spirit’s ability to empower, free, and guide the believer, we find ourselves faced with another weakness of the Law.

The Law is weak, says Paul, because it has no power to set free. In fact, what we find is that because of Sin, the Law becomes a tool in seeking ones own righteousness. Along with this we find that the Law, as in the case of Israel, becomes a tool of exclusivism. This means that Israel made obedience to the Law a prerequisite for entry into the worshipping community.

We have noted already, that it is impossible to obey the Law in its entirety. We also find that, as Peter states in Acts 15:10, that righteousness by the Law is a “yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear”. It is common, it seems, for human beings to make rules, or take God’s laws and commands and turn them into a system of works based righteousness. This is the basis of Paul’s condemnation of Israel in Romans 9-10. The problem for Israel is that they have failed to grasp the higher purpose and aim of the Law. Both Jesus and Paul indicate that the Law rides on one principle, that is, the principle of love.

Jesus, in the passage we have already looked at, Matt 5:17-20, indicates that the righteousness of his believers must have a righteousness that exceeds the Scribes and Pharisees. This is certainly what Paul himself experiences, when he thought himself to be blameless before the law, and yet, after meeting the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road, finding that his blamelessness needed to be exceeded by a different kind of blamelessness, the righteousness that comes from faith; this is fulfilling the law.

The question is ‘why is this righteousness superior?’ There are several aspects of it that could be investigated, however we shall follow on from our discussion of the superiority and succession of the Spirit as pedagogue at this point, as it is certainly the Spirit who enables the believer to fulfil the Law. The Spirit empowers the believer to obey the commandments of God. The Spirit never fails to interpret the Law, in the same way that Jesus did. The Spirit guides and teaches the believer, ensuring that the requirements of God are kept and applied in the correct way, disciplining the believer at the appropriate times also.

This is still not what is meant by fulfilling the Law, although we are now pointed in the right direction. We have looked at a negative function that the Law has, which is confining humanity under the power of Sin. However the law does have a positive side to it also, after all, the Law is Holy and Righteous, and it certainly does express how God desires human beings to be, and live; so making known the requirements of God. Because the law itself has no power to enable the believer to act, it is weak, making the Spirit superior. So Paul tells us that grace is superior to Law, because it is communicated by the Spirit, setting the believer free from bondage to sin.

Israel, Paul says, is under the Law (1 Cor 9:20), but believers are not (Rom 6:14-15). It is not that Israel is seeking righteousness by the Law,[53] but rather that Israel is obligated to the Law, and believers are not. Large portions of the Law, especially circumcision, purity laws, observance of certain days, etc are those commands that identify Israel as a nation, were never intended to be in force for all of humanity. In fact, Paul says in 1 Cor 9:20, that he, himself, is not obligated to keep the Law. If Paul were obligated to keep the Law, then He would be obligated to keep every part of it (Gal 5:3), which he certainly did not, and would have been unable to as missionary to the Gentiles.

Paul still thought of himself as fulfilling the Law, as he beseeches believers to do the same (Rom 8:4, 13:8-10; Gal 5:14), even though he was not obligated to keep the Law. This might seem to be a paradox of sorts, except that we know that the law was never intended to be an instrument of salvation. So obviously law keeping did not save Paul, nor any Jew or Gentile. The giving of the Spirit enables the believer to perceive the true goal and aim of the Law, which is Christ. The believer is in Christ (Rom 8:1), therefore one finds fulfilment of the law in the believer, because in Christ the believer is empowered to love God and neighbour by the Spirit. Jesus says that “all the Law and the prophets” is summed up in the command to love (Matt 22:40) in this way. This is the higher kind of righteousness, Paul says, which is attested to by “the law and the prophets” (Rom 3:21).

Stephen Westerholm states:

“To ‘fulfil’ the Law thus implies that the obedience offered completely satisfies what is required.”[54]

We can see then, that the obedience is the obedience of faith, obedience that is empowered, and guided by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Rom 3:21-22)

Again, Paul says:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom 13:8-10)

We should not see this is as simply how Paul sees the Laws fulfilment for just believers, it is and always has been the intention of the Law. We noted previously that the love command appears in the Law itself. Israel was wrong to seek righteousness from the law, any human being is wrong to seek righteousness in this way. Israel was wrong to exclude others from God by imposing their ethnicity on them. Israel was wrong, and is now excluded from the Kingdom of God (except by faith in Christ) because they failed to grasp the central and most crucial part of the law, and that is Love. In effect they stumbled, as Paul says, at cornerstone; Christ:

What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall,

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Rom 9:30-33)


Putting it all together, although we have not investigated all areas that affect this discussion, we find ourselves at least with a basis of understanding Paul.

Initially we mentioned that the issue revolves in part around the discussion about Paul’s departure or lack of, from Judaism. This debate has led to two extremes, those who hold to a continuity of Law, and those who hold to a discontinuity. Moo was quoted as saying that this dichotomy too simplistic, and argues for a ‘continuity within discontinuity’. Our purpose was then to reflect on certain issues in order to ascertain whether this dichotomy, or whether some other sort of middle road might be more accurate.

One of these issues was to investigate Greek and Hebrew words for Law, in order to determine their common usage. In doing so we discovered that torah is generally a principle of instruction about God, especially including but not limited to the first five books of the OT. Nomos, the Greek word paralleling torah, reflects torah very closely when used in the gospels, however when we get to Paul it is not so clear. Paul uses Law generally, as a principle, however his most common use is that indicating the Law given to Moses at Sinai. For that reason any study of Paul and the Law requires careful attention to the way he is using Law at any time.

We then went on to look at how Christ viewed the Law, in the famous passage in Matt 5:17. We concluded here, that Christ himself did not view the Law as abrogated, but rather that all the law points to, and is fulfilled in the sense of its eschatological requirements. The law, when seen in the light of the work and person of Jesus, the Messiah, is valid, and useful, because it points to God’s saving work, the redemption of Humanity, and the World in Christ.

Did Paul depart from this, was the next question, when we looked at Rom 10:4, the catch cry of those who hold to discontinuity. We looked here at what is meant by tevlo” and discovered that the meaning was in fact ‘end’, but not end as a end to the Law, but an end to the claim that righteousness can come by any other way than by faith. Christ is the revelation to all humanity that any striving for righteousness is futile, it can only come by faith in the redemptive work of God, in the mystery, revealed in Jesus Christ, the Messiah. So Paul did not indicate here that the Law is done away with, but rather agrees with Christ that it is brought to its eschatological fulfilment in Christ.

Moving on from here, as we discovered in this process that the function of the Law was never to save, we looked at some negative functions of the law. The Law condemns sin, incites sin, and points the wicked towards a need for salvation. We found here that there is no way that any human being can keep all the law, according to Paul, and in fact are enslaved under sin by the law, this is the ‘evil age’ from which humanity must be delivered.

The Law has a further function, as pedagogue, which was compared to the work of the Spirit. It was concluded here that the Spirit superseded this function of the Law. This does not mean that the Law has been abrogated, but indicates a weakness in the law, that it does not have the ability to empower believers to obedience.

It seems natural to draw from this that this is what Paul means when he tells us that believers are able to fulfil the law. The Law cannot save, it cannot empower obedience, and it cannot give life in itself. The Law alone serves to enslave under sin, to cause sin, and to condemn sin, and worse, it is prone to misuse, and misunderstandings by human beings, who twist it to their own purposes. The Spirit however, like Jesus, never fails to interpret the Law correctly, and apply it to situations correctly. The Spirit in fact writes the Law on the hearts of believers, empowering them to obey in the true spirit of the law, the Spirit of Love.

Paul was certainly a Jew, his thought and teaching stems from his extensive knowledge of Scripture and his training as a Pharisee. Prior to his meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was blameless before the Law (Phil 3:6), and yet he realised that being blameless before the Law does not equate with right standing with God. Right standing with God comes through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Because of his faith in Christ, He was able to obey the Law, and disobey the Law, because the Spirit, who never fails to interpret the Law correctly, led him. The Law was not abrogated for Paul, but any understanding of the Law that did not fit with the love command could certainly be discounted as not a correct understanding of what the Law means.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

(John 15:12-13)

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom 13:10)

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (James 2:8)

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14)

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22:38-40)

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end… And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:1-8, 13)

By Geoff Gummer (April 2001)


[1] [1] D.J. Moo (J.S. Feinberg Ed) Continuity and Discontinuity – The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ (Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 1988) Pg 203.

[2] B, Byrne. "The Problem of Nomos, and the Relationship with Judaism in Romans." Catholic Bible Quarterly 62, no. 2 Pg 294.

[3] Moo, The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, Pg 204.

[4] Moo, The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, Pg 217.

[5] One could mention many others, as there have been notable contributions from Schweitzer, Bultman, Räisänen, Gaston, Gager, Hübner, Drane, and others, however space is limited, so we will just focus on these three.

[6] S. Westerholm, Israel's law and the Church's faith: Paul and his recent interpreters. (Grand Rapids, Mi: Eerdmans, 1988.) Pg 4

[7] Westerholm, Israel's law and the Church's faith, Pg 6-8.

[8] T. Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment: a Pauline theology of law. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1993.) Pg 15-16.

[9] Westerholm, Israel's law and the Church's faith, Pg 11.

[10] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul really said: was Paul of Tarsus the real founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, Mi: Eerdmans, 1997) Pg 18-19.

[11] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 19

[12] Westerholm, Israel's law and the Church's faith, Pg 48-50

[13] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 24

[14] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 24

[15] B. Enyart, The Plot (Denver, Co: Bob Enyart, 1999) Pg 129

[16] Theonomy, or Christian Reconstructionism holds that the Bible standard for civil law holds true for the entire world. Civil government should enforce the Law as found in the Pentateuch.

[17] G. Bahnsen, By This Standard, the authority of God’s Law today (Tyler, Tx: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985) Pg 153

[18] M.C. Tenney, S. Barabas, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 1975.) Pg 883

[19] Tenney, Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible Pg 883

[20] Tenney, Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible Pg 884

[21] J. B. Green, S. McKnight, I. H. Marshall. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity 1992) Pg 451

[22] G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (abridged) [CD-ROM]. (Oak Harbour, Wa: Logos Research Systems, inc., 1995)

[23] Tenney, Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible Pg 894

[24] J. Strong, Enhanced Lexicon of the Old and New Testaments [CD-ROM]. (Oak Harbour, Wa: Logos Research Systems, inc., 1995)

[25] Green, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels Pg 451

[26] Byrne, "The Problem of Nomos” Pg 295

[27] Tenney, Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible Pg 895

[28] All Scripture is NRSV unless noted.

[29] Westerholm, Israel's law and the Church's faith, Pg 108

[30] Westerholm, Israel's law and the Church's faith, Pg 109

[31] D. A. Hagner, Matthew 1 -13, Word Biblical Commentary; v. 33A-B (Dallas, Tx.: Word Books, 1993.) Pg 105

[32] Hagner, Matthew 1 –13 Pg105

[33] Hagner, Matthew 1 –13 Pg106

[34] Hagner, Matthew 1 –13 Pg106

[35] Moo The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, Pg 204-205

[36] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 234-238

[37] It should be noted that the biblical notion of ‘heart’ refers to the whole person, as a unity of Spirit, Soul, and Body; one whole indivisible entity.

[38] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 238

[39] Moo The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, Pg 205

[40] Moo The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, Pg 205

[41] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 134

[42] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 104

[43] Moo The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, Pg 207

[44] Moo The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, Pg 207

[45] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 104

[46] B. Enyart, The Plot (Denver, Co: Bob Enyart, 1999) Pg 124-125

[47] Byrne, "The Problem of Nomos” Pg 304

[48] See N. Due, Paul: Apostle of Law and Liberty (Blackwood, Aus: New Creation, 1984) pg 6

[49] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 74

[50] Schreiner, The law and its fulfillment Pg 75

[51] K. Chamblin (J.S. Feinberg Ed) Continuity and Discontinuity – The Law of Moses and the Law of Christ (Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 1988) Pg 187.

[52] Westerholm, Israel's law and the Church's faith, Pg 195

[53] Westerholm, Israel's law and the Church's faith, Pg 205

[54] Westerholm, Israel's law and the Church's faith, Pg 204


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Sloyan, G. S. Is Christ the End of the Law (Philadelphia, Pa: Westminster, 1978)

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Tenney, M.C., Barabas, S. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 1975.)

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