Old Doxoblogy

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Defining The Biblical Term 'Law'

In Biblical usage the term 'law' is used in several ways. It can refer to the first five books of the Bible, the entire Mosaic covenant, the Ten Commandments, specific commandments, customs, legal judgments, natural law, or the law written on the heart as promised in the New Covenant. And this is not an exhaustive listing of how the English word 'law' is used.

But the Bible was not written in English. It was written, for the most part, in either Hebrew or Greek. And when it comes to Greek, 'nomos' is consistently used to translate the Hebrew references to regulations imposed through the Mosaic code. However it is also used to mean a principle that is at work, such as;
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Rom 7:21-25)
Every time the word 'law' is used in those verses it is the Greek word 'nomos'. But it does not always refer back to the Mosaic code.

So when it comes to interpreting the New Testament teaching regarding 'law', we must check the context to see what 'law' is being explained.

For the purposes of what I am going to write about the law, I want to focus this definition on the Mosaic code.

The normal use of 'law' in the New Testament is a reference to the Mosaic code. I'm going out on a limb here and say that most of the time, though certainly not always, the law given by Moses to Israel is in view.
This Mosaic code is a covenant between God and Israel. Pure and simple. The signs of that covenant between God and Israel were circumcision and Sabbath-keeping.
The Mosaic Covenant was not divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial parts. The whole covenant was binding upon all those entered into the covenant whether by birth or by becoming a proselyte. There is no Biblical evidence that the Law (Mosaic Covenant, torah) was divided in to three separate parts by Christ. It is never spoken of in any way other than as a whole unit. Pork-eating, mixed-clothes wearing, Sabbath-breaking, idolatry, and murder were all condemned by that Law.
The Mosaic Covenant was a temporary covenant. Paul is very clear when he says that that Law was till Christ. (Gal 3)
Also in Galatians 3, Paul is very clear that the Law is not grace.

What else can I add? I'm not even going to try.

3 comments:

bluecollar said...

Jeremy, I like your thoughts here...
"There is no Biblical evidence that the Law (Mosaic Covenant, torah) was divided in to three separate parts by Christ. It is never spoken of in any way other than as a whole unit. Pork-eating, mixed-clothes wearing, Sabbath-breaking, idolatry, and murder were all condemned by that Law.
The Mosaic Covenant was a temporary covenant. Paul is very clear when he says that that Law was till Christ. (Gal 3)
Also in Galatians 3, Paul is very clear that the Law is not grace."

I do agree!

Doug E. said...

This is certainly what leads to most of the problems in understanding Paul and other new testament writers.

Great job,

Doug

Peter D. Nelson said...

Well Jeremy I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I disagree with you regarding the Mosaic Covenant and whether or not it can be seperated into three distinct parts. Unfortunately I can't at this time respond here, (I'm at work right now)but I shall.