Make your own free website on

VII. Paul's Dual View of the Law & Paul's View of Redemptive History

Paul was a unique person. He was a "Hebrew of Hebrews" (Phil. 3:5) who became the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7). He was most fluent in the law, and yet spent the majority of his time among those "without law" (1 Cor. 9:21). Bandstra observes that Paul's view of the law cannot be understood without recognizing two parallel strands of thought.76 It is "typically Pauline," he writes, "to affirm with respect to the Old Testament law and practices based upon it, both its positive relation with Christ and its having become obsolete in Christ."77 Similarly, Bolton affirms that "we are not without some places of Scripture which declare the law to be abrogated, and not without some again that speak of it as yet in force."78 Fairbairn notes that there is a "dual reflection upon the law as both good and bad."79 This ambivalence should caution us against extremes. Perhaps it would be fair to judge that some Anabaptists did not do justice to the positive aspects of Old Covenant law while the Reformed community has not done justice to its negative aspects.80

Paul's View of Redemptive History

In addition to his view of the law, Paul's ethical perspective was also shaped by his redemptive-historical understanding. As Herman Ridderbos points out:

Before everything else, he was a proclaimer of a new time, the great turning point in the history of redemption, the intrusion of a new world aeon. Such was the dominating perspective and foundation of Paul's entire preaching.81

These perspectives are reflected in Paul's injunctions to the churches: "The 'indicative' of God's redemptive act in Christ is insolubly linked to the 'therefore' of the ethical 'imperative.'"82 Redemptive history provides the "indicative" in Paul's thought. In particular, it is the Christ-event that gives the foundation for the apostle's "imperatives." Thus, "No interpreta-tion of the Pauline ethic can be judged successful which does not grapple with the problem of indicative and imperative in Paul's thought."83

Several key redemptive-historical themes can be isolated in order to illumine Paul's ethical perspective: (1) God's promise in Abraham, (2) the law through Moses, and (3) grace and truth in Jesus Christ.

Promise to Abraham (Rom. 4:9-16; Gal. 3:8:9; 17-18)

Christians are specifically linked to Abraham as their "father" (Rom. 4:16). This is to be taken, of course, in a spiritual, not physical, sense. Faith is that which makes both Jews and Gentiles the "children of Abraham." Paul sees much significance in the fact that Abraham possessed a justified status prior to circumcision (Rom. 4:10-11). This indicates that the promise of righteousness apart from works was not given through the law-covenant (Rom. 4:13). Imputation of righteousness apart from works was historically, in Abraham's case, "apart from law" (Rom. 3:21). Thus, both the justification and sanctification of Abraham were able to occur by faith without the specific administration of law - law that was not "added" until 430 years later (Gal. 3:17). We might further point out that the priesthood to which Christians are referenced is not the Aaronic in the Mosaic era, but that of Melchizedek in the Abrahamic era (Heb. 5:10; 6:13, 20; 7:1-21).

Law through Moses (John 1:17a)

Just as "promise" provides the foundation for the Abrahamic covenant, "law" is foundational to the Sinaitic covenant. This law was inflexible, and imposed a relentless "curse" on everyone under it who failed to do everything in it at all times (Gal. 3:10). This administration of law was added 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant (Gal. 3:17). It was added "because of transgressions" (Gal. 3:19), and so that "the offense might abound" (Rom. 5:20), "until the Seed [Christ] should come" (Gal. 3:19). This administration of law, therefore, "is not something that is of fundamental importance to us. It is something additional, it is something that has come for the time being, for a particular function." 84

The Book of Hebrews makes it clear that the law could make nothing perfect, and that something "better" was necessary to effect redemption and holiness. From the New Covenant perspective, it is retrogressive and dangerous to go back under the "beggarly elements," and "yoke of bondage" of the Mosaic covenant (Gal. 4:9; 5:1). This Mosaic administration was, like the Egyptian bondage, a stiff taskmaster that offered no relief. Thus, while the law (as Scripture) is "good," it is (as covenant) connected to the reign and strength of sin (Rom. 6:14; 1 Cor. 15:56). As to its proper purpose, it is "not made for a righteous man," but for the ungodly (1 Tim. 1:8-9).

If men were left with "do this and live" there would be no hope. But in the fullness of time Christ came.

Grace and Truth by Jesus Christ

There is something accomplished in the historical manifestation of Christ that was completely unattainable under Moses' administration of law. That "something" is described in verse 16 as "grace upon grace" (Greek, charin anti charitos). Most commentators see this phrase as similar to "faith to faith" (Rom. 1:17) and "glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18). The revelation of Christ brought an administration of "grace and truth." Why? Because he was the promised "seed" of Abraham, and the "prophet" promised by Moses. And, while the law is "not of faith" but rather "do this and live," the gospel is by faith, that it might be of grace (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:8,11).

The Christian life, then, is not initiated and sustained by law. Rather, it is in union with Christ, partaking by faith in his fullness. In him we live a life "under grace" - even "grace upon grace." And it is this "grace of God" which has historically been revealed and made possible in Christ that teaches or disciplines us to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age" (Titus 2:11-12). Again, we see that incentive for holy living arises out of our union with him "who gave himself for us" and is coming again to judge the living and the dead (Titus 2:13-14).

In the Fullness of Time (Gal. 4:4)

Bringing the three historical considerations together, we can see the importance attached to the historical appearance of Christ. His coming in the fullness of time is the decisive event of redemptive history. The crucifixion both accomplished redemption and became the crucial reference point for Christian obedience. We must bring this Christ-centered perspective to our reflection upon the relationship of law and gospel.

In Paul's writings, then, we find that he "evaluates also the law completely from the vantage point of the new stage of the history of redemption in Christ."85 "Paul's doctrine of the law," therefore, "is developed from a purely Christological point of view."86 W. Gutbrod crystallizes this point by saying:

It is the cross of Jesus which determines for Paul his understanding of the content of the law. The whole of Paul's thought revolves around the proposition that the crucified Jesus is the Christ. In the same way it determines his attitude toward the law. This alone provides an intelligible, inherently necessary, connection between his affirmation and negation of the law.87

Thus, as Oscar Cullmann writes, "without taking salvation history into account, we would have to regard Paul's teaching on the law as completely self-contradictory."88 It is interesting to note that Cullmann also observes: "to my knowledge a comprehensive 'salvation-historical ethics' is still to be written."89

Key Texts in Paul's Thought

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are in the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Rom. 3:19-20)

In the preceding verses 10-18 Paul quoted at length from several portions of the Old Testament. Thus, when he says, "what things so ever the law says," he has in view not the "moral law" in particular but the entire Old Testament in general.90 "It says to those in the law" is a proper rendering, rather than "under the law." It means that both Jews and Gentiles are "in the sphere within which the law of which Paul had quoted samples had relevance."91

Paul then indicates that by law-works no man shall ever be justified. This is not inconsistent with the Old Testament, as he demonstrates in 4:3, 6-8, for the way of salvation has always been "the just shall live by faith," not "the man that does them shall live in them" (Gal. 3:11-12). Thus, in saying "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (3:20), he "rests his doctrine as to the universality of sin even on the texts of Scripture he had previously cited."92

Walter Chantry uses 3:20b, following the Puritan tradition, to prove that we must preach the Ten Commandments: "God's law is an essential ingredient of Gospel preaching, for 'by the law is the knowledge of sin'."93 But F.F. Bruce takes issue with such an interpretation:

The second use (of the law "as a summons to repentance") is recognized by Paul as a fact of experience - "through law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20) - but not, it appears, as an aid to gospel preaching. It may be held, as a principle of pastoral theology, that confrontation with the law is a salutary means of leading the sinner to acknowledge his inability and cast himself upon the mercy of God. But there is no evidence that Paul ever used the law in this way in his apostolic preaching.94

Since it cannot be exegetically proven that Paul has the Ten Commandments in view when he employs the word "law" in 3:20b, it is certainly tenuous to use this text as proof that Exodus 20 is essential to gospel preaching.

Do we then make void the law through faith? Let it never be! Yes, we uphold the law. (Rom. 3:31)

In the preceding verse 27 Paul uses the phrase "law of faith" as opposed to salvation by works. Some might suppose that this invalidates the Old Testament so he indicates in verse 31 that his gospel upholds the law, for righteousness by faith was "witnessed by the law and the prophets" (3:21). As Alford put it, "the law itself contained this very doctrine" of justification by faith.95 F.F. Bruce summarizes the teaching of 3:31 and the context by saying:

"do we then overthrow the law by this faith?". . . "By no means! On the contrary we uphold the law." In the immediate context, in which Paul goes on to expound the narrative of Abraham's faith which was reckoned to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:1-25), it might appear that the law which is upheld by the gospel of justification by faith is the Torah in the wider sense - the Pentateuch, and more particularly the Genesis account of Abraham. That is so, but Paul goes on farther to show that the law in its stricter sense as the embodiment of God's will, is upheld and fulfilled more adequately in the age of faith than was possible "before faith came," when law kept the people of God "under restraint" (Gal. 3:23). Only in an atmosphere of spiritual liberty can God's will be properly obeyed and his law upheld.96

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:24 KJV)

This text offers another example of an incorrect interpretation that has become fixed in the history of the Reformed tradition. This text and Rom. 3:20b are the chief proof texts used to teach that "the law as a preparation for the gospel, is also part of our ministry."97 Bridges cites Archbishop Usher: "First the Covenant of the law is urged, to make sin, and the punishment thereof, known . . . After this preparation the promises of God are propounded."98 Spurgeon says:

I say you have deprived the gospel of its ablest auxiliary when you have set aside the law. You have taken away from it the schoolmaster that is to bring us to Christ. No, it must stand, and stand in all its terrors, to drive men away from self-righteousness and constrain them to fly to Christ. They will never accept grace till they tremble before a just and holy law; therefore the law serves a most necessary and blessed purpose.99

If this understanding of Gal. 3:24 is mistaken, the Puritan linkage between preaching "law" and "gospel" needs to be re-evaluated. Other commentators see this passage as referring to the progression of redemptive history, not a use of the Ten Commandments to convict men of sin as a necessary preparation to the gospel. John Brown writes:

"The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ." These words have often been applied to express this idea - that it is by the commands and threatenings of God's law brought home to the conscience of the sinner . . . that he is induced to believe the revelation of mercy . . . But this, though a very important truth, is obviously not what the apostle means.100

Ernest DeWitt Burton comments on Gal. 3:24:

Nor is the reference to the individual experience under law as bringing men individually to faith in Christ. For the context makes it clear that the apostle is speaking, rather, of the historic succession of one period of revelation upon another and the displacement of the law by Christ.101

John Calvin's opinion is, "I deny that Paul here [Gal. 4:1-4] treats of individuals, or draws a distinction between the time of unbelief and the calling of faith," and he then goes on to assert that Paul here is comparing the demise of the old era and the appearance of the new era.102

It is clear from the New Testament that men will not flee to the Physician unless they are convinced they need the Doctor. The Reformed tradition believes that "law preaching is the necessary means to bring about such conviction." But where do we find examples of such a use of the law in the apostolic preaching? In light of the lack of any real evidence for something they assert is so crucial, the assertion that "the law is the forerunner, that makes room, and prepares welcome in the soul for Christ" is called into question.103 Such a doctrine has no exegetical basis in Gal. 3:24, and yet this is the text most often cited as vindicating it.104

Jesus' confrontation with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 is often cited as a basis for law preaching. Chantry exhorts, "Remember our Lord's dealings with the young ruler. Let them guide your message and methods."105 Did not our Lord use some of the Ten Commandments to bring him to conviction of sin? Is this not a clear model for us to use? Yes, the Lord used the law with this man. No, it cannot be a model for us with all men. Why? Luke 10:28 gives us the answer. Jesus used the law when dealing with people who were in bondage to the underlying principle of the Mosaic economy: "Do this and you will live" (Gal. 3:12; Ezek. 20:11, 13). Did Christ ever use the law in the same manner with the few Gentiles he encountered? It was, therefore, quite natural and right for the Lord to confront a man "under law" with the convicting character of that law in which he trusted. Paul purposely distanced himself from a law-preaching methodology when dealing with Gentiles, for these people were "without law" (1 Cor. 9:20-21; Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31).

Conviction of sin is certainly a necessary part of repentance and belief in the gospel. What, then, is the correct instrument of such conviction if it is not law-preaching? The commission from our exalted Christ is that "repentance and remission of sins is to be preached among all nations." His prescription for the content of this evangelistic message, however, is not the law, but "all that I have commanded you" (Luke 24:47; Matt. 28:20). In the Book of Acts, therefore, we find the specific form apostolic preaching took: they pressed the claims of the resurrected Christ upon Jews and Gentiles, and conviction was elicited by means of this proclamation (Acts 2:36-37; 10:42-44; 17:34). "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom he has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

Gospel preaching that focuses solely on the person and work of Christ will produce conviction. What is more convicting than the total claim upon the sinner's life that Jesus demands (Luke 14:25-33)? What could be more searching than the obligations of kingdom life detailed in Matthew 5-7? Obviously, as we seek to make the Scriptures understood, we must deal with the law. But to isolate the Ten Commandments as a separate and necessary element "preparatory" to the gospel has no New Testament warrant. As F.F. Bruce observes, "there is no evidence that Paul ever used the law in this way in his apostolic preaching."106 Paul's evangelistic work among the Gentiles shows no desire or concern to bring the Torah into the picture. Instead, he lived among them as one "in-law to Christ" (1 Cor. 9:21).

The concept of "law preaching" associated with Puritanism, therefore, is unnatural and does not do justice to the advance of redemptive history. It is a practice which, at best, rests solely on dubious interpretations of several questionable proof texts. There is no question that the law must be handled and explained in light of Christ's coming. But it must be expounded naturally and contextually as it is encountered in the Scriptures - and always from a New Covenant perspective.

I would not have known what sin was except through the law . . . The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. (Rom. 7:7,12)

The context surrounding this passage has been used to teach that the law is necessary to produce conviction of sin. However, there are some textual considerations that demand a re-evaluation of the Puritan use of this passage. Bridges asks: "was it [the law] not also the appointed means of bringing the Apostle to the spiritual apprehension of his sin?"107

To understand Romans 7, we must take into consideration the transition in Paul's life from being "under law" to being "in-law" to Christ. Before his own conversion, Paul viewed himself as "blameless" with reference to the law (Phil. 3:6). But in Rom. 7 Paul views himself as "slain" by the law (v. 11). We must ask, what brought Paul to move from being "blameless" to being "slain" by the law? Was it a separate preaching of the Ten Commandments he heard somewhere? No! It was the direct result of his confrontation with the gospel. It was the gospel's convicting impact on his mind and heart that brought the weight of the law upon his soul as described in Romans 7. When Paul stood by consenting to Stephen's death, it was not "law preaching," but a Christ-centered unveiling of Old Testament truth that must have challenged all of his presuppositions (Acts 7:57; 8:1). And when he met the risen and glorified Lord on the road to Damascus, the convicting question Christ asked had nothing to do with the law, but rather, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9:4).

Bandstra points us in the right direction when he says:

In Gal. 2:15-20 Paul unequivocally confesses that he and his fellow Jewish Christians found themselves to be sinners ("slain") when they sought to be justified in Jesus Christ (2:17). Prior to this experience they could say that they were by nature Jews and not sinners out of the Gentiles.108

To rightly interpret Romans 7, therefore, we must begin by observing that Paul specifically addressed himself to those who "know the law" (7:1). They were Jewish Christians "under law" (7:1-6) who, once confronted with the gospel, had come to this perspective of the law.109 We might well ask whether a Gentile believer could have written Romans 7:7-13 since they were never, as John Brown puts it, "subject to the law of Moses."110

Paul was "blameless" in the law until the gospel confronted him. It was not a prior law-work that drove him to the gospel, but rather the gospel, coming to him as one "under law," that brought about his new-found conviction of sin by the very law that had once been his proud refuge. The law did not compel Paul to face the gospel. Rather, it was the gospel that forced Paul to see the law in a new light.111

To the Jews I become like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law, but am in-law to Christ), so as to win those not having the law. (1 Cor 9:20-21)

This passage is crucial because it summarizes Paul's differing evangelistic methodologies to Jews and Gentiles. He had only one gospel message and would never compromise it for a moment. But as a man raised in Gentile Tarsus, yet well-versed in the Jewish Torah, he was able to mix both with those "under law" and with those "without the law." To isolate Christ's dealings with the rich young ruler, a man "under law," as normative, therefore, does not seem appropriate in light of Paul's practice to "become like one not having the law" when dealing with Gentiles. Would Paul have challenged the Athenian philosophers, "you know the commandments . . . do this and live"? Obviously not (cf. Acts 17:23-31).

In this passage Paul sees the Jews as huponomian ("under law"), the Gentiles as anomian ("without law"), and himself as ennomian ("in law"). Bandstra observes:

In order to guard against misunderstanding on the part of his readers, who might too easily take the reference to "not being under law" and the reference to "without law" as meaning unprincipled and degenerate behavior, the Apostle states that he is not lawless before God but bound to the law of Christ. As [C. H.] Dodd notes "It is evident (in this place, at least) the Torah is not conceived as being identical, or equivalent, or at any rate co-extensive with the law of God, which is either a different, or a more inclusive, law than the law of Moses."112

It is clear that Paul does not reference his being "in-law" to the Mosaic economy, which he specifically states he is not under in verse 20, but to the New Covenant economy with Christ as his Prophet. An accurate summary of "law" with reference to the human race would be structured as follows:

1. Constitutional law ("by nature," Rom. 2:14) - Gentiles were a law unto themselves as fallen image bearers and are anomic ("without law").

2. Covenantal law ("on tablets of stone," 2 Cor. 3:3) - The Jews possessed inscripturated law as a unified covenant administration which they broke, and turned into a legalistic system. They were huponomic ("under law").

3. Christ's law ("on tablets of human heart," 2 Cor. 3:3) - Christians are neither under law nor without law, but possess the internalized law promised in the New Covenant and are therefore ennomic ("in-law").

We must be flexible like Paul in our evangelistic methodologies. In light of 1 Cor. 9:19-21, it is overstating the case to say that "to preach the Gospel without the Law, would encourage self-delusion."113 Expounding the gospel involves declaring all the teachings of Christ, and self-delusion will never be encouraged when passages such as Matthew 5-7 and 13:18-23 are opened up to men and applied to their consciences.

Bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)

The false teachers in Galatia were imposing dangerous burdens on the brethren. Paul exhorts them rather to "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2 cf. John 13:34). The background behind the concept of "burden" deserves further attention.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, "come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." This text has been used to teach that the gospel invitation is directed only to those who are "burdened" by their load of sin as a result of conviction by the law.114 But this was not Christ's point at all. Rather, he has in view people weighted down by the burdens placed upon them by the Pharisees: "they tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders" (Matt. 23:4); "you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry" (Luke 11:46). Christ is inviting people burdened down with the innumerable traditions of the elders to come to him and find rest.

Not only were the Pharisaical rules burdensome, but the entire Mosaic economy was "a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear" (Acts 15:10). Many in the Reformed tradition have limited this text to include only the "ceremonial law."115 But such a viewpoint overlooks the fact that the Mosaic law was a unit (Gal. 5:3). The yoke of the Torah did not bring rest, but frustration (Heb. 10:1). Thus our Lord bids men so burdened to "take my yoke upon you and learn from me" (Matt 11:29). It is an invitation that specifically links Christian obedience to the person and words of Christ.

As the gospel began to spread first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16), a law problem arose.116 It was the inevitable question, "what should be the relationship of converted Gentiles to Mosaic law?" The problem was aggravated when certain men from Jerusalem began to teach "that the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses" (Acts 15:1, 5). It was a conflict that called for an analysis and decision by the apostles and brethren. "The four regulations in [their] decree came from the Holiness Code in the Old Testament [Lev. 17-18] and are found in the same order as in Acts 15:29 and 21:25."117

If the traditional Reformed explanation is correct - that Gentile believers are not under the abolished ceremonial and civil laws but only under the "abiding moral law" as a rule of life - then we must wonder why this reasoning was not employed at Jerusalem. It would have quickly resolved the conflict described in Acts 15:1-6. But this is not the New Testament answer. The "law" binding on all Christians is placed in Christ's hands, and the concern is to bear the yoke of Christ, not the unbearable yoke of the Torah. Indeed, under the New Covenant, "His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:4).

In the Reformed tradition derived from Geneva, it has frequently been said that, while the man in Christ is not under law as a means of salvation, he remains under law as a rule of life. In its own right, this distinction may be cogently maintained as a principle of Christian theology and ethics, but it should not be imagined that it has Pauline authority. According to Paul, the believer is not under the law as a rule of life - unless one thinks of the law of love, and that is a completely different kind of law, fulfilled not by obedience to a code but by the outworking of an inward power . . . Again, it is sometimes said that Christ is the end of the ceremonial law . . . but not of the moral law. Once more, this is a perfectly valid, and to some extent obvious, theological and ethical distinction; but it has no place in Pauline exegesis. It has to be read into Paul, for it is not a distinction that Paul himself makes.118

Returning to Gal. 6:2, Paul begins by saying, "I would have you to bear, not the burden of the Mosaic law [which none can bear], nor the burdens the false teachers are imposing on you, but bear one another's burdens and fully fulfill the law of Christ." What does Paul mean by the "law of Christ"? John Brown's words are most instructive:

"The law" here (Gal. 5:14) plainly does not signify the Mosaic law, but the law by which Christians are bound to regulate themselves; for, as the apostle elsewhere says, though completely free from the obligation of the Mosaic law, they are "not without law to God, but under the law to Christ." It is what the apostle calls "the commandment," when he says, "The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart"... and what the apostle James terms "the perfect law of liberty," and the "royal law," in opposition to the law of bondage... There seems to be a tacit contrast [in Gal. 6:2] between the law of Moses and the law of Christ. It is as if the apostle had said, "This bearing one another's burdens is a far better thing than those external observances which your new teachers are so anxious to impose on you. To be sure, it is not like them, a keeping of the law of Moses, but infinitely better, it is a fulfilling of the law of Christ - the law of love.119

In light of the fact that in his Galatian Epistle Paul has in view the imposition of the Mosaic system on believers, his focus on "the law of Christ" is all the more significant, for it indicates where our attention is to be directed - not to a terminated economy, but to the new economy and its Prophet, whose voice we must hear.120

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to as many as follow the rule [Greek, kanon], even to the Israel of God. (Gal. 6:15-16)

This is a crucial text, for it provides Paul's clearest definition of the proper "canon" or rule of the Christian faith. Only here and in Phil. 3:6 does this word "canon" refer to a theological standard. Whatever this "canon" is, "the apostle obviously considered [it to be] of cardinal importance."121

To begin with, notice that Paul identifies two categories of persons in this context, as indicated by the phrase "as many as" in verses 12 and 16. First, "as many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh," referring to false teachers, and secondly, "as many as walk according to this rule," referring to Christians.

Next, we need to understand what a "canon" is. It is like a yardstick or fixed standard by which things are measured. Verse 15, therefore, gives us the New Covenant standard of the Christian faith: "neither circum-cision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation." The importance of this "canon" is multiplied when we consider that Paul uses much the same phraseology in two other passages (1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:5). Considered together, these three references give us a complete picture of the essential and necessary yardstick of the Christian faith. All three stress that neither circumcision or uncircumcision means anything. That which counts is, "a new creation" (Gal. 6:15), "faith expressing itself through love: (Gal. 5:6), and "keeping God's [New Covenant] commands" (1 Cor. 7:19). It is a standard that stands in stark contrast to those who "want to make a good impression outwardly" by boasting in the flesh (i.e. circumcision) of others (Gal. 6:12-13).

Walking according to this "canon" is connected in verse 16 with enjoying the peace and mercy of the gospel. Multitudes of professing Christians do not have the joy of Christ which gospel liberty brings because they are weighted down with non-gospel burdens imposed upon them by men. Even good men are zealous concerning matters that are not weighty issues in the law of Christ. If we do not carefully follow this true New Covenant "canon" we run the risk of being deceived by those whose only motive is to escape persecution (Gal. 6:12), or of falling back into a bondage from which we have been freed (Gal. 5:1). Indeed, the true "Israel of God" will walk according to this "canon," for Paul was confident that Christ's elect would ultimately reject false teachers and cleave instead to the true gospel of free grace (Gal. 5:10).

This, then, is the New Covenant perspective on what is important to the believer. This is the standard of true Christianity. "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). In light of these texts, we must therefore maintain that, from a redemptive-historical viewpoint, even the "moral laws" of Moses do not constitute the "canon" for the new "Israel of God," which is the church.122


76. Bandstra, "The Law's Limited Validity and Its Ambivalence," Law and Elements, pp. 115-168.

77. Bandstra, p. 91.

78. Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, London: Banner of Truth, 1964, p. 52.

79. Patrick Fairbairn, The Revelation of Law in Scripture, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957, pp. 148-149.

80. A.J. Bandstra's The Law and the Elements of the World is the most satisfying and balanced presentation this writer has seen.

81. Herman Ridderbos, Paul and Jesus, Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1958, p. 64.

82. J. Christian Beker, Paul the Apostle, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980, p. 255.

83. Victor Paul Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968, p. 279.

84. D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 5, London: Banner of Truth, 1971, p. 285.

85. Bandstra, p. 77.

86. G.B. Stevens, The Pauline Theology, New York: Charles Scribners, 1892, p. 171.

87. W. Gutbrod, Law, Adam & Charles Blatk, 1962, p. 106, emphasis mine; p. 119.

88. Oscar Cullmann, Salvation in History, London: SCM Press, 1967, p. 335.

89. Cullmann, p. 329.

90. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, Vol. 1, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965, p. 106.

91. Murray, Vol. 1, p. 106.

92. A.B. Bruce, St. Paul's Conception of Christianity, New York: Charles Scribners, 1893, p. 127.

93.Walter Chantry, Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic?, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976, p. 36.

94. Bruce, pp. 191-192.

95. Quoted by Fairbairn, p. 413.

96. Bruce, p. 201.

97. Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry, London: Banner of Truth, 1961, p. 232.

98. Quoted by Bridges, pp. 233-234.

99. C.H. Spurgeon, "The Perpetuity of the Law of God," Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, #1660, p. 285.

100. John Brown, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians, Evansville: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1957, p. 174.

101. Ernest DeWitt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, New York: Charles Scribners, 1920, p. 200.

102. Quoted by John Brown, p. 391.

103. Bishop Reynolds, quoted by Bridges, p. 239.

104. Bridges uses Gal. 3:24 several times as proof of the necessity of "preaching law as a preparation for the gospel", pp. 232, 233, 238.

105. Chantry, p. 92; pp. 17-18.

106. Bruce, p. 192.

107. Bridges, p. 224.

108. Bandstra, p. 141; Bruce, p. 189.

109. Bandstra, pp. 140-141.

110. Brown, p. 258; pp. 252, 254.

111. Jon Zens, "ëWhile We were in the Flesh: Should Rom. 7:7ff Shape the Christian's Self Image?," Searching Together, Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 13-21; Robert Gundry, "The Moral Frustration of Paul Before His Conversion: Sexual Lust in Rom. 7:7-25," Pauline Studies, eds. Donald Hagner and Murray Harris (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), pp. 228-245.

112. Bandstra, p. 112.

113. Bridges, p. 238.

114. Bridges, p. 236.

115. Bolton, p. 137.

116. Gutbrod, p. 92.

117. Walter Sclunithals, Paul and James, Naperville: Alec R. Allinson, 1965, pp. 97, 98; F.F. Bruce, p. 185.

118. Bruce, pp. 192-193.

119. Brown, pp. 287, 326.

120. A lack of sensitivity to this perspective is revealed by the fact that Fairbairn in his classic Reformed treatment of the law never deals with 1 Cor. 9:20-21 or Gal. 6:2, according to the index of "Passages of Scripture More Particularly Referred to and Explained" (p. 481). Yet these two passages are crucial for a proper understanding of law in the New Covenant aeon.

121. Brown, p. 381.

122. "Under the New Covenant the Old Testament is not the current canon." Meredith Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972, pp. 85, 89, 102.

This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him. Jon Zens. Searching Together. Summer-Winter 1997, Vol. 25:1,2,3. Pages 26-37.