Paul and The Christian’s Relationship To The Mosaic Law

Cross-FS

Introduction

The relationship a Christian has to the Old Testament is a hot button issue in the realm of theology. On one hand, some Christians contend that Christ did away with the Old Covenant and the New Law replaces it. Others contend that the New Law may be the new standard for salvation, but the Old Law still has some elements to it that God expects Christians to live out. This post will discuss these issues and navigate through several passages which may shed some light on the Christians relationship to the Old Law. In Romans, Paul writes a very baseline statement of Christian theology with a very important element being the Christian’s relationship to the Old Law.

Before getting further into the issue, it must be discussed what is meant by the term “Law” in the Bible. Paul Schmidtbleicher notes, “The word law in the New Testament is the translation of the Greek word nomos. Law is generally any working principle that regulates conduct in life. Such principles can originate from God directly or indirectly by the nature of the operation of His creation. They also can be devised by mankind to promote order.”[1]

The Old Law has three areas of commands. They are universally understood as Moral, Ceremonial, and Civil. Most Christians today recognize the latter two divisions as pertaining to Israel and the Jewish people solely. After all, how many Christians cut their hair and enjoy pork on occasion? The issue in Christian theology pertains to the moral element of the Old Law. That is, the Ten Commandments. This post is going to mainly focus on the moral element of the law and how Paul views it in Romans.

 What Does Jesus Say?

Paul’s writings are no doubt a cornerstone for Christian theology itself, but Christ is the main focus of Christianity. It would be wise to begin this post with a look at what Christ had to say in regards to the Old Testament Law. In Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus states, “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished.”[2]

This passage in itself has been a tricky area to navigate. This is especially tricky in the case of Jesus because He not only spoke of the Ten Commandments in Matthew 5, He elaborated on them and made them a bit clearer to believers. What, then, do we make of this passage? It is important to note that Christ was prophesized throughout the Old Testament beginning in Genesis 3:15 and continuing throughout as the promised Messiah. In this respect, Christ is saying that His life, ministry, death, and resurrection will fulfill the prophecies and validate the Old Testament. This means that Jesus is saying that the Old Testament contains the Word of God and that because Christ is of God, He fulfills the laws that man could not, atones for the failure, and calls man to God’s moral law, not a ceremonial or ritualistic one.

Paul and the Old Testament Law

Paul’s writings in Romans are the focus of this post and important attention will be paid to how these writings compliment the life and work of Christ. Above, what Jesus said in regards to the Old Law was discussed, but continuing forward, Paul’s words will be addressed. Important to note before diving in is that Paul was picked by Jesus (Acts 9) and therefore his writings carry a decent amount of weight in regards to authority. Strikingly enough, believers recognize that Paul was once a strict adherent to the Old Law and was very much against the notion of Christ as Messiah. Paul was even the man given Stephen’s robes after Stephen was stoned to death for witnessing about Christ (Acts 7).

Paul goes on through Acts to take the Gospel of Christ to areas the Jews would have never touched. Literally, Paul took the Gospel to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) as best was understood at the time. From Rome, the Gospel would spread like wildfire. And in all of this, Paul is demonstrating that Christ was sacrificed for Jews and Gentiles alike. The dilemma occurs at this juncture. That is, are Gentiles required to adhere to the Mosaic Law or do the Jews need to let go of it? Perhaps even further, is there a middle ground to be found? This makes Paul’s writings all the more interesting to analyze.

The Role of the Old Law for Jews and Gentiles

Romans 2:12-16 deals with the Old Law’s relationship to Jews and Gentiles. In particular, Paul addressed where the Old Law fits in with God’s dealings with both the Jews and the Gentiles[3]. When Paul uses the term “natural law” in this passage, he is referring to the knowledge made available to all people of God’s moral law which is innate and put into people through God’s creation[4]. Jeffery Lamp notes that Paul’s purpose here is to show:

“both Jew and Gentile stand on equal footing before God as to responsibility for sin. A significant portion of this treatment has been dedicated to demonstrating to Jews that they have no claim for special treatment due to their national/ ethnic standing as the covenantal people of God. Gentiles who do not possess the Torah nevertheless at times fulfill its precepts. Jews who have received several divine privileges nonetheless at times behave as godless Gentiles. The culmination of this line of argumentation is to declare that all humankind stands in need of God’s redemptive work in Christ.”[5]

It becomes crystal clear early on that Paul views Gentiles and Jews on equal footing in regards to sin. In Paul’s view, the moral law of God has been put into the heart of every man (Romans 2:15) no matter their creed. Because Christ is the fulfillment of this moral law, He is the new standard which all of man falls under. What Paul is ultimately saying is that the Jews have no special recognition because they have possession of the Old Law because God’s judgment is determined by the sinfulness of man more so than the possession of the Law[6]. This concept is an easy one to relate to and shows that simple possession of God’s laws does not necessitate salvation. There are many Christians who have Bibles in their homes that do not live according to what it teaches just as there are many Jews who lived in rebellion to the Torah. To God, there is no difference in this case. Sin is sin and must be dealt with accordingly through God’s righteous judgment through Christ.

 Paul’s Positive Words Regarding the Old Law

Here, it is important to begin by looking at Paul’s use of the term Law which is more clearly defined in Galatians 3:17 where Paul identifies the Law he is addressing as the Law that was revealed four hundred and thirty years after the Abrahamic Covenant and that points to the Mosaic Law itself, in its entirety . Paul cannot logically have more than one meaning for “Law” as it would cause his theology to crumble under the test of consistency. Therefore it is imperative to understand what Paul was referencing in regards to the term in an effort to better understand the Christian’s relationship to the Old Law itself.

Paul’s words of positivity regarding the Mosaic Law are certainly overlooked through time, but are really worth noting as they will shed some light on the more well-known statements he made regarding the Old Law. Several verses in Romans are worth considerable attention in this regard and they are found in Romans 3:31, 7:7, and 7:12. In Romans 3:31, Paul says that faith establishes the Law. In Romans 7:7, Paul says that the Law is not sin and therefore not against Christianity. In Romans 7:12, Paul says that the Law is holy, righteous, and good as well as a commandment.

In Romans 3:31, Paul is saying that those people who accept the sacrifice of Jesus will keep the law which embodies God’s holy, good, and just commandments[7]. Easy to see here is the connection between this verse and Romans 7:12. What Paul means in Romans 7:7 is also fundamental to understanding his writing. When he says the Law is not sin, he is making a separation between God’s Law and sin itself with sin bringing death to the believer[8]. In Romans 7:12, Paul is pointing out that the commandment from God is righteous because it is what God has given man to stay clear of sin[9]. Feimi Adeyeimi notes of 7:12, “However, since revealing sin is the function of the Law, and through that function it aided sin, that Law cannot enable Christians to bear fruit to God. Thus the church is divorced from it so that Christians can serve God in a new way by the Holy Spirit.”[10]

Where this leaves the reader of Romans is with only one logical conclusion. Paul sees the Mosaic Law as a reflection of righteousness from God, but that Law is also impossible for man to adhere to. Therefore, Christ was sacrificed for man’s failures to adhere to that Law and all of man must come to Christ through faith to be reconciled for man’s inability to uphold the Mosaic Law, specifically, the Ten Commandments.

 

Paul’s View on the State of the Old Law

Paul’s view on the state of the Mosaic Law does not take much steam away from his positive statements about it. As different passages are discussed, it is important to recognize that Paul consistently views Jesus as a fulfillment of the Mosaic Law which can certainly indicate that Paul views certain areas of the Mosaic Law as righteous if Christ were to become the embodiment of them in His work.

In Romans 8:4, Paul contends that the moral principles taught through the Mosaic Law were righteous to be upheld and serve as the goal of Spirit led living[11]. It becomes clear that the moral principles are still the fabric of Christian living, but Paul does not see them as a basis for salvation because Christ is the new basis for salvation through a Spirit led life.

A Husband and His Wife

In Romans 7:1-6, Paul uses an analogy that refers to marriage to discuss the Old Law and the New Covenant through Christ. The law of the husband is addressed in 7:1-2 to set up the analogy. Paul Schmidtbleicher says of this passage, “The context of this phrase in Romans 7:1 relates to those who know the law. The understood meaning of the law here is the Law of Moses. Those who knew the Law of Moses would understand that the law of the husband comes from portions like Genesis 2:24 and Exodus 20:14.”[12] In the second and third verses, he speaks of a woman being legally connected to a man through marriage and law becoming adulterous if she gives herself to another while he is living, but is free to remarry following his death meaning she is free from the law. This is an explanation of the law of the husband and a reference to the commandment against adultery as referenced prior. Schmidtbleicher more clearly defines this law as, “Husband and wife at marriage and consummation become one, and that oneness is not to be violated. If the husband dies, the wife is free from the law of the husband. The law of the husband is the marriage bond in which the wife chooses to become the helpmeet and accept the headship of her husband, denying all others.”[13]

This leads into verse four where Paul makes the point that believers were dead to the Law because of their union with Christ through His death[14]. This means (according to verse 6) that believers are free from the salvation based on works of the Old Law (dead to it specifically) and now under the grace of Jesus Christ[15]. To Paul, the Old Law is dead and therefore believers can marry into the New Covenant under Christ. Further, the death and resurrection of Christ ends the binding that the Law had on the Jews and allows them to enter into a New Covenant which houses all walks of life.

Sumner Osborne notes of this passage:

“To be under both [law and Christ] at the same time Paul shows to be as bad as a woman having two husbands at once. But the Christian is not under both the law and Christ. Rather is he dead with  Christ and no longer under the authority of the law, but  united to Christ as risen from the dead; and in this new  relationship he brings forth fruit unto God, fruit that the law was never able to produce in those under its authority.”[16]

Christ Is Righteousness

 

Romans 10:4 is also a very important verse regarding Paul’s view of the Mosaic Covenant. In it, Paul states, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”[17] What Paul is saying here is that there is no way to be declared righteous by man’s own means despite what many Jews believed at the time. The Old Law was the judgment gauge which determined salvation and because man could not adhere to the standards (specifically the Ten Commandments) there is no way possible they could be righteous by their own merit.

Jesus says as much in John 14:6 when he states, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”[18] As Elmer Towns notes, “Since Christ is the source of life and truth, He must also be the way to God Himself.”[19] This claim in itself was a controversy when Christ was in His earthly ministry and it has remained a controversy even through today. Paul is reiterating in Romans 10:4-5 as he does so many times in Romans: Christ is the one and only means for salvation, there is no other way.

Therefore, it is necessary to look at Christ through the eyes of Paul as a vessel for salvation. It is also important to recognize that this does not contradict Paul’s view of the Old Law being righteous in Romans 7:12. The Ten Commandments themselves are a moral code which God has given to man that does reflect His righteousness. This reflection of God allows Him to reveal Himself through the immaterial aspects of life[20]. The distinction between 10:4 and 7:12 is that Paul is saying the Law was righteous and still is righteous, but outside of Christ man is not nor will they ever be. As Douglas Moo states, “The Law and the Prophets bear witness to the revelation of God’s righteousness in Christ. If we do not understand them, we will be unable to understand the gospel. For the gospel is presented in terms that can be understood only through thorough acquaintance with the Old Testament.”[21]

 The Issue of Circumcision

Perhaps one of the most contested issues in Paul’s day that occurred as Gentiles were entering the church is the issue of circumcision. Jews were circumcised by tradition of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17). This issue would have been especially difficult to navigate through as Jews were returning to Rome to find their synagogues converted to churches. On this topic, Paul states in Romans 2: 28-29, “For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter. That man’s praise is not from men but from God.”[22]

Gary Hill and Andrew Burge states of the above passage: “In verses 28-29 Paul describes the identity of these uncircumcised (non-Jewish) yet obedient people: they are incognito Jews (not “outwardly” but “inwardly”) who have a circumcision of the heart, that is, who have experienced God dealing with their most basic spiritual problems.”[23] The idea of the circumcision of the heart has Old Testament roots (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4; 9:25-26; Ezek. 44:9) that was anticipated in a future covenant where God would place His Spirit in the heart of man (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:26-27) to remove all uncleanliness and encourage obedience to God[24]. What Paul is saying here is that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit as fulfillment of this prophecy and are now members of God’s people based on His approval[25].

Christ: The Last Adam

Though not mentioned in Romans specifically, a big part of Paul’s thoughts on the Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic Law can be found in his letter to Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:47. Here, Paul references Christ as the second man, but noticing the language of the initial part of the verse with the terminology of “first man” one can conclude that the first man is Adam which would make Christ the “Last Adam”[26].  What this means is that Christ is the head of a new creation in which righteousness and sanctification reigns as opposed to Adam being the head of the first creation with sin and spiritual death[27].

This principle can also be taken to contrast the Old Law and the New Covenant as far as Paul was concerned. To Paul, it appears that Christ brought the opportunity for salvation where none was present before. On the other side of this is Adam and the Old Law which seemingly condemned believers to death. The distinction still remains here regarding God’s moral law. The moral law God has instituted (largely through the Ten Commandments) is still to be strived for, but the failure of man to uphold it has brought them Christ.

Conclusion

Paul’s writings in Romans say a lot about the Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic Law. It becomes clear from what Paul has written that he views the Old Law as no longer binding due to the merciful sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As mentioned prior in this post, Christ did teach and elaborate on the Ten Commandments in His earthly ministry which indicates that God’s moral law is still a standard of living which God expects them to live.

Paul voices agreement with the above conclusion of the continuation of God’s moral law in Romans 6: 1-2. It is here he says, “What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”[28] Here is Paul taking a stand against those who say Christians are free from the moral law of God because they are under grace[29].

The sacrifice and resurrection of Christ is one of revelation. What it says to Christians is that the Old Law is full of things that are impossible to live up to but Christ has provided sufficient atonement for that shortcoming. For Paul, faith in Christ was upholding the Law because Christ Himself had come to fulfill the Law. There is no way to look at this issue other than an abolition of the commanding authority of the Old Law.

The similarities in teaching between Paul and Jesus are many. Paul was hand chosen by Jesus to build and encourage churches and to lead a new dawning of theological understanding. This means that Paul was expressing the Truth of the Gospel throughout Romans and all he wrote.

Believers should therefore praise God for His showing of mercy then and even now. It is important that believers keep God’s moral law close to them and work to embody it throughout their lives. The Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic Law is found in Christ as well as the life and purpose of all of man.


[1] Paul R. Schmidtbleicher, “Law In The New Testament”, Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 9, no. 2 (2003): p. 50. Online: http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/ctsj09-2-04?highlight=old testament law today. (accessed 27 February 2014).

[2] HCSB.

[3] Jeffery S. Lamp, “Paul, The Law, Jews, and Gentiles: A Contextual and Exegetical Reading of Romans 2:12-16”. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42, no. 1 (Mar 1999): p. 37. Online: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/docview/211278445/citation?accountid=12085. (accessed 21 February 2014).

[4] Douglas Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000): p. 88.

[5] Jeffery S. Lamp, “Paul, The Law, Jews, and Gentiles: A Contextual and Exegetical Reading of Romans 2:12-16”: p. 51.

[6] Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill. The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2012): p. 1231.

[7] Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill. The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary: p. 1238.

[8] Ibid. p. 1246.

[9] Ibid. p. 1248.

[10] Femi Adeyemi, “Paul’s “Positive” Statements about the Mosaic Law”, Bibliotheca Sacra 164: no 653 (Jan 2007): p. 56. Online: http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/bsac164-653-04?highlight=old testament law today (accessed 20 February 2014).

[11] Roy L. Aldrich, “Has the Mosaic law been abolished?.” Bibliotheca Sacra 116, no. 464 (October 1959): 326. Online: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001439708&site=ehost-live&scope=site. (accessed 26 February 2014).

[12] Paul R. Schmidtbleicher, “Law In The New Testament”: p. 56.

[13] Paul R. Schmidtbleicher, “Law In The New Testament”: p. 57.

[14] Harless, Hal. “The Cessation of the Mosaic Covenant”. Bibliotheca Sacra160, no 639 (July 2003): p. 353. Online: http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/bsac160-639-08?highlight=paul mosaic. (accessed 27 February 2014).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Sumner Eben Osbourne, “The Christian and the law.” Bibliotheca Sacra 109, no. 435 (July 1952): p. 239. Online: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001438332&site=ehost-live&scope=site. (accessed 1 March 2014).

[17] HCSB.

[18] HCSB.

[19] Elmer Towns, The Gospel of John: Believe and Live, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002):  p. 141.

[20] Elmer Towns, Theology for Today, (Mason, OH: Cengage Learning, 2008):p. 134.

[21] Douglas Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans: p. 337.

[22] HCSB.

[23] Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill. The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary: p. 1234.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1969): p. 226.

[27] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord: pp. 226-227.

[28] HCSB.

[29] Elmer Towns, Theology for Today: pp. 134-135.

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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