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PAUL and the LAW?

How he Taught it!


Part Two

by Samuele Bacciocchi Ph.D.


     Several Pauline passages are often used to support the
contention that the Law was done away with by Christ and
consequently is no longer the norm of Christian conduct. In view
of the limited scope of this chapter, we examine the five major
passages frequently appealed to in support of the abrogation view
of the Law.

(1) Romans 6:14: "Not Under Law"

     Romans 6:14 is perhaps the most frequently quoted Pauline
text to prove that Christians have been released from the
observance of the Law. The text reads: "For sin will have no
dominion over you, since you are not under Law but under grace."
The common interpretation of this text is that Christians are no
longer under the Mosaic Law as a rule of conduct because their
moral values derive from the principle of love revealed by
     This is a serious misreading of this passage because there
is nothing in the immediate context to suggest that Paul is
speaking of the Mosaic Law. In the immediate and larger context
of the whole chapter, Paul contrasts the dominion of sin with the
power of Christ's grace. The antithesis indicates that "under
Law" simply means that Christians are no longer "under the
dominion of sin" and, consequently, "under the condemnation of
the Law" because the grace of Christ has liberated them from both
of them.
     To interpret the phrase "under Law" to mean "under the
economy of the Mosaic Law" would imply that believers who were
under the Mosaic economy were not the recipients of grace. Such
an idea is altogether absurd. Furthermore, as John Murray
perceptively observes, "Relief from the Mosaic Law as an economy
does not of itself place persons in the category of being under
grace." 20
     "The 'dominion of Law' from which believers have been
'released' is forthrightly explained by Paul to be the condition
of being 'in sinful nature,' being 'controlled' by 'sinful
passions ... so that we bore fruit for death' (Rom 7:1-6). From
this spiritual bondage and impotence, the marvellous grace of
God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has set
believers free; but it has not set them free to sin against God's
moral principles." 21

     Since "under grace" means under God's undeserved favor, the
contrast with "under Law" presupposes the idea of being under
God's disfavor or condemnation pronounced by the Law. Thus, in
Romans 6:14 Paul teaches that believers should not be controlled
by sin (cf. Rom 6:12,6,11-13) because God's grace has liberated
them from the dominion of sin and the condemnation of the Law.
In this passage, as John Murray brings out, "there is an absolute
antithesis between the potency and provision of the Law and the
potency and provision of grace. Grace is the sovereign will and
power of God coming to expression for the deliverance of men from
the servitude of sin. Because this is so, to be 'under grace' is
the guarantee that sin will not exercise the dominion-'sin will
not lord it over you, for ye are not under Law but under 
grace.'" 22

Not Under the Condemnation of the Law. 

     Paul expresses the same thought in Romans 7 where he says:
"Brethren, you have died to the Law through the body of Christ
.... Now we are discharged from the Law, dead to that which held
us captive" (Rom 7:4,6). The meaning here is that through
Christ's death, Christians have been discharged from the
condemnation of the Law and from all the legalistic
misunderstanding and misuse of the Law. To put it differently,
Christians have died to the Law and have been discharged from it
insofar as it condemns them and holds them in bondage as a result
of its unlawful, legalistic use. But they are still "under the
Law" insofar as the Law reveals to them the moral principles by
which to live.
     This interpretation is supported by the immediate context
where Paul affirms that "the Law is holy, and the commandment is
holy and just and good" (Rom 7:12). Again he says: "We know that
the Law is spiritual" (Rom 7:14). And again, "So then, I of
myself serve the Law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I
serve the Law of sin" (Rom 7:25). These statements clearly
indicate that for Paul the Law is and remains the Law of God,
which reveals the moral standard of Christian conduct.
Surprisingly, even Rudolf Bultmann, known for his radical
rejection of the cardinal doctrines of the New Testament, reaches
the same conclusion. "Though the Christian in a certain sense is
no longer 'under Law' (Gal 5:18; Rom 6:14), that does not mean
that the demands of the Law are no longer valid for him; for the
agape [love] demanded of him is nothing else than the fulfillment
of the Law (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14)." 23 
     The point is well made, because we find that in Romans
13:8-13 Paul explains how love fulfills the Law by citing four
specific commandments and by including "any other commandment."
In the light of these considerations, we conclude that far from
dismissing the authority of the Law, Paul teaches that believers
should not transgress the Law simply because God's grace has "set
[them] free from sin" (Rom 6:18). It is only the sinful mind that
"does not submit to God's Law" (Rom 8:7). But Christians have the
mind of the Spirit who enables them to fulfill "the just
requirements of the Law" (Rom 8:4). Thus, Christians are no
longer "under the Law," in the sense that God's grace has
released them from the dominion of sin and the condemnation of
the Law, but they are still "under Law" in the sense that they
are bound to govern their lives by its moral principles. Thanks
to God's grace, believers have "become obedient from the heart to
the standard of teachings" (Rom 6:17) and moral principles
contained in God's Law.

(2) 2 Corinthians 3:1-18: The Letter and the Spirit

     2 Corinthians 3 contains a great deal that is often used to
argue that the Law has been done away with by Christ and,
consequently, Christians are no longer bound to it as a norm for
their conduct. In view of the importance attributed to this
chapter, we look at it in some detail.
     The chapter opens with Paul explaining why he does not need
letters of recommendation to authenticate his ministry to the
Corinthians. The reason given is, "You yourselves [Corinthian
believers] are our letter of recommendation, written on your
hearts, to be known and read by all men" (2 Cor 3:2). If, on
coming to Corinth, inquiry should be made as to whether Paul
carried with him letters of recommendation, his answer is: "You
yourselves, new persons in Christ through my ministry, are my
     Paul continues developing the imagery of the letter from the
standpoint of the Corinthians relationship to Christ: "You are a
letter from Christ delivered to us, written not with ink but with
the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on
tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor 3:3). The mention of a letter
written by the Spirit in the heart triggers in Paul's mind the
graphic imagery of the ancient promises of the New Covenant.
     Through the prophets, God assured His people that the time
was coming when through His Spirit He would write His Law in
their hearts (Jer 31:33) and would remove their heart of stone
and give them a heart of flesh (Ez 11:19; 36:26). The change of
heart that the Corinthians had experienced as a result of Paul's
ministry was a tangible proof of the fulfillment of God's promise
regarding the New Covenant.

The Letter and the Spirit. 

     Paul continues summing up the crucial difference between the
ministries of the Old and New Covenants by describing the former
as a ministry of the letter and the latter as a ministry of the
Spirit. "God ... has made us competent as ministers of a new
covenant-not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter
kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6, NIV). We must now
examine the significance of the distinction which Paul makes
between the letter which kills and the Spirit which gives life.
Is Paul saying here, as many believe, that the Law is of itself
something evil and death-dealing? This cannot be true, since he
clearly taught that "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy
and just and good" (Rom 7:12) and that "the man who practices the
righteousness which is based on the law shall live by it" (Rom
10:5; cf. Gal 3:12; Lev 18:5).
     Commenting on this text in The New International Commentary
on the New Testament, Philip Hughes writes: "Paul is a faithful
follower of his Master in that he nowhere speaks of the Law in a
derogatory manner. Christ, in fact, proclaimed that He had come
to fulfil the Law, not to destroy it (Matt 5:17). So also the
effect of Paul's doctrine was to establish the Law (Rom 3:31).
There is no question of an attack by him on the Law here [2 Cor
3:6], since, as we have previously seen, the Law is an integral
component of the New no less than it is of the Old Covenant." 24

     It is unfortunate that many Christians today, including
former Sabbatarians who attack the Sabbath, ignore the
fundamental truth that "the Law is an integral component of the
New no less than it is of the Old Covenant." This is plainly
shown by the terms used by God to announce His New Covenant: "I
will put my Law within them" (Jer 31:33). The intended purpose of
the internalization of God's Law is "that they may walk in my
statutes, and keep my ordinances, and do them" (Ez 11:20). Note
that in the New Covenant, God does not abolish the Law or give a
new set of Laws; instead He internalizes His existing Law in the
human heart.
     Philip Hughes states the difference between the two
Covenants with admirable clarity: "The difference between the Old
and New Covenants is that under the former the Law is written on
tables of stones, confronting man as an external ordinance and
condemning him because of his failure through sin to obey its
commandments, whereas under the latter the Law is written
internally within the redeemed heart by the dynamic regenerating
work of the Holy Spirit, so that through faith in Christ, the
only Law-keeper, and inward experience of His power man no longer
hates but loves God's Law and is enabled to fulfill its
precepts." 25
     Coming back to the distinction Paul makes between the letter
that kills and the Spirit that gives life, it is evident that the
Apostle is comparing the Law as externally written at Sinai on
tablets of stone and the same Law as written internally in the
heart of the believer by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.
As an external ordinance, the Law confronts and condemns sin as
the breaking of God's Law. By revealing sin in its true light as
the transgression of God's commandments, the Law kills since it
exposes the Lawbreaker to the condemnation of death (Rom 6:23;
5:12; Ez 18:4; Prov 11:29). It is in this sense that Paul can
speak startlingly of the letter which kills.
     By contrast, the Spirit gives life by internalizing the
principles of God's Law in the heart of the believer and by
enabling the believer to live according to the "just requirement
of the Law" (Rom 8:4). When Christ is preached and God's promises
made in Christ are believed, the Spirit enters the heart of
believers, motivating them to observe God's Law, and thus making
the Law a living thing in their hearts.
     Paul knew from first-hand experience how true it is that the
letter kills and the Spirit makes alive. Before his conversion,
he was a selfrighteous observer of the Law: "As to the Law a
Pharisee, as to zeal a persecutor of the church, as to
righteousness under the Law blameless" (Phil 3:6). Yet at the
same time, he "blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him
[Christ]" (1 Tim 1:13), that is, he was a transgressor of the Law
under divine judgment. His outward conformity to the Law only
served to cover up the inward corruption of his heart. It was as
a result of his encounter with Christ and of the influence of the
Holy Spirit in his heart that it became possible for Paul to
conform to God's Law, not only outwardly, in letter, but also
inwardly, in spirit, or as he puts it, to "serve not under the
old written code but in the new life of the Spirit" (Rom 7:6).

The Ministry of Death and the Ministry of the Spirit. 

     Paul develops further the contrast between the letter and
the Spirit by comparing them to two different kinds of
ministries: one the ministry of death offered by the Law and the
other the ministry of the Spirit made possible through Christ's
redemptive ministry: "Now if the ministry that brought death,
which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that
the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses
because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry
of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that
condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry
that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now
in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading
away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which
lasts!" (2 Cor 3:7-11, NIV).
     It should be pointed out first of all that Paul is speaking
here of two "ministries" and not two dispensations. The Greek
word used by Paul is "diakonia," which means "service" or
"ministry." By translating "diakonia" as "dispensation," some
translations (like the RSV) mislead readers into believing that
Paul condemns the Old Covenant as a dispensation of death. But
the Apostle is not rejecting here the Old Covenant or the Law as
something evil or inglorious. Rather, he is contrasting the
ministry of death provided by the Law with the ministry of the
Spirit offered through Christ.
     The ministry of death is the service offered by the Law in
condemning sin. Paul calls this a "ministry of condemnation" (2
Cor 3:9) that was mediated through Moses when he delivered the
Law to the people. The ministry of the Spirit offers life and is
made available through Christ (cf. Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). Both
ministries derive from God and, consequently, are accompanied by
glory. The ministry or service of the Law coming from God was
obviously glorious. This was evident to the people by the glory
which Moses' countenance suffused when he came down from Mount
Sinai to deliver the Law to the people. His countenance was so
bright that the people had difficulty gazing upon it (Ex
     The ministry or service of the Spirit rendered by Paul and
other Christian preachers is accompanied by greater glory, that
is, the light of God's Spirit that fills the soul. The reason
such ministry is more glorious is that, while the glory reflected
in Moses' face at the giving of the Law was temporary and
gradually faded away, the glory of the ministry of the Spirit is
permanent and does not fade away. Through His Spirit, God has
"made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the
knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor
3:6, NIV).
     Cranfield correctly summarizes the point of these verses,
saying: "Since the service rendered by Moses at the giving of the
Law, which was actually going to effect 'condemnation' (2 Cor
3:9) and 'death' (2 Cor 3:7), was accompanied by glory (the glory
on Moses' face - Ex 34:29ff), the service of the Spirit rendered
by himself (and other Christian preachers) in the preaching of
the Gospel must much more be accompanied by glory." 26

     Paul's aim is not to denigrate the service rendered by the
Law in revealing and condemning sin. This is indicated by the
fact that he calls such service a "glorious" ministry: "If the
ministry that condemns men is glorious ..." (2 Cor 3:9, NIV).
Rather, Paul's concern is to expose the grave error of false
teachers who were exalting the Law at the expense of the Gospel.
Their ministry was one of death because by the works of the Law
no person can be justified (Gal 2:16; 3:11). Deliverance from
condemnation and death comes not through the Law but through the
Gospel. In this sense, the glory of the Gospel excels that of the
     The important point to note here is that Paul is contrasting
not the Old and New Covenants as such, rejecting the former and
promoting the latter; rather, is he is contrasting two
ministries. When this is recognized, the passage becomes clear.
The reason the glory of the Christian ministry is superior to
that of Moses' ministry, is not because the Law given through
Moses has been abolished, but because these two ministries had a
different function with reference to Christ's redemption.
The comparison that Paul makes in verse 9 between the "ministry
of condemnation" and the "ministry of righteousness" clearly
shows that Paul is not disparaging or discarding the Law.

"Condemnation is the consequence of breaking the Law;
righteousness is precisely the keeping of the Law. The Gospel is
not Lawless. It is the ministration of righteousness to those who
because of sin are under condemnation. And this righteousness is
administered to men solely by the mediation and merit of Christ,
who alone, as the incarnate Son, has perfectly obeyed God's holy
Law." 27

With Unveiled Face. 

     Paul utilizes the theme of "the veil" in the remaining part
of the chapter (2 Cor 3:12-18) to make three basic points. First,
while the ministry of Moses was marked by concealment ("who put a
veil over his face" - v.13), his own ministry of the Gospel is
characterized by great openness. He uses no veil. His ministry of
grace and mercy is opened to evety believer who repents and
     Second, Paul applies the notion of "the veil" to the Jews
who up to that time were unable to understand the reading of the
Law in the synagogue because a veil of darkness obscured the
glory which they had deliberately rejected (2 Cor 3:14-16). Paul
is thinking historically. The veil that Moses placed over his
face to indicate the rebellion and unbelief of the people, which
curtained the true apprehension of God's glory, symbolically
represents for Paul the veil of darkness that prevents the Jews
from seeing the glory of Christ and His Gospel (2 Cor 3:15). But,
continues, "when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed" (2
Cor 3:16). "There is here no suggestion," C. E. Cranfield
correctly points out, "that the Law is done away, but rather
that, when men turn to Christ, they are able to discern the true
glory of the Law ." 28 
     The reason is aptly given by Calvin: "For the Law is itself
bright, but it is only when Christ appears to us in it, that we
enjoy its splendor." 29
     Third, when the veil that prevents the understanding of the
Law is removed by the Spirit of the Lord, there is liberty.
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17).
The point Paul is making here, as C. E. Cranfield explains, is
that when the Law "is understood in the light of Christ, when it
is established in its true character by the Holy Spirit, so far
from being the `bondage' into which legalism has perverted it, is
true freedom (cf. James 1:25-'the perfect Law, the Law of liberty
1)." 30

     In the light of the preceding analysis, we conclude that in
2 Corinthians 3 Paul is not negating the value of the Law as a
norm for Christian conduct. The concern of the Apostle is to
clarify the function of the Law in reference to Christ's
redemption and to the ministry of the Spirit. He does this by
contrasting the ministry of the Law with that of the Spirit. The
Law kills in the sense that it reveals sin in its true light as
the transgression of God's commandments and it exposes the
Lawbreaker to the condemnation of death (Rom 6:23; 5:12; Ez 18:4;
Prov 11:29). By contrast, the Spirit gives life by enabling the
believer to internalize the principles of God's Law in the heart
and to live according to "just requirement of the Law" (Rom 8:4).

(3) Galatians 3:15-25: Faith and Law

     Perhaps more than any other Pauline passage, Galatians
3:15-25 has misled people into believing that the Law was done
away with by the coming of Christ. The reason is that in this
passage Paul makes some negative statements about he Law which,
taken in isolation, can lead a person to believe that Christ
terminated the function of the Law as a norm for Christian
conduct. For example, he says: "The Law was added because of
transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the
promise had been made" (Gal 3:19). "Now that faith has come, we
are no longer under a custodian" (Gal 3:25).
     Before examining these passages, it is important to remember
that Paul's treatment of the Law varies in his letters, depending
on the situation he was facing. Brice Martin makes this important
point in concluding his scholarly dissertation Christ and the Law
in Paul. "In his letters Paul has faced varied situations. In
writing to the Galatians he tends to downplay the Law because of
their attempts to be saved by means of it. In 1 Corinthians he
stresses the Law and moral values since he is facing an
antinomian front. In Romans he gives a carefully balanced
statement and assures his readers that he is not an antinomian."

The Galatian Crisis. 

     The tone of Paul's treatment of the Law in Galatians is
influenced by his sense of urgency of his converts' situation.
False teachers had come in to "trouble," "unsettle," and
"bewitch" them (Gal 1:7; 31:1; 5:12). Apparently they were
leading his converts astray by teaching that in order to be
saved, one needs not only to have faith in Christ, but must be
circumcised. They taught that the blessings of salvation bestowed
by Christ can only be received by becoming sons of Abraham
through circumcision. Faith in Christ is of value only if such
faith is based upon circumcision.
     The false teachers accused Paul of accommodating and
watering down the Gospel by releasing Christians from
circumcision and observance of the Mosaic Law. His Gospel
disagreed with that of the Jerusalem brethren who upheld
circumcision and the observance of the Law. Realizing that his
entire apostolic identity and mission in Galatia was jeopardized
by these Judaizers infiltrators, Paul responds by hurling some of
his sharpest daggers of his verbal arsenal. "Credulity (Gal 1:6)
is the operative principle of the foolish Galatians (Gal 3:1).
Cowardice motivates the trouble-makers (Gal 6:12). Seduction is
their method of proselytizing (Gal 4:17). Castration is their
just deserts (Gal 5:12)." 32

     The message of the agitators was primarily built around the
requirement of circumcision. This is underscored by Paul's
warning: "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let
yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at
all" (Gal 5:2, NIV). That circumcision was the main tenet of the
"other Gospel" preached by the false teachers is indicated also
by Paul's exposure of their motives: "Those who want to make a
good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be
circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being
persecuted for the Cross of Christ. Not even those who are
circumcised obey the Law, yet they want you to be circumcised,
they may boast about your flesh" (Gal 6:12-13).
     The emphasis of the false teachers on circumcision reflects
the prevailing Jewish understanding that circumcision was
required to become a member of the Abrahamic covenant and receive
its blessings. God made a covenant of promise with Abraham
because of his faithful observance of God's commandments (Gen
26:5) and circumcision was the sign of that covenant.

Paul's Response. 

     In his response, Paul does admit that being a son of Abraham
is of decisive importance. He does not deny or downplay the
importance of the promise covenant that God made with Abraham.
But, he turns his opponents' argument on its head by arguing that
God's covenant with Abraham was based on his faith response (Gen
15:6; Gal 3:6) before the sign of circumcision was given (Gen
17:9-14). In all probability, the false teachers appealed to the
institution of circumcision in Genesis 17 to argue that
circumcision was indispensable to become a son of Abraham. Paul
also points to Genesis-not of course to Genesis 17 but to Genesis
15:6 which says: "He [Abraham] believed the Lord and he reckoned
it to him as righteousness." From this Paul concludes: "So you
see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham" (Gal
     Paul uses the same Scripture to which his opponents appealed
to show that God announced in advance to Abraham that He would
justify the Gentiles by faith: "The Scripture, foreseeing that
God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel
beforehand to Abraham, saying: 'In you shall all the nations be
blessed.'" (Gal 3:8). And again Paul concludes: "So then, those
who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith" (Gal

Paul's argument can be briefly summarized by means of the
following syllogism:

First premise:

     God justified Abraham because of his faith before
instituting circumcision.

Second premise:

     In Abraham all people are blessed. 


     Therefore, all the people are blessed in Abraham (in the
sense of being justified) because of their faith (as in the case
of Abraham), irrespective of circumcision.

     Paul develops this argument further by setting the prornise
given to Abraham (in Genesis 18:18) against the giving of the Law
at Sinai which occurred 430 years later (Gal 3:15-18). Making a
play on the word "diatheke," which in Greek can mean both
will-testament and covenant, Paul points out that as a valid
human testament cannot be altered by later additions, so the
promise of God given to Abraham cannot be nullified by the Law,
which came 430 years later. The fact that the covenant with
Abraham was one of promise based on faith excludes the
possibility of earning righteousness by works. "For if the
inheritance is by the Law, it is no longer by promise; but God
gave it to Abraham by promise" (Gal 3:18).
     The same thought is expressed in Romans where Paul says that
Abraham attained righteousness by faith before the sign of
circumcision had been given (Rom 4:1-5). Circumcision, then, in
its true meaning, is a sign or seal of a justifying faith (Rom
4:9-12). "The implication of the line of thought in Galatians 3
and Romans 4," as Eldon Ladd points out, "is that all the
Israelites who trusted God's covenant of promise to Abraham and
did not use the Law as a way of salvation by works, were assured
salvation. This becomes clear in the case of David, who, though
under the Law, pronounced a blessing on the man to whom God
reckons righteousness by faith apart from works (Rom 4:6-7)." 33

     The examples of Abraham and David as men of faith under the
Old Covenant help us to interpret Paul's statement: "But now that
faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian" (Gal 3:25).
The coming of faith for Paul does not mean that saving faith was
not exercised prior to the coming of Christ, since he cites
Abraham and David as men of faith. Rather, he uses "faith" in a
historic sense identical to the proclamation of the Gospel (Gal
4:4-5; Rom 1:16-17). Salvation was by faith in the Old Covenant,
but faith was frustrated when people made the Law the basis of
their righteousness and boasting.
     If salvation was by way of promise (faith) and not Law, what
then was the role of the Law in God's redemptive purpose? Paul's
answer is both novel and unacceptable to Judaism. The Law "was
added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come
to whom the promises had been made" (Gal 3:19). The Law was not
added to save men from their sins, but to reveal the sinfulness
of their transgressions. The term "transgression" (parabasis), as
Ernest Burton points out, implies "not simply the following of
evil impulse, but violation of explicit Law." 34  By revealing
what God forbids, the Law shows the sinfulness of deeds which
otherwise might have passed without recognition.

     In this context, Paul speaks of the Law in its narrow,
negative function of exposing sin, in order to counteract the
exaltation of the Law by its opponents. Calvin offers a
perceptive comment on this passage: "Paul was disputing with
perverse teachers who pretended that we merit righteousness by
the works of the Law. Consequently, to refute their error he was
sometimes compelled to take the bare Law in a narrow sense, even
though it was otherwise graced with the covenant of free
adoption." 35

The Law as a Custodian. 

     It is the "bare Law" understood in a narrow sense as the Law
seen apart from Christ which was a temporary custodian until the
coming of Christ. "When once 'the seed' has come, 'to whom the
promise hath been made,' the One who is the goal, the meaning,
the substance, of the Law, it is no longer an open possibility
for those who believe in Him to regard the Law merely in this
nakedness (though even in this forbidding nakedness it had served
as a tutor to bring men to Christ). Henceforth it is recognized
in its true character `graced' or clothed `with the covenant of
free adoption." 36

     To explain the function of the "bare Law" before Christ,
Paul compares it to a paidagogos, a guardian of children in Roman
and Greek households. The guardian's responsibility was to
accompany the children to school, protect them from harm, and
keep them from mischief. The role of a paidogogos is an apt
illustration of how some aspects of the Law served as a guardian
and custodian of God's people in Old Testament times. For
example, circumcision, which is the fundamental issue Paul is
addressing, served as a guardian to constantly remind the people
of their covenant commitment to God (Jos 5:2-8).
     When God called Israel out of Egyptian bondage, He gave them
not only the Decalogue that they might see the sinfulness of sin,
but also ceremonial, religious Laws designed to exhibit the
divine plan for the forgiveness of their sins. These Laws,
indeed, had the function of protecting and guiding the people
until the day of their spiritual deliverance through Jesus
Christ. With the coming of Christ, the ceremonial, sacrificial
Laws ended, but the Decalogue is written in human hearts (Heb
8:10) by the ministry of the Holy Spirit who enables believers to
"fulfill the just requirement of the Law" (Rom 8:4).
     It is difficult to imagine that Paul would announce the
abolition of the Decalogue, God's great moral Law, when elsewhere
he affirms that the Law was given by God (Rom 9:4; 3:2), was
written by God (1 Cor 9:9; 14:21; 14:34), contains the will of
God (Rom 2:17,18), bears witness to the righteousness of God (Rom
3:21), and is in accord with the promises of God (Gal 3:21). So
long as sin is present in the human nature, the Law is needed to
expose its sinfulness (Rom 3:20) and reveal the need of a Savior.

     On the basis of the above considerations, we conclude that
Paul's negative comments about the Law must be understood in the
light of the polemic nature of Galatians. In this epistle, the
apostle is seeking to undo the damage done by false teachers who
were exalting the Law, especially circumcision, as a means of
salvation. In refuting the perverse and excessive exaltation of
the Law, Paul is forced to depreciate it in some measure,
especially since the issue at stake was the imposition of
circumcision as a means of salvation.
     C. E. Cranfield rightly warns that "to fail to make full
allowance for the special circumstances which called forth the
letter would be to proceed in a quite uncritical and unscientific
manner. In view of what has been said, it should be clear that it
would be extremely unwise to take what Paul says in Galatians as
one's starting point in trying to understand Paul's teaching on
the Law." 37

(4) Colossians 2:14: What Was Nailed to the Cross?

     Christians who believe that "New Covenant" Christians are
not under the obligation to observe the Law usually refer to
Colossians 2:14, saying: "Does not Paul clearly teach that the
Law was nailed to the Cross!" This conclusion is drawn especially
from the KJV translation which reads: "Blotting out the
handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary
to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Col
2:14). The phrase "handwriting of ordinances" is interpreted as a
reference to the Mosaic Law which allegedly was nailed to the
     Does Paul in this text supports the popular view that Christ
blotted out the Law and nailed it to the Cross? Is the "written
documentcheirographon" that was nailed to the Cross the Law, in
general, or the Sabbath, in particular? Traditionally, this is
the way this text has been interpreted, namely, that God set
aside and nailed to the Cross the Mosaic Law with all its
ordinances, including the Sabbath.
     This popular interpretation is unwarranted for at least two
reasons. First, as E. Lohse points out, "In the whole of the
epistle the word Law is not used at all. Not only that, but the
whole significance of the Law, which appears unavoidable for Paul
when he presents his Gospel, is completely absent." 38
     Second, this interpretation detracts from the immediate
argument designed to prove the fullness of God's forgiveness. The
wiping out of the moral and/or ceremonial Law would hardly
provide Christians with the divine assurance of forgiveness.
Guilt is not removed by destroying Law codes. The latter would
only leave mankind without moral principles.

The Contest of Colossians 2:14. 

     To understand the legal language of Colossians 2:14, it is
necessary to grasp the arguments advanced by Paul in the
preceding verses to combat the Colossian false teachers. They
were "beguiling" (Cot 2:4) Christians to believe that they needed
to observe ascetic "regulations-dogmata" in order to court the
protection of those cosmic beings who allegedly could help them
to participate in the completeness and perfection of the
     To oppose this teaching, Paul emphasizes two vital truths.
First, he reminds the Colossians that in Christ, and in Him
alone, "the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9)
and, therefore, all other forms of authority that exist are
subordinate to Him, "who is the head of all rule and authority"
(Cot 2:10). Second, the Apostle reaffirms that it is only in and
through Christ that the believer can "come to the fullness of
life" (Col 2:10), because Christ not only possesses the "fullness
of deity" (Col 2:9) but also provides the fullness of
"redemption" and "forgiveness of sins" (Col 1:14; 2:10-15;
     In order to explain how Christ extends "perfection" (Col
1:28; 4:12) and "fullness" (Col 1:19; 2:9) to the believer, Paul
appeals, not to the Law, but to baptism. Christian perfection is
the work of God who extends to the Christian the benefits of
Christ's death and resurrection through baptism (Col 2:11-13).
The benefits of baptism are concretely presented as the
forgiveness of "all our trespasses" (Col 2:13; 1:14; 3:13) which
results in being "made alive" in Christ (Col 2:13).
     The reaffirmation of the fullness of God's forgiveness,
accomplished by Christ on the Cross and extended through baptism
to the Christian, constitutes Paul's basic answer to those trying
to attain to perfection by submitting to ascetic practices to
gain protection from cosmic powers and principalities. To
emphasize the certainty and fullness of divine forgiveness
explicitly mentioned in verse 13, the Apostle utilizes in verse
14 a legal metaphor, namely, that of God as a judge who "wiped
out ... removed [and] nailed to the Cross ... the written

The Written Document Nailed to the Cross. 

     What is the "written document-cheirographon" that was nailed
to the Cross? Is Paul referring to the Mosaic Law with its
ceremonial ordinances, thus declaring that God nailed it to the
Cross? If one adopts this interpretation, there exists a
legitimate possibility that the Sabbath could be included among
the ordinances nailed to the Cross.
     This is indeed the popular view defended, especially in the
antisabbatarian literature that we have examined during the
course of this study. But besides the grammatical difficulties,
39 "it hardly seems Pauline," writes J. Huby, "to represent God
as crucifying the 'holy' (Rom 7:6) thing that was the Mosaic
Law." 40 
     Moreover, this view would not add to but detract from Paul's
argument designed to prove the fullness of God's forgiveness.
Would the wiping out of the moral and/or ceremonial Law provide
to Christians the assurance of divine forgiveness? Hardly so. It
would only leave mankind without moral principles. Guilt is not
removed by destroying Law codes.
     Recent research has shown that the term cheirographon was
used to denote either a "certificate of indebtedness" resulting
from our transgressions or a "book containing the record of sin"
used for the condemna tion of mankind. 41 Both renderings, which
are substantially similar, can be supported from rabbinic and
apocalyptic literature. 42  This view is supported also by the
clause "and this he has removed out of the middle" (Col 2:14).
"The middle" was the position occupied at the center of the court
or assembly by the accusing witness. In the context of
Colossians, the accusing witness is the "record-book of sins"
which God in Christ has erased and removed out of the court.
Ephesians 2:15. To support the view that the "written document"
nailed to the Cross is the Mosaic Law, some appeal to the similar
text of Ephesians 2:15 which says: "Having abolished in his flesh
the enmity, even the Law of commandments contained in
ordinances"(KJV). But the similarity between the two texts is
more apparent than real. In the first place, the phrase "the Law
of commandments" which occurs in Ephesians is not found in
     Second, the dative in Ephesians "en dogmasivin ordinances"
is governed by "en-in," thus expressing that the Law was set out
"in ordinances." Such a preposition does not occur in Colossians.
Last, the context is substantially different. While in Ephesians
the question is how Christ removed what separated Jews from
Gentiles, in Colossians the question is how Christ provided full
forgiveness. The former He accomplished by destroying "the
dividing wall of hostility" (Eph 2: 14). This is a possible
allusion to the wall that divided the court of the Gentiles from
the sanctuary proper, 43  making it impossible for them to
participate in the worship service of the inner court with the

     The wall of partition was removed by Christ "by abolishing
the Law of commandments [set out] in regulations" (Eph 2:15). The
qualification of "commandments contained in ordinances" suggests
that Paul is speaking not of the moral Law, but of "ceremonial
ordinances" which had the effect of maintaining the separation
between Jews and Gentiles, both in the social life and in the
sanctuary services. The moral Law did not divide Jews from
Gentiles, because speaking of the latter, Paul says that what the
moral "Law requires is written on their heart" (Rom 2:15).
     In Colossians 2:14, full forgiveness is granted, not by
"abolishing the Law of commandments contained in ordinances," but
by utterly destroying "the written record of our sins which
because of the regulations was against us. The context of the two
passages is totally different, yet neither of the two suggests
that the moral Law was nailed to the Cross.

Record of Our Sins. 

     The "written record-cheirographon" that was nailed to the
Cross is the record of our sins. By this daring metaphor, Paul
affirms the completeness of God's forgiveness. Through Christ,
God has "cancelled," "set aside," "nailed to the Cross" "the
written record of our sins which because of the regulations was
against us." The legal basis of the record of sins was "the
binding statutes, regulations" (tois dogmasin), but what God
destroyed on the Cross was not the legal ground (Law) for our
entanglement into sin, but the written record of our sins.
     One cannot fail to sense how, through this forceful
metaphor, Paul is reaffirming the completeness of God's
forgiveness provided through Christ on the Cross. By destroying
the evidence of our sins, God has also "disarmed the
principalities and powers" (Col 2:15) since it is no longer
possible for them to accuse those who have been forgiven. There
is no reason, therefore, for Christians to feel incomplete and to
seek the help of inferior mediators, since Christ has provided
complete redemption and forgiveness.

     In this whole argument the Law, as stated by Herold Weiss,
"plays no role at all." 44  Any attempt, therefore, to read into
the "written recordcheirographon" a reference to the Law, or to
any other Old Testament ordinance, is altogether unwarranted. The
document that was nailed to the Cross contained not moral or
ceremonial Laws, but rather the record of our sins. Is it not
true even today that the memory of sin can create in us a sense
of incompleteness? The solution to this sense of inadequacy,
according to Paul, is to be found not by submitting to a system
of ascetic "regulation," but by accepting the fact that on the
Cross God has blotted out our sins and granted us full

     Some people object to this interpretation because, in their
view, it undermines the doctrine of the final judgment which will
examine the good and the bad deeds of each person who ever lived
(Rom 14:10; Rev 20:12). Their argument is that if the record of
our sins was erased and nailed to the Cross, there would be no
legal basis for conducting the final judgment. This objection
ignores that the imagery of God cancelling, setting aside, and
nailing the record of our sins to the Cross is designed not to do
away with human accountability on the day of judgment, but to
provide the reassurance of the totality of God's forgiveness in
this present life.
     For example, when Peter summoned the people in the Temple's
Portico, saying, "Repent therefore, and turn again., that your
sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from
the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19), he was not implying that
there will be no final judgment for those whose sins have been
blotted out. On the contrary, Peter spoke of the time when
"judgment [is] to begin with the household of God" (1 Pet 4:17;
cf. 2 Pet 2:9; 3:7). The imageries of God being willing to "blot
out" our sins, or of casting "all our sins into the depths of the
sea" (Mic 7:19) are not intended to negate the need of the final
judgment, but to reassure the believer of the totality of God's
forgiveness. The sins that have been forgiven, "blotted out," and
"nailed to the Cross," are the sins that will be automatically
vindicated in the day of judgment.

     We conclude by saying that Colossians 2:14 reaffirms the
essence of the Gospel - the Good News that God has nailed on the
Cross the record and guilt of our sins-but it has nothing to say
about the Law or the Sabbath. Any attempt to read into the text a
reference to the Law is an unwarranted, gratuitous fantasy.

(5) Romans 10:4: "Christ Is the End of the Law"

     Few Pauline passages have been more used and abused than
Romans 10:4 which reads: "For Christ is the end [telos] of the
Law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (KJV). This
text has been utilized as an easy slogan for two contrasting
views regarding the role of the Law in the Christian life. Most
Christians assume to be self-evident that in this text Paul
teaches that Christ's coming has put an end to the Law as a way
of righteousness and, consequently, "New Covenant" Christians are
released from the observance of the Law.

     Other Christians contend just as vigorously that in this
text Paul teaches that Christ is the goal toward which the whole
Law was aimed so that its promise of righteousness may be
experienced by whoever believes in Him. I subscribe to the latter
interpretation because, as we shall see, it is supported by the
linguistic use of telos (its basic meaning is "goal" rather than
"end"), the flow of Paul's argument, and the overall Pauline
teaching regarding the function of the Law.

The Meaning of Telos: 

     Termination or Goal? The conflicting interpretations of this
text stem mostly from a different understanding of the meaning of
telos, the term which is generally translated as "end" in most
English Bibles. However, the English term "end" is used mostly
with the meaning of termination, the point at which something
ceases. For example, the "end" of a movie, a journey, a school
year, or a working day is the termination of that particular
activity. By contrast, the Greek term telos has an unusual wide
variety of meanings. In their A Greek-English Lexicon, William
Arndt and Wilbur Gingrich explain that telos is used not only
with the sense of "termination, cessation" but also with the
meaning of "goal, outcome, purpose, design, achievement." 45
     The use of telos as "goal, design, purpose" was most common
in classical Greek as well as in biblical (Septuagint) and
extra-biblical literature. This meaning has been preserved in
English compound words such as telephone, telescope. In these
instances, tele means "designed for," or "for the purpose of."
For example, the telephone is an instrument designed for
reproducing sounds at a distance. The telescope is an instrument
designed for viewing distant objects. These different meanings of
telos have given rise to two major interpretation of Romans 10:4,
generally referred to as (1) "termination" and (2)

     Most Christians hold to the "termination" interpretation
which contends that "telos" in Romans 10:4 means "termination,"
"cessation," or "abrogation." Consequently, "Christ is the end of
the Law" in the sense that "Christ has put an end to the Law" by
releasing Christians from its observance. This view is popular
among those who believe that Paul negates the continuity of the
Law for "New Covenant" Christians and is reflected in the New
English Bible translation which reads: "For Christ ends the Law."
This interpretative translation eliminates any possible
ambiguity; but, by so doing, it misleads readers into believing
that Paul categorically affirms the termination ofthe Law with
the coming ofChrist. The problem with termination interpretation,
as we shall see, is that it contradicts the immediate context as
well as the numerous explicit Pauline statements which affirm the
validity and value of the Law (Rom 3:31; 7:12, 14; 8:4; 13:8-10).
The teleological interpretation maintains that telos in Romans
10:4 must be translated according to the basic meaning of the
word, namely, "goal" or "object." Consequently, "Christ is the
goal of the Law" in the sense that the Law of God, understood as
the Pentateuch or the Old Testament, has reached its purpose and
fulfillment in Him. Furthermore, through Christ, believers
experience the righteousness expressed by the Law. This
interpretation has prevailed from the Early Church to the
Reformation, and it is still held today by numerous scholars.
Two major considerations give us reason to believe that the
teleological interpretation of Romans 10:4 as "Christ is the goal
of the Law" correctly reflects the meaning of the passage: 

(1) The historical usage of telos in Biblical and extra-Biblical
literature, and (2) the flow of Paul's argument in the larger and
immediate context. We now consider these two points in their
respective order.

The Historical Usage of Telos. 

     In his masterful doctoral dissertation "Christ the End of
the Law: Romans 10:4 in Pauline Perspective," published by The
Journal for the Study of the New Testament (University of
Sheffield, England), Roberto Badenas provides a comprehensive
survey of the meaning and uses of telos in biblical and
extra-biblical literature. He concludes his survey by noting that
in classical Greek, the Septuagint, the Pseudepigrapha, Flavius
Josephus, Philo, and Paul, the "basic connotations [of telos] are
primarily directive, purposive, and completive, not temporal
[termination].... Telos nomou [end of the Law] and related
expressions are indicative of the purpose, fulfillment, or object
of the Law, not of its abrogation.... In all the New Testament
occurrences of phrases having the same grammatical structure as
Romans 10:4, telos is unanimously translated in a teleological
way." 46 
     In other words, telos is used in the ancient biblical and
extra-biblical Greek literature to express "goal" or "purpose,"
not "termination" or "abrogation."

     Badenas also provides a detailed historical survey of the
interpretation of telos nomou ["end of the Law"] in Christian
literature. For the period from the Early Church to the end of
the Middle Ages, he found "an absolute predominance of the
teleological and completive meanings. The Greek-speaking church
understood and explained telos in Romans 10:4 by means of the
terms skopos [goal], pleroma [fullness], and telesiosis
[perfection], seeing in it the meanings of 'purpose,' 'object,'
'plenitude,' and 'fulfillment.' Nomos [Law] was understood as the
Holy Scripture of the Old Testament (often rendered by nomos kai
prophetai [Law and prophets]. Consequently, Romans 10:4 was
interpreted as a statement of the fulfillment of the Old
Testament, its prophecies or its purposes, in Christ." 47

     In the writings of the Latin Church, the equivalent term
finis was used with practically all the same meanings of the
Greek telos. The Latin word finis "was explained by the terms
perfectio, intentio, plenitudo, consummatio, or, impletio
[fullness]." 48 
     Thus, in both the Greek and Latin literature of the Early
Church, the terms telos/finis are used almost exclusively with
the teleological meaning of "goal" or "purpose," and not with the
temporal meaning of "termination" or "abrogation."
     No significant changes occurred in the interpretation of
Romans 10:4 during the Middle Ages. The text was interpreted as
"a statement of Christ's bringing the Old Testament Law to its
plenitude and completion. The Reformation, with its emphasis on
literal exegesis, preserved the Greek and Latin meanings of
telos/finis, giving to Romans 10:4 both teleological (e.g.,
Luther) and perfective (e.g., Calvin) interpretations." 49 
     It is unfortunate that most translations of Romans 10:4
ignore the historic use of telos as "goal, purpose, perfection,"
and, consequently, they mislead readers into believing that
"Christ has put an end to the Law."

     The antinomian, abrogation interpretation of Romans 10:4
developed after the Reformation, largely due to the new emphasis
on the discontinuity between Law and Gospel, the Old and New
Testaments. The Lutherans began to apply to Romans 10:4 the
negative view of the Law which Luther had expressed in other
contexts. 50 
     The Anabaptists interpreted Romans 10:4 in terms of
abrogation, according to their view that the New Testament
supersedes the Old Testaments 51
     The lower view of Scripture fostered by the rationalistic
movements of the eighteenth century further contributed to the
tendency of interpreting Romans 10:4 in the sense of abolition.
     In the nineteenth century, the overwhelming influence of
German liberal theology, with its emphasis on biblical higher
criticism, caused the antinomian "abrogation of the Law"
interpretation of Romans 10:4 to prevails. 53
     The termination/abrogation interpretation of Romans 10:4 is
still prevalent today, advocated especially by those who
emphasize the discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments,
the Law and the Gospel. 54

     During the course of our study, we have found that the
abrogation interpretation has been adopted even by former
sabbatarians, like the Worldwide Church of God and Dale Ratzlaff
in his book "Sabbath in Crisis." This interpretation is largely
conditioned by the mistaken theological presupposition that Paul
consistently teaches the termination of the Law with the coming
of Christ.
     A significant development of the last two decades is that a
growing number of scholars have adopted the teleological
interpretation of Romans 10:4, namely, that "Christ is the goal
of the Law." What has contributed to this positive development is
the renewed efforts to analyze this text exegetically rather than
imposing upon it subjective theological presuppositions. Badenas
notes that "It is significant that in generalthe studies which
are more exegetically oriented interpret telos in a teleological
way ["Christ is the goal of the Law"], while the more systematic
[theology] approaches interpret the term temporally ["Christ had
put an end to the Law"]." 55

     It is encouraging that new exegetical studies of Romans 10:4
are contributing to a rediscovery of the correct meaning of this
text. It is doubtful, however, that these new studies will cause
an abandonment of the abrogation interpretation because it has
become foundational to many Evangelical beliefs and practices. In
this context, we can mention only a few significant studies,
besides the outstanding dissertation of Roberto Badenas already


To be continued

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