The Continuing Relevance
of Divine Law
By Fred G. Zaspel
Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute
Hatfield, PA 19440
The purpose of this paper is to determine the present relevance of the law of God. In brief, it is designed to show that the law of God is presently (and in every age) binding upon the believer and that while this law formed the basis of the Mosaic legislation, the two are not to be confused. Moreover, in the outworking of His plan God may choose to give His law under various codifications, but God's law reflects eternal principles of righteousness which always constitute a rule of life.
To establish this thesis it will be necessary to, 1) investigate what law was written on man's heart (Rom. 2:15) at creation, 2) examine the teaching of our Lord and His apostles regarding the present relevance of the law given at Sinai, 3) demonstrate that Divine law is a continuing standard of conduct and rule of life, and 4) show precisely what is the believer's rule of life today. If the thesis is correct it must be able to stand in harmony with those New Testament texts which speak to 1) the fact that the Christian is "not under law," and 2) the binding character of certain laws which were given also within the framework of the Sinaitic Covenant (i.e. any New Testament passage speaking to the laws as Mosaic legislation must be shown to be in reference to Israel alone, and those laws binding upon the Church which were also binding upon Israel must be shown to be laws reflective of the character of God Himself, thus making them eternal principles of righteousness independent of the law of Moses).
Accordingly, if this thesis be correct, 1) the dependence of many in the Church upon the law of Moses is shown to be in error, 2) it renders unnecessary those arguments which appeal to a three-fold division of the Mosaic legislation in order to establish which divisions are still in force, and 3) it avoids that tendency of traditional dispensationalism to remain altogether independent of law--a tendency which has often brought upon it the charge of antinomianism. In short, if the thesis proves true it will serve to establish middle ground for dispensational and covenant theology--covenant theology would thus be satisfied with a continuance of law, and dispensational theology would enjoy its freedom from Mosaic law.
The Law In Man's Heart
It is clear that man in the image of God possesses an intuitive awareness of at least some of the requirements of God upon him. This is "what may be known of God [that is] manifested in them" (Rom. 1:19). This is how Paul can say of pagans that they "Do by nature the things contained in the law" and do good things according the "the law written in their hearts" or "conscience" (Rom. 2:14-15; cf. vv.26-27). This "law written in the hearts" constitutes a rule of life given to them by God.
What is not so explicitly stated is the precise content of this law. What does it command? What does it forbid? Scripture never catalogues this law per se. It is necessary, therefore, to examine what were the responsibilities of men before Moses and to what standard they were held accountable.
As already mentioned, Paul declares that "the Gentiles who have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law" (Rom. 2:14).1 While, again, this statement is not specific, it does reveal that men were held accountable to a standard which was independent of but in some measure overlapping with the law of Moses which came later. An example of such culpability prior to Moses is seen in the inhabitants of Canaan whose iniquity "became full" (Gen. 15:16) by the time of the conquest; presumably, their guilt lay in their rejection of the law of God which was in their hearts, for no other code had been given them.
The Scriptures do, however, speak clearly of many specific sins for which men were held accountable prior to the giving of the Mosaic law. These include covetousness (Gen. 3:6), false worship (Gen. 4:5, whatever the exact nature of it), murder (4:8-11), adultery/sexual profligacy (6:1-7; 19:4ff), evil thinking (6:5), dishonor of parents (9:22-25), pride and selfishness (11:4ff), injustice (16:5ff), incest (19:31ff), lying deceit (ch. 27), false gods and idolatry (Ex. 12:12), etc. Since these things were sinful apart from formal legislation against them, it would seem evident that as sins they reflect an unwritten law--a law code written upon the heart.
Correlation & Distinction
Each of these sins is forbidden also in the law given by Moses, but it is to be kept in mind that when Paul declares "all under sin" (Rom. 3:9), the Gentiles are not condemned for their violation of the terms of Sinai, but rather they are culpable for suppressing the truth that was in them (Rom. 1:18-19). Presumably, it is on this ground that the Old Testament prophets so often chided the Gentile nations for their sinfulness (Amos 1-2). Paul plainly acknowledges that Gentiles were not given the law of Moses (Rom. 2:14), yet they were responsible for their sins nonetheless. These things they knew to be wrong independent of formal legislation.
To say the same from a contrasting standpoint, Paul speaks of Gentiles who "keep the righteousness of the law" (Rom. 2:26). This could hardly imply that the Gentiles "who have not the law" of Moses are in fact fulfilling every requirement of it. Clearly, it means only that they observed principles of righteousness which were identical to those contained also in the law of Moses. It is in this sense alone that Gentiles can be said to "fulfill the law" (verse 27). Again, it is evident that there is a law--a standard of moral righteousness--that is independent of Mosaic legislation.
Scofield argued that every mention of "law" in the New Testament (with Rom. 7:23 as the only exception) is in reference to the law of Moses.2 This, however, is contrary to the demands of certain passages, such as Romans 2:14-15 already observed: "the law written in their hearts" ("conscience") which the Gentiles acknowledge and obey is in contrast to the law of Moses which they were not given. There are also references to the laws of human government (Acts 19:38; I Cor. 6:1,6), "the law of faith" (Rom. 3:27), "law" in a general sense, a binding rule (Rom. 4:15b; 5:13b), "law" as a principle (Rom. 7:21), "the law of the Spirit of life" and "the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2), "the law of God" in a general sense, the authoritative rule of God (Rom. 8:7), "the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2), and "the law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12). Even Chafer claimed that "the law" in Romans 8:4 is merely a reference to "the revealed will of God."3 Clearly, with Christianity born in Judaism one would expect to find in the apostolic writings many repeated references to the law of Moses, but it is wholly unjustified to so restrict every use of the term "law."
So the law of God is not to be equated with the law of Moses.4 McClain argued to the contrary that since "the law of God" and "the law of Moses" are equated in Luke 2:21-24, 39, the two are one and the same and that no distinction between them is justifiable.5 But the equation does not necessitate the conclusion that the two are identical. Clearly, that the law of Moses was the law of God does not require that the law of God was (or is) the law of Moses: the law given by Moses was from the Lord, and this is all the equation requires. Nor is this a mere question of semantics. The law of Moses was a particular codification of the law of God which involved many more requirements than God had demanded of men previously. The law of God formed the basis of Mosaic law, but it is a standard that exists independently. There is indeed overlap but not exact identity.
Important also is the recognition that this law given prior to Sinai is nearly identical with the decalogue. Other than the fourth command (sabbath) virtually all of the "ten words" were in force well before Moses;6,7 indeed, it would seem so since the beginning of human history. Idolatry, murder, theft, adultery, etc., did not first become wrong when Israel was at Sinai. The great bulk of the decalogue, then, is clearly but a formal codification of the law of God that was (and is) in man's heart naturally. These matters are reflective of the very character and holiness of God and are thus eternal principles of righteousness that are binding upon all men regardless of formal codification--Mosaic or otherwise. With or without formal legal codes (Rom. 2:14) all men are judged by this standard. The law of God exists quite independent of Mosaic legislation. Again, overlap is evident but not exact duplication.
The relation between the law of God and the law of Moses, then, is one of foundation - extrapolation. That is, Mosaic legislation is founded upon the law of God and makes specific applications from it. It formally stated the principles of Divine law and gave specifics as to how those laws were to be carried out in that economy. Moreover, in the plan of God the Mosaic Covenant involved many more responsibilities than the law of God required by itself--dietary regulations, holy day observances, particular civil obligations and cultic rituals, etc. These "additions" were specific applications and extensions of the principles embedded in the law of God, given within the framework of a particular covenantal relationship and obligatory so long as that covenant was in force. But they were not essential elements of that Divine law itself. With Moses the law of God was formally codified and applied to a people who stood in a new covenant relation to God.
The two laws, then, are neither identical nor altogether different. The one formed the basis of the other, and the second required more than the first. But the two cannot be equated absolutely.
New Testament Teaching Regarding The Law of Moses
Having shown that the law of God/eternal standard of morality is independent of Mosaic legislation, the necessary next step is to examine the teaching of the New Testament regarding the present relevance of the law of Moses.
The New Testament is clear in its teaching that the law given to Moses at Sinai has been abrogated. It was part of a temporary, conditional covenant whose purpose was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ. Thus the law of Moses is no longer binding.
Summary of Scriptural Data
The New Testament writers unanimously and repeatedly teach that the law of Moses was fulfilled and so abolished in Christ. The issue was a matter of heated dispute in the early church itself and so also a matter of clear and unified pronouncement by the apostolic company (Acts 15). The issue generally centered on the place of circumcision in the New Covenant community and the necessity of law-keeping as a means of justification (Galatians), but the decision rendered was a part of a larger principle; viz., that Moses' law itself had no binding relation to the believer whatsoever (Acts 15:10, 19; Gal. 3:19-25; 4:21-31; 5:1-12; Rom. 7:1-6). Paul's repeated theme of Christian liberty (Rom. 14; Galatians) argues from the assumption that Moses' law is not binding on the Christian; indeed, it is the weaker brother who insists upon Mosaic demands (Rom. 14:1ff; cf. Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16). The Mosaic legislation is consistently spoken of in the past tense and so as no longer in effect (Rom. 8:3; 9:31-32; Gal. 3:23, 24; 4:5; Heb. 7:19; etc.), and as fulfilled and replaced in Jesus Christ (Mt. 5:17-20; Heb. 7:12; 10:1-9). Indeed, it was "abolished" (katargesas, Eph. 2:15; cf. II Cor. 3:11, 13) and "wiped out" (exaleipsas, Col. 2:14). It is in fact the very Mosaic covenant that is now annulled and replaced (Heb. 8:6-9:1; II Cor. 3), not just a part of it. With the covenant itself abolished, its law (Ex. 34:27-28) is likewise no longer in force.
What engenders disagreement, however, is the idea that only a part of that covenant has been abolished. It is taught by some that only the civil and ceremonial dimensions of the law are abolished, not the moral. Others claim it is merely the ceremonial, thus leaving both the civil and moral aspects intact.8 The most obvious problem with these interpretations is that the New Testament writers simply never state the matter so; that is, never do they say that only a certain part of the law but the law itself is abolished. In fact, nowhere in all of Scripture is the law of Moses even divided so. Granted, the three-fold division of the Mosaic law (moral, civil, ceremonial) can be a helpful "handle" for the understanding of the general content of the law of Moses, but the division is not Scripturally endorsed; that is, the division is not made or acknowledged by the inspired writers themselves. It is not exegetically demonstrable anywhere.
Rather, the law of Moses is consistently seen as an indivisible unit which must be considered as a whole. For example, most would admit that the "civil" law is merely an amplification and application of the second table of the "moral" law.9 Likewise, it would seem obvious that the "ceremonial" law is simply an elaboration and application of the first table of the "moral" law. Are there, then, three divisions after all? Or are there two--civil and ceremonial? It is manifestly obvious that the law is one. Accordingly, James speaks of "the whole law" (holon ton nomon) which is itself violated if transgressed at any single point (2:10).
So to take an artificial distinction/division and use it as an interpretive tool is an illegitimate hermeneutic. It cannot be right to impose divisions upon the Mosaic law and by that explain that certain parts are binding and some are not when in fact the New Testament writers state simply that it is the law itself that is abolished; to interpret these statements as something less is unwarranted. Again, it is the very Mosaic covenant that is now annulled and replaced (Heb. 8:6-9:1; II Cor. 3), not just a part of it.
Exodus 34:27-28 is important here:
And the Lord said unto Moses, write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. . . .
And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments."
What is significant here is that Moses identifies "the words of the covenant" with "the ten commandments" written on "the tables" In fact, it is God Himself Who makes the identification. Not only does this demonstrate the inseparable unity of the law of Moses given to Israel at Sinai, but it highlights the fact that the apostolic declarations of the abolition of the covenant/law of Moses include even the decalogue.
Moreover, in II Corinthians 3:7-13 and Colossians 2:14 it is in specific reference to the decalogue ("moral law") that Paul speaks of the Mosaic law as abolished! And in Colossians 2:16 he even specifies that the sabbath (again, a part of the "moral law") must not now be imposed upon the believer (cf. Rom. 14:1ff; Gal. 4:9-11). Clearly, the law of Moses, in its entirety, has been abolished. So much is the plain teaching of the apostles.
The point that arises from all this is not that idolatry, murder, theft, etc. are no longer sinful(!) but that Mosaic law does not apply to the believer today. The law of Moses--and all of the Mosaic covenant--was fulfilled and so abolished in Jesus Christ. It is no longer binding. It is therefore wrong for the Christian to look to the demands of the Old Covenant--whether dietary laws or civil regulations or personal obligations or whatever--for his rule of life.
Divine Law a Continuing Rule of Life
But then what about the believer today? If Mosaic law is abolished, is he under law? Is there for him a rule, a standard of conduct?
It is difficult for many to accept that law is in any sense a part of the believer's life today; law to them is wholly contrary to and exclusive of grace. Early dispensational writers especially were strong promoters of this view.10 The difficulty of this teaching lies in the clear presence in the apostolic writings of so many scores of commands addressed to believers as well as even explicit references to law (e.g. Gal. 6:2; James 1:25). Sin itself is defined as "lawlessness" (anomia, I John 3:4). Law is written on the heart of the New Covenant believer (Heb. 8:10), but it is law nonetheless. Clearly, the Christian is given law, a rule of life to which he is bound.
In answer to this problem, adherents of this view argue that these requirements are gracious rather than legal, being given within the framework of grace; that is, grace makes him willing and able to do what is right apart from legislated demands, and the believer is exhorted to righteousness merely on the basis of what God has done for him.11 After arguing long that no Christian can be placed under law ("or any respect of the law . . . or any phase of law") Chafer claimed that the "commandments" of Christ are not really "commands" after all(!) but the "teachings of grace."12 But this effectively reduces law to advice and commands to suggestions. God, of course, does not merely give advice. His revealed will is law--however gracious the context. McClain argued that the standard of conduct for today's believer is the example of Jesus and not law at all,13 but even that begs the question, for if there is any standard at all to which men are accountable, that standard (whatever it is) carries the force of law.
Accordingly, in those passages which Paul argues that the believer is "not under law" the meaning is not that he has no rule of life. At times Paul may argue that the believer is free from the law of Moses (e.g. Gal. 3:19-25; cf. Peter, Acts 15:10). At other times he may argue that the believer is free from the law as a means of justification (Rom. 10:4 and perhaps 6:14-1514)--he is not under its penalty of condemnation. But he never implies that there is no more law. Grace frees a man from the law's condemnation, but it does not leave him without a binding rule of life.
McClain argued that since there are no penalties stated in the New Testament it follows that there are no laws.15 However, there is a stated penalty: Hebrews 12 speaks plainly of chastisement for the disobedient son. Of course, there are no Mosaic penalties, but then the penal code of the law of Moses is not necessary for one not under Mosaic law. And while this chastisement may not have the same penal character as those penalties imposed by Moses, the fact of chastening for disobedience remains clear.
The believer today indeed has a rule of life. As was the case before and during the Mosaic economy, all men are bound to a divine standard of righteousness. Just as Divine law against idolatry, murder and theft was in effect before Moses, so it is binding after Moses. The Formula of Concord (1576), although confusing the law of God and the law of Moses, is entirely correct in its insistence that the law of God is today a "certain rule after which [regenerate men] may and ought to shape their life."16 The law of God--with or without formal codification--reflects eternal principles of righteousness that are always obligatory. It is an eternal standard; never could it become any less a binding rule of life.
If the law of Moses is abolished and if the believer today is still subject to law, it remains only to show precisely what law it is to which he is obliged. What is the content of it? What are its commands and prohibitions? Is it the same as the decalogue? And how does one know?
Since there is only overlap between the law of God and the law of Moses and not exact identity, some difference between the two is of course expected. Aldrich argues in favor of a distinction between Moses' law and the law of God but also claims that the content of the law of God is the same as that of the decalogue.17 His claim, however, lacks support, for no such identification is ever made in Scripture--nor is there any need of such. While overlap or similarity with a previous legislation is expected (because of a common basis), there is no need whatever to expect exact identity or duplication. Clearly, there was much more involved in the law of Moses than is necessary to the law of God--ceremonial rites, dietary regulations, civil and personal obligations. And even the question of the sabbath must now be addressed on grounds other than its placement in the "moral" category of the law of Moses.
Simply stated the question is this: What is the rule of life for today's believer? And how is that rule determined?
It would seem evident that the only laws relevant to the believer's standard of conduct today are those of the New Testament. If the Old Covenant is abolished it would be wrong to impose it as the rule for life today. If today's believer is now under the terms of the New Covenant, he must look to see what the terms of this New Covenant are; indeed, it would be illegitimate to look elsewhere.
Accordingly, when the New Testament writers declare the Old Covenant and law abolished, it is a questionable hermeneutic which claims that portions of it ("moral" or "civil") are not abolished after all. That is, when overlap between the two laws is observed, the conclusion that Mosaic legislation (or a particular segment of it) "still stands" is unwarranted;18 the observation merely reveals continuity of laws, not continuance of Mosaic law. It does not necessarily follow that because certain laws are still in effect the system in which it was formerly codified is still in effect also. The point is not that Mosaic legislation continues but that legislation continues, and it is its very mention within the framework of New Covenant teaching that evidences its continuance, nothing else.
For example, it would be wrong to argue that since it is still required to be fair and kind to animals (Dt. 25:4; cf. I Cor.9:9; I Tim. 5:18) then all of the "civil laws" must still be in force also. All that is shown by the comparison is overlap of law, not continuity of legal system. So also it would be wrong to argue that the "moral law" still stands because nine of the ten words are restated within the framework of New Covenant teaching. It is New Testament law that is normative for today's believer, nothing else, and when the relevance of any given law is considered it is its place in the New Covenant that determines the answer. When continuity of certain laws is observed, that is only expected. But the observation does not warrant the conclusion that the previous system itself, or a given segment of it, continues also.
It was argued earlier that the three-fold division of the law of Moses was artificial and not exegetically justifiable. The principle argued here, however, renders the very debate irrelevant, for even if these divisions of Moses' law were evident it still remains that the Old Covenant is not the standard for New Covenant life.
This view easily harmonizes with those statements of Paul regarding the believer in Christ as no longer under law (hupo nomon, Rom. 6:14; Gal. 5:18; cf. 3:25) and which picture Christ as the "end" (telos) of the law (Rom. 10:4). However one interprets these statements, if it be accepted that Mosaic law is not needed in order to maintain law in the life of the believer, passages such as these pose no problem whatsoever.
This view also allows for easy handling of those New Testament passages which speak of the abolition of Mosaic law (e.g. II Cor. 3; Heb. 7:11-12, 18; Eph. 2:15). With these texts in mind it is very difficult to argue how certain segments of the law remain after all, but in a system which needs no continuity of any part of Mosaic legislation, statements regarding discontinuity fit very nicely.
This solution further satisfies the sometimes puzzling observation that only nine of the ten commands of the decalogue are repeated in the New Testament:19 exact parallel is simply not necessary! Again, similarity of laws does not prove continuance of the legal system in which those laws were previously found. Continuity of any given law is determined by New Testament teaching, not by its position in a former legislation, nor by the demands or assumptions of a hermeneutical system.
In I Corinthians 7:19 Paul assumes this very point: "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God" (NASB). Circumcision was obviously a requirement of the law of Moses, yet Paul plainly discards it as absolutely unimportant and meaningless. What isimportant is obedience to "the commandments of God." Not only does this demonstrate distinction between the law of Moses and the law of God, but it also shows that today's believer is responsible to a standard other than Mosaic law.
The very point of Hebrews 7:12 seems to be that the New Covenant believer is obliged to a different law from believers of the Old order. "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." Jesus, the superior Priest, brought with Him a new law which has displaced the old.
This is evident also in Matthew 5:17-21 where Jesus declares that He is the fulfillment of the law. It is usually argued here either, 1) that Jesus' teaching which follows is not relevant to the present age but to the Kingdom (millennial) age (the traditional dispensational view), or 2) that He refers here to the "moral law" as fulfilled in Him in the sense that He gives it its true (spiritual, deeper) meaning in His teaching that follows. Both views, however, have problems. The position that the Sermon on the Mount is Kingdom (millennial) law only must explain the sermon's allusion to the presence of hostile government (5:41) as well as its references which reflect a future anticipation of the Kingdom (5:20; 6:10; 7:21; etc.).20 The other view (that the "moral law" is left intact) stresses that it is the decalogue that Jesus expands and fulfills (with fuller meaning) in His discourse that follows. This, however, assumes that such distinction was understood in Jesus' day--an assumption difficult to establish, as shown above. It also fails to do justice to Jesus' reference to "every jot and tittle" of the law (5:18), and it further overlooks His mention of certain "civil" laws in the sermon also--divorce (5:31-32) and the lex talionis (5:38-42). An alternative view understands the law of Moses as finding its fulfillment in the teaching of Jesus which is itself the rule of the Christian's life.21 In this case the laws which Jesus elucidates in His sermon fulfill and even surpass the law of Moses,22 and so it is not the old law or any part of it that is today binding but this new one. It is Jesus' laws (Matt. 7: 24, 26) which constitute "these least commandments" (v.19) which must be obeyed by the subjects of His Kingdom (Church).
That this conclusion is in keeping with Jesus' general approach to the OT law is clear from the relatively few number of times he cites the OT as substantiation of his demands . . . , from the clear implications of statements such as "the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28), and from the fact that it is Jesus' teaching that his disciples are to convey in their missionary enterprise (Matt. 28:19-20).23
This would seem to be Jesus' very point at the conclusion of His sermon. In Matthew 7:24 and 26 He refers to "these sayings of mine" which constitute the rule of life and which form the basis of judgment. It is Jesus' yoke (Mt. 11:29), "the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2) that is binding upon today's believer and which forms his rule of life.
Paul summarizes this point exactly in I Corinthians 9:20-21 where he argues that while in a given circumstance he is free to choose either course of action, he is not obligated to Mosaic legislation (v.20). Moreover, he is "without law" and has perfect liberty to act accordingly (v.21a). However, (not to be misunderstood!), he is not "without law" absolutely. In reference to God he is "subject to the law of Christ" (ennomos Christou, v.21b, BAG). Here Paul is clear on both scores: 1) he is not obliged to Moses' law (hos anomos ... me os autos hupo nomon), and 2) he is obliged to the law of Christ.
Correlation & Distinction
Investigating, then, the obligations of the New Covenant believer, much similarity with those of the Old is evident. As was the case prior to Sinai, all of the ten commandments, except number four (sabbath), are in the New Covenant stated as binding. The following chart illustrates in summary.
The Decalogue in Both Testaments
Given the fact that much of the Mosaic legislation is but an extrapolation of the principles embedded in the decalogue, further similarity would be expected also, and this is in fact the case. I Corinthians 9:8ff and I Timothy 5:17-18 (cf. Dt. 25:4), Matthew 18:16 and I Timothy 5:19 (cf. Dt. 19:15) and Romans 12:19 (cf. Dt. 32:35) serve well as examples. But there are also certain obligations upon the New Covenant believer which are not at all a part of Old Covenant responsibilities, such as commands regarding world evangelism (Mt. 28:19; Acts 1:8). Some New Covenant obligations are further extensions of the principles expressed in the old law, such as Jesus' commands regarding reconciliation with offended brethren (Mt. 5:23-24), non-resistance (Mt. 5:38-42) and love (Mt. 5:44), and Paul's commands regarding personal charity and generosity (Rom. 12:13; Eph. 4:28; I Tim. 6:17-18). Some regulations are significantly different (e.g. Mt. 5:31-32; 19:3-12) or even contrary to those of the old law (Mt. 17:24-27; Acts 10:9-15; 15:10, 19; Col. 2:16; and I Tim. 4:4). There are points of similarity and difference between the obligations of the Old and New Covenant believers.
Although similarities and differences in content are evident, a similarity of function remains, nonetheless. Paul emphasized that the law of Moses served to reveal sin (Rom. 7:7, 13; cf. 3:30; 5:20). It accomplished this by providing a formal codification of Divine law, written legislation concerning certain activities, the violation of which made sin more evident. By revealing sin more clearly, the law then was also able to point men to Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:22-24) Who alone met all the law's demands for those who trust in Him (Rom. 10:4). It appears reasonable to assume that what Mosaic codification of Divine law could accomplish New Covenant codification would accomplish as well, for the demands of righteousness in each are virtually the same.24
However, while Christian sanctification strives toward increasing compliance with the moral demands of this law of Christ as a rule of life, there is yet a difference inrelationship. Paul argues in Galatians 3:19ff that the law functioned as a pedagogue ("schoolmaster") in the history of redemption to bring Israel to Christ(paidagogos eis Christon) and that now that Christ has come a pedagogue is no longer needed. This discussion falls outside the scope of this paper, but it is important to note that while the New Covenant believer is subject to the law of Christ, he is not related to it in quite the same way the Old Covenant believer was to the law of Moses. Because of the liberating work of Christ the law does not afflict the conscience (Heb. 9:13-14; 10:1-18), and its demands do not form a legal covenant as did the demands of Moses. Furthermore, in contrast to the provisions of the Old Covenant, the New Covenant makes express provisions for compliance with its demands on the part of all who are party to it. The often repeated apostolic emphasis on the New Covenant believer's new and greater relationship to the Holy Spirit is made largely with this in view (Rom. 8:1-16; II Cor. 3; Gal. 5:16ff; Heb. 8). The entire New Covenant community is promised the Spirit of Christ Who works from within to effect conformity to God's standards of righteousness (Rom. 8:3-4). This new law functions as a sure guide for living and rule of life, as did the old, but the New Covenant believer is promised more than law as the agent in defining sin and promoting righteousness; he is given the Spirit of Christ.
But whatever the similarities or differences, it is to the stipulations of the New Covenant that today's believer must look for his rule of life. To look to the law of Moses, or any part of it, in order to establish a standard for today is to look in the wrong place. The basis of the Old and New Covenants is the same--the law of God. The details, however, are different, and this is to be expected. The law of God is still in effect, only under different codification. For any law to be enforced upon the Church it must be a law enjoined within the framework of New Covenant teaching, for it is the obligation of today's believer to follow these terms in his life under God.
The law of God is always binding and could never be anything else. Before Moses there was no formal codification of it. Since Moses there have been differing codifications of it in accordance with covenantal relationships. The Old and the New Covenants entail varying responsibilities, some of which are identical to each other (because of a common basis) and some exclusive of each other (because of fulfillment and further revelation). But the standard of conduct for today's believer is found in the framework of New Covenant teaching, not that of the Old Covenant. To this rule of life he is bound as to law, and this law, like that of Moses, is sufficient to bring men "to an acknowledgment of their sins."25
The following chart highlights the thesis in summary.
The Law of God
|Content of Law:||Principles of Righteousness Written on Heart||Commands
|Covenantal Frame-work:||Adamic (?)||Old/Mosaic||New|
|Time Frame:||Adam to Exchaton||Moses to Christ||Christ to Eschaton|
The dilemma facing the interpreter is that on the one hand Mosaic law is declared abolished, and on the other hand there are identical laws which are clearly still in force. The view presented here does justice to both demands. In so doing, it is not left with the difficulty problem of explaining how some Mosaic laws--"moral" (e.g. the sabbath) or "civil"--could still be in force when the apostles never say so and in fact indicate otherwise, for no dependence upon any part of Moses' law is seen as necessary. Nor is it left to explain how the believer is under no law whatever when the apostles and Christ speak to the contrary.
Law there is, and it is a necessary rule of life. But that law should not be viewed as Mosaic (whatever the similarities with it), for that law has been abolished.
Contemporary Hermeneutical Implications
If the law of God exists independent of Mosaic legislation, and if the rule of life for today's believer is not to be found in the law of Moses, the ramifications for contemporary Christian hermeneutics are significant. It would seem in order to highlight a few of them at this point.
1) The believer today and in every age does indeed possess a rule of life and standard of conduct, for the law of God reflects eternal principles of righteousness that are always binding.
2) The dependence of many in the Church upon the law of Moses (either moral or civil or dietary or whatever) is in error, for Mosaic law has been abolished.
3) Those arguments which appeal to a three-fold division of the Mosaic legislation in order to establish which laws are still in force are entirely unnecessary, forMosaic legislation does not remain at all.
4) The sabbath issue, although addressed and directly affected, is not so crucial, for the question of its present relevance must be determined upon grounds other than its position in a certain category of Mosaic law.
In brief, there is middle ground between dispensational and covenant theology: dispensational theology is correct in its insistence that today's believer is free from the law of Moses, but covenant theology is also quite correct in its insistence on the continually binding character of the law of God as the standard of righteousness and personal holiness.
Never is the believer without a rule of life, but never should he be placed under any law that was not given him.
1. Alva McClain argued that this law on men's heart concerns the universal "urge to offer sacrifice." (Law and Grace [Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1973], p.10.) The idea of sacrifice, however, is completely foreign to the context.
2. Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), p.43.
3. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace: The Glorious Theme (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), p.107.
4. It is possible that the distinction is implicit even in Jeremiah's prophecy of the New Covenant (31:31- 33) where it seems "my [God's] law" is in contrast to the law of the Old Covenant, not a continuation of it.
5. Pp. 40, 41-42.
6.The common argument that the sabbath is a "creation ordinance" observed since the beginning of human history both lacks support and is contrary to the evidence. While the sabbath principle and/or pattern is established at creation (Gen. 2:1-3), there is no compelling evidence that sabbath observance was obligatory until it was made so by special revelation--the command of God through Moses in the wilderness (Ex. 16:22-30). In fact, Nehemiah 9:13-14 plainly states that the sabbath was given to Israel at Sinai.
7. It is impossible to find clear statements regarding the fourth and fifth commands (the name of the LORD and honor of parents), but these obligations would appear implicit in the actions of the patriarchs toward their parents and in their reverence toward God.
8. Cf. Seventh Day Adventism and contemporary Reconstructionism.
9. Walter Kaiser, Toward An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), p.118.
10. Lewis Sperry Chafer, op. cit., pp.87ff, 152ff; M. R. DeHaan, Law or Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965), pp.140-141; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of Matthew (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1961) p.232; Clarence Larkin, Rightly Dividing the Word (Philadelphia: Rev. Clarence Larkin Est, n.d.), pp. 195-196; McClain, op. cit., ch.7; C. I. Scofield, op. cit., ch. 6.
11. McClain, p.64ff.
12. Pp.91-95; cf. McClain pp.62ff.
14. Charles Hodge, The Epistle to the Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), pp. 205-206.
16. Article VI, "Of the Third Use of the Law" (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983], 3:131).
17.Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1959, October 1959, April 1961, January 1963. Quoted at length in The Meaning and Relevance of the Mosaic Law, class syllabus by Mr. Robert J. Dunzweiler, Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA.
18. This is Samuel Bolton's argument in The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1964), p.62. He argued that if the ten commandments were ever a rule then they still must be such, and if Christ and His apostles commanded the same as the "moral law" then that shows the "moral law" to be still in force. However, this confuses the law of Moses with the law of God, and it also fails to allow for the abolition of that unique Mosaic codification of the law of God.
19. The sabbath is in force, then, neither before Moses nor after, thus revealing that it was never intended to be of continuing relevance (as Hosea 2:11, 3:4-5 prophesied). It is not a part of that law of God written on men's hearts, nor is it a part of the law of the New Covenant. According to Exodus 31 the sabbath stands as the "sign" of the Mosaic Covenant. This explains why the sabbath law is not in force at other times: it served a unique purpose in the Mosaic economy.
20.See John A. Martin, "Dispensational Approaches to the Sermon on the Mount" in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer, eds. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), pp. 40-41.
21.Douglas Moo, "The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ" in Continuity and Discontinuity, John S. Feinberg, ed. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1988), pp. 205-206.
22. Ibid., p. 204-205. Moo argues very effectively to this when he points out that Jesus, in His sermon on the mount, took the obligations of the decalogue (and other portions of Moses) much further than any fair exegesis of the Old Covenant could have required.
23. Ibid., p. 206.
24. The question arises here concerning the standard of conduct and/or judgment for unbelievers today. Are they bound to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, or to the terms of the New Covenant, or to neither? Clearly, no man today is under the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, for that has been abolished. But neither is unregenerate man placed under the terms of the New Covenant, for this covenant is given to God's people only. Judging also from Paul's condemnation of the Gentiles who "have not the law" (Rom. 2:14), it appears evident that the standard of judgment for unregenerate men today is the eternal law of God written in their heart. Like the pagan neighbors of ancient Israel and as those of Paul's day, men are condemned for their rejection of "the truth that is in them" (Rom. 1:18-19). This is by itself sufficient to establish their guiltiness before God.
25. The "second" use of the law as stated in The Formula of Concord, Article VI. Schaff, Vol.3, p.131.