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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Law and Grace # 2

"The Law" in New Testament Usage

1. "The Law" is the written Mosaic law, including generally the entire Pentateuch. In Galatians 3:10 the writer identifies the law with the entire "book of the law." Our Lord speaks of "the law, or the prophets," identifying the law with that part of our Old Testament comprised in its first five books, a well-known division in His day (Matthew 5:17). The same identification appears in Luke 24:44 and Acts 28:23.

In addition, each one of the five books of the Pentateuch is identified as a portion of "the law." When Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:34 commands the women "to be under obedience, as also saith the law," he undoubtedly is referring to Genesis 3:16. And quoting from Exodus 20:17 he speaks of it as "the law" (Romans 7:7). Our Lord Himself refers a lawyer to a passage in Leviticus 19:18, indicating that it was "written in the law" (Luke 10:26-27). Again in Matthew 12:5 Christ cites a reference in Numbers 28:9-10 and asks the Pharisees whether they had not read it "in the law". Finally, in defense of a paid ministry, Paul quotes a passage from Deuteronomy 25:4, declaring that it was written "in the law of Moses" (1 Corinthians 9:9).

This is not a novel view. Archibald McCaig says that in the Gospels "the word "law" always refers to the Mosaic law," and that at times it means "the whole of the Pentateuch." As to its usage in the Epistles, McCaig writes that "speaking generally, the word with or without the article is used in reference to the law of Moses." And Salmond argues that "the law" (ho nomos) of Ephesians 2:15 is to be "taken in its full sense, not the ceremonial law only, but the Mosaic Law as a whole, according to the stated use of the phrase."

It is true that occasionally "the law" seems to refer to the entire Old Testament. Compare John 10:34 with Psalm 82:6 and 1 Corinthians 14:21 with Isaiah 28:11-12. But even in this rare usage it must be remembered that the whole of Old Testament Scripture assumes the existence of the law, calls men back to the law and threatens the penalties of the law for it violations. Thus the idea of an original Mosaic law is probably never wholly absent from such references.

2. This law is one law - an indivisible unity. While it is unquestionably true that at least three elements - moral, ceremonial and civil - appear within this law, it is wrong to divide it into three laws or, as is popularly done, divide into two laws, moral and ceremonial.

This is clear from the New Testament references.

James declares that "whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). On the "all" of this text, Oesterley writes that the Greek "panton' is equivalent to "all the precepts of the Torah." The same viewpoint is expressed by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:3, "For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to the whole law." And Christ declares that "whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19), thus upholding the essential unity of the law. That the "least commandments" referred to by our Lord are those set forth in the Pentateuch, and not merely those of the "moral law" or the few contained in the Sermon on the Mount, it is perfectly clear from the context in verses 17 and 18 of Matthew 5, where the identification is unmistakable. He is speaking about the law of Moses.

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 3)

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