Thursday, April 10, 2008

Paul's use of Nomos

from the pen of John Murray...

In brief: Murray says Romans 6:14 "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace," and other passages that seem to encourage a disparaging view of the law, do not indictate at all that the law of God is to be deemed in such as way as to throw the Christian at odds with it. On the contrary, Murray says, what Paul means here is that "under law" means being in bondage to sin, and "under grace" means being in bondage to Christ. There is an antithesis, says Murray, but evangelicalism has taken the antithesis too far, in removing the law from the life of the Christian en toto, resulting in antinomianism (being "against law").

Elsewhere, Paul speaks of obeying the law (Romans 13) and putting himself "under law" in 1 Cor 9 (the "to the Jews" passage). So in one sense, "under law" means being in bondage to sin, and in another usage, "under law" means Paul's placing of himself under the auspices of the ceremonies and rites of the Mosaic system with the express purpose of "winning some."

Nevertheless, despite Paul's commendation of the Decalogue in Romans 13, some clarity is needed as to what relation the Christian has to the Decalogue. It is clear that the ten commandments cannot regenerate and bring salvation, and that they serve very well to anounce sin (Romans 7:7 "I would not have known what sin was except through the law,") and need of a savior (Galatians 3:24 "the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ,"). But once a Christian is convicted by the law and regenerated, justified and sanctified, what is his relation to these laws then? Moreover, how do we understand Romans 7:6 "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."?

Quick answer, 1 Cor 9:21 "To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law." Paul is not antinomian, rather he sees holiness as conforming to the law of God. He is "not free from God's law." He is under Christ's law in the sense that he is regenerated, justified and sanctified and obeys God's law meaning the Decalogue, but is no longer under the Mosaic system of rites and ceremonies. Christians are not saved from the law, the are saved to it. Romans 6:15 says, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!" And again, "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law," (Romans 3:31).

So, being "under law" in Romans 6 & 7 means being in bondage to sin because of the law's work in arousing the sinful nature in us and producing the condemning effect it was designed to do. Romans 7:8 "But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead." Paul calls this law in Romans 8:1 the law of sin and death. It is this sense that Paul speaks of the unregenerate person being "under law." And through the power of Jesus Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Christian, now a regenerate person being justified and sanctified (and in the process of sanctification as well), can actually obey the law of God and do so in order to receive his or her Heavenly Father's good pleasure.

This is why Paul can say in chapter 12, that conforming our minds to the pattern of God's will is pleasing to him. And in Romans 13, Paul can say,

8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."

If Paul intended for Christians to speak of being "free in the Holy Spirit to love and serve God without recourse to the law (Decalogue), he brings a lot of confusion by quoting from the Decalogue toward the end of his theological treatise we call the Letter to the Romans. This section, toward the end of his treatise, confirms that Paul intends for us to understand more than one purpose of the law. The first is 1) to bring evidence of sin and the second is 2) to give Christians a right guide and rule by which to live. (There is a 3rd usuage--we'll bypass that for now).

We are indeed to live by faith through grace by the power of the Holy Spirit in the freedom from the condemnation of the law. But since the law is "holy spiritual and good," (7:12, 14, 15), we have not died to it in the sense of abrogating it from our lives, or else why the quote here in chapter 13? Rather, Paul says we died to the law in this sense: that we are no longer unregenerate sinners under the wrath and condemnation of God because he regards us as transgressors of his law. Instead, we are regenerated, live by faith in Jesus Christ through grace with the power of the Holy Spirit to live obedient, humble lives with our loving Heavenly Father. And we do the latter by fulfilling the law by loving our fellowman.

It is a misconception for us to think of "love" as a self-directing, self-guiding abstract entity, in the form of some impersonal force by which we adhere, move with and point toward as a reference. Rather, love has an object. The object of our love is God himself. Since God has a character and has revealved that character through his law, we obey his law when we love him. And, we love him when we obey his law. We do this all by faith in Jesus Christ and by his grace.

to read Murray's article on this subject, click here

and here


T. Michael W. Halcomb said...


Thanks for visiting Pisteuomen! I commented on your remarks.


povertyhill said...

easy, chris: more than one use for the law, as cranky calvinists have long maintained. you're welcome. :-)

chris van allsburg said...

Yes, but some reformed folks are saying that a 3-fold trichotomy of the law is not warranted in Scripture. All or nothing, they say, when Paul speaks of the law.

that's a good issue to talk about for sure.

Jonathan Erdman said...


The antinomian line of thought is a rabbit trail. Paul is not antinomian, b/c he clearly has a purpose for the law: reveal sin in the life of the nonbeliever. The law condemns those who live according to the flesh.

But Paul is clearly a metanomian, as I like to call it, in that he suggests that we go beyond law. Murray is clearly following a rabbit trail when he chases down antinomianism. It's a silly argument to even begin to engage, and that's why he misses Paul's point in Romans 6:14.

As a side note, isn't it amazing how our presuppositions shade our view and interpretation of language. Even though Paul states in unequivocal language "you are not under law," somehow Christians like Murray still manage to bring believers under law. I can't buy the explanation that "under law" means "bondage to sin," but I'll kick it around and keep it in mind as I continue to study the issue. To me, if Paul meant "bondage to sin," he probably would have just said "bondage to sin"! But the fact that Paul sys "you are not under law" means something to me. And for me, in this case, I take him quite literally and simply.

Thanks for the post. I'll keep the thoughts rolling around in my head.

chris van allsburg said...

Jon, Thanks for posting on the wonderful world of vanallsblog!

Yes, this is not an easy issue. When I was dispensationalist (I know you're not), I took this verse as a categorical statement.

But, I still have to deal with chapter 3 "we fulfill the law" and 1 Cor 9:21 "though I am not free from God's law, but am under Christ's law" and Paul's use of the Decalogue (at least a good size of it) in chapter 13 for the way Christians are to live their lives. That is why I think a division in the law between the Decalogue and the Ceremonial law is warranted (Civil code as well?).

In addition, I can see the different uses of the law: conviction and light for the path (Ps 119).

Also in chapter 6 of Romans, Paul uses the "bondage to sin" language or similar sentiments many many times when talking about being "under law."

He says not to
1)count yourselves dead to sin
2)not let sin reign in your mortal body
3)not offer the parts of your body to sin,

After each command, there is another to offer ourselves to righteousness. The conclusion is verse 14: "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."

so I see juxtoposition in this passage that being "under law" is being in bondage to sin, and being "under grace" is being a slave of righteousness to God.


Jonathan Erdman said...

Sure. I agree that being under law is being a slave to sin. That's Paul's point, namely, if you want to be under law (like Calvin, Murray) then you are bringing the flesh back into the picture and you're going to be a slave to sin.

On the contrary, if we leave behind the old law mentality and live according to the law of Christ then we become slaves to righteousness. But "righteousness" does not mean according to law, but according to the "law of Christ." This is a more ambiguous law that is defined by Christ in us (the Spirit in us, Gal 5). In Galatians chap. 2, Paul says that he died to the old way of law-flesh living and it is now Christ who lives within him.

Chris, could you be more specific on some of the passages that you believe require the law in the life of the believer. You mention chap. 3? We have discussed Psalm 119 in brief previously. I find the love-fest of the psalmist with the law to be an expression of his love for God and the covenant that binds them. However, if you think this is a weak explanation, please feel free to take issue with it and provide some arguments/verses to the contrary.

1 Cor 9:21 I see as Paul being "all things to all people." Being under the law certainly does not seem to be Paul's preferred state/action. This is in line with Pauline "concessions" (cf. marriage in 1 Cor. 7!). I think 1 cor 9:21 is the exception (under law) that proves the rule (metanomian).

The "law of Christ" is not defined. But following the Gospel of John we find Jesus' only command is "love one another." This might be in line also with Romans 13 where "love is the fulfillment of the law." You mentioned chap. 13 as a place where Paul affirms the Decalogue. But I don't think Paul brings the Dec into discussion in order to suggest that we abide by the rules again, as we formerly did. Rather, he is showing that the more perfect way of life is the way of love. Love does not harm its neighbor. The law merely supports a way of love. Given that the believer lives by the Spirit, the believer is no longer under law and simply loves as the Spirit enables. So, the Decalogue was a flimsy attempt at getting at the real deal, which is love.

The idea that we can overcome the flesh with the law is not what Paul is going for here. Not as far as I can see. I don't agree with Calvin that the Spirit uses the law; Calvin's so-called Third Use of the law.

Here's a question for thought for those who want to retain the law in the life of the believer: If law is needed, then what is deficient in the Spirit? I.e., if we have to add law, then what is the Spirit lacking? Why can't "Christ within me" be enough? Is Christ/Spirit lacking in power?

chris van allsburg said...

Jon, good questions, and I'll have to get to them later. We're visiting Monica's gramma on the east side of the state, which is referred to in the common tongue, "Detroit."

chris van allsburg said...

btw--I do affirm that we are not under the Law of Moses as a Covenantal Way of Life. Theonomy does that and it's scary. Who would want to put their children to death for bad behavior? OT laws almost make me NOT want to be a Christian.

chris van allsburg said...


as far as deficiency of the Spirit in its use of the law in our lives, or lack thereof, I don't see that the Spirit is deficient b/c it uses the law in our lives. On the contrary, I see the Spirit enabling us to live according to the law, whereas we couldn't in our unregenerate state.

And, as far as the "law of Christ" being more or less ambiguous, this is precisely what Murray is saying: that the law of Christ is grounded in something: the law of God.

I think your understanding ot Ps 119 is right on: it is a confession of the man's love relationship in covenant bond w/ God.

The Romans 3 passage is:

27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.