Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Law, Grace, and the Historia Salutis

"For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace."

When a simple investigation of the handful of times Paul uses the phrase hypo nomon ("under [the] law") is undertaken, it becomes clear that the apostle is using "law" not in some abstract, a-historical sense, but in a concrete, historical one.

In other words, "the law," in Paul, is more a matter of the historia salutis (redemption historically accomplished) than the ordo salutis (redemption individually applied). Or to put it more simply, the entrance of the law is an historical phenomenon (like the incarnation), not an existential one (like conversion).

Consider what is said of "the law" in the immediately preceding context (Rom. 5:13-14, 20). There was a period of time that the apostle designates as "until the law" and "when there is no law" which spanned "from Adam to Moses." When we compare this with Galatians 3:17-25, where Paul argues that the law "came" 430 years after the Abrahamic promise, and remained in effect "until Christ came," the historical (covenantal) nature of law couldn't be more obvious.

The phrase"under the law," then, does not describe the condition of any person until he or she trusts Christ. Rather, it describes the historical state of those Israelites who lived between Moses and Christ, and under the Old Covenant.

But why does Paul draw the connection between the dominion of the Mosaic law and the dominion of sin?