Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Under the Law" - An Existential Condition?

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

A correct understanding Romans 6:14 is both the key that unlocks the larger pericope of chapters 6-8, as well as being crucial for for grasping the dynamic of New Covenant sanctification. So let's dive in....

We'll kick off our discussion with a consideration of Paul's phrase hypo nomon ("under [the] law"). What does he mean by this?

A common interpretation of "under the law" is that the apostle is describing the condition of any person, irrespective of his or her historical context, who lives under the condemnation of God due to his or her violation of God's moral will. Calvin writes:

"Hence, not to be under the law means... that we are no longer subject to the law, as requiring perfect righteousness, and pronouncing death on all who deviate from it in any part.... For how much soever we may be harrassed by the stings of sin, it cannot yet overcome us, for we are able to conquer it by the Spirit of God; and then, being under grace, we are freed from the rigorous requirements of the law."

The condition of being "under the law," in other words, is an existential one that plagues any and all who are devoid of grace.

To determine whether or not this is a correct interpretation of hypo nomon we must take a look at the other instances in which Paul used this phrase. It'll only take a minute, so I'd ask you to actually look them up. There is one in I Corinthians (9:20) and five in Galatians (3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18).

In the light of these passages, can "under [the] law" be understood existentially and a-historically?