Sunday, January 21, 2007

Law: Existential or Eschatological?

We have seen that questions such as "How does the law function in the covenant of works as opposed to the covenant of grace?" betray a view of law that is ipso facto non-covenantal. "Law," this question assumes, stands outside of time and simply drops into covenantal arrangements while remaining distinct from the covenants themselves.

The Bible, however, simply doesn't speak about the law in this way. Nowhere is "law" used to denote an eternal and unchanging list of moral norms that stands outside of covenant history. Sure, God talks about "My law" in Jeremiah 31, but that's none of our business. What is our business is how that "moral law" gets covenantally enshrined, either on tables of stone (as under the Old Covenant) or on the fleshy tables of the hearts of men (as under the New).

When the Bible does speak about the law, rather than pointing to an abstract and a-historical ethical code, it is almost always referring to the law of Moses (sometimes to the OT Scriptures in general, other times to the books of Moses in particular, and still other instances to the specific works principle upon which the Mosaic covenant is based).

So for example, when Paul says that "sin shall not have dominion over [us, for we] are not under the law, but under grace," he is not saying that the person who believes the gospel is free from the condemning aspects of the law (regardless of redemptive-historical context), and possibly also from the civil and ceremonial aspects as well (depending on redemptive-historical context)... but either way, he is still subject to the moral parts of the law (but only in its third use, no longer in its first).

This view, while common, assumes an existential rather than eschatological conception of "law."

What Paul is actually saying is that the person who is under the New Covenant is not under the law of Moses, period. No moral/ civil/ceremonial division, no first use/second use/third use distinction. The law, by which Paul means the Mosaic law, has passed into obsolescence in its entirety.

(... Which seems to me to be exactly what his first-century audience would have understood him to be saying.)