THE LAW AND THE GOSPEL
Ekkehardt Mueller, BRI
The topic “The Law and the Gospel” is an issue which is at the heart of Christianity. While
theology and Christology are central Christian teachings, humankind needs to know the gospel, the
good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, and the way how to experience salvation. The question
how the law relates to salvation is a natural and crucial question. In this paper we will concentrate
especially on this second aspect.
In their “28 Fundamental Beliefs” Seventh-day Adventists have dealt with the issues of
salvation and the law of God briefly. Here are two summary statements pointing out how they
understand salvation and the law.
10. Experience of Salvation. In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin,
to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy
Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and
exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example. This faith which
receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God’s grace.
Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and delivered from the
lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our
minds, writes God’s law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life.
Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation
now and in the judgment. (2 Cor. 5:17-21; John 3:16; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8;
Gal. 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Rom. 10:17; Luke 17:5; Mark 9:23, 24; Eph. 2:5-10; Rom.
3:21-26; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Rom. 12:2; Heb.
8:7-12; Eze. 36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:1-4; 5:6-10.)
19. Law of God . The great principles of God’s law are embodied in the Ten Commandments
and exemplified in the life of Christ. They express God’s love, will, and purposes concerning
human conduct and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age. These precepts
are the basis of God’s covenant with His people and the standard in God’s judgment. Through
the agency of the Holy Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Saviour.
Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is obedience to the Commandments.
This obedience develops Christian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is an
evidence of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow men. The obedience of faith
demonstrates the power of Christ to transform lives, and therefore strengthens Christian
witness. (Ex. 20:1-17; Ps. 40:7, 8; Matt. 22:36-40; Deut. 28:1-14; Matt. 5:17-20; Heb. 8:8-
Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, revised 2005, 17 edition (Silver Spring: 1 th Secretariat of the General
Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2005), 12, 15-16.
2R. H. Mounce, “Gospel,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell ( Grand Rapids:
Baker Book House, 1984), 472.
3There is some discussion whether bÑr means “good news” or only “news.” Peter Stuhlmacher, Das
paulinische Evangelium – I.Vorgeschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1968), 111-112, pleads for the latter
use, whereas Gerhard Friedrich, “Euaggelizomai,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), ed. by
Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982-83), 2:707; and
10; John 15:7-10; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 John 5:3; Rom. 8:3, 4; Ps. 19:7-14.)1
Adventists have a high view of Scripture and try to take seriously its statements and claims
without superimposing on them a special dogmatic focus or creating a canon within the canon. They
follow proper exegetical procedures in interpreting biblical texts. They also attempt to see the larger
picture presented in Scripture which could be called the great controversy theme or God’s cosmic
plan of salvation. When, for instance, discussing the law including its positive and negative aspects
they keep in mind that this question also affects their understanding of the nature, character, and
sovereignty of God and therefore must be approached carefully.
I. Old and New Testaments and the Gospel
Mounce has summarized the gospel in the following way: “The gospel is the joyous
proclamation of God’s redemptive activity in Christ Jesus on behalf of man enslaved by sin.”2 As such
it cannot be directly found in the OT. Nevertheless, the OT vocabulary, the messianic and typological
predictions, the sanctuary system, God’s redemptive acts of grace, etc. prepare the way for the
realization of salvation from sin through Jesus Christ.
A. The Old Testament and the Gospel
1. Good News Vocabulary in the Old Testament
The Greek root euaggel-, which oftentimes points to the gospel, is a translation of the Hebrew
root bÑr. The word family bÑr comes as a noun (“good news;” six times), as a verb (“to bring or
proclaim good news;” fifteen times), and as a substantival participle (“messenger of good news;” nine
times).3 It is often used in the secular sense, especially the noun. However, a strong theological
O. Schilling, “bÑr,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT), ed. by Johannes Botterweck and Helmer
Ringgren (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1977), 2:313-316, prefer the positive sense because
in Semitic languages the sense of joy is contained in the stem.
See Ps 40:6-9 in Heb 10:5-10; Isa 52:7 in Rom 10:15-16; A 4 cts 10:36; Eph 2:17; 6:15. Ps 68:19 is quoted in
Eph 4:8-10; see Isa 60:6 in Matt 2:11; Isa 61:1 in Luke 4:18-19; Matt 11:5; Luke 7:22. Ps.68:11 talks about messengers
of good news, Eph 4:11 about evangelists; compare Nah 2:1 in Acts 10:36. See Friedrich, “Euaggelizomai,” 709-710;
Schilling, “bsr,” 316.
5See Isa 52:7 where the messenger of good news of peace is (a) God himself (Dt.Rabba 5,15), (b) the Messiah
(Lev.Rabba 9.9; Midr.Tanh.twldwt, 14; Pirque Mashiach; Derech Eres Suta), (c) the eschatological prophet (11 Q
Melch.), (d) Elijah (Mids. Vajjosha; Pesikta Rabbathi 35), (e) a host of messengers (Midr. Tehillim on Ps 147:1); see
also Stuhlmacher, 122-125, 141, 147-152; and Friedrich, “Euaggelizomai,” 716-717.
6The Hebrew participles would normally correspond to the Greek euaggelos (“messenger of good news”), but
the LXX prefers to employ the participle euaggelizomenos.
meaning is found with the verb and the participle. The good news that is proclaimed is the message
of Yahweh’s salvation (Ps 96:2), righteousness (Ps 40:9), peace (Isa 52:7), and freedom (Isa 61:1).
In the NT many of the OT verses, in which bÑr occurs, are used in connection with the Messiah.4
In post-biblical Judaism the root bÑr has also theological meaning. The participle is especially
important and almost never occurs in a secular context. The messenger of joy, of good news, is an
eschatological figure bringing about the new age and the good news of salvation.5
In the LXX the noun beÑrah is translated as euaggelia and euaggelion. The terms do not have
theological significance. Therefore, they do not correspond in content to the NT euaggelion. Apart
from three exceptions, euaggelizomai is the translation of the Hebrew verb and participles of the root
bÑr. It is also employed in the theological sense.6 So the LXX provides us with the root euaggel-,
which will become an important term in the NT, and brings us nearer to the NT in connecting more
often than the Hebrew text does the proclamation of the good news with salvation (e.g., in Isa 60:6).
The NT will introduces Jesus as the messenger of the good news of salvation and as the
personification and content of this good news, the gospel. When the early Christians started to
proclaim the gospel of Jesus to the Gentiles and used the bÑr tradition, they were depending on the
LXX and its vocabulary for good news.
2. The Concept of Good News in the Old Testament
As just mentioned, salvation and liberation are connected with good news in the OT.
For a discussion of the term see H.-J. Zobel, “h. esed,” Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. by 7
Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 5:54-64.
8Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 1948), 110, 112.
According to Ps 40:9-10 David proclaims the good news of God’s righteousness, faithfulness,
salvation, truth, and lovingkindness.
In the OT God takes the initiative and intervenes with his saving acts. This is good news, even
if the respective language is not always used. After the fall God does not instantaneously kill Adam
and Eve but starts a dialogue and provides them with a wonderful promise. He rescues Noah and his
family from the flood. He saves Lot from the destruction of the cities of the plain. God’s
lovingkindness (h. esed) allows him to forgive sins (Exod 34:6-7; Num 14:18). It was his 7
lovingkindness that brought about redemption (Exod 15:13), namely liberation from the Egyptian
slavery. Vos points out that this liberation was “a deliverance from an objective realm of sin and evil”
and that the “Hebrews were delivered not merely from outside foreign bondage, they were likewise
rescued from inward spiritual degradation and sin.”8 According to Ezra 9:8-9 divine grace allowed
a remnant to survive, and God’s lovingkindness brought about restoration.
Although the law plays a prominent role in the OT, it is specifically stressed only after God
has intervened mightily in providing salvation and restoration.
B. The NT and the Gospel
1. Good News Vocabulary in the New Testament
In the NT the word family euaggel- is used frequently and points to the gospel and the
proclamation of the good news. Three forms of the root euaggel- are used: the noun euaggelion, the
noun euaggelist?s, and the verb euaggelizomai.
The gospel emphasizes God’s initiative: It is the gospel of God (Mark 1:14) and of Jesus
Christ (Rom 15:19), of the glory of God (1 Tim 1:11) and of the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph
3:8). It is also the gospel of the kingdom of God ( Matt 24:14) and the gospel of the grace of God
Anthony Casurella, “Gospel,” Dictionary of the L 9 ater New Testament & Its Developments, edited by Ralph
P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 431, reinds of the fact that “where they
occur in the later NT and the writings of the apostolic fathers, the words belonging to this group refer to the grace of
God in Christ rather than to a written gospel . . .”.
10Craig C. Broyles, “Gospel (Good News),” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel Green and
Scot McKnight (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 284.
11A. Boyd Luter, Jr. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 371.
(Acts 20:24).9 Benefits of the gospel are peace (Eph 6:15), salvation (Eph 1:13), rest (Heb 4) and
hope (Col 1:23). In Luke 4 “the content of this good news is . . . associated with proclaiming ‘liberty’
(aphesis), ‘recovery of sight’ and the ‘favorable year of the Lord.’”10 The recipients of Jesus’ message
who proclaims good news are especially the poor, afflicted, and oppressed.
Usage of euaggel- in the New Testament
euaggelion euaggelizomai euaggelist?s Total
Matthew 4 1 – 5
Mark 8 – – 8
Luke 2 (Acts) 25 1 28
John 1 (Rev) 2 (Rev) – 3
Paul 60 23 2 85
Peter 1 3 – 4
Totals 76 54 3 133
Paul uses the terms most frequently. Euaggelion and euaggelizomai are distinct features of
Pauline theology. For him the gospel represents the grace of God to which humans respond by faith.
However, the danger existed that this wonderful gospel would be distorted and become a different
gospel (Gal 1:6-7) by accepting circumcision and therefore returning to the law as a way of salvation.
Therefore, Paul contrasts the “different gospel” with the gospel preached by him (Gal 1:11), which
was Christ’s gospel (Gal 1:7). According to Paul the gospel has past, present, and future aspects.
“While the benefits of this gospel begin in the here and now of receiving the gospel, they are also the
believer’s eternal destiny.”11
The gospel is found in Gal 1:6,7,11; 2:2,5,7.14 and the 12 proclamation of the good news in Gal
13Peter Stuhlmacher, Revisiting Paul’s Doctrine of Justification. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001),
65, declares: “Therefore justification by faith alone is justification by virtue of the grace of God alone, which opens to
people the saving way of faith and gives them the power to live this way by the Holy Spirit.”
14Luter, 371. He points specifically to 2Cor 9:13-14 where both “the confession of the gospel of Christ” and
“the surpassing grace of God” are mentioned.
15Georg Strecker, Theology of the New Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 139, 140.
2. The Concept of Good News in the New Testament
In Galatians Paul uses the term euaggelion as well as the term euaggelizomai seven times
each.12 After having criticized the false gospel he continues to talk about being in Christ (Gal 1:22),
justification by faith and not by works (Gal 2:16; 3:11),13 redemption (Gal 3:13; 4:5), being clothed
with Christ (Gal 3:27), adoption (Gal 4:5), liberation (Gal 5:1), and divine grace (Gal 2:21; 5:4). It
can be assumed that these terms which describe the reality of salvation from various perspectives,
complementing each other, are part of the gospel of Christ that Paul proclaims. Luter notes: “At least
ten other passages in the Pauline literature also find ‘gospel’ and ‘grace’ employed in the same
immediate context, strongly implying that the only salvific channel of divine grace is the pure ‘truth
of the gospel’ (Gal 2:5, 14).”14
Because the gospel proclaims God’s redemptive activity through Christ’s substitutionary
death on the cross, providing forgiveness of sins and liberation from sin, from eternal death, and the
law as a way to salvation, salvation should not be limited to one aspect such as justification by faith
only. Although it is true that sinners are “justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which
is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24), “justified by faith apart from works of the law”–sola gratia and sola
fide–justification does not fully describe all aspects of salvation. Consequently,
Paul should not be made exclusively into a theologian of justification. . . The oldest Pauline
letter (1 Thessalonians) manifests no awareness of the doctrine of justification. . . The decisive
motivating factor in the development of the Pauline doctrine of justification is the
confrontation with his opponents. . . . it is only against the background of the doctrine of
liberation that the Pauline concept of justification can be interpreted aright. It is much more
than merely a legal doctrine about punishment and grace; its forensic, juridical character has
an ontological foundation.15
As in the OT so also in the NT the concept of the good news of God’s redemptive activity
17Friedrich, “Euaggelizomai,” 2:731.
18E.g., to euaggelion kataggellein–1Cor 9:14. However, prokataggellÇ–Acts 3:18; 7:52–is only slightly
similar to euaggeliozomai, and kataggeleus–Acts 17:18–is the messenger of foreign gods.
19Erwin Buck, “The Role of the Law in the New Testament: An Exegetical Paper,” in Lutherans & Adventists
in Conversation: Report and Papers Presented 1994-1998. (Silver Spring: General Conference of Seventh-day
Adventists, 2000), 134. On the same page he notes that the “instruction can have ethical, cultic, legal, political or other
content, but invariably it is understood that Torah is trustworthy instruction, in fact, it carries divine authority.”
cannot be limited to one word family. In the NT the root euaggel- is always a theological and never
a secular term. With only one exception,16 it describes the content or preaching of the gospel, the
good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Salvation achieved by Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and
resurrection was foreshadowed in the OT, came about “when the time had fully come” (Gal 4:4), and
is proclaimed from then until the end of historic time. Jesus himself is proclaimer and content of the
gospel. “If we were to sum up the content of the Gospel in a single word, it would be Jesus the
Christ.”17 There are various synonyms of euaggel-. These are mainly the roots aggel- and keryk-.18
These synonyms underline the importance of the proclamation of the gospel. There are other concepts
that describe what God through Christ has done for us. They all must be heard.
II. Old and New Testaments and the Law
God has not only provided salvation. He has also given his law. What is the role of the law
and how does it relate to salvation?
A. The Old Testament and the Law
1. The Law in General
The question dealing with the role of the law in salvation should not be addressed from a NT
perspective only. Since Jesus was rooted in the OT his disciples need to consider both OT and NT
when discussing important biblical concepts, because there is both continuity and discontinuity when
it comes to the relation between both testaments.
Originally tôr~h meant instruction.19 Not just in the NT but even in the OT the term tôr~h was
used to designate the Pentateuch. Joshua talked about “the book of the law of Moses” (Jos 8:31).
Marin J. Selman, “Law,” Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, edited 20 by Desmond Alexander and
David W. Baker (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 498.
22Brevard S.Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 57;
cf. Selman, 509.
23Cf. Selman, 509.
25In Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, annotated edition (Berrien Springs: Andrews
University Press, 2003), 105, the statement is found: “Correctly viewed, the moral law is much more than a legal code;
it is a transcript of the character of God.”
Selman points out that within the Pentateuch the tôr~h was understood in five different ways. “It can
refer to: (1) an individual pronouncement, (2) a group of laws on a single subject, (3) a particular
collection of laws, (4) a general description of God’s laws and (5) a combination of narrative and
law.”20 Tôr~h “involves (1) teaching of instruction to be learned, (2) commands to be obeyed and (3)
guidance about how to live in specific situations.”21
It is crucial to remember that tôr~h comes from God and reflects and reveals his will. As such
it is authoritative. It was also a gracious gift to his people, not intended to be a burden, but to enhance
their well-being and be “a clear sign of divine favour.”22 The written code was given after the people’s
liberation.23 Because God loved them (Deut 7:7-8), he gave them his commandments. Societies and
nations created and still establish laws which are supposed to organize and regulate them and provide
protection for their citizens. Although some of these state laws may be too restrictive or even
superfluous, many are also beneficial. God’s law was given to establish a loving relationship and
genuine communication between humans and their God and between humans themselves and to
transform “historical Israel into the people of God.”24
God’s law reveals his character25 and points to his holiness which should be emulated by his
people. “The close connection between God’s character and his law is also indicated by the fact that
the Bible finds the attributes of God in His law. Like God the law is righteous (Ps 119:172; Ezra
9:15), perfect (Ps 19:7; Matt 5:48), holy (Rom 7:12; Lev 19:2), good (Rom 7:12; Ps 34:8), and truth
Angel Manuel Rodriguez, “The Adventist Understanding of the 26 Law and the Sabbath,” (Silver Spring;
unpublished paper, n. d.), 1-2.
27Cf. Walter Kaiser, Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983),44-48; Selman, 500; Roy
Gane ”The Role of God’s Moral Law, Including Sabbath, in the ‘New Covenant,’” unpublished paper (Andrews
University, 2003), 7. This paper is made available by the Biblical Research Institute
28Selman, 501. Vos, 129, states that the Decalogue did not contain ceremonial commandments.
30Rodriguez, 2-4. Moses distinguished between the moral law of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1-17; Deut
5:6-21), which was written by God on two tables of stone (Exod 31:18; Deut 5:22) and was placed into the ark of the
covenant (Exod 40:20-21), and laws for Israel as a nation or ceremonial laws that ultimately pointed to the work and
(Ps 119:142; Deut 32:4).”26 In spite of the negative side of the tôr~h, namely when it is not observed
and curses are coming, the Psalmist rejoices in the law and professes that he loves it (Ps 119).
2. The Decalogue
OT laws have been categorized in various ways. Yet a strict distinction between them may
not have been intended and may not be possible. Nevertheless, one finds ceremonial laws, civil laws,
health laws, and moral laws or various law collections.27 Among all these laws the Ten
Commandments stand out. This is recognized by a number of scholars. Selman writes: “. . . they
clearly enjoyed a special role within ancient Israel. . . they occupy key positions at the head of the
laws in Exodus and Deuteronomy, their repetitive stylised language makes them particularly suitable
for memorizing, and they are quoted directly elsewhere in the OT (Jer 7:9; Hos 4:2; Ps 50; 81).”28
Childs holds: “. . . the Decalogue has been assigned a special place within th Old Testament
tradition, which is apparent by its form, terminology and position within the narrative.”29
Rodriguez lists eight points that emphasize the uniqueness of the Decalogue and elaborates
on them: “(1) They are located in a prominent place in the Pentateuch. . . (2) They were spoken by
God to the people . . . (3) They were addressed to every Israelite . . . (4) They were engraved on
stone tablets by Yahweh . . . (5) Their general nature: They are basically imperatives to be obeyed
under any circumstance, not limited to any specific period or by external circumstances in the life of
the Israelites. . . (6) They form the foundation of other law codes . . . (7) They have a specific name
. . . (8) They were placed inside the ark of the covenant . . .”30 One should add that the phrase “and
life of the Messiah and found their fulfillment in Jesus. The latter were written into a book and placed beside the ark
of the covenant (Deut 31:24-26).
Richard D. Nelson, Deuteronomy: A Commentary, The Old Testament 31 Library (Louisville: Westminister
John Knox Press, 2002), 84.
32Rodriguez, 5, lists the ten commandments and texts that show that the Decalogue was known before Sinai.
33Childs, 64-65; cf. Selman, 509.
34Cf. Ekkehardt Mueller, “The Sabbath Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12-17,” Journal of the Adventist
Theological Society, 14/2 (2003): 144, 145. Due to minor changes in the text of the Decalogue the Sabbath
commandment of Deut 5 takes the center position among the commandments (cf., 149).
he added no more” following the Ten Commandments (Deut 5:22) stresses that the Decalogue was
limited in content. No other commandments were part of it. It “highlights the special ‘canonical’
authority of the Decalogue.”31
However, the Decalogue was not limited in time. Although it was presented in written form
to Israel at Mt. Sinai, the commandments were already known before. Abraham kept God’s laws
(Gen 26:5).32 Not only do OT prophetic and wisdom books refer back to the Ten Commandments,
the NT does too. Jesus confirmed them and did not indicate that they had come to an end. He applied
them to his generation and pointed out their deeper meaning and importance for his followers.
Child makes another important observation: “The prologue makes clear from the outset that
the imperatives which now follow are understood as the will of God who had already delivered Israel
from bondage. . . Israel does not become the people of God by doing the commandments, but because
she has been chosen and redeemed, she receives the divine law as the proper response to God’s
grace.”33 The repetition of the Decalogue in Deut 5 in a sermon preached by Moses provides another
reason for keeping the Sabbath commandment. It is the more or less the same as provided in the
prologue. Whereas in Exodus the remembrance of the Sabbath is associated with creation, in
Deuteronomy God’s people is called to keep Sabbath as they remember their liberation.34 This would
imply that in the OT salvation is not completely different from salvation in the NT. In both cases the
law is excluded as a way to salvation. People are saved because of God’s grace, not because of
keeping the commandments. The OT does not support a legalistic approach to salvation versus a
grace-faith approach in the NT.
Jesus quoted the following text from the 35 Pentateuch: Gen 1:27; 2:24; Exod 3:6; 20:12-16,12,13,14; 21:17,24;
23:20; Lev 19:12,18,18,18; Deut 6:4,5,13,16; 8:3; 24:1.
36Donald A. Hagner, Matthews 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary 33A (Dallas: Word Books, Publisher, 1993),
106, writes: “Far from destroying the law Jesus’ teachings–despite their occasionally strange sound–penetrate to the
divinely intended (i.e., teleological) meaning of the law. Because the law and the prophets pointed to him and he is
their goal, he is able now to reveal their true meaning . . .” R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 114,
states: “Jesus is bringing that to which the Old Testament looked forward; his teaching will transcend the Old
Testament revelation, but, far from abolishing it, is itself its intended culmination.”
37Hagner, Matthews 1-13, 112.
B. The New Testament and the Law
Directly or indirectly the law occurs repeatedly in the NT. The Greek term nomos designates
the law as tôr~h did for the OT , while the term entol? specifies commandments. Nomos has different
shades of meaning. Like tôr~h it can designate the Pentateuch (Luke 16:29) or the OT. It also can
refer to various laws.
1. Jesus and the Law
The majority of Jesus’ Pentateuch quotations35 relate to the law. Six are found in the Sermon
on the Mount and about six more in other places in the gospels.
a. The Sermon on the Mount
An important part of the Sermon on the Mount focuses on the law. The term “law” is already
introduced in Matt 5:17 and the last time found in Matt 7:12. The reference to “the Law or/and the
Prophets” points to the entire OT. The first part of the material contained in this inclusion puts a
special focus on its legal aspects–Matt 5:17-48. In this major section Jesus discussed the law in six
antithesis. They include the Decalogue as well as other commandments. Jesus did not abolish the law
(Matt 5:17-19) but pointed out its real meaning and its far-reaching implications.36 Thus, he
developed his kingdom ethics.
The first two antitheses deal with two of the Ten Commandments, namely murder and
adultery. “Jesus deepens these commandments by internalizing them, i.e., by emphasizing the
underlying thoughts, which themselves condemn a person.”37 The following four antithesis do not
directly relate to the Decalogue but are taken from other parts of the Pentateuch. Obviously, some
38Hagner, Matthews 1-13, 134.
39The Markan report is more extensive than the Matthean. In Matthew Ex 20:12 and 21:17 are quoted first
before Jesus moves on to a quotation found in Isa 29:13. In Mark this order is reversed. The Exodus texts are used as
examples showing how the law of God is transgressed while performing a “pious” deed. Both Gospels discuss what
goes into the mouth and what comes out of the mouth and the heart.
OT laws were merely temporary concessions to the hardness of hearts of the Israelites, but did not
reflect God’s ideal, for instance, the regulations on divorce in Deut 24:1-4. This may to some degree
also apply to oaths and the lex talionis. Therefore, in Matt 5:31-32 Jesus stressed the indissolubility
of marriage, and later in Matt 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12 he argued with God’s ideal as presented in
Gen 1-2 and pointed back to it. The concession was replaced by God’s original will.
The main section on the law ends with and culminates in the love commandment taken from
Lev 19:18 (Matt 5:43) and in the call “to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” in his love
even to his enemies (Matt 5:48). This is certainly no accident. “For Matthew, to be te,leioj means to
fulfill the law through the manifestation of an unrestricted love (including even enemies) that is the
reflection of God’s love.”38 Jesus’ interpretation of the commandments dealing with murder, adultery,
divorce, taking oaths, and the lex talionis is summarized in the commandment to love one’s neighbor
and even one’s enemy. Jesus did not only point out how the Decalogue and other moral laws had to
be understood, he also stressed a comprehensive understanding of the love commandment in which
God’s law culminates.
b. God’s Law and the Tradition of the Elders
According to Matt 15 and Mark 7 Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees and scribes because
his disciples did not observe the tradition of the elders and ate without having washed their hands.
Jesus quoted the fifth commandment of the Decalogue and added Exod 21:17 showing that keeping
the traditions of the elders violated God’s law.39 This incidents supports Jesus’ claim made in the
Sermon on the Mount that he did not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” Jesus used the Ten
Commandments to reject unbiblical traditions. In Matt 15:4 the phrase “for God said” introducing
the fifth commandment is a strong antithetical statement criticizing the behavior of the pious in Israel.
In Mark 7:19 the phrase katharizÇn panta ta brÇmata is added, which is normally rendered:
E.g., France, The Gospel of Mark, 278-279, 291-292; W 40 illiam L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, New
International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 255-
41The issue in this passage is not clean versus unclean food. It is eating with unwashed, that is, unclean hands.
Jesus is not discussing the kind of food that can be eaten, but only the way it is eaten. Jesus is not addressing a biblical
issue but a tradition of the elders. The parallel text in Mt 15:1-20 is even clearer. It starts out with the problem of eating
food with unclean hands and refers to it again at the end of the passage (Mt 15:20). Furthermore, the text does not talk
about meat, but about food (bromata). To restrict it to meat only is to ignore the Greek meaning of the word. The
context talks about the bread that the disciples ate (verses 2, 5). “Purifying all food” (verse 19) is a comment by Mark
which refers to Jesus. It is not the digestive process which purifies the food, but Jesus declares food clean even if
consumed without the washing of hands.
42The list of vices in verses 21 and 22 includes three terms that refer to sexual sins and that remind us of the
seventh commandment. It also covers the third, sixth, eighth, probably the ninth, and the tenth of the Ten
“Thus he declared all foods clean,” and it is claimed that Jesus abolished the OT food laws.40
However, the question must be raised, if Jesus in a context, in which he deals with Jewish traditions
which at times even violate God’s law and in which he supports the validity of God’s commandments,
would himself alter a law found in the Pentateuch. Such an approach seems to be counterproductive.41
Gagnon wrestling with the issue of homosexuality which is indirectly found in Mark 7:21, namely in
the term porneia, states: “The saying in Mark 7:15-19 about what defiles a person is often cited as
proof that Jesus abolished the food laws. It is more likely that Jesus intended a hyperbolic contrast:
what counts most is not what goes into a person but what comes out . . . If Jesus did not abrogate
even such things as food laws and meticulous tithing, then it is impossible that he would have
overturned a proscription of sexual immorality as serious as that of male-male intercourse.” Jesus
claimed that God’s law must not be overturned by any religious practice or tradition.42
c. God’s Law and the Rich Young Ruler
According to Matt 19; Mark 10; and Luke 18 Jesus had a conversation with a rich young ruler
in which after the issue of personal salvation has been raised, Jesus turned to the law. He quoted five
of the Ten Commandments, all taken from the second part of the Decalogue: murder, adultery, theft,
false witness, and honoring father and mother. They follow the order of the MT with the exception
of the fifth commandment which comes at the end, possibly because it is the only commandment of
the five stated positively and containing the promise of a long life and “so ends on the note with which
Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, Word Biblical Commentary 34B (Nashville: 43 Thomas Nelson Publishers,
44See, e.g., Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Luke,
The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Edinburgh: T. & T.
Clark, 1964), 239; Walter Grundmann, Das Evangelium nach Markus, Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen
Testament 2 (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1980), 282.
45See, e.g., Evans, 96.
46See, e.g., Plummer, 239.
47France, The Gospel of Mark, 402.
the man’s question began.”43 The enumeration of the second table of the Ten Commandments remind
us of the Sermon on the Mount in which murder, adultery, and false oaths were stressed.
Mark adds one more, namely defraud (Mark 10:19). A number of commentators suggest that
this addition is either an indirect reference to the tenth commandment,44 a substitution of the tenth
commandment,45 or a special warning by Jesus to the rich man.46 France holds that the tenth
commandment may be missing because it focuses on thought rather than on behavior, and he goes
on to propose that the commandment not to defraud “is better seen simply as an attempt to draw out
in more behavioural terms the implications of the tenth commandment: appropriating someone else’s
possessions is likely to be a practical result of coveting.”47
However, another unique addition is found in Matt 19:19 only. It is the commandment to
“love your neighbor as yourself.” By employing this commandment Jesus summarizes all the previous
commandments without, however, anulling them. As in the Sermon on the Mount the preceding
commandments find their climax and their deepest meaning in the love commandment. Thus, by
employing the love commandment and stressing to be perfect–as in Matt 5:48–the present paragraph
must be understood in the light of the discussion of the law in the Sermon on the Mount.
When reading the passage dealing with the rich young ruler one may get the mistaken idea
that salvation is achieved by keeping the law. The ruler seemed to believe in a kind of righteousness
by works, because he asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”
(Matt 19:16). Since Jesus pointed to the commandments one may hastily conclude that Jesus
supported such an approach. The issue at hand is indeed eternal life, salvation, entering the kingdom
of heaven (Matt 19:16,17,23-25). However, the end of the passage makes it clear that “for human
The interpretation of the eye of a needle as the small city gate through which 48 a camel might go with great
difficulty is unwarranted and does not fit the context.
49Cf., France, The Gospel According to Matthew, 287.
50Donald A. Hagner, Matthews 14-28, Word Biblical Commentary 33B (Dallas: Word Books, Publisher, 1995),
558, remarks: “The discipleship of the kingdom is not simply a matter of obeying commandments; it requires an
absolute commitment . . . And this perfection is not simply a challenge offered to a special class of people in the
kingdom . . .; it is the call given to all who would enter the kingdom . . .”
51“There is One who is good” (Matt 19:17)–part of our previous section under discussion–may be an allusion
to the Shema. Cf., Hagner, Matthews 14-28, 557.
beings [it] is impossible” to be saved,48 “but with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). Humans
are not saved by keeping the commandments and are completely dependent on God for their
salvation.49 However, discipleship leads to obedience. Jesus makes it clear by quoting from the
Pentateuch that the law is important for his followers, but it must culminate in love. Complete
commitment to the Lord is necessary.50
d. The Greatest Commandment
According to Matt 22 and Mark 12 a scribe approached Jesus and asked him, “Teacher, which
is the greatest commandment in the law?” As in the beginning of his public ministry Jesus encountered
a threefold test so also shortly before the end of his earthly ministry. First, Jesus was asked whether
or not it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17). Then he was confronted with the denial
of the future resurrection of the dead (Mark 12:18:27). Finally, the question about the law came up
(Mark 12:28-34). Jesus answered with Deut 6:5, the commandment to love God, and with Lev 19:18,
the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
In Mark the scribe who raised the question, fares better than in Matthew. The section is more
elaborate, and the scribes repeats to a large extent Jesus’ answer adding an insightful commentary,
namely “to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and
to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33).
In Mark 12:29 Jesus quotes Deut 6:4 in addition to Deut 6:5: “Hear, o Israel! The Lord our
God is one Lord.” This text is one of the most important texts for Jews, the so-called Shema. The
commandment to love God is rooted in the Shema,51 in monotheism. Whereas Jesus previously had
52Hagner, Matthews 14-28, 648.
53Douglas J. Moo, “Law,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel Green and Scot McKnight
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 452.
only stressed love toward the neighbor, he now presents the ultimate commandment, the
commandment to love God. The discussion of the law in the Gospel of Matthew–initiated in the
Sermon on the Mount and carried on throughout the First Gospel–as well as the much more limited
discussion in Mark is brought to its climax by stating the greatest commandment, the commandment
to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. From such a love towards God
derives the love toward fellow humans. What Christianity is all about is first to love God, which
includes “reverence, commitment, and obedience,”52 and secondly to love others. The priority is
clearly established. By focusing on love toward God in addition to love toward humans Jesus now
indirectly presents the first and the second table of the Decalogue.
Commenting on this passage Moo states:
Never does he [Jesus] suggest that he or his followers are free on the basis of love to disobey
an authoritative commandment of Scripture. Nor does he dismiss the validity of
commandments according to whether or not they are loving. . . Jesus is not here teaching that
love replaces the Law or that love shows how we are to obey the Law. Rather, as the greatest
commandments within the Law, they are the touchstone by which the intention and meaning
of all the other commandments must be understood.53
He also confirms that Jesus never attacks the law, but “asserts its enduring validity.”54
Furthermore, it is not by obedience to the law that the Israelites attained their covenant relationship
with God. Obedience was “their response to the gracious initiative of God . . .”55
2. Paul and the Law
Paul discusses the law extensively in various letters. In these we find positive and negative
statements about the law. This paper does not allow for a study of all Pauline texts dealing with the
law. Its limit does not even allow to treat all difficult statements. However, in an exemplary way
Paul’s position is portrayed.
56Cf. Strecker, 141.
58George Knight in Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctirne, 112.
a. Paul’s Use of nomos
Although the Letters to the Romans and Galatians discusses to a large extent justification by
faith and other topics, Paul also addresses the issue of the law. The term “law” is used in different
ways by the same author and within the same document. In Romans the law refers to the Pentateuch
(Rom 3:21), the entire OT (Rom 3:19), a principle (Rom 7:23), and the Decalogue (Rom 7:7). In
1Corinthians 9:8-9 Paul talks about Mosaic commandments, which may not include the moral law,
and in Galatians 5:3 about the law in its entirety.56 The literary context must help to decide what is
meant. Strecker points out that Paul also uses the term entol? “which mostly denotes an individual
commandment (e.g. Rom 13:9; 1 Cor 7:19) but also can be equated with no,moj (Rom 7:8ff).”57
It seems to be a fact that some biblical laws are valid at all times of human history while others
have been superseded by new realities. Although all biblical laws ultimately came from God, they may
differ in scope and duration. For instance, the disappearance of the theocracy has made obsolete
certain theocratic laws. The formation of a new covenant people consisting of both Jews and Gentiles,
who accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord and who are dispersed all over planet earth, does not allow
for ownership of ancestral land as it was practiced in Israel. It also militates against a continuous
practice of the levirate marriage. New ethical demands which would return to God’s ideal plan were
called for by Jesus. Ceremonial laws that ultimately pointed to the work, life, and death of the
Messiah found their typological fulfillment in Jesus. Knight even suggests: “The main purpose of the
ceremonial law did not end at Calvary. Rather, the ministration it pointed to was transferred to Christ,
who now ministers as our high priest in the heavenly sanctuary. The ministration of the ceremonial
law functioned as a type that pointed to the work of Christ as antitype.”58 Gane states: “Ritual laws
dependent on the sanctuary/temple can no longer be applied, so obviously they are no longer required
. . . Some laws, such as circumcision, could be kept today but are not applicable because the NT has
removed the reason for them (Acts 15).”59 Access to the community of believers in the NT is through
61Cf. Rodriguez, 11.
62Strecker affirms: “When it is realized that the law cannot and should not have a soteriological meaning, then
the will of God in the Old Testament law can be discussed . . . In faith Jews and Gentiles acknowledge that the law,
in whatever manner they may have encountered it, is no means of salvation” (144).“ See also page 156.
baptism, not through circumcision. The question which law should still be kept has to be decided on
a one to one basis, as the decision by the Jerusalem council may indicate (Acts 15:20). Gane proposes
as a rule of thumb: “A biblical law should be kept to the extent that its principle can be applied unless
the New Testament removes the reason for its application.”60
Although early Christianity including Paul had to wrestle with the question which laws Gentile
believers had to keep, the major issue especially in Paul’s writings to the Galatians and the Romans
seems to have been the misuse of the law and the attempt to gain salvation by means of observing the
law. This situation may explain Pauline statements which at times sound almost contradictory. Paul
had to defend the gospel, and statements made under circumstances when the gospel is attacked will
be different from those made at times when it is possible to explain biblical doctrine without being
threatened by heresy.61 If this was the major problem for Paul, it did not matter which law was
affected. Paul had to show clearly that keeping the law, including the Decalogue, does not bring about
salvation.62 “He rejected the law as a method of salvation but upheld it as a standard for Christian
In 1Cor 9:20-21 when discussing his mission strategy of adaptation Paul carefully balanced
what he said. To those under the law he became like one under the law without actually being under
the law. To those without law, he became like a lawless person and yet was not free from the law.
He was not a legalist, neither was he an antinomian. This is also what he tried to do in the letter to
b. Paul and the Rejection of the Law
There are a number of statements which can be understood as negative, some even as a
rejection of the law. In Rom 3:20-21 Paul stresses that God’s righteousness, which aims at our
64Cf. Rodriguez, 14.
65I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel (Downers Grove: InterVarsity
Press, 2004), 319.
salvation, was revealed apart from the law. And indeed “by the works of the law no flesh will be
justified.” But through the law comes knowledge of sin. A similar statement occurs in Rom 3:28.
According to Rom 4:15 the law produces wrath. Christ is the end of the law (Rom 10:4). The law
could not give life (Gal 3:21). We were imprisoned under the law (Gal 3:23). The law which was a
barrier was abolished (Eph 2:15).
These statements make sense when understood as revealing the right functions of the law.
They point out the law’s limitations and the problems when the law was abused. The law reveals sins,
but it cannot save. The ceremonial ordinances which kept Jews and Gentiles apart were done away
with through Jesus’ death.64 According to Rom 7:9,10 Paul even admitted that instead of bringing
life the commandments caused sin to become alive and brought death. Marshall commenting on
Romans 7 writes: “There was nothing sinful about the law, but it did stimulate evil desires into action
and place Paul under condemnation. And yet, it was not really the law that ‘killed’ Paul. On the
contrary, it was the sinful nature in him, which the law exposed for what it really was. Paul, therefore,
upholds the law very positively in 7:12.”65
c. Paul and the Validity of the Law
Paul’s negative statements concerning the law must be understood on the background of
Paul’s positive attitude to the law, especially the Ten Commandments. In the Letter to the Romans
one finds indirect statements pointing to the validity of a law:
(1) Bringing about “the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles” is a purpose statement found
right at the beginning and the end of the letter (Rom 1,5; 15,18; 16,26). Paul wants Gentiles
to be obedient. However, obedience requires the existence of a law, otherwise one cannot be
(2) This is also true when it comes to obedience toward God (e.g., Rom 6:16). How to be
obedient to God, if his will is not revealed? However, if it is revealed, God’s will is also his
Thomas, R. Schreiner, “Law of Christ,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited 66 by Gerald F. Hawthorne
and Ralph P. Martin (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 544.
67Frank Thielman, “Law, ” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P.
Martin (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 536. Cf. page 539.
(3) Paul makes it clear that knowledge of sin comes through the law. Without law no recognition
of sin (Rom 3:20; 7:7). Paul does not deny the existence of sin. Why would he otherwise talk
about justification. Yet, if sinners are being justified they need to be identified as sinners first.
This requires a law.
(4) The necessity to exhort believers to live a moral life (e.g., Rom 12:17.19.21; 13) presupposes
the existence of a valid law. Therefore, Paul can state that the law is not nullified but
established (Rom 3:31).
The Decalogue is mentioned directly in several places in Romans. In Romans 2:21-23 Paul
refers to the Decalogue which the Jews had but did not keep. He does not talk about the “Ten
Words” but the “law.” However by mentioning the seventh and eight commandments it becomes clear
that this law is the Decalogue.
According to Romans 7:7,12 the law shows what sin is. The reference to the tenth
commandment in verse 7b indicates that Paul has in mind the Ten Commandments. They are holy,
righteous, and good.
In Romans 13:8-10 Paul summarizes the law in the commandment of love. He mentions the
sixth, seventh, ninth, and tenth commandments of the Decalogue. Therefore, the law of Rom 13 must
be the Decalogue. Schreiner dealing with Galatians and Romans discusses the commandment of love:
Is the ‘law of Christ’ for believers limited to the law of love? Yes and no. Love is the
heartbeat and center of the Pauline ethic. And yet even in Galatians Paul unfolds the true
nature of love by delineating what is not loving (Gal 5:15, 19-21, 26) and what is (Gal 5:22-
23; 6:1-2, 6-10). A comparison of Galatians 5:14 with Romans 13:8-10 shows that for Paul
the moral norms of the OT Law must be included when one is defining love. Otherwise love
collapses into sentimentality and vagueness.66
An interesting statement is found in 1Corinthians 7:19 where Paul distinguishes between
different laws and maintains that it is important to keep the commandments of God: “Circumcision
is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of
God.” “Clearly, for Paul, ‘the Law’ was valid in some form for members of the new covenant.”67
The term entol? is found four times in Hebrews and seems to refer 68 to the law of Moses–Heb 7:5,10,18; 9:19.
The term nomos occurs fourteen times in the epistle–Heb 7:5,12,16,19,28,28; 8:4,10; 9:19,22; 10:1,8,16,28). Quite
frequently it also points to the Mosaic law. However, the central part of the letter contains two references to the law
being written in the hearts of the believers.
69Gerhard F. Hasel, Covenant in Blood (Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1982), 77, 106.
70Victor C. Pfitzner, Hebrews, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997),
3. Other NT Authors and the Law
a. The Letter to the Hebrews
What about the law in the setting of the new covenant? On one hand, the author stresses the
necessity of a change of the law (Heb 7:12), namely the Mosaic law, which was only a shadow of the
things to come (Heb 10:1,28).68 That specific system of law was fulfilled in Jesus. The many sacrifices
offered year after year were not able to make perfect those who offered them, but the sacrifice of
Jesus is all-sufficient. On the other hand, in the old covenant as well as in the new covenant another
particular law is included and is valid. Under the new covenant the law is now written on the hearts,
is thus internalized, and is not abolished (Heb 8:10).
Hasel suggests: “The giving of the law is as much an act of grace as God’s gift of election.
The giving of the law is as much an act of mercy as the deliverance from Egyptian slavery. The gift
of the law is just as much an act of God’s love as the making of the covenant to which the law
belongs . . . God does not speak of a new law, but of a new covenant.”69 Pfitzner talks about
believers doing “the will of God not by external compulsion, but from willingness that arises from the
heart.”70 He mentions inner obedience and states: “That he has done God’s will in offering himself
makes it possible for the people of the new covenant to do God’s will (10:7, 9, 16).”71
In Hebrews we find evidence for the existence of a law which is still valid: (1) The reality of
sin requires a law which can judge what is sin and what is not sin (Heb 8:12; 12:1). (2) The author
repeatedly mentions a good conscience. To have a good conscience is dependent on the existence of
some kind of standard or yardstick. This is not only an inner feeling but an external law. It is possible
to have a good conscience, when an existing law is being obeyed (Heb 9:9,14; 10:2; 13:18). (3)
Disobedience (Heb 3:18; 4:6,11) and obedience (Heb 5:9) as well as doing God’s will (Heb 10:7;
Craig R. Koester, Hebrews, The 72 Anchor Bible 36 (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 391.
73William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary 47A (Dallas: Word Books, Publisher, 1991),
209), 209, 209.
74David A.DeSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle “to the
Hebrews” (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 285.
75Cf. Robert H. Smith, Hebrews, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament (Minneapolis: Augsburg
Publishing House, 1984), 65.
13:21) presuppose the a existence of a law that should be kept. (4) Since lawlessness is criticized
(Heb 10:17), God wants his law to be observed.
This is generally recognized. “Placing his ‘laws’ within people, God overcomes human
‘lawlessness” (Heb 10:17; cf. 1:9) by bringing about complete trust in and obedience to his will . . .”72
“The quality of newness intrinsic to the new covenant consists in the new manner of presenting God’s
law and not in newness of content. The people of God will be inwardly established in the law and
knowledge of the Lord.”73 Finally DeSilva observes that this verse (Heb 8:10)
clearly resonates with his interest throughout the sermon in the believers’ living so as to
‘please’ God and to avoid what he hates (12:16-17, 28; 13:15-16, 21), fixing their hearts on
God and his favor in loyal trust (3:12-13; 13:9), obeying God’s commands to them (4:11),
and living out the love of neighbor that is at the heart of God’s law (6:9-12; 10:24-25, 32-36;
This law cannot be the law of Moses, since the author indicated that it was just a shadow and
was insufficient. However, the author of Hebrews recognizes that the saved will keep God’s law and
he alludes to commands that are still valid. It seems that he had in mind at least the Decalogue and
its summary in the commandments to love God and the neighbor:
(1) Falling away from God and godlessness (Heb 3:12; 6:6; 12:16) may indirectly point to a
violation of the first and maybe even the second commandments which call the audience not
to have any other god beside the Almighty (Exod 20:2-3) and not to create any image of God
(2) In Heb 4:4 the Sabbath is indirectly mentioned. The verse contains a quotation from Gen 2:2
which in turn is taken up again in Exod 20:11. God rested on the seventh day, the Sabbath.
Heb 4:9 introduces the word sabbatismos rendered as “Sabbath rest,”75 “sabbath
DeSilva, 166. He writes: “The sabbath had been regarded as a type of the 76 eschatological ‘rest,’ which would
come after God’s rule was established on earth but before the new creation. It was a symbol of the resurrection at the
end of time (Adam and Eve 51.2-3) and also the millennial kingdom (Barn. 15.3-8).” See also Koester, 272, who points
to Isa 58:13-14; 66:23 as well as to Rabbinical and deutero-canonical sources when dealing with Sabbath observance
and rest. Lane, 101-102, states that in its only non-Christian appearance sabbatismos means Sabbath observance. “In
four other documents from the patristic period that are independent of Heb 4:9, the term denotes the celebration or
festivity of the Sabbath (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 23.3; Epiphanius, Against All Heresies 30.2.2; The Martyrdom
of Peter and Paul, chapt. 1; Apost. Const. 2.36.2; discussed by Hofius, Katapausis, 103-6). The term received its
particular nuance from the Sabbath instruction that developed in Judaism on the basis of Exod 20:8-10, where it was
emphasized that rest and praise belong together . . .” Pfitzner, 80-81, suggests “that God’s own resting from the work
of creation is an archetype for the final rest promised to Christians (see vv. 9-10). The two texts, linked through the
common word ‘rest,’ were already associated in the sabbath liturgy of the Greek-speaking synagogue; Ps 95:1-11 and
Gen 2:1-3 were readings on the sabbath eve . . . Jewish tradition saw the sabbath as a symbol of eschatological
salvation. . . “
77Cf. Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The New International Greek Testament Commentary
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 255; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, revised edition, New International
Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 109.
78Opinions differ if (1) the rest is a present reality for believers pointing to salvation, (2) the eschatological
rest in the future kingdom of God , or (3) both. For an extensive discussion see DeSilva, 153-169. Harald Hegermann,
Der Brief an die Hebräer, Theologischer Handkommentar zum Neuen Testament 16 (Berlin: Evangelische
Verlagsanstalt, 1988), 102, seems to favor the first option. De Silva obviously opts for the second. Lane, 99, 102,
Samuele Bacchiocchi, Divine Rest for Human Restlessness: A Theological Study of the Good News of the Sabbath for
Today (Berrien Springs: published by author, 1980) 137-138, and Roy E. Graham, “A Note on Hebrews 4:4-9″ in The
Sabbath in Scripture and History, edited by Kenneth A. Strand (Washington: Review and Herald Publishing
Association, 1982), 343-345, may support (3).
79Gane, 15. See also page 14.
observance”76 or “sabbath-keeping.”77 The paragraph talks about Sabbath rest for God‘s
people which certainly is more than resting on the seventh day,78 but does not exclude it.
Although the rest and the Sabbath-keeping of Heb 4, if accepted by faith, means
eschatological salvation and a life in peace with God, it does not follow that the seventh day
Sabbath is a temporary institution under the old covenant done away with under the new
covenant. Heb 4 links the Sabbath to creation. However, the Fall had not happened and sin
was not present at that time and the Sabbath was not instituted in Paradise as a symbol of rest
in the sense of removal of sin and salvation. Furthermore, as Gane shows, “Because the life
of rest was available in Old Testament times, at the same time when the weekly Sabbath was
in operation for the Israelites, the weekly Sabbath cannot be a historical type of the life of
rest. Rather, it is an eternal memorial of Creation.”79 Hebrews 4 reminds us of the Sabbath
commandment (Exod 20:8-1; Deut 5:12-15).
Cf. Hans K. LaRondelle, “Israel in Biblical Prophecy,” Ministry, January 2007:20-80 21. He also stresses the
continuity of the covenants by stating: “Gentiles have no other covenant with God than God’s covenant with Israel.
Jesus made His new covenant with twelve Jewish believers. He based it on His self-sacrifice as the fulfillment of the
sacrifices of the old covenant. Thus ‘Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant’ (Heb. 7:22, NIV). In Romans
11 Paul portrays the continuity of God’s covenants by a single olive tree for both Israel and the church” (20). He also
stresses that “the decisive issue in God’s covenant with Israel is faith in Jesus as the righteous Messiah and
representative of all humanity’ (20).
(3) The respect that we give to our fathers may hint at the fifth commandment which calls us to
honor father and mother (Heb 12:9; Exod 20:12).
(4) Adulterers are mentioned in Heb 13:4. The issue of adultery reminds us of the seventh
commandment (Exod 20:14): “You shall not commit adultery.” The same Greek word family
is used for “adulterers” in Hebrews 13:4.
(5) To be content with what one has and not to covet money (Heb 13:5) may point to the tenth
commandment which warns against coveting (Exod 20:17).
(6) Believers have shown love toward God’s name (Heb 6:10) which points to the command to
love God (Deut 6:5; Matt 22:37).
(7) Believers need also to love the Christian brothers (Heb 13:1) which alludes to the command
to love each other (John 13:34-35) and by extension one’s neighbor (Lev 19:18; Matt 22:39).
What that means is clarified within the following verses: hospitality, care for prisoners, respect
for marriage and no adultery, no coveting but contentedness. Some of these commandments
have just been mentioned. This arrangement in Hebrews 13 suggests that the commandment
to love summarizes other commandments including the Decalogue but does not abolish it.
Such a result is not surprising, because it is in agreement with what we find in other NT
writings. The covenant is also mentioned in the Letter to the Romans. According to Romans 9:4
Israel had the covenants and the law. Rom 11:26-27 states that all Israel, Gentile and Jewish
Christians, will be saved on the basis of the new covenant (Jer 31:33-34).80 The law in Romans has
already been discussed above, especially the Decalogue. The Ten Commandments are the law of
liberty and the standard in the judgment process being observed by the new covenant community (Jam
In sum, the new covenant assumes the validity of a law which, however, is written in the heart
of the recipients of the covenant. This law cannot be the Mosaic law, because it did not accommodate
81John 14:15; 15:10,10; 1John 2:3,4; 3:22; 5:3,3; Rev 12:17, 14:12.
82Thomas R. Schreiner, “Law,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, edited by Ralph
P. Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 646.
the new sacrifice and priesthood although pointing to it. Allusions to the Ten Commandments as well
as to the law to love God and neighbor with all one’s heart, soul, and mind suggest that the author
of Hebrews had in mind at least the Decalogue and its summary in the double commandment to love
God and humanity when he referred to the law that is interiorized in the new covenant believers. This
is in agreement with the picture that emerges in other NT writings. The new covenant does not make
obsolete the Ten Commandments.
b. The Johannine Literature
The term nomos is found in John’s Gospel only, not in the letters, and not in Revelation. On
the other hand, entol? occurs in the entire Johannine body. A thorough investigation of all terms has
to wait for another study. What is remarkable is that the phrase “to keep the commandments” is found
in the Gospel of John, the first letter, and the Apocalypse.81 Schreiner observes:
R. E. Brown has remarked that there is a close connection between ‘word’ (logos) and
‘commandment’ (entol?) in Johannine writings. This is borne out by 1 John 2:3-6 where
knowing God is described in terms of keeping ‘his commandments’ (1 Jn 2:3-4) and also as
‘keeping his word’ (1 Jn 2:5; cf. 2:7). The ‘commandments’ and the ‘word’ probably hearken
back to the ‘ten words’ (Ex 34:28) Moses inscribed upon the stone tablets.82
In Revelation the remnant/saints keep the commandments (Rev 12:17;14:12). The context
seems to suggest that these are the Ten Commandments. The short introductory scene (Rev 11:19)
to the central vision of Revelation (Rev 12-14) mentions the ark of the covenant, which among other
things reminds of the Decalogue contained in it. The issue of true and false worship running through
chapter 13 refers to the first two of the Ten Commandments (Rev 13:4,8,12,14,15; 14:7). Blasphemy
points to the third commandment (Rev 13:6). The messages of the three angels in Rev 14 concludes
with the saints who have the faith of/in Jesus and keep the commandments. They begin with an
Heaven, earth, and sea is the language of the Sabbath commandment. 83 Either Rev 14:7 refers back to Exod
20:11 directly or via Acts 4:24.
85Seventh-day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine, 123.
86Rodriguez, 19, talks about a theological function of the law, a political function, and a didactic function.
allusion to the forth commandment.83 The sixth commandment may be referred to in Rev 12:4,15. The
faithful believers depend on the blood of Jesus (Rev 12:11), cling to him by faith (Rev 13:10; 14:12),
and keep God’s commandments. Salvation as a gift from God which is accepted by the individual
(Rev 5:9; 7:14; 22:14,17) and keeping God’s law is not seen as something incompatible by John or
the other authors of the NT. On the contrary, the two belong together, although obedience does not
III. The Relation Between Gospel and Law
Strecker is undoubtedly correct in his observation that
The distinction between law and gospel that became prominent in Reformation theology was
unknown to the apostle Paul. When the apostle speaks of the euvagge,lion, he thinks of the
proclamation of the Christ event but not the juxtaposition of law/gospel or gospel/law. So
also for Paul the concept of no,moj is not made more precise by making it an alternative to
“What is commonly overlooked and little understood in this present conflict between law and
grace is that the issue is not between these two principles, as such, but between the abuse of the law,
on the one hand and grace on the other.”85 What then is the function of the law?86
(1) The nature of God’s law is love. It is designed to guide humanity the right way, foster good
relationships with God and each other, and allow for a harmonious and fulfilled life. It is the
law of liberty keeping humans from demonic enslavement. Christians keep it, because they
(2) In the case sin occurs a secondary function of the law becomes evident. Now the law points
out human’s sinfulness, brokenness, and alienation from God. It condemns the sinner. Like
a mirror it shows humans their ugliness in view of a holy God. But the law cannot help or
save. It creates the longing and desire for something better. Yet even this second function has
Peter H. Eldersveld, Of Law and Love (Grand R 87 apids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954),
88Matthew Simpson, Lectures on Preaching (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1906), Lecture 4, 129.
89John A. Mackay, The Presbyterian Way of Life, (Englewood Cliffs Prentice-Hall, 1960) 153.
positive aspects, because sinners may realize that they are dependent on help by a power
greater than they are and that they need salvation.
(3) Thus, the law leads sinners to Jesus, who saves them. It has been said that “Mount Calvary
is only for those who have been to Mount Sinai.”87 Those who are willing to face reality and
be shocked by the abysses in their life, will quite likely desire salvation.
(4) Finally, those who are by the law led to Jesus as their Savior and Lord, will be led by Jesus
to a life of obedience. This life of love and obedience is a sign of gratitude for salvation
already received (Ps 119:70; Jer 31:33; Heb 10:16,17).
Rightly understood law and gospel belong together. Matthew Simpson has said: “The law
without Gospel is dark and hopeless; the Gospel without the law is inefficient and powerless.”88 And
John Mackay observed: “Apart from the Law, the Gospel cannot be understood or be more than mere
sentimentalism. Apart from the Gospel the Law cannot escape becoming pure moralism.”89 Law and
Gospel should not be treated as contrasts. The problem is not God’s law. The problem is the abuse
of God’s gifts by sinful humanity.