Troublesome Topic: Paul and the Purpose of the Law

Lesson 4 of 8

I am convinced that Paul did understand that the Law was not intended to save but rather to teach principles. That is why he called the Law his tutor (Gal 3:24). But there was a common misconception among the Jews that salvation came to them by following the Law. The Gentile onlookers observed this perspective by the Jews, and therefore Paul had to address that issue. Paul was hard on the Law because of the tenacity with which others held to their misconceptions about it. Paul did not throw out everything about the Law. He did not say that the law had no value at all, rather he said that we should not rely on it (for salvation). Paul understood that the principles carried over to the New Testament, but the regulations did not.

If this topic interests you, I encourage you to read all the passages where Paul talks about the Law (provided below) and confirm for yourself that Paul understood that the New Covenant is about the principles, not the regulations. (The portions inside <  > are my comments explaining why I think Paul saw that the law’s purpose was to teach principles, not to save. As you can see, I still lack much work in this area.)

Be aware that Paul uses the word Law in various ways, not always of the Law given through Moses.

(The quotes below are from the NET Bible because I have not translated and paraphrased very many of these yet.)

All the Passages Where Paul Uses the Word Law or Implies it

Rom 2:12        For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Rom 2:13        For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous. <Not the ones who learn the detailed regulations, but those who follow the principles>

Rom 2:14        For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. <Gentiles can be a law unto themselves when they obey the principles – they don’t know the specific regulations, but they can be righteous by following the principles>

Rom 2:15        they show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them.

Rom 2:17        But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relationship to God

Rom 2:18        and know his will and approve the superior things because you receive instruction from the law

Rom 2:20        an educator of the senseless, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the essential features of knowledge and of the truth

Rom 2:23        You who boast in the law dishonor God by transgressing the law!

Rom 2:25        For circumcision has its value if you practice the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision

Rom 2:26        will not the uncircumcised who keep the law be regarded as circumcised?

Rom 2:27        Therefore if the uncircumcised man obeys the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?  <Verse 25 sounds like salvation comes through the law, but he is repeating the common thinking of the Jews in his day. VV 26 and 27 make clear that it is the principles that matter, not keeping the outward shell of the law.>

Rom 3:19        Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God

Rom 3:20        For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. <the purpose of the law is to become conscious of sin, not to be declared righteous>

Rom 3:21        But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed

Rom 3:28        For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.

Rom 3:31        For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.

Rom 4:13        For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

Rom 4:14        For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified

Rom 4:15        For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either <but it cannot remove guilt>

Rom 4:16        For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants – not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.

Rom 5:13        for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law <the law defines sin and establishes consequences for it>

Rom 5:20        Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, <so sin would be more obvious>

Rom 6:14        or sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

Rom 6:15        What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not!

Rom 7:1          Or do you not know, brothers and sisters (for I am speaking to those who know the law),  that the law is lord over a person as long as he lives?

Rom 7:2          For a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of the marriage.

Rom 7:3          So then, if she is joined to another man while her husband is alive, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she is joined to another man, she is not an adulteress.

Rom 7:4          So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you could be joined to another, to the one who was raised from the dead, to bear fruit to God.

Rom 7:5          For when we were in the flesh, the sinful desires, aroused by the law, were active in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.

Rom 7:6          But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code.

Rom 7:7          What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! Certainly, I would not have known sin except through the law. For indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”

Rom 7:8          But sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of wrong desires. For apart from the law, sin is dead.

Rom 7:9          And I was once alive apart from the law, but with the coming of the commandment sin became alive <by comparison>

Rom 7:10        and I died. So I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life brought death.

Rom 7:11        For sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it I died

Rom 7:12        So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.

Rom 7:13        Did that which is good, then, become death to me? Absolutely not! But sin, so that it would be shown to be sin, produced death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.    

Rom 7:14        For we know that the law is spiritual – but I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin.

Rom 7:16        But if I do what I don’t want, I agree that the law is good <It has identified sin>

Rom 7:21        So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me.

Rom 7:22        For I delight in the law of God in my inner being.

Rom 7:23        But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members.

Rom 7:25        Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Rom 8:2          For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.        

Rom 8:3          For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh

Rom 8:4          o that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.        

Rom 8:7          because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so

Rom 9:4          who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises.

Rom 9:31        but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it

Rom 9:32        Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone

Rom 10:4        For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.

Rom 10:5        For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them

Rom 13:8        Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law

Rom 13:10      Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

1 Cor 9:9         For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he?

1 Cor 9:20       To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law.

1 Cor 9:21       To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law.

1 Cor 14:21     It is written in the law: “By people with strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, yet not even in this way will they listen to me,” says the Lord.

1 Cor 14:34     the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says.

1 Cor 15:56     The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

Gal 2:16            yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

Gal 2:19          For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God.

Gal 2:21          I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!

Gal 3:2            The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law4 or by believing what you heard?

Ga’ 3:5            Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?

Gal 3:10          For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law.

Gal 3:11          Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith.

Gal 3:12          But the law is not based on faith, but the one who does the works of the law will live by them.

Gal 3:13          Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)

Gal 3:17          What I am saying is this: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise. (Compare my Translation and Paraphrase – Galatians 3:17)

Gal 3:18          For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise. (Compare my Translation and Paraphrase Galatians 3:18)

Gal 3:19          Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary.

Gal 3:21          Is the law therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.

Gal 3:23          Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed.

Gal 3:24          Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. (Compare my Translation and Paraphrase Galatians 3:24)

Gal 4:4            But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.

Gal 4:5            to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.

Gal 4:21          tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not understand the law … <see the rest of the discussion through vs 30>

Gal 5:1           (The word law is not used but it is implied) For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.

Gal 5:2           – Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all!

Gal 5:3            And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

Gal 5:4          You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace!

Gal 5:6          – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight – the only thing that matters is faith working through love.

Gal 5:11        – Now, brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed

Gal 5:14          Now, brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed

Gal 5:18          but if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Gal 5:23          gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Gal 6:2            Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ

Gal 6:13          For those who are circumcised do not obey the law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised so that they can boast about your flesh.

Eph 2:15         when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace,

Php 3:5            I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee.

Php 3:6            In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless.

Php 3:9            and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.

1 Tim 1:7        They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently.

1 Tim 1:8        But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately,

1 Tim 1:9        realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, …

Tit 3:9             But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, quarrels, and fights about the law, because they are useless and empty.

The next lesson in all three series on Covenants is: Love Rather than Fear