Law in Galatians


Since I studied Galatians in the beginning part of the year, I have thought about the subject of Law off and on. For the most part in Galatians (and other Pauline epistles), Law is considered in a negative light, and it serves as one of the main contrasts with Faith. Reading the strong language of Paul, it is tempting to disdain law in general and in particular, the Law of Moses. A fuller reading of Galatians and Scripture should give us pause from taking such a stand.

A couple of points should be noted in this regard. First, the Old Testament Law was not evil. It was good and right, and it served an important function. The problem was a misappropriation of the Law for a purpose it was never intended to serve. The Law had to be understood in light of God’s ultimate purpose in Jesus Christ. It was never intended to be permanent, and it was never intended to provide ultimate justification before God.

Second, Paul makes a surprising move, and highlights Law in a positive sense in chapters 5-6. Paul states that love for neighbor fulfills the “whole law” (5:14). In Gal. 6:2, Paul commands the people to bear one another’s burdens, in order to fulfill the “law of Christ.” The point is that Christian freedom does not constitute unrestrained license. Paul is not an anti-nomian. Christians have a new life completely shaped by the activity and character of God through the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus. And there are expectations for this new life, chiefly characterized by love. There are behaviors that are bound upon the Christian. There is something in Christ that serves as law.

Yet, having this said, the concept of the law of Christ is relatively sparse in the writings of the New Testament. There are other concepts at play like the master/servant relationship, obedience, and the concept of a covenant or testament. Additionally, there are commands, virtue and vice lists, and theological reflection to lead the Christian mind into a certain way of thinking.

When you put all this together, how does one arrive at the expectations for Christian behavior? What exactly is this law and how is it identified? How can the gospel be faithfully proclaimed and practiced within different cultures, times, and geographical locations? Do all matters found in the New Testament function as law (something to be obeyed without question)? Do all matters found in the New Testament function as a guiding principle (questions must be asked and determinations must be made but considerations of principles should lead in a general direction)? Or, is it a mix of laws and principles and if so, how is it determined? What can be learned from the OT? How does the OT and NT differ in its presentation of law?

These are some of the questions that I have been thinking through. I guess I can take consolation in the fact that many of the same questions have been asked for centuries by Christians. Possibly more posts to come.

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