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The Apostle Paul mentions being “under the law” in 7 places in his letters. All uses of this phrase are in Romans or Galatians, except for one which is in I Corinthians.
I will address each of these scriptures in different teachings but today I will address only the two scriptures in Romans.
But first, what is the relationship between the New Testament to the “law” of the Old Testament?
The commonly applied name “old”, in fact, implies that it has been replaced with something “new”.
The relationship between the two has been discussed and disputed since the time of the apostles and no one gives this fiery discussion more “fuel” than the Apostle Paul. After all it is in Paul's writings that we find all of the controversial references to “under the law”, “works of the law”, “law of sin and death”, “law of righteousness”, law of Christ”, “law of God”, as well as some others, so no wonder we could have such confusion and chaos over the matter of “the law”.
I wish I could sit down and have a discussion about these things with Paul (Shaul) but since that is impossible, how do we decipher all of these obscure passages?
What exactly is the law anyway?
The word “law” in English translations is the Greek word nomos. The word nomos refers to the Hebrew word Torah (teachings and instructions) of God which were given to Moses at Mt. Sinai and then passed on to the people.
However, complications arise because there is another nomos or torah of the Jews which Paul speaks about. This is the oral torah which they say was handed down to Moses orally and was not written down until well after the life times of Yeshua's first century disciples. The Oral Torah was the “traditions of the fathers” and it was considered to be on a higher level than that of the written Torah of Moses.
There are many “teachings and instructions” contained within the written Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy) so exactly which “teaching and instruction” is Paul referring to when he speaks about “the law” or being “under the law”.
The only way for us to understand his “law” analogy is to step back and critically analyze Paul's belief system: who was he, how did he live his life, what did he say about himself, and what was his “gospel” to the nations, and how did this “gospel” differ from the message that was being delivered to the Jews of his day?
I can't cover all of these questions in one teaching but, I can start by covering some basics to start us on our journey of understanding:
What is the Law
As I said already the word nomos comes from Hebrew word Torah. Torah comes from the root word “yarah” which means “to set up as an archer shooting at a target”.
The target is the teachings and instructions of God or the way that God directs mankind to live holy before Him.
The Hebrew word for sin as well as the word for sin in Greek means “to miss the mark”, “to go astray”. Therefore, we can see the “archer” in this. When the target is missed the arrow goes astray – we have sinned.
Mankind has never been able to keep God's teachings and instructions. It is our problem now and has always been the problem. We are all guilty of “missing the mark”.
Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
Ezekiel 18:20 “the soul that sins shall die”
Is 64:6 Our righteousness is as filthy rags
In Romans 3:9-19 Paul begins quoting from OT Scripture about our guilt of sin.
Verse 9 - “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all, for we have previously accused both Jews and Greeks that they ARE ALL under sin.”
Verse 19 ends with “And we know that whatever the Torah says, it says to those who are Under the Torah, so that every mouth might be stopped, and ALL THE WORLD come under judgment before Elohim.”
This is our first scripture in Romans where Paul uses the phrase “under the law (Torah)”, and what does he tell us? First, in verse 9 he stated that both Jew and Greek were all guilty of sin, in verse 10-18 he quotes from the OT telling us some ways that we have all sinned and then in verse 19 he states that “the whole world will come under judgment" of God because we are all “under the Torah” (teachings and instructions) and this shuts the mouths of everyone in the world (for we are all guilty before God). The Apostle Paul states that the Torah is the very thing that brought our guilt.
Besides this verse:
How do we know what sin is?
I John 3:4 tells us plainly:
“Whoever commits sin transgresses also the Torah (nomos) for sin is the transgression of the Torah (nomos).”
A better translation of that verse is “Everyone doing sin also is without torah and sin is being without torah (anomia – without law). So Torahlessness!
When was God's Torah established
Most modern Christians believe the Torah was established at Mt. Sinai, but we read about Abraham in Genesis 26:4-5
“And I shall increase your seed like the stars of the heavens, and I shall give all these lands to your seed. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,because Aḇraham obeyed My voice and guarded My Charge: My commands, My statutes, and My laws.”
Now, the last word here “laws” is torot, it is the plural of Torah.
We find these same words used over and over throughout the OT that we were commanded to keep: Yahweh's commands (mitsvah), His statutes (Chok – something presribed, boundaries, decrees) and His Torah.
But, what is interesting is that it says that Abraham KEPT Yahweh's CHARGE. In Hebrew:
Charge – mishmereth - “ordinance, injunctions, obligations,” So, Abraham kept Yahweh's ordinances, injunctions, and obligations.
Kept – shamar - “my watch, to guard, observe, have charge over, protect, preserve, to hedge about, to serve as a subject”
We find this same word used in Genesis 2:15
“And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”
The word keep in this scripture is shamar.
So, one would have to wonder - who were they to "guard" the Garden from? No evil people yet existed on the earth. Just maybe they were to guard it from the evil one himself. Since we know that God doesn't like the mixing and mingling of seeds, perhaps they didn't guard it from the evil one himself and they let him get in and plant the seed that grew the tree of the knowledge of GOOD AND EVIL - A MINGLED TREE?
So Abraham and Adam and Eve were given these same commands, teachings and instructions to “guard”. But Adam and Eve did not keep them.
So, God chose out a man from which would come a people who would keep these laws. That man was Abraham.
By the time of Mt. Sinai, after the Egyptian bondage, the teachings and instructions had been corrupted so God RE-INTRODUCED his Torah, commands, and statutes at Mt. Sinai and this time in writing.
God told them that if they broke His teachings and instructions then they would fall under the curses listed in Deuteronomy 27:11-26 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68. This is quite an extensive list. This is why we are all guilty. These are the curses Yeshua nailed to the cross as referenced in Colossians 2:14 and Galatians 3:13.
While the Torah brought our death because we broke it, in Messiah our debt has been paid so that we are no longer “under the law of sin and death”, but instead Torah has now made us Righteous (above the law of sin and death) and we can “hit the target” which we were trying to hit all along but couldn't.
In Messiah we no longer have to “miss the mark'' (sin), that is why in Romans 6:14-15 he could state that “sin no longer rules over us”.
We now have an advocate with the Father for forgiveness of our sins, the “goal” of the Torah has come – the Messiah – Yeshua HaMashiach, Jesus the Christ.
The relationship between the OT and the NT is this:
It is the Older Covenant and the Renewed Covenant. One does not replace the other. The Renewed covenant tells us about the coming of the one who was the “seed” of Abraham and will usher in this Renewed Heaven and Renewed earth, the Renewed Kingdom of Yahweh that only the Righteous will inherit who will now keep, guard, (shamar) His teachings and instructions perfectly, with all sin having been abolished by the work of the promised seed, Messiah Yeshua.
Join me on YouTube where I will be continuing this discussion by examining Paul's letter to the Galatians titled “Upholding the Law”.
Link to “Upholding The Law“ - the next teaching in this series
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Until next time. Shalom!