Monday, May 28, 2018


Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
May 28, 2018


At the age of 28, having been born, grown up and born again spiritually in a Southern Baptist home, I thought my understanding of biblical Law was thorough and correct. In 1972 I left the Southern Baptist faith because their interpretation of “Law” pushed me into looking elsewhere.

One Sunday both the Sunday School lesson and the pastor’s sermon was on the subject of the Ten Commandments and the law. Both defined the Ten Commandments as “the eternal moral Law of God.” As a conscientious Christian who wanted to serve God to the best of my ability, this severely affected me. I reasoned, “If that is true,” then I am worshipping on the wrong day of the week.” In order to keep the “biblical” Sabbath, I found a church which worshipped on Saturday and joining the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1972 --- almost totally on the strength of their Saturday-Sabbath observance.

Foolishly, I threw caution to the wind. Although I was suspicious about some of their other doctrines such as no eternal burning in hell, the prophetic guidance of Ellen G. White and no unclean meats, the SDA evangelist played me like a fiddle; he carefully re-worded every question into an answer which sounded evangelical. My conclusion was “If I was so very wrong about the Sabbath, I am probably wrong about these other doctrines also. I joined the Sabbath-keeping church and earned a fully accredited B. A. in Theology with honors. After being an associate-pastor in Georgia and full-time pastor in North Dakota and South Carolina, I studied myself out of Seventh-day Adventism in 1981.

How did I do that?  I very meticulously studied the biblical concept of “law.” I later discovered, like that of many Baptists, the SDA concept of Law is poorly defined and confusing. Also, like most Baptists, they are not consistent --- they do not define the word “law” and then consistently use it the way they define it. This inconsistency causes much confusion about many other doctrines.

For most Seventh-day Adventists, “Law” means “Ten Commandments” almost all of the time. The same is true for the word “commandments.” I discovered that both of these usages are very unbiblical. When the words are used in other ways, church members either ignore it or remain puzzled.

Warning! It is not easy to understand the way “law” is used in the Bible! This study is not for beginners. While God’s plan of salvation is easy enough for a child who has reached the age of accountability to understand, the theology of “law” requires a good Bible dictionary, a good Greek-English Interlinear, a lot of common sense and serious study.


The following is an incomplete list of the way “the” Law is meant to be interpreted in God’s Word. “The” means the Greek manuscript includes the definite article. This is the most important clue at least for the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. Important: Paul’s usage must be deliberate as he was highly educated and inspired by the Holy Spirit as he wrote in Greek.

A. “The” whole Law was a SPECIAL REVELATION by God through Moses. It was Yahweh’s rule of life to govern His special redeemed covenant people, Israel.

B. “The” Law regulated Israel’s common, everyday conduct and was a covenant of works (Ex 19:5-6). Israel was never able to keep this covenant and it has been superseded by a new covenant (Rom 9:31-32; Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-13).

C. “The” Law refers narrowly to the Ten Commandments, civil judgments and ceremonial worship ordinances/statutes found in Exodus to Deuteronomy. The Hebrew words, “imrah” for “covenant” and “debar” for “word” refer to the indivisible whole law. A Hebrew would never subdivide it as modern man does. See

D “The” Law refers to the entire Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi as God’s revealed will to Israel – as Isaiah and Psalms (Rom 3:10-19).

E. “The” Law refers very narrowly only to the Ten Commandments (Ex 20; Deut 5; Mt 19:16-22; Rom 13:9; intermingled throughout Numbers to Deuteronomy)

F. “The” Law, or Old Covenant, was only commanded to Israel (Ex 19:5-6; Eze 20:11-12).

G. “The” Law was NOT to be shared with other nations (Ex  34;10; Lev 27:34; Deut 4:8; 7:6; 14:2; 26:18-19; 28:1; Ps 135:4; Isa 5:5-7; Mal 4:4; Mark 12:1; Eph 2:12-16).

H.  “The” Law refers to the Ten Commandments as a preamble to the entire Law of Moses (Ex 31:17).

I. The” Law refers to civil laws, civil judgments, presumptive sins and rules for Israel’s judges (Ex 21 – 23; intermingled throughout Numbers to Deuteronomy)

J. The” Law refers to ceremonial worship law and instructions for priests and worshippers including a holiness code of everyday living (Ex 24-31; Leviticus; intermingled throughout Numbers to Deuteronomy)

K. “The” Law refers to anything God “commanded” for Israel. It was His will.

L. “The” Law for Israel was all moral; violation of any of it was sin. For Israel, ALL of “the” Law was the “will of God.”

M. This Mosaic system, including the Ten Commandments as a way of life, came to an end with the death of Christ (John 1:17; Rom 10:4; Gal 3:19-25). The Mosaic age was preceded (Ex 19:4) and followed (John 1:17) by grace. It is incorrect to teach that the Ten Commandments still apply while the judgments and ordinances do not apply.


A. Rom 2:14 For when the Gentiles, which have not “the” law, do by NATURE [instinctively] nature the things contained in “the” law, these, having not “the” law, are “a” law unto themselves: 15 Which shew the work of “the” law written in their hearts, their CONSCIENCE also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another).”

B. When the Greek does not contain the article “law,” it is usually best to translate “law” as a reference to the guiding principle of nature and conscience which condemns all (Rom 1:17 to 2:29 and 3:20-21).

C. Before “the” formal Law was given as a covenant of words only to Israel, the innate knowledge of God’s moral expectations was within the conscience (soul) of every sentient person (Rom 1:17-20; 2:14-16; John 1:9).

D. Transgression of the guiding principle of nature (“law”) and conscience is sufficient to condemn all mankind. Although it is not “sin against ‘the’ Law,” it is still “sin against law.” It is sin against the inner-revealed will of God (Gen 6:5-6; Rom 5:12-14).

E. Sin against conscience and nature (”law”) is why God’s wrath equally falls upon unbelievers in Romans 1:17 to 2:29 and 3:20).

F. Sin against conscience and nature (”law”) still condemns those who have not heard the gospel today, but the sin of rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ is foremost (John 16:8-9).

G. Sin (harmartia) is “the lawlessness” (he a-nomia) (1 John 3:4).

H. Failure to obey God’s will, whether known or unknown, concerning laws of science, exercise, health, diet, safety and common sense result in suffering.

I. “Law” as the “will of God” has at least three definitions: (1) Israel is very guilty before God. For them, the “will of God” includes everything He has specifically revealed to them (Luke 12:48; Rom 3:10-19). (2) Unbelievers are guilty before God (Gen 6:5-6; Rom 5:12-14). For unbelievers, the “will of God” is limited to conscience and nature (Rom 1:17 to 2:29). (3) Those who have heard and rejected the gospel are very guilty before God. For them, the rejected “will of God” which condemns them is the gospel (John 16:8-9; 2 Thes 2:10-11).

J. Without the Greek article “the,” “law” is a “principle” by which a life is guided or governed. This is very close, if not identical, to the law of nature and conscience (Rom 3:27; 7:15-25).

K. The natural law of conscience is written on the heart of every person. The law of nature and conscience underlies the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses. Hermeneutic: except for the commandment to rest on a specific day of the week, all of the Ten Commandments have been repeated in terms of the New Covenant after Calvary. None are currently under ANY part of the Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant. However, even nature and conscience teach mankind to rest and worship.


A. “Rom 8:2-3 For “the” law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from “the” law of sin and death. 3 For what “the” law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”

B. UNGERS BIBLE DICTIONARY: In the gracious dispensation inaugurated as the result of the atonement of Christ, all the Ten Commandments appear after Calvary re-worded in New Covenant terms of grace and faith except the seventh day. They are operative not as stern (set-aside) "you shall nots" but as gracious (we will) responses of new creations indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Christians obey willingly and effectively carrying out the commandments' injunctions.

C. Christians (and Gentiles) have NEVER been “under the (jurisdiction of) “the” Law of Moses” as a means to please our Redeemer God and maintain sanctification. All of it was always only for Israel Ex 20:2; Deut 5:1-6).

D. UNGER’S BIBLE DICTIONARY: Grace has imparted to the post-Calvary New Covenant believer all the merit that he could ever need (John 1:16; Rom 5:1-2; 8:1-2; Col 2:9-10).

E. UNGERS BIBLE DICTIONARY: Being "in-lawed" to Christ (1 Cor 9:20-21) does not mean that the Christian is without law, but it does mean, as one redeemed by grace, that he has the duty, or rather gracious privilege, of not doing that which is displeasing to God and of fully discharging that which is well pleasing to Him on the basis of a manifestation of spontaneous gratitude for his salvation in grace.

F. Those “in Christ” (having been justified by faith alone) have a higher standard and more is expected than for those under the Law of Moses. (Gal 5:1-22).

6. Believers “in Christ” obey the will of God because they have been saved (Eph 2:8-10).

7. God’s standard of righteous sanctification is Jesus Christ (Jn 16:8-9).


A. The Gentiles had never been under “the” formal written Law and its Ten Commandments.

B. Gentiles had never been circumcised.

C. Gentiles had never observed the three yearly festivals.

D. Gentiles had never observed the Sabbath-day.

E. Gentiles had never been commanded to tithe to support a Levitical priesthood.

F. Gentiles had never stopped eating unclean foods.

G. Gentiles have just as much opportunity to be saved as the Jews!

                                                    THE LAW IN ROMANS

A. The Epistle of Romans is an enlightening but difficult study of the word “law.” It is enlightening because Paul uses it with a great variety of meanings. And it is difficult because the English article “the” is often inserted in English when there is no article in the original Greek and confusion results.

B. It is very evident to Greek students that God uses the article “the” and also omits the article to distinguish between His special revelation to Israel and His revelation through nature and conscience to all nations. Romans 1:17 begins the entire discussion by concluding that both Hebrews under the Law and Gentiles outside of the formal Law are guilty and deserve His wrath.

C. Without the article “the” in Greek, “Law” does NOT refer to special revelation to Israel through the Ten Commandments or otherwise.

Rom 2:11 “For there is no respect of persons with God.”

This exceedingly radical statement (for Hebrews) precedes the 70+ uses of “law” in Romans. It must have been both a shock and a new revelation to Jewish listeners that others could be saved.

The Old Covenant with its highly-blessed pre-eminence of Israelites had ended. God was now manifesting Himself as El Elyon, God Most High of all nations and not just Yahweh, the exclusive covenant-God of Israel (Lk 1:32; 8:28 Acts 7:48; 16:17). Although God had always loved all created mankind (as in Jonah), in the New Covenant He is not limiting His favor to national Israel.

In James 2:10 “respect of persons” is part of the “royal law.” “Royal law” is greater that “the law” because one must keep all of the law (of love) in order to keep the royal law.

Important Note:
[---] denotes an article in the KJV that is not in the Greek.
[The] denotes an article in the Greek which is not in the KJV.

Rom 2:12 [4x as a guiding principle of nature and conscience]
“For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in [---] law shall be judged by [---] law.”

This important "first use" of "law" in Romans does not use "law" to refer to the 613 commandments of the formal written Law. "Law" is the "principle" whereby God reveals Himself to mankind. “The” law is not in the Greek.

New Covenant? Yes. New idea? No. That is what the O. T. book of Jonah is all about ---God showed mercy to Gentile Ninevites and judged them according to what little light they had without teaching them the formal Law. Through Jonah, Yahweh (Jesus) commanded the Assyrians what to do and they obeyed.

Rom 2:13 [2x as a guiding principle of nature and conscience]
“For not the hearers of [---] law are just before God, but the doers of [---] law shall be justified.”

Again, there is no article “the” in the Greek. This text cannot possibly be interpreted by strict law-teachers to mean that God expects everybody to literally obey the Old Covenant Law in order to be saved (including the circumcised, Sabbath-keepers, festival-observers, tithers and clean food eaters). It must have a spiritual interpretation.

Rom 2:14 [3x as a guiding principle of nature and conscience; 1x as the entire revelation of God to Israel]

“For when the Gentiles, which have not [---] law, do by nature the things contained in “the” law, these, having not [---] law, are “a” law unto themselves.”

The most common usage of “nomos/law” in Romans is NOT “the” Law of Moses. Rather, it is “God’s revelation of his will, his righteous standards, to mankind through nature and conscience.” In 2:14 the Gentiles lacked special revelation such as the entire O. T. given to national Israel. Their obedience to nature was itself obedience to law as a “principle.” In 2:14 “law” is neither limited to the Pentateuch nor to the Ten Commandments.

Even though it has been severely obscured by sin, there seems to be enough consciousness of right and wrong (the awareness of sin) inside fallen man for God to judge even the non-Hebrew. That is what the text says without getting into a theological dispute over total depravity. Again, like the Ninevites of Jonah’s time, God can righteously condemn or offer grace to those outside of his greater special revelation. However, they must still hear the Word and respond to it (Rom 10:13-15).

Rom 2:15-16 [1x as eternal moral law]
“Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”

Gentiles who obey the light of “nature” and “conscience” are indicating (en-dei-knun-tai) that the law has been written inside their hearts (Jn 1:9; Heb 8:8-13).

The “work of the law written in their hearts” cannot possibly refer to the whole Law of Moses or even to the Ten Commandments. It must be that part of the formal written Law which is eternal, moral and reflects the divine character of God. It also must only refer to that part of God which is revealed within the heart of man. This would exclude things like literal and physical circumcision, holy days and unclean foods which require special revelation. Paul illustrated this at length in Romans 1:18-32.

Rom 2:17 [1x as the whole law] “Behold, you are called a Jew, and rest in the law and make thy boast of God.”

See 2:17-20. "The law" is "all of God's special revelation of his righteous standards to Israel" --especially the 613 commandments of the Pentateuch. 

Like modern law-teachers, the Jew thought that he was better than the Gentiles because he had special revelation of things such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, food laws and tithing.

Rom 2:26 [1x as the whole law]
Therefore, if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

This idea would shock Jews. Un-circumcised Gentiles could actually keep “the righteousness of the law" without observing the Sabbath, food laws, circumcision or tithing which are only known though special revelation.

Rom 2:27 [REVERSAL; 1X as the whole law; 1x as natural law]
And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge you, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress [---] law?

This is an extremely important text. There is a "law" or "principle" of "nature" which can actually "fulfill" the purpose of "the law." Those who obey the law of nature fulfill THE law; those who have THE law and disobey become like Gentiles before God ---- guilty without special revelation.

Rom 2:28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
Rom 2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Paul illustrates his words from 2:27. Those Gentiles who have never received special revelation about the literal letter of the law are deemed as achieving the righteousness of the law by obeying the light within them (which is Jesus per John 1:9). Therefore, literally uncircumcised Gentiles can be considered spiritually circumcised and more “Jew” than mere physical Jews who do not obey God (compare Romans 9:6-7). They obey the spirit of the law yet know nothing of the literal details of circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, tithing and unclean foods.

Also, very important is the use of the phrase “fulfill the law” in 2:27. It means to attain, or reach, the righteous requirement of the law. That is done only through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith alone. Compare 9:30-32.

Rom 3:19 [2x as the whole law]
Now we know that what things the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth [under the law] may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

3:19-20 are favorite texts for law-teachers who use them out of context to prove that the Church is still obligated to observe the Old Covenant Law, or at least only the Ten Commandments.

Along with 2:14-16 and 2:26-29 these verses (3:19-20) give the best insight into Paul's use of the word "law" in Romans.
(1) 3:19-20 constitute a summary statement of the discussion from 2:11 to 3:18.
(2) VERY IMPORTANT: 3:1-18 has just quoted only from Psalms and Isaiah and has called them “law.”
(3) “The law” in 3:19 cannot possibly refer solely to either "the Law of God through Moses to Israel" or to "the law of nature and conscience" to the Gentiles (2:11-29).
(4) Since “every mouth” and “all the world” are being condemned by “the law,” then “the law” can only refer to "the revelation of God's righteousness to all the world” and tThat includes both ALL of the formal Law to the Jews and also nature and conscience to the Gentiles.
(5) “Law” in Romans 3 is not the Ten Commandments. Read the chapter!

Rom 3:20 [2x as the guiding principle of nature and conscience]
Therefore, by the deeds of [---] law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by [---] law is the knowledge of sin.

The Greek of 3:20 reads different from most translations in three places.
(1) The article “the” is missing in front of both of the words “law.”
(2) It is “law” as a principle and includes the formal literal written Law for the Jews and also the inward natural conscience of the Gentiles.
(3) The Ten Commandments are not in view here! They are not quoted to this point ---- only Psalms and Isaiah.
(4) The final verb "is" is inserted. In the context of the very next words "but now apart from law" and Jesus' declaration in John 16:8-9 that "sin" which condemns is "because they believe not on me," the last phrase probably means “by law WAS the knowledge of sisn.” Jesus is the new standard of righteousness in the new covenant. That is why he declared "I am THE way, THE truth and THE life" in John 14:6.

Therefore, the text cannot honestly be manipulated to say that the Ten Commandments are still in force as the most important definer of sin for all mankind.

Rom 3:21 [1x for each definition]
But now the righteousness of God without [---] law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TEXT: The conclusion of Romans 1:17 to 3:20 begins here. In fact, the entire letter of Romans pivots here. It pivots away from the wrath of God in 1:17 to the alternative righteousness of Christ. The first use of “law” does not have an article “the” in the Greek because the “righteousness of God” is not found in obedience to either “the” formal law nor the “law” of nature and conscience. The revelation of God’s will through the righteousness of truth in Jesus Christ supersedes all previous kinds of revelation or laws.

Rom 3:27 ]1x as “principle.]
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by [---] law of faith. [Greek omits the article]

The word “law” here refers to a “principle” both times. Both Jews and Gentiles become righteous by believing in Jesus (faith; v22). Justification before God comes by grace (v24) through faith (v25). Obedience to any law –whether “the” Law of God through Moses or natural law of the conscience—is no longer the focus (v26). Therefore, boasting does not enter into the discussion. The principle which excludes boasting (of law-keeping) is voided by the principle (law) of faith.

Rom 3:28 [1x law in general]
Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of [---] law. [Grk: no article]

Again, the inspired Word in Greek has no article “the.” This reflects back to 3:20 where “law” has no article because it refers to all revelation of God to mankind.

Rom 3:29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:
Rom 3:30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through [THE] faith.

The first part of Romans concluded in 3:20 that no kind of law-principle can save; law only condemns both Jews and Gentiles. Having less knowledge of God’s will, the Gentiles eare specially justified through “the” principle of faith.

Rom 3:31 [2x as a principle]
Do we then make void [---] law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish [---] law.

Like 3:20, the article is again missing both times. While “the” Law of Moses repeats much of the law of nature and conscience, “law” in general here includes all types of law. The necessity of justification by faith proves that justification could not come by any principle which merely condemned. The entire discussion from 1:18 to 3:31 involves the condemnation of both Jews and Gentiles through the operation of the principle of law which is God’s revelation of His will to all mankind.

Rom 4:13 [1x as a principle of works]
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through [---] law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Since “the” law did not exist in Abraham’s time, the article is missing in the Greek. It means a principle of works righteousness. Compare 3:27.

Rom 4:14 For if they which are of [---] law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect:

Removing the Greek article forces a fresh interpretation. If obedience to any principle of works-righteousness makes one righteous or, if man can become righteous by works, then faith is not necessary and the promise made to Abraham is meaningless.

Rom 4:15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.

It is wrong to interpret this as a reference to the Law of Moses because the principle of law (works-righteousness) cannot save anybody but only brings wrath. The principle of divine revelation through law in chapters 1:18 to 3:20 brought about condemnation to both the Gentiles and Jews. The two definitions are combined here: “the” Law of God for Hebrews and natural/conscience for the Gentiles.

Rom 4:16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of [---] faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.

When referring exclusively to Jews (Hebrews), “the law” refers to the entire revelation of God to them. It neither refers only to the Pentateuch nor exclusively to the Ten Commandments.

Rom 5:13 (For until [---] law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Though still guilty, early man was not as accountable for sinning against divine revelation as was man when God made His revelation clear. The “law principle” is found in any set of laws.

Rom 5:14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

Adam transgressed God’s law of nature and conscience – and died.. All men died before Moses and the formal Law because there was enough of God’s revelation to condemn through nature and conscience per Romans, chapter one.

Rom 5:20 Moreover [---] law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

“Law” as a principle entered for Israel as “the” formal Law. However, it did not enter as “the” formal Law for the remainder of mankind which continued to be condemned by the law of nature and conscience.

Rom 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under [---] law, but under grace.
Rom 6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under [---] law, but under grace? God forbid.

Nobody can be saved under law as a principle of works-righteousness. Yet, not being under a law principle of works-righteousness does not give approval for sin because the grace-principle requires greater accountability.

The Christian Jew is no longer under the revealed formal literal Law of God and the Christian Gentile is no longer under nature and conscience. The Holy Spirit has written the new Law of Love in the heart as part of the believer’s new creation (Heb 8:10). The new law is based on God’s righteous revelation of Himself in Christ. By comparing Christ’s righteousness to our own we are convicted as sinners (2 Cor 3:18). The fact that an old law-principle condemns everybody is not a basis of more sin in order to bring more grace. The argument uses sarcasm. c.

Rom 7:1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know [---] law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?

In Romans 7:1 “law” is man’s civil law regarding marriage. The law principle rules over all men as long as they live –whether spiritual, governmental, nature or conscience.

Rom 7:2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by [---] law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.

This is true of secular, pagan and Jewish law and is not a reference to the Law of Moses.

Rom 7:3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

"That law" here can refer to secular or religious law, whether pagan or Jewish.

Rom 7:4 Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

Having established the facts concerning civil marriage laws, Paul makes a spiritual point for his brethren – we fellow Hebrews.

Rom 7:5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.

“Before we Hebrews were saved, our attempts to obey “the” Law of Moses and become righteous by works ended in spiritual death.”

Rom 7:6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.

No “law” can tell a dead person what to do. Being dead in trespasses and sin, one was ready to die again to that life in Christ (Gal 2:20; Eph 2:1; Rom 6:1-12). After we Hebrews accepted Christ, we are dead to the law which enslaved us. Regardless to whom Paul is speaking, since this is true of Hebrews, it is also true for Gentiles. Notice the tense of the verbs. "Are delivered" is Greek aorist passive which means "have been delivered." Believers are "dead" in Christ. The "law" principle cannot tell a dead person what to do! Believers now are serving God in the "newness of the spirit."

Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by [---] law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

In attempting to establish his own righteousness through works of “law,” Paul became condemned by “the” Law which said “Thou shalt not covet.” The law of nature and conscience also teaches that it is sin to covet; we know this instinctively.

Rom 7:8 But sin, taking occasion by “the” commandment, wrought [produced] in me all manner of concupiscence [evil desire]. For without [---] law sin was dead.
Rom 7:9 For I was alive without [---] law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

Before Paul was saved, he was a self-righteous Pharisee secure that his works of law would save him. Perhaps he had gone through the Ten Commandments and discovered that he was guilty of coveting. Finally, Paul discovered that the purpose of “the Law” and “law” as a principle was to condemn rather than to save.

7:10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.
7:11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

The impossible task of faithfully obeying all 613 commandments of God would guarantee God's blessings. However, failure to obey all 613 of them guaranteed God's curse. The Law condemned Paul to spiritual death instead of promising life (Gal 3:10).

7:12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

Paul, a Jew convicted by the law to be a sinner, would say this about the formal Law. The law principle is still effective for those who have not heard the gospel to condemn them (1 Tim 1:9).  However, the current standard of God's righteousness is found in the person of Jesus Christ per Romans 3:21-26 and John 14:6; 16:8-9.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them." Rom 1:18-19. Present tense verbs.

And a convicted Gentile would say this about the law of nature and conscience (to a much lesser degree).

7:13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

The verb ge-go-ne is perfect tense for "has become." The law did all that it could do -- it killed Paul in his sin.

7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

While "the law" is "God's special revelation of his righteous standards for Israel," “law” as a guiding principle of nature and conscience is an inner revelation of God’s righteous standard for everybody. As a Hebrew, Paul finally saw himself as condemned by the law principle.

7:15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

Beginning here, Paul seems to be using “law” as a guiding principle. By himself Paul cannot live up to the righteousness the law principle demanded.

7:16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto [---] law that it is good.

Paul is clearly using "law" here to refer to something beyond the 613 commandments of the formal Law. The law principle is good but it cannot save.

7:17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

"Sin" itself is a "principle" in opposition to the "law" principle.

7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will [thelo] is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
7:19 For the good that I would [thelo] I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.

The principle of "willpower" is unable to overcome the principle of "sin" which has its power in the principle of "law."

7:20 Now if I do that I would (will) not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

Paul cannot "will" himself not to sin. The principle of "will-power" is subservient to the principle of "sin."

7:21 I find then [THE] law, that, when I would (will to) do good, evil is present with me. [not "a"]

This is an exception to the rule. Although there is a definite article in the Greek, it does NOT refer to “the Law of Moses” here. "The law" very clearly means "the principle of law." The principle of "will-power" is weaker than the power of the principle of "sin."

7:22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

Paul's weak will-power delights in the principle of "law" as "God's revelation of His righteous standards" both to Jews and Gentiles. Looking at the next verse, "the law of God" is "the law of my mind." Compare to Hebrews 8:10.

7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

"Another law" is another "principle." The "law of my mind" is the principle of "will-power" which wants to obey what God has revealed. "The law of sin" is "flesh" which wants to disobey God.

7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

The answer to the dilemma is found in a "who" and not a "what."

7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve [---] law of God; but with the flesh [---] law of sin.

The articles are missing for “law.” Paul is not saying he serves THE Law of God with his mind; rather, Paul is saying that he serves the new “law of Christ” which is God’s will in His heart. This is extremely evident in Romans 8:2.

Paul has learned to yield his weak will-power of the mind to faith in Jesus Christ.

"But now the righteousness of God without [the] law is manifested, being witnessed by “the “law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference." Romans 3:21-22.

By replacing the righteous standard of the law with the righteous standard of Jesus Christ, Paul can finally obey God through the (new covenant) standard of Christ's righteousness.

Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Believers who are "in Christ" are no longer condemned by either the law principles found in Moses, natural law or the conscience.  

8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

"The law" is "the principle" that imputed "life in Christ" through faith has finally overcome the previous principles at work. The new covenant principle of faith in Christ grasps the imputed righteousness of Christ as God's new standard (Gal 2:20).

8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:

"The law" is "God's standard of righteous judgment." For Jews this was God's formal written law. For Gentiles it was cloudy nature and conscience. In Christ God accomplished what the law could not accomplish. Note the verb tenses. Paul has been using the word “law” in many different ways in chapters 7 and 8.

8:4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Heb 1:1-2 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…

The righteous requirements of “the” law (and also “law”) have been replaced by Christ's imputed righteousness per Romans 3:21-25.

Rom 9:4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.

"The law" is the formal "Law of God" as given through Moses, the Old Covenant with all 613 commandments.

9:30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

Gentiles who did not have the righteous standard of the formal Law have attained that righteousness, not by obedience to the law, but through faith which is the "law" or "principle" of the new covenant (2:28-29).

9:31 But Israel, which followed after [---] law of righteousness, hath not attained to [---] law of righteousness (chapter 7).

There are no articles in the Greek. A new wording, a law, a "principle" of "righteousness" is in view.

9:32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of [---] law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone;
9:33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

Even prophecy said that obedience OF the law would be replaced by faith in Christ.

Rom 10:3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
10:4 For Christ is the end of [---] law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

This is important. There is no article "the." Christ is the "end" or "goal" of "law" as a principle for both Hebrews and Gentiles. The purpose of law has been reached through the principle of "faith."

10:5 For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

Notice that “the Law” refers to a quotation in Deuteronomy 30:12-14 and not the Ten Commandments. Trying to obey God through obedience to the formal Law was a distortion of God’s purpose for the Law. l.

10:6 But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)
10:7 Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)
10:8 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.

These three texts are a New Covenant re-application of Deuteronomy 30:12-14. Paul replaced the word "law" with "Christ" and "faith."

"And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me" John 16:8-9.

"Law" is no longer either the principle which defines sin for believers nor the standard of God's judgment.

Rom 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled [---] law.

What law? What principle? -- the principle of "loving one another." There is no Greek article.

13:9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

While quoting the Ten Commandments, Paul is teaching that Leviticus 19:18 is a royal principle of love which "comprehends" or "sums up" the second half of the Ten Commandments. Rather than elevating the formal Law or even the Ten Commandments, the principle ("law") of love is greater than the others.

13:10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore, love is the fulfilling of [---] law.

Paul omits “the” deliberately because the principle of love fulfills BOTH “the” Law for Hebrews and also “law” for Gentiles. While the "law" principle made sin more sinful, the "love" principle fulfills or "fills full" the purpose of "law" which law could not achieve.


MAN’S LAW is that which God allows mankind to legislate and enact (Gen 9:6; Matt 10:15; Luke 20:22; Rom 7:1-3; 13:1-7; 1 Tim 1:8-10; 2 Tim 2:5).

MATTHEW 5:17-19

Matt. 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
Matt 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

A. Matthew 5:17 and 18 are quoted often by those who want to prove that we are still obligated to observe the Mosaic Law! Jesus’ sermon was, of course, before Calvary which makes it Old Covenant while the entire Law was still in full effect (Gal 4:4-5). It was also addressed, not to the Church, but Jews ---therefore Jesus endorsed the Temple laws and the Sanhedrin (5:21-24).

Matt 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

B. If 5:17-18 proves that the law is binding on Christians, it proves too much! The Law of Moses was an indivisible whole and no Hebrew would dare exclude two-thirds of it as most Christians do. God’s Word states forty-seven (47) times that His Law is an inseparable whole and even the “least of its commandments” cannot be discarded without discarding all of them. One either obeys ALL or is guilty of transgressing all as a set of instructions.

Jesus made it very clear from 5:19 and his examples in the remainder of the chapter that he was discussing the entire law –all 613 commands of it. It was “sin” to disobey any of it and all of it carried punishments. Jesus quoted from all three inseparable parts of the law. He quoted from the Ten Commandments in 5:21 and 5:27, from the statutes in 5:33 and 5:43 and from the judgments in 5:31 and 5:38. There is absolutely no validity in arguments that Jesus was only discussing the Ten Commandments. Therefore, in order to be honest with the context of 5:17-19, one should admit it teaches that “if any part of the Law is still in force, then ALL of the Law is still in full force.” However, no Christian today claims to be living under the entire Mosaic Law.

Deut 27:26 Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. (also Gal 3:10)

C. Those who teach that the Law of Moses is still in force because it has not all been fulfilled place themselves into an inescapable position. a) They should provide a consistent principle for bringing over into the New Covenant that which they want to keep. b) They should provide a consistent principle for leaving that which they want to reject. c) They should do this while explaining what Jesus meant by the “least of these my commandments” in 5:19. d) They should go through all of the 613 commandments of the Law and give logical reasons for their categories. And e) they should explain why their shortened list of commandments is valid while the penalties for violating those commandments are no longer valid. For example, the judgments for violating the commandments demanded death for transgression of at least the first seven commandments, including the death of children who strike or curse parents (Ex 21:15, 17).

Matt 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

D. The Gospels almost over-emphasize the fact that Jesus was very quickly "fulfilling" both the “righteousness of the Law” and many prophecies: Matthew uses "fulfilled" twelve times: virgin birth (1:22); out of Egypt (2:15); Rachel weeping (2:17); called a Nazarene (2:23); Gentiles’ great light (4:14); bear our infirmities (8:17); God’s Spirit on him (12:17); Israel blinded (13:14); teach in parables (13:35); triumphant entry (21:4); fulfill prophecies (26:54,56); 30 pieces of silver (27:9) and cast lots for garment (27:35).

Jesus succeeded where the first Adam failed (Rom 5:17-19). More important, he came as Israel (the Overcomer with God) personified, perfectly obeyed the righteous requirements of the Law, and died as the perfect sinless sacrifice of the Law which ended the necessity of offering sacrifices (Heb 9:26-28; 10:1-3, 7-10).

Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without [the] law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
Rom 3:22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.

Heb 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
Heb 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.

Gal 3:19 Wherefore then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come ….

E.  The “law” as the primary revealer of God’s righteous standards to the Jews, was replaced by Jesus, the incarnated Word (compare Ps 119:11 with Jn 1:1).

When Romans 8:4 says that "the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us," the requirements of Matthew 5:17-19 have already been received. When Romans 10:4 says that "Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness," the goal of Matthew 5:17-19 has been reached. When Romans 7:4 says "you also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ," the former Law no longer has jurisdiction over the believer.

Rather than being “abolished,” the law-principle has simply been “set aside” (Heb 7:18). This is comparable to a school-bus which has transported the grade-schooler for twelve years before graduation. It still remains to remind one of life’s journeys and teach by example (1 Cor 10:1-11). However the believer is now accountable to God for his/her personal response to the gospel and not the law (Jn 3:16-18; 2 Cor 3:18; Heb 9:28).

F.  The Law has changed. Jesus said that he did not come to “destroy” the law. He did not say that he did not come to “change” the law. In fact Jesus declared that his own modified interpretation of the law was the greater standard. "You have heard that it has been said (in the Law), but I say to you" occurs in verses 21-22; 27-28; 31-32; 33-34; 38-39; 43-44 as God’s new and greater revealed will (“law”).

Jesus’ declarations in John 14:6 and 16:8-9 are also both law-fulfilling and law-changing statements: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” replaces the law-standard. “And when he [the Holy Spirit] is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me” also replaces the law-standard.

Ps 110:4 Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

The New Covenant was all about change, not in the character of God, but in the economy (or dispensation) of the way God chose to communicate with man. This drastic change was implied as early as Psalm 110:4 which predicted a new high priest who would be both a priest and a king not from the law-requirement of Aaron. Jeremiah 31:31-34 predicted a change from the location of the law and also teachers of the law. The priesthood and the temple changed to reside within individual believers (1 Cor 6:19; 1 Pet 2:9). God’s people changed to include Gentiles (1 Pet 2:10; Eph 2:11-14). And the change was made by abolishing that part of the Law which was not moral (Eph 2:15-16).

Conclusion: Those who quote Matthew 5:17-18 to prove that tithing is still valid simply ignore the context and are not prepared to extricate themselves from the problems caused by such position. “Law” is neither a reference to the Ten Commandments nor to tithing. Even two of the Ten Commandments had cultic applications –the seventh day Sabbath and “living long in the land” of Israel (Ex 31:13-17; 20:12).

In practice Christians today do not even obey what Jesus did command in 5:21-48 as his “law.” They definitely do not pluck out their eyes as he commanded in 5:27-30. They swear vows on the Bible in court contrary to 5:33-37. And they fail to see that Jesus has actually changed the Old Covenant commandments, statutes and judgments by making His own interpretation the new law. 

Note: This article began from The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary and was greatly expanded and edited.

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD