Discharged from the Law?
The attitude of the Christian church to the laws of the Pentateuch is based on the teaching of Paul;
“But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of
the Spirit”- Romans ch7 v6
In other words, this law belongs to the past, and not to the present time.
This can be justified in a number of ways.
For one thing, as I keep observing, these laws were not designed for the modern world.
They were clearly designed for a different kind of world, a mainly agricultural society.
Just one practical example will be enough to make the point;
The law on rape involves the assumption that “A woman who calls for help in the city will receive help quickly”.
I believe this was a valid and a reasonable assumption in the time when it was made, because it was made in different social circumstances (with
Obviously it’s not a valid assumption at all in modern cities, and it can’t be applied in modern cities without creating injustice.
I doubt whether even the Jews can apply these laws in the modern world, without a certain amount of tinkering.
For this reason alone, they would need to be revised.
They can only be “God’s laws” for a period of Israel’s history, rather than for all time.
Paul says that the purpose of the Law was to be our “schoolmaster” (AV), our “custodian” (RSV), “like a slave serving us” (Jerusalem
Bible) until Christ came.- Galatians ch3 v24
These various translations are rendering the Greek word PAIDAGOGOS.
The PAIDAGOGOS was a family slave entrusted with the daily guardianship and education of a child.
He was a male version of Mary Poppins, except that he had a lower social status (even lower than the status of a real Victorian governess, who would
normally be paid less than a good cook).
His disciplinary methods might be very harsh, because a slave might not otherwise find it easy to hold the attention of the free-born son of the
But the child was released from the slave’s charge, of course, once he came of age.
So Paul’s meaning is that the Law was a system of discipline which held God’s people in a kind of servitude.
It had a necessary but temporary function, preparing them for adulthood, but once they had reached adulthood they were released from its control.
The moment of adulthood is to be identified with the arrival of Faith, which replaces the Law, and their “adoption” in Christ (ch4 vv1-5).
I’ve been using the “teacher” analogy myself, but in a different way.
In my version, God himself is the teacher (more in the style of a modern professional educator), and the Law is part of the teaching material which
But this version of the analogy leads to the same conclusion, because the teaching material used in the modern classroom varies according to the age
and circumstances of the pupils.
The books used in the infants’ class are not the books used in the university lecture hall.
I’ve heard a physics graduate complaining that he had to re-learn the laws of physics at every stage in his education.
In the same way, the guidance which God gives to his people might be expected to change according to the level of their spiritual growth as well as
the condition of their society.
The pupils move on from the elementary material to the more advanced material.
That is, in Paul’s terms, they move on from the Law to Faith.
The Law which Paul is rejecting is the written
code, published in the name of Moses.
Other parts of the New Testament show greater respect for the law, but on closer examination it’s not clear that the law they want to keep is the
same law which Paul is rejecting.
Thus James, for example, tells his readers about the need to keep “the whole law”.
However, he seems to understand this law in terms of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which sits in the background of everything he
He’s quoting the commandment which Jesus quoted, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.
He calls this “the royal law”, in most translations, though I’ve argued elsewhere that the Greek really means “the law which belongs to the
He also uses the very suggestive phrase “the law of liberty”.
Paul says that we have been “made free” from the law, and I’m inclined to think that James has coined this semi-Pauline term to mean much the
same thing. “The law of liberty” is not the written law (which is not liberty), but a substitute for the written law, to be found perhaps in the
teaching of Jesus. (James ch2 vv8-12)
Jesus himself appears to take a firm stand when he declares that the law will never pass away.
At the same time, though, there are details in the written law which he’s unwilling to endorse.
He asserts that the permission to divorce was in conflict with God’s real will, and only allowed because of their “hardness of heart”.
He’s also very reluctant to enforce the death-penalty for adultery.
So perhaps he, too, is thinking in terms of “the spirit of the law”, as expressed in his own teaching, rather than “the letter of the law”
which had been given by Moses.
There’s an obvious danger in the idea that the law has been made obsolete, which explains why religious teachers might be reluctant to take that
The problem is that people are only too ready to understand “freedom from law” as “freedom from all restraint”, and live accordingly.
That is not what Paul means at all.
In his teaching, our “service” has not been abolished but simply transferred; we are serving under “the new life of the Spirit”, which is a
different kind of restraint.
I can explain the difference by use of analogy.
When I was a child, the school taught us how to cross the road safely.
I still remember watching the misadventures of “little Dolly Daydream” (in those days, a projected silent filmstrip with live teacher
We were expected to cross by following a set of rules;
Look right again;
When all is clear, then cross”.
That could be called “the letter of the law”.
Obviously the important point here is the basic principle of not running out into traffic.
That could be called “the spirit of the law”.
Now that I’m grown up, I don’t follow those rules religiously (“freed from the law”), but I don’t take that as permission to rush out and
get myself killed.
Instead, I live under “the spirit of the law” by keeping my wits about me enough to make sure there aren’t any vehicles coming.
There is still restraint, but a different kind of restraint.
Paul seems to assume that the Christian will be receiving moral guidance direct
from the Holy Spirit.
However, the later church has never been able to live up to that standard.
Individual Christians did not feel confident enough to rely on this direct contact, and the church leadership was reluctant to risk leaving them to
their own devices.
So the church, in practice, has evolved the compromise theory that the “ritual law” has been abolished while the “moral law” content of the
Law of Moses remains valid, especially in the Ten Commandments.
This works well enough as a practical rule of thumb, but it’s not really what Paul means.
He does agree that we should not be committing theft and murder and adultery.
But his point is that we now avoid these things because the Holy Spirit tells us to avoid them, and not because the Law of Moses tells us to avoid
We are discharged from the Law of Moses, in every detail
edit on 1-5-2014 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)