Law (!)

By Charles H. Welch

Whoever believes the gospel of grace, has put into effect the principle of right division, for this gospel is as widely separated from the law as the Mystery is from the Kingdom. The chief Hebrew word for law is torah, derived from the root yarah, which in one of its forms means "to teach". This, however, is not the primary meaning of yarah, which is to direct, put straight, point forward. The same form of the Hebrew word is translated "to direct" (Gen. 46:28); "to show" (Exod. 15:25), "to shoot" (1 Sam. 20:20) as well as "to teach". Torah occurs 217 times in the O.T. and is translated "law" in every occurrence except one, namely 2 Samuel 7:19, where it is translated "manner". Nomos is the word translated "law" in the N.T. in the majority of cases, the others, apart from compounds of nouns, like paranomeo "contrary to the law", are krino, krima "to sue at law", "to go to law", and agoraios (Acts 19:38) "belonging to the market-place or forum". We note these variants, but shall not deal with them here, our attention being given to the two words torah and nomos.

Nomos is derived from nemo, to divide, distribute, apportion, anything established by custom or received by usage, and enters into the word oikonomos "dispensation", anglicized as "economy".

Torah signifies (1) the whole body of Mosaic legislation, "the law of Moses" (1 Kings 2:3); (2) the law, as Divine in origin, "the law of the Lord" (Psa. 19:7); (3) and as pre-eminent "this law" (Deut. 17:18); (4) the written code, "the book of the law of Moses" (2 Kings 14:6); (5) some specia1law, as "the law of the burnt offering" (Lev. 6:9) or the law of "the leper in the day of his cleansing" (Lev. 14:2).

While "the law" usually refers to the law of Moses, it must be remembered that there are seven passages written before the "giving of the law" at Sinai, that revea1 the existence of laws and statutes. Genesis 26:5, "Because that Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." In Genesis alone some thirty-four such "laws" have been noted as in operation. All this before Moses was born. In Exodus itself, 12:49, 13:9, 16:4,28 and 18:16 and 20, we read of various laws in operation some time before the giving of the law at Sinaļ. Romans 2:14,15,26,27 bear evidence to the fact that the nations of the earth had something similar to the law of Sinai "written in their hearts", and the Saviour declared that all the law and the prophets hung upon the prima1 law of love to God and to neighbour. Exodus 19:1-7 and 24:3-8 make it clear that at Sinai, Israel not only received a law but entered into a covenant with God.

"Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine. And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation."

It is most evident by the words that follow that this was a contract.

"And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord" (Exod. 19:8).

The ten commandments given at Sinai on the tables of stone were not only broken by Moses at the foot of the mountain, they were broken by the people by their lapse into idolatry, and the remainder of the O.T. is a witness to the utter failure of Israel to keep the old covenant. Paul likens the old covenant to Hagar, saying "it gendereth to bondage" (Gal. 4:21-31). It is in the N.T. references that we discern the true place, the dispensationa1 place of the law, and to this great theme we must now devote ourselves.

The first great statement concerning thelaw in the N.T. is found in John 1:16,17.

"And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace, for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:16,17).

We cannot hope to understand this passage merely by concentrating upon the meaning of the word "fulness", but must ascertain what is associated with that fulness and in what manner the statement carries forward the Apostle's theme. This will necessitate consideration of the expression "grace for grace", and inasmuch as the fu1ness of the Lord is first of all associated with "grace and truth", and that "grace and truth" is placed over against the law given to Moses in verse 17, it will be necessary to include and consider these references before we can' appreciate in any measure the intention in verse 16. We observe therefore a marked contrast indicated between "the law" that was given by "Moses" and the "grace and truth" that "came by Jesus Christ".

Here, together with verse 18, we have two contrasted lines of teaching:

Jesus Christ
Law. Grace and Truth.
Given by (edothe). Came into being by (egeneto).
God. Father.
Not seen. Declared.
Back parts (Ex. 33:23). Bosom.
Servants (Heb. 3:5,6). Son.

For the moment our attention is directed to the expression "grace and truth". Now, whatever that term may mean, it is obvious that it is at the head of one, and of one only, of these two categories. It does belong to that headed by "Jesus Christ"; it does not belong to that headed by Moses. Are we to believe, from this, that the law of Moses was not true?

The use of the figure of speech called Hendiadys, Hen-dia-dys, the "one by means of two" figure, is the explanation of the apparent difficulty. The two words "grace" and "truth" really represent but one thing and are employed solely to emphasize the word "truth". The one thing intended is the term "true grace", with emphasis on the word "true". We have now contrasted with one another "law" and "true grace". But we have yet to discover what "true" grace is. There can be no such thing as "false" grace, and the words "true grace" here must therefore stand in contrast with some other conception. To elucidate the point let us consider the usage of the word alethinos, "true."

  • "That was the true light" (John was not that light) (John 1:9).
  • "True worshippers shall worship the Father, in spirit and in truth (in contrast to the worship either in Samaria or Jerusalem) (John 4:23).
  • "My Father giveth you the true bread" (in contrast with the type given by Moses) (John 6:32).
  • "I am the true Vine" (of which the O.T. references were types) (John 15:1).

It will be seen that John has frequently used this word with the meaning "anti-typical, or real" . There is one reference which actually places the word "true" over against "type" and it is Hebrews 9:24:

"For Christ is not entered into the holy place made with hands, which are the figures (anti-types) of the true; but into heaven itself."

We can now return to John 1:17 and bring the expressions "law" and "grace and truth" under a common denominator, for both reveal "grace", but in the law the grace was "typical", and the offerings "shadows", while in the gospel, grace was "real" , and the work of Christ, the fulfilment of the shadows and types of the law.

We have already indicated the difference between the law that was "given" by Moses, and real grace that "carne" by Jesus Christ. In the structure of the prologue (see the book entitled "Life through His Name") this is found in correspondence with the statement in verse 3 that "all things were made by Him". Here Christ is seen as Creator in both realms, whereas Moses was but a servant.

We can now go back to John 1: 16 and consider the expression "grace for grace". The word translated "for" is anti, which means "over against"; "grace over against grace" means, in the light of verse 17, "the grace of gospel realities in place of the grace of types and shadows". This "real grace", we learn, is "out of His fulness". This passage of John 1: 16, 17 is one of a number, like Hebrews 10:1 that speak of the law as a shadow of good things to come. That is one aspect of the subject which we must keep well in mind. Seeing that John 1: 16, 17 appears to set Moses aside, let us restore the balance by giving every reference to Moses found in John's Gospel.

Moses in John's Gospel

  • "For the law was given by Moses, but 'true grace' came by Jesus Christ" (1:17).
  • "We have found Him, of Whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write" (1:45).
  • "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (3:14).
  • "There is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye be1ieved Moses, ye wou1d have believed Me: for he wrote of Me" (5:45,46).
  • "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but My Father giveth you the True Bread from heaven" (6:32).
  • "Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill Me?" (7:19).
  • "Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses shou1d not be broken (or without breaking the law of Moses); are ye angry at Me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day?" (7:22,23).
  • "Moses in the law commanded us that she should be stoned; but what sayest Thou?" (8:5).
  • "Then they reviled Him, and said, Thou art his disciple, but we are Moses' discip1es. We know that God spake unto Moses; as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is" (9:28,29).

Moses therefore is given his rightful place in John's Gospel. Like John the Baptist, he was a voice, a lamp, a lifted finger. It is Christ Who is the Word, the Light, and the Lamb of God.

To any believer who is sceptical or timid regarding Right Division and its application, the sharp c1eavage that is found in the epistles of Paul between Law and Gospel (a distinction admitted and enforced by every Protestant who believes the Reformation doctrine of Justification by Faith) is an outstanding example of the imperative necessity thus to distinguish, if the gospel is to be preached in its simplicity and power. For an undispensational use of the law, see the article entitled HID, and that part which deals with "The Veil". Most of the references to the law in Paul's epistles are concerned with the Gospel, Justification, Salvation and kindred themes, which are doctrinal rather than dispensational subjects and so outside the peculiar purpose of this analysis.

The word nomos occurs but once in the Prison Epistles, namely in Ephesians 2:15, "The law of commandments contained in ordinances." For an exposition of the passage containing this reference, see articles entitled THE DECREES and THE MIDDLE WALL.

An Alphabetical Analysis

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