Paul’s Cancellation of the Law is important for at least two reasons. First, if we are no longer accountable to the Law, it will affect how we use it, and whether or not we subject others to the Law’s demands. Among Christians today, for example, the most common use of the Torah is against gay and lesbian believers. And second, if we no longer use the Law for guidance or to measure our success in the Christian life, then we finally have the opportunity to leave the false, misleading guidance of the Law behind in a deep μετανοια.
These eleven verses from Paul’s letters to the Galatians, the Romans, and the Colossians. Most are in Galatians and Colossians, the two letters which have the cancellation of the law as a central theme, so I am not selecting miscellaneous verses at random in order to proof text. The comprehensive cancellation of the Law is one of Paul’s major themes.
Paul’s Eleven-Fold Cancellation of the Law
- Galatians 3:10— All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
- Galatians 3:13—Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,
- Galatians 3:25—Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
- Galatians 5:1—It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
- Galatians 5:18—But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
- Romans 2:12—All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.
- Romans 4:15—The law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
- Romans 5: 13—Before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
- Romans 6:14—Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
- Romans 7:8b—Apart from law, sin is dead.
- Colossians 2:13b-14—He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
All in all, it is clear that the Law is not your friend. The Law is against you. Paul explicitly says this in his letter to the Colossians. “The written code . . . that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13b-14, NIV). Another translation puts it this way, “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (NLT).
I am not quoting these eleven verses out of context. In fact, they are the context for all the surrounding text. They are the spine of both Galatians and Romans. They are Paul’s assumption, not conclusions which depend on other arguments or evidence. These verses are the backbone of Galatians and Romans.
God’s Love Song to His Bride
These verses are a refrain, which is repeated, over and over in a love song sung by God: “You are no longer married to the Law, now you are free to love me.”
Obviously, this does not set well with some people. Certain personalities absolutely must have behavioral expectations written out clearly. Explicit norms and boundaries of behavior must exist for them to function comfortably. This is not necessarily a weakness. This is how God made them. This need for explicit, written rules of behavior may indeed be hard-wired into them, and must be respected.
Other people are tied up in theological systems that are very densely interconnected. The connections are spun as tight as a spider’s web, where touching even one strand of the web sends shivers running though the whole structure. Such people serve two masters, and are bound hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other
Just as we tolerate genetic personality differences as well as we can, so also we exercise patience and tolerance with people whose brains are wired to that they are physically incapable of imagining life without access the Law as an objective standard for measuring people’s behavior.
What follows may seem a bit repetitive, but I feel that I can’t simply list verses, even very clear verses, without tying them together at least a little!
Any obligation to live by the Law, be accountable to the Law, or be guided by the Law, has been cancelled by Paul’s Eleven-Fold Cancellation of the Law. The Law is only a source of weakness and condemnation for us.
All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse, but Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law. This is how the Law became a curse to us: Sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from Law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from Law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.
Remember, apart from the Law, sin is dead. If you want to kill sin in your life, you need accept the fact that God has radically separated you from the demands of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. If you want to help others find deliverance from sin, you must also separate them from those legal demands.
So, the Bible says that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. How did that happen? This is why: the very commandment that was intended [by God] to bring life actually brought death; the Law was powerless because it was weakened by the sinful nature.
The Law is POWERLESS because it is weakened by the sinful nature. The Law is powerless to save; it is powerless to sanctify. To remain under the Law, accountable to the Law, or to find guidance from the Law will sabotage your desire and ability to walk in the Spirit. The sin nature effectively short-circuits the positive intent the Law.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is his most careful reasoned explanation for his cancellation of the Law. It is, therefore, not surprising that in the same letter he endorses several other sources of guidance which take their place. In Romans these are 1) the Law of the Spirit (Rom. 8:2), 2) the Law of Love (Rom. 13: 8,10), 3) the Law written on the human heart (conscience) (Rom. 2:15), and 4) human government (Rom. 13:1-7).
According to Paul, the Old Testament Law can only bring sin and death. If you struggle with sin, it is because you insist on preserving the demands of the Law. This is what Paul clearly teaches. Christians must jettison the Law, just as Paul did. He made this abundantly clear. It is spiritual suicide to observe the Law, or to demand that others observe the Law.
I agree with what you say.
But what about Matthew 5:17?
Hugh, as you know, the Law is a hot topic for Christians who emphasize fidelity to scripture. There are three, maybe four major voices involved in this discussion: Jesus, Paul, Psalm 119, and the Law itself. It gets more complicated when you add to that James and Luke-Acts. And if you subscribe to higher criticism in the composition of the gospels, it’s a regular slug fest. I know that you haven’t suggested that I do, but I am not going to get into debates where Jesus and Paul are pitted against each other.
But about your question regarding: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
On a purely verbal level, this is not inconsistent with Paul’s abolition of the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, but did not abolish them. Paul abolished them. One reason this doesn’t feel satisfying is because it still leaves Jesus and Paul in a kind of tension. I steadfastly refuse to “harmonize” the various voices in the Bible. If we are to read the texts honestly, and derive the benefits each author has to offer the church, then the voices must be allowed to speak clearly and independently. If others feel they must harmonize the differing perspectives in the Bible in some Hegelian fashion, coming to a tidy synthesis, they must follow their own lights. There is a place for that.
So, if I may, I’ll dip into “John’s Christ” for a moment. “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).
Jesus didn’t tell us he was God–although he hinted at it.
Jesus didn’t tell us the Law would be abolished–although he hinted at it.
Jesus didn’t tell us that non-celibate gay and lesbian disciples were acceptable–although he hinted at it.
Sometimes we’re just not ready to hear it. “Timing is everything,” as they say.
From Ron Goetz, where are these “hinting” in the bible. I know the bible pretty as I’m a mature Christian.
Peggy, if you will read the article, you will find the verses where Paul forcibly speaks against the law. Please read the article. I’ll be happy to discuss them with you after you’ve read them. The verses are from Romans, Galatians, and Colossians.