|Outline of Douglas Moo's Treatment of the Law
From "The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View" in The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian, ed. Wayne G. Strickland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993).
Moo believes that even though Martin Luther's view of Law and Gospel has come under fire recently that he basically had it correct. While Moo agrees with the basic approach, he believes that it should be modified by giving more attention to the salvation-historical perspective of the Scriptures. This leads Moo to emphasize two important rubrics in his understanding of the Law.
When the New Testament uses "nomos" by far the majority of times it uses it to refer to the historical covenant that came into history 430 years after the promise was given to Abraham (Gal. 3:17), namely the Mosaic Covenant or the Mosaic Law. Therefore, where Luther referred to "law" as any commanding aspect of either the Old or New Testament, Moo argues that when the NT uses "nomos" in contrast to the "Gospel" it is referring to two different successive historical ages, namely the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant in Christ.
Rather than understanding the NT speaking of a time before and after Christ as referring to the individual experience of the believer, Moo argues that we should understand these two eras corporately, not individually. Therefore, before Christ speaks of the historical era of the Mosaic Covenant and after Christ as the historical era of the New Covenant in Christ.
Because of this redemptive historical focus (salvation-historical in Moo's usage), Moo's thesis is that the Mosaic Law, according to the NT, is "basically confined to the old era that has come to its fulfillment in Christ. It is no longer, therefore, directly applicable to believers who live in the new era" (pp. 322-3).
The Purpose of the Mosaic Law
Moo defines the purpose of the Mosaic Law both negatively and positively:
Moo's basic understanding of the negative purpose of the Law is that it does indeed "hold out the promise of salvation, but because of human sinfulness, it cannot confer salvation" (324).
1.) The Law's Promise of Life. Moo argues that "the New Testament teaches that the law of Moses does hold out an inherent promise of life for those who do it" (324).
a.) The rich young ruler (Matt. 19:17; cf. Mark 10:17-18; Luke 18:18-19).
b.) Rom. 2:13b & Rom. 7:10
c.) Rom. 10:5 & Gal. 3:12 quoting Lev. 18:5. Moo argues that sense the Israelites had already entered the sphere of blessings of the promised land by God's gracious election, then Israel is only being promised "continuation of life" upon obedience to the commandments. This means then that Israel's life of blessings was dependent upon obedience and failure to obey would forfeit the life that is being promised. Therefore, Lev. 18:5 is "probably" not a promise to the doer of the Law that he will attain eternal life. All the passage may mean (and it may have become for Paul a "slogan" or succinct summary of the law) is that blessing is contingent upon obedience. In giving the law to Israel, therefore, God "implied that perfect obedience would bring eternal blessing and salvation; but he never gave the law with that purpose, knowing the impossibility of fulfilling it" (327). This is what Moo calls the "hypothetical covenant of works."
2.) The Law Cannot Confer Salvation. The Law can never confer salvation because it demands works that because of man's sinful nature can never be done to gain God's approval (Acts 13:39; Heb. 10:1-14; Gal. 2:21b; 3:21b cf. Gal. 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Rom. 3:20, 28).
a.) Some have limited Paul's usage of "works of the law" to only "ceremonial observance" or "works done in a legalistic spirit" or "Jewish identity markers." Therefore, such limits would mean that Paul is not denying that justification comes through works done in obedience to the law, but only certain kinds of works or works that are done in the wrong spirit.
b.) However, the Hebrew phase generally refers to anything done in obedience to the law. Paul picks up on this and uses the phrase to refer to those things done by human beings in obedience to the law of Moses. We might also refer to these "works of the law" as simply "good works" (cf. Rom. 3:20, 28 and 4:2-5; 9:11-12).
c.) When Paul uses phrases like the "law of faith" (Rom. 3:27) or the "law of the Spirit" (8:2) he is not referring to the Law of Moses, but rather he is using nomos in a more general sense as a principle. He is contrasting the Mosaic law to the principle of the new covenant. However, his use of "law of righteousness" (9:31) probably refers to the Mosaic law indicating the law that demands righteousness.
d.) There is no reason to think that Paul is using nomos to refer to "legalism" or a misunderstanding of the law because there are clearly places where these phrases are used and Paul is unambiguously referring to the law as God gave it (Rom. 3:19-20; 5:20; 7:7; Gal. 3:15-18).
e.) Also, Paul viewed Christ's work of redemption as the necessary answer to negative effects of the law (Rom. 3:21-26; 7:4-6; 8:2-4; Gal. 3:13-14; 4:7). Christ didn't come to die for a misunderstanding of the law, but the actual, objective imprisoning of the law's demands.
Therefore, "the Mosaic law, by its nature, demands works. But since salvation can be achieved only by faith, the Mosaic law can have nothing to do with securing salvation" (333).
3.) The Law Cannot Save Because of Sin. Although the Mosaic law holds out the promise of life for those who obey it, no one can achieve it because it is impossible to do it (Acts 15:10; Gal. 3:10-12; Rom. 2:13 and 3:20). The law only brings a curse because no man is able to accomplish it.
Paul illustrates this principle in Rom. 7:7-8:4. Paul is not describing the experience of a Christian (7:14; 7:23 contra 6:6, 16-17, 18, 20, 22; 8:2). Rather, he is describing the redemptive historical life of all Jews under the law of Moses. The law only brings death because humanity is under sin and the law is weakened because of man's sinful nature. Therefore, it is only by faith that man can receive the promises which is the basis of the new covenant.
God gave the Law through Moses to Israel:
1.) To reveal his (God's) character to the people of Israel and demand that the people conform to it. The Mosaic law was given as God's gracious revelation of his character (Lev. 11:45).
a.) However, the law is not simply the revelation of God's character. It also demands conformity with threats of punishment for disobedience. The Mosaic law is indeed law.
b.) The law points to God's character in different ways. Some laws relate to human behavior. Some laws deal with sacrifice teaching that God will not tolerate sin.
In order to explain the different kinds of law, traditionally theologians have divided the law into three categories: moral, ceremonial, civil. It is argued that while the moral laws are eternally binding on all men, the ceremonial and civil have ceased in Christ. Therefore, interpreters will speak of the latter categories when the NT gives a negative view of the law and speaks of the law as ceasing.
However, the Jews in Jesus' and Paul's day did not divide the law up into categories. "Law" always applied to the whole law as given, not to only a part of the law (Matt. 23:23; Gal. 5:3; James 2:10). This is true even of the Ten Commandments, where even here it is difficult to separate the "moral" from the ceremonial aspects of the law (Ex. 20:12 and Eph. 6:2-3).
2.) To supervise Israel in the time before Christ. Paul says that the law was given to supervise and safeguard the people of Israel until Christ should come (Gal. 3:24).
This verse is often applied to all people as the second purpose of the law. However, Paul is clearly using this verse to refer to a specific redemptive historical period so that he is not referring to all men in general, but specifically to the purpose of the law within the history of Israel.
Therefore, the law served as a pedagogue or "babysitter" to direct Israel's "behavior until the time of their maturity, when the promised Messiah would be revealed (Gal. 4:1-7).
3.) To imprison Israel, and by extension, all people under sin. The Law actually had the affect of revealing and stimulating sin and of locking up Israel and by extrapolation, all people -- under the condemning power of sin.
a.) The law reveals sin. The law brings about a knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:19-20; 7:7-12). Again, in Rom. 7, Paul is not speaking of his individual, experience but himself in solidarity with the people of Israel. The giving of the law to Israel produce a new awareness of sin.
There is "slim" biblical support that the Mosaic law should be preached in preparation for the gospel. None of the evangelistic examples in the NT show the law being used this way, except for the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-22). However, the law was not used to drive the young man to despair, but Christ's "gospel" command to follow him. Also, this was a Jew who was under the law to begin with.
b.) The law "increases sin. The law also has the affect of actually multiplying sin (Rom. 5:20). It gives Israel more "forbidden fruits" which stimulates them to rebellion.
c.) The law imprisons under sin. Because the law reveals and increases sin it imprisons Israel under sin's power and brings about condemnation (Gal. 3:23; Rom. 4:15; 7:23; 8:2-3). The law was "an unfulfilled and unfulfillable 'IOU' standing against sinful human beings (Col. 2:14)." The result was that the whole world has become a prisoner of sin (Rom. 3:19-20).
Here again the redemptive historical context is crucial. Paul speaks of "before" and "after" Christ on two levels: the level of world history and the level of individual history. On the one hand, Paul divides all of history into three historical periods: before the law (when the promise was given to Abraham), under the law, and after the law (when the promise to Abraham was fulfilled). On the other hand, surely individuals have been affected by this work to the extent that they are saved from the curse (Gal. 3:6-9) and have been delivered from the condemnatory life under the law (Rom. 3:25-26).
Therefore, the law of Moses could not give life because of man's sin. Though the law is good it brings about a heightened awareness of sin and stimulates rebellion because of Israel's sin. The result is that Israel was imprisoned in their sin until Christ came to bring deliverance. Though these references refer to Israel, what applies to Israel also applies to all people who are confronted by God's laws in various forms (Rom. 2:14-15).
The Mosaic Law in the New Covenant
"The entire Mosaic law comes to fulfillment in Christ, and this fulfillment means that his law is no longer a direct and immediate source of, or judge of, the conduct of God's people. Christian behavior, rather, is now guided directly by "the law of Christ." This law does not consist of legal prescriptions and ordinances, but of the teaching and example of Jesus and the apostles, the central demand of love, and the guiding influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit" (343).
A. The Old Testament
Although the OT claims that the law given to Moses is "eternally valid" (Lev. 16:24; 24:8) we know that these texts cannot mean the eternal applicability of the Mosaic law.
1.) The Hebrew word "olam" (lasting for an age) which is translated as "eternal" or "everlasting" is applied to the Levitical priesthood (Ex. 40:15) which Hebrews claims that it has been done away with.
2.) A strict interpretation of these verses would mean that every detail is eternal, including the sacrificial law, which is clearly contradicted in the New Testament.
3.) That the Mosaic law is temporary is suggested also by the fact that it is a covenant that is dependent upon the faithful obedience of Israel. The stipulations of the covenant give the law a probationary aspect in that if they are not fulfilled, then the covenant or law comes to an end.
4.) The promised new covenant is going to be unlike the previous covenant in that it could not be broken (Jer. 31:33-34; Ez. 36:24-28). The fulfillment of this new covenant was not the return of Israel into the land after exile, but rather it is fulfilled through Jesus Christ and the Spirit-endowed Church (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 8:7-13).
5.) The new covenant is not a mere internalization of the Mosaic law because there are clearly many laws that have been abrogated (Mk 7:19; Acts 10:9-16; Hebrews, etc). Even if it was conceded that the Mosaic law is internalized in the new covenant, clearly it does not continue without variation or modification. Also, the OT prophets spoke of a new torah or Zion torah (Isa. 2:3; 42:4; 51:4, 7; Mic. 4:2). While God's will is certainly contained within the new law, it doesn't mean that the Mosaic law is simply in view.
1.) Fulfillment Matt. 5:17-48
This text is divided into two sections: vv. 17-19 Jesus says that the OT law is not simply abrogated but is fulfilled in Him; in vv. 21-48 Jesus examines the superior, "kingdom" righteousness that Jesus requires. Vv. 21-48 are examined first:
a. The first two antitheses: Jesus deepens the law by extending its prohibitions from the sphere of action to that of the thought life. Jesus' "but I say to you" is placing his own authoritative demand alongside of the law of Moses and saying that his law is superior to that of Moses.
b. The third antithesis: While Jesus' command agrees generally with the school of Shammai, he is much more forthright about branding second marriages after improper divorces as adulterous.
c. The fourth "thesis": Jesus denies or perhaps restricts the acceptance of vows implicit in the OT. He simply sweeps away the whole system of vows and oaths that was described and regulated in the OT.
d. The fifth antithesis: Jesus juxtaposes the OT law with his own demand. Since, there is a question about whether Jesus is actually dealing with a particular law, it may be that Jesus does not match or interpret any particular commandment of the law.
e. The final antithesis: Jesus' demand to love their enemies goes beyond anything required in the OT.
It is clear that Jesus is not simply confirming the law or simply reasserting the true meaning of the original OT commandment over against Jewish misinterpretations of the day. Neither is he always giving a deeper or more radical interpretation of the law. So what is Jesus doing? It depends upon the meaning of "fulfill" in v.17.
Matthew uses this word fifteen times in his gospel. Ten of these uses are used as introductions to fulfillment quotations from the OT in the sense that Jesus is the eschatological, redemptive-historical fulfillment of the OT passages. The idea then is that the OT anticipates by pointing forward to Christ as the fulfillment. Some interpret the meaning of "fulfill" then to say that Jesus fulfills in his living out of the commands. However, the emphasis in the passage is on Jesus' teachings. Therefore, it is better to interpret the meaning of "fulfill" as referring to Jesus' teachings as being "the eschatological fullness of God's will to which the Mosaic law looked forward. Jesus 'fulfills the law not by explaining it or by extending it, but by producing the standards of kingdom righteousness that were anticipated in the law" (352).
V. 18 then would be an endorsement of the continuing "usefulness of the law in the sense that the Mosaic law can still be read and profited from but that they must be viewed in light of their fulfillment by Jesus. It is therefore the law as fulfilled by Jesus that must be done, not the law in its original form.
2.) Love and the Law
There are three interpretive approaches to this relationship:
a.) love replaces the law
b.) love is the criterion by which the meaning and application of the Mosaic commandments are to be evaluated
c.) love is the central demand of the law, without which the fulfillment of the rest of the law is meaningless.
Moo argues that elements of the 2nd and 3rd are found in Jesus.
Jesus singles out love as the greatest commandment in the law (Matt. 22:34-40; Mk. 12:28-34; Lk. 10:25-28). Jesus says these two commandments are the hinges without which all the law falls to the ground. Therefore, Jesus doesn't say that love replaces the law, but that love is central and vital to the law.
However, "Jesus makes love so central to his understanding and interpretation of the law that it becomes the power of interpreting and applying God's will as revealed in the law" (354).
Love is more important that sacrifices (Matt. 9:13; 12:7; Mk. 12:32-34).
Jesus and his disciples violate the accepted Jewish teaching of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:7, etc.). The welfare of one's fellow man plays a role in interpreting the intention and regulating the observance of the Sabbath command.
Jesus' focus on the Sabbath was to point to its fulfillment in Him. "Jesus was not so much concerned with adjudicating the exact meaning and application of the Mosaic law as he was in asserting his claim to bring that which was both greater than, and the fulfillment of, that law.
Jesus therefore "makes love the center of the law and moves slightly in the direction of using love as a criterion to interpret and explain the law" (356).
3.) The Mosaic law and the Commandments of Jesus
a.) Jesus made his own teaching the norm of life in the kingdom.
b.) It stands in salvation-historical continuity with the law.
While Jesus and his disciples scrupulously obeyed all the details of the law, "his personal obedience of the law and his teaching of such obedience to others cannot, then, be automatically viewed as expressing his belief about what should be the case after his death and resurrection had brought the new era of salvation into existence" (356).
c.) There are clear references to Jesus not expecting the Mosaic law to continue in unabated force (Matt. 19:3-12; Matt. 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23).
d.) After his death and resurrection, Jesus commanded his disciples to teach "all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20).
There is a shift of focus from the law to Jesus as the criterion for what it means to be obedient to God. Jesus is now the fulfiller of the law for guidance in the way his disciples are to live. The Mosaic law no longer functions as the ultimate and immediate standard for conduct for God's people. It must always be viewed through the lens of Jesus' ministry and teaching.
Moo argues that "Paul teaches that Christians should not look directly to the Mosaic law as their authoritative code of conduct but to 'the law of Christ.' This 'law' is not a set of rules but a set of principles drawn from the life and teaching of Jesus, with love for others as its heart and the indwelling Spirit as its directive force" (357).
Paul uses "fulfill" four times in reference to the law (Rom. 8:4; 13:8, 10; Gal. 5:14).
Rom. 10:4 has almost become a slogan to summarize Paul's attitude to the law.
Law is sometimes interpreted as "legalism" but it has been shown that "law" normally refers to the Mosaic law.
The eis phrase depends on the entire first phrase.
What is the meaning of telos? It means both goal and end in the sense that "Christ is the one to whom the law has all along been pointing its goal. But now that the goal has been reached, the regime of the law is ended, just as a race is ended once the finish line, its goal, has been attained" (359).
The law has ceased to have a central and determinative role in God's plan and among his people.
2.) Love and the Law
In Gal. 5:14 and Rom. 13:8-10 Paul views love for one's fellow man as being the fulfillment of the law. Here Paul views love as pointing to the true meaning and essence of the law.
But Paul also seems to say that love in some sense displaces the commandments of Moses (Rom. 13:9; cf. Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:14; John 13:34).
But isn't the demand to love part of the law (Lev. 19:18)? Paul views the law as fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
But isn't there more to love than just our neighbor? Paul is only dealing with what we might call the horizontal relationships (Rom. 13:9).
3.) The Law of Moses and the Law of Christ
a.) No longer "under the law"
Paul uses the phrase eleven times (Rom. 6:14, 15; 1 Cor. 9:20 [four times]; Gal. 3:23; 4:4, 5, 21; 5:18)
i.) under the condemnation pronounced by the law
ii.) under a legalistic perversion of the law
iii.) under the law as a regime or power, in a general sense
The third is the only proper interpretation. The second is completely rejected, while there may be traces of the first in some places.
The Galatian passages contrast the life under the law of Moses with the new life under the Spirit.
The Corinthian passage says that the Christian is no longer subject to the Mosaic law but under Christ's law.
The Christian, in the Romans passage, is not under the Mosaic law. Though some argue that Paul is dealing with legalism, it difficult to imagine that the death of Christ was needed to remove a simple misunderstanding of the law.
To be "under the law" then is to be under the regime and power of the law. Christians now live in a new regime, no longer dominated by the law with its sin-producing and condemning power, but by Christ and the Spirit (1 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14).
b.) Bound to "the law of Christ"
Some will argue that the view so far is antinomian. But Moo is not arguing that the Christian is free from all law, but only the law of Moses. Christians are still obligated to God's law as seen through the life and teaching of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21).
"This law is not a code or series of commandments and prohibitions, but is composed of the teachings of Christ and the apostles and the directing influence of the Holy Spirit. Love is central to this law, and there is strong continuity with the law of Moses, for many specifically Mosaic commandments are taken up and included within this 'law of Christ'" (368).
Gal. 6:2: What does the law of Christ consist of?
5:14 to love others
5:16-26 fruit of the Spirit
Chap. 5 the directing influence of the Spirit (Jer. 31:31-34; Ez. 36:26-27)
Paul also clearly thought of the law of Christ as including the teachings of Jesus and the apostles (imperatives).
The law of Christ "stands in Paul's thought for those 'prescriptive principles stemming from the heart of the gospel (usually embodied in the example and teachings of Jesus), which are meant to be applied to specific situations by the direction and enablement of the Holy Spirit, being always motivated and conditioned by love" (Longnecker in Moo, 369).
This teaching and witness is built on and incorporates many provisions of the Mosaic law. We can be sure that everything that would fall under the "eternal moral will of God" that is contained in the Mosaic law is "caught up into and repeated within 'the law of Christ'" (370).
Though the law of Christ has specific commandments, the basic directive power is the renewed heart of the Christian that is being transformed by God's Spirit into a perfect refractor and performer of God's will (Rom. 12:1-2). Commandments are still necessary because of the "not yet" aspect of the Christian life.
Eph. 6:2-3 an example of how the law of Christ incorporates the teachings of the Mosaic law that undergoes transformation in Christ.
1 Cor. 7:19 Paul is referring to those commandments that are applicable to Christians.
Rom. 3:31 & 8:4 Believers who are "in Christ" and led by the Spirit fully meet the demand of God's law by having it met for them in Christ. A vicarious fulfilling of the law by Christ.
John 1:17 Though John is not denying that grace was present in the Old Covenant, there is a strong disjunction between the era of Moses and the era of Christ. The grace by which believers now live comes in Christ "in place of" that grace that accompanied the Mosaic law.
The discontinuity is repeated throughout John's Gospel with the replacement themes as Christ fulfills the old covenant institutions, the Passover, the manna and Israel itself.
Luke/Act shows a strong discontinuity of "torah piety" and the early church when the apostolic council declines to force Gentile Christians to observe the law (Acts 15).
Luke also stresses the fact that the law is fulfilled in Christ (Lk. 24:44; Acts 28:23).
The law is outmoded and inapplicable to Christians (7:19; 10:1-2).
There is a need for a new covenant (8:7-13; Jer. 31:31-34) which has made the old one obsolete.
"perfect law that gives freedom" (1:25; cf. 2:10, 12). But James is not speaking of the Mosaic law simply and directly, but rather the "royal law" that Christ commands for the kingdom.
Also, James' dependence upon the words and teachings of Jesus supports that he is referring to the law as interpreted through Jesus' teachings.
Summary and Conclusion
The Mosaic law which is tied firmly to the Sinaitic covenant, now abrogated in Christ, is no longer a direct and immediate source of guidance to the new covenant believer.
But the Mosaic law is still in some sense profitable (2 Tim. 3:16).
a.) Some of the laws of Moses are taken up into the Law of Christ (Gal. 5:14; Eph. 6:2; Ja. 2:8-12). The essential "moral" content of the Mosaic law is still applicable to the believer. If Moo were pressed with what the believer is actually supposed to "do" he would be in complete agreement with the traditional Reformed approach to the Mosaic law. The difference is that the believer is bound only to do that which is repeated in the NT, whereas the traditional Reformed approach would be that the believer is bound by anything that is not clearly overturned in the NT (376).
b.) The Mosaic law may also function as a "filling out" and explaining certain basic concepts within both old and new covenant law. The detailed stipulations of the Mosaic law often reveal principles that are part of God's word to his people in both covenants, and believers continue to profit from what the law teaches in this respect (376).
c.) Christians should read the law as a witness to the fulfillment of God's plan in Christ and therefore its continuing authority for the life of the believer is in its prophetic witness.
Further Reading by Moo:
"Jesus and the Authority of the Mosaic Law." JSNT 20 (1984): 3-49.
"The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ." In J. S. Feinberg, ed. Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Essays in Honor of S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. Westchester: Crossway, 1988, 203-18.
"'Law,' 'Works of the Law,' and Legalism in Paul." WTJ 45 (1983): 73-100.
The Letter of James. Tyndale. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985
"Paul and the Law in the Last Ten Years." STJ 40 (1987): 287-307.
"Review of D. P. Fuller. Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology." TrinJ 3 (1982): 99-102.
Reviews of Heikki Raisanen. Paul and the Law and E. P. Sanders. Paul, the Law and the Jewish People. TrinJ 5 (1984):92-99.
The Epistle to the Romans. NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.