Are We Under the Law?
Paul uses the phrase υπο νομον in six different texts:
|Because sin must not master you, because you are not under νομον but under loving-kindness. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under νομον but under loving-kindness? May it never be!||Romans 6:14, 15|
|And to the Yehūdi̱m I became as a Yehūdi̱, that I might win Yehūdi̱m. To those subject to νομον, as subject to νομον, though not being myself subject to νομον, that I might win those subject to νομον.||1 Corinthians 9:20|
|But before this Faithfulness came we were imprisoned under νομον’s penalty, being shut away from this Faithfulness, about to be revealed.||Galatians 3:23|
|But when the fullness of the time came, the Almĭghty sent forth his Sŏn, being born from a woman, coming under νομον’s penalty in order that he might redeem those under νομον’s penalty, that we might receive the adoption as sons.||Galatians 4:4|
|Tell me, you who want to be under νομον’s penalty, do you not listen to νομον?||Galatians 4:21|
|But if you are led by the Spĭrit, you are not under νομον’s condemnation.||Galatians 5:18|
First observe the opposite phrases, in 1 Corinthians 9:20, “as being under νομον” and “not being under νομον.” It should be evident here that if νομον has the same meaning in both phrases, then there is a contradiction in Paul on this fundamental issue: as being under A vs. not being under A. The first rule of logic is that a thing and its opposite cannot both be true, stated thus:
A is not equal to not A. If we say that “he is nowhere” and “he is not nowhere”, then “nowhere” cannot mean the same thing in both cases without there being a contradiction. If it is explained that the two phrases should be read “he is now here” and “he is not no where” then the two statements agree.
If therefore, Paul means the same thing in both cases by the word νομον, then there is a contradiction on this fundamental issue. That is to say Paul contradicts himself, and we can resolve our dilemma by dismissing Paul as an authority. On the other hand, if Paul did not mean the same thing in each case by νομον, then there is no contradiction, and we may honestly say that Paul’s authority remains intact.
How then do those who reject the authority of Torah take this text? First they say that when Paul says he is not under νομον that he means he is not subject to the precepts of the law, and secondly that when he says he acts as under νομον to those with the Torah that he is only pretending to keep the law in order not to offend them so that they might be converted. How should we take the two senses of what Paul is saying?
When Paul says he is not under νομον, he does not mean that he is not
being without the law of the Almĭghty, because he stated μη ων ανομος θΥ,
not being without the law of the Almĭghty. Now, since Paul has written these tight phrases in close proximity, it should be clear that he would be aware of a contradiction if he had dictated one. He was aware that the reader might misunderstand him, so he carefully stated,
not being without the law of the Almĭghty; therefore, his statement
not being under νομον cannot mean that.
Paul has eliminated the one meaning that heretical Christians (or the lawless nominal Christians) want the phrase to mean. In order to justify this, they have come up with all manner of meanings that Paul could have meant, i.e. that he was not under ceremonial law, but under moral law, or that he was not under law, but he was only pretending to be under law as a missionary strategy to win converts from the Jews.
So what meaning goes with τοῖς ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ὑπὸ νόμον, μὴ ὢν αὐτὸς ὑπὸ νόμον, ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον κερδήσω? The meanings are readily available in a Greek dictionary, viz. “to those under a custom as under the custom, not being myself under the custom, so that I might gain those under custom.” And then the next phrase continues, “τοῖς ἀνόμοις ὡς ἄνομος, μὴ ὢν ἄνομος θεοῦ ἀλλ᾽ ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, ἵνα κερδάνω τοὺς ἀνόμους·
to those without custom as without the custom, not being without the Law of Gŏd, but in the Law of Messiah, so that I might gain those without the custom.
Now let us move on to Romans 6:14:
Because you are not under νομον but under grace. (Romans 6:14) What is the opposite of grace? The opposite of grace is not law. The opposite of grace is judgment, or condemnation. Grace is mercy, and the opposite of mercy is punishment. Paul begins,
For sin shall not master you. What is the opposite of sin? The opposite of sin is obedience. To be under νομον, in this context, means to be under condemnation. Condemnation is what results from being mastered by Sin, and sin is disobedience.
There is another meaning of νομος that should be helpful in understanding Paul. The primary sense of the word is a norm, such that it can even refer to the customary habits of birds, or the status quo. A Greek might ask what is the νομος for tree growth in a certain forest, and the answer might be 50 feet. There will of course be exceptions. But the statistical average is the νομος. Therefore when Paul uses the word in a legal context, the sense is a legal norm. This sense was even borrowed into Hebrew: נוֹמוֹס, and into Aramaic: נַמוּסַא. So then, with this background on the word, Romans 6:14 has the sense, “because you are not under the legal norm, but under grace.” The legal norm for disobedience is condemnation, but the exception is mercy through Messiah.
With these simple solutions, all of Paul’s usages of νόμον sort themselves out neatly into these senses, 1. Law, 2. custom, tradition, 3. a legal norm, 4. a habitual norm, or 5. a status quo. The good news is that
Messiah is the end of the legal norm for justice to everyone faithfully trusting. (Romans 10:4) Justice would be the decision of the Judge to acquit, to punish, or to pardon. The legal norm for disobedience is the punishment. The legal exception is the pardon. We must realize that Messiah’s death does not mean we are declared not guilty because there are three outcomes to a trial: execution, pardon, or acquittal. The good news is not acquittal. It is a pardon of those found guilty, because Messiah has already paid the penalty!
That God will not acquit sin is part of his very name:
Then he called, “Yăhwēh, Yăhwēh Gŏd merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and faithfulness, keeeping loving-kindness to a thousand generations, bearing iniquity, and transgression, and sin, and acquitting he will not acquit, attending the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons, and upon the sons of the sons, upon the third generation, and upon the fourth generation.
For this reason the doctrine that the outcome of a believer’s trial is to be “declared righteous” is a false doctrine. A declaration of righteousness or “make righteous” is a Hebrew idiom for an acquittal, a clearing of the defendent of all wrongdoing. A pardon acknowledges the guilt of the sinner. The acquittal does not. Why then do the theologians teach an acquittal? They teach an acquittal because they have been deceived by the deceiver, whose aim is to slander the name of God as an unjust judge. It is high time to stop fearing the theologians.
In the Greek that Paul wrote, the word δικαιοω, which most translations render “justify” and which most theologians construe as an acquittal or declaration of righteousness simply meant “to do justice.” It meant to do justice in any manner, whether by punishment, pardon, or acquittal. The outcome for the pardon and the acquittal are the same, but the justice of the judge will be incorrect if he acquits the guilty. He can only pardon the guilty if he wishes to have mercy and free the person from judgment. Otherwise, he is an unjust judge.
Therefore in Romans 5:1-2 we have,
Therefore justice being satisfied by faithfulness we have peace with the Almĭghty through our Adŏnai Yĕshua the Mĕssiah, by whom also we hold access, by trusting faithfulness, into this loving kindness in which we stand. And we are rejoicing in the confident expectation of the glory of the Almĭghty.
Now to satisfy justice is the same as doing justice or administering justice, i.e. deciding the outcome, either acquittal, pardon, or condemnation. It is on the basis of Messiah’s faithfulness to die for our sins that the penalty is paid for us, and therefore the Almighty can pardon. Now in the case of an acquittal there would be no penalty required in the first place. So if God may acquit a person, i.e. declare them not guilty, then no penalty would be required to be paid, and Messiah would not have had to die at all.
The Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright comes very close to what I am saying about Paul’s teaching. The faithful are pardoned via the faithfulness of Messiah. Justice is done for us by His faithfulness. So something good has come out of the New Perspective on Paul. The sacrifice of Messiah makes sense only in terms of a pardon of the guilty because the penalty has been paid.
We need not be afraid of the mistranslations of Paul that the lawless Church has been working on for 1900 years, even if we don’t understand how to unravel all of the damage. There is still enough light coming through all the attempts to corrupt him to see the true good news, especially when we interpret him via Messiah’s words and those of John.
Also the faithful must know that Messianic Judaism cannot explain Paul so long as it insists that Paul taught a gospel of acquittal, and so long as they insist that Paul taught Jews to follow Torah, and exempted non-Jews from important commands like the Sabbath, Feast Days, food laws, and circumcision. This Paul is the very same false Paul that the lawless Church teaches. Paul taught that salvation did not require circumcision. But that does not mean there is never an obligation to circumcision. Salvation does not require baptism either. The criminal that died with Messiah, who was told that he would be in paradise, was not baptised, and we can delete the longer ending of Mark. But baptism is an obligation, and it becomes a part of faithfulness when a person understands its meaning. Then they should do it. But we must beware of doctrines like Rome, which turn minor commandments into instruments of salvation. I call it waving the wand. That is why they baptise infants. Circumcision has a similar status in Judaism. It has become more than just a sign of the covenant. It has become the thing that makes a person Jewish, and therefore to inherit life. So long as circumcision and baptism are perceived these ways, then they are false doctrines, and the people have no knowledge of the true commandments which are signs of the covenant, and signs of a faithful commitment to Messiah.