Can We Speak of the Law in the New Testament in Monolithic Terms?

By Tim Hegg

The Issue at Hand

The current debate over the Law in the NT has advanced the discussion along familiar lines. Continuity/Discontinuity continues to set the extremes of the continuum, with scholars placing themselves toward one pole or the other. Evangelical scholars have also renewed the discussion of the Law in the NT, as evidenced by the number of current articles and publications on the subject.1

Within the ETS, the Dispensational Study Group (which convenes annually at the national meeting) has focused attention on the issue. At the 1993 annual meeting, the topic for the Dispensational Study Group was “The Law and Christ”. Such a topic requires definition of terms at the outset, something which the subsequent dialog proved was lacking. The discussion began on the unspoken assumption that the meaning of “Law” was the written code of Moses, leaving the impression that current trends in scholarship, which have established the multifaceted nature of the 1st Century Judaisms, were either unknown or regarded as unacceptable for the present debate. One would have thought that the work of scholars such as E. P. Sanders, W. D. Davies, and Jacob Neusner (to name only a few) regarding the whole scope of “Law” in the early Judaisms would have given the dialog a much needed breadth. All the more since it seems quite clear the 1st Century debates and divisions among the sects of Jews related not to the presence or lack of “law” but to the application of it to everyday life. These dividing interpretations of the Law were the issue at hand, and existed as oral halakha.

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1 1See, for instance, Thomas R. Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law (Baker, 1993); “Paul’s View of the Law in Romans 10:4-5”, WTJ 55 (1993), 13-135; David K. Lowery, “Christ, the End of the Law in Romans 10:4”, in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition , ed. C. A. Blaising and D. L. Bock (Zondervan, 1992); David A. Dorsey, “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise” JETS 34.3 (Sept, 1991), 321-334; Meredith G. Kline, “Gospel until the Law: Rom 5:13-14 and the Old Covenant” JETS 34.4 (Dec, 1991), 433-446; Walter Kaiser, “God’s Promise Plan and His Gracious Law” JETS 33.3 (Sept, 1990), 289-302; John S. Feinberg, ed., Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments (Crossway, 1988); Stephen Westerholm, Israel’s Law and the Church’s Faith (Eerdmans, 1988); D. P. Fuller, Gospel and Law: Contrast or Continuum? (Eerdmans, 1980); R. H. Gundry, “Grace, Works, and Staying Saved in Paul”, in Biblica 66 (1985), 1-38; Thomas R. Schreiner, “Is Perfect Obedience to the Law Possible?” JETS 27.2 (June, 1984), 151-160; D. J. Moo, “Jesus and the Authority of the Mosaic Law”, JSNT 20 (1984); “‘Law,’ ‘Works of the Law,’ and Legalism in Paul”, WTJ 45 (1983), 73100; Brice L. Martin, “Paul on Christ and the Law” JETS 26.3 (Sept, 1983), 271-282; Kenneth L. Barker, “False Dichotomies Between the Testaments”, JETS 25 (Mar, 1982), 3-16; Mark W. Karlberg, “Legitimate Discontinuities Between the Testaments”, JETS 28 (Mar, 1985), 9-20; Greg Chirichigno, “A Theological Investigation of Motivation in Old Testament Law” JETS 24.4 (Dec, 1981), 303-314. Obviously, there are a ‘truckload’ more which could be cited. In general, there has been much contributed by the scholarly community, and works such as those by E. P. Sanders (Paul and Palestinian Judaism [Fortress, 1977]; Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People [Fortress, 1983]); Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah (TPI, 1990), Roger Brooks, The Spirit of the Ten Commandments (Harper & Row, 1990), Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letter of the Apostle to the Gentiles (Fortress / Van Gorcum, 1990), Räisänen (Paul and the Law [Fortress, 1986]), F. Thielman, From Plight to Solution: A Jewish Framework for Understanding Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians and Romans (NovTSup 61; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989), J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1990), and N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991), to cite a few, have had a widespread impact upon the general discussion of the Law in the NT. Note the article “Law” in David N. Freedman, ed. Anchor Bible Dictionary 6 vols. (Doubleday,1992), 4:242-265 in which Samuel Greengus, Rifat Sonsino, and E. P. Sanders contribute.

Tim Hegg

President / Instructor

Tim graduated from Cedarville University in 1973 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Bible, with a minor in Philosophy. He entered Northwest Baptist Seminary (Tacoma, WA) in 1973, completing his M.Div. (summa cum laude) in 1976. He completed his Th.M. (summa cum laude) in 1978, also from NWBS. His Master’s Thesis was titled: “The Abrahamic Covenant and the Covenant of Grant in the Ancient Near East”. Tim taught Biblical Hebrew and Hebrew Exegesis for three years as an adjunct faculty member at Corban University School of Ministry when the school was located in Tacoma. Corban University School of Ministry is now in Salem, OR. Tim is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature, and has contributed papers at the annual meetings of both societies. Since 1990, Tim has served as one of the Overseers at Beit Hallel in Tacoma, WA. He and his wife, Paulette, have four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.