A Question I Was Asked:

Does Not Romans 7:7-12 Support the Law and Sabbath?

Does not Romans 7:7-12 support the Law and Sabbath? How about it?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, let us look at this:

7. What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." 8. But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

Paul's point in verses 11- 12 is simply that the law is a good thing if it makes us fully aware of sin, in that sense, it effectively kills us, all of us, but it can never save a single one of us! True, Paul uses a tricky philosophical construct in these verses, I may say that it is good to read those verses in the Amplified Bible, which really makes Paul's line of reasoning far more clear.

It is very odd how some can find parts of chapters in a book which, overall, is very clearly anti-law, to support their legalism and sabbatarianism. The quote starts from verse 7, but I note that the quoter is very careful not to include verses 1-7. Let us look at that:

1. Do you not know, brothers and sisters - for I am speaking to those who know the law - that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2. For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man. 4. So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:1-6; NIV throughout).

How more clearly could Paul state that the Christian believer is no longer under the law? I must say I find it amazing how some could, apparently, be blind to Paul's main point here. We have died to the law through the body of Christ our Saviour, and now belong to another (the risen Christ). Christ died so that we might bear fruit for God, that was not possible whilst the law stood over us (verse 4), Paul the Apostle is incredibly clear saying, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

I am asked, How could Paul then say, 'So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.' (verse 12). It's very simple. Yes, the law is excellent and is a perfect guide to sin, however the Christian needs to learn to go beyond striving to obey just the ten points of the commandments (which, by the way, we are told that the Pharisees kept perfectly), plus numerous other points of the old law, it is an insufficient guide, which is why Jesus said,

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22a).

When Jesus said, 'you have heard that it was said' He was referring to the commandments and their inadequacy. Of course, it's true that Jesus also said,

"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).

He fulfilled them upon the cross:

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30).

Paul could only make some of the comments which he makes because He knew full well that Jesus fulfilled and accomplished the law on the cross and we are now saved, relying on our Saviour, through faith and grace, for our salvation; we are not saved by any amount of law-keeping!

Yet it remains true that 'the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.' Nobody can deny that. This is what Israel were given, it was their total guide in their time. But Jesus also stated,

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20).

Notice that Jesus is quick to point out that these people were indeed "teachers of the law," but the problem is that that law could save no one, it was a very good guide, but only a guide, it could not offer salvation, moreover, upon the cross, it had had its day, as Jesus ushered in the New Covenant (the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom signalling the final conclusion of the old covenant; Matthew 27:50-51). In Jesus all things become new (new wine in new wineskins; Matthew 9:16-17, Mark 2:21-22 and Luke 5:33-39).

Just Occasionally Paul uses 'Law' (Greek: Nomos) Slightly Differently...

But we should just note that sometimes Paul the Apostle refers to faith itself as a law, the law of faith, or 'the law that requires faith':

27. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28. For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:27-28).

At other times when using 'law' (Greek:'nomos'), Paul plainly refers to the great spiritual law of God, that law which lies behind the Ten Commandments but which goes much further, best called 'the law of Christ,' (he plainly does this in Romans 3:31 and Romans 7:12). Just as when we, in our own day, say "law," we don't always mean exactly the same thing. The experienced and meticulous student of the Bible will quickly note these variations, unfortunately some are not dilligent students of the Holy Bible but seem to love finding such instances to help support an argument or division, not realising the limitations of their own knowledge (the cults and sects are full of such people, as sadly are legalistists).

The Final 'Clincher': Paul States He Was ONLY Under the Law of Christ

Further, Paul makes a most illuminating comment in 1 Corithians 9, a comment one should consider carefully:

19. Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. (1 Corinthians 9:19-21).

Notice very carefully that Paul is clear here that he is only under the Law of Christ, not the old covenant laws! Again, could he really be any more clear? I hardly think so!

The Sabbath Question

Since most (if not all) legalists are Sabbatarians, what is Paul's 'bottom line' on that? Do we know? Yes, we do. He said,

" ... let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." (Colossians 2:16-17).

Sabbath-keeping is never described as a Christian duty anywhere in the New Testament. Neither Paul, nor John, nor the author of Hebrews (who is unknown), not even Peter (with close links to the Jerusalem congregation), ever states anything like, 'please don't forget to observe the Sabbath.' True, we are encouraged to continue to mix and assemble together whenever possible in Hebrews, yet not a word about the Sabbath, nor the solemnity of that day. Paul goes further, he even very strongly infers that no day is more holy than any other of itself, one should just be convinced in one's own mind. (Romans 14:5-6).

Finally, in Acts 15 where, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and dating to about AD49 or 50, the Apostles discuss which elements of law needed to be taught to those Gentiles who were coming to Christ. The Sabbath is highly conspicuous by its absence! Since the topic was, apparently, not even raised, this tends to confirm that the Apostles fully accepted that the Sabbath was given to Israel alone. Rather, the AD49 or AD50 Jerusalem conference clearly referred to the Laws of Noah (for all mankind and preceding the Mount Sinai laws). In a rare moment of 'off the record' candour a strong sabbatarian once admitted to me that Acts 15 is a major and unresolved weakness in sabbatarian argument.

Robin A. Brace. February 22nd, 2018.


What is the Meaning of Jesus' Parable of the New Wine in Old Wineskins in Matthew and Luke?

"For it is Not Those who Hear the Law who are Righteous in God's Sight, but it is Those who Obey the Law who will be Declared Righteous." Romans 2:13. True or False?