Law in the Epistle to the Romans Part 1 -- By: John F. Walvoord

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 094:373 (Jan 1937)
Article: Law in the Epistle to the Romans Part 1
Author: John F. Walvoord

Law in the Epistle to the Romans
Part 1

John F. Walvoord


The interpretation of the use of the word law in the Epistle to the Romans is one of the difficult problems of the epistle. On a question on which learned scholars differ, it is clearly impossible to come to a final conclusion. The present work is an attempt to show that a reasonable explanation is possible for every use of the word, an explanation which is consistent with the definitions and distinctions herein set forth. An attempt is made to show that the article or its absence has definite significance, that Paul is arguing in Romans for something more than a setting aside of Mosaic law, and that the significance of the whole finds fruit in definite statements of doctrine.

The Epistle to the Romans is not a polemic against legalism in the sense that the Epistle to the Galatians is. It is a setting forth of the principle that it is God who effects every spiritual fruit, whether justification or sanctification, and that our part in this transaction is that of receiving it by faith. Paul’s main purpose is to set forth the doctrines of justification and sanctification. In the nature of the case, he must demonstrate the contrast of this to the prevailing legalistic conceptions.

It has been impossible to attempt the refutations of other theories in every case and keep within proper limits. The writer in many cases only explains his conception. The possibility of other interpretations in some instances cannot be doubted. The present work, such as it is, is submitted as a demonstration that a reasonable explanation of Paul’s conception of law is possible.


1. Preliminary Definition

The word law (Greek, νόμος) is used in Scripture in many different senses, most of which are found in the

Epistle to the Romans. No two theological writers agree as to the exact categories or shades of meaning into which the word can best be divided. Essentially, law is any working principle, usually moral, regulating conduct, being binding either because revealed by God, established through custom, a part of man-made law, or a principle of operation true in the nature of things. Order, moral or natural, is bound up in the character of God. From this fundamental standard, all true moral distinctions and principles of operation must be determined. In contrast to standards of conduct which spring from an understanding of the character of God are the inferior standards of man. In Scripture, of course, we deal primarily with law as it relates to God, with only a very occasional reference to the standards set up...

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