Paul, The Law, And Dispensationalism -- By: William W. Combs

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 018:1 (NA 2013)
Article: Paul, The Law, And Dispensationalism
Author: William W. Combs

Paul, The Law, And Dispensationalism

William W. Combs1


In this essay I propose to explore how Paul understands the role of the Mosaic Law in the life of the New Testament believer. When I speak of the Mosaic Law or use the term Law capitalized, I am referring to the 613 commands, as the rabbis counted them (365 positive commands and 248 prohibitions),2 with sanctions, given through Moses at Sinai to Israel, what is also called the Mosaic legal system. This Law has been preserved for us in the Pentateuch.

I believe Paul’s view of the Law’s applicability to believers today fits within the discontinuity of a dispensational framework.3 This discontinuity is clearly seen in a text like 1 Corinthians 7:19, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.”4 Can you imagine Paul saying that to Moses? After all, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying…when a woman gives birth and bears a male child…on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Lev 12:1-3). What could be a more clear command of God than circumcision? Yet in the New Testament age, Paul makes it clear that circumcision is no longer to be listed as one of God’s commandments to his people. This raises a couple of obvious questions: what are these “commandments of God” that Paul says believers must “keep,” and where do we find them?

Because of statements like 1 Corinthians 7:19, most everyone agrees that there is some level of discontinuity between the Mosaic Law and its applicability in the church age. The question is just how much. One of the first attempts to address this issue came from the second-century heretic Marcion, who solved the problem by cutting all the Old Testament Scriptures out of the Bible.5 Possibly as early as Tertullian

(c. 160-220), the Law came to be viewed by the church in a three-fold scheme, recognizing moral, civil, and ceremonial aspects.6 Quite early the church emphasized it was mainly the moral aspect of the Law that Christians were obliged to keep. By many accounts Martin Luther departed from this idea and held that the believer is not bound by the Law in any sen...

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