Preaching the Law -- By: Duane A. Garrett

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 13:1 (Fall 1995)
Article: Preaching the Law
Author: Duane A. Garrett


Preaching the Law

Duane A. Garrett

Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament
Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary
Cochrane, Alberta TOL OWO

Theological Foundation

The Problem of Marcionism

Before one can begin to preach the Law, one must first come to an understanding of the place of the Law in the Christian faith, and indeed be sure that it has a place. In contemporary Baptist theology, this is by no means assured. One Baptist church recently held a discussion on the thesis that “the Law has no authority over the Christian.” At the end of the evening, a majority of the congregation agreed that indeed the thesis was true.

Historically, this viewpoint agrees with antinomianism and Marcionism. Antinomianism, a term coined by Martin Luther, teaches that Christians no longer have any duty to the Law because Christ has freed them from it. Luther came to oppose the antinomianism of his former student Johann Agricola and out of that controversy wrote Against the Antinomians in 1539.

Marcionism, named after the heresiarch Marcion (died about A.D. 160), teaches that the Old Testament is an inferior and actually wicked work. It is related to the Gnostic view that the Demiurge (or Yaldabaoth) is the creator of the material world and the God of the Old Testament. The Gnostics believed that when Yaldabaoth declared, “I am a jealous God. You shall have no other gods before me!” (Exod. 20:3, 5), he was trying to prevent his followers from escaping from him to the pure spiritual domain of the Pleroma. The Old Testament therefore holds people in bondage to the material world and obscures the freedom of life in the Spirit. A more evangelical type of contemporary Marcionism (as in the Baptist church mentioned above) asserts that since Christ has “fulfilled” the Law, it is a dead letter for the Christian.

If that is so, then we can desist from all talk about how to preach the Law. A book that has no authority over us is not canon for us, and we need not preach from books outside our canon. Happily, this is not the case. In order to clarify this, however, we need to understand the place of the Law in the Christian life.1

The Functions of the Law

Traditionally, Protestants have interpreted the Law under the three categories of the “moral law,” the “civil law,” and the “ceremonial law.” The idea is that the moral law reflects the timeless truths of morality; for example, that it is wrong to commit adultery. The civil law is those...

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