Gospel Until The Law: Rom 5:13ñ14 And The Old Covenant -- By: Meredith G. Kline

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:4 (Dec 1991)
Article: Gospel Until The Law: Rom 5:13ñ14 And The Old Covenant
Author: Meredith G. Kline


Gospel Until The Law:
Rom 5:13ñ14 And The Old Covenant

Meredith G. Kline*

Romans 5 expounds the theology of justification as gift of grace by analyzing the analogous roles of Adam and Jesus Christ in the drama of history. In each case the divine government employs the principle of federal headship by which the probationary act of the one is imputed to the many, whether one act of sin unto death or of righteousness unto life. Such is the context of the cryptic parenthesis that appears in Rom 5:13–14, following the anacoluthon at the end of v. 12.1 As a provisional rendering I suggest: “(13a) For sin was in the (whole) world until the law. (13b) Now sin is not imputed where law is not of force; (14a) but death reigned from Adam to Moses (14b) even over those who did not sin after the mode of the transgression of Adam, (14c) who was a type of the one to come.”

I. Rom 5:13-14 And Classic Covenant Theology

My immediate interest here is the intriguing exegetical puzzle posed by this parenthesis, but I am also using it as an entrance into the question of the nature of the old covenant, particularly as debated within the Reformed camp by proponents of classic covenant theology and the revisionist tradition represented by John Murray.2 The basic question is obviously of wider evangelical and indeed ecumenical interest, as witnessed in the burgeoning literature on the Pauline view of the law.

As I see it, the customary interpretations of Rom 5:13–14, irrespective of theological perspective, are alike in one respect: their failure to account satisfactorily for the particular segment of history Paul selects to make his point. I hope to show that recognition of the law-gospel contrast and, more specifically, of the operation of the principle of works (as antithetical

*Meredith Kline is professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and at Westminster Theological Seminary in California in Escondido, California.

to grace) in the old covenant is the indispensable key to a satisfactory explanation of this perplexing passage. If so, then

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