Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth : An Introduction to the Distinction between Law and Gospel -- By: Mark A. Seifrid

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 10:2 (Summer 2006)
Article: Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth : An Introduction to the Distinction between Law and Gospel
Author: Mark A. Seifrid

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth1 :
An Introduction to the Distinction between Law and Gospel

Mark A. Seifrid

Mark A. Seifrid is Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served as Visiting Lecturer at Wheaton College and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Along with several dozen articles, Dr. Seifrid is the author of Justification by Faith: The Origin and Development of a Central Pauline Theme (Brill, 1992) and Christ Our Righteousness: Paul’s Theology of Justification (InterVaristy, 2001). In addition, he has also co-edited (with D. A. Carson and Peter T. O’Brien) the two-volume Justification And Variegated Nomism (Baker 2001, 2004), and (with Randall Tan) the bibliographic work The Pauline Writings (Baker, 2002).


As evangelical Christians, we profess to be committed first and foremost to the proclamation and preservation of the Gospel. Yet it is worth asking ourselves afresh if the Gospel truly has grasped our hearts and lives. Indeed, that is the essence of being a Christian. Whether we find ourselves discouraged by failure or elated by success, we must again and again grasp the word of the Law and the word of the Gospel in their distinction from one other. This distinction is not a truth which may quietly rest in an outline of systematic theology, but bears fundamental hermeneutical implications. Through this distinction the Bible offers its own interpretation,2 and does not remain merely a book that I read, but is “the book that reads me.”3

In this light, it is worthwhile to listen to the complaint—in all its length—that at least one disappointed Christian has voiced concerning his own experience of an evangelical church:

I experienced what happens when Law and Gospel are not understood and thus not distinguished. My Christian life, truly begun by grace, was now being “perfected” on the treadmill of the Law. My pastors did not end their sermons by demanding that I recite the rosary or visit Lourdes this week in order to unleash God’s power; instead, I was told to yield more, pray more, care about unbelievers more, read the Bible more, get involved with the church more, love my wife and kids more. Not until. .. some 20 years later, did I understand that my Christian life had come to center around my life, my obedience, my yielding, my Bible verse memorization, my prayers, my zeal, my witnessing, and my sermon application. I had advanced beyond the need to hear the cross preached to me anymore. Of course, we all knew that ...

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