“Law,” “Works of the Law,” and Legalism in Paul -- By: Douglas Moo

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 45:1 (Spring 1983)
Article: “Law,” “Works of the Law,” and Legalism in Paul
Author: Douglas Moo


“Law,” “Works of the Law,” and Legalism in Paul

Douglas J. Moo

In his insightful essay “Reflexions on the Doctrine of the Law,” Gerhard Ebeling observes that “in the theology of the Reformers the problems all concentrate themselves so much on the concept of law that the whole of theology (in the sense of the essential structure of theology) stands or falls with it.”1 Fundamental to this theological structure is the antithesis between law and gospel—between “what we are to do and give to God” and “what has been given us by God,” as Luther puts it in one place.2 As theological concepts, law and gospel were carefully distinguished by most of the major Reformers. But both disagreement and confusion were engendered by the application of these terms to the two main epochs of revelation history: the Old and New Testaments. Luther resisted any direct appeal to the OT in the guidance of the Christian and the life of the church.3 Calvin, on the other hand, elevated the so-called “third use of the law” to its “chief use,”4 while Bullinger went even further, using the Mosaic judicial law extensively in formulating a theory of church

government.5 An emphasis on the continuity of salvation-history was also of use in equating circumcision with baptism; not surprisingly, some Anabaptists accordingly asserted the discontinuity between law and gospel as applied to historical epochs.6

While the nature of the relationship between law and gospel in this historical sense has always figured prominently in theological discussion, and has affected in no small measure the construction of rival theological systems, debate over the theological contrast has not been lacking. Two examples of fresh approaches to this issue in this century are Karl Barth’s essay “Gospel and Law,” which purposively reverses the order of the terms in order to suggest that law is the content of the gospel, and Daniel Fuller’s book, in which law and gospel are asserted to be parts of one continuum, rather than contrasting items.7 And Fuller’s book illustrates how the two forms of the law/gospel antithesis continue to be treated as inter-related—a blurring of categories which may create problems for the resulting theological formulation.8

Appeal to the Pauline epistles has always figured prominentl...

You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
Click here to subscribe
visitor : : uid: ()