In the Law

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“In the Law”

The Signs of the Times 12, 36. September 16, 1886

E. J. Waggoner

The expression, “under the law,” occurs twelve times in the King James version of the New Testament, in the following verses: Rom. 3:19; 6:14-15. 1 Cor. 9:20-21 (three times).Gal. 3:23-24 (In verse 24 the equivalent expression “under a schoolmaster,” is found); Gal 4:4-5, 21; 5:18.

In previous articles, we have considered all these instances of the use of the term, except Rom. 3:19, and 1 Cor. 9:20-21. In every case thus far we have found that it indicates a state of sin, and consequently of condemnation by the law.

The one who has violated the law is under sentence of death, and so the law is represented as being upon him, holding him down to death.

Now in Rom. 3:19, a different thought is presented to one who reads the text carefully. We will read it:

In the law

“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”

On reading this, someone will say, “Your idea that ‘under the law‘ means condemned by the law certainly cannot hold here, for that would make the text of no force; it would be the same as saying, ‘What things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are condemned by the law, in order that every one may be condemned,’ and that would be nonsense.”

The point is well taken, and we should have to conclude that the term “under the law” does not always indicate a state of sin and condemnation, if it were not for the fact that the expression does not really occur in Rom. 3:19 at all. In all the texts which we have heretofore considered, the Greek words which are rendered “under the law” are, hupo nomon, which should be rendered, as they invariably are, by the phrase “under the law.”

But in Rom. 3:19 the Greek words which in King James’s version are rendered “under the law” are, en to nomo, which cannot properly be translated in any other way than “in the law.”

The same expression is found in the Greek of Rom. 2:12, where the translators have correctly rendered it “in the law.”

The text under consideration should therefore read thus:

“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are in the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before [margin, subject to the judgment of] God.”

That is, the law speaks to those who are within its jurisdiction, or, as Professor Boise renders it, “within its sphere,” and as a consequence it declares that all the world are subject to the judgment of God, because it shows that all are sinners.

The expression, “that every mouth may be stopped,” is very forcible. When a man is brought into court, and charged with any crime, he begins, through his counsel, to plead his own cause, and to try to establish his innocence. But sometimes the evidence of a man’s guilt is so overwhelmingly clear that he has no defense to make; his mouth is stopped, and he is forced to acknowledge the justness of the charge against him.

So the law of God speaks to those over whom it has jurisdiction, and charges them with sin; and the evidence is so clear that no one can speak a word in self-defense, but all the world stands condemned before God. By this rendering of Rom. 3:19, and it is the correct one, we are taught an important truth concerning the extent of the law’s jurisdiction.

Note these points:

The law speaks only to those who are within its sphere; if any such have violated it, it condemns them, and it can condemn no others. The law has no power to condemn any who do not owe allegiance to it, or who are outside its pale. Now Paul has shown (Rom. 3:9-18) that there is not a person on earth who has not sinned, and he therefore emphatically declares that the law, speaking only to those within its jurisdiction, stops every mouth, and condemns the whole world. There could be no more forcible way of saying that every individual in the world is amenable to the law of God. Jews and Gentiles are all in the same condemnation, because they are all within the pale of the law, and have all violated it. Perhaps some may think that this makes a contradiction between Rom. 3:19 and Rom. 2:12, but there is none. It is true that Rom. 2:12 speaks of those “without law” as distinct from those “in the law;” but those who are spoken of as without law, are also spoken of as having sinned, and we have already learned (1) That “sin is the transgression of the law,” and that “where no law is there is no transgression,” and

(2) that Paul, in verses 14, 15, shows that these same ones who are in one sense without law, “show the work of the law written in their hearts,” and that they therefore do have the law. Some sin in the face of the full light of the law, while others sin against only that knowledge of the law which they have by nature; but all are counted as sinners in God’s sight, and they could not be so reckoned if they were not amenable to the law; hence He declares that all are in reality “in the law.”

Let us now read 1 Cor. 9:20-21:

“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ) that I might gain them that are without law.”

In this text the term, “under the law,” occurs four times. In the first three instances, reference to the same thing is made in each case. In the fourth instance, however, in verse 21, the Greek is en to nomo, as in Rom. 3:19, and should be rendered “in the law.”

Then the verse would read,

“To them that are without law [I became] as without law, (being not without law, but in the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.”

In order to get the full force of this text, we must note the verse immediately preceding, and the two following:

“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.” “To the weak become I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”

These verses, taken in connection with the 20th and 21st, show Paul’s meaning to be that in his ministerial work he sought to adapt himself, as far as possible, to the condition of those for whom he labored. He did not approach all men in the same manner, but adapted his teaching to the different classes of people whom he taught. He took every one upon his own ground. To the Jews, he became as a Jew. This he could easily do, for he was himself a Jew, and knew all their habits and customs.

The book of Hebrews is an instance of how he became as a Jew to the Jews. From their own history, their Scriptures, and their religion, he demonstrated the Messiahship of our Saviour, and also his whole work in connection with the plan of salvation.

In the lawTo them that were under the law, he became as under the law, that he might gain them that were under the law. That is, he drew on his own experience as a sinner, that he might successfully labor for those who felt the condemnation of God’s law upon them in consequence of their sins.

The seventh chapter of Romans is an instance of this.

If Paul had not felt the terrible anguish which comes from the knowledge of an offended God, and the sense of impending doom, and the wondrous peace which comes from believing in Jesus, he could never have written a chapter so full of encouragement to the convicted sinner. To them that were without law, that is, to the Gentiles who had not the written law, and the full knowledge of God, he became as without law, that he might gain them that were without the law.

An instance of this is given in his dealing with the Athenians, Acts 17:22-31. He took them on their own ground, and from their own heathen worship, and their own heathen literature; he demonstrated to them the existence of a great Creator, and the certainty of a future general Judgment. But while he became to them as without law, he says that he was in reality “not without law to God, but in the law to Christ.” That is, he all the time recognized his obligation to keep the whole law of God, and that Christ was to him the end of that law for righteousness,-he did all things only by the aid of Christ.

This closes up the consideration of the expression “under the law.” Taking out 1 Cor. 9:21 and Rom. 3:19, in which texts, as we have seen, the term does not really occur, we can arrive at this positive conclusion, that in every instance of its occurrence, “under the law” indicates a state of sin and condemnation.

And since it is everywhere stated that only those who are in Christ are free from the condemnation of the law, and that all who are not in Christ and have not His Spirit, are under the law, the fact that the law is still in active operation is everywhere demonstrated. W.

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