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The Relation between Biblical Law and Christian Faith

The Relation between Biblical Law and Christian Faith

From Editor: This article by Dr. Glenn N. Davies (Australia) is a chapter in the upcoming WRF/WEA book on The Decalogue and is posted here in its entirety. Rev. Davies challenges believers understand the importance of "the continuing application of the Decalogue in the life of the believer." He calls upon all Christians to repeat with the psalmist: "If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. (Psalm 119:92-93)"

The covenant dynamic of the Old and New Testaments is the interaction between grace and response. God is the giver of grace, which He lavishly pours forth upon His people, and He delights in their response of obedience. This characteristic dynamic is present in each of the covenants of the Old Testament as well as in the promised new covenant, which unfolds in the New Testament.

The two parts of the Bible would have been better called the Old Covenant and New Covenant, rather than using ‘testament’ to translate berȋt or diathēkē. However, the most important thing to understand is the continuity between the covenants with respect to God’s dealings with humankind, notwithstanding the discontinuity or, more properly, the fulfilment of the old in the new. In particular, we should recognize the similarity in the response to God’s grace under either the old or the new covenant: it should always be characterized by a faith which issues in obedience or, as Paul describes it, the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5; 16:26).[1] This article will explore the content of that obedience for the Christian—the place of the Decalogue in the Christian life.

Old covenant law

The Ten Commandments evidence the nature of the grace-response dynamic. The obedience required of Israel in the Decalogue is an obedience which flows from God’s grace. Hence, “‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’” (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6) is the necessary preamble to the giving of God’s law. Israel had seen the goodness of the Lord in their departure from Egypt and redemption from slavery, and the response God required of them was to trust and obey Him.

As they stood on the banks of the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army behind them, Israel had to trust God’s word, delivered through Moses, so that the salvation of the Lord would be manifested (Exodus 14:13). Yet to display trust in God, as the waters divided, they had to walk through it themselves. God did not transport them across the sea or provide a travellator, with no effort or activity on their behalf. Rather, they had to respond by getting up and walking across. This was their obedience of faith. Yet such obedience could never be seen as the ground of their salvation, but merely as the means of the salvation which God alone had provided.

In God’s infinite wisdom, He ordained not only the act of salvation, but also the means. Israel’s journey across the Red Sea is exemplary of the life of faith, a faith that issues in obedience. The Ten Commandments thereby became the blueprint for Israel’s obedience both in the wilderness and in the Promised Land.

However, it is not as if the knowledge of these commandments was new to Israel. Moses’ narrative throughout the Pentateuch bears witness to infractions of each of these commandments prior to Mount Sinai, with the attendant disapproval of God. The first commandment was broken by Adam and Eve, the tenth and sixth by Cain, and the fourth was violated by the Israelites in the wilderness en route to Sinai (Exodus 16:26ff). Shem and Japheth knew to honor their father, Reuben knew the sin of false witness, and Joseph knew adultery was wrong. Indeed, God describes Abraham as one who “obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:5).

Therefore, one might ask: what is the significance of God’s promulgation of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai if these laws were already known? The answer the Bible supplies is that the law of God is here given to Israel with the attendant penalties attached for breaking God’s law. For this reason, the apodictic laws of Exodus 20 are followed by the casuistic or case law of the following chapters, where Moses outlines which penalties apply to specific breaches of God’s law. Prior to Mount Sinai, the penalty for law-breaking had not generally been revealed. The declaration of the death penalty for murder, as recorded in Genesis 9:6, is an exception, but the death penalty was not applied to Cain’s murder of Abel.

This is no doubt the reasoning of the apostle Paul in Romans 5:12-15.[2]

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

Paul identifies the similarity between the law given to Adam and the law given to Moses, along with the dissimilarity of sins committed between the time of Adam and Moses. In the latter case, sins were “not counted,” not being like the sin of Adam. The law given to Adam came with its own sanction, namely, the penalty of death should he eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). Similarly, there was an array of penalties for the breaking of the Mosaic law, with capital punishment being the overriding sanction. Yet, says Paul, death reigned from Adam to Moses because of the culpability of humanity’s participation in Adam’s sin. This teaching is amplified later in Romans 5, as Paul exclaims that “. . . as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (5:18).

An illustration of the lack of knowledge as to the penalty for breaking God’s laws may be found in Numbers 15:32ff. The event recorded there is most likely prior to Mount Sinai, as the penalty for Sabbath-breaking was not revealed until after Moses had descended from the mountain (Exodus 31:12-14). Thus, before Moses could deal with the offender, God needed to tell him the specific sanction for Sabbath-breaking, as the penalty had not previously been disclosed (Numbers 15:34).

The association of the Mosaic law with the penalty of death enables Paul to describe it as “. . .the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone” (2 Corinthians 3:7). However, in the same verse, Paul can also claim that it “came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory.” In other words, we should not lose sight of the glory of God’s law as given to Moses, even though it brought a sentence of death upon those who broke it. Yet the law promised life (Leviticus 18:5; Nehemiah 9:29) and so could be described as “living oracles” (Acts 7:38), “spiritual,”[3] “holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12, 14). In fact, the law of God is full of grace – ”More to be desired than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

Old covenant grace

Central to the nature of the Mosaic law was the sacrificial system. This was where God’s grace was manifested in the life of Israel. For God in His wisdom knew that sin was a present reality in the life of His righteous people (Ecclesiastes 7:20), indeed, a reality for every human being (Psalms 143:2). Hence, the provision of forgiveness by way of animal sacrifice was a necessary part of the Mosaic law. The law never envisaged sinless, perfect observance by Israel. On the contrary, the law presupposed sin. For the offering of sacrifices was part and parcel of keeping the law. If people thought they had not committed sin and so declined to offer a sacrifice, then they would be breaking the law (since offering sacrifices was mandatory) and would therefore be bound to seek forgiveness by offering a sacrifice!

When the priest offered a sacrifice on behalf of an Israelite, the forgiveness was real and immediate, as the oft-repeated refrain in Leviticus 4-5 testifies: “The priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed, and he shall be forgiven.” Likewise, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would offer sacrifices for his own sins and then for the sins of the people: “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins” (Leviticus 16:30).

Of course, the offering of sacrifices was in response to the offender’s repentance. The only sin that could not be forgiven was sinning “with a high hand” (Numbers 15:30), or “sinning defiantly” (niv), i.e., a sin without repentance. The writer to the Hebrews warns his readers that even under the new covenant, defiant sin without repentance cannot receive forgiveness but merely a fearful prospect of judgment (Hebrews 10:27). God does not forgive sin where there is no repentance (Hebrews 12:17).

Yet forgiveness, like salvation, is all of grace. The faith exercised by repentant Israelites in offering a sacrifice was their response to God’s grace, His promise of forgiveness. As this dynamic was reflected in the lives of individual Israelites, it was also the underlying contour of Israel’s entry into the Promised Land. Their inheritance of the land of Canaan was not the result of their achievement but was due to God’s grace. Hence, in Deuteronomy 9:4-5 Moses warned the Israelites against the folly of presumption.

Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Nonetheless, Israel still had to enter into battle. In fact, their victory over Amalek (Exodus 17:8-16) dramatically portrayed their dependence upon God for the victory, as Israel prevailed only when Moses’ hands were lifted in prayerful dependence upon God. When Moses’ hands weakened, Amalek prevailed. Yet when Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands, we see the symbolism of all Israel trusting in God, which gave them the victory. Accordingly, Moses built an altar and named it “The Lord Is My Banner,” saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord.” “Doing” is not antithetical to grace, as James emphatically teaches:      “. . .faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).[4]

Old covenant obedience

Israel’s obedience to the Mosaic law, generated by faith and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit,[5] was a genuine possibility, which the elect accomplished, though the majority of Israelites failed to achieve it (Romans 11:7). Stephen, citing Exodus 33:3 and Jeremiah 6:10 and 9:26, described disobedient Israel (including his hearers) as “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. . . .you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it” (Acts 7:51, 53).

Christian commentators often overlook the fact that whereas most Israelites were breakers of God’s law (Romans 2:23), it was possible to keep God’s law (Romans 2:26). Yet one can understand this only in the light of the law’s provision for forgiveness through sacrifice, as the gift of grace. Hence, in Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Moses encourages Israel to keep God’s law, by which they shall live (see also Leviticus 18:5):

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. (niv)

The apostle Paul recognizes that such intended obedience to the law of Moses was possible only by faith (Romans 10:6).[6] Just as Abraham obeyed all the ordinances of the (pre-Sinai) law by faith (Genesis 15:6; 26:5), so did David, as he testifies in Psalm 18:20-24 (niv).

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
    I have not done evil by turning from my God.
All his laws are before me;
    I have not turned away from his decrees.
 I have been blameless before him
    and have kept myself from sin.
 The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

Many readers find such claims by David to be questionable, if not outrageous, given his adultery with Bathsheba and other sins recorded in 1 and 2 Samuel. Yet despite David’s clear violation of God’s law, God in His mercy had forgiven David, notwithstanding the fact that his sin deserved death (Leviticus 20:10). For David repented of his sin (Psalm 51) and sought the Lord for mercy. In Psalm 18, David did not claim that he deserved God’s mercy, for he was aware of his own frailty and of his need of a Savior (vv. 2-3, 35, 46) as much as he was aware of the promises of God to all who take refuge in him (v. 30). However, he was also aware of the need to manifest the obedience that comes from faith.

When he introduces the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Luke is equally aware of the importance of obedience in relation to God’s covenant promises. As a priest, Zechariah knew the significance and value of Levitical sacrifices, just as he also knew the importance of acting in obedience to God’s law.

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly (Luke 1:5-6 niv).

The importance of this description of two Old Testament saints should not be underestimated. They were righteous in the sight of God (echoing Genesis 15:6) but also obedient to the Mosaic law – observing all the Lord’s commands. Neither of them was sinless, but each of them was blameless, because the guilt of their sin had been removed through the appointed sacrifices. They were blessed in their obedience, like David, with the declaration of Psalm 32:1-2, that the Lord had forgiven their transgressions and covered their sins.[7]

Faithful Israelites kept God’s law as their response to His grace. They understood that the essence of grace was God’s love toward them (Deuteronomy 7:8), just as the essence of their response was love of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-6) and love of their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). It is therefore not surprising that Jesus should declare that all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments of love (Matthew 22:37-40).

New covenant law

The parting words of Jesus to His disciples constitute what has become known as the Great Commission, calling for the making of disciples through the waters of baptism in the Triune name and teaching those followers to obey all that Jesus had commanded. This demand of discipleship in terms of obedience to the Lord Jesus is echoed in our Savior’s words to His apostles in the upper room: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Just as the commandment to love God was central to the old covenant, so it is with the new covenant. Love and obedience hang together; Jesus abides in the Father’s love by keeping the Father’s commandments. Accordingly, Jesus declares, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15:10). Moreover, the converse is true; if anyone does not love Jesus, he or she will not obey His teaching:

Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:23-24, niv).

However, although Jesus could summarize the law by the two great commandments of loving God and loving one’s neighbor, we must not assume that this love is devoid of objective content or that it amounts simply to what one feels to be right. On the contrary, Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them (Matthew 5:17-19).

Similarly, in Jesus’ revelation to John, He encourages His readers with these telling words: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).

New covenant grace

Yet, just as grace was plentiful under the old covenant, grace overflowed under the new covenant. In Jesus, we see the first and only sinless observer of God’s law. His maturation as an adult in His humanity required leading a life of reverent submission to His Father. By so doing, He was perfected by His obedience to God’s law: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9).

Note that those who are saved are those who obey. By Jesus’ obedience unto death on a cross (Philippians 2:8), He thereby “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10, niv).

As we have seen in the promulgation of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, whereas the law was graciously given to Israel as their means of responding to God’s grace, at the same time the law brought condemnation to those who disobeyed. Strictly speaking, this condemnation rested upon all Israel, including Moses, but in God’s mercy, provision was made for forgiveness within the very structure of the law, enabling sinful Israelites to be forgiven. As the writer to the Hebrews acknowledges, “. . .without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). However, he is also aware that “. . .it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). For “. . .the law has but a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). The shadow, of course, is removed by Christ through His sinless obedience to the law, as well as taking upon Himself the law’s punishment, which belonged to God’s people. As Paul puts it, “For our sake, [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In other words, the condemnation of the law is removed for those who are in Christ, because Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2). Paul does not say that Christ has set us free from the ethical demands of the law, but that He has set us free from its condemnation. As Luke records Paul’s words to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch:

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39).

The law of Moses could not ultimately free Israel from judgment, as the sacrifices were not effective in themselves but only inasmuch as they prefigured the salvation that was to be procured by Christ’s sacrifice:

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).

Paul expresses a similar thought in Romans 3:25-26, where he defends God’s righteousness in passing over former sins, committed under the Mosaic covenant, because God has definitively dealt with sin, once and for all, through the sacrifice of Christ. In other words, Christ’s sacrifice is retrospective as well prospective for God’s people throughout redemptive history.

New covenant obedience

In Romans 6, Paul is at pains to counter misunderstandings about God’s grace that could encourage believers to sin more, so “. . .that grace may abound” (6:1). Similarly, his dictum that “. . .we are not under law but under grace. . .” in Romans 6:15 is often misunderstood today by those who conclude that keeping God’s law is no longer required of the Christian. Yet the next verse speaks of our slavery to Christ, which comprises an obedience that leads to righteousness (6:16). Paul thereby encourages his Roman readers to realize that God has made them “. . .obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which [they] were committed. . .” (6:17). Moreover, in the following chapter, whatever position one takes on the identity of the man of Romans 7, Paul clearly indicates that obedience to the law of God is still the goal, for the law is spiritual; indeed, he says “. . .I delight in the law of God. . .” (7:22), despite his natural inability to keep it.

Paul’s statement that we are not under law but under grace is a shorthand way of saying that we no longer live under the judgment of the law (a ministry of death) but under the reign of grace, whereby Christ has taken the penalty of law-breaking upon Himself for us. This is the burden of Romans 8:1: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” For “the just requirement of the law has been fulfilled in us” (8:4).[8]

Paul eloquently reminds Timothy of the removal of judgment for the believer, while highlighting the stark reality that the condemnation of the law continues to fall upon the unbeliever:

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

At first sight, Paul’s words appear problematic. He seems to be suggesting that the law has no application to the just (i.e., the righteous), but only to the ungodly and sinners. Yet the words “not laid down” are significant for understanding Paul’s meaning.[9] The use of keitai in this context suggests that the laying down of the penalty of the law is in view. The full force of the law’s judgment is laid upon the ungodly, the law-breakers. For Paul prefaces his remarks by saying that “. . .the law is good if one uses it lawfully (nomimōs)” – that is, in the way it was intended, to provide the right response to God’s grace. For Timothy and the saints at Ephesus, the law continues to provide guidelines for their behavior. Yet the law’s condemnation does not fall upon the righteous, those who by faith are declared righteous in God’s sight, because the judgment that would have belonged to them has been satisfied by the death of Christ. Christians no longer live under the law but under grace. However, the judgment of the law does fall on those who persist in unbelief and disobedience – for them there is no sacrifice for sins.[10]

Moreover, in his exhortation to Timothy, Paul refers to specific commandments from the Decalogue that apply to the believer, as he does in Romans 13:8-10. Although in the latter passage Paul declares that the demands of love sum up these commandments, he does not thereby mean to say that the commandments no longer have any applicability. Rather, these commands are “sound doctrine” and “in accordance with the glorious gospel” which was entrusted to Paul (1 Timothy 1:10-11).

Application of God’s law under the new covenant

When the prophets foretold the new covenant, they included obedience to the law as part of God’s new economy. In Jeremiah 31:33ff, the prophet speaks of God writing His law on the hearts of His people. Isaiah 42:4, referring to the ministry of the Servant of the Lord, states, “He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.”

Similarly, in Ezekiel 11:19-20, the prophet reinforces the importance of following God’s laws:

‘I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God’ (niv).

Yet, since the new covenant envisages an international community, not the theocracy of a nation-state, clearly law under the new covenant must be seen through the prism of Christ. This is the perspective of Paul’s description of  the “. . .law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2), or in James’s words, “. . .the perfect law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25) or fulfilling “the royal law” (James 2:8, where he cites Leviticus 19:18). For example, the food laws of the Old Testament no longer apply under the new covenant (Mark 7:19), nor does the requirement of circumcision. Yet the fact that we are still required to keep God’s laws, without being subject to the whole Mosaic economy, is expressed clearly by Paul: “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19).

The irony of this statement is that circumcision was a command of God, yet Paul exhorts his readers (some of them uncircumcised) to keep the commandments of God. How then should we understand which commands to keep? The Reformers faced this question in the sixteenth century. The Church of England therefore adopted Article VII of the Thirty-nine Articles as a solution to the problem:

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.[11]

The recitation of the Ten Commandments in the Administration of the Lord’s Supper in the Book of Common Prayer demonstrates the continuing application of the Decalogue in the life of the believer. After each commandment is read, the congregation responds, “Incline our hearts to keep this law.”

Such a response is worthy of all God’s people, not just Anglicans, as the words of the psalmist indicate:

If your law had not been my delight,
    I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
    for by them you have given me life. (Psalm 119:92-93)




[1] In this phrase, “of faith” is rightly translated as a genitive of origin, as per the translation by the NIV: “the obedience that comes from faith.”

[2] All quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise specified.

[3] Paul characteristically uses pneumatikos as a reference to the Holy Spirit, except in Ephesians 6:12, where the context demands otherwise. See R. B. Gaffin, The Centrality of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978).

[4] J. C. Ryle’s comment on Luke 12:41-48 is worth noting. “The lesson is one which many, unhappily, shrink from giving, and many more shrink from receiving. We are gravely told that to talk of ‘working’ and ‘doing’ is legal, and brings Christians into bondage! Remarks of this kind should never move us. They savour of ignorance or perverseness. The lesson before us is not about justification, but about sanctification – not about faith, but about holiness; the point is not what a man should do to be saved, but what ought a saved man to do. The teaching of Scripture is clear and express on this subject. A saved man ought to be ‘careful to maintain good works’ (Tit. 3:8). The desire of a true Christian ought to be, to be found ‘doing.”’ J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke, vol. 2 (Cambridge & London: James Clarke & Co., 1969), 90.

[5] The circumcision of the heart is the usual description of a regenerate heart in the Old Testament. See G. N. Davies, “The Spirit of Regeneration in the Old Testament,” in Spirit of the Living God, part 1, ed. B. G. Webb (Homebush West, NSW, Australia: Lancer, 1991), 23–43.

[6] For an explanation of Romans 9:30 -10:13, see G. N. Davies, The Obedience of Faith: A Study in Romans 1–4 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990), 177–204.

[7] “The necessity of obedience to God’s commands, as the expression of faith in God’s promises, is therefore not works righteousness, since both the promises of God and the power to trust them are gifts of God’s unmerited, saving grace. God gives what he demands, and what he demands is the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5; 16:26).” Scott Hafemann, 2 Corinthians (NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 139.

[8] The Greek word dikaiōma is in the singular, as it is in 1:32, where the death penalty is in view. Its appearance in the plural, however, can refer to the precepts of the law as in 2:26, which has caused some commentators to assume that 8:4 is a reference to the fulfilment of the precepts of the law, whereas the context and the grammar indicate the fulfilment of the judgment of death that Christ has undertaken on our behalf. While both the NIV and ESV rightly translate dikaiōma as “righteous decree” in 1:32, they unhelpfully translate it as “righteous requirement” in 8:4.

[9] The NIV’s translation of keitai as “made” is inadequate, if not misleading.

[10] If the warning of Hebrews 10:26 applies to those who sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, how much more does it apply to those who wilfully ignore the truth?

[11] The Church of Scotland, on the other hand, adopted Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which declares a similar distinction between the moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments, and the ceremonial and judicial laws of Israel.


Glenn N. Davies, Ph.D., D.D., served as Anglican Bishop of North Sydney, Australia, from 2001 to 2013 and then as the 12th Archbishop of Sydney from 2013 until his retirement in March 2021. He chaired EFAC (Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion) Australia for ten years and has been a board member of the Lausanne Consultation on Evangelization since 2011. He is an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship.

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