Is the New Testament a Law?

The Bible is undeniably divided into two key sections — the Old Testament and the New Testament. This division is described in the Bible in a variety of different ways, some literally and some figuratively. One such contrast is seen when the Bible refers to the Old Testament as the “Law of Moses” (cf. John 7:23, et al) and the New Testament as the “Law of Christ” (cf. Gal. 6:2).

For many, considering the idea of the New Testament as “a law” is a challenge. Such terminology flies in the face of those who prefer to view the New Testament as more of a history, or a set of guidelines and principles, and not as a binding law or set of obligations to be adhered to and followed. This idea is so abhorrent to some that those who would consider any of the New Testament as a law are often derided as “legalists.”

Therefore, we ask the question, is the New Testament a divine law given by the Lord that must be followed and obeyed?

I firmly believe that the New Testament should be viewed of as a law, with precedents and evidence that clearly must be adhered to. It may also be considered a history. There are clearly principles taught in it. It is also a set of doctrines. Yet clearly, it is a law unto those who would follow Christ (Christians – Acts 11:26), as the words of Moses were a law unto the Jews. This is not based on any subjective reasoning, but quite simply, the straightforward declarations of inspired men (cf. 1 Pet. 4:11).

To the brethren in Galatia, Paul wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Whether this is in reference to a singular instruction of Christ or the whole of Christ’s instructions, it still refers to it as “the law” of Christ. Law comes from the Greek word nomos, which is used to refer to both the body of Christ’s teaching, general law and Moses’ law. Even Christ Himself used this word to refer to the Old Covenant (particularly Moses’ teaching—see Matt. 5:17-18). This tells us that context is critical to discerning what “law” is referenced in any given passage. We must discern which law a passage has in mind before drawing any conclusions from that passage, lest we wrongly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Paul’s words to the brethren in Galatia also tell us that the Holy Spirit, through the inspired writers, thought of Christ’s teaching as a law.

Much has been said to deny the existence of keeping a law from the book of Romans, however Paul also referred to Christ’s doctrine as a law in and of itself within that body of writing. Contrasting the law of Moses with Christ’s law, he wrote, “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom. 8:1-2). Paul refers to Christ’s doctrine as “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” and contrasts it from “the law of sin and death.” Again, the Greek word translated law here is nomos and clearly has the New Testament in view.

Again, in contrasting the keeping of the law of Moses with Christ’s teachings, Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith?” (Rom. 3:27). What “law” does he have in view as he refers to “the law of faith” if not the “law of Christ” he referred to in other places?

James uses another term to describe Christ’s doctrine, in contrast to the law of Moses. He writes, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” (Jas. 2:8-12). Observe that James referred to Christ’s teaching as “the law of liberty” … a reference he used earlier, reminding us to look into “the perfect law of liberty” and continue in it (Jas. 1:25). Not only does James refer to it as a law, he tells us we will be judged by it. Jesus Himself said, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

Writing to the brethren in Corinth, Paul said, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win the Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law: to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you” (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Observe Paul’s parenthetical aside where he plainly declares he is “under law toward Christ.” What law does he have in reference? What law is he “under” if not Christ’s law?

Time and again, the body of writing and teaching known as the New Testament is referred to as many things. Among those things, it is by inspiration referred to as a law. As being part of “all scripture,” it is profitable for doctrine and instruction in righteousness, among other things (2 Tim. 3:16-17).To ignore the lawful, legal and binding aspects of Christ’s covenant is one and the same as accepting Jesus as your Savior, but ignoring Him as your Lord. The two simply go hand-in-hand. If there was no law today, there would be no sin (1 John 3:4). So be careful to not merely view Christ’s teaching as a set of guidelines, principles and mantras, but acknowledge it as the apostles and first century saints did — as the law that every citizen in the Kingdom of Heaven must obey. Let us be careful to rightly divide every passage that references the law, to be certain that we have the correct law in view as we understand what we are to follow and what we do not have to follow.

by Jonathan Perz

Return to the Question/Answer index page

Return to the General Articles page

Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /