What is "Under the Law?"
According to Colossians chapter 1, all things were created by the Word of YHVH. The Scriptures are full of expressions to verify this. The Word is YHVH in Yochanan (John) 1:1. The Word is life in Devariym (Deuteronomy) 32 and 1 Yochanan 1:1. The Word is light in Mizemor (Psalm) 119:105. The Word is the way in Mizemor 119:9. The Word is righteousness in Devariym 6 and Romans 6. The Word is wisdom in Mishlei (Proverbs) 4:5. The Word is truth in Mizemor 119:142. All things were created by this Word, says the writer of Ivrim (Hebrews). The Word is a general term to describe what is spoken and written down. An essential part of the Word is commands, ordinances, statutes, and laws. These are generally placed under the term laws. In the English, the word law is translated from the Greek word nomos, which comes from the predecessor Torah. Torah, however, does not mean law as we know it. It means teaching or instruction. Torah is another general term that refers to all teaching. Contained within Torah are commands or mitzvot. These are commands from YHVH to His creation. Teaching, instructions, and commands are given by YHVH to creation for its welfare and good. The very laws that brought all creation into existence are also to sustain it, whether it be man or beast, so to speak.
The Scriptures begin with laws or commands. "... let there be light ... let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters ... let the earth bring forth vegetation ... let there be lights ... let us make man ..." These commands brought forth all of His creation. This is the beginning of YHVH's Torah or instructions to creation. He placed within living things the ability to reproduce or multiply after itself, including humankind. He continues to give instructions to His creation after they are created to sustain His original commands. Adam, the first man, is created by laws or commands and is then given instructions. "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it ... of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat ..." Why did ’Elohiym tell Adam not to eat of this tree? Because you are what you eat? In other words, disobedience will result in a separation from ’Elohiym, and man will be accountable to choose between good and evil, and because of his now fallen nature, he will generally choose evil over good. This will perpetuate entropy and the eventual extinction of man. So what does YHVH do? He loves man. So, to sustain man, He gives him instructions or laws, not only for man but for all of His creation. All of creation is created by Torah and sustained by Torah.
All mankind will come from Adam, a fallen creature, sustained only by laws. But how is man reconciled back to YHVH if we all break those laws? How could man ever be redeemed? Well, not by the law. Why? Because law, instructions contained within the Word, was not designed to redeem man, but rather to create, sustain, and prosper man. When YHVH's instructions are obeyed, they separate and distinguish the obedient from the disobedient. The instructions in Shemot (Exodus) 19 separate YHVH's people as a peculiar treasure above all other people. In Devariym 30, it prospers and causes long life to those who obey. In Devariym 11, it blesses the obedient and curses the disobedient. All mankind was created by law, and blessed or cursed by it. Since commandments do not redeem man, YHVH had to redeem him another way. By grace! If man rejects grace, then he is by nature under the law. All mankind is under law until placed under grace by faith. YHVH's teaching and instruction (Torah) produced creation and sustains creation. The grace of YHVH through faith redeems man back to Him. His grace redeems man to Him, but will not sustain him unless faith is acted upon through Torah. Torah will sustain man but will not redeem him back to YHVH. Two systems with two different functions. With this in mind, we will now cover all ten verses in which the term under the law is applied.
"What then? Are we better than they? No, in no way: for we have before proved both Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever things the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God."
Many times I have heard these verses used to show the condition of Israel, as they are under the law and we (the church) are under grace. But this series of verses begins by stating that all are under sin, Jew and Gentile. All of these verses point to the condition of all of mankind, and that when the law speaks it speaks to every mouth, and that all the world is guilty before YHVH. The law tells us that we are all guilty before YHVH. The law in verse 20 teaches us what is right and wrong. We all are guilty of breaking the law, so we are all doomed unless YHVH provides another way to be redeemed. When we are placed under grace by faith, the law still teaches us what is right and wrong. That is its designed function and its lawful use (1 Timothy 1:8). To be under the law is to be without grace and therefore subject to the law, and therefore guilty. There is no teaching here that law was for Old Testament Jews or that they were redeemed by it. Remember that when Sha’ul (Paul) taught, the Bereans checked out everything he spoke by searching the Tanakh that these things were so. There was no New Testament to verify his words.
"For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness."
Verse 14 is probably quoted more often than not to explain the doctrine that Yeshua‘ died to free the church from the Old Testament laws. This is absurd and what I call cradle hermeneutics. This discussion is one of hundreds of places where a working knowledge of Hebrew idiom and expressions are imperative to understanding the text. But even without that knowledge, you will begin to see that the focus of the next two chapters is the old man of Romans 6:6. Sha’ul begins chapter 6 by telling his listeners, both Jew and Gentile, that they are now dead to sin in verse 2. This was accomplished by identification with the baptism of Yeshua', which was the death of the sinful nature, the body of sin, also called the old man. Here, the body of sin was crucified, not the law. If you are not under grace, then you only have law which produces sin when disobeyed. You then become a servant to sin and under it's dominion. Not because you obey it, but because you do not obey it. It becomes your only master. This old man is the old nature, the Adamic nature. In Hebrew thinking, it is called the yetzer hara, or the evil inclination. This old man must serve the law because he has no other master, and therefore he is under the dominion of sin because he breaks the law. In other words, he is using the law for what it was not intended to be used. It is said that the English phrase "my old man", referring to a woman's husband, comes from this term. In other words, she is referring to a husband that she can never please. So the context here is the crucifying of the old man or the body of sin, and therefore being "dead to sin". In verses 11 through 13 Paul teaches us not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies anymore. Remember sin, in 1 Yochanan (John) 3:4, is transgression of Torah. He also tells us that we are to yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness unto YHVH. When we get to verse 14 we see that being under the law is synonymous with being under the dominion of sin, not Torah. Again, Torah teaches us what sin is, i.e. Torah is not sin. To be under grace is to be a servant of that which is righteous and that you are now freed from sin (Romans 6:18). We have the power to serve YHVH now rather than sin.
In chapter 7, Sha’ul begins by telling us that he is now addressing those who know Torah. To these brethren, it would consist of written and oral Torah, which is a subject for another time. He says, "Know ye not, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law), how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?" He is going to relate this teaching now to those who understand the culture. He then begins by using a story common in Jewish parables. "For the woman who hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband." Torah teaches that a marriage contract is forever or until her husband dies. The law states that when she chooses to marry a man that she must stay married to whom she chose. The law also states that when he dies she is freed from him. Now who is the man? The law? NO! Paul just explained to us in chapter 6 that the old man is the body of sin. So, let's interpret the parable as understood by the ones who knew the law. The husband is the body of sin, under the law, which can never be pleased. According to the law, she must stay married to him. If she tries to marry another, i.e. grace, while still married to her first husband, the body of sin, she is an adulteress, for she cannot serve two masters. If she, according to the law, dies to sin, i.e. the old man dies, then she is free to marry another.
The law, when disobeyed, is a curse and produces the body of sin, an old man which can never be pleased. To be under the law is to be without grace and under the constant dominion of sin, the old man. In the entire context of Romans 6 we see that there is no teaching here that the Jews were under law and now the church is under grace. Clearly we are all under the dominion of sin until we accept His wonderful grace. I see only two ways to go. If one rejects grace then he is under the law and bound by it. If, however, law was designed to save anyone, then there would be no need for grace.
Next week, we will continue this exposition for the remaining eight verses in which the term under the law is applied.