First and foremost was the requirement to answer the question, what is the function of what was being studied? For instance, if you were studying neurons, you need to understand what function neurons serve; what they do.
Taking this methodology over to theology, let’s ask ourselves, what function did the law serve? What was its purpose?
In biology, one goes to the various text books and journals in order to study the function of a biological object. In theology, not all rely on the “text book” for their answers. Like the dark ages of chemistry and biology where popular opinion provided the answers (leaves that fall into water turn into fish) those who insist on the interpretations of others outside the context of the “text book” demonstrate that some are still in the dark ages when it comes to theology.
As background to understanding the function of the law, we need to understand who was given the law, and why, for the law had its function in relation to the people to whom it was given.
The context of the Bible plainly states that the law was given to the Israelites who had been removed by God from the bondage of Egypt. I shouldn’t have to cite references, but if someone objects, I can provide some later in the comments section. I will make one citation in regards to that most “sacred” requirement of the law to so many: the sabbath.
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. 13Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: 14But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. 15And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day. — Deuteronomy 5:12-15
One explanation of the why is found here:
Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. 6Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? 8And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? 9Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; 10Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children. 11And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness. 12And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. 13And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. — Deuteronomy 4:5-13
Did Israel keep this law? No, they abandoned the law constantly. This which was to be their “wisdom and understanding” ended up exposing their lack of wisdom and lack of understanding (Hosea 4:6). And what was the result of the other nations who looked upon Israel and their law? They may well have recognized the righteousness inherent in this law, seeing as all under the law were treated equally, without anyone being above or exempt from that law as contrasted to the laws of other nations where one’s status in a society could dictate how they were treated by their laws.
This law then was without equal as the nations were concerned at that time. To keep this in proper perspective though, we should look at what the apostle Paul had to say in this regard. He related in II Corinthians chapter 3 that this law was a glorious law. Nonetheless, this glory was fading, and in comparison to the new covenant law of the spirit that replaced it (whose glory does not fade) it had no glory by comparison.
As an aside, it is established here that God refers to the ten commandments specifically with God’s covenant with Israel. The significance? The narrative found in Galatians 4:21-5:1 where those of the old covenant are contrasted with those of the new covenant. Which covenant are you following? The old one that contains the requirement to keep the sabbath, or the new covenant, spirit of the law that does not contain the old covenant letter of the law, such as the sabbath?
Is this all however the stated purpose of the law? Not entirely.
Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee. 27For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the LORD; and how much more after my death? 28Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them. 29For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands. — Deuteronomy 31:26-29
One might be tempted to claim this was the book of the law, and not the old covenant, but the book of the law is where our Bibles originated in relation to the first 5 books of the Bible, and this book of the law tells us about the ten commandments. It is this book of the law that was ratified and sprinkled with blood. This book of the law is the totality of the old covenant, of which the ten commandments are core.
This then reveals a purpose of the law as being a witness against the Israelites. They were, by nature, rebellious and stiff-necked. Elsewhere they are described as being faithless. They did not have the heart to follow God, even after the grand display where God spoke the ten commandments and the people heard God. This law exposed their collective hearts. This law prevented their denial in regards to their hearts. Yet they denied their hearts anyway, blinding themselves to the fact that they did not keep this law, all the while believing they were keeping the law! Psalms 44 demonstrates this denial.
In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever. Selah. But thou hast cast off, and put us to shame; and goest not forth with our armies. Thou makest us to turn back from the enemy: and they which hate us spoil for themselves. Thou hast given us like sheep appointed for meat; and hast scattered us among the heathen. Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase thy wealth by their price. Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us. Thou makest us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people. My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face hath covered me, For the voice of him that reproacheth and blasphemeth; by reason of the enemy and avenger. All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way; Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death. If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god; Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart. Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter. Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever. Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust: our belly cleaveth unto the earth. Arise for our help, and redeem us for thy mercies' sake. — Psalms 44:8-26
Do we see this sort of behavior with those who insist on keeping this law today? If you are one who has had your epiphany in this regard, you see this to be true. If you have not, and are one who continues to believe in keeping that law, and the sign of that covenant law, the sabbath, you do not see this truth. You think you are keeping the law when in fact you are not even close.
How often did we see people in the COG’s contract cancer or some other fatal disease, and refuse medical treatment, believing God was going to heal them, only to die as a result of their disease? How many other things based in that law were seen as being related to faith, only to see the “faithful” not be in receipt of the blessings that were promised in that covenant? Did the people conclude that there was something wrong in keeping that law, or did they conclude the problem lay with their faith? Why would Paul say the law was not of faith (Galatians 3:12), and that the law was for the wicked, and not the righteous (I Tim 1:9-10)?
It was never the function of the law to prove anyone righteous. The function of the law was to expose sin and bring men under sin.
Now we know that what things soever 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. – Romans 3:19
So another purpose and function of the law was to bring all under sin and stand guilty before God and be without excuse.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. – Romans 7:7
The law also served the purpose of teaching the people a knowledge of good and evil.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. – Romans 7:13
The law served the purpose of making sin exceeding or utterly sinful. The law provided the understanding of just how serious sin was in the sight of God.
Wherefore then serveth the law? [ what was its purpose?] It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. – Galatians 3:19-25
What did Paul write here? The law had a purpose, and this purpose we found elsewhere. The primary purpose was to bring all under sin. Those under the law were kept under the law until this faith that was to be revealed. The law was to be a guide until, and not after, one was “mature” (having God’s Spirit).
Why would being under the law result in the people believing and receive this promise by faith? Because the law results in condemnation that creates despair. It is the realization that one cannot measure up to this standard set by God. The law was to lead those under the law to Christ and justification through faith and not law. There is no justification through law, for no one is like God is God. It is emphatically understood that no one, ever, will be like God is God. Satan thought he could be like the God Most High. This lesson will be learned, and until some learn this lesson, they will continue to be led to believe they have to keep that law. If you insist on banging your head against a wall, sooner or later you will come to the conclusion, “this hurts!”
Those who believe they have to keep the law invariably chop up the law, keeping some while dismissing others based upon arbitrary divisions of that law, overlooking the fact that the entire corpus of law makes up that old covenant to which James declared that to break even one point in that “whole” law was to be guilty of the entirety of that covenant law. The Scriptures do not support these artificial divisions, commonly referred to as “moral” versus “ceremonial” laws, but the apostle Paul does provide a division of sorts regarding that law that is much more applicable.
Paul speaks of that law in relation to the pulls of the flesh; those sins that are based upon behaviours that are self serving and destructive to others; behaviours that are the antithesis of having love for one another.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. — Galatians 5:16-21
The sabbath does not fit into this “category” covered by Paul in regards to human sinful behaviour, the Adamic nature, any more than circumcision or any other work or deed required by that old covenant law.
Does this Adamic nature ever attempt to deceive itself into thinking itself good? Sure. Have you ever heard the stories that boil down to this concept: He who seeks to destroy the monster becomes the monster? In one’s zeal to do good, all too often evil results. All too often the self; the ego, gets a boost when it thinks it is doing good when the exact opposite results.
Some religious leaders brought a woman before Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. The law called for the stoning of those caught under those circumstances. They confronted Jesus over this issue by asking him if she should be stoned, according to the law. If he were to anser yes, then they had him advocating an action that was illegal under the Roman occupation. If he said no, then they had him speaking against the law of Moses. What he did was to expose their evil hearts, and they wasted no time in vacating the premises. Like turning on the lights in a room full of roaches, they scattered away from that light.
Just as important as knowing the function of the law is to understand what is not the function of that law. It was not the function of that law to prove one righteous. One could comply with points of law despite having a heart of stone; a stiff-necked and rebellious spirit.
To the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, the law had become a cloak to cover their evil hearts. Their devotion to the minutia of law was a smokescreen that served to deceive others as well as themselves in regards to their stony hearts.
The purpose of the law was to condemn people, bringing them under the power of sin and death.
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. – 1 Corinthians 15:56
One of the most common reasons people give for “keeping” the law is so that they do not sin. To their understanding, grace does not give one license to sin, and they define sin as being the transgression of that old covenant law, citing I John 3:4. Only the Authorized (KJV) translation contains this construct unsupported by the Greek. It needs to be understood that the translation and translators within the Church of England were heavily influenced by the Puritans within the church who had a very legalistic view of Scripture, and this translation was to reflect their theological outlook. These are the same ones who translated the Greek word pasha (passover) into Easter. It seems strange to me that people would accept the one interpretation because it agrees with them, and reject the other because it does not agree with them. There is no true scholarship involved. It is purely by whim.
I’ve now covered the purpose or function of the law and touched on what is not the function of the law. Another area that needs to be studied carefully are the results of keeping or living by that law. Just as important as understanding the function of something like a kidney, we need to understand the end results in relation to the whole organism. A kidney filters the blood and removes impurities or waste products. The result is a healthier body where toxins do not build up with disastrous results.
The results of living by that law is to be placed under the death sentence of sin. The “fruit” of that law was death, and not life:
And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. – Romans 7:10
The law is represented by that tree of the knowledge of good and evil, whose fruit was death, yet appealed as something to make one wise, and there is a wisdom to be gained by and through that law; a wisdom developed through experience, seeing the fruits of living by the flesh. We can either learn through the experiences of others, or lean “the hard way” by experiencing things ourselves. We have Israel’s experience to learn from, if we are willing to do so.
What is the end result in regards to those who insist on keeping that law? Paul answers this question in II Corinthians chapter 3. A veil results that covers the eyes of the individual, blinding them from seeing the true Christ. Verses 14 and 15 relate this blindness is in relation to the mind and heart in regards to those who remain in the old testament/covenant. The irony here is that those who insist on keeping that law do not even perceive this veil to be in relation to them, despite the plain language here.
Verse 16 relates that once one turns to Christ, the veil is removed. The issue here is that those who believe they have to keep the law have turned to the law, and not Christ. Christ and the law are different entities and not the same. One does not turn to Christ by turning to the law. The function of the law is to bring people under sin; condemn people, showing them to be sinners. The function of Christ is to save people through His Perfect Sacrifice. Christ and the law are at odds with each other in this regard. Christ came to save men from sin, from death, and from that law!
That law is defined even by Paul as being holy, righteous, and good. It brutally and efficiently exposes the one under the law as being sinful, and worthy of condemnation, and rightly so.
Jesus warned his listeners that there would come false representatives teaching falsehoods that would be so convincing that, if it were possible, even the elect would believe them.
It is documented in Scriptures though that Paul had the most trouble with those of the circumcision. They were going into areas after Paul, and telling the Gentile Christians what? That they had to be circumcised and keep the law. HWA and others came along and also said we had to keep the law; the only difference being, he and others took circumcision out of the equation. The end result is the same; people keeping the old covenant law; a covenant they were never a party to, and a law you could not keep unless and until you underwent circumcision. They bring people back under the law, and as a result, under the condemnation of that law. And let’s not forget they were sure to warn their followers to ignore anyone that would dare tell them otherwise, especially those that would leave their fellowship! That pretty well eliminates all possibilities of a person ever discovering they are living a lie, and feeding a wolf.
Paul further defines the law as being for those who are evil; the unrighteous in I Timothy 1:9-10:
Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; . . .
Are Christians righteous? If so, then that law was not made for them.
2 Timothy 4:8
1 Peter 3:12
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. Acts 17:11