The Law and Laws: A Biblical Overview

The above article is something worth reading if you are interested in understanding the use of the Law in Scripture and how it applies to us today. Here is an excerpt:

I. Introduction

Paul says in Romans 7:14 that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Our attitude towards God’s law ought to mimic the Apostle Paul’s positive attitude. A very important interpretive principle should guide and direct our understanding and our application of God’s law to our lives and the lives of others, a principle that is often neglected or dismissed in this day and age: the principle of periodicity.

The Princeton scholar, Geerhardus Vos, summed this up well at the beginning of his book on Biblical Theology by stating:

  • The method of Biblical Theology is in the main determined by the principle of historic progression. Hence the division of the course of revelation into certain periods. Whatever may be the modern tendency towards eliminating the principle of periodicity from historical science, it remains certain that God in the unfolding of revelation has regularly employed this principle. From this it follows that the periods should not be determined at random, or according to subjective preference, but in strict agreement with the lines of cleavage drawn by revelation itself. The Bible is, as it were, conscious of its own organism; it feels, what we cannot always say of ourselves, its own anatomy. The principle of successive Berith-makings (Covenant-makings), as marking the introduction of new periods, plays a large role in this, and should be carefully heeded.

Therefore, one of the foundational principles of correctly interpreting the Scriptures is that one respects and listens to the covenantal context of any given passage in Scripture when the meaning is being interpreted and application is made. To better understand the law, one must apply the principle of periodicity in studying the function of the law in the pre-fall, post-fall, and New Testament eras.

II. The Principle of Periodicity and the Pre-Fall era

First, in the Garden of Eden, Adam was under a covenant of works: there was law. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) states, “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience . . .” (19.1). In that garden the tree of life and the testing tree of the knowledge of good and evil contained the seeds of the gospel. The tree of life was essentially a symbol of the best life that awaited Adam if he were to pass his probation in that garden. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil signified the law because it was given as a “trial of obedience and by sin (no less than that) [was] made the occasion of death and the minister of condemnation.”

Recognizing the role and application of the law as conditioned by the covenantal context is especially important in the differences evidenced between the pre-fall situation and that situation following the fall of mankind. For example, works play a fundamentally different role in the pre-fall covenant, a covenant of works, than they do in the post-fall covenantal period, in the covenant of grace. In the pre-fall covenant, works function as a condition of acquiring life; in the post-fall covenant they follow the act of justification and demonstrate that one has life in the Son.

Let’s now turn our attention to the periods after the fall…

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