This entry is part 75 of 89 in the series: Troublesome texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 24:34 – This generation will not pass away?
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Ephesians 5:23- ‘The head of a wife is her husband’
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – ‘Saved through child-bearing’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
6:2 ‘Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’
See also Gal 5:14; 1 Cor 9:21, and James 2:8 (which refers to ‘the royal law’).
This difficult but important phrase has been variously understood as:
(a) the law of love (so most interpreters, including Brown, Bruce, Stott, Fung). ‘The ‘law of Christ’ is to love one another as He loves us; that was the new commandment which He gave (Jn. 13:34; 15:12). So, as Paul has already stated in Galatians 5:14, to love our neighbour is to fulfil the law.’ (Stott). ‘”The law of Christ” seems here plainly to be the law of mutual love, so often and so explicitly enjoined, and so powerfully and affectionately enforced, – Jn 13:34-35; 15:12.’ (Brown) Barrett states that the ‘law of Christ’ is ‘virtually indistinguishable from the law of love in 5:14’ (Cited by Jervis)
(b) the teaching of Christ (Dodd and Davies);
(c) the pattern set by Christ (Hays and others).
Relationship with the law of Moses
But is ‘the law of Christ’ to be understood in contrast with, or in continuity with, the law of Moses? For Brown, ‘there seems to be a tacit contrast between the law of Moses, and the law of Christ. It is as if the apostle had said, “This bearing one another’s burdens is a far better thing than those external observances which your new teachers are so anxious to impose on you.’
‘Dispensationalism treats law and gospel as strictly antithetical, placing them in the distinct dispensations of Israel and the church. Most modern dispensationalism teaches that while justification is by grace in every dispensation, the Mosaic law served a binding regulatory function for Israel’s sanctification that is not binding on the church. Consequently, the law is not a guide for the Christian life; rather, the ‘law of Christ’ is written on the heart of the believer. However, as a biblical revelation of God’s holy nature, the law points out sin and the need for grace, but is itself antithetical to grace.’ (D.A. Gilland, NDT:HS, art. ‘Law and Gospel’)
Augustine, however, emphasises the continuity between the demands of the old and new testament. The right keeping of both, he says, is summed up by ‘love’: ‘The “law of Christ” means the law of love. The one who loves his neighbor fulfills the law. The love of neighbor is strongly commended even in the Old Testament [Lev 19:18]. The apostle elsewhere says that it is by love that all the commands of the law are summed up [Rom 13:10]. If so, then it is evident that even that Scripture which was given to the covenant people was the law of Christ, which, since it was not being fulfilled by fear, he came to fulfill by love. The same Scripture, therefore, and the same law is called the old covenant when it weighs down in slavery those who are grasping after earthly goods. It is called the new testament when it raises to freedom those who are ardently seeking the eternal good.’ (Cited in ACCS)
‘The Galatians and their teachers had been eager to keep the law of Moses; but here was a higher way by which they might not keep it but fulfil it, by keeping the law of Christ.’ (Cole)
Schreiner (DPL) asks: ‘Is the “law of Christ” for believers limited to the law of love? Yes and no. Love is the heartbeat and center of the Pauline ethic. And yet even in Galatians Paul unfolds the true nature of love by delineating what is not loving (Gal 5:15, 19–21, 26) and what is (Gal 5:22–23; 6:1–2, 6–10). A comparison of Galatians 5:14 with Romans 13:8–10 shows that for Paul the moral norms of the OT Law must be included when one is defining love. Otherwise love collapses into sentimentality and vagueness. Nevertheless, the focus must remain on the affections in the heart and the power of the Spirit so that believers will not be satisfied with outward conformity to a norm.’
Douglas Moo finds strong continuity between the law of Moses and the law of Christ. Indeed, he says, 9 out of 10 commandments of the Decalogue are re-asserted in the New Testament. At the same time, love is pre-eminent in the law of Christ.
Cf. Php 2:4
Rudolf Gwalther (1519–1586; successor of Bullinger in Zurich) applies this teaching to our care of those suffering from poverty, sickness, and exile: ‘If we have to bear the vices of others so as not to break the law of love and stir up trouble and unnecessary dissension, how much more should those people be borne who are harmful and dangerous to us not because of their own fault but on account of the burdens that God has placed on them, like poverty, exile, disease and other things of that kind? Therefore those who run into such people ought to consider how much greater the burden is that they have to bear and how much more blessed it is to give than to receive. for if it is a hard and expensive thing to feed the poor, to house or grant asylum to the outcast and exiles, to tend and cure those who suffer from serious illnesses, those who require these services from us because they suffer from poverty, exile and disease are oppressed by a much greater burden than ours.’ (Cited in RCS)
‘Paul does not eliminate the law; he transposes it to another key: the law of Christ, the Spirit-enabled obedience of those in the new covenant relationship through Christ (2 Cor. 3:6).’ (Kent Brewer, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, art. ‘Legalism’)
‘Jesus’ teaching, although standing in continuity with the law given at Sinai, nevertheless sovereignly fashions a new law. In some instances Jesus sharpens commandments (Matt. 5:17–48) and in others considers them obsolete (Mark 7:17–19). On one occasion, having been asked to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus concurs with the Jewish wisdom of his time (Mark 12:32–33) that the greatest commandments are to love God supremely and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:28–31). He breaks with tradition, however, by defining the term “neighbor” to mean even the despised Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37)…Paul’s own admonition to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens provides both a pithy restatement of Jesus’ summary of the law and an indication that Jesus’ teaching fulfills prophetic expectations.’ (Thielman, EDBT, art. ‘Law of Christ’)