Bible’s Use of the Word Law
BIBLICAL law forms an intricate part of the divine revelations recorded for us in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. In the issues of The Watchtower of June 15, July 1 and July 15, 1952, basic legal matters were examined and studied. There it was shown that wherever intelligent creatures come together for a special purpose they form an organization. To operate such organizations successfully some form of government is necessary. Government, in turn, is defined as the ruling of creatures by means of laws to keep the wheels of organization moving.
Finally, law itself is defined as a body of rules of action or rules of conduct guiding and directing creatures in the ways desired by the governments, whether these governments be of heavenly or man-made origins. Those ways of directing the people may be good or bad, depending upon whether the governments making the laws are good or bad, perfect or imperfect. The governments being the lawmakers are described as the “superiors,” whereas the people who must keep the laws are said to be the “inferiors.” The fields of action subjected to rules and laws are as wide as the universe of God’s creation.
To understand fully the meaning of the word “law” in any part of the Bible, it is first necessary to determine from the context in the Bible what field of law is being discussed. Is the field of law one of Jehovah God’s design, or is it one of human or even of satanic origin and control? When the field of law has been ascertained, then into the mind’s eye must come the examination as to who are the “superiors” that made that law and the “inferiors” that are expected to be subjected under the law. Furthermore, it must be realized that the word “law” in the Bible may be used to refer to a single law or it may be used collectively to refer to an entire body of rules of conduct. Also a “command” given to apply to more than one person is called a “commandment,” which is another term used to refer to a law. For example, the Ten Commandments given to Moses were actually ten basic laws given to the Israelites.
An examination will be made in numerical order of six different fields of law mentioned in the Bible. By discovering who the “superiors” and who the “inferiors” are we shall be pleasantly surprised how our understanding of the Sacred Scriptures is immensely increased.
EDENIC AND PATRIARCHAL LAW
(1) The word “command” appears for the first time in the Bible at Genesis 2:16, 17: “And Jehovah God also laid this command upon the man: ‘From every tree of the garden you may eat to satisfaction. But as for the tree of the knowledge of good and bad you must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.’” At once it is apparent that this law pertains to the field of Edenic law, law enforceable here on earth in the garden of Eden and its perfect civilization. Jehovah God is plainly the lawgiver, the superior. Adam and Eve and their future offspring as mankind are the expected lawkeepers, being the inferiors in God’s governmental organization operating in paradisaic Eden. The sanction or punishment for breaking this Edenic law is unmistakably stated, that of death, positive or certain death.
So the field of Edenic law in which Adam later committed a fatal violation was no mere petty man-made one, but one from the Sovereign King of the universe, that of the inspired divine law. Though the field of Edenic law has been brought to an end by Jehovah, yet whatever God-given law is revealed as applicable today merits our liveliest attention.
(2) The next Biblical references to law are the rules Noah and his family associates were commanded to keep. “And Noah proceeded to do according to all that God had commanded him. He did just so.” Here we have the field of righteous patriarchal law as commenced before the Flood. Jehovah God is the lawmaking Superior and Noah and his family are the lawkeeping inferiors. This system of detailed legal instructions enabled the patriarchal society of Noah and his associates to pass through the Deluge and to begin a new righteous civilization upon a cleansed earth.—Gen. 6:22; 7:9.
In the days of Abraham those in righteous patriarchal society had further legal commandments given to them. “For I have become acquainted with him [Abraham] in order that he may command his sons and his household after him so that they shall keep Jehovah’s way to do righteousness and judgment.” The law of circumcision was one of these newly added laws. Later to Patriarch Isaac, Jehovah said: “‘By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves,’ due to the fact that Abraham listened to my voice and continued to keep his obligations to me, my commands, my statutes, and my laws.” True, this field of patriarchal law no longer is binding as a legal body of law; however, it contains many principles and prophetic shadows of great value to Christians of the New World society today.—Gen. 17:11, 12; 18:19; 26:4, 5.
MOSAIC LAW AND NEW COVENANT
(3) The most detailed legislation mentioned in the Scriptures is that given through Moses in 1513 B.C. “Jehovah now said to Moses: ‘Come up to me in the mountain and stay there, as I want to give you the stone tablets and the law and the commandment that I must write in order to teach them.’” (Ex. 24:12) A code of more than six hundred laws in addition to the Ten Commandments was given through Moses. This field of law is known commonly in the Bible as the “law of Moses” or merely as “the law.” It organized Israel into a national theocratic society with Jehovah God as their kingly Superior and the Israelites themselves as inferiors, servants or slaves of God.
This body of law kept Israel together as a theocratic society for about fifteen hundred years, until God himself brought to a legal end, upon the impalement of Jesus on the stake A.D. 33, this handwritten legal covenant, including the Ten Commandments. “He [God] kindly forgave us all our trespasses and blotted out the handwritten document against us which consisted of decrees and which was in opposition to us, and He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake.” So Christians today do not find themselves under this ancient field of divine law which has been terminated, although it too contains a wealth of prophetic types and principles to be applied to the New World society developing since 1919.—Col. 2:13, 14; Rom. 7:4.
(4) Since A.D. 33 the spiritual Israelites, anointed Christians, voluntarily have submitted themselves as “inferiors” or slaves under a new field of Jehovah-sponsored law known as the new covenant made through Jesus Christ. “For if that first covenant [of Mosaic law] had been faultless, no place would have been sought for a second [the new covenant]; ‘For this is the covenant which I shall covenant with the [spiritual] house of Israel after those days,’ says Jehovah: ‘I shall put my laws in their mind, and upon their hearts I shall write them, and I shall be a God to them and they will be a people to me.’”—Heb. 8:7, 10.
Therefore from Jesus’ time to the present the society of Jehovah’s witnesses has developed and operated within the legal framework of the Christian system of things built by the rules and commandments pronounced through the Greater Noah, the Greater Moses, Christ Jesus, and his inspired apostles. The “other sheep” companions of the anointed Christians also lovingly and voluntarily conform themselves as “inferiors” under this divinely provided field of Christian regulations because they become part of the “one flock.”—John 10:16.
LAW OF SIN, LAW OF MIND
(5) Apart from the above field of God’s law, Paul refers to another field of law under which Christians find themselves subjected, however, this time involuntarily. “So, then, with my mind I myself am a slave [inferior] to God’s law [revealed through the new covenant], but with my flesh to sin’s law.” (Rom. 7:25) This is the field of legal bondage known as the “law of sin and of death.” (Rom. 8:2) Who are the superiors in this field of conduct? Paul answers this by showing that ‘King Sin’ and ‘King Death’ with Satan behind them are the unrelenting masters. (Rom. 5:21; Heb. 2:14) We as sinners from Adam’s time find ourselves sold as slavish inferiors by reason of our inherited fallen flesh.—Rom. 7:24.
(6) Jehovah has come to our rescue in lovingly providing the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Paul shows that dedicated Christians are now in position to come under another field of law known as “the law of my mind,” now that the condemnation of the law of Moses has been removed which showed up their human flesh as greatly missing God’s mark of perfection. (Rom. 3:21-23) “But now we have been discharged from the Law, because we have died to that by which we were being held fast, that we might be slaves [inferiors] in a new sense by the spirit, and not in the old sense by the written code [Mosaic law].”—Rom. 7:6; Matt. 20:28.
The old law covenant through Moses dealt with the fallen flesh and sought to restrain the works of the flesh. (Gal. 5:19-21) The driving force behind this law covenant was that of its sanctions of punishment, which built up a great condemnation or curse against the Jewish people for constantly failing to keep the law. (2 Cor. 3:9) But the new way, started by Jesus Christ, has the power of God’s spirit as its guiding force. (2 Cor. 3:6) The spirit of God then guides our minds in the paths of righteousness and accomplishes what the old law covenant with its Ten Commandments and other laws failed to. “If you are being led by spirit, you are not under law.”—Gal. 5:18.
Jehovah’s provision also makes it possible for Christians to fight against the downward trend of the natural flesh under ‘King Sin.’ “I find, then, this law in my case: that when I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me. I really delight in the law of God [revealed through the new covenant] according to the man I am within, but I behold in my members another law [that of the flesh subjected to ‘King Sin’] warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin’s law that is in my members.” (Rom. 7:21-23) All Christians have this great struggle between “things of the flesh” and “things of the spirit.”—Rom. 8:4-8.
But in Jehovah’s goodness he has brought on the Christian scene the arrangement of undeserved kindness, so that it “might rule as king through righteousness” and wield a powerful influence upon our hearts when we diligently take advantage of God’s loving provision through Christ. (Rom. 5:21) We become “slaves [inferiors] to righteousness,” which makes it possible to put up a hard fight for clean Christian living and integrity even though the downward pull of the flesh is strong. By Jehovah’s help through Christ Jesus and by means of our strong faith, we are able to come off victorious in this struggle against our flesh. Under this new arrangement we are able to produce abundantly the fruitage of the spirit to Jehovah’s praise.—Rom. 6:17-20; Gal. 5:22-24.
Has this brief study in the Bible’s use of the word “law” helped you to a greater understanding of your position as a dedicated Christian slave of Jehovah God? We hope so.