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There are those who claim that the apostle Paul in his letters “did away” with all norms of conduct, and perhaps even that he “did away” with what Jesus had taught. Some others claim or insinuate that he upheld the Old Covenant and told people to follow its rules. And then, there are those who say that Paul taught that it was the New Covenant that applied, and that the saints [a] were to live holy, righteous [b] lives, being faithful to God and his son Jesus and being led by the Holy Spirit.
Seeing those greatly differing views in regard to what the apostle Paul taught, one must ask, what did he really teach? This article considers a number of passages in his letters and in the book of Acts.
a In this article, the word “saints” refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century CE or earlier.
b In one popularly used translation, 73 passages in Paul’s letters contain such words as “righteous”, “righteousness” or “righteously”. In addition to that, 11 passages contain the word “holiness”.
His birth and home area: He was an Israelite, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, born in Tarsus which was a coastal town in Cilicia by the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea. That Paul was born in Tarsus, is stated in Acts 22:3, but that verse with its context also tells us that he had lived in Jerusalem. (Acts 22:3 Then Paul said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem […], NLT04.)
He was a Roman citizen; see Acts 21:39 and especially 22:27–28.
His name: In the Greek text of the New Testament, he is for the most part called Paulos, but in the book of Acts sometimes Saulos. The name Paulos may have come from the Latin word paulus, paullus which literally meant “little”, “small” but was also used as a Roman name. Saulos was perhaps a Greek form of the Hebrew saoul, “desired”.
His occupation: He was a tentmaker, see Acts 18:1–3.
His education and religious background: His use of the Greek language in his letters indicates that he was a learned man. It may be that he in addition to Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek knew even Latin, and possibly some other languages as well. In the past, he had in some way been connected to the Pharisee party, see Acts 23:6 and 26:5 and Philippians 3:5.
A note: Acts 23:6 does not mean that Paul still supported the Pharisee party. It is obvious that when he said to the Jewish council “I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee”, he did that merely for the purpose of dividing the council where accusations against him were being examined by both Sadducees and Pharisees. Philippians 3 shows that after his conversion Paul had rejected his Pharisee background, and that he counted his past to be of the same worth as skubalon, “refuse”, “dung”. Let us read that part of his letter to the saints in Philippi.
Philippians 3:2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision party. [c] 3 For we are the circumcision [d] who worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh; 4 though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other thinks that he has reason to trust in the flesh, I more. 5 I was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. As regards the Law, I was a Pharisee; [e] 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness in the Law, blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 But no, rather, I also count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them to be dung, so that I may win Christ 9 and be found in Him; not having my own righteousness, which is of the Law, but through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death; 11 if by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead. (MKJV, note signs added)
c Verse 2, “the concision party” = the old-covenantal Jews. Look under the heading “Concision” on the page key10.htm.
d Verse 3, “we are the circumcision” – here, Paul referred to the spiritual “circumcision” which the saints had received, that of the heart, which is to say, the Holy Spirit. See even Romans 2:29.
e Verse 5, “I was a Pharisee” – this was before Paul was converted.
For some reason, a number of people have ignored most parts of the apostle Paul’s epistles. Instead, they have looked at such passages as 1 Corinthians 6:12 and Titus 1:15 which many translators have rendered in such ways that the readers might be led to think that Paul meant that one can do whatever one wants, without any moral or ethical guidelines or restrictions. (Those verses are considered later in this article.)
But, those who carefully study all of Paul’s letters, will see that he repeatedly reminded the saints about the importance of living in a just, righteous manner. In the New Testament part of one commonly used English bible-version, circa 140 passages contain words that include the stem “righteous”. More than half of them are found in Paul’s epistles. Right here, it is enough to view two examples of this.
Romans 6:19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NKJV)
Ephesians 4:24 […] put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (NKJV)
A side-note: The word “righteousness” comes from the Old English rihtwisnes which meant right-wise-ness. “Right-ways-ness”, if you please. That has to do with living in a just, fair and morally upright manner. The article nga081.htm contains a study on the matter of righteousness, including what new-covenantal righteousness is and consists of.
Again, the apostle Paul put much weight on righteousness and holiness. Unfortunately, many have misunderstood certain things in his letters. Because of this, it is necessary to consider, not only what Paul taught but also what he did not teach. Some parts of that matter are discussed under the following headings.
Many translators have put into 1 Corinthians 6:12 such wordings as “all things are lawful for me”. That might cause casual bible-readers to think that Paul meant that one can do whatever one wants, without any moral restrictions. But again, several passages in Paul’s epistles show that he repeatedly reminded the saints about the importance of living in a respectable and just, righteous manner. Also: As the earlier quoted Romans 6:19–23 shows, he noted that the wages of sin is death.
The Greek text of 1 Corinthians 6:12 does not contain any word for “law”. The pertinent wording is panta moi exestin. The word exesti had different uses and meanings, among them “it is possible”, “it is in one’s power” and “it is allowed”. Those who have studied all of Paul’s letters, have seen that he did not teach that “everything is allowed”. So, regarding 1 Corinthians 6:12 – it appears that he merely referred to the fact that we humans have a free will and are through that able to do all kinds of things.
1 Corinthians 6:12 I am free to do all things; but not all things are wise. I am free to do all things; but I will not let myself come under the power of any. (BBE)
God does not force us to act and live in the right way. It is in that way we are “free” (able) to do what we want – but, as we all know, there are many things that one must not do. Every action has its consequences, often already in this life but there is also a time of judgment to come. Let us not forget these words in the context:
1 Corinthians 6:9 Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (AKJV)
A note: Obviously, those words apply to those who willingly and purposely continue in sin, after they have come to know what the right ways are. The following verse (11) records how Paul noted that some of the disciples in Corinth had (before their conversion) practised things of the kind that verses 9–10 mention, but that they had now been “washed” and sanctified.
Another note: It appears that some have read 1 Corinthians 6:12–13 without checking the context, and thought that verse 12 refers to “foods”. But, those who check the wider context, can easily see that that passage is about righteousness versus vice and immorality.
In contrast to that, 1 Corinthians 10:23 (where the Greek text contains a similar wording as in the first part of 1 Corinthians 6:12) has a connection with the matter of foods. The article nha020.htm has some notes on 1 Corinthians 10:23.
Many bible-versions have in Titus 1:15 such wordings as “to the pure all things are pure”. That could cause casual bible-readers to think that if one just is “inwardly pure”, then it does not matter what one’s “outer actions” are and that one can do whatever one wants. On the other hand, it appears that some have thought that that verse refers to the rules of the Old Covenant, the matter of “clean and unclean foods”. But, the apostle Paul was not talking about the Old Covenant or its rules.
In Titus 1, the subject is the matter of electing elders. Verse 15: Paul wrote, in translation, “with the pure, all things are pure, but with the defiled and unfaithful ones nothing is pure”. Those words belong to a context where he was giving Titus instructions in regard to what kind of persons could be considered for election as elders, and who could not. The point Paul was making, was that persons who might use religion for making money, were not to be elected as elders. Only those whose minds and consciences had not been defiled by lust for gain (money), could be chosen as elders. “With the pure, all things are pure.”
The article nea050.htm contains a study on Titus 1:5–15.
A casual bible-reader who reads those two verses alone, taken out of their contexts, might come to think that there was some disagreement between Paul and James.
Galatians 2:16 “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (NKJV)
James 2:24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (NKJV)
So, did the apostle Paul and the epistle-writer James have different views, in regard to “works” and “faith”? Is there a conflict between the statements in Galatians 2:16 and James 2:24? No. This is merely an example of how important it is to check the context. Clarification:
Paul was commenting on the Old Covenant’s “works of the law”, but James was talking about the importance of having good works, such as aiding the poor and needy. Here is some of the context:
James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? (NKJV, highlighting added)
Again, James was talking about good works, helping the needy. By the way, here is a passage which shows how Paul and three other apostles were in agreement, in regard to the importance of good works:
Galatians 2:9 even James, and Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, having perceived the favor granted to me, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we, indeed, should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision; 10 requesting only, that we would remember the poor, which very thing I had also been diligent to do. (LO, highlighting added)
(Verse 9: Cephas = the apostle Simon Peter.)
Verse 10 tells us that Paul had been diligent in “remembering the poor” – in other words, he had been diligent in doing good works.
In his letters, the apostle Paul often warned about persons of the kind who are after shameful gain – “men who ruin whole families, teaching for the sake of shameful gain things that should not be taught” (Titus 1:11). It was persons of that kind he referred to, when he quoted the saying regarding people who were “always liars, savage beasts, not willing to work” (Titus 1:12). Paul was different. His ways and motives were pure. And: He was on the giving side. Read on, for more on this matter.
On the occasion which the below-quoted verses refer to, Paul was speaking to certain elders.
Acts 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the assembly. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, You are familiar with, from the day when I arrived in Asia, after what manner I lived among you all the time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility […] 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothes – 34 rather, as you yourselves know, these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in everything, that by working hard like this, we must support the infirm and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. (BPT)
Verse 34, “these hands” = Paul’s hands. He referred to manual work. He was a tentmaker by occupation, see Acts 18:1–3.
Again, Paul was speaking to elders. He reminded them that they knew how he had acted, that he had supported himself through manual work. He told those elders to copy his example, in that regard. More – he said to them, “I have shown you in everything, that by working hard like this, we must support the infirm and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said that it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
(“Support the infirm” = provide aid to people who because of age, disability, sickness or similar reasons cannot manage and support themselves.)
And, he warned about persons who acted in a different way.
Acts 20:29 For I know that after my departure, burdensome wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Even from among your own selves shall arise men who speak perverted things, in order to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore keep watch, remembering that for three years, I did not cease to warn everyone, with tears, night and day. (BPT)
Verse 29, “burdensome wolves” – men who wanted to live at the cost of the saints who were Jesus’ “flock”. Compare with the earlier cited Titus 1:12, “savage beasts, not willing to work”.
Paul was a tentmaker by occupation. In Corinth, he worked as such, see Acts 18:1–3. The above-quoted Acts 20 shows that also in Ephesus, he supported himself through manual work. And, Paul’s letters to Thessalonica show that even there, he and his companions “worked night and day” so that they would not be a burden to anyone, and that they did not “eat anyone’s bread without paying for it”.
The article nma020.htm has more on Acts 20. The article nma030.htm takes a closer look at certain aspects of the example which Paul and his companions set, for others to copy. The article nma010.htm sorts out the “tithe question”.
A number of bible-translations have in Romans 3:21 such wordings as “now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested”, but some have “now, a justification which is of God, without law, is exhibited”. Many people might find it hard to understand what the apostle was saying. The following takes a closer look at that passage and matter.
A clarifying note: The saints’ justification meant that (through Jesus’ Sacrifice) their sins were forgiven. Through this, they were pronounced “not guilty”. But, they were not to continue in sin. Numerous New Testament passages record how Paul and others reminded the saints that they must live in a just, righteous manner.
The below-quoted LO translates in verse 21 the Greek word dikaiosunê as “justification”. (Cf. dikaios, “just”, and dikaioô, “to justify”.) The context makes it clear that Paul indeed referred to justification. – As you read the scripture-quote below, note also the linguistic comments in brackets.
Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever things the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and that all the world may be liable to punishment before God. 20 Wherefore, by works of law there shall no flesh be justified [Greek dikaioô] in his sight; because through law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now, a justification [dikaiosunê] which is of God, without law, is exhibited, attested by the law and the prophets: 22 even a justification [dikaiosunê] which is of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, for all, and upon all, who believe; for there is no difference. 23 For all, having sinned and come short of the glory of God, 24 are justified [dikaioô] freely by his favor, through the redemption which is by Christ Jesus: 25 whom God has set forth a propitiatory, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his own justice, [dikaiosunê] in passing by the sins which were before committed, through the forbearance of God: 26 I say, at this present time; that he himself might be just, [dikaios] and yet the justifier [dikaioô] of him who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. By what law? of works? No: but by the law of faith. 28 We conclude, then, that by faith man is justified, [dikaioô] without works of law. (LO, highlighting and comments added)
A note regarding the phrase “the law” in that passage: In verse 21, the phrase “attested by the law and the prophets” refers to two Old Testament sections: “The Law” (the five books of Moses), and “the Prophets” which is another section in the OT. In verse 19, the words “whatever things the law says” refer to the Old Covenant whose rules are recorded in the five books of Moses.
In connection with the Old Covenant, if one wanted to be justified before God, one had to keep all of that covenant’s rules, perfectly. But, no normal human was able to do that. This might be the reason why the apostle called that covenant “the ministration of condemnation”, while he called the New Covenant “the ministration of justification”:
2 Corinthians 3:9 For if the ministration of condemnation was glorious, much more does the ministration of justification abound in glory. (LO)
As you can see, that verse talks about the two covenants, old and new, just as the above-quoted Romans 3:19–28 does.
Apparently, some have thought that Romans 3:31 and certain other passages mean that the apostle Paul “upheld” or “established” the Old Covenant and its rules. This is because of the way some translations render that verse. Here is an example:
Romans 3:31 Do we then annul the Law through faith? Let it not be! No rather, we establish the Law. (VW06)
That wording might cause someone who casually reads parts of the New Testament, to think that Paul “upheld” the Old Covenant and its rules. But, those who have carefully studied all of Paul’s letters, know that he did not do that. Instead, he did his best to explain that the Old Covenant had come to its end and was no more, and that the saints were under the New Covenant. So, how should Romans 3:31 be translated and understood?
The Greek text does not say “the Law”. It only has the noun nomos, without a definite article. Here is a slightly different translation of that verse:
Romans 3:31 Do we, then, make law useless through the faith? By no means: but we establish law. (LO)
But, even that wording might confuse some readers.
Paul wrote in Greek. He used the word nomos. Here, it is good to know that the old Greek noun nomos was used in many different ways and meanings, such as “custom”, “usage”, “way”, “practice” and “melody”, and even “pasture”, “district” and “law”. In the 1940 Clarendon Press edition of ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott, the first definition for nomos (νόμος) is “that which is in habitual practice, use or possession”, and after that “usage, custom”, followed by comments on the many different uses of that word.
It appears that Paul, according to his custom, was playing with words, using the same word in different meanings. That is: It appears that he was saying, in effect: “Are we saying that the New Covenant has no νόμος but only ‘faith’? Not by any means; rather, we are establishing νόμος!”
Clarification: The νόμος (nomos) which Paul and his companions were establishing, was not the Old Covenant, and it was not a “law” either. They were establishing a way, a new way of life, that of the New Covenant, a life of righteousness under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
A note: Some people have tried to find “written rules” for the New Covenant, of the kind the Old Covenant had. But, the New Covenant is written,
“not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NKJV).
Please note that the New Covenant’s “writing” does not consist of the rules of the Old Covenant. It consists of the Holy Spirit. God himself came to dwell in the saints, and guided them in the right ways, through his Spirit. The article nca060.htm has more on this. The article nca100.htm considers Romans 6:14–15 and 7:6 and what Paul meant when he said that the saints were under grace and not under law. Some aspects of Romans 7:6 are considered even in this present article, a bit later.
Another note: In the first part of the above-discussed Romans 3:31, the Greek text contains also the verb katargeô. Here are some examples of how Paul used that word in other passages:
Romans 4:14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified [Greek katargeô] (NASB77, comment added)
Romans 7:6 But now we have been released [katargeô] from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (NASB77, comment added)
2 Corinthians 3:7 For if the ministration of death in letters engraved on stone was with glory, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, because of the glory of his face, which was to be abolished [katargeô] (LO, comment added)
Galatians 5:4 You have been severed [katargeô] from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (NASB77, comment added)
The above-quoted verses tell the careful reader a bit of what Paul actually taught in regard to the Old Covenant and its rules.
Many people have been caused to think that Romans 7:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 refer to “literal” and “spiritual” interpretations of the Old Covenant and its rules.
Those verses talk about “the letter” and “the Spirit”, but in order to see what the apostle actually meant and referred to, one must check the context. Please note that those passages do not contain the phrases “the letter of the Law” and “the spirit of the Law”, nor are they found anywhere else in the Bible. Clarification:
When the apostle Paul wrote “the letter”, Romans 7:6 and 2 Corinthians 3:6, he referred to the Old Covenant and its rules. And, when he wrote “the Spirit”, same verses, he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant.
Romans 7:6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (NASB77)
2 Corinthians 3:6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (NASB77)
Regarding Romans 7:6 – if one carefully studies that verse with its context, it becomes clear what the apostle really meant. He wrote from the viewpoint of a Jew who had once been under the Old Covenant but was now “released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound” (NASB77).
Regarding 2 Corinthians 3:6 – here is some of its context (please read all of this scripture-quote with care and consider what the apostle actually was saying):
2 Corinthians 3:6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8 how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! (NRSV)
As you can see, that passage does not contain such phrases as “the letter of the law” or “the spirit of the law”.
Verse 6: When the apostle wrote “the letter” (Greek to gramma), he referred to the Old Covenant whose main points (the “ten words”) had been written (engraved) on the two tablets of stone (verse 7). And, when he wrote “the Spirit”, verses 6 and 8, he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant.
The Old Covenant did not provide a way to everlasting life, and so, those who were under it, faced death. That might be why the apostle wrote “the letter kills” or “the engraving kills”, verse 6. When he wrote “but the Spirit gives life”, also verse 6, he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant.
A note: The Old Covenant had its written rules. A part of them were written on stone and a part on some other material, possibly parchment. That covenant did not provide a way to everlasting life. But, the New Covenant’s “writing” – which “gives life”, verse 6 – is not a “law code”. The Holy Spirit is the New Covenant’s “writing”. As Paul noted, the New Covenant is written,
“not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NKJV).
And again, Paul also noted, from the viewpoint of a Jew who had been under the Old Covenant:
Romans 7:6 But now we have been released from the Law, [f] having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit [g] and not in oldness of the letter. [h] (NASB77, note signs added)
f “The Law” – here, that phrase refers to the Old Covenant and its rules.
g “The Spirit” – the Holy Spirit, and the New Covenant whose “writing” the Holy Spirit is.
h “The letter” – the Old Covenant and its written rules.
The article nca110.htm has more on 2 Corinthians 3:6–9 and Romans 7:6.
Romans 13 is one of the passages where the apostle Paul mentioned parts of the Decalogue. That passage is considered later in this present article, but right here, some notes on the word “decalogue”. It is derived from the Greek text of the Septuagint version (LXX) which has in Exodus 34:28 the phrase tês diathêkês tous deka logous, “the ten words of the covenant”. The Hebrew text of that verse talks about “the words of the covenant, the ten words”. In the Middle Ages, some began using the phrase “the ten commandments”, but that is in fact a mistranslation. Here is a clarification of that matter:
The actual “ten words” are recorded in Exodus 20, but it is in Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4 that they are given a “name”. Here is the first of those three passages, as the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation has it:
Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words. (JPS1917, highlighting added)
The above-quoted JPS1917 translates the Hebrew text correctly, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”, Exodus 34:28, and “the ten words”, Deuteronomy 4:13 and 10:4.
Now, consider this: “The words of the covenant, the ten words” – words, of which covenant? Well, the one that was made by Mount Sinai. The Old Covenant.
Important: The fact that the Decalogue belonged to the Old Covenant and not the New, did not mean that the saints could murder or steal or anything like that. The Old Covenant came to its end, but that did not mean that all moral principles would have come to an end. Those who have studied all of the Bible, may have noticed that much more was expected in the way of just, righteous living, of the saints who were under the New Covenant, than what had been demanded of the Israelites when they were under the Old Covenant.
The article nca050.htm has more on the matter of the Decalogue.
In various ways, the apostle Paul tried to help people to understand that the Old Covenant was one thing, and that the New Covenant was something separate and different. One of his ways to explain that matter was an allegory which he used in his letter to the saints in Galatia.
Galatians 4:21 Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. 23 One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. 24 Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written, “Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birthpangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married.” 28 Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. 29 But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30 But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” 31 So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (NRSV)
Those words of Paul are clear and they speak for themselves. The saints had nothing to do with the Old Covenant. But again, this did not mean that they could live in sin or anything of that kind. A better manner of life was expected of them, than what the Old Covenant’s rules had demanded of those who were under it.
A side-note, regarding the last part of verse 27: Some translations have “many more are the children of the desolate than of her who has the husband”, which is closer to the original. Clarification: That was a matter of two wives competing of one husband.
The article nca080.htm has some notes on Galatians 4:21 – 5:1.
In his letter to the saints in Rome, the apostle Paul mentioned in passing some of the Old Covenant’s “ten words”. But, this does not mean that they would have been a “law for the New Covenant”. That was not the point Paul was making. (Again, the article nca050.htm has more on the matter of the Decalogue.)
Let us take a closer look at Romans 13:9–10. First, verse 9 which records how the apostle mentioned parts of the Decalogue.
Romans 13:9 And this, Do not be untrue in married life, Do not put to death, Do not take what is another’s, Do not have desire for what is another’s, and if there is any other order, it is covered by this word, Have love for your neighbour as for yourself. [i] (BBE, note sign added)
i “Is covered by this word, ‘have love for your neighbour as for yourself’” – it appears that the apostle was citing the last part of Leviticus 19:18; see also Matthew 22:39. It is easy to understand that [the way of] love covers even the matters which are mentioned in the first part of the above-quoted Romans 13:9. If one truly loves one’s fellow humans, then one will not do any of those things.
But then, in the next verse many translators have made it seem that Paul meant that love is the same as following the rules of the Old Covenant, or that having love means that one keeps the law of Moses perfectly, or something similar. That is not what the apostle was saying. He was merely explaining that the [way of] love covers even the things which he had just mentioned. That is: If one has true love towards one’s fellow humans, then one will not do anything of the kind that is mentioned in the first part of Romans 13:9. Here is verse 10 in a translation which comes a bit closer to what Paul obviously meant and was saying:
Romans 13:10 Love works no ill to its neighbour; love therefore is the whole law. (DBY)
But, even that wording could confuse casual bible-readers. Let us take a closer look at that verse.
In its last part, the Greek text has plêrôma oun nomou hê agapê. The adjective plêrôma referred to completeness, or “perfection” if you please. The noun agapê meant “love”. But, what about nomou (nomos)? In this verse, many translators have rendered it as “law” – “love is the fulfilling of the Law” or similar. The question is, what was the apostle talking about?
As was noted earlier, the old Greek noun nomos had many different uses and meanings, such as “custom”, “usage”, “way”, “practice” and “melody”, and even “pasture”, “district” and “law”.
Presuming that the phrase plêrôma oun nomou should in the case of Romans 13:10 be interpreted something like “perfectness of manner [of life]”, or “ideal way [of life]”, here is a suggested translation of verses 9 and 10:
Romans 13:9 And this, do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet, and if there is any other precept, is covered by this saying, “have love for your neighbour as for yourself”. 10 Love does no evil to neighbour; therefore love is the perfect way.
Regarding verse 10: It is clear that the apostle was talking about the way of righteousness – living a life of love, caring for one’s fellow humans as one cares for oneself. Love towards one’s neighbour (including good works) is a central part of righteousness – right-ways-ness, the right way of living.
A side-note: Some bible-versions have in Romans 13:9 even the words “do not bear false witness”. It is clear that one must not do that, but the oldest Greek NT manuscripts do not mention that particular part of the Decalogue in that verse.
The apostle Paul often wrote from the viewpoint of a Jew, an Israelite who had once been under the Old Covenant. Here is an example of that:
Romans 8:2 for the law of the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus did set me free from the law of the sin and of the death (YLT)
What was that “law of sin and death” which he had been freed from? The simple answer to that question is that by those words, Paul referred to the Old Covenant. For, that covenant “closed all under sin”, Galatians 3:22, and, it did not provide the Israelites a way to everlasting life.
Galatians 3:22 but the Writing did shut up the whole under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ may be given to those believing. 23 And before the coming of the faith, under law we were being kept, shut up to the faith about to be revealed, 24 so that the law became our child-conductor—to Christ, that by faith we may be declared righteous (YLT)
Verse 22, “shut up the whole under sin” = “closed all [everyone] under sin”.
Verse 24: Where the above-quoted YLT has “that by faith we may be declared righteous”, the Greek text has hina ek pisteôs dikaiôthômen, “so that we might be justified by faith”.
So, the apostle Paul noted that “the writing closed all under sin”. (Many translations have “scripture” instead of “writing”, but that makes no difference – clarification: The word “scripture” in verse 22 is copied from the Catholic Vulgate version which has in that verse the Latin word scriptura which simply means “writing”. The Greek text has graphê, “writing”.)
What writing did the apostle refer to? Apparently, the one which is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3:7 – “the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones” (AKJV). He used the tablets of stone as a symbol for the Old Covenant in its entirety.
So, it is obvious that even in the case of Galatians 3:22 and 23, Paul referred to the rules of the Old Covenant. And indeed, those rules “closed all under sin” (verse 22). They did not provide the Israelites a way to everlasting life. That might be the reason why Paul called that covenant “ministration of death”, 2 Corinthians 3:7, and “ministration of condemnation”, 2 Corinthians 3:9. – That is also why the New Covenant was needed.
So, why the Old Covenant, in the first place? Even the apostle Paul asked that question – “Why then the Law?” (Galatians 3:19.) And, he gave an answer. He noted that the Old Covenant was
“added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary” (Galatians 3:19, ESV01).
In short: The Old Covenant was “added because of transgressions”, and it was to last “until the Offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” – that is, until Jesus came. When Jesus came and then made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, the New Covenant could be launched. And so, the Old Covenant had served its purpose and was set aside (came to its end).
The article nca080.htm contains a more detailed study on Galatians 3:19 and its context. It considers even verse 21 and its translation and meaning.
Also in the case of the above-quoted Galatians 3:22, Paul wrote as a Jew, from a Jewish viewpoint. The Jews had been under the Old Covenant. (The other nations did not have any covenant with the Lord. The Sinaitic covenant was only between the Lord and the ancient Israelites.)
The Greek text of Galatians 3:24 records how the apostle noted that the Old Covenant had been for the Jews like a paidagôgos, “child tutor”. (A paidion was a child, an agôgos was a guide.)
Galatians 3:24 So the Law has been our tutor-slave our pedagogue to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith; 25 but now that the Faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor-slave. (CT)
“Tutor-slave” – clarification, by quoting a part of the entry Paedagôgus in ‘Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities’ by Harry Thurston Peck, 1898:
“The name among the Greeks for the slave who had the duty of looking after the son of his master while in boyhood, instructing him in certain rules of good manners, and attending him whenever he went out, especially to school and to the palaestra and gymnasium.”
But, when the children grew up and matured, they were no longer under a tutor-slave.
As so often, even in the case of Galatians 3:24 Paul used complicated and symbol-rich language. But, he was simply making the note that the Jewish saints were no longer under the Old Covenant. – The other Jews were not that either, but they failed to realise that the Old Covenant came to its end, and they rejected Jesus and the New Covenant.
The article nca090.htm has more on the fact that the New Covenant is indeed a new covenant, and not a “continuation” or “modification” of the old one which came to its end.
A note: The translation and meaning of Galatians 3:21 is considered in the article nca080.htm.
In one commonly used bible-version, the word “faith” occurs 283 times in the New Testament. A large part of the passages in question are found in Paul’s letters.
There are many kinds of dogmas regarding the matter of faith. Some of them appear to claim that Paul taught that “nothing matters” – that one can do whatever one wants, if one just has “faith”. But, as was noted earlier in this article, Paul taught the importance of righteousness and holiness.
So, what did he mean by “faith”?
In the Greek text of the New Testament, the word which in many English bibles is translated as “faith”, is pistis. Here, it must be noted that the use and meaning of the word “faith” in modern-day religious English is different from how the old Greek word pistis was used in New Testament times.
The noun pistis had a two-fold meaning. For the saints, pistis was a matter of, on the one hand, putting their trust in God and his son Jesus and considering them to be reliable and trustworthy, and, on the other hand, being their reliable and faithful servants.
Paul noted that one cannot be saved by “works”. That is, one cannot gain salvation by keeping the rules of the Old Covenant. The saints received salvation, but that was “through faith” – which is to say, by putting their trust in God and his son Jesus and being faithful to them.
At the same time, Jesus and his apostles, including Paul, taught the importance of living in a just, righteous manner and doing good works (such as aiding people in need). And yes, it can be said that even that was a part of the saints’ “faith”.
There is much more to the matter of faith, of course. The article nba091.htm contains a detailed study on that subject.
Acts 15 records that some men had come from Judea to Antioch and caused problems there, by claiming that the Old Covenant’s rules should be followed. Because of this, the saints in Antioch decided to send Paul and Barnabas and certain others to Jerusalem, so that that matter could be settled.
In Jerusalem, they discussed the matter at hand with the saints there, including elders and some of the apostles. They all together then considered the problem which had been caused by certain men who had gone from Judea to Antioch. The end result was that it was noted that there was no need to keep the law of Moses (the rules of the Old Covenant). The apostle Peter said:
Acts 15:10 “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” (NKJV)
A letter regarding this was then written and taken to Antioch, along with instructions regarding certain things.
The article noa040.htm has more on Acts 15.
Now, if there is among Paul’s teachings a matter that has been hotly debated in our day, it is the role of women. Many of the “problems” in regard to that matter are translation-related. But, it is true that Paul taught that in certain ways, men and women have different roles. This was mostly concerning things within a marriage-relationship, but by extension even regarding things within the saints’ fellowships. (But, only certain things, and only in some ways.)
A note: Many have argued about whether or not women should be “ordained” or be “priests”. The apostle Paul wrote nothing about that. Why? Well, many may not know this, but the facts are that the Greek text of the New Testament does not give any support to the concepts “ordaining” and “clergy”. The whole thing with “ordained people” and “clergy” and “laity” is of Catholic origin. The saints did not have any mortal priests. The resurrected Jesus was their only priest.
Point: There is no need to argue about “ordination of women”, or about “female priests”, because among the saints, not even men were ordained, and, there were no priests.
(Many churches have priests or “ordained” persons, but that has nothing to do with what the saints practised or what the New Testament teaches. – This refers to the Greek text of the NT. Translations produced by churches and churchmen, often give a different impression, of course.)
The articles nea020.htm and nsa070.htm have some notes the concepts “ordaining” respectively “clergy” and “laity”.
But, in regard to other things – yes, a number of passages in Paul’s letters show that there was a certain difference between the roles of men and women. Mostly, this was concerning married women, and things within the marriage situation.
The role of women among the saints is something for a separate study, but here are some shorter notes on that matter.
It can be good to know that in the Greek text of the NT, the word for both “woman” and “wife” is gunê. Translators have rendered it sometimes as “woman” and sometimes as “wife”, but they have not always got that right. Point: Some of the things that Paul wrote, applied to wives but not to female persons in general.
Now, if men, on their part, would follow the instructions which the apostles Paul and Peter gave in regard to how husbands should treat their wives and respect and love and cherish them, things would not be so problematic. But, it appears that for some reason, many men know or remember very little about that part of the matter.
Also: It is good to keep in mind that what the apostles wrote about the roles of men and women – husbands and wives – was written to and regarding the saints and their situation, culture and society. In the first century.
Certain passages in Paul’s letters contain wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that God has appointed the rulers and governments here on Earth, and that they are in his service.
But, really how is it with that matter? The article nwa021.htm contains a study on that subject, including certain wordings in Romans 13 and some other passages.
All things in the apostle Paul’s epistles cannot be discussed in this article. But, let us consider one more detail.
Some writers have claimed that Paul was “in error” or “mistaken”, in regard to certain timings. This is concerning the passages where he in clear words wrote to certain saints, that Jesus was soon to come for them. That is, in the first century.
Was Paul, who had been instructed by the Lord and was inspired and led by the Holy Spirit, “mistaken” in regard to that matter? No, of course not. He knew what he was speaking about. And, he was only echoing what Jesus had said. The article nga040.htm takes a closer look at some of the passages in question.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm
Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → nga081.htm
On 1 Corinthians 8:1–12 and 10:14–32 and their translation and meaning. Did the apostle Paul mean that the saints could eat and drink things that were offered to idols? → nha020.htm
On Titus 1:15 and the translation “to the pure all things are pure”, and what that verse really means and refers to. → nea050.htm
Acts 20:35 – what the apostle Paul meant when he reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. → nma020.htm
On the example the apostle Paul set, for others to imitate. → nma030.htm
What is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church? → nma010.htm
Where can one find the rules of the New Covenant, in written form? → nca060.htm
Some notes on the phrases “not under law but under grace” and “released from the law”. → nca100.htm
Many talk about “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”, but those expressions are not found in the Bible. On the meaning of the phrases “the Spirit” and “the letter” in 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6. → nca110.htm
What does the Bible say about the matter of resurrection? → nba080.htm
On the Decalogue, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”. → nca050.htm
On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → nca080.htm
The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. → nca090.htm
What does the word “faith” mean? What is true faith? → nba091.htm
Acts 15 and the matter of the two covenants, old and new. → noa040.htm
What does the Bible say about ordaining or ordination? How did the saints choose their elders? Were those elders “ordained”, and did they function as “priests” of some kind? → nea020.htm
On the words and concepts “clergy” and “laity”. → nsa070.htm
Are the rulers and governments of this world appointed by God? The so-called “divine right of kings” – is there such a thing? → nwa021.htm
What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm
Table of contents – Key-word index – Search function – On the goal and purpose of this site
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