What is the Law in the Bible?
What are the different types of law and what relevance do they have for us today?
Pop question: When Jesus said, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?” what law was he referring to? Was he referring to the Law of Moses or some other law?
If you answered the Law of Moses, you are mistaken. Go to the back of the class, and see me after school.
Jesus was not quoting Moses but Psalm 82:6. When Jesus said “your law” in John 10:34 he was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures a.k.a. the Old Testament.
What is the law in the Bible? Usually “the law” refers to the Law of Moses, but not always. There is also the law of Christ, the law of liberty, the law of sin, the law of faith, and more.
If we are going to talk about the law, we need to know which law we are talking about. Otherwise you might have a conversation like this:
You: “Romans says we are not under law but grace.”
Them: “That is referring to the ceremonial ordinances only. We still need to keep the Ten Commandments.”
Did you know the Bible lists at least twelve types of law? Here they are:
1. The Law of Moses
The Law of Moses refers to the Ten Commandments plus the 600 or so ordinances, punishments, and ceremonial observances given to the nation of Israel through Moses (Jos. 8:31, John 1:17, 7:19). This law is sometimes referred to as the law of commandments (Eph. 2:15) or the law of the Jews (Acts 25:8).
2. The law of God / the law of the Lord
The law of God has a double meaning, depending on which covenant you are under. In the old covenant, the Jews referred to the Law of Moses as the law of God (Jos. 24:26, Neh. 8:8) or the law of the Lord (Ex. 13:9). However, the law codified by Moses was but a shadow of a new covenant reality (Heb. 10:1).
In the new covenant, the law of God is synonymous with the word of God. The word of God is the way by which God makes himself and his will known. When Paul said he delighted in the law of God (Rom. 7:22), he meant he took pleasure in obeying God the Father. He was not referring to the Law of Moses.
3. The royal law
The royal law is to love your neighbor as yourself (Jas. 2:8). This commandment, which comes straight out of the Law of Moses (see Lev. 19:18), is the king of laws because loving others fulfils all the other laws (Rom. 13:8-9, Gal. 5:14). In context it means treat people with dignity, even if they are poor (Jas. 2:1, 5). Don’t show favoritism.
4. The golden rule
The golden rule is Jesus’ version of the royal law: do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31).
5. The greatest commandment
Jesus was asked to name the first and greatest commandment in the law. Jesus replied, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:36–38).
Note that this is the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses. Under the law-keeping covenant, the flow was from you to the Lord (Deut. 6:5, 10:12). You loved God because it was a law that came with consequences. But in the new covenant of grace, we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). This brings us to…
6. The law of Christ
The law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21, Gal. 6:2) is the Lord’s command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
The law of Christ is both a new commandment and a new kind of commandment (1 John 2:8, 2 John 1:5). We don’t love others because we fear God’s punishment; we love because we have received his love. As with everything in the new covenant, love starts with God, and as we receive from the abundance of the Father’s love we find ourselves loving others (1 John 4:19).
7. The law of the Spirit of life
The law of the Spirit of life refers to the rule or government of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:2). It is being led by the Spirit instead of walking after the flesh (Rom. 6:14, 18). When we yield to the life-giving Spirit, we reap abundant life (Rom. 8:13).
8. The law of sin
The law of sin refers to the rule or influence of sin (Rom. 7:23, 25). In the same way that a sheriff is the law in a small town, the world is in thrall to the rule of sin (Rom. 6:14, 20). The fruit of sin is death which is why the law of sin is also called the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2).
Although Christians have been freed from sin (Rom. 6:7), they subject themselves to the law of sin whenever they walk after the old ways of the flesh (Rom. 6:16). One way they do this is by putting themselves under the yoke of law (Gal. 5:3–5). The law is not sin, but keeping the law requires no faith and anything that is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23, Gal. 3:12).
9. The law of righteousness
The law of righteousness refers to the so-called righteousness that comes from observing the Law of Moses (Rom. 10:5, Php. 3:6, 9). Such a righteousness is not true righteousness because it is not based on faith (Gal. 3:11–12).
No one was ever justified or made righteous through their observance of the law (Rom. 9:31). If righteousness could be obtained through the law, Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21).
10. The law of faith
The law of DIY righteousness can be distinguished from the law of faith which says we are justified by faith without regard for our works (Rom. 3:27–28).
11. The law of liberty
The law of liberty is another name for the word that can save you (Jas 1:21, 25), which is Jesus, the Living Word of God who sets us free. The law of liberty describes what Jesus has done (perfectly fulfilled or completed the law) and the fruit he will bear in our lives (liberty) if we trust him.
The perfect law that gives freedom, can be contrasted with the Law of Moses that binds (Rom 7:6, Jas. 1:25). Look into the mirror of Moses’ Law and you will be miserable, for it exposes all your faults. But look into the perfect law which is Jesus and you will be blessed, for it reveals his righteousness.
12. The law written on the hearts
The law written on the hearts is two different things. When Paul speaks of the godless Gentiles having a law written in their hearts, he is referring to our consciences (Rom. 2:14–15). Your conscience is a kind of law-based religion that tells you right from wrong and condemns you when you violate those standards (Rom. 2:15).
But the Bible mentions another law that God writes on the hearts and minds of his children (Heb. 8:10, 10:16). This law is not the knowledge of right and wrong, nor is it the Law of Moses. When Jeremiah the prophet said that those who had the new law written on their hearts would know the Lord, he was referring to the indwelling Spirit (a.k.a. the law of the Spirit of life) and the believer’s union with Christ (Jer. 31:33–34).
The law written by God into your heart is Jesus. It is the seed of God birthed in you by the Holy Spirit.
What is the law in the Bible? There are many laws and many kinds of laws. Some of the laws found in the Bible are old covenant laws, meaning they come with penalties for non-compliance, while other laws are new covenant laws, meaning they describe the life that is ours in Christ.
Law versus grace
When Paul said “you are not under law but grace,” he was referring to any old covenant-type law that says you must do things to earn God’s favor. If you have been told you must confess, tithe, serve, or pray to be blessed, that’s the kind of law that has no place in the new covenant. Every blessing comes to us by grace alone.
Some say the church needs a healthy respect for the law. If we are talking about the Ten Commandments or the royal law or any law that hinges on your ability to keep it, then I disagree. Rely on your own law-keeping ability, and you’ll end up fallen from grace. You will cut yourself off from Christ.
But if we are talking about the law of Christ or the law of faith or the law of liberty, then I heartily agree, for these sorts of laws lead us to rely on the grace of God.
In this article I listed the different laws in the Bible. In the Bonus Content (available now on Patreon), I talk about different commandments along with the rules of religion. I also respond to questions such as who is the law for? And how do we fulfill the law?
You can’t go wrong with number 7.
This needs to be much more widely taught and understood by the Church in general. It is a topic often taken for granted and glossed over but is vital for growing in our walk with Christ.
This fits into what we were studying this morning (again) in the book The Gospel In Twenty Questions. Chapter Am I Under Law.
Thank you Paul, You are the first that I know that has explained what Jeremiah 31 actually means. I have had discussions with others about these versus and they all thought that we were still to keep the law of Moses but now it is written on our hearts instead of stone”. I never believed that. I agree with what you say about it and it is about our God who now dwells in us”.
Paul, you briefly mentioned Jeremiah 31:33 and Hebrews 8:10 in Point 12, The law written on the hearts. However, you seem not to clarify what “My laws” actually mean in those verses. Have you any further thoughts on “My laws” please.
I sure do. If you click on the two links under point 12, you will find further thoughts. Thanks.
Romans 7:22 does indeed refer to the law of Moses, as does the whole chapter, as Paul was explaining slavery to sin under the law. He agrees with the law 7:22 BUT is subject to two laws, only one of which is successful, the law of sin being successful over the law of his mind, revealing the inner conflict of having two laws available in verse 25 which in chapter 7 is always won by the law of sin in his flesh, but which in chapter 8 he is set free from by the law of the Spirit of life. Defeat under law in 7, victory in the Spirit in 8. So to be clear, Paul in 7 is explaining defeat under the old covenant which is overturned in 8 by the victory of the Spirit of the new covenant. He is not speaking as a Christian but as a prisoner to sin under the law. Although one could bring in a wider meaning of “law”, he is explicitly and specifically dealing with “the” law because this is what is concerning the Jewish converts whom he was addressing from 7:1 “I write to those who know the law”. He was not directly addressing the Gentile believers.
Paul, when I read your materials my carnal mind just gets blown up! Thank you sir😎
I’m not going to lie, all these laws made my eyes spin and my head hurt. Thank goodness I can walk by faith in Christ Jesus instead.
Haha. The law is a ministry of headaches!
Hi Paul. I would appreciate your comments on Galatians 3:23-25. V25 tells us that now we are saved by faith we no longer need a tutor/schoolteacher, ie the law (10 Commandments) to bring us to Christ. Does that imply that we would be wrong to cite the 10 Commandments as a standard when witnessing to an unbeliever?
Hi David, I generally would not use the law when witnessing to an unbeliever. We’re all lost and broken and most of us know it, even though we may wear a mask. Deep down we know we need grace, and that’s the good news we have been called to preach (Acts 20:24). I would not fire the ten cannons of the law willy-nilly.
However, I might make an exception for the smug self-righteous person. Think of the rich young ruler or the Pharisee praying in the temple. They were confident of their own righteousness and would not value grace. They don’t need grace because they have attained a righteousness of their own manufacture. People like that would benefit from looking into the merciless mirror of God’s holy standard. I have written about Galatians 3 in the Grace Commentary.
In your sub-title (What are the different types of law and what relevance do the have for us today?), instead of DO THEY HAVE, you wrote DO THE HAVE. You left the Y out of THEY.
Thanks for this excellent expose on the different laws we have in the Bible. Your materials have given us the resources we need to teach about God’s grace and unconditional love. We are on the radio 5 days a week and twice a day chipping away at “THE LAW ENFORCEMENT PREACHERS” and their teachings. We know that it will take time, but we are in it for the long haul.
We thank the Lord for you and your family.
Oops. Thanks Caleb. It’s fixed now. So glad to hear these resources are useful to you.