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What is law in the bible

In Psalms, God’s word describes what laws are in the bible. They are rules that were given to the Jews before Jesus Christ came. These laws were designed to show how people should treat one another. They also include how people should treat God by obeying him and not disrespecting his holy name. Behaving well is a law in the bible, because it helps Christians to be good models for people who don’t know Christ. The laws of the Romans served a similar purpose for those people who didn’t know about Jesus Christ.

Law in the Bible is a complex and nuanced topic, one that has been debated for centuries. There are many different schools of thought and interpretations, but there are a few common themes that tend to show up across the board:

First, there’s the idea of law being an external force governing human behavior. This means that it’s not just what you think about your own actions—it’s also how others think about them as well. For example, if someone else thinks you’ve done something wrong, they can punish you for it, even if they don’t have any evidence that would convince you of your guilt. This is one reason why it’s important to have laws written down: so everyone knows what they are and can act accordingly without having to rely on memory or guesswork.

Another theme in this interpretation of law is that it precedes morality; humans aren’t inherently good or bad but rather act according to the rules set forth for them by society at large. This means that people who break laws should be punished because breaking laws is bad—not because they deserve punishment by virtue of being bad people themselves (which might seem like a logical conclusion here). The idea behind this interpretation is that people need guidance in order.

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What is law in the bible


In the Hebrew Bible, the word torah refers to a wide variety of texts, ranging from an instruction for how to build an altar (Exodus 20:24-25), through lists of offerings and instructions for the priests (Leviticus 1-7; 10; Numbers 28-29), collections of oracles by prophets and psalms (Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 119) to narrative stories such as the account of Joseph and his brothers. Each piece of text which is identified as torah represents a particular kind of teaching and can be studied in its own right.


The Hebrew word for “law” is torah and it is derived from the Hebrew verb yara, meaning to teach, instruct or guide.

The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, which is derived from the Hebrew verb yara, meaning to teach, instruct or guide. The concept of torah means not only a set of rules but also a way of life. The law is God’s will and his way of salvation (Deuteronomy 29:29).

The Law was given by Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-24) after Israel had left Egypt.


There are a variety of uses for the term “law” in the Bible.

The term “law” is used in many ways throughout the Bible. Sometimes it is used to refer to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17; Deuteronomy 5:6–21), and sometimes it is used to refer only to the first five of these commandments (Deuteronomy 5:4).

Another meaning for “law” in the Old Testament is Torah, which means instruction or teaching. The Torah also refers to all of Scripture, not just the first five books of Moses.


The law can be used as a synonym for the Decalogue, which contains the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21

The Law is most commonly used as a synonym for the Decalogue, which contains the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

The Decalogue encompasses many different laws that were given to Israel via God (the Ten Commandments), but it also contains other laws that were written down by Moses or other members of the Old Testament.


Torah is used in different ways in scripture

Torah is used in different ways in scripture. It is the name of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It’s also used as a synonym for “law” or “instruction.” So when Christians talk about keeping Torah today they’re referring to following God’s law in these books.

But Torah has other meanings too—not all of which are obvious from reading English translations of it! For example:

  • The Jewish people often refer to their canon as Tanakh—the Hebrew acronym for Torah (Genesis), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). This includes all three parts of Scripture together with some additional Jewish writings such as those from the Apocrypha. In this sense we can say that we are obligated to follow Tanakh because it contains both parts of Scripture we believe should be followed today along with our other holy books too!
  • Some Christians use “Torah” specifically when talking about following only Old Testament laws—which means they don’t follow any New Testament commands like loving one another or forgiving your enemies because those aren’t included in this meaning for `Torah`.



The Bible is clear that the law is necessary for a society to be healthy and orderly. Without the law, there would be chaos, and God created the law to restrain evil (1 Timothy 1:8-9). God’s law includes His commands written in Scripture (Exodus 20:1-17) as well as His commandments written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). The Bible says that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” so He expects us to follow it. When we disobey Him, we are sinning against Him (Romans 6:23).

what is the law of god

The law of God is first understood in terms of who God is as the Creator and Lord, and then in its covenantal context of instruction and demand for God’s people. In Scripture, it is used in a number of distinguishable but related ways that center on who God is and our relationship to him as his image-bearers and people.

This article thinks through five ways that Scripture speaks about the law of God. Starting first with the truth that God is the law, the discussion turns to God as our Creator and Lord who deserves and demands perfect obedience from his creatures to locating the discussion of the law in God in the context of God’s covenant relations with us. The law of God cannot be understood apart from God as the Creator and Covenant Lord, and the fulfillment of the biblical covenants in the new covenant and the law of Christ.

In common usage, “law” and specifically, the “law of God” refers to God’s commands given to his creatures to regulate their lives and moral behavior. However, in Scripture the “law of God” certainly includes this idea but is also used in a variety of ways, most importantly in the context of covenant relationships. Law (torah, instruction; nomos) are predominately tied to covenants, beginning in creation with Adam to the new creation in Christ. In fact, in Scripture and theology, we can speak of the law of God in at least five distinguishable but related ways.

The Law of God is God Himself
First and foremost, we must think of the “law of God” in terms of God. The triune God is the law because his will and nature is the moral standard of the universe. For this reason, God alone has the right and authority to determine what is right and wrong, and to hold his moral creatures, both human and angelic, accountable to whether they have perfectly obeyed his commands.

Why is this so? Because God is the uncreated, independent, self-sufficient Lord, the Creator of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1-2; Psa. 50:12-14; 93:2; Acts 17:24-25). He alone has “life from himself” (aseity), which not only entails his self-existence, but also that he is the standard of what is right. Scripture underscores this truth in its emphasis on divine holiness (Ex. 3:5-6; 15:11; Lev. 11:44; 19:1; Isa. 6:1ff; 57:15; Ezek. 1-3; Heb. 12:28; 1Pet. 1:15-16; 1Jn. 1:5; Rev. 4).

Holiness, in Scripture, has a primary and secondary sense to it. First, it refers to God’s transcendent self-sufficiency—God is “high and lifted up”—the “Holy One” (Deut. 26:15; 1Chron. 16:10, 35; 29:16; Psa. 3:4; 11:4; 20:6; 22:3; 28:2; 48:1; 65:4; Isa 6:1; 40:12-26; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 52:10; 54:5; 55:5; 57:13-15; 63:10; Jer. 25:30; Ezek. 28:14; Joel 2:1; Amos 2:7; Zech. 2:13). Secondarily, it refers to God as the standard of moral perfection. That is why, in light of sin, God’s holiness stands against our sin (Lev. 19:2; 20:3, 26; Josh. 24:19; 1Sam. 6:20; Psa. 24:3; 60:6; 89:35; 145:17; 1Sam. 5:16; Jer. 23:9; Ezek. 22:8, 26; 36:22; 39:7; Hos. 11:9; Amos 4:2; Mal. 2:11; Heb. 7:26; 12:10; 1Pet. 1:15-16; Rev. 15:4). As Scripture reminds us: his eyes are too pure to look on evil; he cannot tolerate wrong (Exod. 34:7; Rom. 1:32; 2:8-16; Isa. 59:1-2). And closely related to God’s holiness and moral perfection is his wrath, i.e., his holy reaction to evil (Rom. 1:18-32; John 3:36). Yet, the wrath of God, unlike his holiness, is not an internal perfection; rather it is an ad extra function of his holiness, righteousness, and justice against sin. Where there is no sin, there is no wrath, but there is always holiness. But where the holy God confronts his creatures in their sin, there must be wrath and the full exercise of his justice and righteousness.

No doubt, God is love (1Jn. 4:10), but love and holiness go together. God is his attributes. As one moves across the canon God’s holy love is revealed, especially in Christ’s cross and our justification. John, for example, does not think of God’s love as overlooking of our sin; rather, he views divine love as that which loves the unlovely and undeserving. In fact, the supreme display of God’s love is found in the Father giving his own Son as our propitiation that turns back his own holy anger against us and satisfies the demands of justice on our behalf (1Jn. 2:1-2; 4:8-10). Thus, in Christ’s cross we see the greatest demonstration of God’s holiness, justice, righteousness and love, where the God of sovereign grace shows himself to be just and the justifier of those who have faith in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:21-26).

Combining these truths, then, Scripture first and foremost identifies “the law of God” with God himself. God alone is the Judge of the earth (Gen. 18:25), who always acts consistently with who he is. To fail to grasp this point is to misunderstand who God is and the entire rationale for God’s glorious plan of redemption centered in the obedient life and substitutionary death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Law of God is God’s Absolute Demand on his Moral Creatures
As Creator and Lord, God rightfully deserves and demands perfect obedience and loyal love from his moral creatures, both human and angelic. In this context, the “law of God” refers to his specific commands and demand from us. In creation, this is reflected in God’s command to Adam (Gen. 2:16-17), which is more than a one-time command. Ultimately, God’s demand on Adam, his image-bearer and covenant creature, is to perfectly obey God in a relationship of love and trust.

In fact, from the beginning, God’s demand on Adam, and by extension to all humanity, is to love him with all that we are and our neighbor as ourselves. Adam was not created for isolation but for community, first to know and love God, and then to know and love his wife, family, and by extension the human community. The Great Commandment (Matt. 22:36-40), then, starts in creation and is found in all the biblical covenants, yet specific commands will vary from covenant to covenant, but the underlying absolute moral demand is throughout.

Theology often uses the category of “law” (vs. “gospel”) to describe God’s absolute demand on his image-bearers to love, trust, and obey him completely and fully. Because we are God’s, and under the covenant headship of Adam, all humans are under this obligation, and to disobey God results in our sin and condemnation, which sadly, is what happened in Adam, and now the entire human race (Rom. 5:12-21; cf. 3:23; 6:23).

Some identify God’s absolute moral obligation on all humans with “natural” law. This idea is certainly on the right track if placed in a covenant context. God has created us to be holy like him and to live in relation to God and one another according to the created order he has established. This is why all humans ought to love God, to value human life (see Gen. 9:6), and to live according to what God has commanded and established in creation such as a proper use of our sexuality and the establishment of marriage and the family. To violate God’s created order is to rebel against God himself, to become idolaters, and to come under God’s just condemnation. For this reason, Paul can appeal to what all humans know from creation and their conscience, yet sadly suppress and reject, as the grounds for their condemnation (Rom. 1:18-32; cf. 2:12-13).

After Adam’s sin God’s absolute demand continues on all people, but due to our sin we stand condemned and under the sentence of death (Gen. 3; 5; Rom. 3:23; 6:23). Our only hope is found in provision of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gen. 3:15), who is fully human and thus in his life is able to render perfect covenant obedience for us (Rom. 5:12-21; Heb. 2:5-18), but also who is the divine Son who alone can satisfy his own demand against us as our penal substitute.

what is the purpose of the law in the bible

Before we go any further, it would be useful to clarify what is this law that we’re speaking about. What is this Law? It refers to the first 5 books, and God gave these these instructions and decrees to Moses to communicate to His people. These 5 books are commonly referred to as the “Pentateuch”, literally “5 scrolls” in Greek, or the Torah as the Jews know it. These were given given so that Israel may be set apart as a holy nation unto God! Paul tells us that the law is good and holy (Rom 7:12) but it also was a standard that humans could not attain. The Law required complete and absolute obedience from the people of Israel. The law has no power to give life.

Based on Paul’s reasoning up to Gal 3:18, the people might be tempted to think: they know Paul’s testimony, there’s no other gospel, the law cannot justify. So, why did God give the law to the people of Israel? What was it’s purpose? This was the main question that Paul sought to answer in this section of his letter to the Galatians.

Paul tells us a few things about the law in Gal 3:19. It tells us why the law was given, when it was given and also how it was.

Why was the law given? “It was added because of transgressions …” (Gal 3:19a).

To transgress is to overstep or exceed a boundary, to violate a law, command or moral code. Therefore, transgressions refer to the act of going against this standard. You can’t transgress against yourself, but it has to be against someone. If we apply it to the Bible, it means to sin and it is directed against the law of God.

So, did the law come first, or did transgression? Rom 3:20 and Rom 4:15 tell us that the law brings knowledge of sin, and shows us our transgression. Therefore, the law turned previously invisible sin visible by means of the law. The law reveals our sins to us and shows us who we really are! It also shows us God’s holy and perfect character.

The phrase “because of” in the verse could mean either the cause or the purpose. It could mean that the law was added to restrain the deeds and sins of man. This sounds plausible because we knew that evil was in the earth and the evil was continually in their hearts (Gen 6:5). It could also mean that the law was also added for the purpose of something. Rom 5:20 tells us that the law “increased the trespass”. But that is not all. “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”. There is grace greater than all our sins. Paul speaks with full apostolic authority here. Hold on to this assurance! We know we will never be sinless on this side of eternity, but we never run out of God’s grace. Grace exists not as a license to sin, but an avenue to Jesus Christ.

When was the law given? “… until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…” (Gal 3:19b)

The use of the word “added” in the previous phrase indicated that something existed before the law was, well, added. There was a starting point. If we read Gal 3:17, we know that the law followed something that happened previously, and it was an addition to the Abrahamic covenant. There was a beginning, but the use of the word “until” also implies a point of completion.

Thus, the law had a temporary function. We also know that it is to exist until the Messiah came to the descendants of Abraham, to fulfill the promise made to Abraham.

How was the law given? “… and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary”.

This intermediary was Moses, and the OT describes for us Moses’ actions and roles as this intermediary. Moses was a mediator between the people and God (c.f. Exo 18:14-16). Moses pleads with God after the Golden Calf (C.f. Exo 32). Here, Paul also specifically referred to Moses’ role of putting the law in place.

Gal 3:20 goes on to talk more about this intermediary. An intermediary works and is engaged between more than 1 person. We know that the Law required a mediator, and involved 2 parties — God and the people. Perhaps angelic beings were involved, but at least, 2 people were involved. This we can be sure about. What did Paul mean when he suddenly mentioned “God is one”? It may be useful to think about the law in relation to the promise. While the law was put in place by an intermediary, the promise was given by God Himself. God did everything Himself — the giving of the promise, and also effected the fulfilment of the promise.

Therefore, we can understand Gal 3:20 in this way: the promise did not require mediation, because it depended solely on God alone. God promised, He will keep it. We cannot add to it or change it. This tells us who God is, what God has said He will do, and what He has done. In Gal 3:21, Paul goes on to passionately and categorically state that the law is not contrary to the promises of God! The law was not given to give life, and righteousness was not from the law. The law focuses on the duty of man and is dependent on obedience. The rests solely on God’s sovereignty and His blessings.

After declaring that the law did not give life (Gal 3:21), Paul also goes on to describe how the law “imprisoned everything under sin” (Gal 3:22). The law was all encompassing and complete in its reach. Nothing was outside the reach of the law. Also, because of our sin, the law closed off all avenues to righteousness and life. It is that we will know that we cannot save ourselves! The Abrahamic covenant promised a blessing, but at the same time, the Mosaic law revealed the curse. The law is a prison, therefore, everything we do seems to bring about the closing in of the walls and a crushing weight of guilt. As pastor and Bible teacher John MacArthur described it,

The law was given to do, to tighten the screws on the sins of men, that in anguish, they might cry out for a deliverer.

The law was given to help us see that we were trapped in a prison, and the only way out of the prison is the grace available through the promise by faith.

Paul also describes the law as “our guardian” (Gal 3:24). Again, we see that the law is temporary. It is also our guardian until Christ came. Verse 23 speaks of being held captive, and also being imprisoned. The term guardian in Galatians is not translated well from the Greek. There’s no modern equivalent. What do guardians do? They guard prisoners or important things and artifacts. He was usually a slave, and given a role by their masters. They were appointed as severe disciplinarians, and tasked with guarding children from the evils of society, and also giving them moral training. He was not really a teacher or a tutor, but was a strict and oppressive overseer. Thus, those under the guardian would want to break free.

In a similar way, the law was also to protect Israel, to keep them from sinning and abandoning God. This was the real purpose of the whole Mosaic law! The law was added to prepare God’s people of the coming the Messiah. It points towards Christ. Jesus came to fulfill every single aspect of the law. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom 10:4).

In these verses, we read of Paul’s explanation for why the law was given. The law served to reveal sin, and left no way out for the people until Christ came to fulfill the law and provide salvation. It drives people to the gospel. Yet, the law is only temporary and does not give life. Christ is our only hope in life and death! The only way out of the prison that the law holds us under, the only way out of the guilt and weight of sin, is through Christ’s fulfilment. As the hymn goes, “Not the labor of my hands/ Can fulfill Thy law’s demands”. What are you looking to save you today?How has your understanding of the law tonight caused you to think about God’s grace?

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