Romans contains at least two difficult types of statements about the Law:
The first set of difficult statements appears to be contradictory. They affirm the importance of the Law on one hand, while appearing to deny the Law on the other.
Here are two examples of statements that appear to affirm the Law:
- Romans 3:31 - Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (ESV)
- Romans 7:7,12 - What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! . . . 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (ESV)
Here are three examples of statements that appear to deny the Law:
- Romans 6:14 - For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (ESV)
- Romans 7:6 - But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (ESV)
- Romans 10:4 - For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (ESV)
The second set of difficult statements appears to say either a) Sin did not exist in the world before God gave the Law to Moses at Sinai, or b) Sin didn’t really count until God gave the law to Moses at Sinai. Here are some examples:
- Romans 4:15 - For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. (ESV)
- Romans 5:13-14 - For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (ESV)
To clear up these two sets of confusing statements, we need to follow a principle of interpretation that will always serve you well if you remember it: Always interpret less clear passages of Scripture in the light of more clear passages.
Thankfully, early in the epistle, Paul makes a very clear statement that illuminates the apparently contradictory and confusing statements above:
- Romans 3:20 -- For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (ESV)
- No human being can ever measure up to what is spelled out in the "special revelation of what God wants us to be and do" (that is how I have been referring to the Law in my Sunday Sermon Series on Romans): By works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.
- The Law reveals to us what we really are in stark contrast to what we are supposed to be: Through the law comes knowledge of sin
God's Law reveals what we are supposed to be, what we really are, and our inability to get from what we are to what we are supposed to be on our own.Can you figure out how this is the key to clearing up the contradictory and confusing statements above? If you would like to know more, I explain in the video below.