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Love Command

Note of the Day – June 1 (John 12:50, continued)

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John 12:50, continued

In the previous note, I discussed the context of Jn 12:50, the concluding verse (and statement by Jesus) in chapters 2-12 of the Gospel. Today I wish to examine the verse more closely, especially the statement in the first half:

“And I have seen [i.e. known] that his e)ntolh/ is (the) Life of the Age.”

There are three components to this statement, which will be discussed in turn.

kai oi@da o%ti (“and I have seen that”)

Throughout the Gospel of John the motif of seeing has been of great importance. It plays on the dual-meaning, especially, of the verb ei&dw (“see”), which can also mean “know”—i.e., seeing in the sense of being aware, perceiving, recognizing, etc. It generally carries this meaning in the perfect tense, as here (oi@da, “I have seen/known”). Given the theological (and Christological) importance of seeing in the Gospel of John, Jesus is almost certainly referring here to something more than general understanding or awareness. Rather, it relates to his identity as the Son, who has a close, intimate relationship to the Father, and who, as a faithful son, watches and listens carefully to his father. Repeatedly in the Johannine discourses, Jesus states that he says and does only what he has heard and seen from the Father (cf. 3:32; 5:19, 30; 6:46; 8:26, 38; 14:24; 15:15). Similarly, the one who sees/hears Jesus (the Son), also sees/hears the Father (5:37; 14:7, 9, etc)—just as Jesus gives to the believer what he has received from the Father (3:35; 5:26, etc). In the Gospel of John, seeing Jesus is essentially the same as trusting him (9:37ff; 12:45; 14:17), and this differs entirely from ordinary sight or perception (6:36). The conjunctive particle o%ti (“that”) indicates specifically what it is that Jesus has seen.

h( e)ntolh/ au)tou= (“his [charge laid] on [me] to complete”)

The noun e)ntolh/ is a relatively popular Johannine word. In addition to 11 occurrences in the Gospel, it is found 18 times in the Letters; and, if we include two others in the (Johannine) book of Revelation, that makes 31 total—nearly half of all occurrences (68) in the New Testament. The word is often translated “commandment”, but that can be somewhat misleading; I discussed the fundamental meaning of the noun in the previous note. Despite Paul’s frequent reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah, Gk. no/mo$), he does not often use the noun e)ntolh/; it occurs only 9 times in the undisputed letters (6 of which are in Rom 7:8-13; also 1 Cor 7:19; 14:37). In these passages, Paul seems to be using it in a somewhat broader sense (i.e. “the Law of God”, “the e)ntolh/ of God”), rather than restricting it to the specific (written) commands of the Torah as such, though the latter is certainly included in the usage. The semantic range of the word in the (Synoptic) sayings of Jesus is similar (note the expression “the e)ntolh/ of God” in Mk 7:8-9 par).

The Johannine use of the word is complicated by two factors—it can be used either:

In none of these references does e)ntolh/ refer to the commands of the Torah as such, though there is less certainty on this point when we examine the occurrences in the Letters (esp. 1 John). Let us consider the second factor mentioned above.

1. Between God the Father and Jesus (the Son)—This is the context of the usage in 10:18 and here in 12:49-50, and in both instances it is the singular form. As I discussed in the previous note, e)ntolh/ here should not be understood in the traditional sense of a religious or ethical “commandment”, but as a mission given to Jesus (by the Father) to accomplish. In 10:18, this clearly refers to his sacrificial death (and resurrection), confirmed by Jesus’ final words on the cross in 19:30 (“it has been completed [tete/lestai]”, cf. also v. 28). The emphasis in 12:49-50 is on the words Jesus has been given by the Father to speak (i.e. what he is to say). In 14:31, the related verb e)nte/llomai is used of Jesus’ mission in a comprehensive sense, as a reflection of the love between Father and Son.

2. Between Jesus and Believers—Here we find both the singular and plural of e)ntolh/, apparently used interchangeably (as also in 1 John). This should caution us against identifying e)ntolh/ with any specific “commandment” given by Jesus, as though the e)ntolai/ represented a collection of commands similar to the Old Testament written Law (Torah). I believe there are three ways e)ntolh/ should be understood in this context:

  • as synonymous with Jesus’ word—i.e., whatever he says/speaks
  • as representative of all that he teaches believers, who would follow his example (just as Jesus follows that of the Father)
  • as epitomized by the command for believers to love one another (i.e. the so-called “Love-command”)

Even in the case of the “Love-command” (13:34-35, etc), the closest we come to a specific “commandment” (i.e., “you should love [each] other”), this should be understood not so much as an ethical injunction, but as a sign that believers are following the example of Jesus (“all will know that you are my disciples”).

zwh/ ai)w/nio$ e)stin (“is [the] Life of the Age”)

I have discussed the expression “Life of the Age” (i.e. eternal life) at length in prior notes, and will not go over that again here, except to mention that, in the context of the Johannine discourses, the reference is to the Life (zwh/) which God possesses and of which He is the source. What does it mean to say that the e)ntolh/ of God the Father is [e)stin] Life? There are a number of possibilities, but they are reduced considerably if we remember that here e)ntolh/ means specifically the charge [i.e. mission] given to Jesus to complete.

  • Qualitative—it describes the nature and character of Jesus’ mission from the Father
  • Significative—Jesus’ mission means or signifies Life
  • Resultative—Jesus’ mission results in Life for believers

All three are valid ways of interpreting the statement, and perhaps are best seen as three aspects of a single truth.

Note of the Day – October 18 (1 Cor 13:12)

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1 Corinthians 13:12

Chapter 13 (12:31b-14:1a) in 1 Corinthians contains several occurrences of the verb ginw/skw (“know”) and the related noun gnw=si$ (“knowledge”), and is instructive for demonstrating a distinctly Christian orientation regarding knowledge which, especially as found in Paul’s letters to believers, serves to counteract certain gnostic (or Gnostic) tendencies. It follows upon the discussion in chapters 8-12, and serves as a fitting climax, with poetic and hymnic qualities, beauty and power, which have made it justly famous. Indeed, it is a veritable hymn to Love—that is, love according to the Christian ideal and teaching—which has as its basic theme the superiority of love over all spiritual gifts (including knowledge) and other Christian actions or virtues. Spiritual gifts are dealt with comprehensively in chapter 12, while knowledge is addressed in the discussion of chaps. 8-10 (on the question of food that had been consecrated in a pagan religious setting). Verses 1-3 of chapter 8 formulate the basic instruction which Paul restates in chapter 13:

“And about the (food)s slaughtered (as offering)s to images, we have seen [i.e. known] that ‘we all hold knowledge’. Knowledge blows up [i.e. inflates], but love builds up—if any(one) considers (himself) to have known any(thing), he does not (yet) know as it is necessary (for him) to know; but if any(one) loves God, this (person) is known under [i.e. by] Him.”

The priority (and superiority) of love is clearly stated, and is expressed, in practical terms, through the remainder of chaps. 8-10 and on into 11-12. The importance of love as a guiding principle for Christian thought and behavior takes on special significance in Paul’s letters in light of his teaching regarding the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). For believers in Christ, the Law no longer has the same binding authority it previously had for Israelites and Jews; in its place, Christians are now to be guided primarily by two different sources: (1) the presence of the Holy Spirit, and (2) the example (and teaching) of Jesus. It was Jesus himself who first formulated the so-called “love command” or love-principle (Mark 12:28-34 par; John 13:34-35, etc) and gave it prominence for the Christian community. Paul builds upon this in his letters—Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; 1 Cor 16:14; 2 Cor 5:14; Gal 5:6, 13-14; Phil 1:9; Col 2:2; 3:14; 1 Thess 3:12; 4:9; cf. also Eph 4:15-16; 5:2; 1 Tim 1:5; and is likewise found elsewhere throughout the New Testament and early Christian writings (e.g., James 2:8; 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8; 1 John 2:7-11, etc).

Before preceding to an examination of 1 Cor 13:12 itself, it will be helpful to view it within in the structure of 12:31b-14:1a:

  • 12:31b: Introduction to the way of love
    • 13:1-3: The superiority of love—contrast with other spiritual gifts (Current time)
      —Such gifts without (being guided by) love are of little value

      • 13:4-7: The characteristics of Love
    • 13:8-13: The superiority of love—contrast with other gifts (Eschatological/teleological–in the End)
      —All such gifts will pass away, love is one of the only things which remain
  • 14:1a: Exhortation to the way of love

The references to knowledge are found in the two sections (13:1-3, 8-13) which describe the contrast between love and the other gifts. Indeed, there are two parallel points of contrast between love and knowledge (cf. 8:1-3):

  • 13:2—”if…I (can) see [i.e. know] all the secrets and (hold) all knowledge…but I do not hold love, (then) I am nothing”
  • 13:8b-9ff: “…and if (there is) knowledge, it will cease working. For we know (only) out of a part…but when th(at which is) complete [te/leio$] comes, th(at which is only) out of a part will cease working…”

It is important to note that Paul does not refer here to profane or ‘ordinary’ human knowledge, nor to some kind of false or ‘pseudo’ knowledge. The context clearly indicates that he is referring to special knowledge granted to believers through the presence and work of the Spirit (i.e. as a spiritual gift). In both references knowledge (gw=nsi$) is connected closely with prophecy—that is, a message communicated to believers by God through the Spirit. Even this sort of special (prophetic) knowledge must be guided by love, and, eventually, will cease working. There is considerable interpretive debate as to just when, or in what circumstances, Paul envisions such knowledge to cease. Those who believe that the spiritual gifts experienced by the Pauline churches, along with the miracles performed by the apostles, etc., were a temporary phenomenon limited to the early Church, might claim that they have already ceased. However, this is not what Paul has in mind; almost certainly his thinking is eschatological—prophetic knowledge and revelation will cease with the end of the present Age. From the early Christian standpoint, the end of this Age is marked by the sudden return of Christ to earth and the final Judgment by God, along with the resurrection/transformation of believers (ch. 15) and their entry into eternal life. Along with this, however, Christians also held a “realized” eschatology—believers in the present, through the Spirit, experience something of the reality of what waits for us in the end. This mode of belief informs Christian (ethical) instruction—we are to live and act according to the ideals which will be realized fully in the Age to Come.

This brings us to verse 12, and the reference to knowledge in 12b, which follows two brief illustrations given by Paul that expound upon his declaration in vv. 8-10:

  • The growth and development of a human being (v. 11)—the adult ceases to think and act the way he/she did as a child; partly this takes place by conscious choice (“I ceased working [i.e. doing] the infant[ile] things”), which serves as a implicit exhortation to believers.
  • The mirror (v. 12a)—ancient mirrors were normally made of metal, tending to be not nearly so clear as modern day glass-mirrors; moreover, they required polishing, which again suggests the ethical/spiritual intent and ‘work’ required by believers.

The first illustration emphasizes the temporary nature of knowledge, that it passes away; the second emphasizes it limitation, i.e. it is only partial and incomplete. The limitation is intrinsic to the created, material human nature. Even the believer who possesses the Spirit cannot always see clearly, all the more when one is still under the influence of sin and the flesh. Only at the end, the completion (te/lo$) of things, will we be able to see things clearly. Here sight and knowledge are joined as metaphors, as they often are in the Greek of the New Testament; this is expressed neatly in verse 12:

“For now we look through a (glass one) gazes into [i.e. a mirror], in(to) (an) obscure (image), but then (clearly,) face toward face; now I know (only) out of a part, but then I will know (completely), even as I was known (completely).”

There is here a dual contrast between now (a&rti) and then (to/te):

  • Now
    —We look into an obscure (i.e. cloudy, unclear) mirror
    —I know only incompletely, in part
  • Then
    —We see clearly, as if seeing another person face-to-face
    —I know completely

The same expression e)k me/rou$ (“out of a part”, i.e. partly, in part) to indicate the (human, natural) limitations for believers in the present Age, was used previously in vv. 9-10. The main difference in verse 12, in my view, is that Paul has moved from the work of the Spirit (the spiritual ‘gifts’), to the presence of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that one is able to see and know God, but in the present time our experience of the Spirit, is, due to our very nature, necessarily imperfectly realized and often mysterious. Note how, in the language Paul uses, the verse itself seems to gain greater clarity: “we look…I know”. Even more striking is the symmetry of what is to come (note the alliteration):

pro/swpon pro\$ pro/swpon
prosœpon pros prosœpon
“face toward face”
lit. “toward-the-eye toward toward-the-eye”
i.e., “eye to eye”

In terms of the mirror illustration, we would be seeing our own face clearly; but Paul’s application assumes something deeper—it is God’s face we see, our own ‘face’ being transformed into His likeness (that of Christ), as he expresses memorably in 2 Cor 3:18. And so we come to the beautiful and simple symmetry of language that closes the verse:

e)pignw/somai kaqw\$ kai/ e)pegnw/sqhn
epignœsomai kathœs kai epegnœsth¢n
“I will know even as I was (also) known”

Again the phrase is highly alliterative, with symmetry marked at two levels:

  • I will know (e)pignw/somai)
    —even as (kaqw$)
    —also/indeed (kai)
  • I was known (e)pegnw/sqhn)

Two forms of the same verb separated by two particles in tandem, create a comparative join. The sense of “knowledge” here has changed slightly—instead of knowledge as a prophetic/revelatory gift from God (through the Spirit), it now refers more directly to knowledge of God Himself. It is a different verb as well; instead of ginw/skw (“know”) it is the compound verb e)piginw/skw (with the prefixed preposition/particle e)pi). This verb generally refers to gaining knowledge about something (or someone), but often carries the nuance of recognition, acknowledgement, understanding. It can also have an intensive meaning, i.e. to know something (or someone) thoroughly, completely, intimately, etc.; and this latter sense is in view here—”I will know (completely)”. The passive form (“I was [completely] known”) should be read as a so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum), where God is the implied subject. Believers as “known” by God assumes the basic idea of election—of our being chosen beforehand, according to the will and consideration of God. This will be discussed in more detail in an upcoming article. It is possible, though not certain (or even necessary), that the aorist form of the verb used here specifically indicates election or predestination—i.e., as action which took place at a specific time in the past (before our coming to faith). At any rate, we have here in 13:12b, two fundamental aspects of knowledge in the New Testament—believers’ knowledge of God and His knowledge of us. This dual aspect will be explored further in the remaining article of the series “Gnosis and the New Testament”.

Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (12:1-15:13, and Conclusion)

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Romans 12:1-15:13

Rom 12:1-15:13 is properly the exhortation (exhortatio) or hortatory section of the letter, which also contains parenetic material, i.e. practical instruction on ethical and religious matters (cf. Gal 5:1-6:10, which has a number of similarities with this section in Romans). Most of Paul’s teaching related to the Old Testament Law (Torah) is found in chapters 1-11; therefore, what remains of note in 12:1-15:13 may be dealt with more briefly, in summary fashion. I divide Rom 12:1-15:13 according to the following outline:

  • Opening Exhortation (12:1-12)
    Active (v. 1): “Make your bodies stand alongside [i.e. before] (God)…”
    Passive (v. 2): “Be changed in shape… in making the mind new again…”
  • Unity—Illustration of the Body (of Christ) (12:3-8)
  • Love—The ‘Love command’ (12:9-13:10)
    —vv. 9-13: Show love to one another
    —vv. 14-21: Show love to your enemies
    Excursus (13:1-7): Respect and obey governing authority
    —13:8-10: Love as fulfillment of the Law
  • Appeal—to live in the light and not in the darkness (13:11-14)
  • Instruction—regarding the “weak” and the “strong” (14:1-15:6)
    Threefold exhortation regarding those “weak” in faith/trust:
    —vv. 1-12: “Receive (them) toward you…”
    —vv. 13-23: “Do not judge…”
    —15:1-6: “We ought to bear their weaknesses…”
    —including a doxology for unity in Christ (vv. 5-6)
  • Exhortation to unity for Jews and Gentiles in Christ (15:7-13)

Romans 12:1-2

Here in this brief introductory exhortation, Paul makes use of language and imagery drawn from the sacrificial (Temple) ritual, applying it—spiritually and symbolically—to the life and person of the believer. As such, the Law is ‘fulfilled’ in a spiritual (or ethical) sense. Note especially:

  • the body (sw=ma) as a living sacrifice (qusi/a)—the noun qusi/a (and the verb qu/w) refer specifically to the sacrificial offering and its slaughter (cf. Hebrew jbz)
  • the mind (nou=$) conformed to the will of God (cf. the “Law of God” in Rom 7:22, 25)

Both of these are summarized as latrei/a, a term used for ritual service, but which Paul characterizes here as logiko/$. This adjective is nearly impossible to translate in English—literally it means “of the word/account [lo/go$]”, but used primarily in the more abstract sense “of reason”, i.e., “reasonable, rational”, etc. The mind, in particular, is that aspect of human nature which is able to recognize the will of God (cf. Rom 7:13-25). In any case, for Christians, religious “ritual” is understood according to the “inner person”—i.e., the mind, as renewed by the Spirit, in conformity with the will of God—but extending to the external body, as one lives out the Christian life.

Romans 13:8-10

Rom 12:9-13:10 is on the theme of love, which believers are to demonstrate to one another (12:9-13), and also to one’s enemies (12:14-21). This is sometimes referred to as the “love command”, based on Jesus’ incorporation of Leviticus 19:18 as part of the two-fold “Great Commandment” (along with Deut 6:4-5). According to Jesus’ teaching, especially as presented in Mark 12:28-34, “no other command is greater than these”, being far superior to all sacrificial offerings. Already in early rabbinic tradition (contemporary with Jesus), Lev 19:18 was considered to be a kind of epitome or summary of the entire Law, and so it was in early Christianity. Note how Paul frames the matter in Rom 13:8-10:

  • “the one loving the other (person) has (ful)filled the Law” (v. 8b)
  • —the commands (esp. the fundamental ethical commands [Exod 20:13-17]) are “summed up under the head in this (one) word [Lev 19:18]” (v. 9)
  • “…love is the filling/fullness [plh/rwma] of the Law” (v. 10)

Paul says virtually the same thing in Galatians 5:14 (cf. also Gal 6:2; 1 Thes 4:9; Col 3:14; 1 Tim 1:5). For other passages in the New Testament related to the ‘love command’, see James 2:8-12; John 13:34-35; 15:9-17; 1 John 2:5, 7-11; 3:10-24; 4:7-12, 19-21; 5:1-3. Interestingly, while love for one’s enemies is clearly part of Jesus’ teaching (see esp. Matt 5:43-48 par), it is not normally associated with the exhortation to love in the passages listed above—there the emphasis is on showing love to one’s fellow believers.

Romans 14:1-15:6: On the “weak” and the “strong”

Paul’s instruction regarding the “weak” and the “strong” is actually an exhortation and advice for how the “strong” ought to behave toward the “weak”. By “strong” (oi( du/natoi, lit. “the [one]s with power”), Paul seems to mean believers who trust fully in the freedom they have in Christ, while the “weak” (o( a)sqenw=n, “the [one who is] lacking strength”), refers primarily to the believer who (still) feels obligated to follow certain religious/ritual practices. Paul classifies himself with the “strong” (cf. 15:1). It is likely that the “weak” include Jewish believers who feel under some obligation to observe dietary restrictions, Sabbaths and holy days, and so forth. However, Paul’s instruction here should by no means be limited to this context, for he uses very much the same line of instruction in 1 Cor 8-10, where Gentile believers are entirely in view (cf. also Gal 4:8-11). In any case, this passage certainly emphasizes the relative unimportance of ritual/ceremonial elements of the Law, such as:

  • dietary restrictions (14:2-4)—though he is not referring specifically to laws of kashrût here
  • observance of special (holy) days (14:5-6)

Paul would seem to consider such things as part of the old order of the world to which Christians have died, and are no longer bound to follow (Gal 4:1-11; Col 2:16-23; cf. also Gal 2:19; Rom 7:6, etc).

With regard to the Old Testament dietary and purity laws, Paul declares quite clearly that these have been removed—that is to say, nothing is “clean” or “unclean” in itself (cf. Mark 7:14-23 par; Acts 10:9-16; 11:5-10), though a person  might still feel compelled to regard it so. This is an important principle (cf. also in 1 Cor 8), which leaves any such regulation or restriction as a matter of personal conscience (to put it in modern terms), not to be imposed on another. The following principles also may be drawn out of the passage:

  • What should guide the believer is the Spirit, not regulations (from the Law), Rom 14:17
  • The one serving Christ is acceptable to God, Rom 14:18
  • Religious service is defined by faith/trust (not observance of the Law), Rom 14:23

Romans 15:7-13

In this appeal for unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ we have a summary of a major theme that has run all throughout the letter. This is important because, in Romans (as in Galatians), Paul is forging a new religious understanding and identity—one that is Christian, and not Jewish (that is, not limited to Israel). Of course, Paul does not use the term “Christian” yet, but one may combine two of his favorite expressions—(a) the ones trusting, using the participle of the verb pisteu/w, and (b) “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|)—to form the distinct concept of believers in Christ. In Christ, Jews and Gentiles are equal and united (Gal 3:26-28, etc)—there is no distinction whatsoever, and the Old Testament Law (Torah) plays no role at all. On the other hand, as Paul has discussed in chapters 9-11, Gentile believers are not to consider themselves in any way superior, having been grafted into a (spiritual) tradition stretching back to Abraham. In this regard, it is interesting the wording Paul uses in verse 8: “I count (the) Anointed to have become a servant of circumcision [dia/kono$ peritomh=$]…”, which probably should be understood in terms of Jesus’ birth and life (in the flesh) and his Israelite heritage (cf. Rom 1:3; 9:5; Gal 4:4)—elsewhere Paul uses the expression “of (the) circumcision” to refer to Israelites and Jews in the ethno-religious sense. Consider the structure of verses 8-9:

  • a servant of circumcision…
    over [u(per] the truth of God
    —unto [ei)$] the making firm [i.e. confirmation] of the promises of the Fathers
    —and (unto) the nations giving esteem/glory to God
    over [u(per] mercy

For an interesting parallel (in Gospel tradition) regarding Christ’s life and work in relation to both Israel and the nations, see Luke 2:29-32 (esp. v. 32, cf. Isa 42:6; 49:6; 52:10; 60:3).


In Romans, Paul presents what is by far his most thorough and complex treatment of the Law. In several respects, he has gone beyond the arguments utilized in Galatians, to offer a more ‘systematic’ and multi-layered presentation. I would summarize the main areas of expansion and exposition as follows:

  • God’s (impending) judgment against humankind will be based specifically in terms of deeds (“works”) committed, and according to the Law.
  • Jews and Gentiles both are “under the Law”—even Gentiles, who are unfamiliar with the Torah, experience the Law (of God) through the witness of creation (1:18ff) and the testimony of their own inner conscience (2:14-16; 7:13ff).
  • Jews and Gentiles are thus on equal terms before God, in that they—all human beings—are (enslaved) under sin.
  • The Law and Sin are interconnected—the Law brings knowledge and awareness of sin, while sin “uses” this knowledge to bring human beings into even greater bondage.
  • Sin is depicted (personalized) as a ruling, enslaving Power, and human beings are in bondage under him; however, this is according to God’s own purpose, so that He will be able to show mercy and favor (grace) to all people. God’s Favor itself is personalized (in Rom 5:15ff), and works in a manner antithetical to that of Sin.
  • God’s work in Christ—his sacrificial death (and resurrection)—destroyed the power of sin, and, with it, the binding force of the Law as well.
  • Believers experience freedom from the enslaving power of sin through trust in Christ, and, in particular, by identification with (and participation in) his death—through this death, believers effectively die both to sin and the Law. As such, the Law no longer has any binding force over believers (Rom 7:1-6)
  • It is in the mind and the “inner man” that human beings recognize the Law of God—a larger concept than the Torah, and synonymous with the Will of God. However, under the power of Sin (in the “flesh”), human beings are not able to fulfill this Law; only after being freed from sin’s power, and through the work of Spirit, can it be fulfilled.
  • Indeed, it is through the Spirit that believers live in conformity to God’s will (and no longer by observing commands and regulations of the Old Testament Law). This is demonstrated principally by the love that believers show, both to each other, and even toward one’s enemies; this love itself fulfills the Law.

Note of the Day – October 14

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Today’s note is supplemental to the series on “Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians” (on Gal 5:1-6:10); in particular, I will be discussing the interesting expression “the Law of Christ” in 6:2.

Galatians 6:2

“Bear one another’s burdens—and thus you will fill up (completely) the ‘Law of Christ'”

It is noteworthy that, throughout the first five chapters of Galatians (focused in chs. 3-4), Paul has been arguing that believers in Christ are freed from the Law (that is, of the obligation to observe the commands and regulations of the Old Testament/Jewish Torah). Now, suddenly, he re-introduces the idea of believers fulfilling the Law, but defined specifically as “the Law of Christ” (o( no/mo$ tou= Xristou=). Two questions naturally come to mind: (1) what exactly does Paul mean by this expression? and (2) what is the relationship (if any) between the “Law of Christ” and the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah)? I hope to address both questions in the process of examining this verse.

First, let us consider the overall context of his statement in v. 2:

Throughout the first four chapters of Galatians, and especially in chapters 3-4, Paul has been arguing rather extensively (and forcefully) two main points:

  • That it is through faith in Christ, and not by observing the Torah (“works of Law”), that a person is made (or declared) just/righteous before God
  • That with the coming Christ, and, especially, as a result of his sacrificial death, believers (those who trust in him) are no longer “under the Law” and are freed from its obligations and commands (and, in turn, freed from the enslaving power of sin as well).

However, in chapters 5 and 6 (5:1-6:10), Paul has moved from argument to exhortation and religious-ethical instruction (parenesis). Since believers have freedom in Christ, and are free from the Law, how is one to live and act?—what is the basis for governing and regulating attitudes and behavior? Paul makes two points clear in this section:

  • Attitude and behavior is (to be) governed by the Holy Spirit, which involves believers accepting to be led/guided (to “walk”) by the Spirit
  • Even though believers are free from the Law, being led by the Spirit will (and must) result in a moral and upright life, in spite of (and/or because of) the natural conflict between the Spirit and “flesh”

In Gal 5:26-6:10, we find the only section of practical instruction in the letter, in particular, 5:26-6:6:

  • 5:26 describes behavior contrary to “walking in the Spirit” (cf. also v. 15)
  • 6:1-2 urges faithful believers to exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit” in helping to restore an offender, and to “bear each others‘ burdens”
  • 6:3-4 counsels self-examination for believers, emphasizing the importance of humility and personal integrity, emphasizing rather that each person must “bear his/her own burden”

In vv. 3-4, the believer turns inward, focusing on his/her own life and affairs, while in vv. 1-2, the believer turns outward, in order to aid and assist other believers in time of trouble. Paul’s statement in v. 2 is part of this second emphasis.

Verse 2a—”bear each other’s burdens…” (a)llh/lwn ta\ ba/rh basta/zete). It is this exhortation which defines the statement in 2b, and must be kept in mind when analyzing the expression “the Law of Christ”. It is also closely parallel to the exhortation in 5:13, as we shall see.

Verse 2b—”…and thus you will fill up (completely) the ‘Law of Christ'” (kai\ ou%tw$ a)naplhrw/sete to\n no/mon tou= Xristou=). “and thus” (kai\ ou%tw$) relates back to 2a, which serves as a conditional phrase—if you bear each other’s burden, then, in so doing, you will fill up the “Law of Christ”. The verb Paul uses (a)naplhro/w) is a compound form of plhro/w (plhróœ, “fill [up], fulfill”); the prefixed particle a)na (ana) indicating “up”, but essentially serving as an intensive element, i.e. “fill up completely“. The verb plhro/w can be used in the sense of observing or completing commands/regulations, i.e., of the Law (Torah), cf. Matt 5:17. However, in Galatians, Paul speaks in terms of the Torah commands being “done” (i.e. as “works”) rather than being “fulfilled”.

With regard to the expression “the Law of Christ”, it should be examined according to: (1) parallels in Galatians, (2) parallels in the other Pauline letters, and, finally, by way of brief comparison, (3) with any other relevant parallels in the New Testament.

(1) Parallels in Galatians—the main passage is 5:13-15, which I have discussed previously; the parallel between 5:13-14 and 6:2 is striking:


“be slaves to each other [a)llh/loi$] through love”

“for all the Law is filled (up) [peplh/rwtai] in one word”


” bear each others’ [a)llh/lwn] burdens”

“and thus you will fill up [a)naplhrw/sete] the Law of Christ”

The “one word” in 5:14 is Lev 19:18 (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself”), well-established in early Christian tradition as a central command (or principle), sometimes referred to as the “love command”, under the influence of similar language in the Gospel and letters of John (Jn 13:34-35; 14:15-24; 15:10-17; 1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:23; 4:21; 5:1-3). It is part of the two-fold “Great Commandment” in Jesus’ teaching (Mark 12:31 par; Matt 5:43; 19:19)—also related to the so-called “golden rule” (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31)—as a ‘summary’ of the Law. Paul offers a more precise contextual statement in Rom 13:8-10; for other instances in early Christian writings, see James 2:8; Didache 1:2; Barnabas 19:5; and Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 93:2. It is reasonable to relate this to the “Law of Christ” in Gal 6:2; I would suggest that the connection should be understood in the following terms:

  1. The ‘love command’ (Lev 19:18) is no longer associated with the Torah in early Christian tradition, but rather more directly with the teaching (and example) of Christ.
  2. In Paul’s thought, Christ, in his own person and by his work, represents (and brings) the end/completion/fulfillment of the entire Law (cf. Rom 10:4), just as the ‘love command’ effectively summarizes and fulfills (and thereby takes the place of) the entire Law.
  3. The new covenant (of faith and the Spirit) is defined as believers being “in Christ”, belonging to Christ, etc., just as the old covenant (at Sinai) was defined by inclusion of Israel according to the terms of the Law (Torah).

(2) Parallels in the other Pauline letters—Here I will focus on formal parallels, where Paul uses a phrase or expression similar to “the Law of Christ”.

  • 1 Corinthians 9:21—”in [i.e. under] the Law of Christ” (e&nnomo$ Xristou=). This expression is nearly identical, with the context in 1 Corinthians being significant. In v. 20, Paul speaks of becoming like one who is “under the Law” in order to reach those “under the Law” (i.e., Israelites/Jews); similarly, to those who are “without (the) Law” (a&nomo$), i.e. Gentiles, he became as one who is “without (the) Law” (cf. Gal 2:12, 14). However, Paul is clearly uncomfortable referring to himself (and, presumably, any believer) as being “without Law”, so he parenthetically comments: “not (indeed) being without the Law of God, but in the law of Christ”. It is doubtless the use of the word a&nomo$ (“without law”) that prompts him to use (or to coin) the term e&nnomo$ (“in [the] law”).
  • Romans 7:22, 25 (cf. also 8:7; 1 Cor 9:21)—”the Law of God” (o( no/mo$ tou= qeou=). In Romans (and also 1 Cor 9:21), Paul uses this expression in a wider sense than “the Law” (o( no/mo$), the latter almost always referring specifically to the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). In Rom 7:22ff, the “Law of God” is contrasted with the “Law of sin” as two principles fighting against each other, as a dynamic taking place in the life/heart/mind of a person prior to faith in Christ (note also the similar dynamic for believers in Gal 5:17). It would be fair, I think, to identify the expression “the Law of God” generally with the will of God, which, of course, is also communicated by way of the Torah commands.
  • Romans 3:27—”the Law of faith/trust” (no/mo$ pi/stew$). This expresses the basic Pauline teaching that people are made/declared just (“justified”) before God through trust/faith (pi/sti$) in Christ, in direct contrast with the “law of works (e&rga)” (i.e., “works of the Law”).
  • Romans 8:2—”the Law of the Spirit of life” (o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$). This characterizes the principle, expressed repeatedly in Galatians (esp. Gal 5:1ff), that believers are free from the Law—not only specific commands preserved in the Torah, but also the “curse” of the Law and the power of sin, here phrased as “the Law of sin and death”. This freedom—the Law of the Spirit of life—is qualified and centered by the familiar expression “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|). Since the Holy Spirit is understood largely in terms of the Spirit of Christ, of his live-giving presence and power at work in the believer, the “Law of the Spirit of life” can be considered, to some extent, as synonymous with the “Law of Christ”.
  • Romans 16:26 is also worth noting, where Paul speaks of “the charge/injunction [e)pitagh/] of God of-the-Ages”, in reference to God’s ordering of the proclamation and spread of the Gospel to the nations. In 1 Cor 7:19 we also find the expression “(the) commands/charges [e)ntolai] of God”, which could generally mean the commands of the Torah, but as Paul has just stated that “circumcision is nothing”, this is unlikely; possibly it refers to the ethical commands of the Torah (e.g. in the Decalogue), but it is probably better to consider the meaning as similar to the “command[s] of Christ” (cf. below).

(3) Parallels in the remainder of the New Testament

  • James 1:25; 2:12—”the Law of freedom” (no/mo$ e)leuqeri/a$). This sounds like an expression which could have come from Galatians, with its emphasis on freedom in Christ. And, indeed, the overall context of James 1:22-2:13 is generally similar to Paul’s exhortation and instruction in Gal 5:1-6:10, in the sense that both passages emphasize: (a) the need for moral/ethical behavior among believers, and (b) that faith in Christ will (and should) result in sacrificial acts of mercy and service to those (believers) who are in difficulty. The main difference is that James speaks of all this in terms of “works” (e&rga) and “doing” (i.e. the “Law”) which Paul generally does not apply in Galatians. In James 1:25, the “Law of freedom” is characterized as “complete” (te/leio$), which possibly relates to the Pauline idea of the Law (Torah) being completed in the person and work of Christ (Rom 10:4, etc).
  • James 2:8—”the kingly/royal Law” (no/mo$ basiliko/$). Here the thought is even closer to the “Law of Christ” in Gal 6:2, and also with Gal 5:13-14. This “royal Law” is identified with the so-called love-command (Lev 19:18), as in Gal 5:14; similarly, the implication in James 2:10 is that violation of this command means violating the entire Law. In all likelihood, the “Law of freedom” and the “royal Law” are basically synonymous, and could fairly be identified with the “Law of Christ”.
  • The Gospel and letters of John, for the most part, do not use the word no/mo$ (“law”), preferring rather the word e)ntolh/, either in the singular or plural.  )Entolh/ literally signifies a charge or order which is placed on someone, typically translated as “command(ment)”. The “commandments” (pl.) can be referred to as Christ’s, that is, coming from Christ (“his commandments”), cf. John 14:21 (cf. also 15:14); 1 John 2:3-4, or as God’s (the Father’s), 1 John 3:22-24; 5:2-3; 2 John 5-6, or both (Jn 12:49-50; 14:21, 31; 15:10)—with little (if any) distinction between the two. This accords with Johannine theology, especially as expressed by Jesus in the Gospel: that the Son only does and says what he sees/hears the Father doing and saying; in other words, Christ’s commands are the same as God’s (Jn 12:49; 14:31; 15:10). It is never specified just what these commandments are; rather, they seem to be identical with the “commandment” (sg.) of God (and Christ)—Jn 12:49-50; 15:12; 1 Jn 3:23; 14:21; 2 Jn 6. This (single) commandment is: (1) characterized as “new” (Jn 13:34; 1 Jn 2:8), and (2) defined in terms of love toward God and fellow believers (i.e. the two-fold “great commandment”) (Jn 13:34; 15:12, 17; 1 Jn 4:21; 5:2-3; 2 Jn 5-6; cf. also Jn 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Jn 2:5). Interestingly, in 1 Jn 2:7-8 and 2 Jn 5, the author explains that, in a sense, this is not actually a new commandment, but one already familiar from Scripture, the teaching of Jesus, and direct instruction by the Spirit. This may be a way of saying, along with Paul, that this “love command” summarizes and fulfills/completes the entire Law.

Jesus and the Law, Part 9: The Gospel of John (continued)

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The outline for this article is:

  1. The Festal Setting of the Discourses and related Narratives
  2. The Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word
  3. The Farewell Discourses and the “Love Command”

The first heading was discussed in Part 8 of this series; here I will continue with the second and third sections.

2. The Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word

Since the Law and Torah (as Scripture) is sometimes identified as the “Word of God” it is worth exploring the distinctive manner in which “word” (lo/go$, and/or r(h=ma) is associated with Jesus in the Gospel of John—both the Word(s) of Jesus and Jesus as the Word. I will start with the second of these concepts.

(a) Jesus as the Word

[This section draws especially on the fine summary by R. E. Brown in his classic commentary on John (Anchor Bible vol. 29), Appendix II, pp. 519-24.]

This is found primarily in the Prologue to the Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), where Jesus is identified with the (divine) lo/go$ in verses 1 (3 times) and 14. There is no single satisfactory English translation for lo/go$—”word” being as good as any. From the standpoint of creation (vv. 3, 10), it could also be understood: (i) in the sense of the underlying creative principle giving order to things (already used this way by Heraclitus, 6th-early 5th cent. B.C.), or (ii) as reason, reflecting the (ordered) thought and mind of God (cf. the typical Stoic usage). Philo of Alexandria, representing Hellenistic (and Alexandrian) Judaism at the time of the New Testament, blends the Greek philosophical use of lo/go$ with Old Testament concepts, resulting in the idea of the Logos as a divine intermediary, used by God in creation and serving as a pattern for the human mind/soul. In recent decades, scholars have looked closer at the Jewish background to the Logos-concept in John in at least three respects—(i) the “word of YHWH” as a distinct hypostasis, (ii) the personification of (divine) Wisdom, and (iii) the pre-existence of the Torah.

(i) The “word of YHWH” (hw`hy+Árb^D=) in the Old Testament does not simply reflect a statement or utterance received (by the Prophets, etc), but represents a dynamic (revelatory) manifestation of God to human beings, especially in the formula “the word of YHWH came to {so-and-so}…” (Gen 15:1, 4; 1 Sam 15:10; 2 Sam 7:4; 24:11; 1 Kings 6:11, etc; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1, et al). According to Genesis 1:1ff, the universe (the heavens and the earth) was created by the word of God (by his speaking), and continues to be sustained/renewed by his word—cf. Psalm 33:6; 147:15ff; Isa 55:11; also Wisd 9:1, etc. Over time, and with an interest in safeguarding the idea of God’s transcendence, the “word of God” came to be used as a kind of substitute (or periphrasis) for God Himself, which would speak and act (toward human beings)—effectively becoming a distinct hypostasis (divine manifestation). In Aramaic, this term for “the word” of God was ar*m=ym@ (m¢mrâ).

(ii) Similarly, the Wisdom of God could be personified or treated as a distinct hypostasis (manifestation); originally, this personification need have been nothing more than a poetic representation in ancient Wisdom Literature, used for dramatic and didactic effect (cf. Prov 1:20-33; 9:1-12, etc). However, the practical usage came to take on added theological dimension, as we see already in the famous passage of Proverbs 8—especially vv. 23-31 which depict Wisdom as existing at the beginning with God and participating in the work of Creation. There is indeed a close parallel between the Wisdom and (personified) Word of God in Jewish tradition—both are involved in the process of creation, being with God in the beginning, reflecting His glory, and coming forth from (the mouth of) God (cf. Sir 1:1; 24:3ff; Wisd 7:22, 25–8:1; 9:1-2). The parallels with the Johannine prologue are strong enough to suggest a Wisdom background, possibly even involving the influence or adaptation of a hymn in praise of (divine) Wisdom. There are a number of passages which refer to Wisdom coming (from heaven) to dwell among human beings, or wishing to (Prov 8:31; Wisd 9:10; Sir 24:8ff), but with some doubt as to whether she will be welcome (Baruch 3:9ff, etc); in the book of Enoch (1 Enoch) chapter 42, we find an especially close parallel to the idea in John 1:10-11, 14—Wisdom wishes to make her dwelling among the children of men, but sadly can find no dwelling-place and must return to heaven.

(iii) In later Rabbinic and mystical tradition, this personification (or hypostasis) of the Word of God was extended specifically to the Torah, conceived of as God’s offspring (or daughter, as with Wisdom) and existing prior to the creation of the universe. This was a natural identification, since Scripture (and particularly the Torah) was regularly understood as the “Word of God”. Already in Wisdom literature, the Law (Torah) is specifically identified with personified (divine) Wisdom (cf. especially Baruch 4:1 and Sirach 24:23ff). There is a long history as well of referring to the the Law (Torah) as light, which serves to illuminate human beings with God’s own (holy and revelatory) light (Jn 1:4-5, 9)—cf. Psalm 119:105; Baruch 4:2; Wisd 18:4; Testament of Levi 14:4.

(b) The Word(s) of Jesus

As a theme and motif, the word (or words) of Jesus plays a key role in the Gospel of John, occurring frequently (more than 40 times). These can be categorized as follows (note that lo/go$ [“word, account”] and r(h=ma [“word, utterance”] appear to be used interchangeably, with little difference in meaning):

  • Jesus’ words identified as God’s words, i.e. that which the Father (the one who sent him) gave him to speak—Jn 3:34; 8:47, 55; 14:10, 24; 17:8, 14; cf. also 5:24, 38; 6:68; 12:49-50.
  • Jesus’ words treated as synonymous/parallel with Scripture—Jn 2:22; 5:47 (also vv. 39-40); 10:34-36; 18:9, 32.
  • Emphasis on keeping Jesus’ words, as one is to keep God’s own Word (i.e. keep the Law/Torah)—8:51-52, 55; 12:47; 14:23-24; 15:20; 17:6.
  • Similar language on hearing Jesus’ word, abiding in his word, etc.—Jn 5:24, 38; 8:31, 37, 43; 12:47-48; 15:7; 17:8; cf. also 10:3-5; 18:47.
  • Jesus’ words have life-giving power and effect, as God’s own Word—Jn 4:50; 6:64, 68; 8:31-32; 15:3, 7; 17:17, 20; cf. also 5:25, 28; 11:43.
  • Keeping Jesus’ words is a guarantee of (eternal) life, much as keeping/observing the Torah preserves the covenant with God (and guarantees future salvation) according to Jewish thought—Jn 5:24; 8:51-52; 12:47-48; cf. also 14:23; 17:6.

So we see evidence in the Gospel of John that: (a) according to the Prologue (1:1-18), Jesus is the incarnation of the eternal and pre-existent Word of God, which encompasses the idea of the Wisdom and Law (Torah) of God, and (b) Jesus’ words are to be treated and regarded as God’s own Word, including everything typically associated with the commands and ordinances of the Torah.

3. The Farewell Discourses and the “Love Command”

When discussing the sayings of Jesus in Matthew 5:17-20 (especially verse 19) in an earlier note, I brought up the important question as to the relationship between the command(ment)s of Jesus and those of the Torah. We find the same issue here in the Gospel of John (and will see it again when addressing 1 John). There are a dozen or so references to: (a) commandments Jesus received from God the Father, and (b) Jesus’ (own) commandments to his followers; conceptually these two are closely related, if not synonymous. The passages are:

(a) Commandments Jesus received from God the Father—Jn 10:18; 12:49-50; 14:31; 15:10

(b) Commandments given by Jesus (to his disciples)—Jn 13:34; 14:15, 21; 15:10, 12, 14, 17

All of these instances involve the noun e)ntolh/ (or the related verb e)nte/llomai), which fundamentally refers to something “laid on (a person) to complete”, and is usually translated “command(ment)” or sometimes “charge, order,” and the like. In a Jewish religious context, of course, e)ntolh/ refers to the commands of the Law (Torah), the corresponding term in Hebrew being primarily hw`x=m! (from the verb hw`x*). Yet, here in the Gospel of John, it is not clear to what extent (if at all) the “commandments” are related to the Torah commands. Let us look briefly at the context of these passages:

(a) Commandments Jesus received from God the Father:
Jn 10:18—here the command (or charge) has to with the power/authority Jesus has to (willingly) lay down his life and then take it up again (his death and resurrection)
Jn 12:49-50—the emphasis is on what the Father (“the One who sent me”) has given Jesus to speak; again this indicates the divine source (and authority) of Jesus’ own words
Jn 14:31—the sense is much the same: that Jesus does just as (and only as) the Father has commanded him
Jn 15:10—here Jesus states that he has kept the Father’s commandments, and abides/remains in His love

(b) Commandments given by Jesus (to his disciples):
Jn 13:34—Jesus gives his disciples a “new” commandment, the “love command” (see below)
Jn 14:15, 21—In these two verses Jesus states that those who love him will keep his commandments (and vice versa); it is a general statement, with no specific indication what those commandments are
Jn 15:10—draws a parallel between keeping Jesus’ commandments and abiding/remaining in his love, just as Jesus does for the Father
Jn 15:12, 14, 17—verse 12 restates the “love command” (13:34), verse 14 generally restates 14:15, 21, and verse 17 brings both of these together into a single teaching

Of all the references above, only 15:10a could conceivably relate to the Torah commands specifically, but even that is highly uncertain; in light of the other passages in category (a), it is better to see 15:10a in terms of Jesus’ mission—what he is directed to say and do. The Torah commands are clearly referenced as such only in Jn 8:5, which is part of the passage on the woman caught in adultery (generally recognized as an interpolation, and likely not part of the original Gospel).

Many of these references come from the so-called Farewell Discourse (chapters 13-17), a cluster of discourses probably built up out of (separate) smaller blocks of teaching, in which Jesus gives definitive instruction (and exhortation) to his disciples. There are many sayings and teachings of Jesus—both in John and throughout the Synoptic Gospels—which may be regarded as commands; but the only command clearly identified and emphasized as such in the Farewell Discourse(s) is the so-called “love command” in 13:34; 15:12. In Jn 13:34 the command is:

“that you should love one another—even as I have loved you, (I say) that you should love one another”
(the aorist subjunctive forms of the verb having the force of imperatives)

Clearly this is related in some way to the “Great Commandment” (Mk 12:29-31 par)—complete love for God and one’s neighbor—the second half of which, in particular, would become central in Jesus’ teaching as preserved in the early Church (Rom 13:9-10; Gal 5:14; James 2:8). Love for God—demonstrated by loving Jesus (whom God sent)—is effectively treated as a command elsewhere in John, particularly in terms of abiding/remaining in Christ (Jn 15:4, 9, etc); but it is love for one’s fellow (believer) that is stressed in Jn 13:34; 15:12ff, and specifically referred to as a commandment. Indeed, it is called a “new” (kaino/$) commandment in 13:34, though the precise meaning and force of this distinction remains uncertain. These and other related questions will be dealt with in more detail in an article on “The Commandments of Christ” later on in this series; for now, it will suffice to conclude with the following observations:

  1. Jesus’ commandments come directly from God the Father (stressing Jesus’ unique role and nature as Son of God)
  2. They relate primarily to his mission on earth—what he is to say (teaching and proclamation, etc) and do (miracles, his willing and sacrificial death [and resurrection], etc)
  3. By word and example, he transmits these commandments to his disciples, best exemplified in the Farewell Discourse(s)
  4. The primary and leading command is two-fold: (i) to love one another, and (ii) to abide/remain in Christ (and his love)

The Old Testament Law (Torah) as such does not appear to be an essential part of this, except insofar as it provides the religious and ethical background to the “love command” and other teachings of Jesus. In this respect, the Gospel of John differs somewhat from the Synoptic Gospels, which depict Jesus dealing more directly (and regularly) with questions derived from (and related to) the Law of Moses.