Here is what I regard as the solution to the problem I stumbled across in my last blog. You will recall that I was perplexed as to why Paul would say that he was “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21 RSV), when he clearly argues in Rom 10:4 that “Christ was the end of the law” (i.e., the Mosaic Covenant). In his belief humankind was now under divine Grace (Rom 6:14-15), and people are justified (declared righteous) before God through faith in Christ (Rom 3:24-28).
The difficulty that I raised occurs because scholars/translators read the Greek word nomos (generally translated “law”) in a quite narrow way, as if it were referring to a “legal code.” Actually the word is nuanced (i.e., having a range of significations). Bauer-Danker explains that the basic signification of the term nomos is “a procedure or practice that has taken hold, [hence] a custom, rule, principle, norm.” Danker who revised Bauer’s lexicon1 says that Bauer understood nomos in Rom 7:21“as ‘principle,’ that is: an unwritten rightness of things.” Paul uses the word nomos in cases where he probably would have preferred another word or perhaps he intended a play on the word nomos “to heighten the predicament of those who do not rely on the Gospel of liberation from legal constraint: the Apostle speaks of a principle that obligates one to observe a code of conduct that any sensible person would recognize as sound and valid.” The other two significations listed for nomos are: “constitutional or statutory legal system, law” and “a collection of holy writings precious to God’s people, sacred ordinance.”
Understanding nomos as “the unwritten rightness of things” would almost demand the translation of “[spiritual] principle” for the word. In the passages over which I stumbled a translation of nomos as “principle” clarifies the apostle’s statement, whereas translating nomos as “law” obfuscates what the apostle is aiming to say. In short, according to Paul there is no “law of Christ.” Nevertheless, the “Christian” walk still requires certain behaviors (Gal 5:13-14).
Here are my suggested translations for Paul’s statements:
Rom 7:21: “So I do find it a [spiritual] principle that when I want to do right…”
Gal 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the [spiritual] principle of Christ.”
1 Cor 9:21: “…not being without law toward God but within the [spiritual] principle of Christ.”
Rom 8:2: “For the [spiritual] principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.”
In virtually all translations of the above verses in modern English nomos is translated as “law.” There are a few exceptions:
*Romans 7:21 is translated principle in Phillips, NEB, and NAB; rule in Weymouth; fact of life in LB, NLT, and Authentic Letters.
*Galatians 6:2 is translated power in LB and NLT.
*Romans 8:2 is translated principle in Knox; rule in Authentic Letters; Lord’s command in LB and NLT; life-giving power in Williams.
Paul had this to say about the relationship of law and faith:
Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:23-26 RSV).
Translators do Paul a disservice when they render nomos in the verses above by the English word “law”; in these verses he is clearly referring to a spiritual principle.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1F. W. Danker and W. Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago), 677.
Phillips: J. B. Phillips, New Testament in Modern English.
NEB: New English Bible.
NAB: New American Bible.
Weymouth: R. F. Weymouth, the New Testament in Modern Speech.
LB: Living Bible.
NLT: New Living Translation.
Authentic Letters: Art Dewey, et al., The Authentic Letters of Paul.
Williams: C. B. Williams, The New Testament. A Private Translation
Knox: R. A. Knox, The New Testament. A New Translation