Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Is "Under Law" a Group Descriptor That Describes Only Jews? Or Does It Occasionally Refer to Gentiles?

"Under the law" is a group descriptor (e.g. 1 Cor. 9:20, "those under the law") that primarily describes Jews who remain subject to the penalties for law-breaking (implied from Rom. 6:14, "you are not under the law but under grace").  I say "primarily" because Paul, at times, seems to include Believing Gentiles in the group that was formerly "under the law".

For example, the "we" in "we were held captive under the law" (Gal. 3:23) appears to include Gentiles since in the preceding verse the state of being "under sin" is inclusive of both Jew and Gentile in Pauline writings (see especially Rom. 3:9).  Here's the passage:

"22 But the Scripture imprisoned everyone under sin [hupo hamartian], so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law [hupo nomon], imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed."

But how can Gentiles who are without law ("anomos", Rom. 2:12) be under the law?  The answer is that if sin is a transgression of the law then being "under sin" means that one is subject to a penalty for transgressing an applicable law.

We have to remember that things like Shabbat are written into creation and are universal to all mankind (see Isaiah 66:23).  There is one standard for man because, ab initio, G-d intended mankind to become one--even as He is One.  


  1. Under the law is the opposite of under grace. Period.

    The woman dragged out for judgment and stoning was "under the law", the woman who left forgiven was "under grace".

    Everyone is "under the law" until he is "under grace"

  2. It seems possible that the passage should be interpreted not personally, but collectively, describing the experience of the community. It could thus be that it looks back from the perspective of the revealed redemption in Messiah to earlier generations, in which this redemption was not yet known as it is now. It may thus be that all believers are included in this expression "under [the] law", not only the Jews but the Gentiles also, since the Gentiles have become Covenant members in and through Messiah (cf. Gal. 3:29).

    So my tentative approach would be to read this passage as dealing with the redeemed community as a whole, and take it as looking back from the present viewpoint to former generations of this community.

    Just as in Paul's reference to "our fathers" which were "under the cloud" in I Cor. 10:1 the word "our" can be applied to Gentiles, since they are ingrafted, so it seems that the "we" in Gal. 3:23 includes the Gentile believers, since it relates to a former historical stage of this same community of which they now are members.