by Matt Slick
What does it mean to be under the law? First of all, the Law consists of the do's and don'ts of moral and civil behavior (613 total) that is revealed in the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. To be under the Law means that the Law has jurisdiction and authority over a person to judge and condemn. If such a person breaks the Law (sins, 1 John 3:4), then there is a necessary judgment and condemnation based on the Law. All law-breaking brings separation between God and the sinner (Isaiah 59:2) and results in death (Rom. 6:23). So, to be under the Law means that the person is obligated to keep that Law in all its aspects (Deut. 27:26); and if he does not, the Law condemns him. The problem is that we are not able to keep the Law perfectly, and any infraction results in a necessary judgment. Therefore, no one is able to be justified by keeping the Law because no one can keep it perfectly.
The phrase "under the law" in English occurs 11 times in the NASB. 1 Cor. 9:21 refers to "under the law of Christ," so it is not speaking of being under the Old Testament Law and will not be considered. That leaves ten occurances. Let's take a look at the following verses from the NASB, with a brief Greek analysis after each.
- Rom. 2:12, "For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law," (ἐν νόμῳ, en nomo, literally 'in law').
- Rom. 3:19, "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God," (ἐν τῷ νόμῳ, en to nomo, literally 'in the law').
- 1 Cor. 9:20, "And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law," (ὑπὸ νόμον, hupo nomon, literally 'under law' for all 4 occurrences).
- 1 Cor. 9:21, "to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law," (ἔννομος, ennomos, literally 'within law').
- Gal. 3:23, "But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed," (ὑπὸ νόμον, hupo nomon, literally 'under law').
- Gal. 4:4, "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law," (ὑπὸ νόμον, hupo nomon, literally 'under law').
- Gal. 4:5, "in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons," (ὑπὸ νόμον, hupo nomon, literally 'under law').
- Gal. 5:18, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law," (ὑπὸ νόμον, hupo nomon, literally 'under law').
To be under the Law means that a person is under the power and authority of the Law to judge and condemn a person who breaks that Law.
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