Follower of The Way

Barcellos on Calvin on the Law

Posted in Christian Theology by sosipater on November 27, 2007

Over at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies blog Rich Barcellos has been enlightening us on Calvin’s thoughts on the Law, particularly the Three-Fold Use and the Decalogue. Awesome stuff. Here are the links. I’ll link to the Decalogue posts next time.

I. Calvin on the Three-Fold Division of the Law.

It is important to understand that, for Calvin, the three-fold division of the law is hermeneutically and theologically necessary because of the first advent of Christ and the redemptive-historical implications of the New Covenant for biblical law. Since the coming of Christ the whole Old Testament Law still functions, though not in the same way as before. The abrogation of certain functions of the law does not abrogate all uses of the law. In the words of Wendel, “…the Law was not in itself abrogated by the Christ, but only the slavery and malediction attaching to it under the ancient Covenant. Christians therefore remain subject to the Law, but not in the same way as the Jews used to be” (Ibid., 203).

II. Calvin on the Three-Fold use of the Law (I).

III. Calvin on the Three-Fold use of the Law (II).

IV. Calvin on the Three-Fold use of the Law (III).

V. Calvin on the Three-Fold use of the Law (IV).

VI. Calvin on the Three-Fold use of the Law (IV-Part II).

It is vital to understand that Calvin clearly taught a doctrine of abrogation or fulfillment of law under the New Covenant. However, his view of abrogation was qualified very carefully to protect the normative use of the Moral Law for believers. Niesel says:

…Calvin does not teach in the strict sense an abolition of the law. In this regard he is at one with the New Testament witness. …while we are free from the curse and compulsion of the law, from its ceremonies and political ordinances, we remain bound to its inner content. (Niesel, Theology, 100)

VII. Calvin on the Three-Fold use of the Law (IV – Part III).

Consequently Paul, to prove their observance not only superfluous but also harmful, teaches that they are shadows whose substance exists for us in Christ [Col. 2:17]. Thus we see that in their abolition the truth shines forth better than if they, still far off and as if veiled, figured the Christ, who was already plainly revealed himself. …Let it be regarded as a fact that, although the rights of the law have ceased to be observed, by their termination one may better recognize how useful they were before the coming of Christ, who in abrogating their use has by his death sealed their force and effect. (Calvin, Institutes, 364, 365)

We may say that for Calvin, the Ceremonial Law has been abrogated in use but not in effect and the Moral Law has been abrogated in effect but not in use.


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