Thursday: Fulfilling the Whole Law
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How do you reconcile Paul’s negative comments about “do[ing] the whole law” (Gal. 5:3) with his positive statement about “fulfill[ing] all the law” (Gal. 5:14)? Compare Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10, 12; 5:3 with Rom. 8:4; 13:8; Gal. 5:14. 1

Many have seen the contrast between Paul’s negative comments about “doing the whole law” and his positive assertions about “fulfilling the whole law” as paradoxical. They really aren’t. The solution lies in the fact that Paul intentionally uses each phrase to make an important distinction between two different ways of defining Christian behavior in relation to the law. For example, it is significant that when Paul refers positively to Christian observance of the law he never describes it as “doing the law.” He reserves that phrase to refer solely to the misguided behavior of those who are living under the law and are trying to earn God’s approval by “doing” what the law commands.

This is not to imply that those who have found salvation in Christ do not obey. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul says they “fulfill” the law. He means that true Christian behavior is much more than the outward obedience of just “doing” the law; it “fulfills” the law. Paul uses the word fulfill because it goes far beyond just “doing.” This type of obedience is rooted in Jesus (see Matt. 5:17). It is not an abandonment of the law, nor a reduction of the law only to love, but it is the way through which the believer could experience the true intent and meaning of the whole law!

Where, according to Paul, is the full meaning of the law found? Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:31, 33; Matt. 19:19; Rom. 13:9; James 2:8.



Although it is a quotation from Leviticus, Paul’s statement in Galatians is ultimately rooted in Jesus’ use of Leviticus 19:18. Jesus, however, was not the only Jewish teacher to refer to Leviticus 19:18 as a summary of the whole law. Rabbi Hillel, who lived about a generation before Jesus, said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole law.” But Jesus’ perspective radically was different (Matt. 7:12). Not only is it more positive, but it also demonstrates that law and love are not incompatible. Without love, the law is empty and cold; without law, love has no direction.

What’s easier, and why: to love others, or simply to obey the Ten Commandments? Bring your answer to class.

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Thursday: Fulfilling the Whole Law — 6 Comments

  1. As I looked at Lev 19:18 I began to realize something that I had known for some time. The Jews build a social wall around themselves which excluded everyone they thought was undesirable. To them the gentiles were unclean, the sick and diseased were cursed by God, and women were not to be trusted especially in spiritual things because of what happened in the Garden of Eden. All of this came through when I considered the entire text the lesson was saying was important in the minds of the people of the first century.

    “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:18 NKJV). The command has to do with “the children of your people.” Naturally the Jews thought that it didn’t apply to those outside their group but Jesus taught differently.

    Luke tells of a confrontation that Jesus faced with a particular lawyer which included the text in question.

    “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’
    26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’ But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:25-29 NKJV).

    At that point Jesus began to explain what it means to love your neighbor and told the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable both the priest and the Levite didn’t do anything while a man outside their group, a dreaded Samaritan who was in their sight worse than a gentile, turn out to be the real neighbor.

    In reading this I realized that while Lev 19:18 was exclusive Jesus applied it inclusively. He expanded the meaning of Lev 19:18 beyond the borders it originally intended which is what He did with many of the commandments (Mat 5:21-37).

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    • Hi, Tyler. I appreciate your thoughts. Your idea about Jesus expanding the meaning beyond the original intent has me musing. That's because it was Jehovah God who gave the law through Moses, and this Jehovah God was undoubtedly the pre-incarnate Christ. Nevertheless, I think that you are probably right. God was leading His people along, step by step, progressively revealing more of His will. With the more perfect revelation of His character, as manifested in His incarnate Son, He was surely in a position to expect more from His people. Do you agree?

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      • Yes I do agree, R.G. The thing that got me thinking along that line was the wording of Lev 19:18 which to me seems to limit the phrase "love your neighbor" to Israel.

        Actually there is a lot in the Bible that shows the concept of progressive revelation. I once knew a person that did a paper on that with the idea that God was treating Israel like a small child and as the child grew the discipline along with the revelation matured. Finally it peaked with the revelation of Jesus as the manifestation of God in Heaven.

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  2. I appreciate this idea. I agree with the "expansion" idea. I have heard a sermon or two regarding how the entire Bible is the expansion of "God is love." He created us and we are to have His love in our lives. Then they further explained that it was expanded to "love God and love our neighbor." Then we have the 10 commandments that detail more how to love God and how to love our neighbor. Then the rest of the Bible goes into more detail about what that entails. Then the writings given us through the prophets and Mrs. White are still just further expansion of this first original expression. I appreciate the thought that there are no new principles given through the SOP writings, just expansions and details to what God has given us in His Holy Word the Bible. We are so blessed that He is guiding us like little children as you mentioned (as He has done all his people.) He loves us so much. As we continue to recognize His loving guidance, His amazing care and provision, His mind-boggling perfect Character, we fall so deeply in love with Him that we realize that all of His "commands" are only dictates of love to protect us and bring us into protection from sin and hurt. God is so amazingly wonderful! I praise Him for continuing to expand and explain His love for us and how it should be reflected in our lives towards Him and our neighbor. "Hello, neighbors!" Anyone that reads this is my neighbor.

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    • Thank you for your comment, Tamara. If we constantly kept in mind that the love of God is the foundation of His government and His law, we would have a very different idea of what it means to keep the Law of God. Anything less than the self-renouncing love that Christ modeled is not "keeping" the Law of God. And that's why it impossible to keep God's Law on our own. Only in surrender to Christ can we learn to keep His law. (See also my post on the topic of God's Law.)

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  3. I see that Gal. 5:14 addresses a point often brought up on this blog -- that Paul is writing only about the ceremonial law.

    Notice what Paul says:
    For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Gal. 5:14 NKJV

    This is clearly the moral law not the ceremonial law. Then in the rest of the section, he exhorts believers to "walk in the Spirit" because of the "fruits" it brings into the life. And against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:16-25)

    His argument here reinforces the argument that the Law was the schoolmaster till Christ should come, because Christ exemplified the spiritual nature of the Law, which goes much deeper than the letter. This argument also reinforces his argument in the letter to the Romans, where he wrote "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Rom. 10:4 NKJV) The word translated "end" here is telos which also means "goal." So what Paul is saying that the goal of the Law was to bring us to Christ and that Christ is the fulfillment or "goal" of the Law. Thus a faith relationship with Christ "fulfills" the aims of the Law.

    That does not result in a lawless life style but in a life that demonstrates the fruit of the spirit. (Gal. 5:22-23)

    Thank God for His wonderful provisions!

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