Ten Commandments

Law and Gospel: Looking at the Big Picture

The biblical teaching on “the law” and “the gospel” is massive. And contrary to what some may think, these concepts are fairly complex. They can’t be reduced to a plaque on the wall with the Ten Commandments or a paper tract with Four Easy Steps on how to become a Christian. Instead, law and gospel each have a fairly expansive range of meaning. Broadly considered, they overlap and are interrelated. More narrowly viewed, they’re distinct. In Part 1 of our study, I’d like to examine these concepts more broadly and show how they’re related. Then we’ll narrow our focus in Part 2, noting the ways in which law and gospel are distinct.

Law and Gospel: The Big Picture

According to Michael Horton, “Everything in the Bible that reveals God’s moral expectations is law and everything in the Bible that reveals God’s saving purposes and acts is gospel.”1 So the “law” is what God expects us to do, and the gospel is what God plans and accomplishes on our behalf.

We’ll come back to this definition when we consider law and gospel in narrow focus. For now, I want to suggest that Horton’s definition of “law and gospel” is much narrower than the picture given us in Scripture. In reality, the concepts of law and gospel are much broader and more flexible concepts.

A Biblical Portrait of the Law

In Scripture the term “law” (Hebrew: תורה/Greek: νόμος) is used in several different ways. For example, it may refer to the Decalogue:

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