The relationship between Law and Gospel—God's Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ—is a major topic
in Lutheran theology. In its tradition, the distinction between the doctrines of Law, which demands obedience to God's ethical will, and Gospel, which promises the forgiveness of sins in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ, is critical. It is used as a hermeneutical principle of biblical interpretation and a guiding principle in homiletics (sermon composition) and pastoral care. It is the super-session of the Old Covenant (including traditional Jewish law, or halakha) by the New Covenant and Christian theology.
Martin Luther and Lutheran theologians Edit
A specific formulation of the distinction of Law and Gospel was first brought to the attention of the Christian Church by Martin Luther (1483–1546), and laid down as the foundation of evangelical Lutheran biblical exegesis and exposition in Article 4 of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531): "All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal.". TheFormula of Concord likewise affirmed this distinction in Article V, where it states: "We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be maintained in the Church with great diligence..."
Martin Luther wrote: "Hence, whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture." Throughout the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy (1580–1713) this hermeneutical discipline was considered foundational and important by Lutheran theologians.
This distinction was the first article in Patrick`s Places (1528) by Patrick Hamilton.
Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm "C.F.W." Walther (1811–1887), who was the first (and third) president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, renewed interest in and attention to this theological skill in his evening lectures at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis 1884-85.
Book of Concord Edit
main article: Lutheran ConfessionsThe Formula of Concord distinguished three uses, or purposes, in the Law in Article VI. It states: "[T]he Law was given to men for three reasons. . ."
- that "thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]"
- that "men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins"
- that "after they are regenerate. . .they might. . .have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life"
The primary concern was to maintain that the Law should continue to be used by Christians after they had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to counter the doctrine of Johannes Agricola, who taught that the Law was no longer needed by regenerate Christians." Confessional Lutheranism teaches that the Law cannot be used to deny the Gospel, neither can the Gospel be used to deny God's Law.
The three uses of the Law are:
- Curb - Through fear of punishment, the Law keeps the sinful nature of both Christians and non-Christians under check. This does not stop sin, since the sin is already committed when the heart desires to do what is wrong, yet it does stop the open outbreak of sin that will do even further damage.
- Mirror - The Law serves as a perfect reflection of what God created the human heart and life to be. It shows anyone who compares his/her life to God's requirement for perfection that he/she is sinful.
- Guide - This use of the law that applies only to Christians. The law becomes the believer's helper. Empowered by the gospel truth of forgiveness and righteousness in Christ, the believer's new self eagerly desires to live to please the Triune God.