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Monday, May 7

“Law” or “the Law” (Rom 6:15)

We all know that Greek uses ὁ differently than English uses “the.” In fact, I am hesitant to even talk about the Greek definite article, since ὁ functions so differently much of the time.

One of the more difficult constructions is the prepositional phrase where ὁ is regularly omitted. In fact, when you see ὁ before the object of the preposition, it should make you sit up and take notice.

But knowing when to include “the” is a matter of exegesis, and sometimes it can be tricky.

In Rom 3:21, “the” clearly needs to be added. “But now apart from the law (χωρὶς νόμου) the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” (NIV). Apart for the NRSV, all major translations see that Paul is speaking of “the” Mosaic covenant.

But in Rom 6:15, it is a little more difficult. Paul concludes his prior argument by saying, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law (ὑπὸ νόμον), but under grace. ” He then starts a new but related argument with, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law (ὑπὸ νόμον) but under grace (ὑπὸ χάριν)? By no means!” (NIV).

In both these cases, there is no ὁ in the prepositional phrase. And it is certainly possible that Paul is thinking of the Mosaic covenant (see Moo’s commentary, KJV, NLT). But if you check the other translations, you can see there are other interpretations. The ESV reads, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (see also the NASB, NRSV, HCSB, NET).

The question, though, is whether this makes a difference. What would “law” mean rather than “the law”? I suspect that either way “law” is the Mosaic covenant, but omitting “the” does leave the door open for other options.

As always, exegetical decisions are based on context and, if applicable, one’s theology.