Vol.XIX No.II Pg.4
April 1982

Robertson On "The Law"

Robert F. Turner

Careful Bible students have long recognized a problem in the use of the article "the" before "law" in passages where the interpretation may vary, depending on the presence or absence of that article. (See quote in P.T., V.17, N.4, from A. Campbell.) Unfortunately, the translators seem to have been a bit arbitrary by inserting "the" in many places where no article exists in the Greek text. We give below some quotes from Grammar of the Greek N.T., by A.T. Robertson.

"The article is associated with gesture and aids in pointing out like an index finger ... Whenever the Greek article occurs, the object is certainly definite. When it is not used, the object may or may not be...

The translators of the King James version, under the influence of the Vulgate, handle the Greek article loosely and inaccurately. A goodly list of such sins is given in "The Revision of the N.T." (Lightfoot, Ellicott, Trench), such as 'a pinnacle' for to pterugion (Matt. 4:5). Here the whole point lies in the article, the wing of the Temple overlooking the abyss. So in Matt. 5:1 to oros was the mountain right at hand, not 'a mountain.' On the other hand, the King James translators missed the point of meta gunaikos (Jn. 4:27) when they said 'the woman." It was 'a woman,' any woman, not the particular woman in question." (Page 756.)

Regarding "law" (nomos) Robertson is a bit inconsistent. In his large Grammar he says, "Nomos is a word that is used with a deal of freedom by Paul. In general when nomos is anarthrous (without the article, rt) in Paul it refers to the Mosaic law, as in Rom. 2:17.... It is at least problematical whether nomos in 2:13... means the Mosaic law and so really definite, or law as law (the hearers of law, the doers of law)." (p.796)

But in Robertson's Word Studies, in Romans and Galatians, he recognizes the absence of the article as indicating law generally ("any law" he says); so he does not stick to his statement that Paul's anarthrous law refers to Moses' law. Actually, the context determines these matters in many cases — especially in Romans and Galatians. Note Romans 3:20-21, the K.J., with "the" inserted or removed according to Nestle's Greek text.

"Therefore by deeds of law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by law is knowledge of sin. But now righteous of God without law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets."

Justification (being pronounced 'free of guilt') is not on a law basis ("for all have sinned..."v.23) and law (any law) only makes sin the more apparent (v.19, 5:20, 7:13); but God's plan for righteousness is one of mercy, redemption through Christ's death on our behalf (v.24-25), so that we who are less than perfect may be forgiven-- pronounced free of guilt. And this plan was "witnessed by the law" (of Moses) and the prophets of old. There is no less "law" (necessity for obedience) in Christ than in Moses, but the "curse" of a law system which demanded perfection (Gal. 3:10 is replaced by mercy, as the law testified.