In the Bible, there is a particular phrase “the law of Christ” that is used two and only two times. No more. It would seem like this would be the sort of phrase that would be found scattered all over the various books and epistles in the Bible, but it is not. It is found only twice.
So where are those two places where this phrase found?
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
“To those without the Law I became like one without the Law (though I am not outside the law of God but am under the law of Christ), to win those without the Law” (1 Corinthians 9:21).
Now given that the phrase is used only twice and that too in such thought provoking ways, the question naturally arises as to what it means. So what does “Law of Christ” mean anyway?
I am leafing through a commentary on Galatians by Douglas Moo. In Moo’s discussion of the passage, he lists out two major ways in which the phrase has been variously interpreted. In looking over the list, I suppose you could say that the “Law of Christ” has been understood as either
(LoC1) having something to do with the Law of Moses
(LoC2) having somethings to do with the Jesus Christ, Himself.
So lets look at what these are as per Moo’s commentary.
Re: (LoC1) – Something to do with the Law of Moses.
The Law of Moses basically refers to the the Torah (i.e. the Pentateuch). It is referring to all those commands that you find in the first five books of the Bible especially those seen in the latter part of Exodus, then in Leviticus, Numbers and then in Deuteronomy. If you flip through these books you will see various laws governing sacrifices, tithing, food laws, what kind of fabrics to mix or not mix and so on.
So according to one major interpretation, the Law of Christ is basically be identified with the Law of Moses. So Law of Christ = Law of Moses.
The next way is distinct from the what I just discussed (LoC1) in that it has nothing to do with the Law of Moses.
Re: (LoC2) – Somethings to do with the Person of Jesus Christ.
~ Note that I said “something-s” not something as in LoC1. Moo here lists out three different ways that the Law of Christ has been interpreted such that it relates to the person of Jesus Christ. Here they are:
(1) The Law of Christ is referring to the famous love command which Jesus said was what was at the heart of the Law. The apostle Paul mentions it in Galatians.
~~~> For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:14).
And … You can find variations of it all over the New Testament. For example,
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another” (John 13:34).
(2) The Law of Christ is referring to the various ethical teachings of Jesus.
~ These would be things like the Golden Rule or love for your enemies, judging others and so on.
(3) The Law of Christ is referring to Jesus example.
~ So you look at all the good things that Jesus did during His life and follow suite. So you feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and so on.
(4) The Law of Christ is referring to some combination of (1) – (3).
~ Moo thinks that (4) is where it is at with the addition all the teachings and commandments of the inspired apostles. So we could say it is a (4)+.
Here is a quote from the book:
Moo states “At the risk, then, of “having one’s cake and eating it twice” (or three of four times), we think Paul’s phrase “the law of Christ” refers, in direct counterpart to “the law of Moses,” to the broadly ethical demand of the gospel.”