Law And Grace: Have We Made Enemies Out Of Friends? (john 1.16-18)

16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

From the first century on, the Christian believers continued to debate, mostly with each other, the importance of the Mosaic Law. While both vs.16 and vs.18 have much that is important and certainly worth being discussed at length, we will concentrate on vs. 17 – “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

As the Protestant Christian movement emerged, one of the biggest disagreements between those who would one day become Protestants, and those would remain Roman Catholic was the issue of the function of the law in the life of the believer.

Two of the four most important theological shortcut phrases of Reformation were “by faith alone” and “by Christ alone.” These phrases indicated how one was “saved” from God’s eternal judgment.  The intention was to highlight “Faith alone” as opposed to “faith and good works of the believers” and “by Christ alone” as opposed to “by Christ and good works of the believers.”

This conflict between Protestants and Catholics was, some scholars asserted,[1] later read back into the Pauline writings and projected back into Paul’s own words and critique of Judaism. The argument was simply that Paul had wholly different concerns and therefore did not mean to say what he was interpreted to say.  The present commentator is not fully persuaded that this was indeed the case, at least to the degree to which N.T. Wright and others have argued. However, it is true that sometime after, the emphasis on the juxtaposition of Law and Grace became dominant. The opposite of Grace became Law, the opposite of Law, perhaps, naturally by now became Grace.[2]

In all reality the opposite of “law” was never “grace”, but “lawlessness”. Just as the opposite of “grace” was – “disgrace”.

For better or for worse, post-Reformation Christians have begun to emphasize this juxtaposition in their teaching (though it actually did not reflect the views of the key Reformers). This juxtaposition many of them argued was Paul’s directive. This, “Paul’s directive,” was then indiscriminately read into other books of New Testament collection, including the Gospel of John that we’re studying.

So, for example, some important versions of English Bible translations (King James Version[3] and the New Living Translation[4]) insert the additional word “but.” This word is  not present in the Greek text that highlights this juxtaposition in John 1.17.  Moreover, even when the translations used do not add the word “but” (see the English Standard Version quoted above) the verse is normally understood as if the “but” was implied.

The Torah, he stated, came through Moses. “Grace and Truth” came through Jesus Christ. Now… do your best not to read “grace and truth” as the opposite of anything. And, if we can do this, then perhaps, we can track the author’s logic in a different trajectory than we usually follow.

So, once again, the Bible does not need to be rewritten, but it does need to be reread.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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[1] This concept is called the New Perspective on Paul. Read N.T. Wrights paper here.

[2] In reality the opposite of Grace should have always been disgrace, while the opposite of the concept of law should have always been the concept of lawlessness.

[3] For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

[4] For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.

[5] Jesus as second Moses is a widely used and well-known theme in Christian writings

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  1. Eric Rodríguez

    This is easy: Torah, “The Law” is the minimum expression of the grace, minimum which many times is sufficiently great for persons when aren’t real God’s fearers. Torah is a delight, I can’t understand how many Christian teachers can say that Torah was abolished. The Law was given through Mosheh, and the grace(his development and greatest expression/fulfilment), came through Yehoshúa’ the Messiah. Since ever, salvation and justification were through the Merciful of God, which created a Sacrificial system to teach about the future real Process of redemption (The Work of Yehoshúa’ The Messiah )

  2. Jerry Christensen

    Certainly the apostles wrestled with what laws the Gentile believers should be asked to observe. Should it be only the Noahide laws, or the full Torah. For the first century Jewish believers, being Torah observant was not even an issue. The phrase “I desire mercy (chesed) rather than sacrifice”, has a meaning much different than common Christian understanding. One understanding of Chesed, I understand, is “deeds of devotion”. Certainly today’s Hasidim (Chesedim) would not feel released from observing Torah. Every time Jesus started a sentence with “You have heard it said, …..” he called us to an even higher level of observance. So, we’re still faced with the same question. What benchmark should Christians be measured by?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think your own point about Noahite laws show that there are different bench marks for Jewish Jesus people and Gentile Jesus people so to speak.

      1. Jerry Christensen

        I can accept that, but I’m not sure it is what Jesus envisioned. Several places he comes down in very strong support of full Torah observance. Then there’s John 10:16. I have other sheep seems to refer to gentiles. Not of this fold would seem to imply the people of Israel. But then he says one fold and one shepherd. What was Jesus envisioning when he said that? Clearly we have departed from that. It existed for a short time, but faded. I understand your “friends and enemies” comment referred to the terms of law and grace, but it has divided Jews and Christians too often when we should have been friends.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Jerry, as you continue to trace my thinking on the possible connection of John and the Israelite Samaritans you will see that I take very unorthodox view of John 10 :-). I do not think that the sheep of the other fold refer to Gentiles at all!

          I think that it talks about the symbolic representative of the Northern Tribes (Northern and Southern Kingdom) – the Samaritans and others like them, Galilean Jews. What Paul said about Gentiles in Eph.2 is enough not to worry about the first class citizenship of Gentiles in God’s Kingdom.

          Jesus in John is portrait as Israel’s ultimate king the Good Shepherd who UNITEDS the northern and Southern tribes of Israel.

          I know this is radical… perhaps, too radical. But one must not imagine Israel’s King (Messiah) leaving Israel UN-united.

          1. Jerry Christensen

            That is an excellent point. Although when we consider G-d’s promises to His chosen people Israel, do you think He makes a distinction between the divided kingdoms?

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            I think from the language of many promises (do a concordance search) it is obvious that that is so. (It is fully ignored in traditional christian interpretations).

  3. Luis Reinaldo Bernal

    To understand what you need to know in the Torah and the Gospels podirle Jehovah required of us by his Holy Spirit.
    with love

    Para poder entender lo que se necesita saber en la Torá y los evangelios se requiere podirle a Jehová que nos de de su Santo Espíritu.
    Con amor

  4. Hope

    I just learned that the law is not “void” this last year, and now I can see all over how grace and law work as friends! I have learned so much more just by having my eyes opened to that simple truth! The whole Bible then becomes much more exciting! I wish everyone could see that Truth! But I believe that God is opening our eyes to this truth in these days in which we are nearing the “in that day” prophecies’ fulfillment!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Welcome aboard, Hope!

  5. Benjamin Cook

    Romans 3:31 Do we make void the Torah through the faith? Elohim forbid We establish the Torah!
    There are MANY verses that tell us to keep Torah mathew 5:17 Rev 12:17 rev 14:12 1 john 2:4,
    Great Post Doctor!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks, Ben.

  6. Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg


  7. Peter

    Oh, something else on this issue of translations making things fit theology… Just for fun most people can see how the word “chesed” is traditionally rendered in best Christian translations of the O.T. There is usually a number of flowery English choices but never “grace”. (I realize that this is not the exact equivalent, “chen” being a closer concept). Curiously the same word makes it to LXX, turns Greek and then gets quoted in the NT and there it is always translated as “grace”. Curious? But there is no grace (in English) in the O.T. 🙂

    1. Rein de Wit

      I count 37 times the word grace [chen] and 27 the word gracious [also chen] in the KJV.

  8. Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    I think it was Charles Spurgeon who when asked, “how do you reconcile Law and Grace in Paul?”, answered: “I do not have a habit of reconciling friends”. 🙂

    1. Rein de Wit

      Love that! And so true!

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        Dear Rein, thanks for your comments. Keep them coming as you read through the material. I asked Peter to respond to your comment to his 🙂

  9. Peter

    I allays thought that this must be a very confusing passage for Christians who consider grace and law as opposite and not complimentary concepts. The phrase “grace upon grace” is clearly explained and elaborated upon in following words i.e. law was grace and Jesus brought grace. Very confusing if one holds these ideas as “enemies”.

  10. eli

    As always the first couple of people to give a response to this post should be given the awards for being brave! 🙂