It seems to me that in various theological discussions, both within Reformed theology and between Reformed and, for instance, Lutherans, there is a great deal of confusion and equivocation regarding the term "law." This is with regard to the law as a general category and with reference to specialized uses of the term in Scripture to refer primarily to the Mosaic administration. For some theologians "law" seems to refer to any patterned way of life, while for others it remains tied up with notions of merit.
I have no intention of resolving those issues, but I offer the following as perhaps some thoughts along the way.
First, even within western history the term "law" has shifted in meaning and context a number of times. German, English, and Roman law traditions are significantly different. Moreover, the Christian tradition of "natural law" is that of an eschatologically directed and creaturely participation in the mind of God in his providential ordering of the cosmos. And in the modern world, "law" has other connotations, particularly in societies in which the roles of law-maker, king-deliverer, and judge have been so carefully separated (unlike, for instance, ancient Israel).
Second, the biblical usage of the term appears to be predominantly a redemptive-historical one, referring primarily to a particular phase of history, from Moses
to Christ. Over against much of Second Temple Judaism which saw "Law" as eternal (Sir 24:9, 33; Bar 4:1; Wis 18:4; Jub 16:29; 31:32; 32:10, etc), Paul specifically targets his language: "before
the law was given...there was no law" (Rom 5:13), "the law, which came 430 years afterwards
" (Gal 3:17), etc.
As such, "law" (at least in Paul) is equivalent, more or less to "Torah," though the rite of circumcision given to Abraham seems to function as a proleptic administration of Torah (or else much of Galatians doesn't make sense). I don't see the New Testament usage as really mapping onto the usage you find either in traditional Lutheran or Reformed dogmatics in which "Law" becomes a kind of abstraction that is opposed to "Gospel" and/or something that even Adam had and/or a moral order that is supposed to be rooted in the very nature of things and divine holiness.
Third, within modern philosophical assumptions, "law" takes the form of principles that emerge from some kind of "social contract." Moreover, while that contract is seen as rooted in human nature, the notion of "nature" has shifted towards that of a static structure of sheer self-preservation in which individuals, agonistically differentiated from one another, surrender natural rights in order to impose an order upon themselves that is ultimately alien to their condition. Thus, "law" takes on the connotation of an imposed, external constraint.
My reading of the New Testament and some of the Christian tradition leads me away from the "legal" as any kind of primary category for the conduct of Christians (and thus I see "antinomianism" vs "pronomianism" as a false antithesis). One can approach this from two directions.
First, within the human realm, the Bible indicates that, for those of us in Christ, we are not subject to human law qua
law and that there is some basis for the notion of human law as an imposed restraint. Thus, human law is an inadequate analogue for God's relationship to persons in Christ.
For those who do good, Paul says, human authority poses no threat (Ro 13). Similarly, Peter urges his readers to live as people who are "free" from human authority, but not to abuse that freedom, instead pursuing what is good (1 Pe 2:11-17). There is a cooperation with human authorities in both Paul and Peter, but not in subjection to human law itself, but as a matter of who we are in Christ.
Thus Augustine, in his On Free Choice of the Will
rightly writes, "those who cleave to the eternal law by their good will have no need of the temporal law," for it is "by fear that the temporal law coerces human beings and bends the souls of its subjects in whatever direction it pleases" (1.15).
Second, there is a distinction running through Paul at least between "the law" or "law-keeping" (on one hand) and the "righteous requirements of the law" or "fulfilling the law" (on the other). Thus, Gentiles who do not by nature have the law, can nevertheless end up doing "what the law requires" (Ro 2:14). Likewise, the Spirit has been given so that the "righteous requirement of the law be fulfilled in us" insofar as we are in Christ (Ro 8:4). Thus Christ is the "end" of the law, both in the sense of it being directed towards him and his being the completion of its purpose (Ro 10:4). Thus, in Christ, we fulfill the law through love (Rom 13:10). This same dynamic appears in Galatians, I think, most apparently in the opposition between law or flesh over against faith working through love or walking by the Spirit.
Aquinas explicates the "natural law" with a similar dynamic. He speaks of the habit of what he calls "synteresis
" as a natural (naturaliter
) habit of the reason that "contains the precepts of the natural law which are the first principles of human action" (ST
Ia IIae, q.94, a.1 and 2). Though, for Aquinas, natural law is, as I noted above, a creaturely participation in the mind of God and not really a "legal" notion in any normal, let alone modern sense of the term.
Thus, Aquinas asserts that practical reason is unable to make prudential use of "synteresis
" apart from grace through the gift of faith. Consequently, prudence is expressed and animated by the Christian virtue of charity, enabling a kind of liberty of conscience apart from a legalistic framework. Grace, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, empowers a person to act freely and spontaneously in regard to everything required by faith working in love, liberating the individual from any further obligation. Moreover, with right conscience it is possible, says Aquinas, to possess a degree of "probable certitude" (probabilis certitudo
) regarding ethical decision-making (ST
IIa IIae, q.70, a.2), inspiring a kind of humble moral confidence, built upon faith and in reliance upon the Spirit's gifts.
I find this a fairly reasonable gloss on some of the concerns of the New Testament, even if it is not the only or necessarily the best way of accounting for the biblical data. In any case, all of this leaves us with the question of the function of "law" in Scripture and for Christians.
I do think Adam was given a law, as is proper for children. But through his faith in the promises of God, Adam would have died to that law and been raised to new and mature eschatological life, beyond law, in the Spirit. While this is not obvious from the text of Genesis, I think the overall biblical picture allows us to re-read Genesis in light of the later trajectory and its fulfillment in Christ. I can argue for this in more detail, but will refrain from doing so here at the moment.
From this perspective, however, it is clear that the "law" (in the sense of Torah) does in some was recapitulate the Adamic situation since, as Paul says, from Adam to Moses there was not a transgression that was like that of Adam (Rom 5). This is the correct insight that is contained in the view that Moses was a "republication" of the covenant with Adam. Both Adam and Israel failed to fulfill the law through the "law of love" (Paul's ironic turn of phrase), by laying down their lives for the other: for Eve in the face of the serpent, in the case of Adam, and for the nations in the face of idolatry, in the case of Israel.
The biblical category that is more fundamental than that of "law," it seems to me, is the category of "righteousness." The theme of the "righteousness" or "justice" of God in Romans functions against the background of the OT problematics of God's promises of vindication in the face of a law that provokes Israel, again and again, to recapitulate the transgression of Adam. But it also functions against the backdrop of Roman overly-legal notions of "justice," implicitly critiquing human law (which is why Paul must write Ro 13, in order to stave off "anarchistic" misunderstandings).
The point is that God's righteousness is one that goes beyond law, not only fulfilling and exhausting the temporary purposes of law, but bringing Christ and humanity with him, to a life and righteousness that goes beyond law, since no law could ever bring life qua
law (not in the Garden, not in Israel; Gal 3:21).
Doubtless, much more can be said, but I'm groping towards a better understanding of Scripture myself, in conversation with my own traditon and, I hope, that of the wider church.