How do we know that the word “Law” in the NT is referring to the Mosaic
Law? Also does baptism equateto circumcision?


I want to suggest you do your own additional research on this topic, as I
cannot claim to be an expert on this. Let me share with you what I have
learned when I studied out the question of the use of the word law in the
Old Testament. The answer is that the word law in the New Testament
sometimes refers definitely to the law given to Moses on Mt.Sinai, but it
sometimes refers to law in a more general sense. When looking for a quick
answer, I have found it useful to look at the translation. As a general
rule, when the translator uses the phrase “the law” that translator has
interpreted the original as a reference to the Law of Moses. When the
translator leaves off the definite article “the” and simply translates the
Greek as “law,” then it is a reference to law in general. I believe this
will answer the great majority of questions with regard to the meaning of
law in the New Testament. In addition, I suggest you look at the
context. I believe that the context will answer most questions of whether
the author is referring to law in general or the Law of Moses. For
example, Acts 22:12 describes Ananias as a devout observer of the law.
Both the context and my little rule lead me to believe this is talking
about the Law of Moses. Other examples (and there are a lot of these)
include Matthew 5:17, Luke 10:26, John 1:17, Romans 2:12, 1 Corinthians
9:20, Galatians 2:16, Philippians 3:5 and Hebrews 8:4. As an example of
the second rule, in Romans 7:21 Paul says, “I find this law at work:
When?. In this case both my suggested rule and the context tell me he is
talking about another “law;” not the Law of Moses.

There are exceptions to the rule I proposed. These exceptions tell me
that it is ultimately the context which determines the interpretation.
Romans 8:2 says that “the law of life set me free from the law of sin and
death.” Both of the uses of law in this passage refer to a different law
from the Law of Moses, as shown from the context. The second phrase is a
good example for us to think about. Is “the law of sin and death” a
reference to the Law of Moses? One could argue that the Law of Moses is a
law of sin and death. In Leviticus 18:5, God tells his people concerning
the Law of Moses, “Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them
will live by them.” Nevertheless, I believe that the law of sin and death
is one which applies to all peoples, regardless of whether they have
submitted to the Mosaic law of not. In addition, the phrase “the law of
life” is certainly not a reference to the Law of Moses. By the principle
of parallelism, I believe this implies the second reference to the law of
sin and death is also a general law, not a reference to Sinai. This is an
example of a use of “law” about which it is debatable whether it is a
reference to the Law of Moses. Let me give one more debatable example.
Romans 7:2 says, “For example, by law a married woman is bound to her
husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released
from the law of marriage.” Here the phrases “law” and “the law” seem to
be used interchangeably. Is this a reference to regulations on marriage in
the Law of Moses, or is it a reference to a more general law on marriage?
My opinion is that it is about the Law of Moses. I reach this conclusion
from the context of Romans chapter seven. However, I am not completely
convinced of this conclusion.

Let me make a suggestion. What you might want to do is a word study on the
word law in the New Testament. Find several passages which unambiguously
use the law as a reference to the Law of Moses (that will be easy!). Next,
find several passages which use the word law without the definite article
which are plainly a reference to a general law; not the Law of Moses.
Finally, find a few passages which, based on the rule above and the
context are at least somewhat debatable. Take some time to reach your own
conclusion on these passages. Hopefully, you will have trained yourself
how to think about this interesting question. You may want to use a
commentary or two to check your personal conclusions against that of an

About circumcision. No, baptism does not equate to circumcision.
Circumcision is an Old Testament foreshadow (or type) of baptism, but it
definitely is not equivalent to baptism. You may want to get a copy of my
book From Shadow to Reality (, as it goes into
considerable detail about the role of types and foreshadows in the Old
Testament. Colossians 2:11-12 clearly identifies circumcision as a type of
baptism. It tells followers of Christ that they were circumcised with a
spiritual circumcision, which is baptism. There are parallels between
circumcision, but there are also sharp distinctions. This is a general
rule for foreshadows in the Old Testament. For example, both circumcision
and baptism are a way to become one of God?s chosen people. Both are done
to the person, not by the person, and are therefore not works of
righteousness. Having said that, there are striking differences. First,
circumcision does not involve the personal choice of the person being
circumcised. It is not done because of faith on the part of the
recipient. Baptism definitely involves choice on the part of the
participant and faith in the power of God (Coll 2:12) is a factor in what
happens to the person in baptism. Circumcision was for infants at the
time of their physical birth. Baptism is for adults, occurring at the
time of their spiritual birth. I believe it is important for us to say
things carefully. There is a sense in which circumcision is equivalent to
baptism, but it is preferable to say that it is the Old Testament type of

John Oakes, PhD

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