Thoughts on the Way Home

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Newness of the Spirit" Vs. "Oldness of the Letter" - John Murray


But now we have been released from the Law,
having died to that by which we were bound,
so that we serve in newness of the Spirit
and not in oldness of the letter. Romans 7:6

"Newness of the Spirit" as contrasted with "oldness of the letter" is not the contrast which we often draw between the "letter" and the "spirit", as when we distinguish between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Neither is it a contrast between the "literal" sense and the "spiritual" sense. "Newness of the Spirit" is a reference to the Holy Spirit and the newness is that which the Holy Spirit effects. Grammatically, it may be the newness which consists in the Holy Spirit. "The oldness of the letter" refers to the law, and the law is called the letter because it was written. The writing may refer to the two tables of stone on which the ten commandments were written or to the fact of the law as contained in Scripture. It is law simply as written that is characterized as oldness and the oldness consists in the law.

This is apparent not only from the context where the apostle has been dealing with the powerlessness of the law to deliver from sin and the confirmation it adds to our servitude but also from the parallel passage in II Cor. 3:6. The contrast there between the letter and the Spirit is the contrast between the law and the gospel, and when Paul says "the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive", the letter is shown by the context to refer to that which was engraven on stones, the law delivered by Moses, and the Spirit is the Spirit of the Lord (vs. 17). The thought is, therefore, that, having died to the law and having been thus discharged from it, believers no longer serve in the servitude which law ministers but in the newness of the liberty of which the Holy Spirit is the author (cf. Gal. 3:3).

-John Murray, Epistle to the Romans, pg. 246-7