Letter The

Letter The, a term used especially by the apostle Paul in opposition to the spirit; a way of speaking very common in the ecclesiastical style (Ro 2:27,29; Ro 7:6; 2Co 3:6-7). In general, the word letter (γράμμα) is used to denote the Mosaic law. The law, considered as a simple collection of precepts, is but a dead form, which can indeed command obedience, but cannot awaken love. This distinction is shown with great skill in Schleiermacher's Sermon: Christus, d. Befreier a. d. Sunde u. d. Gesetz (in his Sämmt. Werke, 2:25 sq.). The law cannot but be something outward, which, as the expression of another's will, appeals more to our comprehension than to our will or to our feelings. This is the reason why the law is the source of the knowledge of sin, and does not impart the life- giving power. But that the Mosaic law was called the letter (γράμμα) results from the fact of its being the written law. So Ro 2:27,29: "And shall not uncircumcision, which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God." The meaning of this passage is, When the heathen does by nature that which the law requires, he puts to shame the Jew who in Scripture and by circumcision transgresses the law. For he is not a true Israelite who is so outwardly only, and merely through physical circumcision (as the sign of the covenant); but he only who is inwardly a Jew, his heart also being circumcised, and consequently after the spirit, and not merely after the letter (or outward form). Such a one is not merely praised by men, but loved by God. Again, Ro 7:6: "But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." Being now Christians, we ought to carry the law in our heart, and not merely fulfill it outwardly as a mere letter. 2Co 3:6, for the letter (i.e. the Mosaic law) killeth (brings about death inasmuch as it discovers sin, Ro 7:9; Ro 6:23; 1Co 15:56), but the Spirit (the holy Spirit imparted through faith) giveth life (i.e.eternal life, Ro 8:10). Once more, 2Co 3:7: "But if the ministration of death (of the letter), written and engraven in stoies, was glorious . . . how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious?" The law of Moses is incapable of giving life to the soul, and justifying before God those who are most servilely addicted to the literal observance of it. These things caln be effected only by means of the Gospel of Christ, and of that Spirit of truth and holiness which attends it, ands makes it effectual to the salvation of the soul. — Krehl, Neu-Test. Handwörterbuch. SEE LAW OF MOSES.

Definition of letter

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

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