1 Timothy 1:9 begins:

We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful...

Does "the righteous" refer to those perhaps justified/transformed by the gospel? Or is it a tongue-in-cheek expression here, referring to the "righteous" whose hearts are too hard (similar to Jesus' use of the term when he says he has "not come to call the righteous but the sick")?

  • You offer two possibilities in your question but leave out the plain meaning that it is simply a straw man. The point is his audience is not righteous, no one is. But he saying it a bit indirectly. "righteous people don't need the law, but wait God did give you the law, so what does that say about you?"
    – Joshua
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


The righteous Paul wrote of in 1 Tim 1:9 are those justified and transformed by the gospel of Christ. Some may be taken back by Paul's use of the word "righteous" because of Romans 3:10. But in light of Paul's other teachings in Romans, and how Christ's righteousness becomes the believer's by imputation, it's not difficult to understand a child of God who has been reckoned/declared righteous being referred to as righteous.

Of course when Abel is called righteous in Matthew 23:35, we understand it was a righteousness reckoned to him by God and not a result of his good works.

so that on you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (Matt 23:35 NET)

In 1 Tim 1:8 Paul wrote: 1Ti 1:8 But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;

I prefer the NIV's rendering of this verse because it avoids confusion: We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.

The law's proper use, as Paul expounded on in Romans and Galatians, would lead man to Christ because of our inability to properly follows the law's commands (something the listed transgressors of verses 9 and 10 should take heed to). That's why Paul spends some time rebuking those who considered themselves teachers of the law (verse 5,6) when they knew not its proper use and as a result became vain talkers.


The answer can be found by reading 1 Timothy 1:9 in context:

1 Timothy 1:5-9: Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling [meaningless talk]; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers . . .

The author of 1 Timothy wants to emphasise charity and unfeigned faith, but finds that some have turned aside from these noble objectives and seek merely to impose their understanding of the law on those who have done no wrong - the righteous. He says the law properly, or lawfully, used is for lawbreakers and should not be used to frustrate the righteous.

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