1 Timothy 1:9 (NKJV)

knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,

In the above text does the apostle Paul intimate that the "righteous" are released from the obligation to keep the law?

Is he saying that the law is not binding on the righteous or there is a different meaning altogether?

  • Possibly related: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/24994/…
    – Ruminator
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 14:06
  • He is saying that righteousness does not come via the law. So if a man be righteous, he has no need of it.It does not speak to him, He is not under it. It has no rule over him.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 20:00
  • What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 7:7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 20:51
  • Laws are redundant to the righteous, since they already possess a conscience, and do not need to be told explicitly that which they already know from within themselves.
    – Lucian
    Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 7:05

7 Answers 7


There is a different meaning altogether.

To arrive at that meaning we need to look elsewhere in Paul's writings. A great place to start is Romans, where Paul says,

. . . God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you (8:3-9 NASB, my emphasis).

Paul is not "down" on the law (or Law). Far from it. According to the new covenant in Jesus' blood, and with the aid of the indwelling Holy Spirit, each believer fulfills what the law justly requires of them.

This process is not a "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" effort; rather, it is a process by which the true believer, who has the Holy Spirit in residence in his or her life, does what the Law requires of them by living in the Spirit. Believers, in other words, have a new life in Christ, and Christ's life in them through their paraclete, the Holy Spirit, enables them to obey God's commandments.

Since believers, then, have new life in the Spirit, daily they are obligated and enabled to walk in the Spirit. Positionally, they have new life in the Spirit through the miracle of regeneration. Practically, they demonstrate new life in the Spirit by walking in the Spirit (Romans 8:4); being led of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 16:6); and by being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), to name but three biblical expressions concerning the believer's life in the Spirit.

In conclusion, the Ten Commandments are a given in the Christian life, regardless of person, time, place, and situation. They will never go out of style. True enough, Jesus expanded some of them by pairing anger with "thou shalt not kill" and lustful thoughts with "thou shalt not commit adultery," for example, but he did so neither to destroy the Law in general nor the Ten Commandments in particular; rather, he interpreted them in a way which was closer to the spirit of the law than to the letter of the law.

Interestingly but not coincidentally, the Holy Spirit is much more in tune with the spirit of the Law than he is to a slavish obedience to the letter of the Law!


As an example of what Paul is saying, consider the sixth commandment: Thou shalt not murder. Any community of people who are unaware of this law can be divided into two distinct groups: those who have no inclination to murder, and those who have varying degrees of inclination to murder, i.e. a price can be negotiated that will induce them to murder. enter image description here I have coloured the circles because I am aware of the Law, and those who have no inclination to murder are naturally righteous, and those who can be induced to murder are not.

Now, what purpose would be served by giving those in the green circle a law that says, "Thou shalt not murder!"? It would have zero impact on their inclination to murder. So, the law is given to those who are inclined to murder, to let them know that the Lawgiver values life, and it would please him if they did also.

Advertising the Lawgiver's pleasure to the citizens of the community (making a law) will create varying degrees of conflict within them, proportional to their respect for the Lawgiver and the degree to which they are inclined to murder. This conflict affords each citizen the opportunity to choose to pursue the Lawgiver's pleasure (righteousness) or their own pleasure (sin).


The illustration above is a simple scenario involving one law, which would get exponentially more complex as the number of laws increase. However, it serves to illustrate what Paul is saying.

The righteous are not released from the Law, they are bound to it by natural inclination. Telling them not to do something they have no inclination to do, or to do something they are naturally inclined to do anyway, is pointless.

The Law is for the unrighteous.

  • 1
    An alternative phrasing might be, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick"... Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 19:13
  • @PeterTaylor Indeed! The "sick" is probably a better analogy than "murderers". Trust Jesus to have used such an example.
    – enegue
    Commented Apr 11, 2018 at 1:51

As @rhetorician above nicely put it, Paul must imply the new ontological condition of Christians with whom God is in a totally new relationship of an intimacy and innateness never dreamed before even by highest of the prophets and even highest of the angels: in the deepest recesses of our hearts the Son's (Col 1:29) and the Spirit's (Romans 8:15) divinizing or deifying activity, through which we are able and entitled to call God - "Father", as His sons by adoption, and, thus, inheritors of His, His Son's and His Spirit's eternal Kingdom, and thus, making us, created and temporal beings, partakers of uncreatedness and eternity.

Thus as there is no law for God, so there is no law for His sons, in whom there is His activity with their free and desiring co-activity or synergy (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9), which is conceived by them not as an obedience of a restrictive law, but as a beatitude of bearing sweet burden and light yoke (Matt. 11:30).

Will not it be utterly stupid to say to Romeo in his highest point of infatuation with Juliet, "you shall not cheat on Juliet"? Thousand times more stupid will be to say to a believer in whose heart Christ works and who thus is being divinized "you shall not desire your neighbor's donkey", and indeed, for such believers in whom God's Spirit bears fruits of "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control - there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23).


There is a translation issue that impacts our ability to get at what Paul is saying. The NKJV, like the KJV, NIV and NASB has "was not made for". Others have "was not enacted for". This, I believe, misses the point. In fact, Paul sees the purpose for the giving of the law to be to turn sins into transgressions (Gal 3:19). But Paul is not actually commenting here about the purpose for which the law was enacted but rather how it may be legitimately used:

Berean Study Bible 1 Timothy 1:8 Now we know that the Law is good, if one uses it legitimately.

The word he uses is not "made" but κεῖται which has the sense of being "laid against":

2Ma 4:11  And the royal privileges granted of special favour to the Jews by the means of John the father of Eupolemus, who went ambassador to Rome for amity and aid, he took away; and putting down the governments which were according to the law, he brought up new customs against [κεῖται, "laid against"] the law:

2Ma 4:11  καὶ τὰ κείμενα τοῖς Ιουδαίοις φιλάνθρωπα βασιλικὰ διὰ Ιωάννου τοῦ πατρὸς Εὐπολέμου τοῦ ποιησαμένου τὴν πρεσβείαν ὑπὲρ φιλίας καὶ συμμαχίας πρὸς τοὺς Ῥωμαίους παρώσας καὶ τὰς μὲν νομίμους καταλύων πολιτείας παρανόμους ἐθισμοὺς ἐκαίνιζεν.

So Paul's point is that the law is not intended to be cast blame on a righteous man. That is not the purpose, intent or lawful use of the law.

In effect Paul is pleading the correctness of "jury nullification" which is a little known aspect of American jurisprudence:


That is, Paul discounts the claims of law laid contrary to a righteous man.

NIV Psalm 94: 20Can a corrupt throne be allied with you— a throne that brings on misery by its decrees? 21The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. 22But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.

NIV Romans 8: 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

NIV Galatians 5: 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.


Ecclesiastes 3:16 What is more, I have seen that [as an unbreakable rule] where there is a place of judgement, there is wickedness—wherever there is justice, there is wickedness.

St. Paul is probably writing along these same lines.

Justice makes no sense where there is no actualized evil (justice being the good, i.e. fair, reaction to evil). Where there is said to be justice, there is an implied lack of it elsewhere or before it is accomplished. Where there is a law against sin, there are people sinning or prone to sin for whom it is given to convict them (Rom 3:20b). This is why the Law ought never really to apply to believers.

St. Paul's point here is that the law reminds one that what one is doing is wrong, which ought not to apply to believers who are to live a life deliberately avoiding wrong at all costs (Mt 5:29-30), not constantly needing reminded of it (Rom 6:17-18).

St. Paul is not saying believers may transgress the law now without consequence or anything like that (Rom 6:16b). If anything, New Covenant Law, the law of Christ is a higher calling (Mt 5:27-28), and breaking it brings worse than mere bodily death (Heb 10:28-30).


In the N.T. a righteous person is someone who is saved by grace, that person is no longer under the penalty of the law. All the penalties have been fulfilled by Jesus' work on the Cross. We who were once known as (lawless, insubordinate, ungodly, sinners, unholy, profane, murderers, manslayers) are no longer titled as such by God. This is why it is incorrect for someone who is saved, to refer to themselves as a "sinner, saved by grace." In God's eyes, the moment He saves someone, they are no longer titled a "sinner," they are "righteous". Even if a saved person sins, that title is never again recognized by God.


Paul is not implying that the righteous are released from keeping the law. What he is implying is that the righteous are natural keepers of the law, through faith in Jesus Christ; i.e. in the crucifixion of our flesh according to the, on Golgatha, prescribed remedy.

The Ten Commandments concerns wrong conduct and applies to wrongdoers, of which category we all either belong to, or once belonged to. The righteous don't need this law in a punitive way, but it is still helpful as a memorative yardstick of continuous righteous living.

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