The Uses of the Law

When the Reformed and Lutheran scholastics talked about God’s moral law (lex moralis), they taught that there are three basic uses of the law (usus legis).  They are:

1) The civil use (usus politicus sive civilis).  That is, the law serves the commonwealth or body politic as a force to restrain sin.  This falls under the general revelation (revelatio generalis) discussion in most of the scholastics as well as natural law (cf. Rom 1-2).

2) The pedagogical use (usus elenchticus sive paedagogicus).  That is, the law also shows people their sin and points them to mercy and grace outside of themselves.  In Muller’s summary, this is “the use of the law for the confrontation and refutation of sin and for the purpose of pointing the way to Christ” (p. 320).  This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 2-4.

3) The normative use (usus didacticus sive normativus).  That is, this use of the law is for those who trust in Christ and have been saved through faith apart from works.  It “acts as a norm of conduct, freely accepted by those in whom  the grace of God works the good” (p. 321).  This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 32-52.

Note: “In this model, Christ appears as the finis legis, or end of the law, both in the sense that the usus paedagogicus leads to Christ as to a goal and in the sense that the usus normativus has become a possibility for man only because Christ has fulfilled the law in himself” (Ibid.).  In other words, in both the pedagogical use and the normative use Christ is central as the one who has saved his people from the law’s demands and the one who has merited the gift of Spirit-wrought obedience.

You can read a bit more in Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 thoughts on “The Uses of the Law”

  1. […] To sum it up, it needs to be clear that this use of the law – the pedagogical use – was stressed in both Reformed and Lutheran circles (i.e. the sharp law/gospel distinction had to do with justification sola fide).  Also, it is true that the Reformed also had a “normative” use of the law, as is evident in the third part of the Heidelberg, the guide for Christian gratitude (the law as guide had to do with sanctification).  One can even find Luther[ans] speaking of the normative use, though he/they didn’t stress it as much as the pedagogical.  [For a review on the Reformed scholastic three uses of the law, see an earlier post.] […]


  2. […] June 29, 2010 by Tim Prussic So many folks, when speaking about the law of God, want to paint it all one way or all another. They want it to be all our enemy or all our friend. As an enemy, the law of God shows us our impossible failings and sins. It drives us to our knees before a holy God. It ruins and destroys us, for it shows us to be miserable sinners. This “use” of the law is often called the “first use” of the law or the “pedagogical use” of the law. The friendliness of the law shows us the way of blessing. In this conception, the law reveals good things to us, as it shows us what pleases God and how we are to behave. This “use” of the law is sometimes called the “third use,” or the “normative use” of the law. (The “second,” or “civil use” of the law is one by which evil is restrained in society generally by threat of divine recompense and judgment. Sometimes the numbering of these uses differs, but the three distinct notions are all there, as I mentioned back here. Also, Reformed Reader has this.) […]


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