The Bible is clear that the law does not itself bring death. Rather it is sin working through the good law that brings death. The Bible repeatedly affirms that the law was and still is ‘good’ and ‘glorious’. And it cautions in the strongest way through language such as ‘God forbid!’ or ‘By no means!’ not to think that the law is bad or produces death in us.
I think the following is the only verse that combines the words ‘law’ and ‘death’.
Rom 8:2 ESV For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
Does this verse really say that the law brings death or ministers death (as 2 Corinthians 3 describes it) to the sinner?
First, note that the law referred to in this passage is called the law of ‘sin and death’. It is not just the law of death but is also the law of ‘sin’. This is helpful because we are explicitly told in the previous chapter that “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! ” (Rom 7:7)
Paul, in the strongest possible way, affirms that the law is not sin. So Romans 7.7 alone is sufficient to conclusively say that Romans 8.2 is not referring to God’s law when it refers to the ‘law of sin and death’.
But what about ‘death’. Is God’s law a ‘law of death’. Again, the previous chapter clarifies what the Apostle means when he uses language that seems to suggest that the law produces death.
Rom 7:13 ESV Did that which is good [the law], then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
Paul again, in the strongest possible way, declares that the law did not ‘bring death to me’. Rather, it was sin that produced death through ‘what is good’.
What about the law being a ‘ministry of death’.
2Co 3:6-9 ESV who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (7) Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, (8) will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? (9) For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.
First, the Apostle Paul did not perceive the law of God as something bad when he described the ten commandments as the ‘ministry of death’. This description seems to be a very negative way of presenting the law. Yet, in this same passage Paul describes the law as ‘glorious’ no less than four times:
2Co 3:7-11 NKJV But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, (8) how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? (9) For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. (10) For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. (11) For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
Four times the Apostle declares that the law was ‘glorious’ or had ‘glory’. He contrasts the glorious law with the ministry of the Spirit which ‘had much more glory’. This is not a contrast between ‘bad’ and ‘good’. It is a contrast between ‘good’ and ‘best’.
So, does this ‘gloriously good’ law bring death? The Apostle Paul here uses the same type of language he used in Romans. So it is quite reasonable to assume that his explanation of the workings of the law in Romans 7 are also applicable here. That is, yes, in one sense the law brings death. But more explicitly, sin brings death through the law. This is what Romans emphatically states:
Rom 7:13 ESV Did that which is good [the law], then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good,
This can be understood better by analogy. Is it correct to say that ‘the sword brings death’? In one sense it is correct – the sword definitely kills. But the sword does not operate on its own. The sword is not bad and there is no inherit evil in the sword. It is the man, through the use of the sword, who brings death. This is a more complete explanation of how the sword kills. So when Paul says ‘the letter [law]’ kills he really means that ‘sin produces death through the letter [law]’.
In summary, the Bible is clear that the law does not itself bring death. Rather it is sin working through the good law that brings death. The Bible repeatedly affirms that the law was and still is ‘good’ and ‘glorious’. And it cautions in the strongest way through language such as ‘God forbid!’ or ‘By no means!’ not to think that the law is bad or produces death in us.