Not Under The Mosaic Covenant 2

 

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Bible teachers who argue non-Israelite Christians should obey certain aspects of the Mosaic Law, claim Deuteronomy 30:1-14, Psalm 19:7, 111:7-8, 119:144, 119:160, Isaiah 2:1-4, Micah 4:1-3, Ezekiel 11:17-20, 36:24-28, Malachi 3:6, Matthew 5:17-19, 19:16-21, 24:20-21, Mark 10:17-21, Luke 18:18-23, Acts 16:3, 18:21, 20:16, 21:20, 21:26, 22:12, 23:2, 25:8, Romans 3:31, 7:21, 8:3-4, 13:8-10, Ephesians 6:1-3, Hebrews 8:7-13, 10:16, James 1:17, 1:25, 2:10, 2:12, 1 Peter 1:16 and verses on the Passover Feast support this. So let us examine each of the verses or passages[1]:

 

Old Testament verses

 

Deuteronomy 30:1-14 contains a prophecy about how the Israelites could in the then-future return to God from their sins after being punished by Him through being scattered among the nations. Deuteronomy 30:6 may relate to the New Covenant because of its similarity to Jeremiah 32:39-40. But note even if Deuteronomy 30:1-14 does partly relate to the New Covenant, it refers to Israelites and not non-Israelites.

Psalm 19:7 says, “the Law of the Lord is perfect”. When assuming this verse is referring to the Mosaic Law, some Bible teachers say that if the Mosaic Law is perfect, God would not replace the Mosaic Law with something else. In Hebrew, the word “perfect” in Psalm 19:7 is “tamim”. This is the same word used in Deuteronomy 32:4, 2 Samuel 22:31 and Psalm 18:30 about God’s perfection. But note the same Hebrew word is used in Genesis 6:9, 17:1, Deuteronomy 18:13, Psalm 101:2 and 101:6 in the sense of the blamelessness of imperfect people. Because “tamim” can relate to something of less than absolute perfection, we can regard the use of the word “tamim” in Psalm 19:7 as meaning something less than absolutely perfect if it is referring to the Mosaic Law.

Remember Hebrew 8:7-8, says God found fault with the Mosaic Covenant and Law. This does not mean the commandments about loving God and loving our neighbours found in the Mosaic Covenant and Law had faults. But it does mean that the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Covenant and Law were ineffective in themselves. Also as Romans 8:3 reveals, because of the sinfulness of human nature, the Mosaic Law could not achieve what Christ's death did. Further evidence of faults in the Mosaic Law can be seen in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-8 which will be commented on later.

We can argue also that the expression “the Law of the Lord” in Psalm 19:7 refers to the broader Law of God written on conscience – the two love laws and their specific applications. If this is the true meaning of the verse, them “tamim” here can refer to absolute perfection.

Isaiah 2:1-4 is a prophecy about “the latter days”. There is much debate about what this expression means. One view says it refers to the future millennial reign of Christ on Earth. Another view suggests it refers to the time just before Christ returns to Earth. Yet another view argues that it is symbolically being fulfilled at present. Whatever the case, the expression “the law” here does not have to refer to the Mosaic Law. It refers to the Law of Christ or God’s two love commands or God’s relevant commands for the specific time period.

In Hebrew, the word “law” used in Isaiah 2:3 is “torah” and is the same word used in Genesis 26:5 which says Abraham obeyed all God’s laws. Some may take Romans 5:13 to mean there was no operation of the broader Law of God written on conscience prior to the giving of the written Law through Moses. But this is wrong. In Romans 2:14-15, Paul stresses that the Law of God written on conscience will condemn at all times all unbelievers who did not know the teachings of the written Mosaic Law.

Christ is God and God gave the Mosaic Law. Therefore, the latter was given by Christ also. But in 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 Paul does distinguish between the Mosaic Law and Christ’s Law. Paul uses different titles for them, even though Christ gave them both.

Micah 4:1-3 contains words which are almost identical to Isaiah 2:1-4. So my above comments to Isaiah 2:1-4 also apply to Micah 4:1-3.

We must be careful about using prophetic verses from the Old Testament which relate to the Mosaic Law operating in post-Old Testament times. For example, if we take Ezekiel 45:18-46:24 and Zechariah 14:18-19 literally to refer to now or to the Great Tribulation and/or Millennial reign of Christ on Earth, then we must conclude that God wants all New Covenant believers or just Israelite New Covenant believers to participate in the sin, burnt, peace and grain offerings, the Passover Festival (see Ezekiel 45:21), the New Moon celebrations (see Ezekiel 46:3 and 6), the Feast of Tabernacles (see Zechariah 14:18-19) and other feasts (see Ezekiel 46:11). But note this would be contrary to Hebrews 9:1-10:14, Galatians 4:9-10 and Colossians 2:14-17.

 

Jesus’ Words

 

Matthew 5:17-20 says: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the Kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Some may conclude Christ was here commanding New Covenant believers to obey the Law of Moses. But note the following points:

 

a) The verb “to fulfil” in Matthew 5:17 in Greek is a form of the word “pleroo” and has a number of possible meanings. Bauer said “pleroo” can be understood in Matthew 5:17 as meaning either: “‘fulfill’ = do, carry out, or as ‘bring to full expression’ = show it forth in its true meaning or as ‘fill up’ = complete”. [2]

In Matthew 1:22, 2:17, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 26:54, 26:56 and 27:9, Matthew uses forms of the word “pleroo” to mean doing or carrying out Old Testament prophecies. In Matthew 13:48 and 23:32, Matthew uses forms of the word “pleroo” to mean “fill up” or “full”. In Romans 15:19, Paul uses a form of the word “pleroo” to mean “bring (something) to completion, finish (something already begun)”. [3] Acts 12:25 contains a similar usage of a form of “pleroo” meaning “to finish an activity after having done everything involved.[4]

b) Matthew 5:17-19 teaches that Jesus Christ fulfilled or perfectly obeyed all of the moral and civil laws found in the Mosaic Covenant.

c) These verses also relate to Christ fulfilling the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law through His death and ministry.

d) Observe in verse 17, Jesus refers to the Law and the Prophets and not just the Law. Also note later in John 10:34 and 15:25, Christ referred to the Psalms as part of the Law. So when Christ mentioned “the Law and the Prophets” in verse 17 and “the Law” in verse 18, He was not referring just to the Mosaic Covenant and Law. Instead, He was talking about the whole Old Testament.

By referring to the whole Old Testament, Christ was saying all of God’s Covenants – the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and prophesised New Covenants and all of God’s eternal plans in relation to salvation by grace through faith, the final judgement and so on would be fulfilled through Him and His ministry.

The expression “the Law and the Prophets” is used in Matthew 7:12, 22:40, Luke 16:16, Acts 13:15, 24:14 and Romans 3:21. Acts 28:23 refers to “the Law of Moses and the Prophets”. Also, it is possible when Matthew 5:18 mentions “the law”, it is referring to all of the Old Testament and not just the Mosaic Law.

e) Because Matthew 5:17-19 relates to the whole Old Testament and not only the Mosaic Law, Matthew 5:17-19 relates to Jesus Christ fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament as a whole. In Matthew 11:13, Matthew used the expression “the Law and the Prophets” with the word “prophesied”. Matthew 11:13 refers to “the Law and the Prophets” prophesying “until the time of John” the Baptist. This does not mean the Law and the Prophets ceased prophesying after John the Baptist began his ministry. But this verse does emphasise the prophesying aspect of the Old Testament prior to John’s ministry.

f) Matthew 5:17-18 reveal as well that Jesus Christ fulfilled various aspects of the Abrahamic (see Genesis 12:3 and 22:18), Davidic (see 2 Samuel 7:1-16) and Mosaic Covenants.

g)    Matthew 5:17-19 also refers to the fact that Christ's teachings about His death, resurrection, life and eternal ministry are a fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. His teachings are recorded in the written Gospels and through the writings of His Apostles and other New Testament writers.

h)    Matthew 5:17-19 relates also to Jesus’ New Covenant commands being a deeper fulfilment of the Mosaic Law’s and other Old Testament’s commands about holy moral living. Verse 19 emphasises “commandments”. Also note Matthew uses the same expression “the Law and Prophets”, which he used in Matthew 5:17, again later in Matthew 7:12 and 22:40 to refer to God’s commandments.

The Mosaic Law and the commands of the rest of the Old Testament are based on the two great love commands (see Matthew 22:37-40). The Law of Christ and His other commands [5] are also based on the same love laws (see Matthew 10:37, John 13:34-35, 15:12, 1 John 4:7-5:4 and Galatians 6:2). Therefore, Jesus’ commands for New Covenant believers are in one sense a fulfilment of the commands of the Mosaic Law and Old Testament Prophets.

Also, Christ's teaching or the Law of Christ fulfils the Mosaic Law in the sense that some of the Mosaic commands were added by Christ and His Apostles to His commands for New Covenant believers. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are re-stated in the New Testament in a New Covenant context. These demands to avoid idolatry, murder, lying and so on are a partial fulfilment of the Mosaic Law.

The commandments of the Mosaic Law and of the Prophets pointed towards and were brought to their God-appointed fulfilment through the final revelation of His will found in the New Covenant. Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18 predicted that God would send the Prophet: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear…I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.” As this chief Prophet, Christ taught the true meaning of the teachings and prophecies of the Law and the Prophets and revealed their relationship to the prophesied New Covenant..

i) The prophecies and commands of the Old Testament – “the Law and the Prophets” – are fulfilled at different times throughout history. For example, the ceremonial commands of the Mosaic Law and many Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled at the time of Christ's death (see Hebrews 10:1-6, Luke 18:31, 24:27, 24:44, Acts 26:22-23 and 28:23). Other Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ are being fulfilled now by Him through His New Covenant ministry as King and Saviour. Other prophecies will be fulfilled by Him in future. 1 Corinthians 15:24 shows that Christ's ministry will continue until the final complete expression of God’s Kingdom occurs.

The moral commands of the Mosaic Law and the Prophets were in one sense fulfilled in the Law of Christ and Christ's instructions. But note even though New Covenant believers do not have to obey the ceremonial commands of the Mosaic Law because these are fulfilled in Christ, these commands are still operative in the sense they are to be taught as signs of Jesus’ death and its results (see Hebrews 10:1-14). Also the moral commands of the Mosaic Law are still operating in the sense they reveal unbelievers’ sins (see Romans 3:20, 7:7 and 7:13).

j) The idea Matthew 5:17-18 means Jesus Christ commanded New Covenant believers to obey all the Mosaic Law is contradicted by His Words in Matthew 5:31-32. In these verses, Christ changed one of the commands of the Mosaic Law related to divorce found in Deuteronomy 24:1. In Matthew 19:1-8, Christ revealed the lower standard of the Mosaic Law’s commandment about divorce was given only because of the hardness of the hearts of the unregenerated Jews to which it applied. Also note the command about divorce is part of the moral aspects of the Mosaic Law.

k) When Christ said, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandment and teaches men to do so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven”, He cannot mean New Covenant believers must obey and teach others to obey every command and statute in the Mosaic Law. This is because in Mark 7:18-19 Jesus repudiated the food laws of the Mosaic Covenant: “And He said to them, ‘Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?’ (Thus He declared all foods clean.)” (N.A.S.B.).

Also in 1 Corinthians 7:18, Paul taught that those who are uncircumcised prior to conversion should not for covenantal reasons be circumcised: “Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised.” Circumcision was not one of the least of the commandments of the Mosaic Law (see Leviticus 12:3). To be uncircumcised was to prevent oneself from being able to participate in the Passover Feast – a key feature of the Mosaic Covenant (see Exodus 12:44 and 48).

l) If verse 19’s comments about not breaking the least of these commandments refers to New Covenant Gentile believers obeying the Mosaic Law, this would mean all New Covenant believers must obey all the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law and the commands about stoning rebellious sons, men not clipping their beards or cutting the sides of their hair, women being unclean during their periods, stoning new brides who are not virgins and so on. Matthew 5:23-24 refers to the ceremonial law related to the altar in the Temple. Matthew 5:38 relates to the civil law justice principle of: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Matthew 5:23-24 and 38 relate to Matthew 5:17-20. So in context, Matthew 5:17-19 is not just referring to the Ten Commandments and other Mosaic moral laws.

m)  So the difficult question is what did Jesus mean when He said, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

 

The first view

One view suggests Christ was referring not to the Mosaic Law commandments but instead His own commandments given in the following verses – Matthew 5:21-7:27 – when He referred in verse 19 to “these commandments”. In Greek, the word “commandments” in this verse is a form of the word “entole”. “Entole” or forms of it are used by the Apostle John about Jesus’ commandments (see John 12:49, 12:50, 13:34 and 14:31) and God’s New Covenant commandments through Paul (see 1 Corinthians 14:37 and 1 Timothy 6:14) and through the Apostles (see 2 Peter 2:21 and 3:2).

But Matthew only uses the word “entole” in relation to the commands of the Mosaic Law (see Matthew 15:3, 15:6, 19:17, 22:36, 22:38 and 22:40). Also note because of Jesus’ usage of the word “therefore” in verse 19, this verse seems to be connected to His comments in verse 18 about the Mosaic Law.

Despite this, in His following Words in Matthew 5:21-7:27, Jesus continually said with authority “But I say to you” (see Matthew 5:20, 22, 26, 28, 32, 34, 39 and 44). Also, in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus taught His disciples that they must teach others to obey all He had commanded them. Matthew 28:20 records His Words: “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” In Greek, the expression “I have commanded” here is a form of the word “entello”. “Entello” is the word, from which the Greek word “entole” meaning “commandments” used in Matthew 5:19, is derived.

In Matthew 28:20, after His death and resurrection Jesus does not instruct His disciples to teach New Covenant believers to obey all of the commandments of the Mosaic Law. Instead He told them to teach others to obey all which He commanded. What the Apostles and other New Testament authors wrote are also reflections of what Jesus commanded. Jesus’ commandments are not the Mosaic Law but are fulfillments and completions of what the Mosaic Law commanded the nation of Israel prior to the New Covenant.

A partial though incomplete explanation of what Christ has done in relation to His New Covenant teachings about God’s Kingdom and its relationship to the Old Testament can be seen in Matthew 13:52: “And He said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old.’” (N.A.S.B.).

 

The second view

Another view argues that Matthew 5:19 refers only in its original context to Jewish believers in Christ. Proof of this is the fact Matthew 5:23-24 refers to the Mosaic ceremonial law commands found in Leviticus 23:38, Numbers 18:8-15 and 29 about bringing a gift to the altar at the Temple. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus said: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

 

The third view

A third view is that when Matthew 5:19 refers to “commandments”, it means the Ten Commandments and the other moral commands of the Mosaic Law, but not its civil and ceremonial commands. Note all of Matthew’s usages of the words “commandment” or “commandments” or “entole” in Greek in other parts of the Book of Matthew relate to the moral and not civil or ceremonial commands of the Mosaic Law (see Matthew 15:3, 15:6, 19:17, 22:36, 22:28 and 22:40). This view would say the Sabbath command of the Mosaic Law no longer applies to New Covenant believers because they have entered God’s eternal rest through Christ (see Hebrews 4:1-10).

One difficulty with this view is that in Jesus’ following Words in Matthew 5:21-48, He referred not just to the Ten Commandments and other moral commands of the Mosaic Law. He also referred to a ceremonial law (see Matthew 5:23-24) and to a civil law (see Matthew 5:38). Another problem with this view is the expression “one jot or one tittle will no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” refers to more than the Ten Commandments and moral aspects of the Mosaic Law.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:16-21, Mark 10:17-21 and Luke 18:18-23 do not teach New Covenant believers should obey the moral commands of the Mosaic Law. These verses instead record Jesus spoke these words to an unconverted Jew to show him how his own life was not conforming to God’s perfect standards and how he needed to surrender his life to Christ the Lord.

 

Romans 13:8-10 and Ephesians 6:1-3

 

Romans 13:8-10 says: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery’, ‘You shall not murder’, ‘You shall not steal’, ‘You shall not bear false witness’, ‘You shall not covet’, and if there is any other commandment, all are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” These verses are not teaching that we as New Covenant believers need to obey all of the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects of the Law. Instead, they are saying if we love others, we will have fulfilled the moral aspects of the Mosaic Covenant and Law.

Ephesians 6:1-3 does not show New Covenant believers have to obey the Mosaic Law. These verses instead reveal God has transferred this Old Covenant commandment into a New Covenant setting and has amended the promise attached to the command to suit the New Covenant setting. The promise in Ephesians 6:3 is: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” But originally in Exodus 20:12 to the Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant, God’s promise was: “that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you” and was therefore linked to the Promised Land of Canaan.

 

Hebrews

 

Hebrews 8:7-13 and 10:16 are quotes from Jeremiah’s prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34 about God putting His laws on the hearts of New Covenant believers. But note the original context of Jeremiah 31:31-34 refers only to the New Covenant which God would make with Israelites and Jews. There is no mention of non-Israelites in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Jeremiah 31:31 states: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”

Someone may argue Jeremiah 31:31 does not specifically mention a new law but instead refers to “My law” and Jews who read this in Jeremiah’s time would equate this with the Mosaic Law. But note some prophetic verses in the Old Testament could be easily misunderstood by those who did not have the greater revelation of the New Covenant. For example, many of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah were not fully understood prior to their fulfilment in Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 3:5). Therefore, because “My law” in Jeremiah 31:31 refers in context to the New Covenant, it is a prophetic reference to the Law of Christ and not the Mosaic Law.

The expression “My law” in Jeremiah 31:33 and its equivalent “My laws” in Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16 do not have to relate to the Mosaic Law. If these verses include Gentiles or non-Israelite New Covenant believers as part of the Israel of God (see Galatians 6:17), then these verses can easily be prophecies of the Law of Christ or God’s two love laws and their specific New Covenant applications. This is especially since Hebrews 7:11-12 says that the change of priesthood from the Levitical Mosaic Covenant type to the Melchizedek priesthood associated with Christ necessitated a change of the law: “Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.”

Ezekiel 11:19-20 and 36:24-28 also prophesied Jewish believers under the New Covenant would walk in God’s statutes and judgements. Note these verses do not in context relate to non-Israelite born-again believers in Christ. Also, these verses may refer to Jewish Christians obeying the Mosaic Law not as a means of salvation but as a fruit of saving faith. Or these verses may mean Jewish Christians would through the Holy Spirit obey the two love laws of Christ and would therefore fulfill the Law of Moses in the sense of Romans 13:8: “…for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:10 says: “love is the fulfilment of the law.”

When commenting on Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:24-28, Douglas Moo comments: “First, if Jeremiah and Ezekiel are thinking of the Mosaic law, there is no basis to confine the reference to only part of the law (e.g., the so-called moral law). Yet it is evident that the totality of the Mosaic law has not been reinstituted as an authoritive source of life in the new covenant – its laws pertaining to food, sacrifices, festivals, and civic matters are not binding on Christians (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:9-16; Hebrews, passim). Those who argue, then, that the Mosaic law continues intact in the new covenant must recognize that it does not continue without variation and modification. The writing of the law on the heart (Jer. 31:33) may indeed involve transformation of the actual content of the Mosaic law. Second, there are references in the prophets to a ‘tora’ (Law) that will be established in the last days and that probably does not refer to the Mosaic law as such (Isa. 2:3; 42:4; 51:4, 7. Mic. 4:2). This ‘Zion torah’, perhaps is to be understood as a fresh publication of God’s will for his people, in continuity with but not identical to the ‘Sinai torah’, may be what is envisaged in Jeremiah 31:33-34 and the Ezekiel texts. Another possibility is that the concept of ‘law’ has here come to have almost a ‘formal’ sense, denoting generally God’s will for his people. The point of Jeremiah, then, is that God would ensure that his will – not the Mosaic law as such, in its totality – would be carried out in the new covenant. In any case, there are solid grounds for thinking that Jeremiah’s ‘law written on the heart’ is not simply a reissue of the Mosaic law.

Within the manifest continuity of God’s plan for his people, then, there are also in the Old Testament clear indications of the discontinuity between the Sinaitic covenant and the way in which God’s promises are finally to be fulfilled in the ‘last days’. All Christian interpreters agree that this discontinuity embraces the Mosaic law in some sense. The question then becomes: How much is continued and how do we know what is continued and what is not?” (Bahnsen et al, page 346).

 

James

 

James 1:25 says: “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” Some may argue the expression “the perfect law of liberty” in this verse refers to the Mosaic Law. But note in the context of James 1:21-25, James shows “the perfect law of liberty” refers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and associated New Covenant teachings and love laws. Verse 21 says “receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls.” The Law of Moses cannot save us (see Acts 15:1-11). Verse 18 mentions receiving spiritual birth through “the Word of truth”. This is the same Word mentioned in James 1:21-25. We receive spiritual birth through the Gospel and not the Mosaic Law. So the Word of God spoken in James 1:21-25 cannot be the Mosaic Covenant and Law.

In James 2:12, James says people will be judged by the law of liberty: “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” Israelites will be judged by the Law of Moses (see Romans 2:12). But James is not referring to this here. He is instead relating to the fact people will be judged by whether they receive or reject Christ's Words or His Gospel.

In John 12:47-50, Jesus said: “And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told me, so I speak.”

In John 8:31-32, Christ referred to His own Gospel teachings and His associated love and other commands as the Word or truth which will bring liberty or freedom: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’.” In the above verses, Christ is not referring to the Law of Moses which Paul and Peter both refer to as yoke (see Galatians 5:1 and Acts 15:10).

Christ's teachings include some reapplications of some of the Mosaic Law commands about adultery, murder, divorce and an eye for an eye in a New Covenant context at a higher level of spirituality (see Matthew 5:21-32 and 5:38-42). Also His commands contain reapplications of the Mosaic Law commandments about loving God and loving others in the new context of born-again believers having the Spirit’s power to enable them to obey. These reapplications are part of what is called the Law of Christ.

James 2:8 refers to the “royal law”. But note this verse says this royal law is one command from the Mosaic Law. This one command was Leviticus 19:18. James 2:8 says: “If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’, you do well.” In James 2:10, James uses the expression “the whole law”. The context of James 2:10-11 is referring to the Mosaic Law.

You may think it strange James uses the word “law” in so many different ways. But note this is less than the many different usages Paul has for the same word. Refer to the section called “Many different New Testament definitions of ‘law’” in Chapter “God’s Law and Commands Under Different Covenants” for more details. In Romans 7:21-8:3, Paul uses the word “law” to mean many different things. He refers to the law of God (see 7:22 and 7:25), the law of sin in my members (7:23), the law of sin and death (7:25 and 8:2), the law of my mind (7:23) and the law of Moses (8:3).

There are connections between the “law of liberty” (the Gospel), the royal law of love and the Mosaic Law. For example, the Gospel of Jesus Christ shows how He has set us free from the curse of the Mosaic Law – death – and the sins which the Mosaic Law reveals (see Romans 8:2-3, Galatians 2:19-20, 3:13, Ephesians 2:14-15 and Colossians 2:13-17). Also the New Covenant Law of Christ or the two love laws are the basis of the Law of Moses (see Matthew 22:37-40). As well, nine of the Ten Commandments from the Mosaic Law are transferred to the New Covenant Law of Christ. The royal law to love others is one aspect of the Law of Christ. But this does not mean Paul and James taught that the Gospel and the Law of Christ are the same as the Mosaic Law.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Surely James would not call the Gospel and the associated New Covenant ‘the law of liberty’ when the Gospel is based on God’s grace and faith!” But note John 12:49, 12:50, 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17 refer to the Gospel as a command and in Romans 3:27, Paul speaks favourably of the “law of faith”. This does not mean the Gospel is a new form of legalism by which we can supposedly earn our salvation. Instead it means all humans are commanded to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This is similar to the “perfect law of liberty” of James 1:25 and 2:12. The Gospel is perfect and results in freedom from the rule of sin.

As a part of the perfect law of liberty, the Gospel is also a command to receive Christ. Also note “the law of faith” is not the means by which we earn salvation but is either the principle of faith or the fact the Mosaic Law reveals the impossibility of being justified by the Mosaic Law itself and therefore directs us to faith as the only means of being justified.

The “perfect law of liberty” of James 1:25 and “the law of liberty” of James 2:12 cannot refer to the Law of Moses because Peter in Acts 15:10 calls the Mosaic Law “a yoke on the neck”. Also in Galatians 5:1, Paul calls the Law of Moses “a yoke of bondage”. In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul relates the Mosaic Covenant and Law to being in bondage or slavery.

In Galatians 5:1 and 5:13 (twice), Paul uses the word “liberty” to refer to freedom from the Law of Moses. In Greek, the word “liberty” here is “eleutheria”. A form of “eleutheria” is used in Galatians 2:4 about the freedom believers have in Christ from having to be circumcised and having to obey the Law of Moses. In context, Galatians 2:1-10 refers to the events of Acts 15:1-28. In James 1:25 and 2:12, James used a form of the same word “eleutheria” in the expression “law of liberty”.

The purpose of James 2:10-11 was not to teach New Covenant believers to obey all the moral commands of the Mosaic Law. Instead these verses aim to show that even just one disobedience to the Mosaic Law makes the offender guilty of disobeying the whole Law.

 

Peter’s words

 

1 Peter 1:16 is a command for New Covenant believers: “because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” This verse is a quote from Leviticus 11:45 and 19:2 from the Mosaic Covenant. 1 Peter 1:16 is not a call to obey all of the teachings about holiness in the Mosaic Covenant. This is because the Leviticus 11:45 command to be holy is in the context of not eating various unclean animals. Observe these laws about not eating unclean animals have been cancelled under the New Covenant (see Mark 7:18-19, Colossians 2:16 and Hebrews 9:10).

Also note the Leviticus 19:2 command about being holy is stated in relation to obeying laws about giving peace offerings (see Leviticus 19:5-8), gathering gleanings of the harvest (see Leviticus 19:9-10), not sowing mixed seed in our fields (see Leviticus 19:19), giving trespass offerings (see Leviticus 19:21-22), not eating fruit from newly planted trees for the first 3 years (see Leviticus 19:23), giving all fruit from trees on the fourth year after planting to the Lord (see Leviticus 19:24) and not shaving around the sides of your head (see Leviticus 19:27). None of these laws are applicable to New Covenant believers.

 

Are the Passover and the Lord’s Supper the same?

 

One view suggests that the Lord’s Supper is the same as the Old Covenant Passover festival. The holders of this view say this shows New Covenant believers are expected to obey the Mosaic Law. But note the Passover had different features from the Lord’s Supper:

 

·         The Passover festival occurred in one month of the Hebrew calender (see Exodus 12:1-6, Numbers 9:1-3 and Deuteronomy 16:1-8). This was the month of Abib (see Deuteronomy 16:1). The Lord’s Supper can be commemorated at any time (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

·         The Passover involved sacrificing at twilight a yearling sheep or goat (see Exodus 12:3-6). Some of the blood from this sacrifice was placed on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses (see Exodus 12:7). The Israelites roasted the sheep or goat and then ate it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (see Exodus 12:8-9). Any remaining part had to be burned in the morning (see Exodus 12:10). The Israelites had to eat the sheep or goat in haste with a belt on their waists, sandals on their feet and a staff in their hand (see Exodus 12:11). The Lord’s Supper involved only eating the bread and drinking of the cup and none of these other Passover commands (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

·         Matthew 26:17-21 reveals that before His death, Jesus celebrated the Passover festival with His disciples. But note just after this, He instituted the Lord’s Supper (see Matthew 26:26-29). In this situation, Christ was establishing the Lord’s Supper as the New Covenant replacement for the Old Covenant Passover festival. This is similar to how water baptism is the sign of being under the New Covenant while physical circumcision is the sign of being under the Old Covenant (see Acts 2:41, 10:47-48 and Leviticus 12:3).

 

1 Corinthians 5:7 describes Jesus Christ as our “Passover Lamb”. But note Christ's death also fulfilled the Day of Atonement sacrifices and all other burnt, sin and guilt offerings specified in the Mosaic Law (see Hebrews 10:1-10). The Lord’s Supper commemorates all aspects of Jesus’ death and not just its Passover features.

 

Paul’s practices after conversion

 

Some Bible teachers argue Paul’s actions or words in Acts 16:3, 18:21, 20:16, 21:26, 22:12, 23:2 and 25:8 show he taught that he and both Jewish and non-Jewish believers under the New Covenant should still obey the Mosaic Law. Acts 16:3 records: “Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they knew that his father was Greek.” Note this verse says the only reason Paul had Timothy circumcised was “because of the Jews who were in that region”. Timothy had a Gentile father and a Jewish mother. Paul did not circumcise him out of a desire to obey the Law.

In Galatians 5:2-3, 6 and 11, Paul said: “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law…For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love…And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.” It is obvious from these verses, Paul did not believe in Christians being circumcised in relation to obeying the Mosaic Law. In Galatians 2:1-5, Paul reveals he did not have Titus, a Greek circumcised on their visit to Jerusalem.

In Acts 16:3, Paul was following his evangelistic principle found in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law towards Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker of it with you.” In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul states he was not under the Mosaic Law but only under the law of Christ. Also, he says he lived like a Jew at times to win the Jews to Christ. This explains why Paul allowed himself to follow some Mosaic Covenant practices related to the Nazirite vow (see Numbers 6:2, 13 and 18) at the advice of the elders of the Church at Jerusalem (see Acts 21:18-26). Note even in this situation, the Jewish elders of the Jerusalem Church said in Acts 21:25: “But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Acts 18:18 records Paul had chosen to take a similar vow earlier.

Acts 18:21 and 20:16 reveal Paul wanted to be in Jerusalem by the coming feast of Pentecost. Acts 18:21 states Paul wanted to keep this feast. But this verse does not say he wanted to participate in this feast as a part of some supposed required obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. He desired to be there probably because it was a good time to preach the Gospel. This is considering so many Jews from other countries would be in Jerusalem at the time, similar to when the Holy Spirit fell in Acts 2.

In Acts 23:3, Paul was challenging the hypocrisy of the High Priest. The High Priest tried to judge Paul by the Mosaic Law at the same time as disobeying the Law. Paul was not here teaching that New Covenant believers should obey the Mosaic Law.

In Acts 25:8, Paul said to Roman Governor Festus that Paul had not offended against the Law of Moses or Temple at Jerusalem: “while he answered for himself, ‘Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all’.” Paul was not here teaching he felt compelled to continue to obey the Mosaic Law and participate in all the ceremonial and sacrificial aspects related to the Temple in Jerusalem. Instead he believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ which he preached actually established the Law in the sense of:

 

·         Christ's death fulfilling the atoning ceremonial aspects of the Law.

·         Christ fulfilling the moral, civil and non-atoning ceremonial aspects of the Law.

·         by His Spirit, Christ enabling New Covenant believers to have His power to fulfil His two great love commands on which the whole Mosaic Law was based (see Matthew 22:37-40 and Romans 8:3-4).

 

These three things were basically what Paul meant in Romans 3:21 when he said: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.”

Verses such as Acts 18:13, 21:21 and 21:28 clearly indicate Paul was teaching a view of the Mosaic Law which both many Jewish Christians and unconverted Jews could not accept. Acts 21:20:21 records the words of the Jewish Christian elders at Jerusalem: “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to their customs.” Acts 21:28 records unbelieving Jews said, “This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the Law and this place.” The expression “this place” refers to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Note Stephen was accused by unbelieving Jews of speaking sinfully against the Temple and Mosaic Law also. Acts 6:13-14 records: “They also set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us’.” These unbelieving Jews successfully twisted Stephen’s words about the Temple and the Law partly because the Jews in general could not understand the Christian New Covenant attitude to the Law and the Temple. In Acts 6:14, the expression “the customs which Moses delivered to us” can include man-made oral Jewish religious traditions. But I believe it also includes the commands and statutes of the Mosaic Law.

 

Even as a Christian, Paul called himself “a Pharisee”

 

Acts 23:5-6 shows that even while being a Christian, Paul identified himself as a Pharisee when he was appearing before the Jewish ruling council: “Then Paul said, ‘I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people’. But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged’.” Here Paul was not saying he was still following the various unbiblical practices of the Pharisees which Jesus condemned in verses like Matthew 23:2-33, Mark 2:25-28, 7:6-13, 11:39-44, 16:14-15 and 18:9-14. Neither was he saying his primary loyalty was to the Pharisee sect instead of to Christ.

In Greek, the word “am” in the expression “I am a Pharisee” is present tense. So Paul was not saying here, “I used to be a Pharisee, but am no longer”. Instead, he was saying, “I am a Pharisee in an ongoing sense”. Paul had not renounced his belonging to the Pharisaic sect. This is because he wanted to minister the Gospel to them. But note he did not compromise in the slightest way with any of their false teachings and practices. Also in Philippians 3:3-11, he says all his Pharisaic training, circumcision, being a Hebrew by birth and blamelessness according to the Law were rubbish compared with knowing Jesus Christ and being in Him.

Possibly in some but obviously not all ways, Paul’s attitude to being a Pharisee is like his attitudes to the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law was good, holy and just (see Romans 7:12). But the Pharisaic sect taught a mixture of good Biblical things (see Matthew 23:3 and Acts 23:8) and unbiblical religious nonsense. So Paul’s attitude to the Law and to Pharisaism would not be exactly the same. But possibly his attitudes to both were similar in some ways.

 

Ananias

 

Ananias was the godly Jewish Christian believer who prayed for Paul to receive the Holy Spirit (see Acts 9:10-17). In Acts 22:12, Paul said Ananias was “a devout man according to the law having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there.” Some may argue this means all Jewish and non-Jewish Christians should obey the Mosaic Law.

But Acts 22:12 either confirms Jewish Christian believers should keep part of the Mosaic Law. Or it could mean prior to the Acts 15 Council at Jerusalem, the role of the Law in Christians’ lives was not clearly defined. Acts 22:12 would not mean Ananias was trying to be justified or eternally saved by obedience to the Mosaic Law. Trying to justified or saved in this way would be contrary to Acts 13:39, Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16 and 2:21. Also Acts 22:12 itself does not say Ananias was justified or declared righteous by obedience to the Law. In Greek, the word “devout” is “eulabes” which means “God-fearing” [6] or “careful as to the realization of the presence and claims of God, reverencing God”. [7]

It is possible Ananias had the revelation prior to Paul that believing Jews should keep the Law of Moses only as a means to minister to non-Christian Jews. Note prior to Paul’s time, Stephen was already being accused by the Jews of not being fully supportive of the Law and temple-worship (see Acts 6:8-14). So even prior to Paul’s conversion, Christian Jews were discussing whether they needed to obey the Law or not.

 

Jewish Christians who were ‘zealous for the Law’

 

Acts 21:20 says James and the other elders of the church at Jerusalem told Paul that multitudes of Jewish believers in Christ were “all zealous for the law”. Acts 21:21 shows the church elders were referring to the Mosaic Law here when they spoke of the Law. But note all these Christians were Jewish. So any one of the following alternatives may be true:

 

·         God wants Jewish believers in Christ to obey some aspects of the Mosaic Law as a fruit of their faith.

·         God inspired James, the elders of the Jerusalem Church and these myriads of Jewish believers to keep various aspects of the Mosaic Law as a means of evangelising other Jews. This is similar to what Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. They were not obeying the Mosaic Law for any other reason.

·         Acts 21:21-25 reveals only James, the elders of the Church at Jerusalem and more mature Jewish believers, similar to the previously martyred Stephen, understood that both Jewish and Gentile believers do not have to obey the Law of Moses. These verses show James and the elders at Jerusalem had a similar attitude to Paul about how believing Jews should minister to other Jews. But the myriads of other Jewish believers mentioned in Acts 21:20 still did not have a full revelation of their freedom in Christ from the Mosaic Covenant and Law. It is possible Paul’s words in Romans 14:5-13 relate to this when he spoke of believers being tolerant of other believers who observed special holy days. These holy days would not have been pagan holy days. Paul would not tolerate believers observing holy days in honour of pagan gods.

·         At this stage, James and the other elders of the Church at Jerusalem had not received the full revelation of the degree Jewish Christians were freed from the Mosaic Covenant and Law. As a result, they were still wrongly encouraging Jewish Christians to obey certain aspects of the Mosaic Law but not as a means of justification and eternal salvation.

 

A good illustration in Matthew 24:20-21

 

Jesus’ Words in Matthew 24:20-21 illustrate clearly the great dangers of interpreting mentions of the Mosaic Covenant and Mosaic Law in the New Testament to mean that God wants New Covenant believers to obey various commands and statutes from the Mosaic Law. In Matthew 24:20-21, Jesus told His disciples the following as part of His answer to their earlier question about what will be the sign of His Second Coming and the end of the age: “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.”

In the above, Jesus refers to believers before His Second Coming obeying the Sabbath commands of the Mosaic Law and Mosaic Covenant. These commands are recorded in Exodus 20:8-11, 31:12-17, 35:1-3, Leviticus 23:3, Numbers 15:32-36 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

But note in Colossians 2:16-17, the Apostle Paul taught that New Covenant believers do not need to obey the Mosaic Covenant commands in relation to food and drink offerings, feasts, new moon festivals [8] or Sabbaths. In early Israel, the first day of each month was the New Moon. [9]

Note in its context, Christ was referring in Matthew 24:20 to Jewish believers (see Matthew 24:16). He may have meant Jewish believers in Him will keep the Sabbath in terms of Paul’s 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 evangelistic principle. Or Christ may have been predicting that non-Christian Jews will impose strict Sabbath regulations on the nation of Judah at the time of the prophecy’s fulfilment.

But note as we see in Acts 15:1-29, God does not command non-Jewish believers in Jesus Christ to obey the Sabbath commands of the Mosaic Covenant.

 

God’s eternal laws for angels

 

Those who argue that the Law of God never changes any of its features under various covenants and eras fail to take into account the fact God’s Law also applies to angels. Since God is love (see 1 John 4:8 and 16), angels would be commanded by Him to:

 

·         love Him,

·         love other angels,

·         and love humans. This was after humans were created.

 

To say angels do not love is to say they are sinners and fallen.

But note that angels do not marry and do not reproduce sexually (see Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25). So obviously the commands in the Mosaic Covenant and New Covenant against sexual immorality and in relation to marriage were not given to angels. This is proof the Law of God changes some of its features in different God-given covenants and eras.

This does not mean the Bible teaches humanistic situational ethics. For example, some wrongly claim that homosexuality is only wrong under the Mosaic Covenant and is right under the New.

 

 

 

 

 

Do the Mosaic commands eternally require the obedience of every person?

 

Someone may argue Psalm 119:144 and 119:160 prove that the commands of the Mosaic Law eternally require the obedience of every person who has ever lived. Psalm 119:144, for example, states: “The righteousness of Your testimonies is everlasting…”

The Hebrew word for “everlasting” in Psalm 119:144 and “forever” in Psalm 119:160 is “olam”. The word “olam” can in some contexts mean “of time, endless and unlimited, whether past or yet to come”. [10] But in other contexts, it can refer to just a “long duration” of time. [11] Examples of “olam” having the latter meaning instead of “eternal” or “everlasting” are found in Genesis 6:4, Joshua 24:2, Psalm 77:5, Isaiah 42:14, 63:19, Jeremiah 5:15 and 28:8. Harris, Archer and Waltke cite numerous other Biblical examples which show “olam” “rarely if ever refers to the limitless past”. [12] Similarly, when referring to the future, “olam” does not always refer to the eternal or limitless future. So the usages of “olam” in Psalm 119:144 and 119:160 can relate to a long future period and not necessarily to the eternal future.

Leviticus 16:29 and 24:9 use the word “olam” in the context of two ceremonial commands of the Mosaic Law. Leviticus 16:24 refers to the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 24:9 relates to the Bread in the Tabernacle. Note these two verses reveal that these two commands would apply for a long duration of time. It is wrong to translate “olam” as “forever” or “perpetual” or “everlasting” in Leviticus 16:29 and 24:9 because Hebrews 8:1-10:10 teaches that the Day of Atonement and other ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law are not to be observed by New Covenant believers.

Similarly Exodus 40:15 uses the Hebrew word “olam” in relation to the Levitical priesthood: “You shall anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may minister to Me as priests; for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.” But note the word “everlasting” in this verse is a poor translation of “olam”. This is because Hebrews 7:1-19 shows the Levitical priesthood has been terminated through Jesus Christ.

Another alternative is that Psalm 119 refers not to the Mosaic Law but to the broader Law of God which predates the Mosaic Law. Psalm 119 uses the Hebrew word “huqqah” in verse 16 and the Hebrew word “miswah” 21 times in verses like 6, 10, 19, 21, 32, 35 and 47. “Huqqah” means “statute”. [13] “Miswah” means “commandment”. [14]

Note the word “statutes” or “huqqah” and “commandments” or “miswah” are used in Genesis 26:5: “because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” This verse refers to Abraham obeying the broader Law of God prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law. Note also the word “laws” in Genesis 26:5 is “torah” in Hebrew. This word “torah” is also used in Deuteronomy 1:5, 4:44, 31:9, Joshua 8:31 and 32 in relation to the Law of Moses. The Mosaic Law is one expression of the broader Law of the Lord.

Someone may argue, “Psalm 111:7-8 teaches that the precepts of the Mosaic Law apply forever.” Psalm 111:7-8 says: “The works of His hands are verity and justice; all His precepts are sure. They stand fast forever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.” But note:

 

·         In Hebrew the word “precept” in verse 7 above is “piqqudim”. “Piqqudim” is “a general term for the responsibilities that God places on His people” [15] or “what are committed to one to be observed”. [16] The Hebrew word “piqqudim” is used in Psalm 103:18, 119:4, 119:141 and 119:173 in the context of the Mosaic Law. But note in the broader context of Psalm 19:7-11, “piqqudim” is used in verse 9 in relation to the broader Law of the Lord and not just the Mosaic Law. If this is true, the covenant mentioned in verse 9 is probably the Abrahamic Covenant.

·         If we assume Psalm 111:9 refers to the Mosaic Covenant, then Psalm 111:7-8 applies to this covenant also. But note the specific context is in relation to the nation of Israel. Verse 6 mentions God giving the Israelites the heritage of the other nations. Verse 9 refers to God redeeming the nation of Israel. So we cannot use Psalm 111:7-8 to prove non-Israelite New Covenant believers must obey the Mosaic Law.

 

A loaded wrong question

 

I believe the question, “Should New Covenant believers obey the Ten Commandments?” is a loaded wrong question. This is because if we answer “No”, this suggests New Covenant believers can regularly commit murder, idolatry, adultery and so on and still have saving faith.

I believe New Covenant believers need to obey only nine of the Ten Commandments and solely in their New Covenant setting. I would never preach the Ten Commandments from the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy in their Mosaic Covenant setting. I would only preach these nine commandments from the New Testament verses in which they are stated in relation to New Covenant believers.

 

Reasons for various views about the Law

 

There are many reasons why many very good Bible teachers have different views about the relationships between the Mosaic Law and believers and unbelievers in New Covenant times. Here are some of these reasons:

 

·         As a Jew, Jesus perfectly obeyed the Mosaic Law (see Matthew 5:17) while living under the Mosaic Covenant. But He also instituted the New Covenant which replaced the Mosaic Covenant. The New Covenant related to all Jews and non-Jews who would receive Christ as Lord and Saviour. The Mosaic Covenant, however, primarily focussed on the nation of Israel. Because Christ related to the time of the changeover from one covenant to another and was a party to both, this complicates the whole issue.

·         It is sometimes difficult to determine whether Christ's statements which relate to various aspects of the Mosaic Law refer to before and/or after His death and resurrection.

·         The New Testament uses the word “law” in so many different ways. Refer to the section “Many different New Testament definitions of ‘law’” in Chapter “God’s Law and Commands Under Different Covenants” for examples.

·         In some of Paul’s letters, he is writing to churches which contained both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians.

·         As stated earlier in this chapter, there are numerous verses in Acts which record Paul even obeying various ceremonial aspects of the Law (see Acts 16:3, 18:21 and 21:26). But in some of his letters, Paul opposed the idea that Christians are commanded to obey these ceremonial aspects (see Romans 14:5-6, Galatians 5:2-3, 5:6, 5:11 and Colossians 2:16-17).

 

The difficulty involved in interpreting the four written Gospels

 

Evidence of the great difficulty which all Bible teachers and preachers have in knowing which parts of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John apply only to Jews under the Mosaic Covenant, which parts relate to Jews under the New Covenant and which parts relate to non-Jews under the New Covenant can be seen in the following verses:

 

a)    In Matthew 15:3-4, Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees: “…why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’, and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’” Note here Jesus teaches that Jews during this time in His ministry should obey the commandment of God found in Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9 which says “He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.”

Most non-Jewish New Covenant believers would apply all of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 15:3-20 to themselves except His quote of the above commandment from Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9. They would apply His Words in Matthew 15:4 to themselves about honouring our fathers and mothers but they would not put to death any of their children who cursed them.

We must, however, ask the following question: By what consistent method of Biblical interpretation can New Covenant non-Jewish believers obey all of Matthew 15:3-20 except the latter part of verse 4. Maybe someone will argue, “The New Covenant emphasises love. Killing our child who curses us is not an act of love. So this is why we do not have to obey this command.” But this is a poor argument. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus insisted that every command of the Mosaic Law was based on loving God and loving others. So when Jews killed their children who cursed them, this was an act of love.

Note in the parallel passage to Matthew 15:3-20 – Mark 7:6-23 – Jesus taught that the Mosaic Covenant food laws no longer applied to New Covenant believers. In Mark 7:14, Jesus said: “And after He called the multitude to Him again, He began saying to them, ‘Listen to Me, all of you, and understand.’” (N.A.S.B.). So the question is, “If in the same event, Jesus taught that the Mosaic Covenant food laws did not apply to New Covenant believers, how can we teach that Jesus’ Words in Matthew 15:4 about putting to death children who curse their parents, does not apply to New Covenant believers?”

b)         In Matthew 5:3-7:27, Jesus taught what is called the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus changed the Mosaic Covenant teaching on divorce to suit New Covenant believers (see Matthew 5:31-32) and amended to a higher standard the Mosaic Covenant laws against adultery and murder (see Matthew 5:21-30). So in Matthew 5:3-7:27, Jesus was teaching some of His commands for New Covenant believers. But the question is: “Is the Sermon on the Mount only applicable to Jewish New Covenant believers? Or does it apply to both Jewish and non-Jewish New Covenant believers?”

If we say it applies to only Jewish New Covenant believers, then this means we cannot use any of its great verses for non-Jewish New Covenant believers. But if we say the Sermon on the Mount applies to both groups, then some may argue that Jesus’ Words in Matthew 5:23-24 shows non-Jewish and Jewish born-again believers must still offer burnt, grain, peace, sin and trespass offerings on the bronze altar in the Temple. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus taught: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Note, however, that Jesus’ command above related only to Jewish believers in Him who were living prior to His death and resurrection. The changeover from the Mosaic to the New Covenant began during Jesus’ three years of ministry but was only fully implemented after His death and resurrection. Hebrews 7:11-10:18 and Colossians 2:13-17 show that the offerings for the bronze altar, which Jesus referred to in Matthew 5:23-24, no longer applied to Jewish or non-Jewish New Covenant believers after Jesus’ death.

 

Should New Covenant non-Jewish believers obey the Mosaic civil laws?

 

One view suggests that New Covenant non-Jewish believers should also obey the civil laws found in the Mosaic Covenant. These civil laws are aspects of the Mosaic Covenant which relate primarily to the civil government of the nation of Israel. But this view has these problems:

 

·         In Matthew 22:17, Romans 13:1-10, 1 Peter 2:13-14 and 2:17 Christ, Paul and Peter command New Covenant believers to submit to the civil laws of rulers from all nations and not just Israel. These verses do not say we should only obey the civil laws given to the Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant. The Mosaic Law does not command us to pay tax to Caesar or to honour him. But Matthew 22:17 and 1 Peter 2:13 do.

·         Greg Bahnsen argues Jesus’ Words in Matthew 4:4 that humans shall live “by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God” proves New Covenant believers should also obey the civil laws of the Mosaic Covenant. [17] But this verse cannot be used as evidence of this. This is because if we took this verse in isolation, we would also wrongly conclude that New Covenant believers must obey all the ceremonial laws of the Mosaic Covenant as well. These ceremonial laws include the animal sacrifices, Day of Atonement and Levitical priesthood. Hebrews 7:1-10:14 reveals these ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Covenant have been abolished under the New Covenant.

·         Someone holding this view may argue that Deuteronomy 4:5-8 teaches that the Mosaic Covenant and Law was given to pagan nations also. But note these verses do not teach this. Instead, they reveal that if the Israelites obeyed the Mosaic Law, this obedience would be a great witness to surrounding nations. Verses like Exodus 19:3-6, Leviticus 1:2, 27:34, Numbers 36:13, Deuteronomy 4:44-45, 5:1, 28:1 and many other verses show the Mosaic Covenant and Law was given to the nation of Israel. Non-Israelites were permitted by God to become part of His people under the Mosaic Covenant (see Deuteronomy 23:7-8, Ruth 1:1-4:22 and James 2:24). Also, during the time the Mosaic Covenant was fully operating God held non-Israelites responsible for not obeying His love laws and other specific commands which were on their consciences (see Romans 2:15, Amos 1:3-2:33, Habakkuk 2:6-19, the Books of Obadiah, Jonah and Nahum). But this does not mean all non-Israelites were under the Mosaic Covenant during that era.

·         Bahnsen suggests Hebrews 2:2 proves New Covenant believers must obey all the civil laws of the Mosaic Covenant. [18] Hebrews 2:2 says: “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward.” But in context, this verse is referring to actual and potential punishments directly given by God for those under the Mosaic Covenant. It is not referring to civil punishments which God gave indirectly through Israelite rulers and judges. Note also not all disobediences to the Law incurred civil punishments from human leaders.

 

Kaiser’s view of the Mosaic Law and New Covenant believers

 

Walter Kaiser Jr. is a highly respected Evangelical Bible teacher. He is professor of the Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in the United States. Kaiser teaches:

“It is the moral law of God found in the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and the Holiness Code of Leviticus 18-19 that must act as the absolute norms against which all other commands in God’s law are judged, interpreted and applied today.” [19] In another place, Kaiser wrote: “These three facts point to the priority and precedent-setting nature of the moral law, which stems from the character and nature of God. Since God’s character will never change, the moral law based on it is as abiding and absolute as the very attributes, qualities and nature of God himself. The remaining aspects of the Mosaic laws, whether they be civil or ceremonial laws, are but illustrations, applications, or situationally-specific implementations of that same permanent moral law.” [20] He also stated: “The best authority one could cite for teaching that there was a distinction within the (Mosaic) law itself is our Lord. In Matthew 23:23, the Lord taught us to distinguish between the weightier and lighter matters of the law and referred to the greater and lesser commandments.” [21]

Kaiser also wrote, “Did not the earlier and latter prophets teach us that there were priorities and rankings even within the one law of God? Does not the word of 1 Samuel 15:22 urge, ‘To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams’? Did not David (Psalm 51:16-19), Isaiah (Isaiah 1:11-20), Hosea (Hosea 6:6), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:21-24), Micah (Micah 6:6-8) and many others distinguish between that which was spiritually prior (of highest importance) and the performance of certain acts urged by that same law? If this law of God were all of one piece on a single level with no ranking or assigning of priorities, why do these prophets all insist on elevationg the moral and spiritual aspects of the ‘tora’ (the Mosaic Law) above the rest of the Mosaic Law.” [22]

My comments on the above are:

 

a)    It is not just the Ten Commandments and other moral aspects of the Mosaic Law which are based on God’s character and nature. His civil and ceremonial laws are also based on His righteousness, holiness, love, grace, mercy and other aspects of His character.

b)    It is wrong to say that the moral aspects of the Law can be limited to the Ten Commandments and the commands of Leviticus Chapters 18-19. This is because God’s commands to love Him are found in Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12, 11:1, 13:3, 30:6 and 30:20. We cannot say these verses are parts of the civil and ceremonial laws.

c)    In Matthew 23:23, Jesus did not teach the Scribes and Pharisees should just obey “the weightier matters of the Law”. Instead Christ told them to obey all the Mosaic Law – the weightier and less weightier matters: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” Christ was speaking to the scribes and Pharisees who were under the Mosaic Covenant. This is why He told them to obey all of the Mosaic Law – the moral, civil and ceremonial commands. He said, “without leaving the others undone”, referring to the less important matters of the Law.

Therefore, Matthew 23:23 cannot be used to prove Christ taught New Covenant believers to obey only the weightier matters of the Law. The same applies to Luke 11:42. Malachi 3:8-12 proves tithing was not optional or unimportant under the Mosaic Covenant. But in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, Christ called tithing a less weightier matter of the Law.

d)    1 Samuel 15:22-23, Psalm 51:16-17, Isaiah 1:11-17, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, Amos 5:21-24 and 7:21-23 do not teach that only the moral aspects of the Mosaic Law needed to be obeyed. 1 Samuel 15:22-23 is not saying God wanted Saul to obey the Ten Commandments and other moral laws and to ignore the ceremonial aspects of the Law. These verses instead reveal God wanted Saul to obey all the Word of the Lord found in Deuteronomy 25:19 about destroying the Amalekites and not to rely just on animal sacrifices.

The rest of the above passages are not teaching that God does not care whether the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law are obeyed. These passages instead reveal that God was not pleased with an obedience to the Mosaic ceremonial laws which was merely external and which was not accompanied by obedience to His love and other righteous commands found in the Mosaic Law.

Note in Exodus 12:15, 12:19, Leviticus 7:20-21, 7:25, 17:4, 19:8, 22:3, 23:9, Numbers 9:13, 19:13 and 19:20, God commands that Israelites be cut off from their people for disobeying various ceremonial laws related to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, animal sacrifices, ceremonial cleanness laws, the Day of Atonement and the Passover.

2 Chronicles 26:16-21 records King Uzziah was punished with leprosy for disobeying the ceremonial law found in Numbers 3:10 and 18:7. 1 Chronicles 13:1-11 shows the Lord slew Uzziah for disobeying His ceremonial command in Deuteronomy 10:8 about only Levites touching the Ark of the Covenant. Eli’s two sons were punished with death for their continual breaking of God’s ceremonial command about priests not eating the fat of animal sacrifices (see Leviticus 7:25, 1 Samuel 2:12-17 and 2:23-25). These verses show that God regarded obedience by the Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant to His ceremonial laws as very important and not as just optional extras.

e)    In Kaiser’s words quoted above, we see he teaches that Leviticus Chapters 18 and 19 are part of the absolute unchanging moral law of God. One verse in those chapters, Leviticus 18:19 commands a husband not to have sex with their wife during her period. Leviticus 18:29 instructs that those who disobey this and the other commands found in Leviticus 18:1-28 should be “cut off from among their people”. As seen in the section “What does being cut off mean?” in Chapter            “Subtle types of legalism”, we can debate about whether this expression “cut off from among their people” means to be killed and/or excommunicated. But whatever the case, we must ask ourselves, “Does God expect New Covenant believers to kill and/or excommunicate others for having sex with their wives during their periods?” The answer is obviously, “No”, thereby showing that Kaiser’s claim that all New Covenant believers must obey all of Leviticus Chapters 18 and 19 is wrong.

f)     Kaiser above admits that in a different context God can change some of His commands from the Mosaic Covenant.

 

New Covenant believers and the Feasts of Weeks and Tabernacles?

 

One view of the Mosaic Law teaches New Covenant non-Israelite believers should celebrate the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) and the Feast of Tabernacles because Jesus, the eleven Apostles and Paul celebrated these (see John 7:2, Acts 2:1 and 20:16). But note Leviticus 23:15-22 shows the Feast of Pentecost involved sacrificing bulls, rams, a kid and two male lambs as burnt, sin and peace offerings. Also, Leviticus 23:33-43 reveals the Feast of Tabernacles must include a burnt offering. Leviticus 17:1-5 commands that anyone who sacrificed an animal outside of the Tabernacle would be cut off from God’s people. So any person who attempts to celebrate the Feast of Weeks and Tabernacles today disobey part of the Law’s instructions and are supposed to be cut off from God’s people.

Anyone today who attempts to celebrate these two feasts without making the animal sacrifices commanded in Leviticus 23:15-22 and 33-43, and without celebrating these in relation to the Israelite Tabernacle or Temple, have changed God’s instructions for these Feasts without any unambiguous Biblical warrant for doing this. Remember the Feasts of Weeks and Tabernacles which Jesus, the Apostles and Paul celebrated involved animal sacrifices and were held in relation to the Temple in Jerusalem. Also note Jesus, the Apostles and Paul were Jews.

The Tabernacle and Temple do not exist today, so even the Israelites cannot celebrate these two Feasts.

Note that the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther and Daniel make no mention of the Jews celebrating either of these two feasts while the latter were in exile. Ezra 3:1-6 shows the Jewish exiles knew the animal sacrifices must be made in Jerusalem. They set up an altar on the site on which the Temple was to be rebuilt.

Nowhere in the Old or New Testaments does God justify converting the Mosaic Covenant commands in relation to the Feasts of Weeks and Tabernacles into supposed New Covenant Feasts which do not involve animal sacrifices and which can be made away from the Israelite Tabernacle or Temple.

Prior to the giving of the Mosaic Covenant and Law, animal sacrifices were accepted by God on altars not related to the Tabernacle. But this changed once the Mosaic Law was given.

Zechariah 14:16-19 refer to non-Israelites keeping the Feast of Tabernacles at Jerusalem at a particular prophesied time in history. There is much debate about when this passage refers to. But one certainty is it does not relate to the present New Covenant era up to Jesus’ Second Coming. This is obvious when we read these verses in the broader context of Zechariah Chapter 14.

 

The Mosaic Covenant’s death penalties

 

Someone may argue, “Matthew 15:4, Mark 7:10 and Romans 1:18-32 reveal God wants the death penalties listed in the Mosaic Law for various sins like murder, adultery, having sex with animals, cursing your parents and not observing the Sabbath to be applied under the New Covenant.” But note Romans 1:18-32 is not referring to the Mosaic Law death penalties which the leaders of Israel had to implement. Romans 1:18-32 instead is teaching that any person who committed any of the sins it lists deserves both spiritual and physical death. This physical death can occur at old age, through sickness, an accident or some other means.

Romans 1:18-32 refers to some sins not recorded in the Mosaic Law as making the offenders deserving of being killed by God-ordained human governments. These sins are being covetous, being envious, causing strife, being deceitful, backbiting, being proud, boasting and being undiscerning. This passage is not commanding the Church to stone to death every person who commits these latter sins.

Also note in Matthew 15:4 and Mark 7:10, Jesus Christ does refer to the Mosaic Law command: “He who curses his father or mother, let him be put to death.” But Christ uses this Mosaic command from Leviticus 20:9 as proof of His teaching about how important God regards children’s attitudes and actions in relation to how they treat their parents.

In Matthew 15:4 and Mark 7:10, Christ does not re-institute under the New Covenant the Mosaic Law death penalty for children cursing their parents. Instead the surrounding context of these two verses shows Christ is using the Mosaic Law to prove some things to Pharisees and scribes who were under the Mosaic Covenant and who were misinterpreting the Mosaic Law.


 

[1] In Chapter “God’s Law and Commands Under Different Covenants”, I discuss Malachi 3:6, Romans 3:31, 8:3-4 and James 1:17.

[2] Bauer, page 671.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Louw and Nida, page 658.

[5] It is debatable whether the Law of Christ refers only to Jesus’ two love commandments or whether it includes all His other commands and instructions.

[6] Bauer, page 322.

[7] Vine, page 167.

[8] New Moon festivals are referred to in Leviticus 23:24-25, Numbers 10:10, 28:11-15 and 29:1-6.

[9] Harris, Archer and Waltke, page 266.

[10] Wilson, page 150.

[11] Brown, Driver and Briggs, page 761.

[12] Harris, Archer and Waltke, page 672.

[13] Brown, Driver and Briggs, page 349.

[14] Harris, Archer and Waltke, page 757.

[15] Harris, Archer and Waltke, page 732.

[16] Wilson, page 323.

[17] Greg L. Bahnsen et al, “Five Views on Law and Gospel”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1996, page 115.

[18] Bahnsen et al, pages 133-134.

[19] Ibid, page 198.

[20] Ibid, page 197.

[21] Ibid, page 195.

[22] Ibid, page 306.


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