God’s Law And Commands Under Different Covenants

 

Many different New Testament definitions of “law”

 

Some Christians wrongly believe that whenever the New Testament refers to “the Law”, it always means the Law of Moses. In Greek, the word “law” is “nomos”. In the New Testament, the law or forms of this Greek word “nomos” can refer to:

 

         the Law of Moses (see Acts 13:39, 15:5 and 28:23).

         God’s law on human hearts and consciences (see Romans 2:15).

         the royal law of love (see James 2:8).

         the Law of Christ (see Galatians 6:2).

         law as a general principle (see Romans 3:27).

         every type of law (see Galatians 3:21 – second usage).

         the Old Testament taken as a whole. In John 10:34 and 15:25, Jesus Christ refers to two different verses in the Psalms as being a part of the Law. In 1 Corinthians 14:21, Paul refers to Isaiah 28:11-12 as being a part of the Law. In Romans 3:19, Paul is probably referring to his previous quotes in Romans 3:10-18, which come from various Psalms, the Books of Proverbs, Job and Isaiah, as being a component of the Law. In the second usage of the word “law” in Galatians 4:21, Paul refers to the Book of Genesis. Genesis is not specifically a part of the Mosaic Law.

         a force or influence impelling an action (see Romans 7:21 and 7:23).

         the law of the mind (see Romans 7:23).

         the law of sin in our members (see Romans 7:23 and 7:25).

         being a law unto ourselves (see Romans 2:14).

         the law of righteousness which many Jews pursued but did not attain because they did it by works of Law (see Romans 9:31-33).

         the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:2). In the context of Romans 8:2-4, the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ is contrasted with the Mosaic Law.

         the law of faith (see Romans 3:27). The “law of faith” refers to the principle of faith.

         the law of works (see Romans 3:27).

 

In the Book of Romans, Paul uses the word “law” in many different ways and in some contexts it is difficult to know if he means the Law of Moses or law in a different sense.

Some Christians naively always refer to the Biblical usages of the word “law” as being something bad or negative. But note the Bible itself defines “law” in a negative sense only in some contexts. For example in the Old Testament, Proverbs 31:26 uses the word “law” in a positive sense when it refers to the virtuous wife having “the law of kindness” on her tongue.

Note also in Matthew 20:15, Jesus uses the word “lawful” in a much broader sense than the Mosaic Law: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” In Greek, the word “lawful” here is a form of the same word used in Matthew 12:4, 14:4 and 19:3 in relation to the Law of Moses. In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul used a form of the same Greek word in a much broader sense than the Law of Moses.

 

Differences and connections between Mosaic Law, Law of God and Law of Christ

 

Observe in his words in 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, Paul draws a distinction between “the law” or Law of Moses on one hand and “the Law of God” and “Law of Christ” on the other: “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, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.”

In the four usages of “law” in verse 20 above, Paul is referring to the Law of Moses. The context relating to Jews shows this. In verse 21 above, the words “of God” in the expression “without the law of God” is “Theou” in Greek. This is the same Greek word translated “of God” in Romans 7:22 and 7:25 in the expression “the law of God”.

In 1 Corinthians 9:20-22, Paul says he is not under the law – the Law of Moses – but is not without the Law of God and is also under the Law of Christ. The question then is, “What is the Law of God and what is the Law of Christ?”

In Galatians 6:2, Paul relates fulfilling the Law of Christ to loving others: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The Law of God is expressed in the broader love laws of Christ and the latters’ specific applications to believers under the New Covenant.

The Law of God is also written on human hearts and consciences (see Romans 2:15). The Law of Moses was one expression of the Law of God’s two love laws (see Matthew 22:37-40) but was specifically suited to the Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant.

There is no suggestion in the Scriptures that the non-Israelites in Old Testament times had every one of the hundreds of commands and statutes of the Mosaic Covenant written on their hearts and consciences. These non-Israelites instead had God’s love laws and possibly some specific applications of love written on their consciences.

Romans 7:22 says: “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.” In Romans 7:25, Paul stated: “I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” The expression “the Law of God” in these two above verses may refer to the Law of Moses. This is because the earlier verses 4, 5, 6, 7,12, 14 and 16 are referring to the Law of Moses when they use the phrase “the law”. Or possibly the phrase in the “Law of God” used in Romans 7:22 and 7:25 refers to the broader Law of God written on human consciences. [1]

Note in Greek, the word “law” in verses 5, 6 and 7 (second usage) is “nomon” and in verses 4, 7 (first and third usages), 12, 14 and 16 are other forms of the same word. The context of verse 7, which refers to the Tenth Commandment “You shall not covet”, shows that all or parts of Romans 7:4-16 refers to the Law of Moses.

 

The broader Law of God, its summary and manifestations

 

In 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, Paul clearly distinguishes between the “Law” or Mosaic Law which God had put the Jews under, the “Law of God” and the “Law of Christ”. In 1 Corinthians 9:21, the “Law of God” refers to the broader Law of God which is something far broader than the Mosaic Law.

The broader Law of God is:

 

a)        summarised in two love commandments. These are the commands to love God and love all people. The most important of these commandments is loving God. Loving people is the second most important commandment. Read Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-33 and Romans 13:8-10. The two great love commands also applied to Israelites living under the Mosaic Covenant (see Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12, 30:6 and Leviticus 19:18).

b)        manifested specifically in the commands God has written on human conscience (see Romans 2:15). The Law of God is on all human consciences under all of God’s covenants and in every era. John 8:9 refers to the consciences of Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant. Romans 2:15 mentions the God-given consciences of Gentiles – non-Israelite believers and unbelievers – who were not under any of God’s covenants and who live in all eras. Acts 24:16, Romans 9:1 and many other verses in the New Testament refer to the consciences of believers under the New Covenant.

c)        manifested specifically in the commands and statutes of the Mosaic Law which is linked solely to the Mosaic Covenant.

d)        manifested specifically in the commands of the Law of Christ which relates solely to the New Covenant. The only mentions in the Bible to the Law of Christ relate to the New Covenant (see 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2).

<See Summary in Pictoral Format>

 

Why many believers are confused

 

What confuses many believers is that the New Testament links the Mosaic Law to God’s two love laws (see Matthew 22:37-40, Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:14) and to the Law of God on human hearts and consciences (see Romans 2:15). But then at other times, the New Testament says that while we are not under the Mosaic Law (see Acts 15:5-29, Romans 6:14-15, 7:1-4, 7:6, 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, 2 Corinthians 3:6-15, Galatians 3:24-25, 4:21-5:12, Colossians 2:14-17 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11), we must obey God’s love laws (see 1 John 2:7-11, 3:10-23 and 4:20-5:3) and obey our conscience (see Acts 23:1, 24:16, 2 Corinthians 1:12, 1 Timothy 1:15, 1:19, 3:9, 2 Timothy 1:3 and 1 Peter 3:16). In 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul links love to having a good conscience. Why this confuses many believers is that they do not understand:

 

         While the Mosaic Law is one expression of God’s two love commands, the Mosaic Law is for those under the Mosaic Covenant and not those under the New Covenant.

         In New Testament times, the Mosaic Law can still show unbelievers they are condemned sinners (see Romans 3:19-20, 7:7, 7:13 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11) and the Mosaic Law can be God’s instrument in supervising and training the Jews to come to Christ (see Galatians 3:24).

         The Law of God on conscience does not contain every one of the hundreds of moral, civil and ceremonial commands found in the Mosaic Law. Also the Law of God on conscience applies to every human under every God-given covenant and to those who were not under any covenant between the time of the Fall of Adam and the commencement of the Noahic Covenant.

         God’s love commands apply to every person in history, just as the Law of God on conscience does. God’s love commands are recorded on conscience, in the Mosaic Law and in the New Covenant.

 

Old commands in a new context and a change of law

 

Any of God’s commands which were found in the Mosaic Law but were later transferred into a New Covenant context can in one sense be regarded as “new”. In John 13:34, Jesus calls the Mosaic Law Leviticus 19:18 command to love your neighbour “a new commandment” in its New Covenant context.

But note the command to love your neighbour was not new in one sense. It was previously given in Leviticus 19:18. But in Leviticus 19:18, this command to love others was in an Old covenant context.

When Jesus gave the love commandment in John 13:34, He was giving it as a new commandment in the context of the New Covenant He was introducing.

In 1 John 2:7-11, John says this “new” love commandment is really an old commandment. This is similar to the commandment to love God. It is mentioned as a part of the Second commandment (see Deuteronomy 5:8-10). But it is “new” in its New Covenant context.

Hebrews 7:11-12 teaches there has been a change of law in association with the change from the Levitical priesthood associated with the Old Mosaic Law to the priesthood of Melchizedek related to Jesus Christ. Jesus’ new law is called the Law of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2).

In this same context of comparing the Levitical and Melchizedek priesthoods, Hebrews 7:16 describes the Mosaic Law as “the law of a fleshly commandment”. This does not mean that sinful human flesh originated the Mosaic Law. Instead this expression relates to what Romans 8:3 says. Romans 8:3-4 states: “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4 is not referring to New Covenant believers having to obey all or some of the Mosaic Law. Instead it relates to the Law being fulfilled in us as New Covenant believers in three senses:

 

         Its righteous requirement for punishment is fulfilled in us through Jesus’ death. This is what “He condemned sin in the flesh” in verse 3 means.

         Its righteous requirement in reference to being declared righteous by God the Supreme Ruler and Judge is fulfilled on the basis of our union with Jesus Christ.

         Its righteous requirement in relation to the fruit of sanctification being manifested in our lives is fulfilled through us being given the power of the Spirit of Christ to obey God’s two love commands and their specific New Testament applications. Remember these two love commands are the basis of the whole Mosaic Law in the latter’s relevant Old Covenant context (see Matthew 22:37-40).

 

A change of the Law

 

Hebrews 7:11-12 shows that associated with a change from the Levitical to Melchizedek priesthood was a change in 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.”

This “change of the law” refers to a change in the Mosaic Law command about priests being only from the tribe of Levi and not from Judah like Christ was. This verse clearly shows that God can change various aspects of His Law under different covenants and in different eras.

 

God’s character does not change but…

 

In Malachi 3:6, God reveals that His character never changes: “For I am the Lord, I do not change…” In James 1:17, James says “…the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” On the basis of such verses, some may argue that because God’s commandments as revealed in the Mosaic Law are a reflection of His character, all the same commandments must apply to New Covenant non-Israelite believers.

But note while God’s character never changes, the application of the perfect righteousness, holiness, grace, mercy, love and other aspects of His character to a single whole nation – Israel – under the Mosaic Covenant, can change when applied to small groups of New Covenant believers from all nations scattered among pagans. This is especially because under the New Covenant, Jesus instituted some major changes.

Note Jesus amended two of the Ten Commandments and some other moral commands found in the Mosaic Covenant so they could be applicable to born-again New Covenant believers. This is obvious from the fact that in Matthew 5:21-30, Jesus gave amended versions of the 6th and 7th Commandments against murder and adultery. In the Mosaic Law, there is no mention of lusting in our minds after a woman whom is not our wife and anger being sin. Similarly, note that in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-9, Jesus raised the standard of the Mosaic Covenant commands about divorce.

In Matthew 5:17-47, Jesus did not say the Mosaic Law was unholy, wrong or sinful. But He did improve the application of some of its commands to be suitable to the New Covenant setting.

Leviticus 19:18 commanded Israelites: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Note here that God limits this command to their attitudes to their fellow Israelites. This is because when they entered the Promised Land, God wanted them to destroy the pagan Canaanite nations and to show no mercy to them (see Deuteronomy 7:1-5 and 20:16-18). Also note on many occasions in Old Testament times, God approved of the Israelites taking vengeance on non-Israelites (see Judges 16:28-30 and 1 Samuel 15:2-8).

But under the New Covenant, God commanded His people to forgive and love all people from all nationalities (see Matthew 11:25-26 and Luke 10:27). In Luke 6:27, Jesus commands us also to love our enemies.

In Matthew 22:21, Jesus commanded us to respect our non-Jewish political leaders. This was not commanded in the Mosaic Covenant.

 

Paul’s words

 

Romans 3:31 says: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” This verse has a similar meaning to Romans 3:21 when Paul said the way of true righteousness is witnessed to by the Mosaic Law. Hebrews 10:1 relates to this also: “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.” The Mosaic Law is a shadow of various aspects of the Gospel.

When in Romans 3:31, Paul said we establish the Mosaic Law through faith in Jesus Christ, he meant that without Christ's death and resurrection, the Mosaic Law itself could not achieve anything or even be just a shadow of the better things in Christ. Christ's death and resurrection gave saving power to the atoning ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law through which Mosaic Covenant believers received forgiveness, reconciliation to God and so on, and provided the basis on which God could give strength to Old Covenant believers to enable them to obey the Mosaic Law, however imperfectly.

 

Not under the Mosaic Covenant but still held accountable

 

The Old Testament refers to God holding those who were under the Mosaic Covenant and Law, responsible for their sins. But the Old Testament also shows He held the following groups accountable for their sins:

 

         people living prior to the giving of the Mosaic Covenant and Law (see Genesis 13:13, 15:16, 20:1-9, 26:10, 39:9, 42:22, 50:17, Leviticus 18:24-27, Deuteronomy 9:4-5 and 18:12).

         non-Israelites who were not under the Mosaic Covenant and Law at the time this covenant was operating (see Psalm 59:5, Isaiah 14:4-11, Amos 1:3-2:3, Obadiah 1-16, Jonah 1:1-2, Nahum 1:1-3:18 and Habakkuk 2:5-20).

 

The above accountability of people living prior to the giving of the Mosaic Covenant and Law and of non-Israelite nations to God in Old Testament times, does not prove that He judged them by the standards of the whole Mosaic Law. But it does show He held them accountable on the basis of those standards of His eternal love and moral laws which applied to these people.

Some of these eternal love and moral laws would have also been written in the Mosaic Covenant specifically for the nation of Israel. But the Mosaic Covenant itself was not given to these people living prior to Moses’ time nor to non-Israelite nations during or after Moses’ time.

 

The large changes resulting from the changeover of covenants

 

There are many New Testament verses which show there have been large changes made as a result of the replacing of the Mosaic Covenant by the New. Examples of these verses are Luke 16:16, John 1:17, Acts 15:5-29, 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, 2 Corinthians 3:6-15, Galatians 3:19, 3:24-25, 4:21-5:12, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, Hebrews 7:18, 7:19, 8:6-13, 9:6-10, 9:23-24 and 10:1-10.

In Luke 16:16, Jesus taught: “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.” Here Jesus is not saying that the Kingdom of God was not manifested in Old Testament times. But He was teaching that through the preaching of the Gospel of His Kingdom and grace, a great focus on His Kingdom had occurred.

Also note Christ said that “the law and the prophets were until John.” This phrase shows that John the Baptist’s ministry began the changeover:

 

         from the relationships between God and humans expressed in the Mosaic Covenant and in His plans and purposes stated in the Old Testament in non-covenantal verses.

         to the relationships expressed in the New Covenant.

 

The Noahic and Abrahamic Covenants still apply to New Covenant believers. Also there are aspects of the teachings of the Mosaic Law which are still relevant in the New Covenant era.

We cannot say that the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus Christ are totally opposed in all aspects. This is because the Gospel is witnessed to by the Law of Moses in seed form through its atoning sacrifices and arrangement of the Tabernacle (see Romans 3:21 and Hebrews 4:2). The Mosaic Law does not only contain commands to obey. It also contains many promises of God’s grace, for example, Leviticus 26:40-45, Deuteronomy 4:27-31 and 30:1-10.

But then we must avoid the other extreme of regarding the New Testament as just some type of renovated Old Covenant with a few minor changes.

 

 

Changes even during the Mosaic Covenant era

 

Not only do some of God’s commands and statutes change from covenant to covenant. Even during the period of a covenant, there can be changes. For example, prior to the time the Israelites were on Mount Sinai initially receiving the Mosaic Covenant, God said they could build an altar of sacrifice “in every place where I record My name” (see Exodus 20:22-24).

In obedience to this instruction, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel and David made altars at various places (see Joshua 8:30-31, Judges 6:24, 1 Samuel 7:17 and 2 Samuel 24:25).

But note Leviticus 17:8-9 taught burnt offerings and sacrifices must be made only at the Tabernacle. In the Tabernacle, there were two altars – the altar of burnt offering and the altar of incense.

Also Deuteronomy 12:2-5 emphasises that later the Lord would have the Israelites focus the giving of their sacrifices and offerings at a place where He would dwell. This place was to be Jerusalem.

2 Chronicles 32:12 records King Hezekiah destroyed all other altars in Judah and required his people to worship at only one altar – the altar of incense in Jerusalem. He did this in obedience to Leviticus 17:8-9.

There is an exception to the above. Years after Solomon’s Temple had been built in Jerusalem, the prophet Elijah repaired and used an altar of the Lord on Mount Carmel in Northern Israel (see 1 Kings 18:30-32). God showed His approval of what Elijah did by performing a great miracle. God may have allowed Elijah to do this because at this time Israel was a separate nation to the nation of Judah with its capital at Jerusalem.

 

The filter through which the Mosaic commands must pass

 

Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Apostles and other New Testament authors are the filter through which the various commands of the Mosaic Covenant and Mosaic Law must pass to test whether they apply to New Covenant believers. [2] Proof of this can be found in Matthew 12:8 and Luke 6:5. In these verses, Jesus spoke of Himself when He said: “…the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” He said these Words in the context of Him commanding a God-approved exception for His followers to the Mosaic Covenant Sabbath commands.

 

The New Testament also opposes incest, abortion, occult and bestiality

 

Some may argue, “If we say all of the Mosaic Law does not apply to New Covenant believers and the only commands which relate to such believers are found in the New Testament, then this means incest, abortion, occult and bestiality or having sex with animals becomes acceptable for such believers.”

But note abortion is a form of murder. New Testament verses like Matthew 5:21, 1 Peter 4:15 and 1 John 3:15 teach murder is a sin. [3]

The New Testament declares that occult or sorcery is sin (see Acts 13:8-10, Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 21:8).

In Acts 15:29, the Church Council of Jerusalem was led by the Holy Spirit to say that the sexual immorality laws in the Mosaic Covenant apply to New Covenant non-Israelite believers. So this means non-Israelite New Covenant believers must obey the Mosaic Covenant commands against incest and having sex with animals (see Exodus 22:19, Leviticus 18:6-24 and 20:15-16).

 

Aspects of the Mosaic Law continuing in New Covenant era

 

In the New Covenant era, the Mosaic Law is still used by God:

 

         to convict unbelievers of sin (see Romans 3:20, 7:7, 7:13 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11).

         to reveal principles about God’s character (see Hebrews 13:5).

         to reveal that sin separates people from God’s perfect holy Presence. The Mosaic Law does this by its commands that no sinful human except the High Priest could enter God’s Presence in the Holy of Holies (see Leviticus 16:1-34 and Hebrews 9:7-8).

         to be a witness to His plan in Christ (see Luke 24:44 and Acts 28:23).

         to give symbolic representations of Jesus’ death (see Hebrews 10:1-10).

I generally agree with Dr Douglas Moo when he wrote:

 

“Following the pattern Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22, I would advocate the following scheme for relating the eternal moral law of God to the Mosaic law and to New Testament ‘law’:

 

Eternal moral law of God

 

Mosaic law – for Israel      The ‘law of Christ’ – for the church

                                (containing both eternal moral law

                                and temporally limited commands)

 

The ‘law’ under which Christians live is continuous with the Mosaic Law in that God’s eternal moral norms, which never change, are clearly expressed in both. But there is discontinuity in the fact that Christians live under the ‘law of Christ’ and not under the Mosaic law. Our source for determining God’s eternal moral law is Christ and the apostles, not the Mosaic law or even the Ten Commandments. It is, then, the commandments of Christ and the apostles to which Paul is referring in I Corinthians 7:19 when he claims that ‘keeping God’s commands is what counts’…

As a whole, the Mosaic law is both ‘spiritual’ (Romans 7:14) and a killing ‘letter’ (Romans 2:28-29; 7:6; 2 Corinthians 3:5-7), both valid ‘until heaven and earth disappear’ (Matt. 5:18) and ‘fulfilled’ in Christ (Matthew 5:17), both ‘upheld’ by the gospel of faith (Romans 3:31) and no longer the ‘supervisor’ of those who have faith (Galatians 3:25)…

Yes, Christ ‘ends’ the reign of the law, imposing his own law ‘in place of’ the law of Moses. But in doing so, the New Testament stresses, he both brings that law to its intended conclusion and goal and also takes up within his own teaching and reapplies to his followers portions of that law. Strickland’s focus on discontinuity at this point is, of course, a product of his overall dispensational perspective, as becomes clear when, for instance, he says that ‘the Mosaic law naturally ended when God suspended his program with Israel (Romans 9-11) and inaugurated his program with the church.’ It is just at this point that I disagree. I think that God pursues one program throughout salvation history. The church is today the recipient not only of the blessings, but of the true fulfilment of both the Abrahamic covenant and of the Mosaic covenant. Consequently, while the law of Moses may no longer be a direct and immediate authority for the Christian, its teaching remains indirectly applicable to us through the ‘fulfilment’ of that law in Christ and his law.” [4]

            One point I question in what Douglas Moo says above is his use of the phrase “The eternal Law of God”. I think the phrase “the broader Law of God” is better because:

 

a)        Some of the commands in the Mosaic Law and the Law of Christ only apply to humans on Earth and not to angels or humans in Heaven. For example, there is no marriage and sex in heaven (see Matthew 22:23-30), so none of the commands in the Mosaic Law or Law of Christ about sexual matters could be eternal commands applying to angels in heaven prior to the creation of humans or to human in heaven now or in future.

b)        The Mosaic Covenant and Mosaic Law does not apply to non-Israelite New Covenant believers. So it is obviously not eternal. Therefore, to refer to the broader Law of God, which includes the Mosaic Law, as eternal, wrongly implies all commands and statutes of the Mosaic Covenant and Mosaic Law apply eternally and therefore to all humans in every era of human history.

c)        The phrase “broader Law of God” is not perfect but it better describes the fact that God has laws which are manifested similarly in some ways and differently in other ways under various God-given covenants and eras. For example, God’s two love commands and His commands against adultery and homosexuality are the same under every covenant and every human era on Earth, but God’s commands about the Sabbath, food, numbers of wives and animal sacrifices vary between covenants and eras.

 

The Sabbath commandment

 

Exodus 20:8 records the Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Seventh Day Adventists teach that all New Covenant believers must observe the Sabbath on Saturdays. Some Evangelical Protestant groups argue the Sabbath command be observed by Christians on Sundays. Practical expressions of this on Sundays are not buying a bottle of milk or newspaper at a shop doing business, not riding a pushbike, not cutting your lawn, not cleaning your house or car and not cooking meals.

Exodus 35:3 commands that no fires were to be lit in Israelite houses on the Sabbath. Does this mean Christians observing the Sabbath could not turn their stoves or gas heaters on the Sabbath without sinning?

Another Sabbath regulation is found in Exodus 16:29: “See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” If New Covenant believers obeyed this verse, this would mean they would be sinning leaving their houses on the Sabbath.

Numbers 15:32-36 reveals God commanded that a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath was to be stoned to death. If New Covenant believers obeyed this verse, this would mean that any Christian who broke the Sabbath should be stoned to death. Nehemiah 13:15-22 shows any selling of goods on the Sabbath is sinful.

In not one place does the New Testament specifically command New Covenant believers to obey the Fourth Commandment. In Colossians 2:16, Paul says: “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.”

Hebrews 4:4-11 teaches that born-again believers have entered an eternal Sabbath-rest. Therefore, the New Testament teaches that in a symbolic spiritual sense, believers are enjoying God’s Sabbath rest every day.

Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 reveal that the early non-Jewish churches met together on the first day of the week – Sunday – and not on Saturday, the old Sabbath day. The Jewish churches probably still met on Saturdays, but with a Gospel of grace attitude to it or possibly as a means of evangelising unconverted Jews.

Someone may argue, “In Matthew 12:8, Jesus said, ‘For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath’. This means He wants New Covenant believers to continue to keep the Sabbath as an expression of submitting to His Lordship.” But this is a poor interpretation of this verse. In the context of Matthew 12:1-8, we see Jesus meant He was Lord of the Sabbath in the sense He was Lord of in what ways the Sabbath was to be kept by Jews. Matthew 12:1-8 mentions nothing about non-Israelite New Covenant believers keeping the Sabbath.

In Exodus 31:16-17, God declared that the Sabbath was for the people of Israel: “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” The above verses mention nothing about the Sabbath being a command for non-Israelite nations.

 

The commands of Jesus Christ

 

In His ministry, Jesus Christ transferred nine of the Ten Commandments into a New Covenant setting. He instructed His disciples or spoke Words about:

 

         the sin of worshipping other gods, this including idols and images of false gods (see Matthew 4:10). Note Matthew 4:10 is a quote from Deuteronomy 4:13 which in its surrounding context condemns idolatry also. Deuteronomy 6:13-14 states: “You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you.” Matthew 4:10 relates to both the First and Second Commandments of the Mosaic Covenant.

         the sin of taking God’s Name in vain (see Matthew 5:33). Note Christ's Words in Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:22 against blasphemy relate to one aspect of the sin of taking God’s Name in vain.

         the sin of not honoring your father and mother (see Matthew 19:19).

         the sin of murder (see Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21).

         the sin of adultery (see Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21).

         the sin of stealing (see Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:22).

         the sin of bearing false witness or lying or deceit (see Matthew 15:19, 19:18 and Mark 7:22).

         and the sin of coveting (see Mark 7:22 and Luke 12:15).

 

Also in His ministry, Christ transferred some other moral commands of the Mosaic Law into a New Covenant setting. He commanded His disciples about:

 

         loving God (see Matthew 22:37-38). Cross reference to Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12, 11:13 and 11:22.

         loving your neighbour (see Matthew 22:39, John 15:12 and 15:17). Cross reference to Leviticus 19:18.

         not committing the sin of fornication, sexual indecency or having any type of sex outside of a marriage between one man and one woman (see Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21-22). Compare to Leviticus 18:6-30, 20:11-22 and Deuteronomy 22:13-24.

         not being proud (see Mark 7:22). Cross reference to Deuteronomy 8:2, 8:14 and 8:16-18.

         caring for the needy (see Matthew 25:31-46). Compare to Deuteronomy 15:7-11.

In His ministry, Jesus Christ also added some extra commands which were not specifically found in the Mosaic Law. These were:

 

         loving your enemies (see Luke 6:27). This and the next command recorded below were not given under the Mosaic Covenant to the nation of Israel. This is probably because God told the Israelites to kill and show no mercy or pity to their Canaanite enemies (see Deuteronomy 7:16).

         doing good to those who hate you (see Luke 6:28).

 

The Holy Spirit-inspired Council of Jerusalem

 

Acts 15:1-35 reveals that at Antioch, Paul and Barnabus had a sharp dispute with some believers who came from Judea and who were teaching that unless believers are circumcised according to the Law of Moses they cannot be saved.

As a result of the dispute, the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabus to Jerusalem to see the other Apostles and elders about this matter. After they arrived in Jerusalem, Acts 15:5 says the following happened: “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses’.”

Acts 15:6-29 reveals the Apostles and elders decided non-Jews did not need to obey the Law of Moses except in the matters of abstaining from food polluted by idols, avoiding sexual immorality, not eating the meat of strangled animals and eating and drinking blood. Acts 15:28-29 records their final decision: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

The above shows the Holy Spirit led them to make this decision.

When the Church Council of Jerusalem occurred, as recorded in Acts 15, the Apostles and elders there already had previously received and accepted Jesus’ commandments as recorded in the previous section “The commands of Jesus Christ” as being binding on all New Covenant believers – Jewish and non-Jewish. So when they commanded with the Holy Spirit’s guidance (see Acts 15:28-29) that non-Jewish New Covenant believers should abstain from things which had been offered previously to idols, from eating or drinking blood, from strangled food and from sexual immorality, they were not saying that non-Jewish New Covenant believers were free to disobey those commands of Christ which He had previously transferred from the Mosaic Covenant into the New Covenant setting.

Instead with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the Apostles and elders at the Jerusalem Council transferred three other Mosaic Covenant commands into a New Covenant setting and re-emphasised the importance of Christ's transferring into a New Covenant setting of all the Mosaic Law commands against many different types of sexual immorality.

The command “to abstain from things polluted by idols” (see Acts 15:20) probably refers to not eating meat which had been previously offered to idols and possibly to not going to banquets or family gatherings which were held in rooms of pagan temples. This command was an application of the Mosaic Covenant laws about having nothing to do with anything associated with idolatry (Exodus 34:11-17, Numbers 33:52, Deuteronomy 4:15-19, 5:8, 7:1-5, 12:1-3 and 27:15). [5]

The command to “abstain from…things strangled” relates to the Leviticus 17:10-14, Deuteronomy 12:15-16 and 12:23-25 commands to pour the blood of animals or birds onto the ground. If an animal or bird is only strangled, its blood will remain in it and the person who eats it, will sinfully eat its blood.

The instruction to “abstain from…blood” relates also to Leviticus 17:10-14, Deuteronomy 12:15-16 and 12:23-25 and refers to eating and drinking blood. Note that under the Noahic Covenant, this command to not eat or drink blood applied to the whole human race (see Genesis 9:4). This is another reason why this and the previous command applies to both Jews and non-Jews.

The Acts 15:20 and 29 command to “abstain from…sexual immorality” has a broad meaning. In Greek, the phrase “sexual immorality” here is a form of the word “porneia” which means “sexual immorality of any kind” [6] or “prostitution, unchastity, fornication, of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse”. [7]

In the context of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9, “porneia” has the limited meaning of adultery. In the context of 1 Corinthians 5:1, it means incest. In the context of Matthew 15:19, Mark 7:21 and Romans 1:29, “porneia” refers to any type of sexual immorality.

The context of Acts 15:20 and 29 relates to which commands of the Mosaic Law are transferred into the New Covenant as being applicable to New Covenant non-Israelite believers. Therefore, “sexual immorality” in these two verses refers to:

 

         adultery (see Leviticus 18:20).

         sexual intercourse before marriage (see Deuteronomy 22:13-24).

         homosexuality (see Leviticus 18:22 and Deuteronomy 23:17).

         incest (see Leviticus 18:6-17).

         sex with animals (see Leviticus 18:23).

 

In Acts 15:28-29, the Council of Jerusalem did not say that the earthly punishments which God commanded in the Mosaic Covenant for those who disobeyed these laws about sexual immorality, drinking or eating blood, eating things strangled and idolatry, were to be applied to New Covenant non-Israelite believers. For example, the Council did not say adulterers and homosexuals should be put to death. But note in Leviticus 20:10 and 13, God commands that Israelites under the Mosaic Covenant be put to death for these two sins.

 

As many views as the number of Mosaic laws?

 

Usually those Bible teachers who believe they must obey some of the commands of the Mosaic Law cannot agree on which ones. One teacher says, “We only have to obey the Ten Commandments”. But another says, “Just obeying the Ten Commandments is not enough. We cannot leave out the commands about loving God in Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12, 11:1, 13:3, 30:6 and 30:20 and loving our neighbour in Leviticus 19:18.” Another says, “Well, if we have to obey Leviticus 19:18, we have to obey the following verses in Leviticus 19:19 about not sowing our fields with mixed seed nor wearing a garment of mixed linen and wool and obey Leviticus 19:20 which permits us to have a concubine besides our wife”.

Another says, “We must also change the Christian day of worship from Sunday to Saturday in order to fulfil the 4th Commandment about the Sabbath”. Yet another says, “No, we need to spiritualise the 4th Commandment so it can be fulfilled on Sundays. In spiritualising it, we must not change its emphasis on doing absolutely no work. It is a sin for even petrol stations or corner stores to open on Sundays”.

Another teacher says, “We must obey all the moral laws found in the Mosaic Covenant, but not the civil and ceremonial laws”. Yet another demands, “No, we must obey all the moral and some of the civil laws, but not the ceremonial.”

But then someone else argues, “Paul obeyed some of the ceremonial aspects of the Law even after conversion. Examples are the feast of Pentecost (see Acts 18:21 and 20:16) and participation in some temple purification ceremonies (see Acts 21:20-26). Paul also had the half-Greek half-Jew Timothy circumcised (see Acts 16:3). So does not this mean we should obey some of the ceremonial laws of the Mosaic Covenant also”.

Someone will argue, “We must teach the laws about not committing adultery (see Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22), not having sex before marriage (see Deuteronomy 22:13-21), not practicing homosexuality (see Leviticus 20:13), not having sex with an animal (see Leviticus 20:16), not being a medium or having familiar spirits (see Leviticus 20:27), not cursing your mother or father (see Leviticus 20:9) and not being a rebellious son (see Deuteronomy 21:18-21). But we must leave out the part of these verses related to putting to death those who practice these things”. Others, however, will argue we must teach these latter laws but also put to death those who practice these things.

There are probably as many other seemingly plausible alternatives about specific verses of the Mosaic Covenant that various Bible teachers claim New Covenant believers are supposed to obey, as there are numbers of verses in the Mosaic Law itself.

A classic example of how some of the best Bible teachers, who believe New Covenant non-Israelites should obey parts of the Mosaic Law, disagree with each other about which specific commands can be seen in the differing views of Drs Greg Bahnsen, Walter Kaiser and Willem van Gemeren in the book “Five Views on Law and Gospel” (Chapter 1, 2 and 3 and especially pages 59-69 and 206-209).

 

 

 


 


[1] Romans 7:1-8:2 uses the word “law” in many different ways. For example, Romans 7:7, 7:9, 7:11 and 7:14 use the word “law” to refer to the Law of Moses. Romans 7:23 and 7:25 mention “the law of sin”. Romans 7:23 refers to “the law of my mind” and “another law in my members”. Romans 8:2 mentions “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” and “the law of sin and death”.

[2] In Jesus’ teachings as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, there is no command against occult and witchcraft. But note the Holy Spirit inspired other later Biblical authors to condemn it (see Acts 13:6-11, 16:16-18, Galatians 5:20, Revelation 9:21, 18:23, 21:8 and 22:15). New Covenant believers must obey God’s commands found in every New Testament Book and not just in the four written Gospels.

[3] The Mosaic Covenant does not specifically mention abortion. Exodus 21:22-23 relates to men fighting and hurting a child of pregnant woman. It does not refer to abortion.

[4] Greg L. Bahnsen, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Douglas J. Moo, Wayne G. Strickland and Willem A. Van Gemeren, “Five Views on Law and Gospel”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996, pages 89, 225 and 315.

[5] Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul added extra instructions to this Acts 15 command about abstaining from things polluted by idols (see 1 Corinthians 8:1-13).

[6] Louw and Nida, page 771.

[7] Bauer, page 693.

 

 


Copyright © 2002 - InternetBibleCollege.net
Individuals may take copies of these works for the purpose of studying the Bible provided that this copyright notice is attached to all copies.