Before I begin, I should emphasize that, under Jewish law, the Torah is binding only on Jews, as it is written: "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto US and to OUR CHILDREN for ever, that WE may do all the words of this law." (Deuteronomy 29:29) The Gentiles are only obligated to observe the seven laws of Noah. I have written this article because (1) there are many Jews in Messianic Judaism and other Christian sects; (2) Christians have a mandate to evangelize the world (Acts 1:8), which includes the Jews; and (3) even the Gentiles have the right to know if they're misinterpreting the Scriptures.
Most Christians could probably quote the above boldfaced verse in their sleep. But they don't realize that it has strong implications for the Law of Moses. For if the word of our God endures forever, then in particular the Law of Moses must endure forever, along with every blessing promised to those who obey it and every curse promised to those who disobey it.
This point is borne out more forcefully in Matthew 5:17-19: "Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets; I have not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For truly I say unto you, until heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, until everything is accomplished. Whoever therefore shall break one of the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Clearly, heaven and earth have not yet passed away, and everything has not yet been accomplished; consequently one jot or one tittle has in no wise passed from the Law, even from a Christian perspective, and God still wants us to obey it.
The Passover law in particular was declared to be binding upon Christians at the Last Supper. "And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). This passage is commonly interpreted as instituting Holy Communion. But was Jesus speaking simply about the bread? Consider that the Last Supper was a Passover seder (stated earlier in the chapter) and that therefore the bread referred to would have been unleavened bread (matzoh). Since matzoh was always eaten during Passover and rarely eaten at any other time, the disciples would have understood Jesus's statement as referring to the entire Passover seder. Furthermore, it is clear that whatever Jesus was referring to must have had something to do with Jesus himself; for how else could the disciples do it in remembrance of him? Matzoh in and of itself has nothing to do with Jesus; but Christians believe that the Passover laws foreshadowed Jesus's death. Therefore it would be only natural for Christians to think of Jesus when observing Passover. "This do in remembrance of me" must have meant that Christians were to observe Passover as a memorial of Jesus's death, just as Passover had been from its inception a memorial of the exodus from Egypt.
At this point, Christians often object that we are saved by grace, and not by law. I am not disputing this fact, for those who are "least in the kingdom of heaven" are still in the kingdom of heaven. (Indeed, salvation by grace is a Jewish doctrine as well, though we don't normally refer to it in those words. The daily prayers recited by religious Jews are laced with petitions for forgiveness of sins.) However, the fact that those who disobey the Law of Moses are called least in the kingdom of heaven says something about how pleasing their lives were in the sight of the Lord. As to the idea that our being saved by grace is something new, we know that David was saved by grace, because his sin with Bathsheba did not prevent him from entering the kingdom of heaven.
But what about Peter's vision in Acts 10? Didn't God tell Peter to "arise, kill, and eat"? He most certainly did, at least according to the Book of Acts; but look at how Peter himself interprets the vision: "And he said to them, 'You know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to keep company or come unto a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (Acts 10:28). Clearly, then, the vision was allegorical and had nothing to do with actual food; God gave Peter the vision so that he would be willing to preach the Gospel to Cornelius's family despite their being Gentiles. As to the charge that God in this vision repealed the law against associating with Gentiles, let it be noted that no such law appears anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures; associating with Gentiles was only "unlawful" in the sense that some extremist Jews held themselves aloof from the Gentiles.
But what about Romans 6:14? Aren't we under grace, and not under law? Once again, Paul is speaking with respect to salvation. We are saved by grace, and not by law; however, this does not give us the right to disobey the Law. For verse 15 says, "What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid." (1 John 3:4 defines sin as "the transgression of the law".)
But didn't Jesus declare all foods clean in Mark 7:18-19? No, he did not. This deception comes from Bible translations other than the King James version which end verse 19 with "Thus he declared all foods clean". In the King James version, where the New Testament is based on the Greek Textus Receptus, the passage reads, "And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats?" The word 'draught' here is the old English word for 'latrine'; Jesus is stating here not that all meats are clean, but that, since they are purged from the body by the digestive system, they cannot defile the heart. It is interesting to note here that Jesus stated this passage before the Crucifixion; thus, even if the mainstream churches were right about the Law, this passage still could not imply the cleanness of all meats.
But didn't Jesus and his disciples pluck ears of corn on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12)? Yes, they did. But look at how Jesus defended himself against the Pharisees' accusation that they had violated the Sabbath: Jesus appealed to the Hebrew Scriptures. If Abiathar the priest could give David and his companions consecrated bread, and if the priests could minister before God on the Sabbath, then Jesus reasoned that he and his disciples could eat ears of corn fresh from the stalk on the Sabbath. Notice, however, that neither Jesus nor his disciples put any ears of corn into a basket to take with them. And when he referred to himself as "Lord of the Sabbath", he did not follow this statement with a claim to have repealed the commandment regarding the Sabbath.
But what about Colossians 2:14? This verse reads, "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross". Doesn't this verse repeal the Law? By no means! It is obvious that the "ordinances" referred to cannot be the commandments written in the Law, because these commandments were never "against us". What then are these ordinances? From the context of the verse, they must bear some relation to Jesus's mission. What was Jesus's mission? To atone for our sins, according to the New Testament. When he died on the cross, it is said that he blotted out the sins of all who had accepted him as Lord and Savior and who would afterward accept him. With our sins thus blotted out, such verses as "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20) are no longer said to hold power over them. The punishments for sin, as imposed in the Law, are the "handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us" which Jesus "took ... out of the way, nailing it to his cross" on behalf of all who by faith would accept him. This verse has nothing to do with the commandments written in the Law.
But doesn't the entire letter of Galatians set aside the Law? Absolutely not! In Galatians 5:4, we read, "Christ is become of no effect to you, you who seek to be JUSTIFIED by law; you have fallen from grace." Notice that word "justified"; it means that Paul was writing this letter to people who were trying to be saved by the Law. Paul's purpose in writing Galatians was to correct people who thought salvation was based on being "good enough", not to set aside the Law. As for Galatians 4:4-5, which reads, "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons", recall that a person who chooses not to serve God is under the Law and under the condemnation thereof; but just as David was under grace and was forgiven of his sins, so also those who are "in Christ", as the Christians put it, are said to be under grace and are forgiven of their sins. The passage refers again to the doctrine of salvation by grace, not to any setting-aside of the Law.
But what about the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34? This passage reads, "`Behold, days are coming,' says the Lord, `that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,' says the Lord. `But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days,' says the Lord, `I will put my law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,' says the Lord; `for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.'" This prophecy clearly speaks of a new covenant which is to be different from the covenant of Sinai. Isn't this the covenant of the cross, which must then render the covenant of Sinai obsolete? Absolutely not! Reread verse 34; it is clear that we still teach every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, "Know the Lord"; in fact, this is the heart of the Great Commission (Acts 1:8). Further, they do not all know Him, from the least of them to the greatest of them; in fact, we who know Him comprise a tiny minority of the world's population. The new covenant spoken of in this prophecy therefore cannot refer to the covenant of the cross, but must refer to a covenant which God will make with us after the Final Judgement, when we will no longer have to preach repentance because only the righteous will be there.
But what about Ephesians 2:15? This passage reads, "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace". Doesn't this verse repeal the Law? Not in the slightest! The context of this verse is the grafting in of Gentile believers. The "enmity" spoken of is the "middle wall of partition" between Jews and Gentiles (verse 14). As mentioned earlier, there were at the time some Jewish sects which held aloof from associating with Gentiles. This tradition is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament, but it was nonetheless rigorously observed by these Jewish sects. This is why the Samaritan woman with whom Jesus spoke marvelled that he would speak with her (John 4:9). Even Peter, one of the twelve, held so tenaciously to this tradition that, according to the Book of Acts, God had to give him a vision to get him to preach the Gospel to a Gentile family (see my explanation of Acts 10). What says the Law with regard to associating with Gentiles? "Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). The tradition of avoiding Gentiles like the plague was abolished by Jesus in the Great Commission (Acts 1:8), having previously been forbidden in the Law. The enmity spoken of in Ephesians 2:15 is most definitely not the Law. (Note also that Paul says that the enmity was "abolished" in Jesus's flesh, whereas Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19 that he had not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. If the enmity is the Law, then we have a contradiction.)
But didn't the Council at Jerusalem declare in Acts 15:19-20 that the Gentile Christians didn't have to obey the Law? No, it didn't. The passage reads, "Therefore my judgement is that we not trouble those who have turned to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from pollutions of idols and from fornication and from things strangled and from blood." The Council's intention here was to avoid snowing newly-saved Gentiles with dozens of unfamiliar laws all at once, which would have discouraged many from serving the Lord. The Council did not, however, intend to excuse the Gentiles from obeying the Law; for verse 21 reads, "For Moses has from ancient times in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath day." The early Church congregated in the synagogues on the Sabbath, and the Gentile converts would find it only natural to join them; thus they would eventually hear everything there was to hear about the law of Moses. Consequently the Council at Jerusalem saw no need to teach newly-saved Gentiles about circumcision, the dietary laws, etc.
But doesn't 1 Corinthians 7:18-19 repeal the commandment regarding circumcision? Absolutely not. Here's what the passage says: "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God." The first thing we can be sure of is that Paul is not speaking about physical circumcision. It is impossible for the physically circumcised to become physically uncircumcised; foreskins don't grow back! Furthermore, Paul says that "the keeping of the commandments of God" is important; one of the commandments of God is the commandment to be physically circumcised (Genesis 17:13). Paul is using circumcision as a metaphor for Jewish descent, saying that Jewish believers need not forsake their traditions (except where those traditions contradict scripture) and that Gentile believers need not adopt Jewish traditions (except where they are mandated by scripture). (One may wonder why I include the exception; if I didn't, it would be okay for Gentiles to hate their neighbors, because loving one's neighbor is a Jewish tradition [Leviticus 19:18].) So, then, 1 Corinthians 7:18-19 in no way repeals the commandment regarding circumcision.
But doesn't Hebrews 10:8-9 repeal the Law? This passage reads, "Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offerings for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second." Doesn't this mean that God is taking away the Law, that He may establish grace? No, it doesn't. It is clear that whatever He's taking away must be an impediment to that which He is establishing - "He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second." None of the commandments of the Law is in any way an impediment to God's grace. Notice too that the author of Hebrews is quoting a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (Psalm 40:6-8); hence whatever message he is seeking to convey must either have been true before Jesus was crucified, or be false even today. What message is he seeking to convey? Attempting to obtain salvation by being "good enough" is an impediment to God's grace, and He must remove it from an individual's heart before He can establish grace for that individual. "He taketh away the first" - salvation by law - "that he may establish the second" - salvation by grace. This is nothing more than what the Hebrew Scriptures say: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6).
But what about Hebrews 7:12? This is the only verse in the entire New Testament that mentions any kind of change in the Law. It reads, "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." To rightly understand this verse, we must understand the sense in which the priesthood was changed. The Greek word "metathesis", here rendered "changed", has the sense of a transformation, a reorganization with nothing actually being added or removed. This is borne out in Isaiah 53:6 - "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." Even if the Christians are right about Isaiah 53, that Isaiah is the speaker and he is speaking about Jesus, then Isaiah, by using the words "we" and "us", numbers himself among those who benefited from Jesus's intercession as High Priest, so that no actual alteration of the priesthood happened at the cross. Rather, what the New Testament says happened was that God was now revealing openly what He had previously declared with types and shadows. The Bible clearly declares that the Temple will be rebuilt in the last days (Haggai 2:9), and the Levitical priesthood will then be reestablished. The difference (if the Christians are right about Jesus) will be that, whereas the sacrifices once pointed forward to Jesus's death, they will then be offered in joyous commemoration of his death.
But how can we observe the Law today, with the Temple in ruins? Many Christians have told me that since the sacrifices can no longer be offered, there must have been a change in the covenant. But this is not the first time that we have had to do without a Temple; Daniel, Ezekiel, and many other holy people lived through the Babylonian Captivity, when there was no Temple. I have never heard anyone claim that Daniel and Ezekiel ate pork or worked on the Sabbath; hence the absence of a Temple today in no way means that the Law has been repealed.
In fact, the Hebrew Scriptures anticipated a time when we would not have a Temple: "... for the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice ..." (Hosea 3:4). (Incidentally, Christianity claims that we have a sacrifice.) But what were we to do in the days when there would be no sacrifice? "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2). This verse proves that prayer can substitute for sacrifice when there is no Temple.
Here are some more scriptures proving the permanence of the Law of Moses:
Matthew 23:1-3 - "Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses's seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not." - On one level, Jesus is rebuking the scribes and the Pharisees for not practicing what they preach. But on another level, he is saying that they at least teach correct doctrines and that we are to follow these doctrines. The Pharisees believed in strict observance of the Law of Moses, and they believed in a set of commandments known as the Oral Law (since codified in the Mishnah) which God gave Moses on Mount Sinai and which was handed down by oral tradition until the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (when the Mishnah began to be written). The Pharisees were hypocrites, but according to Matthew 23:1-3 they at least got the doctrines right - and Christians, to be consistent, should observe these doctrines.
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