Analysis of “Law of Christ” article by Andries van Niekerk at http://revelationbyjesuschrist.com/law-of-christ
Summary: My name is Thomas Lee, and I hold no position or title and do not work for any ministry; I just consider myself a student of God’s Word, which I love dearly. I take issue specifically with the idea that there is a body of law called Christ’s Law that is in any way different from God’s Law or the Mosaic Law, all terms that I believe are used to refer to the same body of Law, the only body of divine Law. I take issue generally with the idea that the Law has been in any way nullified, abolished, abrogated, replaced, or altered. I hold that the entire law, every jot and tittle, remains fully in effect and relevant under the New Covenant as prophesied at Jeremiah 31:31-33, when the Law (the Hebrew at Jer. 31:31-33 is Torah, i.e., the Mosaic Law) would be written on our hearts.
I understand this is an unpopular position and is often labeled as legalism, so let me just clarify that point. Legalism is observing the Law as a means of earning something, in this case salvation. I do my best to observe as much of the Law as possible not to earn anything, but because I have already been given salvation. I have salvation, now I am to work out that salvation with fear and trembling, and the Law is not burdensome (1Jn. 5:3). This broader subject is broad indeed and is not a simple one to unravel due to the nearly 1,700 years of error being entrenched and compounded as gospel truth. I know that is a bold statement in light of being in a severe minority, but I don’t believe truth is determined by numbers of adherents or majority vote. It’s not just the gate that is narrow, but the path is narrow also.
Without further ado, below I try to address relevant topics point by point as I move through the article and avoid redundancy. I ask only that you take a moment to pray and ask God to touch and guard your heart as you read this so that only truth may penetrate.
- In the introduction, you said, “Christ, through His teachings, … replaced the Law of Moses with a higher law with much higher moral standards.” I believe you contradict yourself repeatedly by pointing out that Christ did not replace anything, but merely provided an interpretation that applied the same laws beyond mere physical obedience, making obedience to those laws a matter of one’s heart, i.e., one’s thoughts, motives, and intent. This, in fact, is not something new ushered in by Christ, as God tells us as much at Dt. 6:5-6 (and Dt. 32:46, Jos. 22:5, 1Ki. 8:61, 2Ki. 23:25, 2Chr. 31:21, Ps. 37:31, Ps. 40:8, Pr. 3:1, Pr. 4:4, Isa. 51:7…).
Your use of “replace” does not align with the definition of that word in any dictionary that I’m aware of. What you are doing is equating two different concepts—replace and pleroo. The Greek word pleroo (pleh-rah-oh), incorrectly translated at Mt. 5:17 as fulfill, means to bring [something] to its fullest or most complete state (which is what fulfill used to mean centuries ago: to fill to the full. Today’s translators know this but continue to translate pleroo as fulfill because it supports the accepted doctrine that God’s law is abolished). Pleroo does not equal replace.
While I believe your use of “replace” is misapplied, I do agree with you that Christ brought the understanding of the Law to its most complete state. This aligns with correct covenant theology, which is the idea that, with each successive covenant made between God and His people, He reveals more of Himself through a greater amount of instructions and/or a greater understanding of those instructions already given, not by any subtraction of content or understanding. To suggest a subtraction of any kind implies imperfection, error, oversight, mistake. God tells us at Ps. 19:7 that His Law is perfect, which is a different meaning than the statement at Heb. 7:19 that the Law made nothing perfect. The former speaks of the Law itself while the latter speaks of the Law’s effect on people. Speaking again of the Law itself, James reiterates at 1:25 that God’s Law is perfect. While God’s Law, being perfect, does not change, just as God does not change, His revelation of understanding of His Law does change, and that change is always an addition, never a subtraction. This conflation of “replace” and the concept of pleroo can be seen in the very first paragraph following the introduction (emphasis and [insertions] mine):
The Sermon on the Mount provides perhaps the best examples of this [replacing the Law of Moses]. Here Christ quoted various Old Testament laws, and then, starting by saying, “But I say to you” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39 and 44), gave a much elevated [pleroo] version of that law.
In saying that the law against murder applies to anger does not negate or nullify the law regarding murder. It still stands and remains in effect under the New Covenant. This goes for every one of the laws about which Christ says, “But I say to you…” Jesus, in addition to saying, “But I say to you,” was also fond of saying, “Have you never read in the scriptures,” and “It is written,” referring to His Father’s Law. When asked by the rich young man what he must do to inherit eternal life, Christ pointed him to the Law with, “You know the commandments,…” Christ also said that Moses wrote about Him [in the Law]; Paul wrote that the whole Law points to Jesus as “the objective (telos) of the Law” (Ro. 10:4), and you’re suggesting that all of that has been replaced? The whole premise of this article is based on the flawed equating of these two distinctly different concepts of “replace” and “pleroo.”
- Under “Christ Replaced the Law of Moses with a Higher System of Ethics,” you wrote,
Still talking about people that make one angry or scared, He said: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Here Christ lifts the standard exponentially by defining even anger is a sin. Instead of anger He requires us to love even our enemies.
Did Christ elevate anger to a sin here? I don’t see that He did. The context here, provided in the preceding verse, is not anger but hatred. While hate and anger are sometimes related or combined, they are different concepts. One can feel hatred without anger and anger without hatred. Christ was angry at the animal sellers and money changers doing business within His Father’s temple. He was angry enough to whip them, but He did not hate them. Scripture tells us at Eph. 4:26 to be angry but do not sin, i.e., not to sin in or as a result of our anger. Eph. 4:26 is quoting from Ps. 4:4, where the Hebrew word translated in my NASB as tremble is ragaz, meaning “tremble or quake with anger or rage.” In the Septuagint, the Greek word used for ragaz is ὀργίζεσθε (orgizesthe) and means “to make (or be made) angry,” so we know that “anger” or “angry” at Eph 4:26 is a correctly translated quote of Ps. 4:4’s ragaz.
- Under “Christ Replaced the Law of Moses with a Higher System of Ethics,” you wrote,
Christ not only replaced the Ten Commandments; he also replaced other Old Testament laws, for instance, God gave to Moses the rule “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Lev. 24:20), but now Christ teaches that we should not take revenge.”
You said (emphasis mine), “[Jesus] also replaced other Old Testament laws,…” Which other laws? You name some, but, in addition to failing to make a case for replacing them, you do not claim that those listed in this article make up the complete list of laws relevant under this moniker of “Christ’s Law.” For such a central doctrine, there is no scripture actually saying that one replaces the other and no section of scripture setting forth these new laws and calling them Christ’s Law. Ask different denominations, churches, or individuals to compile a complete list of the commandments comprising Christ’s Law and you’ll get wildly varying lists as there is no clear delineation.
Another problem with this position is that it calls God a liar because God says repeatedly in the Law itself and throughout the Old Testament that His Law will remain in effect forever and does not change. Jesus said the same at Mt. 5:17-19 and throughout the gospel of John, and John makes this clear in his first epistle. This understanding also makes Jesus unqualified to be the Messiah and Paul a heretic in light of Dt. 13:1-5. If anyone wants to know why Jews don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, Dt. 13:1-5 is the key. Jesus is the Messiah, but the Jesus the modern church presents cannot be the Messiah. Jews are right to reject the Jesus presented by the church, but wrong to reject the Jesus of the scriptures. The church presents Jesus as a law breaker, i.e., one who set the example by willfully violating His Father’s Law and/or taught others to do likewise (see Mt. 5:18-19).
In Christ’s day, there were people who were taking the Law into their own hands and meting out justice as they saw fit, according to private interpretations and applications of those laws. There are almost no examples of this in scripture, but can be found in abundance in historical records of the time, such as those of Josephus and Philo. One example we do see in scripture is the mob bringing to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. Was that the correct course of action according to the Law? No. Jesus did not hold a public office in charge of adjudicating such matters, so He was the wrong person to bring her to…under the Law. The mob also erred in Law by not bringing the man she was caught with along with her to be judged. In modern terms, the case had to be thrown out because the prosecution did not follow proper procedure. So even if Christ had been appointed as a judge, He could not have charged the woman with the crime she was being charged with (see Lk. 12:14). What He did do was prevent the mob from carrying out justice as they saw fit, which would have made them guilty of murder, and He gave sound advice to the woman: go, and sin no more. It is the same thing we might say to a thief caught stealing but who was not charged due to a procedural error.
- Under “The Law of Christ Replaced the Law of Moses,” you wrote (emphasis yours),
Just before His ascension, Jesus said to His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you …” (Matthew 28:19-20). Paul wrote “the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor. 14:37) and that he (Paul) is not “without the law of God” because he is “under the law of Christ” (1Cor. 9:21). He urged Christ’s followers to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). The “Law of Christ” refers [to] Christ’s teachings, which is the higher level law which replaced the Law of Moses.
I’m going to try to address this piece by piece. So Jesus told the disciples to teach new disciples all that He commanded them. You are implying that what Jesus taught them is different from what His Father taught. Who is Jesus if not Yehovah in the flesh, or do you think they are two separate and distinct gods? Might you believe that God had a change of heart or corrected a mistake that He had made? Or, in extremis, maybe God just lied when He said that His Law would remain in effect forever. Let’s examine this idea that Jesus taught something other than what His Father instructed in light of Jesus’ own words.
Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” –Jn. 5:19
I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. –Jn. 5:30
When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. –Jn. 8:28
Paul said that the things he wrote were the Lord’s commandment. Who is “the Lord”? Yes, we refer to Jesus as “Lord,” but not as “LORD” or “Lord” because the former can refer to Jesus and the latter refers exclusively to the part of the tri-une nature of God called the Father (as written in our English Bibles).
Beginning sometime in the second temple period, Pharisees (or their nominative precursors) instituted a man-made law (Gk: dogma) prohibiting anyone from speaking (correctly pronouncing) the name of God, represented by the Hebrew letters Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay in the Hebrew scriptures or the Tetragrammaton “YHVH” or “YHWH” in English translations. Paul would have been comfortable calling God “LORD,” and Christians followed Jewish practice on this matter. Keep in mind also that we’re dealing with a translation from Koine Greek here, so we’re dealing with a language that did not distinguish between Lord and LORD in writing.
That the word is written as Lord and not LORD at 1Co. 14:37 is a matter of the translators’ best guess. Paul has no problem writing the name of Jesus Christ in scripture, so when he refers to “the Lord” without following that up with “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ,” he would most likely be referring to the LORD, God, the Father. Regardless of whether Paul was here referring to Jesus or the Father is irrelevant, however, since they are one and the same perfect, eternal God. The point is that Paul referring to the “Lord’s commandment” does not definitively mean he’s referring only to something that Jesus said as recorded in the NT.
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” –Jn. 14:7-9
By citing 1Co. 9:21, you quoted part of a passage of scripture that contradicts your argument, even just in the snippet that you quoted, “though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ.” Paul says that he is under the Law of Christ but that he is not without the Law of God. How can this be if the Law of Christ has replaced the Law of God? It can’t. The expression “Law of Christ” must have some other meaning than something—not universally definable based on scripture—that replaces His Father’s eternal Law.
In my studies of scripture, I maintain my own commentary so I can refer back to things I’ve learned and correct or update previously held understandings. For 1Co. 9:20-22 I have the following.
Do we read anywhere in the NT of Paul doing anything contrary to Torah? No, we don’t, so we must include that fact in our understanding of what Paul meant when he referred to himself as being “as one without the Law.” We do see Paul using an inscription on a pagan altar (Acts 17:28) and quoting from gentile literature (Acts 17:23) as a springboard for presenting the Gospel, neither of which is forbidden in the Law. We read at Acts 21:19-24 that there were some in Jerusalem who were falsely claiming that Paul was teaching that Torah was to be ignored and had himself abandoned it. Many popular commentaries claim that verse 21 means that Paul relinquished “Jewish” practices, but (1) there is no evidence of that and (2) we see in this the common Christian mistake of not realizing the difference between Jewish and biblical. We also see in Acts 17:17-20 that gentiles in Athens who heard and/or engaged with Paul in the marketplace and the Areopagus were not aware that he was a Jew. There were also times when Paul used to his advantage both his Jewish identity (Acts 21:37-39, 22:2-3) and his Roman citizenship (Acts 22:25-29). Paul even used his identity as a Pharisee to his advantage (Acts 23:6-9). At Acts 24:14, Paul declared that he believes everything in the Torah. The Hebrew concept of belief is not mere mental assent as in the Greek (and Western) concept, but acting on it. For Paul to say that he believed it means that he also lived it. In Manado, Indonesia, white guys have a reputation of being a bit wild. Once when I was there, and knowing of that reputation, I used that to behave differently than I would normally or in my own country so as to publicly encourage people to come to Christ, although I did nothing that violated God’s Law in the process. By taking on the persona of the stereotype, I was able to reach more people more effectively and efficiently. In these three verses, Paul meant that he would use unbelievers’ own beliefs and ways to show them the truth, not that he would walk lawlessly to reach souls. So to religious Jews he would use the Law to speak to them; to a gentile he would use gentile conscience and culture.
- Under “The Law of Christ Reveals the Father’s Heart,” you quoted Jn. 14:9, Jn. 8:28, and Jn. 12:49. I believe you are misapplying these verses to your argument, or rather applying them in such a way that undermines your argument. The only way your argument here can make sense is if God changes, if there are errors in the Law that He had to re-evaluate, or if God made a mistake in giving the Law to the Israelites in the first place (e.g., too much of a burden). I agree with you that the Law of Christ reflects the Father’s heart, but only because the Law of Christ is the Law of God [applied correctly (Isa. 28:10-13)]. I would argue that the whole Law [of God] reflects God’s heart, or else He wouldn’t have given it in the first place as that would be false dealing.
You want to make this distinction between Law of Christ and Law of God, but you say that it’s not the Law of God that reflects God’s heart, but the Law of Christ. To support this conclusion, you cite Mt. 5:48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Yet God told His people well before the Messiah appeared on the scene that His Law is perfect. Jesus had to walk perfectly according to the Law in order to be the spotless lamb, that sinless sacrifice, for our redemption, and He is our example. If any of us perceives an imperfection in God’s Law, and if we claim to be believers and followers of the Bible, the imperfection lies with our perception of His Law, not with His Law itself.
- Under “The Law of Christ Reveals the Father’s Heart,” you wrote (emphasis yours),
God never punishes us because of bad things we have done in the past. He does punish, but it is always with an eye on the future; to achieve better things for the future, for God is love.
There is a flaw in logic here as it applies to linear time. God never punishes us for bad things we’ve done in the past? Then when did we do the bad things that God does punish us for? I do agree with what I think your point is, which is that God’s punishment is not purely for the sake of punishment but because He is a good Father who loves His children and wants us to do right as we move forward through time.
- Under “God Gave Israel the Law in a Form Which They Could Understand,” you wrote (emphasis yours),
It is proposed that the law was scaled down to fit the corrupt condition of the nation. Jesus explained this principle in Matthew 19. When He was asked about the provisions for divorce in the Law of Moses,…
Jesus says why Moses gave God’s people this law; it was because of the hardness of their hearts, not because of a corrupt condition leading to an inability to grasp it. If that were the case, then we flawed human beings are without hope of ever receiving God’s instructions. You used this one example repeatedly to show a change or difference in Law between God’s Law and Christ’s Law. Let’s look at all of the relevant text of this passage.
 Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”  And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,  and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”  They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND HER AWAY?”  He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” –Mt. 19:3-9
What was the original question that started this (verse 3)? The Pharisees didn’t just ask if it was okay to divorce, but if it was okay to divorce for any reason at all. That the Pharisees asked this question means that it was already a point of debate among them, and historical writings bear this out. Finally, did Christ actually change this law on divorce that Moses gave the Israelites? No, he did not. He simply said that, from the beginning, it was not like this. This implies that the people’s application of this law was in error, not the law itself. Mankind had the example “from the beginning” in Adam and Eve, but we chose to do otherwise. God does permit divorce, but only for cases of immorality, and only as long as the man doesn’t marry a different woman (verse 9).
- Under “God Gave Israel the Law in a Form Which They Could Understand,” you wrote,
Jesus therefore responded to their question by referring to the creation account, not the Law of Moses. This implies that the Law of Christ is the law as it existed “from the beginning”. For both marriage (Mat. 19:8) and the seventh day (Mark 2:27) Christ reached over the Law of Moses to derive His elevated principles or laws from the way that things were created to be.
This is a conclusion without a foundation. If “Christ’s Law” is the law as it existed in the beginning, to whom did God give it? If He did not give it to anyone, how would we know what it looked like? If one wanted to force scripture to fit this doctrine, the marriage example offers no hurdles, but the Sabbath example sure does.
Did Christ go back further than the Law of Moses to creation to support a different understanding or a different Law regarding the Sabbath? The Sabbath was established at creation. On the seventh day God rested from all His work. God gave Sabbath instructions again as a reminder during the exodus from Egypt even before the Israelites reached Mount Sinai to be given the Law in its entirety. There are at least three (that I know of) Old Testament references to our future as a time when not only the Sabbath will be observed by God’s people, but also His new moon observances— Isa. 66:23, Eze. 44:24, and Eze. 46:3—practices that the church abandoned because they were incorrectly perceived as being “Jewish.” That these are OT references means that the definition of Sabbath can only mean the weekly seventh-day abstention from work and not some spiritualized definition that, by its effect, actually dispenses with any Sabbath observance at all, making it a mindset rather than what it should be: a sign distinguishing God’s people from those of the world (Ex. 31:13).
The laws about the weekly seventh-day Sabbath are perpetual (Ex. 31:16). Jesus kept the Sabbath (and the whole Law), and we are to walk as Jesus walked (Eph. 2:10, Col. 2:6, 1Jn. 15-:7, 1Jn. 2:6).
- Under “Differences Between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ,” you wrote (emphasis yours),
The Ten Commandments is God’s Law at Satan’s end of the spectrum; it expresses God’s principles in terms of the practical realities of a world controlled by the evil one. Take, for instance, the commandment not to kill. It is based on God’s law—to love the people around you as much as you love yourself—but with Satan’s and man’s fallen nature in mind. The Ten Commandments therefore are but a dim reflection of His original and eternal law. The Law of Christ describes what the Father wants us to strive for, namely to be like Him, which is unconditional love.
The Ten Commandments are God’s Law at Satan’s end of the spectrum? There is no spectrum between God and Satan; there is darkness, and there is light in which there is no darkness at all (1Jn. 1:5).
You says that God’s commandment against killing (actually murdering) is a watered down version of loving your neighbor as yourself, one being OT and the other NT, one the Law of God and the other the Law of Christ. In Mt. 19:16-22 we have an account of the rich young man asking Christ what he must do to obtain eternal life. Christ responds by telling him to keep “the commandments.” Not only does He not offer a distinction between one set of commandments and another, God’s and His, He gives some examples of the commandments He is referring to. In that list are five laws from the Ten Commandments—the Law of Moses—and one is presumably from Christ’s Law, the second-greatest commandment, from Mt. 22:39.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” however, comes from Lev. 19:18, again part of what you refer to as God’s Law or Moses’ Law. At Mt. 19:16-22, Christ is telling us that these laws, to quote Paul, “are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. [They are] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Loving one’s neighbor as one’s self has always been part of God’s Law. That’s what commandments 6 through 10 are all about.
- Under “Differences Between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ,” you wrote (emphasis yours),
The Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for Sabbath breaking (Ex. 31:14), murder (Ex. 21:12), striking or cursing one’s father or mother (Ex. 21:15; Ex. 21:17), adultery (Lev. 20:10), blaspheming the name of the LORD (Lev. 24:16) and various other transgressions. But Christ said to the woman caught in adultery, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
This is again an equating of two unequal things, so the comparison is invalid. You note various OT laws the penalty for violating which is death. Then you contrast these with a single, completely different situation implying (1) that the penalty for violating OT laws is no longer death and (2) that God is about judgment and Christ is about mercy as though they are two separate and distinct beings. I have already explained the situation with the woman caught in adultery above so I won’t go into that again except to say that it is most certainly not an example of mercy instead of judgment. If that were the case, then God would not punish His people for any transgression at all, and yet we read that God’s judgment will begin at the household of God (1Pe. 4:17). Mercy is not newly introduced with Jesus in the NT. The Hebrew word is khesed and can be found throughout the OT, but it is usually translated as kindness or lovingkindness instead of mercy so we don’t make the connection. In fact, God’s sacrificial laws are all about mercy, just as it is mercy that Christ was sacrificed instead of us.
I have a word of caution for any to ponder. There is a sickness that has lain on the church for hundreds of years, which is that we learn (and teach) doctrine first rather than the scriptures. That way, and seeing these doctrines walked out by believers all around us, when we read scripture, we are preconditioned to interpret it to fit the learned doctrines. The biggest error in this regard is the various doctrines that abolish the Law, something Christ did not come to do. The reason we are unaware of this error is because of something Paul says at Ro. 3:1-2. We no longer have the oracles (the Law and the Prophets) of God, which is the “very great” advantage that the Jews had over gentiles who were coming into the faith. I suspect that articles like this are well-meaning attempts to force scripture to fit this widely held doctrine of men. In fact, considering Dan. 7:25, this could be called a doctrine of demons. I don’t say this to accuse, but to warn a brother to just consider it. If possible, I highly encourage anyone interested in researching or better understanding this to obtain a DVD titled, “The Way, Leaving Churchianity to Live Like the Savior” (I am not affiliated with this ministry). When we presume to teach (1Ti. 1:6-7), we are taking upon ourselves the danger of a harsher judgment (Jas. 3:1).
Berryville, Virginia, USA