Jesus’ teachings replaced the Old Testament commandments.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

Ten CommandmentsAccording to Galatians and the Acts 15 Church Council, the Law of Christ has been nullified and replaced by “the Law of Christ.” However, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”

The purpose of this article series is to explain this apparent contradiction:

All quotes are from the NASB.

THE COMMANDMENTS WILL FALL AWAY.

In Matthew 5, Jesus also said that none of the commandments will ever fall away.  In verse 19, He continues:

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven

Some might think that the “commandments” are the same as “the Law” in verse 18 and that verse 19, therefore, confirms that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of Moses.

However, as discussed in Comments on Matthew 5:17-18, while “the Law” refers to the first five books of the Bible, or to the whole Old Testament, depending on the context, the “commandments” refer specific commandments, such as the Ten Commandments.

For example, the rich young man asked Christ what he must do to obtain eternal life, Christ responded by telling him to keep “the commandments.”  Jesus continued to list five laws from the Ten Commandments, as well as the second-greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 19:16-22; cf. Mt. 22:39).  The word “commandments,” therefore, approximates the meaning of the modern English word “law.”

Different things are, therefore, said in verses 18 and 19:

In verses 17 and 18, the topic is the whole Old Testament; stating that everything in it will be accomplished.

Verse 19 switches the topic more specifically to the “commandments” that are contained in “the Law,” saying that not a single one of these “commandments” will ever be annulled.

Verse 19 functions as the opening phrase for the discussion of the commandments, such as “murder” (5:21-), “adultery” (5:27-) and “false vows” (5:33-) which continues for the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount.

DOES THIS CONTRADICT GALATIANS?

Above we discussed the apparent contradiction between Galatians, which taught that the Law of Moses has been nullified, and Jesus, who said that everything in the Old Testament will be accomplished (Matt. 5:17-18).  We solved that contradiction by concluding that the Old Testament foresaw that the Law of Moses will be nullified.

But verse 19 presents us with another challenge, for Jesus said that none of the Old Testament commandments will be nullified while, compared to Galatians, which claims that the Law of Moses has been nullified.  We can solve this apparent inconsistency as follows:

Galatians focusses on the ceremonial rituals while Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, spoke only about moral commandments.  Galatians, essentially, teaches that Christians are not obliged to comply with the ceremonial rituals while Jesus said that the Old Testament moral principles are eternal.

However, Galatians does teach that THE WHOLE Law of Moses has been replaced by the Law of Christ. That is because Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, substantially increased the standards; for example, love your enemy. He did not do away with any of the Old Testament moral commandments but He increased the standards so much that, in effect, His teachings came in the place of the moral commandments of the Law of Moses.  Therefore, Paul refers to Christ’s teachings as the “Law of Christ.

To validate these assertions, we will now continue to show that:

      1. The focus in Galatians is on the ceremonial rituals.
      2. Jesus did not talk about ceremonial rituals.
      3. Jesus did replace the Law of Moses with His teachings.

1. GALATIANS FOCUSSES ON THE CEREMONIAL RITUALS.

Firstly, the Letter to the Galatians focusses primarily on the ceremonial rituals—saying that Christians are not obliged to comply with them.

CIRCUMCISION

The first indication of this is that the main point of controversy in Galatia and in the Acts 15 Church Council, was circumcision, for example:

Those who … try to compel you to be circumcised” (6:12).

NOT ABOUT IMMORAL DEEDS

A second indication is that the controversy was not over Gentile Christians committing morally wrong deeds.  The context in Galatia was that Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem demanding that the Gentiles must DO CERTAIN THINGS.  To ‘do certain things’ does not refer to moral principles, for moral principles, essentially, are matters of the heart.  The things they wanted the Gentiles to do were, therefore, the visible and external rituals and ceremonies of the Law.

WORKS OF THE LAW

This is confirmed by the fact that the things which the Jewish Christians required the Gentile Christians to do are described as the “works of the Law.” The “party of the circumcision” (2:12) said that Gentiles must be circumcised because “man is … justified by the works of the Law” (2:16, cf. 3:2, 5, 10). This is explained in the article Doers of the Law. That article contrasts the “works of the Law” with “deeds.” Since “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13), the “deeds” (of the Law) refer to good deeds by which people will be judged. For example:

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10; cf. Rom. 2:5-6; 8:13; 2 Cor. 5:10; cf. 2 Cor. 11:15; 2 Tim. 4:14).

The “works” are something different. Since the focus in Galatians was specifically on circumcision, and since Paul stated that “man is NOT justified by the works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16), “works” DO NOT REFER TO good deeds but to circumcision and similar external ceremonies and rituals of the Law of Moses.  The Jews believed that these mechanical rituals somehow has the power to save.

PAUL INSTIGATED CHANGE.

As stated above, the church, initially, was a sect of Judaism and all Christians lived according to the Law of Moses. When the first non-Jews accepted Christ, the Jewish Christians attempted to maintain the status quo concerning the Jewish Law by ensuring that these non-Jews comply with the Law.  Paul, on the other hand, sought to change things. However, moral principles, by definition, are eternal and cannot change. It is an essential attribute of the species.  Moral principles keep the species healthy. That which Paul sought to change, and that which the controversy was over, therefore, cannot be moral principles and must be the ceremonial rituals.

THE CHURCH COUNCIL SET NO RULES.

The Acts 15 Church Council set only a very limited number of basic requirements that were, in any case, later repudiated by Paul.  In other words, the council assumed that the moral principles of the Old Testament are eternal and remain valid. James concluded the council with by saying:

Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). 

In those very early days, Gentile Christians still attended synagogue meetings on the Sabbath. In the quote above, James said that the Gentiles, in those meetings, would hear and learn the moral principles contained in “Moses.

CONCLUSION

in Galatians, and, therefore, also in the Acts 15 Church Council, the focus was not on the moral requirements of the Law of Moses; the controversy was only about “the works of the Law.” 

2. JESUS DID NOT TALK ABOUT THE CEREMONIAL RITUALS.

Jesus, on the other hand, in the Sermon on the Mount, did not talk about the ceremonial rituals. After Jesus said that not one of the least of “these commandments” will be nullified (Matt. 5:19), He continued to discuss “these commandments.” He mentioned several, such as murder, adultery & divorce, false vows, “an eye for an eye,” love for one’s neighbor, good deeds, prayer and fasting, but NEVER ONCE did He tell His followers, in that sermon at least, to comply with the ceremonies and rituals of the Law of Moses. Jesus ONLY SPOKE ABOUT THE MORAL COMMANDMENTS of the Law of Moses. By implication, the ceremonies and rituals are not included in “these commandments” that will never be annulled.

The apparent contradiction between Galatians and the Sermon on the Mount is therefore partly because the context and primary focus were different. Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians specifically to refute the demand that Gentiles submit to circumcision and comply with the ceremonial rituals of the Law.  In His sermon, Jesus was not concerned with these rituals. 

3. JESUS DID REPLACE THE OT MORAL COMMANDMENTS

However, Paul did not only set the ceremonial rituals aside: As shown above, he set the entire Law of Moses aside. To reconcile this with what Jesus said, namely that not one of the Old Testament commandments will ever be annulled, we will show that Jesus did replace the Old Testament Moral Commandments.

BUT I SAY TO YOU

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus mentioned several Old Testament commandments and, for each one, said, “but I say to you” and then gave moral commandments at a much higher moral level (Matt. 5:43-44; compare with Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 38-39).

For example, God gave to Moses the rule “AN EYE FOR AN EYE, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt. 5:38), but Christ continued, “but I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt. 5:39).

As another example, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies” (Matt. 5:43-44).

One way to explain this is to say that Christ is merely interpreting the Law beyond mere physical obedience, making obedience to those laws a matter of one’s heart, i.e., one’s thoughts, motives, and intent.

However, Jesus explicitly contrasted His own teachings with the Law of Moses and, in practice, replaced the Old Testament moral principles with far higher principles.  Since Christians are subject to what Jesus taught, the Christian ‘laws’ are these heightened standards; not the Old Testament moral commandments. 

JESUS EMPHASIZED HIS COMMANDMENTS

To this, we can add that Jesus emphasized His own commandments as if to say that the Old Testament commandments have been nullified. He said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34).

 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15; cf. 12:21; 15:10, 12).

And His final instructions to His disciples were:

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 (Matt. 28:19-20).

WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY

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 when the Jews brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, He merely said to her, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11). This is another indication that Christ nullified the system of Law in the Old Testament.

Based on these factors I propose that Jesus, through His teachings, in effect, replaced the Law of Moses with something very different.  I do not think that the Scribes and the Pharisees of His day, such as Saul (later Paul), listening to Jesus, would have agreed that He is merely interpreting the Old Testament Commandments.  I think they would say that what Jesus taught is different from the Law.

CHRISTIANS ARE SUBJECT TO MOSES’ LAW.

Jesus did say that none of “these commandments” will ever be annulled (Matt. 5:19). Christians, therefore, are subject to “these (Old Testament) commandments.

For example, when Jesus spoke about the commandment against “murder,” He said that “everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty” (Matt. 5:22). However, murder remains a sin. What Jesus explained about the various Old Testament commandments does not negate or nullify the Old Testament commandments.  However:

      1. This applies only to the moral demands of the Law of Moses for that was what Jesus discussed in the Sermon on the Mount.
      2. Christ increased the standards infinitely. Christians are subject to all that Jesus commanded, which is always more than the moral demands of the Law of Moses; never less.

It is for these reasons that the letter to the Galatians indicates that even the moral commandments of the Old Testament have been nullified and replaced by “the Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). 

Personally, I keep the Seventh Day Sabbath, but not because it is in the Law of Moses.  The weekly day of rest was instituted at creation and kept by Noah and other fathers before the Law was given at Sinai. The fact that the Sabbath was included in the Ten Commandment with 9 other eternal ethical principles and stored inside “the ark of His covenant,” is additional support for my view. But, by far, the strongest support I have for my view of the Sabbath is what Jesus taught about the Sabbath.

 

Jesus heals the blind man in John 9

The traditions did not permit healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus heals the blind man specifically on the Sabbath.  He thereby:
(1) Illustrated the nature and work of the Father, namely to heal, redeem and restore;
(2) Provided support for His astounding claims, such as that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again;
(3) Condemned the Jewish system of authority, which was based on their traditions; and
(4) Declared that the purpose of the Sabbath is to heal and restore;

Overview:

One Sabbath Jesus heals the blind man.  He was blind from birth.  Jesus made clay, applied it to the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.  So he went away and washed, and came back seeing (John 9:6-7).

Most of John 9 describes the dialogue between the blind man, his neighbors, his parents and the Pharisees, without Christ being involved (9:8-33).  The realistic nature of these exchanges, for such an unusual situation, assures us that this miracle really happened.

The Pharisees concluded, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath“.  Jesus not only healed the man, He also made clay to put on the man’s eyes and He told the man to wash his face in a pool.  All three these actions were perhaps classified, by the extremely strict traditions, as work that was not allowed on the Sabbath.

In this incident Jesus did not justify His Sabbath works, except to say it is the Father’s work.  When Jesus heals the blind man, it was the Father at work.  God’s purpose and perpetual work in this world is to redeem and restore man, healing sinners both spiritually and physically.    In Christ the Father came near to us:

It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (9:3).

After the miracle Jesus spoke to the Pharisees and told them that He is one with the Father, that He was sent by the Father, that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father, that He is the Son of God, that He is the door to God’s people, that He is the good shepherd and that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again.  Christ appealed to the miracles to support these astonishing claims:

the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me” (10:25).

If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (10:37-38; compare 9:3)

Another purpose of His Sabbath healing miracles was to condemn the religious rulers as religious thieves and robbers, coming to steal and destroy.  This was one of Christ’s major messages in these chapters in John.  He said to them, “you do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (10:26).  By healing on the Sabbath, in direct contravention of the traditions (9:15, 16), He condemned the Pharisees’ rule and the foundation of their authority, which was their traditions.  It was not necessary for Christ to make clay to heal the man.  Perhaps He made clay on the Sabbath to deliberately contravene of the extremely strict the Jewish traditions.

Since Christ so often healed these non-emergency cases on the Sabbath, without being asked, in deliberate contravention of the traditions, it should be concluded that He was thereby saying something important about the Sabbath:

Firstly, that doing the Father’s work is allowed on the Sabbath.  “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat 12:12), and healing is a good example of the “many good works from the Father” (John 10:32).

Secondly, that the purpose of the Sabbath is to restore man.  It was for this purpose that the seventh day has been set aside.  Since Christians are people that abide by the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), which is His teachings, Christians should cease other work on the seventh day to focus on this work; to restore man.

The Sabbath healing miracles are therefore merely part of His message, supporting His claim to be sent by the Father, but also condemning the Pharisees, while also showing what the Sabbath is supposed to be; a day for the “good works from the Father”.

Jesus heals the blind man

Most of the chapter (9:8-33) describes the dialogue between the blind man, his neighbors, his parents and the Pharisees, without Christ being involved.

The people who knew him were amazed (9:8-11).  They took him to the Pharisees (9:13), who did not believe that the man was born blind (9:18) until they interrogated his parents (9:18-21).  Because it was a Sabbath on which Jesus made the clay and told the man to wash his face, some of the Pharisees concluded that Jesus worked on the Sabbath and therefore that He was a sinner (9:14-16).  But others were not sure (9:16), causing division in the ranks of the Pharisees (9:16).  Interestingly, they then asked the blind man for his opinion about Christ (9:17).

But eventually the consensus amongst the Pharisees was that “we know that this man (Jesus) is a sinner” (9:24).

The brave and wise words from the blind man, when they interrogated him for a second time (9:25; 27; 30-33), indicate the working of the Holy Spirit.  He witnessed to the Pharisees that Jesus was “from God” and questioned Pharisees’ legitimacy, seeing that they did not know where Jesus is from.

Therefore the Pharisees excommunicated the blind man (9:34, compare 9:22).  Later Jesus went to look for the man, and introduced Himself to the man as Daniel’s “the Son of Man” (9:35).

Causes and reasons of suffering and illness

When His disciples first saw the blind man, they asked:

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (9:2)

This question reflects the general Jewish view of the time, namely that every illness was God’s penalty of some wrongdoing; either of the sufferer himself or of his parents.  This view is also reflected in the statement later made by the Pharisees to the blind man:

You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” (9:34)

Correcting His disciples, Jesus said:

“It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (9:3)

Different people have different views with respect to what causes suffering, for instance:

  • Many people think that God causes suffering and disease.
  • Others think that it is caused by Satan.  They may use the history of Job in support of their view.
  • Still others view it as the natural result of sin.

People that believe that God causes suffering and disease also have different views with respect to His purpose.  Some view it as God’s punishment for sin. Others view it as discipline.  Discipline is, like punishment, the consequence of wrong things done in the past, but the purpose of discipline is to correct behavior to harvest good things in the future, while punishment has no future purpose.

In 9:3 Jesus seems to oppose the idea that suffering is God’s penalty for the sins of the past, “but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him”.  This raises a number of questions.  Does this mean that all illness is intended to display “the works of God”, or was this man a special case?  Did God cause his blindness from birth to display “the works of God”?

There is another way of interpreting Christ’s words here.  Note that the words “it was” in 9:3 are added by the translators.  By deleting these words and by replacing the full stop with a comma (there are no punctuation marks in the original text), it reads:

but so that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day”. (9:3-4).

Read in this way Christ is not saying that God caused the man’s illness, but rather that He (Christ) will use the man’s disability to display the works of God.  It is therefore proposed that 9:3 by itself is insufficient to come to general conclusions with respect to the causes and reasons of suffering and illness.

The Father’s Works

Jesus said:

We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” (9:4-5)

This is Christ’s only justification in this chapter for the Sabbath healing that is described in the next two verses (9:6-7).  He justifies it as “the works of Him who sent Me” (9:4) which are “good works from the Father” (10:32).  This is the same justification as for the Sabbath healing in John 5, where He said, “My father is working still, and I am working” (5:17).  Both statements refer to the Father’s work and both say Christ is doing the Father’s work.

We sometimes put the Father in the background, but Jesus was the Father’s agent.  He has been sent by the Father (9:4).  When Jesus heals the blind man, it is the Father at work.  God’s purpose and perpetual work in this world is to redeem and restore man, healing sinners both spiritually and physically:

the Lord Jesus Christ … gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:3-4)

Night and Day

Consider again Christ’s words:

We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” (9:4-5)

The word “day” links to the word “Light”.  In other words, “day” here refers to the time when Jesus was in the world.  “Night” probably refers to death.

Light is something that makes it possible for us to see.  Christ is the “Light of the world” because He made it possible for the world to see spiritual truths.

Similar to John 5

This incident is in many respects similar to the healing at Bethesda:

Both healed men have been ill for a long time.  Neither was an emergency.  One was an invalid for 38 years (5:5) and the other was blind from birth (9:2).  In both instances the healing could have been delayed to the next day.

Neither of the chronically ill men asked for or expected to be healed.

Both miracles were performed in Jerusalem (5:1; 8:2), but not in the temple (8:59), nor in one of the synagogues.  Consequently in neither case Pharisees witnessed the healing, but both incidents were later reported to the Pharisees.

In both instances Jesus later went to speak to the man again (5:14; 9:35).

Pools are involved in both miracles.  The paralytic was lying on the edge of the pool in Bethesda while the blind man had to wash in the pool in Siloam.

In addition to healing, which the Pharisees viewed as work that is disallowed on the Sabbath, both miracles also included other activities which the extremely strict traditions perhaps classified as work.  In the first Christ instructed the paralytic to carry his pallet, and in the second Christ “made the clay” and instructed the man to go and wash his face in a pool (9:14-16).

After both miracles the Pharisees accused Christ of breaking the Sabbath: “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” (9:16).

Support His astounding claims

The healings in both John 5 and John 9 are followed by Christ’s teaching.  Christ’s teachings cover 30 verses in John 5 (5:17-47) and 20 verses in John 9-10 (9:41-10:18).

After Jesus heals the blind man in John 9, Jesus told the Pharisees that He is one with the Father (10:30), that he was sent by the Father, that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father (10:38), that He is the Son of God (10:36), that He is the door to God’s people, that He is the good shepherd and that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again.  Because of these claims some Pharisees concluded that He has a demon, but because of the miracles some were inclined to believe Him.  This was one purpose of the miracles, namely to support these astonishing claims:

If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (10:37-38)

Opportunity to speak

Another purpose of the miracles was simply to create controversy to create the opportunity for Him to teach the religious rulers.

Condemn the Jewish authorities

One of Christ’s major messages in these chapters was to condemn the Pharisees as religious thieves and robbers, coming to steal and destroy.  He said to them:

If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains”  (9:41).

“You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (10:16).

I am the door of the sheep” (10:7), “he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way (implying the Pharisees), he is a thief and a robber” (10:1).

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd (by implication the Pharisees), … sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees … because he … is not concerned about the sheep.” (10:11-13)

The Sabbath healing miracles had the same purpose.  By healing on the Sabbath, in direct contravention of the traditions (9:15, 16), He condemned the Pharisees’ rule and the foundation of their authority, which was their traditions.

Doing good is allowed on the Sabbath.

By healing on the Sabbath and by explaining this as the Father’s work (9:3-4; 10:25, 32, 37-38), Christ implied that all work necessary on the Sabbath to accomplish the Father’s purpose to redeem and restore man is in harmony with the Sabbath.  In the healing of the man’s withered hand Christ’s defense was that He is doing good, and that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat 12:12).  To “do good” is to assist people or animals that are in distress.  Healing is a good example of doing good.

The purpose the seventh day is to restore man.

By healing these non-emergency cases so often on the Sabbath, without being asked to do so, Christ furthermore implied that the purpose of the Sabbath is to restore man.  For this purpose the seventh day has been set aside (Gen. 2:3).  Since Christians are people that abide by the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), which is His teachings, Christians must cease other work on the seventh day to focus on this work.

Conclusion

The miracle healings are therefore simply part of His message, supporting His claim to be sent by the Father, but condemning the Pharisees and their traditions, specifically telling them that their interpretation of the Sabbath is wrong, and showing them what the Sabbath is supposed to be; a day for the “good works from the Father” (10:32; compare 9:4; 10:37).

NEXT: Deliberately breaking the Sabbath

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