This is a rebuttal of the article “Law of Christ” by Andries van Niekerk with some responses from Andries.
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 Mosaic Law has been in any way nullified, abolished, abrogated, replaced, or altered. I hold that the entire Mosaic 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 word at Jer. 31:31-33 is torah, i.e., the Mosaic Law) would be written on our hearts.
Comment by Andries: Does that mean that Christians must be circumcised and live according to the Mosaic Law? Was that not exactly what Paul opposed in the Letter to the Galatians and which the Acts 15 Chruch Council decided against?
I understand this is an unpopular position and is often labeled as legalism, so allow me to 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 by grace through faith. I have salvation; now I am to work out that salvation with fear and trembling, and the Law is not burdensome (1 John. 5:3).
Response: Paul’s point was that we are not justified by the rituals and ceremonies of the Law (“the works of the Law“), but by our “deeds” (Rom. 2:6; 8:13; etc.); whether good or bad (Gal. 6:7-8). “The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13). Given this, what does ‘earn’ mean?
HISTORY OF GOSPEL ERROR
This broader subject is broad indeed and is not a simple one to unravel due to the nearly 1700 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.
Response: Interesting that you would mention 1700 years. That would bring us to Constantine in the fourth century. But did Paul himself not had to confront false gospels in his day? For example, in Galatians, some Jewish Christians proclaimed that Gentile Christians must be circumcised (Gal. 6:12; 2:3, 14), which seems similar to your theology.
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 guard and speak to your heart as you read this so that only truth may penetrate.
REPLACE VS. PLEROO
DID CHRIST INTERPRET THE LAW?
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 several times 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.
Response: My main point was that Jesus did NOT interpret the Law; He replaced it. That is clearly stated in the introduction and in the summary. Perhaps I should have stated it differently: Christ, through His teachings on the Old Testament, in effect replaced the commandments with much higher moral standards. Jesus also never taught about the ceremonial rituals; only the commandments that distinguish between good and bad deeds. My point is that a Pharisee, listening to Jesus, would have thought that he is merely interpreting the Old Testament Commandments.
LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART.
This concept was not introduced in the earthly ministry of Christ; He told us this 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…). The application of this, however, had clearly fallen into disuse.
Response: Your point here is that the Old Testament also requires a pure heart and actions driven by love. I agree. But there was a specific controversy in Paul’s day that Pharisees that became Christians argued, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). For that reason, Paul argued, “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:24-25). But there still were rules with respect to right and wrong. Paul wrote, “you were called to freedom (from the Law of Moses – see Gal. 4:24), brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Perhaps it was for those reasons that Paul had to refer to “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2)
JESUS FULFILLED THE OLD TESTAMENT.
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 widely accepted doctrine that God’s Law is abolished). Pleroo does not equal replace.
Response: You are now referring to Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt. 5:17). The word pléroó is used several times in the gospels and consistently means that Jesus came to put in effect what the Old Testament promised. He did not come merely to explain the Old Testament; He came to do something. See my article on Matthew 5:17-18. For that reason, I think “fulfill” is a good translation, but it does not mean that Jesus abolished the “the Law or the Prophets” (the Old Testament). He came to put the Old Testament into effect.
GOD MADE A MISTAKE.
While I believe your use of ‘replace’ is misapplied, I do agree with you that Christ brought the understanding of the Mosaic Law to its most complete state. To suggest a reversal or subtraction of any kind implies imperfection, error, oversight, mistake—on God’s part.
Response: I am not comfortable with this type of argument. I do not think Christians should use such arguments. It is playing the man, rather than the ball and shifts the discussion to an emotional level, rather than simply dealing with the facts of Scripture.
GOD’S LAW IS PERFECT.
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 Mosaic Law itself while the latter speaks of the Law’s effect on people.
Response: Yes, the law which God gave to Moses was perfect for Israel’s condition after many years as slaves in Egypt. “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions … until the seed (Christ – see v16) would come” (Gal. 3:19). But when God gives His eternal law to angels, it will read differently for they are different beings. God always works with people where they are.
ALWAYS AN ADDITION
Speaking well after the death and resurrection of Christ, 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.
Response: I agree that God’s revelation of His law does change and it must always be additions. However, after many years as slaves in Egypt, Israel had forgotten the God of Abraham. Therefore, God gave them a law that is suitable for their deteriorated spiritual condition.
CHRIST EXPLAINED THE FULL MEANING OF THE LAW.
This conflation of “replace” and the concept of pléroó 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 Mosaic Law]. 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 also to anger does not negate or nullify the law regarding murder. It remains in effect. This goes for every one of the laws about which Christ says, “But I say to you…”
Response: I agree that murder remains murder. The moral laws of the Old Testament remain valid, but the interpretation which Jesus gave of these laws was at a much high level. And since the Acts 15 Church Council decided that Gentiles are not subject to the (ceremonial aspects of the) Law of Moses, as motivated by the Letter to the Galatians, Paul coined the phrase “Law of Christ” (e.g. Gal. 6:2).
But I do not interpret pléroó in Matthew 5:17 as “replace.” That verse says that Christ came to pléroó “the law and the Prophets.” That is the phrase that the Jews used for what we today call the Old Testament. As discussed in my article on Matthew 5:17, Jesus came to put into effect what the Old Testament promised. In that sense, He came to pléroó (fulfill) the Old Testament.
THE LAW HAS NOT BEEN NULLIFIED.
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 Mosaic 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 telos [objective or goal, not end,] of the Law” (Rom. 10:4). Are you suggesting that, in spite of these NT acknowledgments of the Law in Scripture, it has been nullified, either in whole or in part? The foundation of this article is based on the flawed equating of the two distinctly different concepts of “replace” and “pleroo.”
Response: No, my interpretation is not based on an interpretation of pléroó. It is based on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. That letter has been written to address this specifical controversy. In Galatians, for example, Paul wrote, “I died to the Law,” “the Law … was added … until the seed would come” and “the Law has become our tutor … But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (2:19; 3:19, 24-25). Is the Bible not utterly clear that we no longer have to circumcise (e.g. Gal. 6:12) or offer sacrifices (e.g. Hebr. 10:4-5)?
It is noteworthy that your article NEVER mentions Galatians.
You mention a number of instances where Jesus quoted commandments from the Old Testament. That is consistent with my view. Strong’s Concordance defines pléroó as “to make full, to complete.” My interpretation of Matthew 5:17-18 is that the Son of God did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to make it full by putting in effect what the Old Testament promised. Therefore Jesus confirmed the continued validity of the Old Testament. However, according to New Testament interpretations, Jesus made an end to the sacrificial system and other rituals and ceremonies. Furthermore, Jesus gave such a highly elevated view of the moral commandments that, in effect, He replaced the Law of Moses with something very different, which Paul refers to as the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
In conclusion, yes, I remain convinced that the Mosaic Law has been nullified. In the light of Galatians, I have no other option.
CHRIST RAISING THE STANDARD
IS ANGER SIN?
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 sin here? I don’t see that He did. The context here, provided in the preceding verse, is not anger but hatred. While hatred 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.
Response: That sounds right. In Matthew 5:22 Jesus does express Himself against anger, but perhaps we should read this as anger that results in sin.
WHAT LAWS DID CHRIST REPLACE?
Under “Christ Replaced the Mosaic Law 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 such delineation.
Response: So, you want a ‘complete list of laws’? Is that not what a child asks for? Would God not write His laws on our hearts?
The Law of Christ is defined in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” Jesus also concluded the Sermon on the Mount by saying, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).
Does Galatians not qualify as ‘scripture actually saying that one replaces the other’? Consider the allegory of the two women and two Jerusalems in Galatians 4. “Mount Sinai (where Moses received his law) corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother” (Gal. 4:25-26). “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1)
IS GOD A LIAR?
Another problem with this position is that it calls God a liar because God says repeatedly in the Law itself and in the Old Testament that His Law will remain in effect forever and does not change (e.g., 2Ki. 17:37).
Jesus said the same at Mt. 5:17-19 and in John 14 and 15, and John makes this case 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). Observant Jews, having the oracles of God (Ro. 3:1-2), know otherwise.
Response: As indicated before, I do not think Christians should use this type of argument. None of us are perfect. We all see the outline of God’s plan very dimly. This type of emotional manipulation does not bring us closer to the truth.
But, funny enough, Paul addresses this exact point in Galatians 2:17: “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!“
Paul’s opponents, apparently, argued the same as you now do, namely, accusing Paul of presenting Christ as a sinner.
WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY
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 examples can be found 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, we would say 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 technicality or procedural error.
Response: Apparently, you raise this point as a defense against a possible argument that Jesus did not uphold the Law of Moses in this instance.
THE FATHER AND THE SON ARE ONE.
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 that replaced the Law of Moses.
In the hope of being clear, I’m going 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 YHVH 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).
Response: In my view, the Father and the Son are two distinct Persons with separate wills. (For some Trinitarians, they are two faces of a single Person.) According to the verses you quoted, the Son is subordinate to the Father. The Son only speaks “these things as the Father taught Me.” God speaks to the world through His Son (Heb. 1:1; Rev. 1:1). I discuss this in the article Head of Christ.
But your point is that the Father and the Son do not differ. With that, I agree. However, Paul claimed, in Galatians, that He received His gospel “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). He claimed to be “an apostle … through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (1:1). What Paul therefore wrote, in Galatians, is the will of both the Son and the Father.
Furthermore, Paul claimed that his gospel is the gospel that God gave to Abraham (see Paul’s gospel). In other words, Paul’s gospel is not a break with the Old Testament, but a continuation of it.
THE LORD’S COMMANDMENTS (1 Cor. 14:37)
Paul said that the things he wrote were the Lord’s commandment (1 Cor. 14:37). 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 sect’s 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’s reference to the “Lord’s commandment” does not definitively mean he’s referring only to something that Jesus said as recorded in the NT and that differs from what YHVH said. In Bible-speak, Jesus is both Lord and LORD:
“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
Response: Thomas, are you saying that the Father and the Son are a single Person with a single will? In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mat. 26:39). In my view, they are two distinct Persons with two different wills.
Nevertheless, your point is that “Lord” may refer to the Father or to the Son. Technically, that is true. I made a quick analysis of 1 Corinthians. This letter refers 66 times to “Lord.” In most instances, it is not clear whether the Father and the Son are intended. However, there are verses that make a distinction between “God” and “the Lord:”
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3).
“… the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus” (1:4).
“God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1:9).
“God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power” (6:14).
“For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him” ( 1 Corinthians 8:6).
In these verses, the Father alone is identified as “God” while Christ is identified as “Lord.” There are also a number of other verses:
Where “Lord” is specifically identified as Jesus Christ, for example, “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2; cf. 7, 8, 10; 5:4, 5; 9:1; 11:23; 12:3; 15:31, 57); or
Where the context identifies “Lord” as Christ, for example, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (2:8; cf. 4:5; 7:10; 11:20, 26, 27).
If we exclude the quotes from the Old Testament, this letter NEVER refers to the Father as “Lord.” Your proposal is that, whenever “Lord” is used without further identification, it must be understood as referring to the Father. However, this little analysis shows the opposite, namely that “Lord” consistently refers to Jesus Christ. I am therefore fairly safe when I assume that 1 Corinthians 14:37 also refers to “our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 CORINTHIANS 9:21
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 that replaces His Father’s eternal Law.
With respect to 1 Corinthians 9:21, I am pretty sure that you are also aware of what verse 20 says. This verse contrasts Paul with the Jews. The Jews are “under the Law” but Paul Himself is not “under the Law,” which therefore refers to the Mosaic law:
To the Jews I became as a Jew,
so that I might win Jews;
to those who are under the Law,
as under the Law
though not being myself under the Law,
so that I might win those who are under the Law;
Then, in verse 21, Paul contrasts himself with the Gentiles. They are “without law” (of Moses) but Paul is “not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ:”
To those who are without law,
as without law,
though not being without the law of God
but under the law of Christ,
so that I might win those who are without law.
Paul (and us) are, therefore, not under (subject to) the Mosaic Law but under “the law of Christ“. The Law of Christ did not replace the Law of God; it is the Law of God. It replaced the Mosaic Law.
Contrary to what you claim, Paul most certainly relinquished “Jewish” practices. In Galatians, Before the party of the circumcision arrived, Peter did “live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews“(Gal. 2:14; cf. v12). Later in the letter, we read, “those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh” (6:13).
APPROACH TO BIBLE STUDY
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.”
Response: Thomas, you first (a prior) decide that Paul never contradicts anything in the Torah. Then you close your eyes and use that unconfirmed conclusion to interpret Paul. That is an invalid approach. You must allow Paul to say what he wants to say.
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 applying the difference between Jewish and biblical.
You say, “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.“
That is, actually, a very insightful paragraph. Paul went into the lion’s den (Jerusalem), where thousands of Jews have become Christians, “and they are all zealous for the Law” (v20). They were worried that Paul was teaching “the Jews” “to forsake Moses” (v21). They were not worried that Paul taught the Gentiles “to forsake Moses.” They were happy that the Gentiles do not have to observe the Mosaic Law. See verse 25, which refers to the decision of the Acts 15 Church Council, where it was decided that Gentiles are not subject to the Law of Moses (Acts 15:28). The Acts 15 Church Council, therefore, made a distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians with respect to the Law of Moses.
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 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.
Acts 24:14 reads, “I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets.”
This completely consistent with Galatians, where Paul claimed that he preaches the same gospel as which God gave Abraham (3:8) and that the Mosaic Law was a later addition (3:17), “because of transgressions” “until the seed would come” (3:19). For a further discussion, see Why Gentiles do not have to comply with the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:19).
In Manado, Indonesia, white guys have a reputation for 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.
DOES GOD CHANGE OR ERR?
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.
I will not respond further to such emotional manipulating remarks.
LAW OF GOD AND THE LAW OF CHRIST
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.
No, the Law of Christ is the Law of God. The Law of Moses is also the Law of God, as interpreted for a specific nation in a specific spiritual condition at a specific point in time.
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.
GOD PUNISHES TO IMPROVE THE FUTURE.
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).
No, this law was part of the Law of Moses, and by saying, “from the beginning, it was not like this,” Jesus changed the commandment.
LAW BEFORE MOSES
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.
The creation account is part of the Law of Moses. You also assume here that there was no Law of God prior to the Decalogue being given to Israel at Mt. Sinai.
No, my view is that the Law of Christ is God’s Law as it existed from creation and as explained by Christ.
God’s Law was made known in the garden prior to the fall: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know that Adam, Eve, and their offspring knew about clean and unclean, sacrifice and offering, and bloodguilt at the very least. Noah did not require that sacrifice and offering and the concept of clean and unclean be explained to him. At Ge. 26:5, God says He would bless Abraham and his descendants “because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws.”
Did Christ refer back earlier than the Law of Moses to creation to support a different understanding or a different Law regarding the Sabbath? The Sabbath referred to at creation is the same Sabbath mentioned and observed throughout the rest of scripture—cease from labors on the seventh day.
There are 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 mean that they can only mean the weekly seventh-day abstention from work and not some spiritualized definition that dispenses with any Sabbath observance at all, making it a mindset rather than what it should be: an observable 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).
Agreed; not walk according to the Law of Moses but follow Jesus. In my view, Jesus taught a different Sabbath; a day to work (not rest) to bring joy to people by helping them to be healed and restored.
LAW ON A SPECTRUM BETWEEN GOD AND SATAN
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.
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 say 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.
I guess your point is still that Christ’s Law is the same as the Mosaic Law. I would recommend the mp3 series on the Gospel in Galatians in the Pineknoll site.
MERCY AND JUDGMENT
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 another 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 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.
That, for me, is the most important point of all. God so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son (Jn 3:16). It is not true that God is about judgment and Christ is about mercy. The New Testament teaches that God does everything through Christ, including creation and salvation. God also speaks through Christ (e.g. Heb. 1:1; Rev. 1:1; John 8:28). Therefore, I would assume, God also gave the Law of Moses through Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). We must not make a distinction between God and Christ, but I do make a distinction between the Law of Moses and the teachings of Jesus. Even in the new dispensation, Ananias and Sapphira had to die when they told a lie (Acts 5). This also was mercy, for God protected His fledgling church. In the same way, because the Messiah was to be born from Israel, God protected that little nation with drastic measures.
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 something newly introduced by 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—similar to grace, which in the OT is often translated as favor—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 well over a millennium, 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 example of this is the various doctrines used to support abolition of God’s Law, something Christ did not come to do.
I agree with you that people, generally, are indoctrinated with doctrine. They do not read their Bibles. But then, both of us claim that we read our Bibles, but we come to different conclusions. I think that warns us not to be careful not to think that we are right, “for now we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor. 14:12).
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 (i.e., the Law—Acts 7:37-38) 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 my brothers and sisters in the faith 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). I have also completed a book going into far greater depth on this topic that I will make available for free to anyone requesting a copy. 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