PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE SERIES
According 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, “until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law.”
The purpose of this article series is to explain this apparent contradiction.
- A summary of the article series is available at, Does Galatians contradict Jesus?
- The first article shows that, according to Galatians, the Law of Christ replaced the Law of Moses.
- This second article partly solves this inconsistency by arguing that The Old Testament foresaw that the Law of Moses will fall away.
- The third article took this further by showing that Jesus’ teachings did replace the Old Testament commandments.
- The fourth and final article explains the nature of The Law of Christ.
All quotes are from the NASB.
THE OLD TESTAMENT WILL COME TO PASS.
Jesus, on the other hand, in the Sermon on the Mount, taught that everything in the Old Testament will come true.
MATTHEW 5:17 – FULFILL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS
In this verse, Jesus said:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
“The Law or the Prophets” is the term that the Jews used for what is known today as the Old Testament.
The word translated “fulfill” is pléroó. The danger of this word is that one might understand this as that the OT was done away with. Strong’s concordance defines pléroó as “to make full, to complete” (something that was previously not full or incomplete). This does not mean that the thing that is made full then ceases to exist. On the contrary, when something is made full or complete it has become more prominent than ever before. For example, Jesus said to the “scribes and Pharisees,” “Fill up (pléroó) … the measure of the guilt of your fathers” (Matt 23:29, 32). Guilt does not disappear once it has become full or complete. In the same way, when Jesus said that He came to “fulfill” the OT, that does not mean that he came to abolish “the Law or the Prophets.“
Some explain pléroó in Matthew 5:17 as that Jesus came to merely clarify the meaning of “the Law and the Prophets” (the Old Testament). However, “fulfill,” correctly understood, is a good translation, for pléroó is used many times in the gospels and consistently means that Jesus came to make true what the Old Testament promised. (See the article on Matthew 5:17-18). “Fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 should, therefore, be understood as saying that the Son of God came to put into effect what the Old Testament promised. In other words, He did not come merely to explain the Old Testament; He came to do something.
MATTHEW 5:18 – THE LAW SHALL NOT PASS AWAY
Verse 18 continues:
“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
People sometimes make the mistake of interpreting “the Law” in the same way as that we use the word ‘law’ in modern English. They then understand “the Law” to always refer to the Law of Moses. As discussed in Matthew 5:17-18, the Greek word that is translated as “law” (nomos) has a much broader range of meanings than the modern English word “law.” The meaning in a particular setting depends on the context. Since verse 17 refers to “the Law and the Prophets” and since verse 18 elaborates on verse 17, nomos (“the Law”) in verse 18 is shorthand for “the Law and the Prophets.” “The Law,” therefore, in this verse, refers to the whole Old Testament; not to the Law of Moses specifically. As an example of this usage, in Galatians 4:21 Paul mentions the story of Abraham’s two sons from Genesis but wrote that this story is recorded in “the Law.”
Verse 18, therefore, confirms verse 17. While verse 17 speaks of Jesus’s mission specifically, saying that He did not come to abolish the Old Testament, but to put it into effect, verse 18 is about the Old Testament more generally, saying everything in it will be accomplished. The point is that nothing in the Old Testament will ever fall away.
THE OLD TESTAMENT FORESAW THAT THE LAW OF MOSES WILL FALL AWAY.
This leaves us with an apparent contradiction. Galatians explains that “the Law” is no longer relevant to God’s people. It describes the Law as “slavery” (Gal 4:25) and concludes, “it was for freedom that Christ set us free” (Gal 5:1). It then replaces “the Law” with the “Law of Christ,” which is summarized as, “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2). [Is that not a wonderful command?] How do we reconcile this with Jesus’ statement that nothing in the Old Testament will fall away “until all is accomplished?”
The answer is that THE OLD TESTAMENT TAUGHT that the Law of Moses was a temporary addition that would be nullified when Christ comes. Consequently, to teach that the Law of Moses fell away is not a deviation from the Old Testament but is derived from the Old Testament. The following are indications that this is what Paul believed:
Paul frequently quotes the OT to justify his views. For example, for his key teaching, that people are justified by faith, he quotes from Habakkuk: “The righteous man shall live by faith” (Gal 3:11) and he points out that Abraham was justified by faith (Gal 3:6).
He claimed that the gospel which he preaches is the same gospel that God gave to Abraham (Gal 3:6-9).
In Romans 3:31, Paul wrote:
“Do we then nullify the Law through faith?
May it never be! On the contrary,
we establish the Law.”
“The Law” here is again the whole Old Testament or at least the first five books of the Bible. This verse confirms Paul’s view that “faith” (the teaching that people are justified through faith) is a fulfillment of the Old Testament. Similar statements are:
“The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith (rather than through the Law) …” (Gal 3:8; cf. Rom 3:21-22).
“Through the Law” means based on “the Law” or as indicated by “the Law.”
PAUL TRUSTED THE OLD TESTAMENT.
Because of his unwavering faith in the Old Testament, Paul could write as follows of the Old Testament:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).
“I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14).
Paul, therefore, understood his teaching, that the Law of Moses has been nullified, as derived from the Old Testament.
But where in the Old Testament, we can ask, did Paul get the idea that the Law of Moses would be abolished when Christ comes? He seems to get it from the fact that the Law of Moses was “added” more than 400 years after God made the covenant with Abraham (Gal 3:17, 19). For that reason, he concluded, is the covenant permanent while the Law was a temporary emergency addition “until the seed (Christ) would come” (Gal 3:19, 16).