According to Galatians, the Law of Christ replaced the Law of Moses.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE SERIES

ACTS 15 CHURCH COUNCIL

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 until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments … 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.

GALATIANS; HISTORICAL CONTEXT

This section provides the historical context of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

SECT OF JUDAISM

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell only on Jews. For some years, the church consisted only of Jews and the church was a sect of Judaism. (See Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church.)  Like all other Jews, these Jewish Christians believed that uncircumcised people are unclean (Acts 10:8-9, 28; 11:3) and that Jews will be contaminated if they have social contact with such people. It is for that reason that Peter said:

You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him” (Acts 10:28; cf. 10:14-15; 11:34-35).

FIRST GENTILE CHRISTIANS

But, some years after Christ died—after Israel forfeited its final opportunity to accept Christ (See Seven Last Years.)—God gave the Holy Spirit also to uncircumcised people just like to the Jews at Pentecost (Acts 10:44-45; 11:17). At the same time, God gave Peter the dream of unclean animals (Acts 10). God did this to indicate to the Jewish Christians that non-Jews are not unclean (Acts 11:9) and must be accepted into the church (Acts 11:12). For example, Peter interpreted his dream as follows:

God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28).

And, later, Peter explained the events of Acts 10 that God “made no distinction between us and them” (Acts 15:9), referring to the uncircumcised people as “them.” 

Non-Jews were always allowed to convert to Judaism, but on condition that they allow circumcision and comply with the requirements of the Law of Moses.  The events of Acts 10 meant that non-Jews must be accepted as Christians without circumcision and without conversion to Judaism. 

CHRISTIAN JEWS PERSECUTED

However, this caused the Jewish Christians to be persecuted.  Almost all Christians at the time were Jews and their Jewish relatives and friends persecuted them; firstly, because they believe in Christ as the Messiah, but they also regarded these Christian Jews as ‘contaminated’ through their association with uncircumcised people:

Those … try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (Gal 6:12).

DEMAND GENTILE CIRCUMCISION

For that reason, some Jewish Christians put pressure on the Gentiles Christians to accept circumcision.  One technique was to avoid the Gentiles, even by shutting uncircumcised Gentiles out from their worship meetings:

They wish to shut you out so that you will seek them” (Gal 4:17; cf. 2:12).

To justify their demand that the Gentiles be circumcised, particularly some Jewish Pharisees, who have become Christians (Acts 15:6) claimed that Gentile Christians cannot be saved unless they comply with the Law. This means that they had to convert to Judaism through circumcision (Acts 15:5). 

CIRCUMCISION WAS THE DOOR INTO JUDAISM

In Galatians, Paul explicitly wrote against circumcision (Gal 6:12) but also warned that “every man who receives circumcision … he is under obligation to keep the whole Law” (Gal 5:3). The battle was fought on the circumcision front, but circumcision functioned as a sign that a person has converted to Judaism (effectively, has become a Jew).  Circumcision, therefore, was a sign, but what these Christian Pharisees demanded was that the Gentiles Christians become as “zealous for the (whole) Law” as the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were (Acts 21:20).

GALATIANS – LAW OF MOSES NULLIFIED

Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to resist this pressure on the Gentiles to be circumcised, arguing that “man is not justified by the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16).  Given this early church context, Galatians is possibly the earliest of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. 

NO LONGER UNDER THE LAW OF MOSES

Paul wrote that God’s people (both Jews and non-Jews) are now no longer under (subject to) the Law of Moses. For example, he stated, “I died to the Law” (Gal 2:19) and “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).  

The allegory in Galatians 4 is painfully clear on this matter. It describes the Law of Moses (symbolized by Mount Sinai) as “slavery” (Gal 4:24, 25) and concludes:

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1)

Since the Law of Moses was added more than 400 years after God made the covenant with Abraham (Gal 3:17), Paul argues that that covenant is permanent while the Law of Moses was a temporary addition “until the seed would come” (Gal 3:19). The “seed” (of Abraham) is Christ (Gal 3:16):

For this reason, Paul based his theology on God’s covenant with Abraham, which he interpreted as justification by faith.

THE LAW WAS ISRAEL GUARDIAN.

Why did God give a perfect law to Israel; only to abolish it later?  Paul explains:

Why the Law then?
It was added because of transgressions
” (Gal 3:19).

The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Gal 3:24)

In other words, due to their “transgressions” (v19), Israel needed a “tutor” (v24).

The Law of Moses “was added” to the covenant with Abraham.  God made the covenant with Abraham before his grandson Israel moved to Egypt. During the long years as slaves in Egypt, Israel had forgotten the God of Abraham and has grown accustomed to idol worship. Therefore, after God brought them out of Egypt, He gave them His law in a form that was ‘perfect’ for their weakened spiritual condition of the time, given God’s purpose with Israel, for that nation was to be the conduit of God’s word to the world and to serve as a cradle to receive the Son of God.

ISRAEL NEEDED A LIST OF RULES.

In Galatians 4:1-3, Paul compares the Israelites to children; “held in bondage under the elemental things of the world” (Gal 4:3).  In his letter to the Colossians, Paul described these “elemental things” as “decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’” (Col 2:20-21). In other words, the “elemental things” are a list of things that must be done and not be done. Due to their weak spiritual condition, this is what Israel needed and this is what God gave them in the form of the Law of Moses.

Since the Law was added to the covenant thousands of years after Adam and hundreds of years after Abraham, the Law of Moses was not the form in which God gave His ‘law’ to Abraham or Adam. Nor was it the form in which God gives His eternal law to angels, for their desires are different.

Galatians is therefore quite clear that the Law of Moses is no longer applicable to God’s people.

NO LONGER LIVED LIKE JEWS.

Consequently, Christian Jews such as Peter and Paul no longer lived like Jews:

Before the party of the circumcision arrived, Peter lived “like the Gentiles and not like the Jews” (Gal 2:14; cf. v12).

Paul referred to his opponents as, “those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves” (Gal 6:13).

Paul begged to Galatians, “become as I am, for I also have become as you are” (Gal 4:12). In other words, Paul already lived like a non-Jew.

ACTS 15 CHURCH COUNCIL

The Church Council in Acts 15 was called to bring resolution in the Galatian controversy (See When was Galatians written?).  It agreed with Paul that Gentile Christians do not have to be circumcised (Acts 15:1, 5), which also means that they are not subject to the Law of Moses (Acts 15:5, 10). For further discussions of this, see also Comments on Matthew 5:17-18.

Acts 21:17-26 shows the consequences of that decision. It tells how Paul went into the lion’s den (Jerusalem), where thousands of Jews have become Christians, “and they are all zealous for the Law” (Acts 21:20). They were concerned that Paul was teaching “the Jews” “to forsake Moses” (Acts 21:21). They were quite happy that Paul taught the non-Jews not to observe the Mosaic Law because that was what the Acts 15 Church Council decided (Acts 21:25; cf. Acts 15:28). As explained in the article on the Acts 15 Church Council, the council made an unfortunate distinction between Jewish and Gentile Christians concerning the Law of Moses.  Jewish Christians continued to live according to the Law of Moses.

LAW OF CHRIST

While the earlier chapters of Galatians argue against the Law of Moses, the later chapters introduce the concept of “the Law of Christ.”

In chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul emphasizes that, although the Law of Moses has been nullified, that does not mean we are free to sin.  There still are norms of good and bad. He lists “deeds of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:13-26) and said:

You were called to freedom (from the Law of Moses – see Gal 4:24) … only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).

He concludes:

Bear one another’s burdens,
and thereby fulfill the law of Christ
” (Gal 6:2).

Given the nature of the controversy which Galatians deals with, the mention of “the law of Christ” implies that it comes in the place of the frequently mentioned “Law” (of Moses). See the article Law of Christ for further information.

THE LORD’S COMMANDMENT

1 Corinthians 14:37 refers to the Law of Christ as “the Lord’s commandment.” Paul wrote:

The things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.”

The Lord” does not refer to God, the Father.  First Corinthians consistently makes a distinction between “God” and “the Lord” (1 Cor 1:3-4, 9; 6:14; and 8:6). These verses identify the Father alone is as “God” while they refer to Christ as “Lord.”  In several verses, that letter identifies “the Lord” specifically as Jesus Christ, for example, “call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2; cf. 7, 8, 10; 5:4, 5; 9:1; 11:23; 12:3; 15:31, 57). In other instances, the context identifies “the Lord” as Christ, for example, “they … crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8; cf. 4:5; 7:10; 11:20, 26, 27). These examples show that “the Lord,” in First Corinthians, consistently refers to Jesus Christ. “The Lord’s commandment,” therefore, are Christ’s teachings; also described as “the law of Christ.” 

1 CORINTHIANS 9

1 Corinthians 9 confirms that “the law of Christ” came in the place of the “law of Moses.” This is the only place, apart from Galatians, where Paul explicitly mentions the “Law of Christ.”

NOT UNDER THE LAW OF MOSES

First, 1 Cor 9:20 contrasts Paul with the Jews. The Jews are “under the Law” but Paul Himself is not “under the Law” (of Moses):

20 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;

In other words, when he was with Jews, he behaved like a Jew; as if he was subject to the Law of Moses. But the important point is that Paul explicitly states that he is not under the Law of Moses.

UNDER THE LAW OF CHRIST

The next verse contrasts Paul with the non-Jews.
They are “without law” (the law of Moses):

1 Cor 9:21 to those who are without law,
(I became) 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.

This means that, when he was with non-Jews, he lived like a non-Jew.  As stated above, Paul wrote to the Galatian Gentiles, “I also have become as you are” (Gal 4:12).

According to verse 21, Paul is under “the Law of Christ” but not without “the Law of God.” That means that “the Law of Christ” is “the Law of God.” The Law of Moses is also the Law of God, but, as argued above, it is an adaption of God’s law to fit the needs of one specific nation at one specific point in history.

SUMMARY

Paul wrote that he (and, therefore, all Christians) is NOTunder (subject to) the Law” but “under the law of Christ.” This sets a clear contrast between these two laws and implies that the Law of Christ replaced the Law of Moses. This also applies to Jews, for Paul himself was a Jew, and even he was not “under the Law.

 

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.