The Christian and the Law of Moses

Some issues are basic to understanding the Bible. If we get them wrong, the Bible is lost to us. One such teaching is the relationship that we, as Christians, have to the Law of Moses. What is the connection (and disconnection) between the New Testament and the Old Testament?  There are many who teach contrary to the scriptures on this subject.

  • Seventh Day Adventists contend that we are bound to observe the Sabbath today. They, and others attempt to make a distinction between the so-called ceremonial and moral tenets of the Law of Moses, proclaiming that only the ceremonial aspects have been revoked in Christ.
  • Other groups advocating a similar distinction between moral and ceremonial aspects of the Law contend that Christians are to keep the Ten Commandments and that the fourth commandment is fulfilled in worshipping on Sunday, the so-called “Christian Sabbath”.
  • There are many reasons why this teaching cannot be true:
    • There is no Biblical distinction between the ceremonial and moral precepts of the Law. This just imaginary garbled language.
    • The N.T. teaches the abrogation of the whole law of Moses with the advent of the gospel of Christ.  Anyone who teaches the debt of any part of the Law is obligated to keep the whole law. (Gal. 5:3)
    • The Law of Moses was never given to the Gentiles. No one other than the Jews were ever commanded to keep the Law.
    • The teaching of the Bible is not obscure on this subject.  I want to begin by considering two clear illustration used in apostolic teaching that indicate we are not under the O.T. law of Moses.

 

I.   AN ILLUSTRATION FROM MARRIAGE LAW

A.  Paul in Romans seeks to show that the Law did not make men righteous but instead gave them the knowledge of sin. Therefore there was a need for a new way of righteousness, the way of forgiveness through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. He wanted his readers to understand that those who accept the sacrifice of Christ are living “under grace” and such would not produce a life of sin (as many thought) but a life of righteousness. Thus in Romans 7:1-6 Paul answers the question, “Shall we live in sin because we are under grace rather than under law?”

  • Romans 7:1-6 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another — to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. 6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

B.  Paul answers this question by the analogy of law and the law of marriage in particular.

1. The first principle: Law has no jurisdiction or binding power on dead people!

2.  The second principle is an application of the first principle: A woman is bound by law to her husband as long as her husband is living; but is released if her husband dies. This principle has two applications:

a) If while she is married to one man she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulterous.

b) If her husband is dead, she is released from her husband and is not an adulterous though she is joined to another.

C. These principles can be used to illustrate what has happened to the Christian and its consequences.

1.   Of course, the Law of Moses to which Paul refers was originally given to the Jews as their obligation in entering the covenant with God. But even so, it set forth principles of righteousness to which all men were amenable as the creation of God (Gentile as well as Jew). In that sense, all men were “bound” like a wife to the “letter” as if it were their husband.

2.   Paul shows that neither Jew nor Greek kept those obligations to which they had been bound by the letter of the Law.  Sin even used the Law to arouse the passions that led to its violation. The fruit of this relationship was death.

3.  However now, through Jesus’ sacrifice, those bound in this marriage have been released from their obligation to the Law (and its demands of perfect obedience for righteousness). They have “died to the Law” and have been “joined to Christ”, so that they are now no longer “under Law” but “under grace”. Our obligation is to the revelation of the Spirit rather than the “letter”; thus we serve in the newness of this revelation rather than the oldness of the Ten Commandments. The result of this relationship is not the fruit of death, but instead the fruit of righteousness or life

D.  Though it is not the main point Paul is making in this text, it is an important contributing truth: The Christian is now “released” from the Law and “bound” to Jesus.

  • To seek justification by obedience to the Law and to Jesus is tantamount to a woman trying to be married to two men at once!

F.  The Christian is not “bound” to the letter, the Ten Commandments! He is released from the Law, that he might be “joined to Christ” and to the new revelation of the Spirit!

 

II. AN ILLUSTRATION FROM BUSINESS –   Colossians 2:13-14 – 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. NKJV

A.  Paul’s words in Colossians 1 & 2 pointed to the phenomenal position the Christian has through the sacrifice of Christ. Col 1:13-14 – e has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14 in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. Col 1:21-22And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight —  Col 1:26-28 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. 27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

B. In Chapter 2 Paul reminded these Christians that prior to their conversion to the Lord, they were “dead through [their] trespasses.” But they were made “alive” together with Christ, who forgave all their sins. The apostle then contends that Christ “blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).

1.    Paul uses an interesting term for the Law. He calls it a “handwriting of ordinances that were against us and hostile to us” (KJV). The NASV uses an interesting term “certificate of debt”.

a.  The Greek term for “bond” is cheirographon, which denotes a hand-written document, specifically “a certificate of indebtedness” (Arndt and Gingrich 1967, 889).

b.  The expression “blotted out” translates an intensive, compound Greek term which means to completely remove, to obliterate. Professor Adolf Deissmann thought this passage might hint of an ancient practice of canceling a debt by crossing out the transaction with the Greek letter Chi (X).  A.H. Sayce, professor of Assyriology at Oxford, reckoned that it might refer to an antique custom of impaling debt slips on pegs of wood or nails, after payment was made  (cf. Deissmann 1995, 332-34).

2.   Paul’s point is that the Law of Moses represented a debt that they could not pay. It was the legal bond of ordinances to which the Jew had agreed and to which even the Gentile’s conscience had in some degree given assent (Romans 2:14, 15) Because neither the Jew of the Gentile had kept the law it was against or contrary to them.

3.   When Jesus died on the cross for the sins of mankind, the demands of the Law was cancelled and taken out of the way.

4.  Jesus Himself said that he came to fulfill the law. (Matt.5:17) After it was fulfilled it was no longer of force among men.

C.  The handwriting is the Law of Moses. Some would contend that the debt here does not refer to the Law of Moses, but rather the debt of sin that stood against the Christian prior to his conversion. There are some real reasons why this is not the proper interpretation of this passage.

1. The Context – In the sentence that follows, Paul draws his conclusion: “Let no man, therefore, judge [condemn] you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come, but the body is Christ’s” (v. 16). The therefore connects the previous statement with these obvious elements of the Law of Moses. Thayer identified the “handwriting” as a metaphorical reference to “the Mosaic law” (668). Peake states: “It is generally agreed that the reference here is to the Law [of Moses]

2. The GrammarObserve the double use of “was” (past tense verb) in verse 14, indicating that the system is operative no longer.  A.T. Robertson commented that the verbal “has taken” is a perfect tense form which, “emphasizes the permanence of the removal of the bond” (which he identifies as “the Mosaic law”), “that has been paid and cancelled and cannot be presented again” (4.494).

a.  This certainly negates the dispensational view that the Mosaic law will be revived in that so-called “tribulation period,” prior to the supposed earthly reign of Christ.

3. The ParallelismThis text unquestionably is parallel to Ephesians 2:14-16 –  For he [Christ] is our peace, who made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. Noted Bible scholar, David J. Williams, says that Paul’s reference to “the Jewish law in Ephesians 2:15” is “decisive for the interpretation of Colossians 2:14” (189). Both refer to the same situation. R.C. Fosters states: A great need of the Christian world today is the clear recognition that we are not under the law, but the gospel; that the law was nailed to the cross and passed out of force when the new will was probated at Pentecost (469).

 

Conclusion: The Law of Moses with its Ten Commandments was the “handwriting of decrees against us and contrary to us”.  It was given by Jehovah to the Israelite nation some fifteen centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ (Deuteronomy 5:1-5). It was never designed to be a permanent legal system. Accordingly, it was abrogated as a binding law almost two millennia ago. Those who go back to the Law of Moses, fall from grace.  The Jewish regime was certainly included in Jesus’ statement from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

But we are under the law of Christ. The preaching of the apostles called upon both Jew and Gentile to be obedient to the will of God. Jesus said,

  • Mark 16:15-1615 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.