Arguments between early Jewish and gentile believers often resolved around a theological disagreement over the Law of Moses. The word law is translated from the Hebrew word Torah, and literally means instruction. This instruction was intricately woven into the Mosaic Covenant, encompassing 613 positive and negative obligations (does and don’ts). While the law functioned as a binding and unbreakable unit, it can be generally divided into three categories of instruction:[i]
The Moral Law or the Ten Commandments—this part governed the moral life giving guidance to Israel in principles of right and wrong in relation to God and man.
The Judgments, Civil, or the Social Law—this part governed Israel in her secular, social, political, and economic life, and governed Israel in principles of right and wrong in relation between fellow men.
The Ordinances or the Ceremonial Law—this was the religious portion of Law which guided and provided for Israel in her worship and spiritual relationship and fellowship with God. It included the priesthood, tabernacle, and sacrifices.
Throughout this argument regarding the observance of Old Testament laws for Jews or gentiles, the church has largely resolved to the conclusion that we, the church, are no longer under the law, but are under grace. This sounds plausible at first given the Apostle Paul said that, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4, NKJV), thereby implying that God’s law, or instruction, has been either done away with or replaced with a new law.[ii] However, Paul also said, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7).
The church’s view regarding the law has been misinformed, in part, by its improper understanding of her relationship with Israel, either believing the church is the new Israel (replacement theology), or viewing the church as something new and separate from Israel (separation theology). Both views are unbiblical, and imply that God has either replaced Israel with a new group of people, or has changed His law regarding Israel when He made the New Covenant with them.
On the contrary, God’s law and many of His statutes are eternal, which we will soon confirm. For example, the Lord established both the Sabbath and Feast of Passover as eternal ordinances with Israel,[iii] and He established the Aaronic priesthood as an eternal service unto the Lord.[iv] Yeshua Himself said, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).
These scriptures contradict the entirety of the church’s assumption that the law has somehow ended as an unfortunate dispensation, given only to the Israelites to endure until Christ would come and turn His full attention to the gentiles, who could now enjoy the blessings of the New Covenant without any obligation to uphold God’s biblical and moral foundation established through the Mosaic Law.
Yeshua’s very statement, till all is fulfilled summarily includes, but is not limited to the feasts of the Lord. These point, not only to the first advent of Christ, but His return as well. This prophetic declaration by Yeshua also implies the complete physical and spiritual restoration of Israel’s governance, which is comprised of both the throne of David and the Levitical priesthood. Therefore, God’s law, his instruction will govern up to and all the way through the Millennial Kingdom.[v]
It should now be evident that Paul never declared the end of the law in Romans 10. He was simply declaring the end of the law as a means of instruction leading to righteousness, confirming that salvation is found only by faith in Christ Yeshua, and not by any works of the flesh learned through the Law of Moses, for it is written, “But now He [Christ] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better [new] covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).
This new and better covenant that Yeshua made with Israel came with a promise that, “I [God] will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33). Therefore, God’s law would not be learned through our old sinful nature and hearts of stone, but rather the old instruction now would be revealed through the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and would be eternally written into our new nature and hearts of flesh. In other words, we would become one with God’s law.
God’s Law versus His Covenants
It is also important to make a distinction between God’s law and His covenants. Simply understood, a covenant is a legally binding contract between two parties, each with their respective obligations. I prefer to think of God’s covenants as marriage vow, like what the Jewish people call a Ketuba. God’s law was thereby attached to the contract to make it binding upon Israel.
In differentiation to the contract, God’s law has stood by itself as an eternal truth that existed prior to creation. For example, the commandment to not commit murder was never done away with when Christ died on the cross. No, what died on the cross was God’s eternal condemnation for those who have committed murder. Because of Christ’s propitiation for our sin, which was His fulfillment of the law of sin and death, a person who has committed murder can now repent and be forgiven of their sins by receiving Yeshua as their Lord and Savior. Hence, we are saved by God’s grace alone and not any instruction of the law, or by any human effort to fulfill the legally binding Mosaic Contract which came with the penalty of death to any person who committed murder.
Once again, God’s law is uncreated and has eternally existed with Him and within Him,[vi] and since nothing exists apart from Him, His law exists because of Him. It is this law that reveals His hidden nature to creation, and therefore when God promised to write His law in our minds and hearts, He was telling Israel that He intended to write His nature into their created being. This was the promise contained within the Aaronic priestly blessing, where the Lord wrote this prayer to Israel, “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face [His glory] shine upon you, And be gracious [show mercy] to you; The Lord lift up His countenance [His essence] upon you, And give you peace [shalom]” (Numbers 6:24-26).
God’s eternal law was to become a part of us, and is in fact inseparable from our new nature which is in Christ. The Lord has made us a new creation by giving us a new spirit; the spirit of the living God that dwells within us. Since God is love, then it now becomes obvious that, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). Some people call this the law of love, but this law is measured by its attributes which are called the fruit of the Spirit:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
The Talmud relates that it was Hillel the Elder who authored the well-known statement that the love of one’s fellow Jew (Ahavat Yisrael) is the basis of the entire Torah. For Hillel, had been approached by a gentile who declared that he wished to convert to Judaism, but only if Hillel would teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is but commentary...”
Since the law remains an eternal truth about God’s nature, and we now have this law of truth (the Holy Spirit)[vii] dwelling within us, we need to view the covenants from the perspective of the legal requirements (i.e. contractual obligations) stipulated under each one.
Regarding the covenant with Abraham, God promised the land of Canaan to the descendants of Israel as an eternal inheritance. Abraham’s obligation in return was to circumcise his flesh. Regarding the covenant with Moses (the Mosaic Law) the Lord imparted his moral standards for the nation of Israel, these being the Ten Commandments, and the ceremonial and civil laws that ensued. The covenant thereby made God’s eternal laws binding upon the Jewish people, blessing the nation of Israel when they obeyed His law and cursing them when they did not.
The Lord now established the eternal priesthood of Aaron and his sons along with all its services and sacrifices, that would ultimately be fulfilled in Christ. This law of sin and propitiation for sin (atonement), has now forever been written into our minds and hearts. For this reason, we take communion, as it is written, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). The Lord now also established His eternal feasts and holy convocations with the nation of Israel, including the Sabbath, all pointing to her redemption and eternal rest that would come through her Messiah.
Lastly, in regards to the Now Covenant, Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Law and replaced the old contract with a new one. This new contract does not do away with the law, but takes away the contractual obligations under the Old Covenant to fulfill the law as a means of righteousness. It also does not do away with Israel’s national responsibilities that are foundational to the Kingdom of God. In other words, personal salvation was never achieved through corporate commitment, such as attending church. No, salvation is an individual decision, and therefore a unique marriage covenant between God and every man and woman.
Still, there are national responsibilities for Israel, and even more so now for the church who is the larger assemblage of Israel and the nations who have been grafted into her. Therefore, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
The Mosaic Law
So, how are we to approach the Mosaic Law? We certainly cannot come back under the bondage of the Old Covenant, for with it came punishment and death—the curse of the law. Yeshua took away the curse by fulfilling the law of sin and death, and He became our curse by dying on the cross for our sins. Therefore, we can now approach God’s law with grace rather than condemnation. When we fail, God’s mercy prevails because the blood of Yeshua has already covered us, as it is written: “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). And still we know that God’s mercy and grace are not a license to sin.
If the law is an eternal truth about God’s nature, and Yeshua has not done away with it, then it appears logical that Israel as a nation is still corporately bound to God’s eternal legal expectations. Once again, these are not a means to salvation, but will be used to set up the civil and moral foundation of the Messianic kingdom that Christ will establish when He returns, for it is written: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach [instruct] us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3).
And who explicitly is called to instruct the nations in the ways of the Lord? It is Israel, and now the larger assemblage of the nations that have been grafted into her—the church. God’s law, His nature will be revealed through Zion, and the ways of the Lord, God’s instruction will go forth from Jerusalem. If God has written His law on our hearts and minds, then He is telling His people that we will be sent into the nations of the earth to reveal His nature, which is expressly bound within His eternal laws. As we are conformed into the image of Christ, each of us will become the express image of our heavenly Father. We will therefore not only teach God’s laws, but we will be living examples of them.
To be clear, I am not speaking of rabbinic Judaism which has expounded upon God’s law as a means of righteousness. No, I am speaking of God’s eternal law that remains encapsulated in scripture, what I like to call biblical Judaism; part of which has already been fulfilled in Christ at His first advent, and the fulfillment that is yet to be revealed when He returns to establish His Millennial kingdom.
If we are to become living examples of God’s law, we will forever bear the testimony of Christ Yeshua and how He died on the cross for our sins. We will forever bear Christ’s attributes, which are love and mercy. We will forever model His ways, the Sabbath and the feasts of the Lord. We will forever be His priests, Holy unto the Lord, serving our heavenly Father in His holy temple in Jerusalem. We will forever be His judges, executing His law of justice and righteousness. And, we will forever be His kings, shepherding and instructing the nations of the earth in the law of the Lord.
The Law is the Foundation
It is not surprising to see why Paul and the other early disciples extensively quoted from the Old Testament. After all, it would take nearly 400-years for the New Testament to be fully canonized. However, I believe the more important realization is that the early church was built upon the foundation of the Mosaic Law that was given to Israel. Christianity was never intended to replace biblical Judaism, nor substitute the Jewish people with the gentile nations who would create a new religion apart from Israel.
No, Christianity was and remains the fulfillment of every promise that was reserved for the nation of Israel, and now also to those who have been grafted into God’s family, becoming one with the Jewish people as fellow heirs and partakers of these same covenant promises and blessings. If the gentiles have been grafted into Israel, then they have also been grafted into His law and covenant promises.
Removing God’s moral law from Christianity is just another subtle form of supersessionism (replacement theology). These would incorrectly say that God has somehow rejected everything old and started over, and that He has created a new nation called the church that replaces Israel as the foundation for God’s kingdom. It also implies that God’s Mosaic Law was somehow imperfect, even though scripture says otherwise, for it is written, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul…” (Psalm 19:7).
Yeshua is that perfect law, but it should not surprise anyone that He taught from and quoted from the Mosaic Law. Why? Because God’s law is both eternal and is perfect. It is we who are finite and imperfect. Fallen and broken people that have been separated from God through sin cannot fulfill a law that is perfect, nor can they make themselves perfect by impossibly trying to fulfill a perfect law and rising to a standard of perfection they can never attain.
No, only God can make us a new creation in Christ, building upon the foundation of truth He established with Israel, and giving us a new incorruptible spirit that is inclined towards His will to make us living examples of His law and inherent perfect nature. It is exclusively God who can take a flawed person and make them into a new perfect creation.
If God’s law is perfect, then it His intention to recreate us with His perfect nature. And this perfect nature now includes His perfect and eternal law. Therefore, Paul said, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). Our faith in Christ and His atoning works on the cross allow God to recreate us into His perfect image. And when His nature shines through us, including the perfection of His law, then our faith establishes God’s perfect and eternal law as an express image of our heavenly Father.
You might still be wondering about the big “C” word. Yes, I am talking about circumcision (ouch). Let’s read the famous narrative: “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). This scripture has been errantly used by the church to negate God’s law for the gentiles, but clearly the only issue addressed here is circumcision as a requirement to achieve salvation.
The council in Jerusalem rightfully rejected this assertion that the gentiles, or for that part even the Jewish people, required circumcision as a means of obtaining salvation in Christ, as it is written, “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:11). No, salvation can only come through faith in Christ alone, and not by any works or acts of the flesh, including circumcision. Neither can we add any human works to God’s plan of salvation.
None-the-less, the council did provide instruction (law) for the gentiles, even quoting the Law of Moses as a foundation for instruction and righteous conduct, as it is written, “we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:20-21, NIV).
The last point to remember regarding circumcision is that it was given to Abraham as a sign of God’s covenant with Israel, primarily as it pertained to the inheritance of the land of Canaan. The fact that the gentiles are excluded from this requirement further implies that the Jewish people continue to hold a unique identity within the larger assemblage of global believers that we call the church. Paul was always careful to distinguish his kinsman—Israelites—according to the flesh, who he called of the circumcision.[viii]
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Has God done away with His law? Certainly not. Christ has fulfilled the law, and indeed, He is the perfect law. If Christ now lives in us, then His eternal law also lives within us. The moral code of God’s law has now become part of our newly created being. God’s ceremonial law (the priesthood service) also lives within us as an eternal reminder of what Christ did for us on the cross, hence our communion. And the civil code of God’s law (laws governing the conduct of men and laws pertaining to the land) will become the foundation of Yeshua’s Messianic Kingdom. Israel will be strategically situated at the very center of Christ’s worldly government, and the law He gave to them will become the instruction for all nations, as it is written, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16).
So, are gentile Christians excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and the law of God that is established by their faith in Christ? No. They have now joined the natural branches of Abraham to become, with us, one people of God and one new man in Christ Yeshua. You are now part of spiritual Israel. You, like us are now under the bond of the New Covenant—the circumcision of the heart.[ix] The indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit is still instructing, guiding and writing God’s law on our hearts and minds so that our souls would be redeemed and conformed to the Kingdom of God. We are being perfectly recreated into the image of Yeshua, who is the express image and nature of our Heavenly Father. May the Lord fulfill His law in us so that we might serve as a witness of His nature in all the earth.
[i] J. Hampton Keathley, III. The Mosaic Law: Its Function and Purpose in the New Testament. Bible.org.
[ii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[iii] Exodus 12:24, Leviticus 16:31.
[iv] Exodus 27:21, 28:43.
[v] John 3:35.
[vi] Romans 7:14.
[vii] Galatians 5:14.
[viii] Colossians 4:11.
[ix] Deuteronomy 10:16, Romans 2:29.