Law of Moses and the Law of Christ
This excerpt from Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s “Messianic Bible Study” radio program is vital, because many believers are not sure just how they relate to the Law of Moses today. This is a particular problem for Jewish believers. Our purpose, then, is to deal with the Scriptures from a perspective that is both Jewish and biblical, so that we might help clarify and resolve this issue that is so crucial and prevalent for those of us working here at Ariel Ministries, and Jewish missions and evangelism, in general.
If there is one immediate problem that seems to face the new Jewish believer in the Messiah, it is this relationship to the Law of Moses. The dilemma is: to what extent is the Messianic Jew to keep the Law of Moses?
Two factors have developed in the minds and teachings of many Christians that have contributed to the creation of this problem. One is the practice of dividing the Law into ceremonial, legal, and moral commandments. On the basis of this division, many have come to think that the believer is free from the ceremonial and legal commandments but is still under the moral commandments. The second factor is the belief that the Ten Commandments are still valid today, while the other 603 commandments are not. When confronted by a Seventh Day Adventist, for example, an individual taking such an approach runs into problems concerning the fourth commandment on keeping the Sabbath. At that point, the believer begins fudging or hedging around the issue, and inconsistency results. While many different groups – both Jewish and Gentile, Messianic and non-Messianic – claim that we are still under the Law, none who say so actually believe it! Everyone who makes this claim then proceeds to make major adjustments to it, so many changes, in fact, that Moses himself would not recognize his own Law. No one who claims such today truly follows it as it is written.
The solution to this problem lies in discovering what the Bible says about the Messianic believer’s relationship to the Law, especially the Ten Commandments.
The Purpose of the Law of Moses
It is important to note that the Scriptures clearly state that the Law was given to Israel and not to the Gentiles or the Church (Deut. 4:7-8; Ps. 147:19-20; Mal. 4:4). Another thing to point out is the means by which the Mosaic Law was given. Most know that Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai from the Hand of God. Ten of those commandments, written on tablets of stone, were written with the Finger of God. The Old Testament indicates that the other 603 were written down as Moses was commanded by God.
Let’s move on to another area to answer the question, “What was the purpose of the Mosaic Law?” The Bible gives us several reasons for the purpose of the Mosaic Law. The first purpose was to reveal the holiness of God, to reveal the standard of righteousness that God demanded for a proper relationship with Him. Let me emphasize that at no time is it taught in Scripture that the Mosaic Law was the means of salvation. Such a concept would make salvation by means of works. We know, instead, that salvation was always by grace through faith. The content of faith has changed from age to age; exactly what one had to believe to be saved differed from age to age, depending on progressive revelation (that which God has revealed over time). But the means of salvation never changes, and the Mosaic Law was never intended to give the Jew a way of salvation. It was given to a people already redeemed from Egypt, not in order to redeem them.
A second purpose of the Law was to provide the means or the rule of conduct for the Old Testament saints. We find this in Romans 3:20 and 28, where Paul makes clear that no man was justified by the works of the Law. The Law was never, ever a means of salvation. Rather, the Law always had other purposes, and, in this case, it provided the rule of life for the Old Testament believer.
Two more purposes were: to keep the Jews a distinct people (Lev. 11:44-45; Deut. 7:6; 14:1-2); and, to provide Israel with occasions for individual and corporate worship.
A fifth purpose for the Mosaic Law was to reveal sin. Three passages in Romans point this out. In Romans 3:19-20, Paul emphasizes that there is no justification through the Law. By means of the Law no Jewish person will be justified. So what is the Law if not a way of justification, a way of salvation? The Law is there to give us the knowledge of sin, to reveal exactly what sin is, as Paul repeats in Romans 5:20 and 7:7. Paul became aware of his own sinful state by searching the Law and realizing that he fell short of the righteous standards of God (an example of the first and third purposes of the Law at work together).
Another purpose – this one is strange but true nevertheless – is to make a person sin more (Rom. 4:15; 5:20). Paul explains what he means by this in Romans 7:7-13 and again in I Corinthians 15:56, where we read that the power of sin is the Law.
Basically, Paul is saying here that a sin nature needs a base of operation; furthermore, the sin nature uses the Law as a base of operation. Paul notes that where there is no Law, there is no transgression. He did not mean, of course, that there was no sin before the Law was given. Rather, the term “transgression” is a specific type of sin violating a specific commandment. Men were sinners before the Law was given, but they were not transgressors of the Law until the Law was given. Once the Law was given, the sin nature had a base of operation, causing the individual to violate these commandments and sin all the more.
This last purpose led to a seventh purpose, which is to lead us to absolute faith, specifically faith in Jesus the Messiah (Gal. 3:24). As hard as we may try to keep the Law perfectly, our sin nature prevents us from doing so, as Paul describes in the seventh chapter of Romans. There is yet another purpose, but this will be covered more appropriately later in this study.
The Unity of the Law of Moses
It must be understood that the Mosaic Law is viewed in the Scriptures as a unit. The word, Torah or “Law,” is always singular when applied to the Law of Moses, although it contains 613 commandments. The same is true of the Greek word, Nomos, in the New Testament. The division of the Law of Moses into ceremonial, legal, and moral parts is convenient for the study of different types of commandments contained within it, but it is never divided this way by the Scriptures themselves. Neither is there any scriptural basis for separating the Ten Commandments from the whole 613 and making only the Ten perpetual. All 613 commandments are a single unit comprising the Law of Moses.
It is this principle of the unity of the Law of Moses that lies behind the idea of keeping the whole law in James 2:10. The Apostle’s point here is clearly that a person needs only to break one of the 613 commandments to be guilty of breaking all of the Law of Moses. And this can only be true if the Mosaic Law is a unit. If it were not, the guilt would lie only in the particular commandment violated and not in the whole Law. In other words, if one breaks a legal commandment, he is guilty of breaking the ceremonial and moral ones as well. The same is true of breaking a moral or ceremonial commandment. To bring the point closer to home, a person under the Law of Moses who eats ham is guilty of breaking the Ten Commandments, although none of the Ten says anything about ham.
In order to clearly understand the Law of Moses and its relationship to the believer (Jew or Gentile), it is necessary to view it as do the Scriptures: as a unit, one that cannot be divided into parts that are nullified and parts that are kept. Nor can certain commandments be separated in such a way as to give them a different status from other commandments.
The Law of Moses Rendered Inoperative
The clear-cut teaching of the New Testament is that the Law of Moses has been rendered inoperative with the death of Messiah; in other words, the Law in its totality no longer has authority over any individual. This is evident first of all from Romans 10:4, with Paul telling us that Christ is the end of the law. Galatians 2:16 concurs, stating that neither is there justification through the Law. Furthermore, there is no sanctification or perfection through the Law (Heb. 7:19).
A second important point here is that the Mosaic Law was never meant to be a permanent administration, but a temporary one. In the context of Galatians 3:19, Paul describes the Law of Moses as an addition to the Abrahamic Covenant. It was added in order to make sin very clear so that all would know they have fallen short of God’s standard for righteousness. It was a temporary addition until Christ . . . till the seed should come; now that He has come, the Law is finished.
Third, with Christ there is a new priesthood, according to the order of Melchizedek, instead of the former order of Aaron. Whereas the Law of Moses provided the basis for the Levitical priesthood, this new priesthood required a new law under which it could operate. Hebrews 7:11-12 explains that only one type of priesthood was permitted and that was the Levitical priesthood. But the Levitical priesthood – and its sacrificial system of animal blood – could not bring perfection; only the Messiah’s blood could do that (Heb. 9:11-10:18). The Mosaic Law was the basis for the Levitical priesthood. But for the Levitical priesthood to be replaced by a new priesthood, the priesthood of Melchizedek, a change of the Law was required.
Was there a change of the Law? Hebrews 7:18 states that the Mosaic Law was disannulled. Because it is no longer in effect, we can now have a new priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. If the Mosaic Law was still in effect, Yeshua could not function as a priest. But the Mosaic Law is no longer in effect, and so Jesus can be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.
The fourth line of evidence for the annulment of the Mosaic Law zeros right in on the part of the Law that most people want to retain – the Ten Commandments. Second Corinthians 3:2-11 is very significant here: First, we need to see what Paul is saying in this passage concerning the Law of Moses. He calls it both the ministration of death and the ministration of condemnation (vv. 7, 9) – both certainly negative but valid descriptions. In addition, Paul is clearly emphasizing the Ten Commandments, as it is these that are engraven on stones. The main point, then, is that the Law of Moses, especially as represented by the Ten Commandments, is a ministration of death and a ministration of condemnation. And this would remain true if the Ten Commandments were still in force today.
But they are no longer in force, as the Law has passed away (vv. 7, 11). The Greek word used is katargeo, meaning “to render inoperative.” Since this passage’s emphasis is on the Ten Commandments, this means that the Ten Commandments have passed away. The thrust is very clear. The Law of Moses, and especially the Ten Commandments, is no longer in effect. In fact, the superiority of the Law of Christ is seen by the fact that it will never be rendered inoperative.
Paul sheds more light on this in his letter to the Ephesians (2:11-16; 3:6), explaining that God has made certain covenants with the Jewish people. (In fact, God made four unconditional, eternal covenants with Israel: the Abrahamic, the Palestinian, the Davidic, and New Covenants.) All of God’s blessings, both material and spiritual, are mediated by means of these four Jewish covenants, which are eternal, as well as unconditional.
At the same time, Paul points out that God added a fifth covenant: temporary and conditional, this is the Mosaic Covenant containing the Mosaic Law. According to Paul, the Mosaic Law served as a wall of partition (Eph. 2:15). And this is yet another purpose of the Law (one which we alluded to earlier): to serve as a wall of partition to keep Gentiles, as Gentiles, from enjoying Jewish spiritual blessings. In the Old Testament, if a Gentile wished to become a recipient of Jewish spiritual blessings, he would need to take upon himself the entire obligation of the Law – from circumcision to living as every other Jew lived. Only a Gentile who converted to Judaism could enjoy the blessings of the Jewish covenants. If the Mosaic Law were still in effect, there would still be a wall of partition to maintain this distinction between Jews and Gentiles. But the wall of partition was broken down with the death of Christ; again, the wall of partition was the Mosaic Law, and so the Law of Moses was rendered inoperative. Now, Gentiles as Gentiles, on the basis of faith, can and do enjoy Jewish spiritual (though not physical) blessings by becoming fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.
To summarize, the Law is a unit comprised of 613 commandments, and all of it has been invalidated. No commandment has continued beyond the cross of Yeshua. The Law exists and can be used as a teaching tool to show God’s standard of righteousness and our sinfulness and need of substitutionary atonement. It can be used to point one to Christ (Gal. 3:23-25). It has, however, completely ceased to function as an authority over individuals. Hebrews 8:1-13 draws a parallel between the Mosaic Law and the New Covenant: The writer, quoting Jeremiah 31:31-34, states that as soon as a “new” covenant was enacted, it rendered the Mosaic Covenant the “old” one – and that which is old is nigh unto vanishing away (v. 13). The Mosaic Law grew old under Jeremiah and vanished away when Messiah died.
The Jewish Believer Is Under A New Law
The Law of Moses has been done away with, and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2, and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new law totally separate from the Law of Moses. The Law of Christ contains all the commandments applicable to a New Testament believer.
The reason there is so much confusion over the relationship of the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ is that the two have many similar commandments, prompting many to conclude that certain sections of the Law have, therefore, been retained. But we have already shown that this cannot be so, and the explanation for the sameness of the commandments is to be found elsewhere.
First, we must realize that there are a number of covenants in the Bible, including the Edenic, Adamic, Noahic, Mosaic, and New. A new covenant will always contain some of the same commandments as the previous covenant, but this does not mean that the previous covenant is still in effect. While certain commandments of the Adamic Covenant were also part of the earlier Edenic Covenant, it does not mean that the Edenic Covenant was still partially in force; on the contrary, it ceased to function with the Fall of man. The same is true when we compare the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ. There are many similar commandments. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are to be found in the Law of Christ, but this does not mean that the Law of Moses is still in force.
Let me illustrate this by using an example which you may have also experienced. I received my first driver’s license in the State of California; as long as I drove in California, I was subject to the traffic laws of that state. But two years later, I moved to New York. Once I left California, I ceased to be under California’s traffic laws. The traffic laws of that state were rendered inoperative in my case. Now my driving was subject to a new law – the traffic laws of the State of New York. There were many laws that were different: In California, I was permitted to make a right turn at a red light after stopping and yielding the right-of-way. But in New York this was not permitted. On the other hand, there were many similar laws between the two states, such as the edict to stop at red lights. However, when I stopped for a red light in New York, I did not do so in obedience to the State of California as I once had, but in obedience to the State of New York. Likewise, if I went through a red light without stopping, I was not guilty of breaking California law but New York law. Many laws were similar, but they were, nevertheless, under two distinctly different systems.
The Law of Moses has been nullified, and we are now under the Law of Christ. There are many different commandments: The Law of Moses did not permit one to eat pork, but the Law of Christ does. There are many similar commandments as well, but they are in two separate systems. If we do not kill or steal, this is not because of the Law of Moses but because of the Law of Christ. Conversely, if I do steal, I am not guilty of breaking the Law of Moses but the Law of Christ.
For believers, this understanding can resolve many issues – such as women wearing pants, the Sabbath, and tithing. As the commandments concerning these things are based on the Law of Moses, then they have no validity for the New Testament believer. The Law of Christ is now the rule of life for the individual New Testament believer.
The Principle of Freedom
What we are saying is that the believer in Yeshua Hamashiach is free from the necessity of keeping any commandment of the Law of Moses. But it is crucial to note that he is also free to keep parts of the Mosaic Law if he so desires.
The biblical basis for this freedom to keep the Law is evident in the actions of Paul, the greatest exponent of freedom from the Law. His vow in Acts 18:18 is based on Numbers 6:2, 5, 9 and 18. His desire to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost in Acts 20:16 is based on Deuteronomy 16:16. The strongest example is Acts 21:17-26, where we see Paul himself keeping the Law.
So, if a Jewish believer feels the need to refrain from eating pork, for example, he is free to do so. The same is true for all the other commandments. However, there are two dangers that must be avoided by the Messianic Jew who chooses to keep portions of the Law of Moses: One is the belief that one who does so is contributing to his own justification and sanctification. This is false and must be avoided. The second danger is that one may demand or expect others to also keep the Law. This is equally wrong and borders on legalism. The one who exercises his freedom to keep the Law must recognize and respect another’s freedom not to do the same.
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The complete Messianic Bible Study of “The Law of Moses and the Law of Christ” is available as Catalog item #mbs-006.