As with every consideration of the scripture we must be diligent in sincerely surrendering ourselves to the guideance of the Holy Spirit. Our approach must be prayerful and deliberate forsaking all bias and unconfirmed preconceptions, We must endeavor to seek the true revelation of God and avoid the mere traditions of men. We must be open minded and test the spirits to be sure if they are of God [1Jn. 4:1].
Moses said to the children of Israel, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” This is He who was in the congregation in the wilderness, the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles given to us, whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us . . . And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets” – Ac. 7:37-42.
This is part of Stephen’s defense delivered before the Sanhedrin in 33AD just prior to his martyrdom. He was reminding his exclusively Jewish audience that God had delivered them out of bondage and provided them with “living oracles” which they “would not obey”. Instead, they “turned back” to Egypt demanding to have idols and false gods rather than follow the ONE TRUE GOD.
The result was God “turned and gave them up”. When read within its full original context, not only in Acts but also Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Numbers, it is quite obvious that from BEFORE the very institution of the LAW by Moses, the people had already turned from God to idolatry.
With this in mind, it should be clear that the LAW was given as a renedial precaution, the result of sin already committed. The Hebrews had been negatively influenced by their pagan captors. They desired to be like them, sacrificing to idols and consuming every type of creature, which God knew carried disease and declared “unclean”. Dietary restrictions, ritual sacrifice, and communal customs were regulated in the LAW to keep Israel healthy and to distinguish them from ALL other nations. They were ALREADY practicing idolatry when and while Moses was receiving the LAW!
They were God’s chosen people, but they desired other things and rebelled against His righteous standard revealed in the LAW.
The Law was NOT as a means of maintaining righteousness, but of hopefully preserving the nation until the true righteousness of God (Jesus Christ) could be revealed. This distinction is important to understand because for those who have already attained righteousness in Christ, the LAW profits them nothing. Conversely, those already convicted by the law as unrighteous, are hopeless if they attempt to achieve righteousness by keeping the LAW because such an endeavor is an impossibility.
“Therefore by the deeds of the LAW no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the LAW is the knowledge of sin” – Ro. 3:20.
“For whoever shall keep the WHOLE LAW and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of ALL” – Jas. 2:10.
The ages old debate over LAW vs. GRACE continues with many misunderstandings primarily due to a lack of proper etymology. Two terms are important of which to grasp a righteous comprehension.
The 1st is “ABOLISH” = formally put an end to (a system, practice, or institution).
The other is “FULFILL” = bring to completion or reality; achieve or realize (something desired, promised, or predicted); carry out (a task, duty, or role) as required, pledged, or expected.
“For He (Jesus Christ) Himself is our peace, who has made both one, & has broken down the middle wall of separation, having ABOLISHED the LAW of commandments contained in ordinances, in His flesh” – Eph. 2:14-16.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to FULFILL” – Mt.5:17.
In order to fully appreciate what Jesus accomplished and what He said relative to the two passages above, we must distinguish between these two terms, especially focusing upon the very fine line that separates them.
It should be noted that Jesus is addressing an exclusively Jewish audience. This is an important point to realize because ONLY the Jews were familiar with the LAW, as God delivered it to THEM alone as part of His covenant with the nation of Israel.
God’s LAW was NEVER intended to apply to EVERY nation throughout the world.
The Old Testament reveals that the Hebrew people (beginning with Abraham) received a special distinction as God’s “chosen nation”. In the OT, God worked EXCLUSIVELY with and through the Hebrews (later known as Israel & the Jews).
All God’s prophets, and all the scribes (who were the inspired writers of the Bible), were Hebrews. With that in mind, when Jesus speaks of the LAW He is referring to the specific COVENANT delivered by Moses to the Jewish nation. That covenant is the LAW, and the Law is that covenant. The two are synonymous.
A thorough study of the WHOLE Word of God (Genesis- Revelation) reveals that God’s ORIGINAL covenant was established with ABRAHAM and was based on FAITH. About 430 years LATER [Gal. 3:17], the Jewish nation grumbled and complained that other nations had kings and laws and basically demanded “equal” treatment. So God gave Moses a covenant directed specifically at Israel to address their specific requests (complaints) [Gal. 3:19].
As with EVERY covenant (legal contract) there are requirements (conditions) set forth by which both parties promise to abide. God promised to protect and provide for Israel IF they observed the covenant (the LAW). Unfortunately, they constantly broke the covenant and so, God nullified it when Jesus Christ fulfilled it by His ABSOLUTE obedience to it.
Jesus not only fulfilled the LAW, but by introducing the NEW Covenant (NT) He also ABOLISHED the OLD. This is greatly confused because it is primarily a LEGAL matter. Whenever a NEW TESTAMENT is introduced, the NEW automatically replaces the OLD, thereby completely NULLIFYING it.
This point insults many who do not properly grasp the legal concept and wrongly imagine that there are no obligations under GRACE and FAITH. But there are NEW LAWS (the law of Liberty, the commandments of Christ). They are a much simpler version (a NEW LAW) than the original, and they, unlike the OLD LAW, are applicable to ALL nations of the world (Gentile & Jew).
But unlike the OLD, the New Covenant is NOT a standard of obligation and regulation that man must conform to to produce good works. The New covenant is delivered by the Holy Spirit and NOT written upon tables of stone, but upon the hearts of true beleivers. It is of GRACE, NOT WORKS.
Jesus reduced the ENTIRE LAW into two commands: Love God with all your heart and worship Him alone; love others as you do yourself (Golden Rule). So, in order to “abolish“ the Law, a suitable replacement had to be introduced (a universal application of GRACE by FAITH in the shed blood of the LAMB of GOD).
In order to “fulfill” the LAW, a representative of mankind, a mediator between God and Man, must absolutely abide by every ordinance contained in the LAW (which Jesus did by living an absolutely SINLESS life). He proved also by doing so that He was truly the promised “SEED“.
What adds further to the confusion and debate is a naivety to the fact that it was God’s plan ALL along to have an EXPIRATION DATE on the covenant He delivered to Moses. It was ALWAYS (from the very foundation of the world) God’s intent to provide the “fulfillment” of the LAW in order to righteously “abolish” it through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
The Old covenant was TEMPORARY and CONDITIONAL. When the conditional provisions were BROKEN by the Jews, the covenant was NULLIFIED and God put an END to it when the NEW covenant replaced it.
The Savior was “needed” because He ALONE was the chosen instrument that incorporated the New Testament, without which, the LAW would still be in force [Gal. 3:13-14].
But we must never forget, that the Jews who rejected Christ and the New covenant beleive that they are still under the OLD [Gal. 3: 10-12]. Because they CHOOSE to continue under Moses (rather than Christ) the LAW remains the only viable means of relationship with GOD for THEM. Although it has long since been fulfilled abolished they naively continue under it and in doing so have caused many Gentiles to likewise follow in their foolishness. They have ignored Paul’s reminder…
“by the deeds of the LAW no flesh will be justified in His sight” – Ro. 3:20.
The LAW does not apply to Gentiles and NEVER did.
But many who do not understand the LEGAL principles applied to the OLD and NEW covenants are naively beguiled into thinking that they are also required to observe the Law of Moses, because since the beginnings of Christianity there have been false teachers who insist that Christians are merely “completed Jews”. They profess that to be truly saved Gentiles too must observe the Jewish Law [Ac. 15: 1,5, 24].
Peter, James, and Paul rebuked these false teachers and warned true believers NOT to fall prey to their oppressive doctrines [Ac. 15: 28,29].
What purpose then did the LAW serve?
“It was added because of the transgressions of those rebellious Jews delivered from Egyptian bondage, until the Seed (Christ) promised in Eden should come to whom the promise was made. BEFORE Christ came, we (Jews) were kept under the LAW kept for the FAITH which would AFTERWARD be revealed. Therefore the LAW was our (Jews) “tutor” to bring us to Christ, that we (Jews) might be justified by FAITH. But after FAITH came, we (Jews) are no longer under the “tutor” (the LAW)“ – Gal. 3. 19-25.
Always keep in mind whenever reading the New Testament that many portions of it are directed specifically to distinctly Jewish audiences. Epistles that are directed at primarily Gentile believers have little or no references to the LAW, because it was not relevant to them.
In order to gain a full and proper understanding of the admonitions delivered in the letters written to mostly Jewish audiences we must put on a Jewish mentality. We must think as a Jew, and relate to both written ordinances and oral traditions that combined to make up the Jewish religion of Jesus day.
If we make the mistake of over-generalizing pertinent passages by including Gentiles under the admonitions reserved specifically for ONLY Jewish hearers, we will naively fall prey to the Judaizers who were attempting to make all converts to Christ observers of the LAW [Read Acts 15].
However, scripture declares quite a different story.
“For Jesus Christ is our peace, who has made both one, & has broken down the middle wall of separation, having ABOLISHED the LAW of commandments contained in ordinances, in His flesh” – Eph. 2:14-16.
“Whoever keeps the WHOLE LAW yet stumbles in one point, is guilty of ALL” – Jas. 2:10.
“Every man who becomes circumcised is a debtor to keep the WHOLE LAW” – Gal. 5:3.
“Sin shall not have dominion over you: you are not under the LAW, but under GRACE” – Romans 6:14.
There are many who teach that the passages that speak of the fulfilling and/or abolishing of the LAW refer only to the portions of the LAW pertaining to sacrifice or levitical priesthood and rituals relative to cleanliness. They do so however, in either direct rebellion against scripture or naive ignorance to it. They have frequently been challenged by more scholarly theologians to support such claims with sound scriptural evidence, which they cannot do because no scriptures teach such partial application.
As mentioned earlier, the LAW is the Old Covenant. The two terms are synonymous. Just as with every covenant, whenever a new covenant is introduced the ENTIRE former covenant is nullified. The whole covenant is replaced by the NEW. No part or portions of the old ever remain. It is always an all or nothing proposition when related to covenants.
For further information on this topic read my article “Salvation: Obedience / Works vs. Faith / Grace”
As always, you are encouraged to conduct your own personal research and prayerfully seeking God’s revelation. If you care to comment or have any questions please use the COMMENTS FORM below.