From time to time, for reasons I do not fully understand, Christians are tempted to combine Judaism with Christianity. Perhaps they get bored with Christianity as they know it and are looking for something new and more exciting. This reason certainly is involved when various new emphases such as “speaking in tongues” spring up from time to time. Church as traditionally viewed and practiced often leaves people unfulfilled spiritually and emotionally. I think the concept sometimes expressed as being “Torah pursuant” is based at least partially on this condition.
Douglas Jacoby, one of the best-known teachers in the ICOC family of churches, recently made this observation in an article entitled, “Messianic Judaism – Why Focus on this movement?”
A growing movement—with perhaps a quarter million members in the U.S., and 10% that number in Israel—is proclaiming that the path to Christian spirituality is through embracing the Jewishness of the early church. They aim to keep the Sabbath, obey Torah, observe the Old Testament festivals, use Hebrew and Aramaic words, call their leaders rabbi, and much more.
You can read the numerous articles of Doug’s and listen to his many podcasts at douglasjacoby.com. I especially urge you to read and listen to his material on this topic if you have friends who are entertaining or teaching this type of doctrine. As we will see in my present article, it is a blending of covenants expressly forbidden in the New Testament.
The Root Issue
Such teaching hardly ever arises from the grassroots membership of the church; it is promoted by someone who is a leader or wants to be a leader. This is an age-old problem, as Paul’s comments demonstrate in 1 Timothy 1:3-7:
3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
These verses give us insights about the motivation and direction of these described as wanting to be teachers. They are teaching false doctrines by digging into little details of the Law of Moses with have little to do with the gospel of Christ. If all the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3), why would anyone want to dig into the minutia of the OT? By the way, Paul was dealing with exactly the same issues in Colossians – disciples wanting to go back into the OT and combine it with the Christianity of the NT. They lose their way and end up with meaningless talk. We usually describe the teaching in Colossians 2 with the term “syncretism,” the blending of two or more religious systems into one new conglomeration. In this case, it was a blending of Gnosticism and Judaism.
16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Strangely, I have heard Torah pursuant folks claiming that verse 16 is giving them the right to pursue Judaism without having anyone judge them for doing so. That is simply amazing to me! The context of the passage is clearly warning against observing Judaistic and Gnostic practices. The very next verse is sufficient to make the point, for these Jewish observances were merely a shadow while Christ is the reality. The chapter ends by identifying these ceremonial practices as rules having to do with self-denial, which “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Texts taken out of contexts are pretexts, and such usage of Colossians 2 is a prime example.
While I have my opinions, based on experience, about the motivations to minimize Christ in order to seek Jewish tenets, one thing of which I am certain is that trying to do such is a dangerous practice for a number of reasons. As the old saying puts it, the New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed and the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed. The purpose of the OT was to serve as a preparatory system leading to the ultimate fulfillment in Christ and his kingdom on earth. Simply put, the Jewish kingdom was a temporary one and with its purposes fulfilled, it no longer occupies a place of biblical significance in God’s plan for those of us living since the cross of Christ.
As I have prepared this presentation and looked at many biblical passages on the topic, my honest response has been, “So tell me again – why are we studying something that seems so obvious in Scripture?” I don’t mean to be dismissive, but I am puzzled a bit and left scratching my head. This topic is not a complex one, given the multiplicity of Scriptures on it, and it is certainly not as complex in concept and application as topics like marriage, divorce and remarriage or pacifism or the role of women in the church. At any rate, here are my thoughts about Gentiles and the Law of Moses – in the first century church and in the 21st century church.
What Do We Mean by “Law?”
The dictionary defines law as a rule of conduct or action recognized as binding, enforced by a controlling authority. The term “moral law” is often applied to the Ten Commandments, but this is problematic for more than one reason as we shall see. That which is moral in nature really has to do with human relationships with fellow humans. The term comes to us through the Latin and then Old French and carries that meaning in its entomology. For example, you would use “immoral” in reference to human relationships, but not to our relationship to God. That term would be “unrighteous.” This being true, the 10 commandments are not THE moral law, for several of them are about man and God.
Since the Law of Moses was given to the Jews, we should pay attention to how they used the term law. In the first century, any part of the OT could be (and was) called “law.” For example, in John 10:34 Jesus quoted from Psalms and called it Law, as did the crowd in John 12:34. For the rabbis, even the commonly accepted traditions might well have been called law. Various groupings could be found, such as the “Law and the Prophets” (Luke 16:16), “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29), and the “Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).
Broadly, there were two types of Divine laws: self-evident, or moral laws – assumedly unwritten until the Law of Moses was committed to writing. Revealed law – also written or unwritten, and even the NT revelation was unwritten for some years after the church was established. The self-evident laws come out of the nature of God himself. In the absence of a written law, Cain still knew that the world’s first murder was wrong.
Other laws come from the voice of God in revelation and are not self-evident. To state it another way, some things are in the Bible because they are true (the moral laws), while other things are true simply because they are in the Bible. The self-evident laws were true from the beginning, whether or not they were written down by God in a revelation. However, when God did inspire men to write, these types of laws were always included in that written revelation.
Examples of self-evident laws:
Romans 1:32 – Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Romans 2:14-15 – (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)
Galatians 5:19-21 – The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Abraham, for example, had laws of both types (moral and revealed): Genesis 26:4-5 – “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”
Written law began as far as we know with the Law of Moses – given only to the Israelites.
Leviticus 26:46 – These are the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai.
Nehemiah 9:13-14 – You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.
Psalm 147:19-20 – He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. 20 He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the LORD.
Romans 9:3-5 – For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
The three “Ages” concept is helpful in looking at biblical history accurately. The Patriarchal Age was from Abraham until Moses. Job fell within this age, sacrificing for his family, for offering sacrifices went back to the beginning of humanity, as shown by the examples of Cain and Abel. The Mosaic Age was just for the Israelites, beginning with Moses and lasting until Christ’s death. The Christian Age began with Acts 2 and the inauguration of the Christians covenant, and was given for all men everywhere. Paul in Acts 17 preached to Gentiles, calling them to repent and accept Christ.
Gentiles were only a part of the first and third ages and never were under the Law of Moses, unless they joined themselves to the Israelite nation. Books like Jonah show that God did have dealings with nations outside Israel during the Mosaic age. But it was not the purpose of the OT to show that; rather it was to show God’s development of the Jewish nation through whom he would bring Christ for the world.
The Main Purposes of the Law of Moses
Many of these purposes were positive and essential for that period of time. First, the Law provided a basis of fellowship with God as it guided them to a covenant relationship with him. Sadly, the Jews quickly perverted this covenant into legalism early in the wilderness wandering period and led God to clarify his original design for the Law in Deuteronomy, showing that it was all about the heart and not just outward compliance. In the first century, legalism was again rampant. See Galatians 3:10-12 warned against relying on one’s obedience as a means of obtaining and maintaining a relationship with him. The parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Matthew 18 shows beyond doubt that Paul had good reasons for later writing that warning!
Second, the Law provided religious nomenclature for the Jewish nation, which would find itself expressed as future spiritual concepts in the NT. Many terms associated with God and his relationship with man are found in the Law of Moses first. Third, many direct prophecies about the Messiah are a part of the Mosaic system, along with another type of prophecy, typology. In the latter, both practices and institutions in the OT were fulfilled by Christ and the new covenant. The book of Hebrews is replete with such typology.
Fourth, both positive and negative examples from the OT are used in the NT as encouragement or as warnings, depending on the type of example. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12 is one of the negative examples by which Paul warned us and Hebrews 11 is a chapter full of OT heroes by which we are encouraged to imitate their faith. Fifth, civil legislation was provided in the Law of Moses to govern the new nation, consisting of constitutional, social and criminal laws.
Sixth, an interesting overall purpose could be viewed as negative in the short run, but positive in the long run. Moses’ Law was definitely designed to keep the Israelites separate from other nations so that they in their infancy as a nation wouldn’t be polluted for their long-term purposes. Perhaps that shouldn’t be described as negative, but it surely was not the Great Commission!
Seventh, the Law increased sin in two different ways, namely through sins of commission and omission. With 365 negative commands (“don’t do it”) and 248 positive commands (“make sure to do it”) for a total of 613 commands, the ways to sin increased dramatically. Note that most of these commands were of the non-self-evident type – meaning that they were not opportunities to sin prior to the Mosaic Law being given. Here are a few NT passages to illustrate this purpose:
Romans 5:20 – The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. (The burden of too many commands can raise the desire to sin.)
Romans 7:7-8 – What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. (The intended positive long-term effect.)
Galatians 3:22 – But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Gentiles Never Had the Law Unless They Became Proselytes
Circumcision was necessary to observe the law for all males. Even the covenant given to Abraham, based on the three promises of Genesis 12:1-3 couldn’t be kept without circumcision. When the Mosaic legislation was in effect, circumcision was required to observe all parts of that legislation.
Genesis 17:11-13 – You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.
Exodus 12:43-49 – The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover meal: “No foreigner may eat it. 44 Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, 45 but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it. 46 “It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. 47 The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. 48 “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.”
The place of circumcision could be seen as a bit confusing in the early church period. Jewish Christians could be circumcised as a matter of custom or expediency, but not as a requirement for salvation. For example, Timothy was a Christian without circumcision, but since a half-Jew was considered a Jew, much like a half-black person in our society is considered Black, he could be circumcised – and was, by Paul himself. A contemporary of Timothy was Titus, fully a Gentile, and Paul refused to have him circumcised. In this case, not only was he a Gentile, but Judaizing teachers were insisting that he be circumcised in order to be saved.
Acts 16:3 – Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Gentile Christians never had circumcision required – quite the contrary.)
Galatians 2:3 –Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.
Galatians 5:3-4 – Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Thus, Jews could be circumcised as a matter of culture and/or expediency, but this could not be bound on Gentiles and no example in the NT shows them ever being circumcised. If it were to be a part of their requirements, surely Acts 15 would have shown it. And if they were not circumcised, they could not adhere to the Mosaic laws – the two were inseparable. You simply cannot find Gentiles in the early church obeying any part of the Mosaic Law as a part of following Christ.
Understanding the Promises Made to Abraham
Here we find one main promise which was to affect mankind to the very end of time, with two temporary promises which were essential to bringing about the main one. The main promise was that all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham, which was ultimately fulfilled in Christ. The temporary promises were for a great nation (Israel) to be established, which required a land in which to live. The nation existed as a called nation until Jesus came and the church was established.
Genesis 12:1-3 – The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
They were an elect nation for a physical purpose but being a part of that nation did not save them spiritually unless they were spiritual. Hence, there were two elections running concurrently during the Mosaic period – one physical and one spiritual. The Jews during the time of Christ were quite confused about this two-fold election, as John the Baptist’s statement in Luke 3:8 shows clearly. Once Jesus had come and the old covenant had ended, the purpose of physical Israel was over – they were God’s special nation no longer. Now the true Israel is the spiritual nation of God.
Galatians 6:14-16 – May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.
Philippians 3:2-3 – Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.
The land we still call the “Holy Land” has no relevance other than history, for it served its temporary purpose to house a temporary nation. This land was the promised land to Abraham and his descendants after him, but once the promise was fulfilled, it has no present-day purpose. However, some Jews and many Evangelicals see a modern or future fulfillment of prophecy. Let’s go back and look at the extent of the land promised:
Genesis 15:18 – On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.
1 Kings 4:21 – And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.
Yet, the Jews since 1948 have demanded the rights to Palestine, which has resulted in an amazing amount of strife. Those with a confused view of prophecy say that the promise to Abraham was either never fully satisfied (an ignorance of 1 Kings 4:21 – read it) or that it must yet be fulfilled in Jesus’ supposed 1000 year reign on earth. The truth? One and done – long ago!
Matthew 21:43-44 – “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”
Romans 9:30-33 – What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
The Law of Moses Was as Temporary as Was the Nation of Israel
Further explanations could be provided here, but are they really needed? Galatians 3 says explicitly that once Christ came, we are no longer under the Law which had served temporarily as a guardian. 2 Corinthians 3 tells us that Ten Commandments engraved on stone was transitory and a ministry that brought death. Could Paul have been clearer? Finally, the Hebrew writer said that the Law was changed, obsolete, outdated and soon to disappear. That final ending would have been in AD 70 when the Roman armies destroyed the temple for the final time, the coup de grace. Again, with the Scriptures being this clear and explicit regarding the old and new covenants, just why is this conversation even necessary? Read the passages for yourself.
Galatians 3:19-25 – Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one. 21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
2 Corinthians 3:6-14 – He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.
Hebrews 7:11-12 – If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood – and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.
Hebrews 8:7-13 – For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. 8 But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” 13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Ceremonial Laws and Self-Evident Laws
The ceremonial type laws were temporary because they were a part of the old covenant and were not of the moral or self-evident type. This included the Sabbath law – it was only given to Israel. Just read the following passages:
Nehemiah 9:13-14 – “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.
Exodus 31:16-17 – The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.
Colossians 2:13-19 – When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
As stated earlier in this study, the passage in Colossians 2 is one of syncretism – a combination of Jewish laws and pagan Gnosticism, both of which were ended by the cross. The legal indebtedness that was cancelled may refer to the law itself or to sin caused by violating it as Jews or violating self-evident laws as Gentiles.
The day of worship was the first day of the week in the new covenant, not the Sabbath.
Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week (Mark 16:1-9). Jesus first appeared to his group of disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19), and his next appearance to them was one week later, also on the first day of the week (John 20:26). Since Jesus was “declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4), this marvelous declaration is inseparably connected to the first day of the week. The church was established on the Day of Pentecost, which always fell on the first day of the week (50 days from the Sabbath of the Passover week).
Therefore, the long-awaited outpouring of the Spirit occurred on the first day of the week (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:1-4, 16-21); the first gospel sermon was preached on this day; and, the first converts were baptized into Christ on this first day of the week. How could the events of a Judaistic Sabbath compare with these highly significant events on this new day of emphasis in the new covenant?
Another important passage in this light is Acts 20:7, which reads: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.” The previous verse tells us that Paul had arrived a week before in Troas and stayed seven days. The implication from the text is that Paul waited for these days in order to meet with the church in Troas before continuing on his journey. Since their day of meeting was on the first day of the week, he waited until then, met with them and departed the next day. This one passage provides rather conclusive proof that the Church met regularly on the first day of the week, rather than on the Sabbath.
Further, the church was commanded to assemble (Hebrews 10:25) and they observed the Lord’s Supper when they assembled. The day of this assembling was on the first day of the week as 1 Corinthians 16:2 clearly says: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” Therefore, the first century assembled on the first day of the week and not on the Sabbath.
The Ten Commandments are not the foundation of all other Jewish law, as is often mistakenly claimed. Jesus told us clearly what that foundation in fact was.
Matthew 22:35-40 – One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
These ceremonial, temporary laws also included the food laws, and a multiplicity of other laws which were not of the self-evident or moral types of laws. We have already mentioned these types of laws in Colossians 2:16, called “shadow” of the things to come in Christ. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.”
Mark 7:17-23 – After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Mark’s comment in verse 19 was a parenthetical one, realized and put into practice after the new covenant had been put into effect. Prior to then, Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:17-20 were still very much in force. Note that the real issues of defilement are laws of the self-evident type.
Acts 10:13-16 – Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Can the Law Be Changed?
This question has oddly become the starting place for those who insist that the Sabbath and other parts of the Law of Moses are to be assimilated into Christianity. Like all systems of false doctrine, this one is based on certain basic presuppositions, which if granted, allow for the seemingly logical development of a system that cannot stand up under biblical examination.
Did Jesus change the Law? Let’s look at a key passage and his terminology.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
These two terms, abolish and fulfill, must be defined and understood in this context. “Abolish” comes from the Greek, kataluô, and means to abolish, destroy, overthrow, or tear down. “Fulfill” is a translation of plêroô, meaning to accomplish, complete, fill, or supply. I’ve never heard anyone argue that Jesus came to destroy the Law, for it was of God and remained in effect until the new covenant took its place. That occurred on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as recorded in Acts 2.
Here is what Jesus said about the matter in Luke 24:44: “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’” Once all had been fulfilled, including the death and resurrection of Jesus, the old covenant could be removed as a binding covenant on the Jews and replaced by the new covenant for Jews and Gentiles alike. As with the “age-lasting” promises of the OT, including the occupation of Palestine, once the Mosaic age had ended, so did those promises.
Did Paul change the Law? For starters, Hebrews 7:11-12 said that the law had to be changed, as we have already read.
Hebrews 7:11-12 – If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood – and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood – why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also.
This next passage could not be clearer about the inferiority of the old law compared to the new covenant and about the transitory nature of the old law. Note that Paul begins by specifically addressing the Ten Commandments (which included the Sabbath observance). As I said earlier, this topic is not a complex one. We have read this passage once, but it is worth reading again in this context regarding the change of the covenant laws.
2 Corinthians 3:7-16 – Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
Paul had no authority as a human to change anything God had instituted, but as an inspired apostle and prophet, he could be the instrument God used to make the changes he wanted. The following passages show what this means.
Ephesians 3:2-6 — Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
2 Peter 1:20-21 – Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Exodus 4:15-16 – You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.
Going Backwards is Rarely Progress
I close with a few additional passages showing that Gentiles were never a part of Mosaic practices. The whole issue of trying to bind the old covenant on those in the new covenant, Jew or Gentile, was the battleground in the early church that could have split it right now the middle. We could have ended up with a Jewish church and a Gentile church rather than a church of all nations, made possible by the death of Jesus that ushered in the personal peace of salvation and the universal peace between all races in Christ. Any attempt to mix the temporary national religion of the Jews with the ultimate goal of salvation in Christ for all peoples is false doctrine, and damnable doctrine at that, according to Paul. Such attempts cannot be ignored nor sugar-coated. They were stoutly resisted in the first century church and they must be stoutly resisted in the twenty-first century church.
2 Peter 2:20-22 – If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”
Hebrews 13:9 – Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.
Acts 15:10 – Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?
Acts 15:27-29 – Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The gospel is centered fully in Christ. Any attempt to add elements not found in the New Testament is an attempt with Satan in the center of it. He is fine with Christ PLUS! God is not. The rationalizations to include add-ins are many and some of them are persuasive to those who don’t study the bible in-depth and in context. As with any false teaching, you end up explaining away plain teaching in order to support false teaching. Let’s avoid that malady and concentrate on Christ and his kingdom. Nothing else will suffice in God’s eyes and nothing else will satisfy in our heart of hearts.