PART 2: THE MOSAIC COVENANT
For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.
- Leviticus 17:11 -
V. THE MOSAIC COVENANT
The Mosaic Covenant contains very extensive detailed information, and the Scriptural account of the covenant extends from Exodus 20:1.
B. The Participants in the Covenant
The parties involved in this pact were God and Israel. The covenant was made with Israel and not merely with Moses acting as a representative of Israel. This is clearly brought out in Exodus 19:3-8: And Moses went up unto God, and Jehovah called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak unto the children of Israel. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which Jehovah commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that Jehovah has spoken we will do. And Moses reported the words of the people unto Jehovah.
The covenant was not made with the Gentiles or the Church, but with Israel only, a point also made in Deuteronomy 4:7-8; Psalm 147:19-20; and Malachi 4:4.
C. The Provisions of the Covenant
The key provision of the Mosaic Covenant was the Law of Moses, which contained a total of 613 commandments. Involved in these provisions of the Law were blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. It was signed and sealed by the Shechinah Glory in Exodus 24:1-11, but signed in such a way that rendered the covenant conditional. So in essence, there are 613 provision of the covenant, too many to be individually listed here. Instead, seven observations will be made concerning the provisions of the Mosaic Covenant.
1. The Totality of the Law
First: as stated earlier, there were a total of 613 specific commandments, not just ten, a rather common misconception. Of these, 365 were negative commandments, things which were forbidden; 248 were positive commandments, things that should be done.
2. The Blessings and Judgments of the Law
Second: this was a conditional covenant, which meant that there would be blessings for obedience, but judgment for disobedience (Ex. 15:26; 19:3-8).
3. The Blood Sacrifice Added
Third: the key element of the entire Mosaic Law was the blood sacrifice, brought out in Leviticus 17:11: For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life.
There were five different offerings detailed in Leviticus 1-7. The Hebrew word for atonement does not mean the removal of sin but merely the covering of sin. While the blood of animals covered the sins of the Old Testament saints, it never took those sins away; only
the blood of the Messiah can remove sin (Heb. 10:1-4). However, the blood sacrifice did provide for the forgiveness of sin and the restoration of fellowship.
4. The Diet Restrictions Imposed
Fourth: for the Jews, it restricted some of the provisions of the Noahic Covenant. Beasts had to be both cloven hoofed and those that chewed the cud; fish had to have both fins and scales; concerning fowls, no birds of prey were allowed; and concerning insects, only one type of
locust was permitted.
5. The Death Penalty Expanded
Fifth: for the Jews, it added the death penalty for other sins such as idolatry, adultery, cursing God, cursing parents, breaking the Sabbath, practicing witchcraft, among others.
6. The Sign of the Covenant
Sixth: it reaffirmed the practice of circumcision (Lev. 12:3), but not for the same reasons. Under the Abrahamic Covenant, circumcision was the sign of the covenant and it was mandatory for Jews only. Under the Mosaic Covenant, circumcision was the means of submission to the Law of Moses and it was mandatory for all Jews, but also for Gentiles who wished to become part of the Commonwealth of Israel. That is why Paul warned the Gentile Galatian believers that, if they submitted to circumcision, they would be obliged to keep the whole law, not just this one commandment (Gal. 5:3).
7. The Token of the Covenant
Seventh: the token or sign of the Mosaic Covenant was the Sabbath. Concerning the Sabbath, five specific observations can be made. First: being the token of the Mosaic Covenant, it was a sign between God and Israel; it was a sign that Israel had been set apart by God (Ex. 31:12-17); it was a sign of the Exodus (Deut. 5:12-15; Ezek. 20:10-12); and it was a sign that Jehovah was Israel's God (Ezek. 20:20). Every reason given for the observance of the Sabbath has relevance only to Israel, not to the Gentiles or the Church.
Second: the Sabbath was not a creation ordinance; it began only with Moses. Genesis 2:1-3 states only what God did on that day, but there is no command to observe that day. The word Sabbath is not even used in the Genesis account and that day of the week is just called the seventh day. From Adam to Moses, there is no record of anyone's keeping the Sabbath. While God listed a number of obligations upon humanity in the previous covenants, keeping the Sabbath was not one of them. The Book of Job deals with a pre-Mosaic saint and it, too,
mentions many obligations man had toward God, but keeping the Sabbath was not one of them. Sabbath observance begins with Moses in Exodus 16:23-30 and was made part of the Law of Moses in Exodus 20:8-11.
Third: the Sabbath was a day of rest, not a day of corporate worship, which is another common misconception. As the Sabbath commandment was further developed in other parts of the Law of Moses, what was meant by “resting” on the Sabbath was largely a matter of prohibitions: no gathering of manna (Ex. 16:23-30); no traveling (Ex. 16:29); no kindling of fire (Ex. 35:3); and no gathering of wood (Num. 15:32). Outside the Law, other prohibitions for the Sabbath included: no burden bearing (Jer. 17:21); no trading (Amos 8:5); and no marketing (Neh. 10:31; 13:15, 19). Nothing was said about corporate worship. In the Law of Moses, the Sabbath was a day of rest and cessation of labor, not a day of corporate worship. The Sabbath synagogue services found in the New Testament originated with the Babylonian Captivity, not with the Law of Moses. While it was not a day of total inactivity, it was to be a day of rest and
refreshment from the regular work of the other six days. While the rest itself may have been an act of worship, corporate worship on the Sabbath was not a factor in the Old Testament.
In connection with the Sabbath, the phrase a holy convocation is often found. This phrase is sometimes used as the basis for teaching that the Sabbath was a day of corporate worship for all. However, it is used only in conjunction with the priesthood and sacrifices. The corporate connotation is for the priests only and the place of this corporate worship is in the Tabernacle or Temple for the purpose of sacrifices. Since only the priesthood could do the work of sacrificing, the holy convocation applied only to them. This phrase is found a total of nineteen times, all in three of the books of Moses: Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Eleven of the nineteen are found in one chapter: Leviticus 23. Six others are found in the two chapters of Numbers 28-29. In all cases, the phrase holy convocation refers to a convocation of priests for the purpose of performing special sacrifices and the Sabbath was one of those occasions. It was not a time of corporate worship for all Israel. So the one passage that is used to try to
substantiate corporate worship on the Sabbath, Leviticus 23:3, refers to the Sabbath as a holy convocation and has to do with priestly corporate sacrifices. While it has relevance to family gatherings, these were not acts of corporate worship. As Dr. Louis Goldberg of Moody
Bible Institute states: “On the Sabbath there was to be complete rest (physical) and holy convocation (spiritual refreshing) before the Lord.”
Even Leviticus 23:3 states concerning the Sabbath it is a sabbath unto Jehovah in all your dwellings. Again, the emphasis has to do with staying at home (Ex. 16:29) and resting as a family, rather than getting together in corporate worship. As Dr. Goldberg also points out, the rest “was also to include spiritual renewal.” The expression holy convocation emphasized that on such occasions the priests were to offer special sacrifices. In reality, the Mosaic Law mandated corporate worship only on three occasions: the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. On these occasions when they were to migrate to wherever the Tabernacle or later the Temple stood, either at Shiloh or Jerusalem. Corporate worship by non-Levites was mandated only three times a year, but not on a weekly Sabbath. This would have been physically impossible in light of the time it took to travel during biblical times. The penalty for profaning the Sabbath was death; to profane the Sabbath was to consider it like any other day. Therefore, on the Sabbath, they were to do no labor and they were to stay home and rest.
Fourth: the Sabbath as the token or sign of the Mosaic Covenant is that it was intended only for Israel and not the Church.
Fifth: as a sign of the Mosaic Covenant, it is in force as long as the Mosaic Covenant is in force. If the Mosaic Covenant comes to an end, so would mandatory Sabbath keeping.
D. The Purposes of the Law
It should be stated categorically that the Law of Moses was not a means of salvation. This concept is rejected because that would make salvation by means of works. Salvation was and always is by grace through faith. While the content of faith has changed from age to age
depending on progressive revelation, the means of salvation never changes. The Law was not given to serve as a means of salvation (Rom. 3:20, 28; Gal. 2:16; 3:11, 21). It was given to a people already redeemed from Egypt, not in order to redeem them. However, there were several purposes for the giving of the Law. As found in both testaments, there were at least nine purposes for the Law of Moses.
The first purpose was to reveal the holiness of God and to reveal the standard of righteousness that God demanded for a proper relationship with Him (Lev. 11:44; 19:1-2, 37; I Pet. 1:15-16). The Law itself was holy, and righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12).
The second purpose of the Law was to provide the rule of conduct for the Old Testament saints. For example, Romans 3:28 makes it clear that no man was justified by the works of the Law. The Law always had purposes other than being a means of salvation. In this case, it
provided the rule of life for the Old Testament believer (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7-8, 26). For the Old Testament believer, the Law was the center of his spiritual life and his delight, as stated in Psalm 119, especially verses 77, 97, 103, 104, and 159.
The third purpose was to provide occasions for individual and corporate worship for Israel. The seven holy seasons of Israel (Lev. 23) is one example of this.
The fourth purpose was to keep the Jews a distinct people (Lev. 11:44-45; Deut. 7:6; 14:1-2). This was the specific reason for many of the laws, such as the dietary laws and the clothing laws. The Jews were to be distinct from all other people in a variety of ways, such as their
worship habits (Lev. 1, 7, 16, 23), their eating habits (Lev. 11:1-47), their sexual habits (Lev. 12), their clothing habits (Lev. 19:19), and even the way they cut their beards (Lev. 19:27). Other passages for this point include Exodus 19:5-8 and 31:13.
The fifth purpose is that the Law of Moses served as the middle wall of partition as stated in Ephesians 2:11-16. The four unconditional covenants are Jewish covenants and God's blessings, both physical and spiritual, are mediated through the four covenants, the
covenants of the promise mentioned in verse 12. Because of the Jewish nature of these unconditional covenants, a conditional covenant was also added, the Mosaic Covenant, containing the Law of Moses, the law of commandments contained in ordinances of verse 15. The purpose of the Law, then, was to become the middle wall of partition to keep Gentiles, as Gentiles, from enjoying the Jewish spiritual blessings of the unconditional covenants. Because of this purpose, Gentiles were both alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise. The only way Gentiles could enjoy the spiritual blessings of the Jewish covenants during the period of the Law was to take upon themselves the obligation of the Law, undergo the rite of circumcision, and then live like every Jew had to live. Gentiles, as Gentiles, could not enjoy the Jewish spiritual blessings, only Gentiles as proselytes to Mosaic Judaism.
The sixth purpose for the Mosaic Law was to reveal sin. Three passages in the Book of Romans point this out. The first passage is Romans 3:19-20, where Paul emphasized that there is no justification through the Law; by means of the Law no Jewish person will be
justified. What is the Law then, if not a way of justification, a way of salvation? The Law was given to provide the knowledge of sin, to reveal exactly what sin is. The second passage is Romans 5:20, where the Law was given so that trespasses might be made very clear. How
does one know he has sinned? He knows because the Law spelled out in detail what was permitted and what was not permitted. The Law with 613 commandments revealed sin. The third passage is Romans 7:7. Paul again emphasized the fact that the Law was given so that sin might be made known. Paul became aware of his sinful state by looking into the Law and knowing that, on the basis of the Law, he fell short.
The seventh purpose was to make one sin more. Romans 4:15 states: for the law works wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there transgression. Paul adds in Romans 5:20: And the law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly.
The picture Paul gives is that the Law came in to cause more sin, to actually make one sin more.
How this works is explained by Paul in Romans 7:7-13 and I Corinthians 15:56. I Corinthians 15:56 reads: The sting of death is sin; and the power of sin is the law.
Basically, what Paul taught is that the sin nature needs a base of operation. Furthermore, the sin nature uses the Law as a base of operation. When Paul said: where there is no law, neither is there transgression he did not mean, of course, that there was no sin before the Law was given. The term transgression is a specific type of sin: it is the violation of 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.
The eighth purpose was to show the sinner that there was nothing he could do on his own to please God; he had no ability to keep the Law perfectly or to attain the righteousness of the Law (Rom. 7:14-25).
This led to the ninth purpose, which was to drive one to faith according to Romans 8:1-4 and Galatians 3:24-25. The final purpose of the Law was to bring one to saving faith in the Messiah.
The purposes of the Law of Moses can be categorized in four aspects. First, in relation to God, to reveal His holiness and to reveal His righteous standards. Second: in relation to Israel, to keep Israel a distinct people, to provide a rule of life for the Old Testament saint, and to provide for individual and corporate worship. Third: in relation to Gentiles, to serve as a middle wall of partition and thus keep them strangers to the unconditional Jewish covenants so as not to partake of Jewish spiritual blessings as Gentiles, but only as proselytes to Mosaic Judaism. Fourth: in relation to sin, to reveal and show what sin is, to make one sin more, to show that a man cannot attain the righteousness of the Law on his own, and to drive one to faith.
E. The Status of the Covenant
The Mosaic Covenant was the basis for the Dispensation of Law. It was the one Jewish covenant that was conditional and ultimately came to an end with the death of the Messiah (Rom. 10:4; II Cor. 3:3-11; Gal. 3:19-29; Eph. 2:11-18; Heb. 7:11-12, 18). Hence, the Mosaic
Law is no longer in effect. Prophetically, it was already considered broken even before the Messiah died to free the Jew from the penalty of the Law (Jer. 31:32). The status of the Mosaic Covenant will be discussed on seven points.
1. The Unity of the Law of Moses
Two factors have developed in the minds and teachings of many believers which have contributed to the confusion over the Law of Moses. 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, the individual taking this approach runs into problems concerning the fourth commandment on keeping the Sabbath. At that point, fudging begins that results in inconsistency. It must be understood that the Mosaic Law is viewed by the Scriptures as a unit.
The word Torah, meaning “law,” is always singular when applied to the Law of Moses, even though 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 the different types of commandments contained within it, but it is never divided in 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
Commandments perpetual. All 613 commandments are a single unit comprising the Law of Moses.
It is the principle of the unity of the Law of Moses that lies behind the statement found in James 2:10: For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all.
The point is clear. A person needs only to break one of the 613 commandments to be guilty of breaking all of the Law of Moses. This can only be true if the Mosaic Law is a unit. If it is not, the guilt lies only in the particular commandment violated, not in the whole Law. In other words, if one breaks a legal commandment, he is guilty of breaking the ceremonial and moral laws as well. The same is true of breaking a moral or ceremonial commandment. To bring the point closer to home, if a person eats ham, according to the Law of Moses, he is guilty of breaking the Ten Commandments, although none of them says anything about ham. The Law is a unit, and to break one of the 613 commandments is to break them all.
In order to have a clear understanding of the Law of Moses and its relationship to the believer, Jewish or Gentile, it is necessary to view it as the Scriptures view it: a unit that cannot be divided into parts that have been done away with and parts that have not. Nor can certain commandments be separated in such a way as to give them a different status from other commandments.
2. The Law of Moses Has Been Rendered Inoperative
The clear cut teaching of the New Testament is that the Law of Moses has been rendered inoperative with the death of the Messiah; in other words, the Law in its totality no longer has authority over any individual. This is evident from a number of passages.
The first passage is Romans 7:5-6: For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were through the law, wrought in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.
Paul declares that the believer has been discharged from the law. The Greek word used is katargeo, which means “to render inoperative.” The Law has been rendered inoperative insofar as being the rule of life over the believer.
The second passage is Romans 10:4: For Christ is the end of the law unto righteousness to every one that believes.
The Greek word for end is telos and can mean either “termination” or “goal.” However, the evidence clearly favors the meaning of end as “termination.” For example, Thayer gives the primary meaning of telos as: “end, i.e. a. termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be, . . . in the Scriptures also of a temporal end; . . . Christ has brought the law to and end . . .” Not only does Thayer give “termination” as the primary meaning of telos, he also includes Romans 10:4 as belonging to that category of usage. Nor is “goal” listed as secondary meaning or even a third meaning in priority of usage; it is fourth on the list. Arndt and Gingrich give the primary meaning of the verbal form as bring to an end, finish, complete. The nominal telos is given the primary meaning of: “end . . . in the sense of termination, cessation.” They, too, list Romans 10:4 as being in this category and list the meaning of “goal” as being third on the list. Furthermore, the meaning of cessation is more consistent with the wide context of Romans and in keeping with what he said in Romans 7:5-6. In the final analysis, it does not matter since other Scriptures teach both truths: the Messiah is the goal of the Law, but He is also the termination of the Law. Since the Messiah is the end of the Law, this means that there is no justification through it (Gal. 2:16). This, of course, was always true but, furthermore, there is no sanctification or perfection through the Law (Heb. 7:19). Thus it should be very evident that the Law has come to an end in the Messiah and cannot function in justification or sanctification. For the believer especially, it has be rendered inoperative.
Third: the Law was never meant to be a permanent administration but a temporary one. This is stated in Galatians 3:19: What then is the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise has been made.
In this context, Paul stated that the Law of Moses was an addition to the Abrahamic Covenant (vv. 15-18). It was added for the purpose of making sin very clear so that all will know that they have fallen short of God's standard of righteousness. It was a temporary addition until the seed, the Messiah would come; now that He has come, the Law is finished. The addition has ceased to function with the cross.
Fourth: with the Messiah, there is a new priesthood according to the Order of Melchizedek, not according to the Order of Aaron. The Law of Moses provided the basis for the Levitical Priesthood and there was an inseparable connection between the Law of Moses and the Levitical Priesthood. Thus, a new priesthood required a new Law under which it could operate according to Hebrews 7:11-18. The point made in Hebrews 7:11-12 is that, under the Law, only one type of priesthood was permitted, the Levitical Priesthood. The Levitical Priesthood could not bring perfection. This is explained in Hebrews 9:11-10:18 that states rather clearly that animal blood could not bring perfection; only the Messiah's blood could do that. The Mosaic Law was the basis for the Levitical Priesthood. For the Levitical Priesthood to be done away with and to be replaced by a new priesthood, the Priesthood of Melchizedek, required a change of the Law. As long as the Law of Moses was in effect, no other priesthood was valid except the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood (Heb. 7:13-17). Was there a change of the Law? Hebrews 7:18 states that the Mosaic Law was “disannulled.” Because it is no longer in effect, there is now a new priesthood after the Order of Melchizedek. If the Mosaic Law were still in effect, Jesus could not function as a priest. Because the Mosaic Law is no longer in effect, Jesus can be a priest after the Order of Melchizedek. Consequently, the Law of Moses has been “disannulled” in favor of a new Law, which is the basis for the priest according to the Order of Melchizedek.
Fifth: the writer of Hebrews goes on to say that the above truth was already anticipated by the prophets in 8:8-13. In verses 8-12, he quotes the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and then concludes in verse 13: In that he says, A new covenant he has made the first old. But that
which is becoming old and waxed aged is nigh unto vanishing away.
Thus the Law of Moses became old with Jeremiah and vanished away with the Messiah's death.
Sixth: the Law was the middle wall of partition that was now broken down according to Ephesians 2:14-15: For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace.
As noted earlier, God made four unconditional eternal covenants with Israel. All of God's blessings, both material and spiritual, are mediated by means of these four Jewish covenants. God also had a fifth covenant which was temporary and conditional, the Mosaic Covenant that contained the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law served as the middle wall of partition to keep Gentiles, as Gentiles, away from enjoying Jewish spiritual blessings. If the Mosaic Law were still in effect, it would still be a wall of partition to keep the Gentiles away; but this wall of partition was broken down with the death of the Messiah. Since the wall of partition was the Mosaic Law, this meant the Law of Moses was done away with. Gentiles, as Gentiles, on the basis of faith can and do enjoy Jewish spiritual blessings by becoming fellow partakers of the promise in the Messiah.
The seventh line of evidence for the annulment of the Mosaic Law is based on Galatians 3:23-4:7. In this passage, the Law is looked upon as a pedagogue or a tutor over a minor to bring him to mature faith in the Messiah (v. 24). Having become a believer, he is no longer under
this tutor, which is the Law of Moses (v. 25). As clearly as it could be stated, this passage teaches that with the Messiah's coming, the Law is no longer in effect.
The eighth line of evidence for the annulment of the Mosaic Law is II Corinthians 3:2-11 that zeros right in on the part of the Law that most people want to retain, the Ten Commandments. First of all, one needs to see what Paul is saying concerning the Law of Moses. In verses 3 and 7, the spotlight is on the Ten Commandments, since it is these that were engraven on stones. In verse 7, it is called the ministration of death. In verse 9, it is called the ministration of condemnation. These are negative, but valid, descriptions. The main point, then, is that the Law of Moses, especially represented by the Ten Commandments, is a ministration of death and a ministration of condemnation. If the Ten Commandments were still in force today, this would still be true. However, they are no longer in force, for it states in verses 7 and 11 that the Law has “passed away.” The Greek word used is katargeo, which means, “to render inoperative.” Since the emphasis in this passage 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 the Messiah is seen by the fact that it will never be rendered inoperative. Unlike Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism does not insist that the Ten Commandments are still in force and do exegetical gymnastics to avoid observing the Sabbath, the very way the Ten Commandments actually require.
To summarize this section, the Law is a unit comprised of 613 commandments, and all of it has been rendered inoperative. There is no commandment that has continued beyond the cross of the Messiah. The Law is there and can be used as a teaching tool to show God's standard of righteousness, as well as man's sinfulness and need of a substitutionary atonement. It can be used to teach many spiritual truths about God as a man. It can be used to point one to the Messiah (Gal. 3:23-25). However, it has completely ceased to function as an authority over the individual. It is no longer the rule of life for believers.
3. The Moral Law
The third point in the status of the Mosaic Covenant deals with the question, “What about the moral law?” It is this part of the Law of Moses that many generally try to retain and, therefore, conclude that the Law of Moses is still in effect. However, the moral law preceded the Law of Moses. The moral law is not identical to the Law of Moses. Adam and Eve broke the moral law long before Moses. Satan broke the moral law even before Adam. The Law of Moses embodied the moral law, but it did not originate the moral law. Now the moral law is embodied in the Law of the Messiah.
4. Matthew 5:17-18
The fourth point in the status of the Mosaic Covenant concerns a favorite objection to the teaching of the termination of the Law of Moses, which is the Messiah's statement in Matthew 5:17-18: Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.
Those who cite this passage are seldom consistent with it. It is obvious that Yeshua was speaking of the Law of Moses. Yet those who use this passage never accept their own thesis since they must believe in the doing away in some form of many of the commandments of the Law of Moses, if not most. The commandments concerning priesthood and sacrifice are only one example; other examples including the food laws and clothing laws can be cited. Regardless of what semantics such as “supersede,” “brought to greater fulfillment,” “bringing out its true meaning,” among others, may be used to describe this change, it is clear that a great many of the 613 commandments no longer apply as they were written. If, by the Law of Moses, they mean only the moral commandments, then their citation of Matthew 5:17-18 does not prove their point.
Verse 19 adds these least commandments, which includes more than merely the moral commandments and the emphasis is on the entire Law, all 613 commandments. Verse 19 reads: Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Verse 19 must not be ignored. True, Jesus did come to fulfill the Law, but the Law of Moses did not end with the coming of the Messiah or by His life, but by His death. As long as He was alive, He was under the Mosaic Law and had to fulfill and obey every commandment
applicable to Him, not in the way that the rabbis had reinterpreted it. The statement of Matthew 5:17-19 was made while He was living. Even while He was living, He already implied the doing away with the Law. One example is Mark 7:19: This he said, making all meats clean. Can it be any clearer than this that at least the dietary commandments have been done away with? Again, all must admit that great parts of the Law no longer apply in the manner prescribed by Moses. Have they been done away with or not? To constantly claim that the Law of Moses is still in effect or that it is the same as the Law of the Messiah, while ignoring the details of that same Law, is inconsistent and a theological fallacy.
As for the meaning of the word fulfil, the Greek term is consistently used by Matthew in reference to fulfilling prophecy and so bringing it to an end. Matthew 1:22-23 states that the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled, that this brought the prophecy to an end and so nothing in the future will fulfill it. To “fulfill” meant to accomplish what prophecy demanded while to “abolish” meant to fail to accomplish it.
5. The Law of Christ
The fifth point in the status of the Mosaic Covenant is that the Law of Moses has been disannulled and believers 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 the Messiah contains all the individual commandments from the Messiah and the apostles that are applicable to a New Testament believer. The details on this period will be discussed under the New Covenant.
6. The Principle of Freedom
The sixth point in the status of the Mosaic covenant is that the believer in the Messiah is free from the Law of Moses. This means that he is free from the necessity of keeping any commandment of that system. On the other hand, he is also free to keep parts of the Law of Moses if he so desires. The biblical basis for this freedom to keep the Law can be seen in the actions of Paul, who was 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 passage is Acts 21:17-26, where we see Paul himself, the apostle of freedom from the Law, keeping the Law. The believer is free from the Law, but he is also free to keep parts of it. Thus, if a Jewish believer feels the need to refrain from eating pork, 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 any believer who volunteers to keep commandments of the Law of Moses. One danger is the idea that by doing so he is contributing to his own justification and sanctification. This is false. The second danger is in one's expecting others to keep the same commandments he has decided to keep. 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 keep it.
7. The Sabbath
And the seventh point in the status of the Mosaic Covenant is that the Sabbath was the sign, seal, and token of the Mosaic Covenant. As long as that covenant was in effect, the Sabbath law was mandatory. Since the Law of Moses has been rendered inoperative, then the Sabbath
command no longer applies. Those with their inconsistent insistence that the Law of Moses is still in effect, also insist that the Sabbath law applies. However, they totally ignore what Moses wrote about how to keep the Sabbath and they even change the day of the week, something that the Law of Moses does not allow. Many Jewish believers also insist on mandatory Sabbath keeping. Though they inconsistently base it on the Law of Moses, at least they retain it with the seventh day of the week. The apologetics used for mandatory Sabbath keeping are almost exclusively based upon the Old Testament for obvious reasons: there is no New Testament commandment for believers in general or Jewish believers in particular to keep the Sabbath. The claim that Sabbath observance is part of the New Covenant is nowhere supported by the New Covenant Scriptures themselves. In fact, if anything, they would teach the opposite.
- The remaining three covenants will be covered in subsequent Shofars. -
If you enjoyed this Bible study, Dr. Fruchtenbaum recommends these Messianic Bible Studies, which may be obtained from Ariel Ministries:
mbs 021 The Eight Covenants of the Bible
mbs 030 The Nature of the Bible
mbs 034 The Bible and Divine Revelation
mbs 037 The Inspiration of the Scriptures
mbs 041 The Dispensations of God. "Dispensations" goes hand in hand with "The Eight Covenants of the
Bible," and may also be accessed at "The Dispensations of God" in Shofar 16.
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Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Th.M., Ph.D., is founder and director of Ariel Ministries.
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