The Truth About
the Old Testament Law
Is the Torah Still Valid Today?
Table Of Contents
People who have come to know Yahusha the Messiah as their personal Savior and Lord usually sense a certain moral obligation. The new believer in Messiah recognizes his need to live a life pleasing to Elohim ("God"). This includes adjusting to important standards of conduct. Lying, stealing, murder and sexual immorality are a few of the most obvious sins the Christian knows he must avoid, because Yahusha paid a high price on our behalf for such transgressions.
But too many evangelical Christians are taught to believe that the Christian does not have to "keep" the Ten Commandments. The law of Christ, they are told, is the only guideline the Christian must live by. By this they mean that there are no specific rules the believer must follow, but rather, he should allow love to guide his every activity. While the assertion that all the believer does must be motivated by love is unquestionably true, the other proposition that the believer no longer has specific rules to follow is equally false. The law of Christ is one and the same as the moral code written in the Torah - Old Testament books of the law. The law which the New Testament in general and Yahusha in particular present as the standard for the conduct of the follower of Messiah is the law upon which the Torah elaborates. To put it another way, Elohim's law and the "law of Christ" are synonymous.
Elohim's law was not given to man, as some theologians presume, merely as a temporary moral guide. On the contrary, the law of Elohim is the pre-advent revelation of the righteous way of life Elohim intended for mankind. In the same vein, Moses was not expounding his own temporary guidelines for living, with the idea of replacing that standard of living when the Messiah came! But he received and passed on to the Israelites the eternal code of conduct for the believing community which Elohim had given to him. This law has abiding validity for modern-day man, and the Christian has been given Elohim's Holy Spirit to empower him and to enable him to obey it. Our goal in this web page is to present evidence that this is true. Then, in the ensuing web pages we might explore some of the ramifications and consequences of disobedience to Messiah's law.
The evidence about to be presented is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise. Many books have been written from both points of view. However, we have compiled and now present six biblical fundamentals which suggest that Elohim's laws and commandments as revealed in the Torah have abiding validity for the sincere follower of Messiah in the 21st century.
The first biblical fundamental which suggests that the law of Elohim has abiding validity is that the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation commend the righteous for their obedience to the law (Torah) of Elohim. Obedient worshippers of Elohim are always depicted in the Scriptures as obeying His Law. It doesn't matter what age they were living in. The Law was kept before Moses gave the Law to Israel, while Israel had a tabernacle, and even after Yahusha presented himself as the Lamb of Elohim taking away the sins of the world.
Even before Moses was born and the Law was presented to Israel, Abraham was commended for his steadfast commitment to keep Elohim's Torah. Elohim told Isaac, "I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky...because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws" (Gen.26:4,5). Abraham's unswerving obedience to Elohim's law was the tangible, outward evidence that his faith and trust in Elohim was real and genuine. Abraham's faith response was obedience to all aspects of Elohim's law.
The apostle Paul also demonstrated the abiding validity of the Torah in the present age by his steadfast obedience to it, even after his conversion and his inauguration into the so-called "Age of Grace." Speaking to Paul, the elders of Jerusalem testified that "there is no truth in these reports about you, but...you yourself are living in obedience to the law" (Acts 21:24). And Paul himself admits that obedience to Elohim's Law is paramount for the one who has placed his faith in the Messiah. "So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of Elohim" (Romans 7:25, NAS). That Paul continued to keep the law after his conversion strongly suggests that he believed in the continuing relevance and abiding validity of that law.
And the future "tribulation saints" are noted, not just for their testimony of Yahusha and their faithfulness to him, but also, and just as importantly, for their obedience to Elohim's commandments. The tribulation saints are described as "those who obey Elohim's commandments and hold to the testimony of Yahusha" (Rev.12:17), and as those "who obey Elohim's commandments and remain faithful to Yahusha" (14:12). Implicit in these two passages is that it is not enough to have the testimony that one believes in Yahusha. Compelled by the love of Messiah, the true disciple of Yahusha will also follow in his footsteps of obedience to Elohim's law.
Therefore, since people living both before and after the so-called "dispensation of law" are commended for their obedience to the law, we affirm that the law is valid for each of these periods of time, and is accordingly valid today for the believer in Yahusha as the appropriate response of faith.
The second biblical fundamental which suggests that the law of Elohim has abiding validity is that Yahusha himself said so. Yahusha stated:
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. I tell you the truth, 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 (Matthew 5:17,18).
This is probably the most forceful and most explicit statement in the New Testament regarding the abiding relevance of Elohim's Law. The straightforwardness of Yahusha's assertion cuts across much of the argumentation of contemporary teachers and preachers who insist that the law has been done away with. Even a casual reading of the verses above will put to rest any doubts for the honest interpreter that the Torah (law) is an abiding reality.
Yahusha emphasizes the permanence of the law by comparing its longevity to two future milepost events. And yet, the phrases, "until heaven and earth disappear," and "until everything is accomplished" denote not so much the temporal limitation of the law, but the continued maintenance of it. David Hill recognizes the weakness of some of the popular (mis)interpretations of Yahusha's words which have
viewed the meaning too much in terms of an assumed limitation of the law's validity ('until'): the sentence however is concerned with an aim and goal - the complete accomplishment of God's will: it is for this that the Law stands and the validity of the Law serves this comprehensive goal. (Hill, p.118)
Even if Yahusha were communicating the notion that that Law has a temporal limitation, (and this is dubious at best), then in His view, the law and the prophets will remain valid to the consummation of the age, which will happen at his glorious posttribulational parousia, and is thus valid today!
And not only is this so, but Messiah stressed that the law would remain valid in all of its detail. The jot and the tittle are the smallest and most easily overlooked letters or marks of the Hebrew alphabet. The point Yahusha was making was quite obvious to his hearers. Even the "insignificant" letters are not insignificant in terms of their abiding relevance. Every tiny detail of the law is to be lastingly valid until everything is accomplished of which the law speaks.
This passage of Scripture flies in the face of the dispensational teaching that the law has been done away with. According to Yahusha, though, nothing in the law has been done away with. All of it, even those laws which are not popular by today's standards, is still valid for 21st century Christians. What a contrast there is between the clear teaching of Yahuwah and the teaching of modern dispensationalism.
Some are quick to point out that in Matthew 5:17, Yahusha claims to have come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Since Yahusha "fulfilled" the law, they say, he in effect replaced the law with himself. Two points need to be considered in response to those assertions. First, Yahusha went on to say in the next verse, "I tell you the truth, 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" (Matthew 5:18). Yahusha did not replace, abolish or abrogate the law, because he said himself that the law would remain until the cosmos disappears.
And second, this widespread misunderstanding of Yahusha's words is due to the failure on the part of Bible interpreters to comprehend the rich meaning of the word "fulfill." In the original language, the word used here by Yahusha is pleeroo. A standard Greek-English lexicon makes this important observation regarding Messiah's statement in Matthew 5:17:
Depending on how one prefers to interpret the context, (pleeroo) is understood here either as fulfill=do, carry out, or as bring to full expression=show it forth in its true mng., or as fill up =complete...(Bauer, p.671)
"To complete" or "put an end to," although a proper meaning for this word in some contexts, can not be the meaning here, because the context clearly rules this out. Yahusha emphatically stressed that the law will remain; it has not been done away with.
However, a combination of the first two meanings does convey the thought Yahusha was expressing. Interestingly, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary lists the word perform as a synonym for fulfill, which means "to adhere to the terms of.., carry out, do...,give a rendition of...", or, "to carry out an action or pattern of behavior." And as a synonym for perform, "fulfill implies a complete realization of ends or possibilities." (Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Springfield: Merriam-Webster Inc., 1987, pp.497,873) This is precisely what Yahusha was saying. He had come to completely realize, in his lifestyle and mission, all that the law and prophets had said.
By placing this sermon in its context, we will be able to fully comprehend the truth which Yahusha was communicating. The Pharisees, from the beginning of Yahusha's ministry to the end, were accusing Yahusha of attempting to undermine the law of Moses with his own teaching. And they accused him on a number of occasions of breaking the law. But Yahusha here emphatically denies these charges. Yahusha was not trying to do away with the law of Elohim, because the law is to remain in effect to the end of the age. On the contrary, Yahusha had come to "give a rendition of" the law. He had come to explain it. His purpose was to shed light on the intention of the law and to demonstrate by his own life how Elohim's law should be obeyed in contrast to the legalistic way in which the Pharisees interpreted, practiced and abused it.
Furthermore, Yahusha not only kept all of the law himself, but he taught others to do the same. Regarding the "least of these commandments," Yahusha stated that "whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19). Even the self-righteous Pharisees were not keeping all of Elohim's laws. For, "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). The disciple who desires to enter Elohim's kingdom must surpass the Pharisees in his keeping of the law by performing even the "very least of these commands." Therefore, the law of Elohim must have abiding validity since Yahusha indicated that entrance into Elohim's kingdom is related to the practicing and teaching of the "least of these commands."
Yahusha's attitude toward the law is further illustrated by the often misunderstood and "taken out of context" passage of Luke 16:16-18, which says:
The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of Elohim is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Yahusha was not declaring the end of the law when he said, "the Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John," as many expositors insist. He was merely contrasting the prediction and proclamation of the coming King and Kingdom of Elohim by the Old Testament preachers with the beginning of the fulfillment of these promises by his own life and mission. His attitude toward the validity of the law is expressed here as he did in the Matthew 5 text quoted above. Heaven and earth would have to disappear before even the least significant detail of the law would "drop out."
Yahusha then provided an illustration of this principle by citing the continuing relevance of the law of adultery. Our Lord is here using a debating technique which argues from the smaller principle to the greater principle. Since remarriage still constitutes adultery, then so must still be valid all of the rest of those principles cited in the moral law code. Therefore, this text cannot be used to prove that Yahusha abolished the law. On the contrary, Yahusha confirmed its abiding validity.
The third biblical fundamental which suggests that the law of Elohim has abiding validity is that Yahusha himself is the author of the Law. Not only did Yahusha completely obey the law during his lifetime, showing us how the law is to be obeyed, but he also told his disciples, "if you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15). Since the Old Testament laws are the commandments of Yahusha, then the New Testament church will obey those commandments too.
The fact that Yahusha is the author of the law is evident from numerous Scriptures. According to Colossians chapter 1, Yahusha is "the image of the invisible Elohim" (v.15) and "by him all things were created" (v.16). Hebrews also tells us that Elohim "made the universe" through his son, adding that Messiah is "the radiance of Elohim's glory" (1:2,3). John, the gospel writer, explains that "no one has ever seen Elohim, but Elohim the Only Begotten, who is at the Father's side, has made him known " (1:18). Each of these passages conveys to the reader the fact that Messiah is the visible, tangible representation of the invisible Elohim.
Elohim the Father has never been seen (John 1:18) because He is spirit (John 4:24). Yahusha is the one who has "made him known." When Elohim appeared to Moses, it was Messiah whom he saw, because Yahusha is the image of the unseen Elohim. It was also Yahusha who protected Israel with a cloud and a pillar of fire and provided the Israelites with food and water from a rock. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:4 that "they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Messiah." Therefore, since it was Yahusha who spoke with Moses, then it must have been His Law which Moses received on the tablets of stone - the Ten Commandments.
James 4:12 even more explicitly reveals that Yahusha is the author of the Old Testament law: "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy." James is echoing the inspired thoughts of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote,
For Yahuwah is our judge;
Yahuwah is our lawgiver;
Yahuwah is our king,
it is he who will save us (33:22).
Here, Yahuwah is judge, lawgiver, king and savior. Since Yahusha is the judge (Rev.19:11), king (Rev.19:15,16), and savior (Lk.1:69), then he must be the subject of Isaiah 33:22, which also means that He is the lawgiver.
Therefore, since Yahusha is the Creator, the Lawgiver, the Savior, the Judge and the King, and since the Bible testifies that "Yahusha Messiah is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb.13:8), we conclude that the moral code of ethics given in the Ten Commandments and in the rest of the Law cannot change either, because they are written by Yahusha the Messiah - the unchanging Elohim.
The fact that Yahusha wrote the Ten Commandments is in harmony with the nature of this law. The purpose of Elohim's law is to reveal the righteous character of Elohim. Paul says that "I agree that the law is good" (Romans 7:16). He also admits that "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good" (7:12), and that "we know that the law is spiritual" (7:14).
The Psalmist agrees with this high view of Elohim's law: "Righteous are you, Yahuwah, and your laws are right. The statutes you have laid down are righteous" (Ps.119:137,8). The Psalmist also attests to the abiding authority of the law: "Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever" (Ps.119:152), and "all your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal" (119:160). Since then, the law is holy, righteous, good and spiritual, and it was written by the unchanging Elohim, whose righteous character it reflects, and since we are "created in Messiah Yahusha to do good works" (Eph.2:10), how can some people insist that is was temporary and has been done away with? The instructions for living a pleasing life before Elohim are no more temporary and subject to change than is Elohim himself.
The fourth biblical fundamental which suggests that the law of Elohim has abiding validity is that both the Old Testament law of Moses and the New Testament law of Messiah are summed up by the commandment to "love." Elohim's way of life is based on the highest motive, which is love. Neither the Old Testament commandments nor the life of Messiah can be lived without love. This is why the two greatest commands are to love Elohim and to love your neighbor.
The law which Elohim gave to Israel through Moses is summed up in Deuteronomy 6:5,6:
Love Yahuwah your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.
And Yahusha maintained that to love Yahuwah Elohim with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself is the sum total of all the Law (Matthew 22:37-40). These are the cornerstone commandments of both the old covenant and the new. Without this supreme motivator, the rest of the commandments could not be kept.
Yahusha's commandment to love, then, is not a replacement for all the other commands. It is the foundational principle which motivates the believer to submit himself to the specifications of the other commands. Kaiser calls love a "how" word:
Love is an essential part of a Christian's ethic, but it is a how word, not a what word. It will tell us how we ought to do what we need to do, but we need to go to Scripture to learn more precisely what we are to do, otherwise, there is no difference between situational ethics and the Christian ethic. (Kaiser, Uses, p.224)
This astute insight hits dead center at the heart of the issue. Unless love has well-defined parameters, then the Christian may even use "love" as an excuse to sin. Love must be defined. We must seek out the meaning of love from the Scriptures.
John the apostle, the one whom Yahusha loved, explains what love for Elohim is: "This is how we know that we love the children of Elohim: by loving Elohim and carrying out his commands. This is love for Elohim: to obey his commands" (1 John 5:2,3). Obedience to the commandments is the true, biblical way of determining whether or not a person loves Elohim and his neighbor. Yahusha said the same thing: "If you love me, you will obey what I command...whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me...if anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching..." (John 14:15,21,23). So love for Yahusha is expressed by obedience to what he commands.
Take the Ten Commandments as an example of how love works as a motivator. If a person obeys the greatest commandment to love Elohim with all his being, then he will also obey the first four commands. Out of deep love for Elohim he will not have other gods, nor will he make idols to worship, nor will he misuse Yahuwah's name, and he will keep Elohim's Sabbath day holy, because it is the Elohim-given day to rest, worship and remember the Creator.
And if this person obeys the second greatest commandment to love his neighbor, then he will obey the last six of the ten commandments. He will honor his parents out of love for them. And he will not kill, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor lie, nor covet anything that is his neighbor's.
All ten of these commands can and will be kept if the believer has Elohim's love in his heart. John sums up what real love for Yahusha entails:
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, Elohim's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Yahusha did (1 John 2:3-6).
Yahusha lived in obedience to all of the commandments of Elohim. And the one who loves Yahusha will (must) do the same.
The fifth biblical fundamental which suggests that the law of Elohim has abiding validity is that both the law of Moses and the law of Messiah promise true freedom to those who obey the law. The Psalmist found real freedom in living in obedience to Elohim's commandments:
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free (Ps.119:32).
I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts (119:45).
And the New Testament describes this same benefit brought about by obedience to the law:
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).
James infers that the law he is speaking of is that found in the Old Testament Scriptures. He does so by naming two of those laws: "do not commit adultery" and "do not murder." In his view, the Christian is obligated to obey the "whole law" because if in just one point he stumbles, he is guilty of being a lawbreaker. For this reason, he exhorts all believers to "speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom" (2:12).
This freedom which the Bible speaks of is not license to sin. On the contrary, true liberty is the freedom from bondage to sin which results in the ability to obey the commandments of Elohim. Paul discusses this liberty:
Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin...or to obedience...? You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:16,18).
In Paul's way of thinking, a person is either a slave of sin or a slave of Elohim. Freedom from the slavery of sin is voluntary submission to Elohim's Laws:
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to Elohim, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Romans 6:20, 22).
So because of the work of Messiah on the tree on behalf of men, people no longer need to be slaves to sin. Paul's choice was to voluntarily become a slave to Elohim's law because of his freedom from sin.
This may sound very strange to the ears of some, but Paul calls himself a slave of Elohim's law two times. In Romans 7:22, Paul says, "in my inner being I delight in Elohim's law," and in verse 25 he adds, "so then, I myself in my mind am a slave to Elohim's law." And in 1 Corinthians 9:21, Paul writes, "I am not free from Elohim's law but am under Messiah's law." Here the apostle is saying that just because a person is no longer under the law does not mean that he is free from the law. On the contrary, when a man is no longer under the law (i.e. a transgressor of the law) he is free to obey the law.
The popular view which says that law and grace are mutually exclusive is simply not true. Actually, the grace of Elohim and the keeping of Elohim's law go hand in hand. Speaking of the faith which justifies a man, the apostle said, "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law" (Romans 3:31). Paul goes on to say that those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit submit themselves to Elohim's law. He says, "those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires" (Romans 8:5). Then he asserts that the sinful mind
does not submit to Elohim's law, nor can it do so... You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of Elohim lives in you... Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation - but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it (Romans 8:7,9,12).
The obligation Paul was referring to is to live according to Elohim's law. The person controlled by the sinful nature cannot submit to Elohim's law, but the Christian controlled by the Spirit can submit to and obey completely the law of Elohim.
We conclude that the real freedom which the Christian has is not the liberty to do as one pleases, or to have a situational ethic. The biblical writers describe Christian liberty as that freedom one has from the slavery of the sinful nature. This liberty enables the believer to submit to the righteous lifestyle which pleases Elohim. And that lifestyle is spelled out in specific terms in the Old Testament law.
The sixth biblical fundamental which suggests that the law of Elohim has abiding validity is that Elohim's law is an integral part of both the old and new covenants. Many dispensationalists are under the impression that there is a whole new set of rules under the new covenant. But the Scriptures describe something different than that. The prophet Jeremiah discusses Elohim's law in terms of the new covenant:
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares Yahuwah. I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts (Hebrews 8:10).
Although the covenant is new, there is no indication that the code of ethics for the believer has changed. On the contrary, it is the same Torah. But it is no longer just written on tablets. Now it is to be on the believer's mind and heart. The New Testament writers were well aware that the laws governing right conduct had not changed under the new covenant. For this reason the New Testament authors frequently pointed back to the precepts of the Old Testament law as that code which the Christian should be diligent to follow.
Upon careful scrutiny of New Testament teaching we also discover that there is a discernible continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, particularly in the New Testament application of Old Testament ethical principles. Walter C. Kaiser Jr. has drawn attention to this continuity in his discussion of the principles of the civil and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament and how the New Testament writers applied them to the life of the church. In his analysis of James chapter 2, Kaiser correctly perceives that
In (James') inspired mind, the "fulfilling of the law" must be carried out "according to the Scriptures" and these Scriptures are here preeminently the contents of Old Testament law! Harsh as the truth may seem to us, James appears to link the "royal law of love" in verse 8 with a warning against being guilty of being a "lawbreaker" in verse 9 by the use of the Greek correlatives mentio (v.8) and de (v.9). Thus, Christians must sense a legitimate obligation to render obedience to the law (not for their salvation, mind you) or be found guilty of sin! And this law must be that which is found in the inscripturated writings of the OT (kata teen grapheen). (The Uses of the Old Testament in the New [Moody: Chicago, 1985]. p.224)
Although Kaiser's conclusion that the believer is obligated to obey the Old Testament law is not popular in our day, it is certainly consistent with our previous findings regarding the abiding validity of that law. (The entirety of Kaiser's monograph deals with the applicability of the Old Testament Scriptures to the New Testament times. Another important discussion of the continuity of the law in the New Testament is found in Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Sabbath in the New Testament, Biblical Perspectives: Berrien Springs, 1985, pp.30-42)
It is important at this point to clarify what we mean when we say that the law has abiding validity. It is clear, for example, that not every precept written in the Torah can be upheld in our modern times. For example, the laws concerning the priests in the Tabernacle are no longer possible to obey because there is no set-apart place where Yahuwah dwells on earth, there are no authorized priests from the line of Levi, and there is no temple service. So how can we tell which laws are and which are not "for" our generation?
The recent interest in studies pertaining to the continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments addresses this very question. The key to understanding which laws are carried forward into the New Testament era is in coming to grips with Yahusha's clear and emphatic statement in the sermon on the mount. He told his talmidim (disciples):
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place. So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Mattityahu 5:17-19)
By understanding this comprehensive statement at face value, we must conclude that NONE of the laws or commandments as given in the Torah by Mosheh to Yisrael have been revoked. Thus all of them are still valid for today!
The Ten Commandments, for example, are valid for today because they tell us how to behave. If sin (transgression of the laws of personal conduct) had not entered the world, there would have been no need for the laws of sacrifice and of the temple service, which were added to make provision for fallen man until the perfect sacrifice was made (cf. Gal.3:19).
The difference between the old (Sinai) and the new (Calvary) covenants is that the old covenant was given on the basis of the need for the laws of sacrifice and the temple service as a means for making atonement for sin (see Heb.7:11). But the new covenant is given on the basis of the perfect and complete sacrifice of Yahusha and his high priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb.10:12-14). His "once for all" sacrifice was a more effective way of providing atonement for sinners, thus replacing the temple service for atoning sin (10:8,9). But the moral code of conduct which, Paul says, "tells me what sin is" is in force under both covenants. This is what is meant by the prophets words,
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares Yahuwah. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. (Jeremiah 31:33)
So when we analyze the similarities between the Sinai covenant and the covenant in Messiah's blood, it becomes increasingly evident that Elohim's requirement for man has not changed. Man is not now allowed to freely transgress against the will of Elohim. But what has changed is what Elohim has done to procure forgiveness of sins. The new covenant is better than the old, not because Elohim has changed his mind about righteousness and holiness, but because the full extent of Elohim's love and mercy displayed on the tree is able to cleanse the conscience of the repentant sinner (Hebrews 9:14,15). Then, motivated by Elohim's deep love for him, and filled with his Holy Spirit, the believer is empowered to obey all of Elohim's laws, and thus to be pleasing to Yahuwah.
The fact that Elohim's law, the eternal standard of right living, has abiding validity is demonstrated by the characteristics which the old and new covenants have in common. Under both covenants, the law is summed up by the commandment to "love." Under both, the law is to be upon the mind and heart of the believer. Under both, the recipients of the covenant had the gospel of Elohim preached to them. In the terms of each covenant, Elohim imputes righteousness by faith and requires holiness in the life of the one in covenant. And the believer is given strict warnings under the Sinai and Calvary covenants for disobedience to his word.
First, the "new law" which Messiah "instituted" is actually the same old law. The law in the Old Testament and in the New Testament was always summed up by the two great commandments to love Elohim and neighbor. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Yahusha replied,
'Love Yahuwah your Elohim with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).
These two commands are, of course, the core of the Old Testament law of Moses, and summarize the New Testament law of Messiah.
John describes the New Testament law of love as an old commandment:
I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard... This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another (1 John 2:7; 3:11).
The fact that this new commandment to love is really an old command indicates that the Law and the Prophets, which are summed up by that command, are still valid in the New Testament church age.
Yahusha confirms that the new law is the same old law in Matthew 5, where he describes those commands which "you have heard that it was said." Here Yahusha discusses commandments of Moses regarding murder, adultery, divorce, oaths, etc., but adds a distinctive interpretation to each. However, Yahusha was not replacing the Old Testament law with a new code of ethics for the New Testament believer. He was merely reestablishing and explaining the intended meaning of that same code of ethics which Elohim had given through Moses many years before, which the Pharisees had distorted by their many additional laws, customs and traditions. The laws which he was here establishing as the standard for his church are not a new set of laws, but the same law which the Old Testament sets forth for Elohim's covenant people.
The placing of Elohim's laws on the minds and in the hearts of believers is another characteristic which both the old and new covenants have in common. Moses explained to Israel that "these commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts" (Deuteronomy 6:6). And "what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach...the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it" (Deuteronomy 30:11,14). The new covenant also features those same laws which Elohim places in the mind and on the heart: "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts" (Jeremiah 31:33).
It is significant that the writer to the Hebrews uses the experiences of the people who received the Sinaitic covenant as an example for the Christian community not to follow. He writes,
For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heart was of no value to them, because they did not combine it with faith (4:2).
it still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience (4:6).
The good news of Elohim's forgiveness and mercy in providing a sacrifice to make atonement for the sins of his people puts the hearers in a position of responsibility to comply in faith and obedience to his commandments - not like the Israelites who did not believe and therefore disobeyed. Both the old and new covenants feature this gospel message and thus demand a response of faithfulness which issues in obedience to Elohim's eternal law ethic, which is spelled out in some detail in the Old Testament and which Messiah said is still valid until heaven and earth pass away.
Moreover, Paul describes the gospel which Moses preached to the children of Israel as the message of righteousness by faithfulness:
But the righteousness that is by faithfulness says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Messiah down) "or, 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Messiah up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming...(Romans 10:6-8).
Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 30:11-14 which Moses spoke regarding the former covenant which Elohim had instituted with Israel. The means of salvation has always been the same, whether under the former or the renewed covenants. Elohim always has imputed righteousness through faithfulness (fidelity to his covenant). And having been justified by faithfulness, the believer is to live a life separated (holy) unto Elohim (cf. 1 Thess.4:3; 1 Peter 1:15,16).
And finally, the old and new covenants are alike in that both are accompanied by severe warnings against the disobedient. The blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience are well known. But now, in Messiah, we are no longer under the curse of the law (i.e. the curses written in the law in Deuteronomy 28; cf. Gal.3:13). But the Christian is warned not to persist in willful sin:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of Elohim. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of Elohim under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29).
Whoever comes to Messiah for forgiveness of sin must stop sinning. Because the Christian is "not under law but under grace" does not mean he may continue to sin. No, the believer must cease to disobey and must conform to the image of Messiah through obedience to his word and his law. This is a lifestyle change, not merely mental assent to Elohim's word.
Thus we have discovered through a study of the similarities between the Sinai and Calvary covenants that the institution of the new covenant does not mean that Elohim's law (his standard of righteous living) has been dropped from the program. On the contrary, the New Testament believer who has received Messiah into his life as Savior and Lord consequently will have Elohim's law on his mind and heart to obey it the way Elohim intended. So, the law of Elohim is an abiding reality for the Christian, not a dead document as some Bible interpreters would have us believe.
As we alluded to earlier, many zealous and well-meaning Christians preach that an attitude of uncompromising obedience to Elohim's law is the spirit of legalism such as Paul addressed in his epistle to the Galatians. In their view, the law was nailed to the tree (sometimes called a "cross"), and is therefore abolished. Sadly, to take such a view is to ignore the many Scriptures we have already examined which clearly indicate that the true follower of Messiah will voluntarily, out of love for Messiah, submit himself to the righteous requirements of the law. We would maintain that a man is justified by faith alone, but that the good works which follow are a manifestation of that saving kind of faith. Therefore, the man of faith will obey all of Elohim's law, because the freedom he has from the sinful nature enables him to do so.
Also, those who believe the law was nailed to the tree have not grasped the meaning of Paul's lesson in Colossians 2:14, which reads as follows:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, Elohim made you alive with Messiah. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the tree (vss.13,14).
The key to understanding this text is the term written code , which Paul says was "nailed to the tree." This written code is not the law of Elohim as some have mistakenly assumed! Samuele Bacchiocchi points out that Paul could not have been referring to the Mosaic Law because
this view would not add to but detract from Paul's argument designed to prove the fulness of Elohim's forgiveness. Would the wiping out of the moral and/or ceremonial law provide to Christians the assurance of divine forgiveness? Hardly so. It would only leave mankind without moral principles. Guilt is not removed by destroying law codes. (From Sabbath To Sunday, The Pontifical Gregorian University Press: Rome, 1977, p.348)
The word cheirographon which is here translated written code "denotes a 'document,' especially a 'note of indebtedness' written in one's own hand as a proof of obligation." (Peter T. O'Brien, Word Biblical Commentary: Colossians, Philemon, Word Books: Waco, 1982, p.124) The consensus of critical scholarship is that the cheirographon is either a record book in heaven listing the sins of mankind by which they are to be judged, or that it is a certificate of indebtedness on account of sin. (Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath, pp.348,349)
A common thought in Judaism was that of Elohim keeping accounts of man's debt, calling in the debt through angels and imposing a just judgment based on the records kept in the ledger (O'Brien, p. 124.)
Eddie Chumney suggests that this cheirographon, or "handwritten document" is a reference to the document referred to in Numbers 5:23:
(then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), "Yahuwah make you a curse and an oath among your people by Yahuwah'S making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away." And the woman shall say, "Amen. Amen." The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness (vss. 21-24, NAS)
In this view, Paul is regarding the death of Messiah on the tree as the death sentence of a woman accused of sexual unfaithfulness. The Messiah was offering himself in place of His unfaithful wife, Israel, and thus, was receiving her punishment and death sentence. The cheirographon is the document of curses which the priest was to write down on a scroll. Thus, Messiah nailed not the Torah to the tree, but the document of curses written because of the transgressions of his unfaithful wife!
This document, then, is the record of our sin indebtedness which Messiah has nailed to his tree, thereby assuring us of complete forgiveness. So then, the cheirographon is
the instrument for the remembrance of sin. The legal basis of this instrument was the "binding statutes..." (or "regulations", 2:14), but what God destroyed on the cross was not the legal ground (law) for our entanglement into sin, but the written record of our sins. (Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath, p.350)
Messiah forgave us all our sins and unfaithfulness, having canceled that certificate of sin indebtedness, which was recorded on the basis of the regulations in the Torah, which sin indebtedness was against us and stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it the tree.
By using this colorful metaphor, Paul was emphasizing the complete forgiveness of sins the believer can be assured of and the freedom the believer possesses from the enslavement of "hollow and deceptive philosophy" (see vs.8). Because Messiah has abolished the record book of our sins, we can be free to follow Yahusha with a clear conscience. The moral law has not been abolished. It remains the righteous standard of conduct by which Elohim created man to live. But our guilt has been removed, and we are free to obey Elohim's law because of our right standing with Elohim.
Since Elohim's law will remain until the end of the cosmos as the code of ethics for the believer, and since Messiah's substitutionary death has provided us with freedom from the bondage of the sinful nature, the only reasonable response of faith to our loving Elohim is to obey his Word. Solomon, the wisest man in the world, after he had lived life to the fullest, summed up the duty of man:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear Elohim and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For Elohim will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14).
The contemporary Christian should heed the wisdom of this wise man. There is no place in the Christian life for willful disobedience to the revealed will of Elohim. As John put it, "whoever claims to live in him must walk as Yahusha did" (1 John 2:6).
The correct response of faith is obedience to Elohim's law. Paul explained, "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law" (Romans3:31). The word uphold (Gr. histeemi) means to set, place, establish, confirm, make or consider valid! (Bauer, p.382) Paul is saying that the Christian should not nullify the law, but he should hold up the law as valid and submit to it. And James confirms this, noting that "faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (2:17).
In fact, obedience is a requirement of the Christian life. There are some biblical texts which seem to imply that salvation must be accompanied by obedience. Hebrews 5:8 describes Yahusha as "the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him." Acts 5:32 informs us that the Holy Spirit is only "given to those who obey him." And James argues that a man is not really justified by faith alone, but "a person is justified by what he does..." (James 2:24).
A strong Scriptural case can be built to support the view that faith and obedience to the law are two sides of the same salvation coin. To hold to the one while neglecting the other is an imbalance. But when faith and law are held in balance, the biblical principle emerges. True faith will produce the works of the law, for we were "created in Messiah Yahusha to do good works" (Eph.2:10). Yahusha said, "by their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:20).
Yahusha also promised, "I will repay each of you according to your deeds" (Rev.2:23), and, "My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done" (Rev.22:12). And Paul explains that Elohim
"will give to each person according to what he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger (Romans2:6-8).
The righteous judgment of Elohim is going to be based on what each person has done. Eternal life is a gift given on the basis of the tangible evidence of one's faith in Messiah as shown by his obedience to the law, not just on faith one may claim to have without works. The Scripture says that "it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in Elohim's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous" (Romans2:13). And again it is written, "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom" (James 2:12).
We have discovered that the law which Messiah espoused was that of the Old Testament Scriptures. Yahusha said that the law and the prophets would be relevant in all its detail until heaven and earth disappear. The law of Elohim is summed up by the commands to love Elohim with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. Love is a "how" word, not a "what" word; that is, love is to be the motivating drive to do what is pleasing to Elohim. The details of "what" the Christian is to do is delineated in the Old Testament books of the law.
The apostle Paul had a high regard for Elohim's law. Although not under the law, he recognized that he was not free from it either. Paul described himself as a slave to Elohim's law and explained that those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit submit to His law. Since Messiah has nailed the record of our sin to his tree, we Christians are free from the bondage of the sinful nature which kept us from following the righteous lifestyle which the law depicts. So those who claim to live in Yahusha must follow in his footsteps.
Obedience to Elohim is the whole duty of man because Elohim will judge every man according to what he has done. The correct response of faith is submission to the righteous, holy and spiritual law of Elohim. So "a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone," because "it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous."
It seems then, in view of the accumulated evidence that obedience to the law of Elohim is the expected (and required) behavior of the believer, that the Christian community at large has a need to rethink their doctrinal position and attitude toward the Torah. The spirit of lawlessness will be prevalent in the last days. So, the church must accordingly guard against adopting a wrong attitude toward Elohim's law. In the following web page we will explore this spirit of lawlessness as it relates to the end times.
By David M Rogers