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PART 1: THE ABOLITION OF THE LAW
By Norman Manzon
This study was originally written as part of an exposition of the doctrinal statement of The Association of Messianic Congregations, and follows a series of articles on Israel. No study on Israel is complete without addressing the Law, and we did address it in that series. You may review it, if you wish, in section XII of The Chosenness of Israel on this website. With this present study, however, we will focus on the Law with the emphasis given it in the next section of the AMC statement, the relationship between the believer and the Law.
While enslaved in Egypt, the Israelites were under two bodies of law. The most obvious consisted of the laws of the Egyptians, particularly those concerning slaves. Less obvious was that body of law that had been provided them by God, and it consisted of those provisions that survived the changes in the dispensational requirements, penalties, rewards and promises of the unconditional covenants that had been established up to that time: the Adamic, Noahic and Abrahamic. Having been liberated from Egypt, they were no longer under Egyptian law, but they were still obligated to the covenants.
As concerns what survived of the provisions of the Adamic and Noahic covenants, they were still required or permitted by God to observe the following:
The faithful among them also had the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant to hold on to. Key among them were the following:
Furthermore, judging by the fact that Moses later incorporated pre-existing records into the Book of Genesis,1 the Israelites also had within their corporate memory the sacrifices and offerings offered up by Noah (Genesis 8:20), Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 13:4,18; 15:4; 21:33; 22:1-18), Job and his friends (Job 1:5; 42:7-9), Isaac (Genesis 26:25) and Jacob (Genesis 28:18; 31:54; 33:20; 35:7; 46:1): sacrifices and offerings of atonement, obedience, dedication, thanksgiving and worship. They also had fresh within their memory the blood sacrifice of the Passover, which protected their firstborn sons from the tenth plague, the death of firstborn sons (Exodus 12:1-13). Also, between the Exodus and the giving of the Law, God commanded them to keep every seventh day as a Sabbath rest (Exodus 16:23-30).
That's it. Two to three million ex-slaves turned loose into a great and terrible wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:19) headed for a Promised Land to fulfill some divine, but vague, destiny, with a small handful of laws to observe, some ancient promises to count on, and fresh memories of miraculous deliverance to encourage them; but obviously, God knew they needed more - much more! The much more consisted of divine guidance and provision in the wilderness and the giving of the Law.
It was at Sinai that God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments on the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18), which outlined Israel's basic responsibilities to Him and to those created in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). These ten were followed by six hundred and three others that God imparted to Moses during the subsequent wilderness wanderings, which Moses transcribed to scrolls of parchment: six hundred and thirteen commandments (Heb. mitzvot) comprising a single body of Law (James 2:10). This body of Law, the Law of Moses, was the central feature of the Mosaic Covenant, which is spelled out from Exodus 20:1 through Deuteronomy 28:68. The Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant, conditioned on Israel's obedience to God's commands, its conditionality expressed in terms of promises of blessings for obedience, and judgments for disobedience (Exodus 15:26; 19:3-6).
The Law contains two hundred forty-eight "You shalls" and three hundred sixty-five "You shall nots." The Judaism 101 website,2 categorizes the Law under the following headings: God; Torah; Signs and Symbols; Prayer and Blessings; Love and Brotherhood; the Poor and Unfortunate; Treatment of Gentiles; Marriage, Divorce and Family; Forbidden Sexual Relations; Times and Seasons; Dietary Laws; Business Practices; Employees, Servants and Slaves; Vows, Oaths and Swearing; the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years; the Court and Judicial Procedure; Injuries and Damages; Property and Property Rights; Criminal Laws; Punishments and Restitution; Prophecy; Idolatry, Idolaters and Idolatrous Practices; Agriculture and Animal Husbandry; Clothing; the Firstborn; Kohanim (Priests) and Levites; T'rumah (the Heave Offering), Tithes and Taxes; the Temple, the Sanctuary and Sacred Objects; Sacrifices and Offerings; Ritual Purity and Impurity; Lepers and Leprosy; the King; Nazirites; Wars. There was hardly an aspect of an Israelite's life that was not governed by one or more of these laws - a far cry from the small handful of laws they exited Egypt with.
They now had the structure with which to function as a nation; but there was more to it than that. God had used Egypt as the greenhouse for the formation of a numerous people: Seventy entered Egypt, two to three million left. Now He was preparing to carry them forth in a great quantum leap toward the fulfillment of their call in Abraham. To see this more clearly, let us view in summary the reasons that God gave the Law to Israel.
If they would keep His commandments, they would be exceedingly blessed (Deuteronomy 28:1-14): He would make them the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28:13), and a kingdom of priests to the nations.
Israel broke the Law on countless occasions. Among their offenses were the desecration of the Sabbath, repeated rebellions against Moses, and refusal to enter Canaan because of unbelief. Once in the Land, they practiced idolatry on a broad and protracted scale and failed to give the land its sabbatical year rests; but the most critical commandment that they broke is that which Moses declared in Deuteronomy 18:15: The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.
Many parallels exist between the lives of Moses and Jesus, but what makes Jesus the only possible prophet like [Moses] is that, of all humanity, only Moses and Jesus spoke with God face to face (Moses: Exodus 33:10-11; Deuteronomy 34:10. Jesus: Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; John 5:19; 6:46; 8:38; 10:15,30; 14:10). Indeed, the scattering of the nation to the four corners of the earth did not take place until Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah though He proved Himself in accordance with detailed prophecies and Pharisaic benchmarks. After His rejection, He declared in the hearing of the Pharisaic and scribal leaders,
Instead of being gathered by Him as He longed to do, they were scattered in keeping with the consequences for disobedience, which included all of the attendant miseries that they've experienced from that time until today (Deuteronomy 28-29); and their house (Temple, בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ, Beit HaMikdash, "House of the Holy") was indeed left to [them] desolate when the Romans destroyed it in 70 A.D. as they crushed the First Jewish Revolt and slaughtered, enslaved and scattered multitudes out of the Land. The second and final wave of the worldwide scattering took place when the Romans crushed the Second Jewish Revolt in 135 A.D.
Why was listening to the prophet like Moses the most critical commandment? The chief purpose of the Law was to drive Israel to their Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15; Romans 8:1-4; Galatians 3:24-25). When they rejected Jesus they broke the central purpose of the Law, and the Law became inoperative upon His death. At that moment, it ceased to exist as a rule of life, and no point of it needed to be heeded from that moment on. This claim will be addressed.
Quite a few passages declare that the Law became inoperative. Yet, there are also quite a few that appear to declare that the Law is still operative and needs to be followed today. First, we will see that the Law actually did become inoperative; then we'll examine those passages that appear to say that it is still operative.
1. Mosaic Law vs.
Millennial Kingdom Law
In order for Kingdom Law to operate, Mosaic Law must be inoperative.
2. Jeremiah 31:31-34
God declared that He will make a new covenant with Israel unlike the Mosaic Covenant which they broke; and on the basis of that new covenant, He will cause the entire nation to be faithful to Him. The provisions of the Mosaic Covenant did not cause Israel to be faithful to Him, but the provisions of the New Covenant will.
Israel broke the Mosaic Covenant. It is instructive to note the various definitions of the Hebrew word translated they broke. The word is הֵפ֣רוּ, he-phe-ru'. According to Strong, it is based on the verb parar, "A primitive root; to break up (usually figuratively, that is, to violate, frustrate): - any ways, break (asunder), cast off, cause to cease, clean, defeat, disannul, disappoint, dissolve, divide, make of none effect, fail, frustrate, bring (come) to nought, utterly, make void."
When Israel violated the covenant they caused it to cease, disannulled it, dissolved it, made it of none effect, brought it to nought, voided it. This is brought out again in Hebrew 8:13.
3. Hebrews 8:13
That the New Covenant is currently operative and the Mosaic Covenant is not is stated in these passages:
Romans 10:4: For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes. The Greek word for end is telos. Strong renders its primary meaning as "(by implication) the conclusion of an act or state"; and Thayer, "termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be."
The Greek word translated fading and fades away is katargeo, which means "to render inoperative." The letters engraved on stones refers to the Ten Commandments.
Galatians 3:19: Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions . . . until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Christ was that Seed, and the Law was in effect until the seed would come. Clearly, then, the Law is no longer in effect.
2:14-15: 14. For
He Himself is our peace, who made both
groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15.
by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments
contained in ordinances.
Hebrews 7:18: For truly there is a putting away of the commandment which went before, because of the weakness and unprofitableness of it.
Then He said, "Lo, I come to do Your will, O
God." He takes away the first so that He may establish the second.
It was when Jesus died that the Law became inoperative.
It is important to note that God views the Law as a unit, as has been
brought out. James 2:10: For whoever keeps the
whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.
What this means is that when the Law became inoperative, the entire
Law became inoperative, and that no part of it remained standing - not
the Ten Commandments, not the Sabbath commandment included in it, not
the kosher laws - none of it. Not a single Mosaic law is operative today
as a rule of life for anyone.
It is hard to shake ingrained beliefs. Therefore, for the sake of those who are not ready to give up belief that at least some of the Law is still operative as a rule of life, we will carry our examination further.
The issue, now, is this: Did God replace the Mosaic Covenant (with its Law) with the New Covenant, or did He superimpose the New Covenant over the Mosaic? If God replaced the Mosaic Covenant with the New, then the Law is no longer operative. If He superimposed the New Covenant over the Mosaic, then the Law is still operative.
To resolve the issue, we'll consider two things: exactly when the New Covenant became operative, and the irreconcilability between the Law and the New Covenant.
Luke 22:20: This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.
We have seen that the Law became inoperative upon the
death of Jesus. Here we see that at exactly the same moment, the New
Covenant became operative. The New Covenant was never superimposed over
the Old. It replaced it.
Nor could the New Covenant possibly be superimposed over the Mosaic. Conflicting liberties and requirements exist between the two. Some examples:
These irreconcilable differences render the two
covenants mutually exclusive. They cannot be operative
Was the New Testament superimposed over the Law, or did it
The New Covenant was not superimposed over the Mosaic. It replaced it. If one believes that the New Covenant is presently operative,4 he cannot logically hold that the Mosaic Covenant nor any of its six hundred and thirteen commandments still is. Particulars will be addressed in Part 2: The Abolition of the Law: What It Means for the Christian.
What about those passages that seem to declare that the Law is still operative?
Two categories of passages may give that impression: certain declarations made by Jesus, and those passages in the Old Testament that speak of the Law as "everlasting" or a similar term. We'll address them each.
Among the declarations of Jesus that give people cause to believe that
the Law is still operative, Matthew 5:17-19 is probably the most
The Law was operative until the cross, and Jesus made these comments before the cross. Therefore, the Law was operative when He made these comments, and everything He said in the passage regarding the Law applied when He said it.
Another is Luke 16:17: But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tittle of the law to fall. Every last little bit (tittle, the smallest stroke of a letter) of the Law - every requirement and purpose - will be accomplished. Context seems to allow two possible meanings in the immediate situation: 1. The condemnatory aspect of the Law will be applied to the unrighteous Law-breaking Pharisees, and 2. Jesus Himself will fulfill the messianic prophesies of the Law. Whatever the case, Jesus' declaration could have meaning only if the Law was still operative, and it was operative because He had not yet been crucified.
Matthew 23:2-3: 2. The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3. therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. The Geneva Bible Translation Notes seems to capture the meaning: "We ought to listen to whatever we are truly taught from the word of God, even by wicked teachers, but in a way so that we abstain from their evil behaviour."5 Here again the presupposition in Jesus' comment is that the Law was still operative, and it was so because He had not yet gone to the cross.
What Does it Mean that Jesus "fulfilled" the
Law? He fulfilled it in two ways:
John 8:46: Which one of you convicts Me of sin?
Hebrews 7:26: For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens;
Hebrews 9:14: who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God.
1 Peter 2:22: who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth.
2. He fulfilled all prophecies regarding His first coming:
Once the blemishless Lamb of God came and took away the sin of the world (John 1:29), the central purpose of the Law was fulfilled and the Age (or Dispensation) of the Law could now pass the baton to the Age of Grace.
There are passages in the Old Testament that use certain words and phrases in regard to the Law that are translated forever, perpetual, permanent, continual, everlasting, eternal, unending, throughout your generations, or similar renderings, which give the impression that the Law is still operative. On the other hand, there are passages that use some of the same words in contexts where they can only mean "until the end of a period of time." We will look at examples of both. Dr. Fruchtenbaum points out that these words and phrases are all forms of ledorot, olam (which may be used in the form of le-olam or ad-olam), chok6 olam, and tamid.7
1. Ledorot, Olam, Tamid:
"Forever" Passages of the Law in Question
On Passover observance: Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations (ledorot) you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance (Exodus 12:14). Permanent ordinance is chukat olam. Chukat is a form of chok, which means statute or ordinance.
On the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) Sabbath observance:
On the Tabernacle lampstand: You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually (tamid). (Exodus 27:20).
2. Olam: Literally "Forever"
No, but Sarah your wife will bear
you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My
covenant with him for an everlasting (olam)
for his descendants after him.
(Genesis 17:19). The covenant referred to is the Abrahamic, and
it is, indeed,
and still operative.
And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently
(le-olam) (Exodus 21:6).
This is a specific Mosaic law; and le-olam here cannot mean for
eternity, but until the end of the servant's life.
But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, I will not go up until the child is weaned; then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD and stay there forever (ad-olam) (1 Samuel 1:22). Ad-olam here can only mean until the end of Samuel's life.
As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always (tamid) with her love (Proverbs 5:19). Tamid cannot mean for eternity here, but as the traditional marriage vow says, "for as long as you both shall live."
4. Resolving the
"Forever" Passages of the Law
When the meaning of a word or
passage is equivocal (can mean one of two things), one must search for
passages on the matter that are unequivocal for clarification. Such are the
New Testament passages quoted above:
When Jesus died, He became
the end of the Law (Romans 10:4), the
Law faded away
(2 Corinthians 3:7,11), broke down (Ephesians 2:14),
was abolished in
(Ephesians 2:15), blotted out (Colossians 2:14),
nailed to the cross
(Colossians 2:14), taken out of the way
(Colossians 2:14; Hebrews
10:9), set aside (Hebrews 7:18),
rendered inoperative (katargeo, 2 Corinthians 3:7,11;
was operative only until the Seed would come
The Law of Moses was abolished at the cross, and it, and each of its individual commandments, is inoperative today as a rule of life for the believer, and for everyone else, for that matter. This will be examined further in Part 2: The Abolition of the Law: What It Means for the Christian.
Christian and the Law Sequence
The Abolition of the Law: Part 1
The Abolition of the Law: Part 2 - What it Means to the Christian
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1. Indicated by the Hebrew word toledot
in Genesis 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10,27; 25:19; 36:1,9 and 37:2, and translated
as These are the generations of, This is the account of, This is the book of, etc.