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:
They were obligated to carry out what is known as the Dominion Mandate: Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and
subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth (Genesis 1:28).
Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. . . . be fruitful and multiply; Bring forth abundantly in the earth And multiply in it (Genesis 9:1,7). Man was to populate the earth and manage its resources for the good of the human race.
Men, especially, were obligated to provide for their families by the sweat of your face. (Genesis 3:19)
Wives were to respect the leadership and authority of their husbands in the marriage. (Genesis 3:16)
They were permitted to eat meat and vegetables, but were prohibited from eating blood. (Genesis 9:3-4)
They were obligated to execute murderers (Genesis 9:6), which implied the necessity for police, judiciary and penal arms of government, and an individual or body of individuals to oversee all three.
They were required to offer up blood sacrifices for sin. This can be seen in Genesis 3:21, where God demonstrated the necessity for the shedding of innocent blood for the sins of Adam and Eve; and in Genesis 4:4, where God required Cain and Abel to offer up proper blood sacrifices.
In addition to the covenants, the Israelites were obligated to restrict their marital and sexual relationships to the paradigm and parameters established by God with humanity's first parents. Specifically, their marriages were to consist solely of one man and one woman committed to one another for life, which meant that they were to restrict their intimate relations to one another, as well, for as Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 6:16, the joining of a man and a woman in sexual intimacy is what renders the two one flesh (Genesis 2:21-24). Why is such a relationship sacrosanct? Because it is the optimum arrangement for the carrying out of the Dominion Mandate noted above.
The faithful among the Israelites also had the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant to hold on to. Key among them were the following:
God was going to make of them a great and numerous nation. (Genesis 12:2; 22:7)
He would give them all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:8) whose borders would extend from the river of Egypt (the Wadi El Arish, a seasonal watercourse flowing into the southeast corner of the Mediterranean) as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, in the north. (Genesis 15:18)
God would bless those who blessed them, and curse those who cursed them. (Genesis 12:3)
All the families of the Earth would be blessed through them. (Genesis 12:3; 22:18)
I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. (Genesis 17:7)
They were obligated to circumcise their sons on the eighth day to serve as the token of the Abrahamic Covenant. (Genesis 17:9-14)
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.
5. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own
possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6. and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
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 11:11,27; John 1:18; John 5:19; 6:46; 8:38; 10:15,30; 14:10. Compare Exodus 34:29-35 and 2 Corinthians 3:13 with Matthew 17:1-3, esp. v. 2). 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,
37. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the
prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38.
Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39. For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!
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
There is a class of passages that proves that the Mosaic Law needed come to an end at some point before the establishment of the Messianic (Millennial) Kingdom because of irreconcilable differences between Mosaic Law and Kingdom Law. Two examples of such differences are:
1) Under Mosaic Law, observance of the Feast of Tabernacles was mandatory for Jews only (Leviticus 23:33-43); but under Kingdom Law it will be mandatory for both Jews and Gentiles (Zechariah 14:16-21).
2) Under Mosaic Law, only Jews could be priests (Leviticus 1:5; 21:1); but under Kingdom Law, Gentiles as well as Jews will serve as priests (Isaiah 66:18-21).
In order for Kingdom Law to operate, Mosaic Law must be inoperative.
31. "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32. not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. 33. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
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
Hebrews 8:13: When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. When God announced the coming New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34, He made the Mosaic Covenant's coming obsolescence known.
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."
7. But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was. . . . 11. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
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.
Ephesians 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
13. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He [God the
Father] has made alive together with Him [Jesus], having forgiven you all trespasses, 14. blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was
contrary to us, and has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.
Hebrews 7:18: For truly there is a putting away of the commandment which went before, because of the
weakness and unprofitableness of it.
Hebrews 10:9: Then He said, "Lo, I come to do Your will, O God." He takes away the first so that He may
establish the second.
To sum up, the Law was operative only until the Seed would come (Galatians 3:19). 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 His flesh (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), made obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), rendered inoperative (katargeo, 2 Corinthians 3:7,11; Ephesians 2:15).
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.
"But God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2) and thereby set a precedent."
"Between the Exodus and the giving of the Law, God commanded Israel to keep every seventh day as a Sabbath rest" (Exodus 16:23-30).
These are reasonable protests to the claim that the Sabbath need not be observed today. What shall we say?
The issue was resolved by no less of an authority than the apostle Paul, a former Pharisee who claimed that "as to the righteousness which is in the Law" he was "found blameless" (Philippians 3:5-6). In other words, Paul knew the Law and had lived according to it; and after his coming to faith in Messiah, he was given apostolic authority by God to make definitive declarations. Here's what he said:
"[God] made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. . . . Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day - things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ."
~ Colossians 2:13-14,16-17 ~
"No one is to act as your judge in regard to . . . a Sabbath day."
This declaration was made within the context of the Law having been "taken . . . out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." Even though God rested from His labors on the seventh day and the Sabbath rest was enjoined upon Israel before the Law was given, Paul still counted the requirement to keep the Sabbath as eliminated when the Law was abolished.
This is consistent with what he said in Romans 14:5: One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.
Surely this former zealous, blameless keeper of the Law had the Sabbath in mind (as well as other special days), when he made this declaration. After all, he had formerly kept the Sabbath every seventh day!
In summary, no one is required to keep the Sabbath today, nor has anyone been since the law was taken out of the way
at the cross.
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.
25. In the same way He took the cup
also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it,
in remembrance of Me." 26. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He
~ 1 Corinthians 11:25-26 ~
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:
Believers in Jesus are written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3) - which is consistent with Jeremiah 31:33: I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and with Jeremiah 36:26: Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Also with Jeremiah 11:19.)
Under the Mosaic Covenant, Israelites were required to worship in the place where [God]
chooses (Deuteronomy 16:16). First, it was Shiloh (Joshua 18:1 with Judges 21:19; 1 Samuel 1:3); later, the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8; 2
Chronicles 2:4). But under the New Covenant, the only "place" where believers are required to worship is in spirit and
truth (John 4:20-24).
Under the Mosaic Covenant, all priests needed to be men of the tribe of Levi and a descendant of Aaron; but under the New Covenant, all believers - Jews
of any tribe, and Gentiles, and women as well as men - are priests (1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6, 5:10); and Jesus, our High Priest, is of the tribe of Judah (Micah 5:2; Matthew
Under the Mosaic Covenant, only the high priest could come into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, and only one day of the Year, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) (Leviticus 16:18, Hebrews 9:6-8); but under the New Covenant, all believers can draw near with confidence to the throne of grace at any time (Hebrews 4:16).
Under the Mosaic Covenant, execution was the penalty for breaking quite a few of the laws irrespective of repentance (Exodus 21:12-17,22-23; 31:14-15; Leviticus 22:2,9-16,27, Hebrews 10:26, etc.); but the New Covenant does not authorize the death penalty for any offense.3 The most severe penalty authorized by the New Covenant is excommunication, which may result in death at the hand of Satan (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:5), but is to be withdrawn upon repentance (2 Corinthians 2:5-8).
Under the Mosaic Covenant, one incurred the death penalty by profaning the Sabbath (Exodus 31:14-15), but under the New Covenant, there is no Sabbath day commandment, nor is there a commandment to observe the feasts of Leviticus 23 (Romans 14:5; Colossians 2:16-17).
Under the Mosaic Covenant, strict dietary laws were prescribed (Leviticus 11:1-11); but under the New Covenant, all foods are clean (Acts 10:9-16; 1 Timothy 4:1-5).
Under the Mosaic Covenant, in order for a saved Gentile to partake of physical blessings of the Covenant (e.g., Temple worship, celebration of the Passover) he needed to become a part of the commonwealth of Israel by being circumcised if male, and by taking upon himself the entire burden of the Law (Exodus 12:48-49); but under the New Covenant, all that is required for a Gentile to partake of every spiritual blessing that a believing Jew partakes of is belief in the Gospel (Mark 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4) whereupon he is instantly brought into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 2:11-22).
Under the Mosaic Covenant, the sins of the believer were merely "covered." (In Leviticus 17:11, the word for "atonement" is kaphar, the primary meaning of which is "to cover.") Under the New Covenant, the sins of all believers of all time are removed (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 10:1-18).
The Law did not serve as a means of salvation, but the New Covenant does. (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; 3:11-12, 21)
Under the Mosaic Covenant, only a small handful of Israelites had the Spirit with them (rare exceptions had Him in them, as well), but under the New Covenant, all believers have the Spirit in them. Under the Mosaic Covenant, the Spirit did not always rest on those few Israelites permanently, but under the New Covenant, the Spirit indwells all believers forever. The contrasts are: a few, all; with, in; temporarily, forever (John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; Numbers 11:17-25; 27:18; 2 Kings 2:9-12; 1 Samuel 16:14; Psalm 51:11).
Under the Mosaic Covenant, power was not given to the believer to obey the requirements of God, but under the New Covenant, such power is given (Romans 7:14 - 8:4).
These irreconcilable differences render the two covenants mutually exclusive. They cannot be operative simultaneously.
Was the New Testament superimposed over the Law, or did it replace it?
1. Jeremiah declared that Israel broke, disannulled, the Mosaic Covenant, and that God would make a new covenant with them unlike the Mosaic.
2. At the death of Jesus, the Mosaic Covenant became inoperative, and the New Covenant became operative.
3. Irreconcilable differences exist between the two covenants.
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 prominent.
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:
1. He kept the Law perfectly:
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:
44. Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45. Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
46. and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47. and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be
proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
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
Ledorot, Olam, Tamid: "Forever" Passages of the Law in Question
These passages give the impression that the Law is to literally last forever:
On Sabbath observance: But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations (ledorot), that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. (Exodus 31:13)
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:
31. You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute
(chok olam) throughout your
generations in all your dwelling places 32. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your
souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.
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"
Other passages not having to do with the Law lend strength to the impression that the Law is still operative:
Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God (El Olam) (Genesis 21:33). No one doubts that God is literally everlasting!
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) covenant for
his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:19). The covenant referred to is the Abrahamic, and it is, indeed, literally everlasting and still operative.
3. Ledorot, Olam, Tamid: Until the End of a Period of Time
However, the following passages use the same words in contexts where they can only mean "until the end of a period of time":
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.
I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 89:1). To all generations is ledor vador, twice containing dor, "generation," the same root found in ledorot. Obviously, the psalmist did not mean that his mouth would literally make the LORD's faithfulness known to all generations; his mouth could only make God's faithfulness known until the end of his 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
Though we've seen two passages in which olam literally means forever, we've also seen cases in which ledorot, olam, and tamid can only refer to a limited period of time. So which is it? Do these terms mean that the Law as a unit will literally be operative forever, or that it will be operative only until the end of a period of time, as the passage about piercing a servant's ear clearly did?
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 His flesh (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),
made obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), rendered inoperative (katargeo, 2 Corinthians 3:7,11; Ephesians 2:15).
The Law was operative only until the Seed would come (Galatians 3:19).
These passages resolve the matter. The "forever" passages of the Law must be taken to mean "until the end of a period of time," that period of time which began at Sinai and ended at the cross.
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.
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.
2. "A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments)." Judaism 101. http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm.
3. This is not to be confused with the rights of civil governments (Romans 13:1-5).
4. The New Covenant's promises of blessing are not dependent upon Israel's meeting any conditions, but solely upon the sure promises of God. This makes it an eternal covenant; and once it is operative - and it already is - it will remain operative for eternity.
5. Geneva Bible Translation Notes. E-sword download at http://www.BibleSupport.com.
6. Chok rhymes with choke, but the ch is pronounced as in Bach.
7. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Dr., Messianic Bible Study 176: The Sabbath, pp. 31-33, pdf.