(I continue a possible solution to this question from part 1 last month)
Before moving to a possible solution, it is pertinent to understand the purpose of the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament. First and foremost, the Law did not confer salvation. There was a causal relation between keeping God’s laws and blessing (cf. Exodus 20:12, Leviticus 18:5), but this in no way imparted spiritual life. Salvation was (and is) a matter of faith in God, not works (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-4). New Testament writers agreed. Paul stated, “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Paul again emphasized this point a few verses later, “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). Paul also informed his synagogue audience that by faith in Jesus one “is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). The object of faith for both Old and New Testament believer is God. Similarly, the basis for salvation (in both testaments) is the death of Christ. Although the Old Testament believers did not know Jesus, they did have the “sin-grace” construct through the blood sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 17:11) which pointed them to Jesus as the ultimate justification for their sins (Hebrews 10:10-14).[i]
Some may argue that if the Law was kept fully, one could be justified by the Law, but this is a moot point since one cannot do this. Instead, through failure to adhere to the Law, you realize that you are in despair and have to rely on the relief of the Gospel. God knew that no one would be able to keep the whole law, and thus the law was never meant for redemption.
Rather, the Mosaic Law had the role of sanctification and governance for the nation of Israel before Christ.[ii] First, the Law revealed the character of God, but also demanded his followers to conform to it (“therefore be holy, because I am holy” Leviticus 11:45). The sacrificial system revealed that God cannot tolerate sin without some sort of blood shed as compensation. Second, the Law was intended to reveal and expose sin. In other words, the Law gave knowledge of sin and also demonstrated how sinful sin was. Paul succinctly stated that “through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). Not only knowledge of sin, but Paul reminded his reader a little later that through the Law we became aware of the sinfulness of sin (Romans 7:7-13). This leads to condemnation associated with this sin and accountability to God.
Third, the Law supervised the people of Israel until Christ came. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (Galatians 3:24-25). The Greek word that Paul used in verse twenty-five is translated as “custodian” or “tutor,” which implies that the Old Testament Jew was a child supervised by the Law. Last, the Law served a regulatory (and temporary) function for Israel as a theocratic nation ruled by God as an example (and blessing) to the other nations (cf. Abrahamic Covenant). In conclusion, the Mosaic Law did not provide salvation, but rather helped the Old Testament Jew understand who God is and what it means to comply to his holiness. It demonstrated what sin was and the consequences for that sin; pointing forward to Christ’s atonement for all sin. It also regulated God’s theocratic reign on Israel.
This brings us to the core of my paper to address the application of the Mosaic Law to the Christian life. Although it took some effort, some foundational issues were outlined that have helped form a solution that is consistent with the biblical evidence. My contention is that the Mosaic Law came to fulfillment in Christ, and because of this, it is no longer a direct and immediate source for judging the conduct of a Christian. The Christian life is now guided by what Paul called “the law of Christ” (cf. Roman 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14; 6:2; I Corinthians 9:21), which does not consist of deontological commands, but rather the teaching and example of Jesus and the apostles. The central demand is one of love, which is influenced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.[iii] The Mosaic Law was a covenant between God and the nation of Israel and as such was a temporary framework for obedience to God during this era. This has been replaced with a New Covenant (or Testament) which is not just a reinstatement of the Mosaic Law, but rather a new arrangement.
Previously I discussed the moral, ceremonial and civil parts of the Law. Although the writers of the Bible did not make these distinctions when referring to the Law, it is appropriate to discuss them from a metaethical viewpoint. By making these divisions outside the Bible, one can stipulate that in both the Mosaic Law and in the “law of Christ” there exists moral law (eternal, unchanging and grounded in God). This means that prohibitions such as stealing, lying, and murder are still immoral for people in either era to commit. There are also certain actions that were considered transgressions pre-Christ, but not transgressions after Christ, i.e. some laws were relative. This is not to say that my solution is relativistic, since the truly objective morals do not change, but are present in both. Relativism entails that all morals are relative, not some.
Although many of the approaches to this problem may come to the same “bottom line,” the methodology I advocate is abrogation of any and all Mosaic commands unless they are clearly repeated by a New Testament writer. Paul was unambiguous in Romans 5-8 that Christians are to die to sin and the law and are set free from it (7:6) and are instead joined to Christ (7:4) and placed under the sphere of the Spirit (7:6; 8:9). We must also remember that love is central to the demand of the law, as Jesus reminded his followers that love for God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love for one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), together, summarize the greatest commandment. This framework allows us to confirm prohibitions not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament as they fall under more general topics that are addressed or can be rationally applied to current situations (e.g. bestiality as sexual perversion or abortion as murder).
Due to space limitations, two passages out of many (cf. Romans 3:21-31; 4:5, 13-25; 5:13; 6:14-15; 7:6; 10:4; I Corinthians 9:19-23; II Corinthians 3:3, 6-18; Galatians 2:19; 3:1-5, 10-29; 4:8-11, 21-5:1; 5:3, 18; Philippians 3:1-11; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 7:11-28; 8:4-8, 13; 9:8; 10:1-18; James 2:8-10)[iv] will be examined to support the discontinuity of the Mosaic Law to the life of the Christian. In his letter to the Romans, Paul stated, “Christ is the end (telos) of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). The word telos in the Greek can mean either “end” or “goal,” but in either case, the aspect of termination is still involved.[v] There are other Greek words (teleiosis or pleroma) Paul could have used if he meant that Christ was just the “goal” of the Law. Rather, Paul told us that the Law was a temporary provision for Abraham’s descendents (its custodian) until Christ came, and now its period of validity was at an end. It is clear that Paul thought that the Law had been abrogated in a major sense.
A second passage to demonstrate that the Law no longer applies to the Christian is II Corinthians 3:3-18. Paul noted in verse 6, that he is a minister of a “new covenant” and the “old covenant” is taken away in Christ (v. 14). The “new covenant” has supremacy over the “old covenant” as it is written on our hearts (v. 7), rather than stone (reference to the Decalogue). The “old covenant” is characterized by death (v. 7) and condemnation (v. 9) and has faded away (v. 11); whereas, the “new covenant” is characterized as one of the Spirit (v. 8) and righteousness (v. 9) and remains (v. 11). God has written a new law on our hearts (an obvious reference to Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 11:19) – the “law of Christ.”
One last point to the solution I have proposed is to understand how the “law of Christ” and Mosaic Law are related. God’s moral law does not change between the covenants, but the application of it does. The “law of Christ” is parallel to the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law was normative for the Jew, whereas the “law of Christ” is applicable for the Christian. Both contain moral law. In the “new covenant” there is no need for any lengthy codified means of restraint, since we now have the Holy Spirit ministering in our lives. Paul stated that love was the basis for the Mosaic Law (Galatians 5:14) and is also the basis of the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). The believer today can know God’s moral will in the “new covenant” through the “law of Christ.”
I have addressed some of the objections to this view (or its foundation) throughout the document, but one last passage must be addressed that has the most weight.[vi] This is how to handle the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:17-19.
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. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
At first glance, this passage seems to advocate that the Mosaic Law will abide forever (until heaven and earth disappear). But as you examine the passage, note that Jesus referred to the “Law or the Prophets.” This is a reference to the entire Old Testament (not just the Mosaic Law), thus Jesus was addressing the prophesies that he fulfills; i.e. until he accomplishes (fulfills) the prophesies, neither the Law nor the Prophets will be abolished. Another way to state this is to say that as long as heaven and earth exist, there will be no repeal of the Law or the Prophets until they are fulfilled, but Christ in fact does fulfill them completely.[vii]
I began this blog by stressing the importance of the subject of Law and Gospel because of its effect on justification and sanctification. The Church has debated for over two thousand years on this topic, and theological frameworks have been developed. I outlined some criteria to be used in order to evaluate the theological question of how to apply the Mosaic Law to the Christian: Inerrancy of Scripture, philosophical coherence and testimony (practice) of the early church. The writers of the Bible never distinguished categories of law (moral, ceremonial and civil), but instead referred to the unity as a whole. This eliminated any solutions that advocate partial abrogation of the Mosaic Law. The Sabbath commandment was advanced as an example of apodictic (moral) law that did not continue into the early church. Next, I proposed that the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament did not confer salvation (justification) but rather served four purposes: Revealing the character of God, exposing sin and its sinfulness, acting as a moral custodian for the nation of Israel (until Christ came) and governing the theocratic nation of Israel.
I then made a case that the Mosaic Law has been abrogated because Christ completely fulfilled it. In its place the “law of Christ” is meant to guide the life of the Christian with the same law of love as a foundation. The Christian also has the resources of the Holy Spirit to guide into righteousness. Two passages (Romans 10:4, II Corinthians 3:3-18) were provided as support for the discontinuity of the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law and the “law of Christ” contain within them unchanging moral law; both having the parallel role of sanctification of Israel and the Church. Last, I addressed Matthew 5:17-19 which seems to support continuation of the Law, but upon closer examination found this passage rather to be addressing the assuredness that Christ would fulfill all the prophesies in the “Law and the Prophets.”
Although the “bottom line” morals may be consistent across different theological frameworks, the methodology I chose differs. My approach advocated a repeal of all Mosaic Laws except those that have been repeated in the New Testament (which allows a sort of continuity). There is no need for a detailed listing of possible infractions because we have as a foundation the “love of God” and “love of others” as testified by the Holy Spirit. The tablets of stone are no longer needed as God promised, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).
[i] Wayne G. Strickland, in Five Views on Law and Gospel, 243-4.
[ii] Points taken from primarily from Douglas J. Moo and Wayne Strickland in Five Views on Law and Gospel.
[iii] Summary taken from Douglas J. Moo in Five Views on Law and Gospel, 343.
[iv] List compiled by Wayne G. Strickland, in Five Views on Law and Gospel, 263.
[v] Wayne G. Strickland, in Five Views on Law and Gospel, 267.
[vi] There are many others, but paper length dictates addressing only the prevalent objection.
[vii] Argument from Wayne G. Strickland, in Five Views on Law and Gospel, 256-7.