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Winter 2008, Vol. 5

Torah and the Disciple of Jesus

 

Jeffrey D. Green (M.A. 2008)
Master of Arts in Theological Studies Paper, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary

In April of 2004, the Bible and Theology Department of AGTS voted to present the Stanley M. Horton Award annually at graduation for excellence in the writing of the paper for the Theological Studies Seminar. The professor of record for the course makes recommendations to the Department for their decision on potential recipients, and the award is announced during graduation exercises.

On April 16, 2008, the faculty ratified Jeffrey D. Green as the recipient of this award. His paper follows.

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Contents

  • Introduction
    • Purpose
    • Thesis
    • Limitations on the Study
    • Definitions
  • Torah Before the New Covenant
    • Law in the Ancient Near Eastern World
    • Torah before the Time of Israel
    • Torah from the Beginning of Israel to the New Covenant
  • The Universality and Permanence of the Torah
    • Torah and the Gentiles
    • Did Scripture Promise the Abolition of Torah?
    • Passages which Predict Perpetuity
    • Torah and the New Covenant
  • Shabbat: A New Covenant Perspective           
    • Shabbat as an Apparent Anomaly: How Should It Be Observed?
    • The Purposes of Shabbat
    • Jesus and Shabbat
    • The Present and Eternal Shabbat Rest
  • Conclusion            
    • How the New Covenant Is Better than the Old
    • How Believers Apply Torah to Their Lives Today
  • Souces Consulted

Introduction

Purpose

This paper investigates the meaning of the Old Covenant Torah for the New Covenant believer. Followers of Jesus in the New Covenant Scriptures related to Torah (the “Law”) in light of their understanding of the New Covenant and Paul’s teaching; therefore, present generation believers must likewise understand the significance and application of Torah.1 For those who consider the entire Bible essential and profitable for teaching and living (2 Tim. 3:16), this subject is relevant. This study necessitates an examination of Torah in the Old Covenant Scriptures, apart from which one cannot understand the teachings of Jesus and Paul. The requirement of Torah observance for believers from the Exodus (ca. 1445 BC) at least to the time of Jesus’ ministry (ca. AD 30) indicates the importance of the subject. The psalmist’s love and esteem for Torah (Psalm 119), as representative of faithful Old Covenant believers, confirms this understanding.

Thesis

This paper proposes that Torah, for the New Covenant believer, has significance that is not at variance with the significance for those faithful to the Old Covenant, though it is viewed from a different perspective and has different applications. “One cannot speak of a sweeping law/gospel dichotomy that puts the OT and NT economies at odds.”2 Yahweh never intended Torah to be a means of salvation, or that the violation of Torah would necessarily prevent or cancel salvation. “Those who seek to merit divine approval by fulfilling the law’s precepts are engaged in a hopeless task.”3 My thesis demonstrates that Torah blessed Old Covenant believers with much, and New Covenant believers are blessed with even more—the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth (John 16:13), enabling them to fulfill God’s righteous requirement of the “Law” as they “walk in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).

This study will aim to alleviate confusion on the subject of Torah for the New Covenant believer. Jesus, who clearly understood the meaning of Torah, said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets …” (Matt. 5:17),4 and “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for He wrote of me” (John 5:46). Meeting two disciples after His resurrection, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27).”

Irenaeus writes, “For all those who are of a perverse mind, having been set against the Mosaic legislation judging it to be dissimilar and contrary to the doctrine of the gospel, have not applied themselves to investigate the causes of the differences of each covenant.”5 Martin Luther, however, wrote in his commentary on Galatians, “For Christ hath abolished all the laws of Moses that ever were. Wherefore, the conscience believing in Christ must be so surely persuaded that the law is abolished, with its terrors and threatenings, that it should be utterly ignorant whether there were ever any Moses, any law, or any Jew. For Christ and Moses can in no wise agree.”6 Luther also misunderstood John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” interpreting the two clauses as two opposing concepts, rather than as the second clause building on the first, as indicated by the previous verse, which refers to “grace [through Jesus] upon grace [through Moses].”7 Bruce Waltke states, “Luther’s negative assessment of the law in Kontroverstheologische … tend[s] to pit law and works against gospel and grace.”8 Waltke seems to indicate that Luther contradicts himself: “Here [in the Lutheran catechisms] Luther praises the law as a complete guide for human life. It inculcates ‘fear, love and trust in God in all things.’”9 It should, therefore, not be surprising if some present-day believers are confused concerning the significance to them of the Law. Although probably no evangelical theologians subscribe to Luther’s extreme view today, he nevertheless has significantly impacted thinking and theology for the past nearly five hundred years. Considering the prominence of “the Law” in Scripture and the importance of believers understanding how to relate to it, it therefore remains a valid subject for study.                                    

The methodological approach to this paper is primarily research–examining pertinent Bible passages and referencing what scholars and commentators have contributed to the subject. The paper includes reflection and concludes with a section on application.

Limitations on the Study

This study will not survey the history of the Church to examine how believers at different times have understood this subject. Although historical surveys are worthwhile, how believers and religious people have understood the purpose of the Law through the ages to the present time does not affect what the Scriptures actually state. Therefore, this study is necessarily limited primarily to exegesis while giving consideration to the context of the ancient worldviews of the original writers to endeavor to demonstrate and explain the enduring value of the Law for believers in the present age.

Definitions

In the Old Covenant Scriptures, tôrâ, generally translated “law” in the English translations, is found approximately 220 times.10 The word “law” in western civilization often connotes rules, particularly concerning prohibitions, imposed by a governing authority. Human nature tends to automatically resist such rules, even when such rules are recognized as for the benefit of those who should abide by them. In regard to the Greek word nomos, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word tôrâ in the Septuagint and the New Covenant Scriptures, Frederick W. Danker states,“A special semantic problem for modern readers encountering the term ν. [nomos] is the general tendency to confine the term ‘law’ to codified statutes. Such limitation has led to much fruitless debate in the history of NT interpretation.”11 Hans Hübner agrees: “From the very beginning the ‘Torah’ was not understood ‘legally.’ Therefore the translation ‘law’ (instead of ‘teaching’) does not necessarily imply a ‘legal’ understanding.”12 “Law” in the Bible has a positive connotation. The precise meaning of tôrâ is debated among scholars; however, most agree the word indicates instruction, teaching and guidance.13 “If one were to attempt to capture the essence of tôrâ in the OT, ‘instruction’ or ‘teaching,’ rather than ‘law’ with its particular modern connotations, may be terms that best do justice to the variety of uses.”14 I will therefore generally use the word “torah,” or tôrâ, instead of “law” in this paper. Torah (or Tôrâ) is capitalized when referring specifically to the Torah of Israel, and lower case when referring to torah in a more universal sense.

Torahis used in different ways in the Old Covenant Scriptures; for instance, it may indicate instructions for priestly duties, individual commandments, or the Pentateuch as a whole. “The use of tôrâ for a short instruction of the priest was probably the original meaning of the word, which continued alongside the wider application to the Law of God, or Torah, the body of precepts through which God’s way of life for man was made known.”15 Although “law” (nomos), in the New Covenant Scriptures, is not used for the first two meanings, “the thought-content of the Old Covenant torah, with its emphasis on law as a personal word from God the Law-giver, is nearly always present.”16 According to Enns, the use of the word nomos (“law”) in different but not conflicting ways in Paul’s letters, prevents a simple definition.17 F. F. Bruce, however, helpfully clarifies the different ways the word “law” is used in Romans. He explains that “law” may indicate the Mosaic legislation, the Pentateuch (3:21) or the Old Testament in its entirety (3:19).18  It also may refer to a “principle,” such as the “law of faith” (3:27), the “law of my mind,” the “law of sin” (7:23), the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” and the “law of sin and death” (8:2).19 The breadth of meaning of tôrâ in Tanach may have influenced Paul to feel free to use nomos in a less restricted manner in his writings. In any case, Paul recognizes that the word need not be confined to a particular religious meaning, which would be doing injustice to grammar. For the purpose of this paper “Law” signifies either Tanach in its entirety, the Pentateuch, or the Mosaic legislation.

Torah before the New Covenant

Law in the Ancient Near Eastern World

Since tôrâ does not mean “law” as understood from a western perspective, an examination of how law was perceived in the Ancient Near East (ANE) is in order. Several ancient documents considered “codes” of law, such as the “Code of Hammurabi,” have in recent study been reevaluated as “treatises.”20 The intention of a treatise is neither prescriptive nor comprehensive but rather descriptive, within the category of ancient wisdom literature, of a proper society as so deemed by the gods and their earthly representatives. Hammurabi’s “code” apparently served as an expression and moral pronouncement to the people of the king’s righteousness.21 The “laws” listed in the “Code” represent expected behavior in the kingdom and the penalties indicate the seriousness of departure from the order of society.22 Yahweh presented Torahnot in a vacuum but within the context of the ANE, a far different context from the relatively modern age of the last few hundred years in which the Scriptures have been interpreted. It is essential to keep this in mind while interpreting both Tanach and the New Covenant Scriptures. The likelihood, therefore, of Torah being closer in design to the code of Hammurabi than to modern law codes needs to be considered. This possibility suggests that Torah is primarily an expression to Israel of the righteousness of Yahweh by which they were to model their individual and corporate lives. This does not mean there was no definite legal aspect with clear penalties for transgression. Since ancient laws were both casuistic, beginning with “if” and continuing with “then” (Deut. 24:7),23 as in the Code of Hammurabi, and apodictic, generally in the form of a command or precept (Exod. 20:3-17),24 a “code” could be used as the basis of legislation if the king so desired, whether or not that was its initial or primary purpose.

Psalm 78, the content of which is introduced in verse 1 as tôrâ (“instruction,” NASB), reviews the narrative history of Yahweh’s deeds among His people up to the time of David. This suggests that Tôrâ has a broader meaning in Tanach than often supposed, since Tôrâ is presented here in narrative genre.25 Viewing at least parts of Torah as a treatise not only properly recognizes its ANE context, but also aids in accurately understanding its meaning. Misunderstanding the nature of Yahweh’s Torah has caused some to believe that, not only Torah, but the whole Bible, is a “list of dos and don’ts” rather than a treatise of guidance and instruction from a loving God who knows the correct way for His people to live. Although Torah does contain “dos and don’ts,” the context of such statements indicates the meaning to be much deeper.

Examining the nature of the first “command” given to humankind in the Garden helps determine the nature of Torah as a whole. Expressed in a similar manner as the “apodictic law” of the “Ten Commandments,” Adam was told, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:16). Although presented in the form of a “command,” and called such in the English Bible, in a broader sense it is actually “torah” or instruction for living, the neglect or rejection of which would bring about serious ramifications. Rather than simply considering Adam to have broken an arbitrary law and being punished for it, I suggest we view Adam as having failed to live by God’s standard of righteousness and suffering the God-ordained consequences.            

As a treatise rather than a code of law, Torah’s purpose, rather than merely to authoritatively pronounce what people could or could not do and then to enforce justice accordingly, is to present teaching on the holiness of God and what a people of God are to look like in holiness. In other words, Torah presents to God’s peoplewhat it is to be a people set apart from non-believing people groups (Exod. 19:5; Deut. 7:6).26

The meaning of nomos in the ancient Greek world also had religious connotations, as law was believed to have derived from the gods, and laws of a particular city state were considered to be expressions of the will of the deity which ruled there.27 “The legal, ethical, and religious meanings of nomos are inseparable in antiquity, for all goods were believed to come from the gods, who upheld order in the universe and in relations among humans. Hence comes the universal conviction that law is linked to the divine.”28 This necessitated conformity to universal cosmic law, resulting in peace and harmony in human lives and society and in the universe, visible and invisible.29 Therefore, Paul’s choice of nomos, as also used in the Septuagint, was reasonable. Rather than having a religiously sterile background, the word nomos fits well with the meaning of Tôrâ in the Old Covenant Scriptures as having its source in Yahweh, and within the context of ANE cultures as a whole, which, unlike modern western civilization, were fundamentally religious. That is, humankind perceived a supernatural world beyond the physical, with a fine line between the two worlds, in which spirit beings resided who influenced the natural realm, all of this being subject to cosmic law.

Torah before the Time of Israel

Although torah is commonly believed to have commenced at Sinai, it cannot be separated from the nature of God; therefore, wherever God is torah is. In the Creation story, Genesis 1:2 presents the world before torah as a picture of a world without torah–formless (Heb. tôhû) and empty (Heb. bôhû)–a chaotic, water-covered vacuity. God spoke, and what He spoke was torah, that is, authoritative instruction for the first step of creation: “Let there be light.” Each authoritative command brought more order into the cosmos climaxed by the seventh day rest. God evaluated progressive stages of the creation process as “good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25), and the conclusion as “very good” (v. 31). The alternative to the existence of God’s commands is not good. Genesis 1 reveals not only order and productivity resulting from torah, but also shalom, that is, the perfect sense of well-being, health and security produced by all things being in harmony with the authority, power and purposes of God.30 Without torah there is no shalom. Jesus would later declare, “My peace I leave with you, not as the world gives …” His peace is the blessing of shalom given to those whom He called friends—those who did what He instructed them to do.

Lawlessness, that is, disobedience to torah, immediately introduced instability and loss of shalom into mankind and into the cosmos. Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God’s instruction (torah) brought banishment from the Garden and introduced pain in childbirth—and thorns, thistles, and toil in bringing forth fruit from the earth. The episode with Cain and Abel further demonstrates the result of rejecting God’s instruction. God’s act of bringing the flood upon the earth was the necessary response to the chaotic condition of mankind at the time, a moral picture of the condition of the cosmos before creation (Gen. 1:2). At the tower of Babel, humankind established their own torah (“Let us make …” Compare Gen. 1:26 and 11:3-4). God declared that whatever they purposed would be accomplished, for a godless torah produces godless results; therefore, their work had to be condemned and terminated.

God expected Abraham not only to follow His instruction (torah) but to lead his children accordingly (Gen 18:19). At the end of the age “lawlessness will abound,” chaos will result, and God will step onto the scene with authoritative words (Rev. 4-22) bringing destruction as the necessary punishment of lawlessness; then He will inaugurate the millennial age of shalom during which Torah will go forth from Jerusalem (Isa. 2:3).

The Bible begins, before torah, with the earth covered with sea cloaked in darkness (Gen. 1:2) and concludes with the earth filled with the knowledge of the Lord (Isa. 11:9), with “no more sea” (Rev. 21:1), and darkness banished forever (Isa. 60:19, 20; Zech. 14:7; Rev. 21:23; 22:5).

Torah from the Beginning of Israel to the New Covenant

Elmer Martens states, “The law … is in its detailed stipulations an explanation of what loyalty to Yahweh means. The individual requirements are not, as individual requirements, important in a detached sort of way. The law, so we must learn, is to be read and followed in the context of personal allegiance to a personal God, Yahweh.”31 A covenant, in contrast to a treaty, contract or law code, can be very personal, between two people or groups of people. Abraham was the “friend of God” (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8). God loved him and gave him something far more personal than a code of laws; He made, not a contract or a treaty, but a covenant with him. He did the same through both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant for Israel—the people He chose and loved. A covenant may be broken (a believer, whether Old or New Covenant, can backslide), but the point at which the covenant is broken is not clear, for it is not a mechanical agreement with the focus on “stipulations,” “but on the quality of intimacy.”32  Although “the law within the covenant … is either embraced into life or ignored or disobeyed unto death,”33 “Law” (Torah), as an element of the covenant, was given not simply to keep an unruly and disobedient-by-nature people under control, but to provide the highest quality of life (Deut. 4:5, 8; 5:33; 6:18, 24; 12:28).34 Therefore, Old Covenant believers viewed Torah as a blessing, not a burden.

Not only has the word “Law” engendered misunderstanding, but the English word “commandment,” has similarly aided in forming a harsh and legalistic view of Old Covenant life. Though the Old Covenant certainly included “commandments,” m?swâ, the most common Hebrew word translated “commandment,” does not bear the severity normally associated with the English word. “The man of faith has his delight in God’s commandments; and he is called blessed” (Ps. 110:47; 112:1). The commandments of Yahweh provide insight into the meaning of life in order that it may be lived to its fullest significance (Ps. 19:8f; cf. Deut. 5:29; 6:2; 8:11).”35 Though the Hebrew word dâbâr, translated in the Decalogue as “commandment” (Exod. 20:1; Deut. 4:13; 10:4), frequently means “word,” the context and genre in which dâbâr is found often denotes a more specific meaning.36 “From sociological and theological perspectives, the legal connotation of the term presupposes a social world in which there is a perception of right and wrong, a concept of justice, and a recognized need for it.”37 Nevertheless, since the “Ten Words” do not prescribe suitable punishments for transgression, similarly as the “Code of Hammurabi,” neither may they properly be called “Law.”38 They are never referred to as “Law,” and should not be conceived “as the antithesis of “grace” and “gospel.”39 “If Exodus 20 is viewed against the ancient Near Eastern covenant stereotype, the harsh colour of ‘commandment’ is quickly softened to ‘rightful purpose.’”40    

Although the Greek word entol??? is almost always translated “commandment” or “commandments” in the English Bible, Ceslas Spicq makes a good case that “in literary texts entol??? sometimes means a pedagogical precept.”41 Spicq also points out that logos (word) is substituted in many passages (for instance, 1 John 2:5; Rev 3:8,10) for entol??? (commandment); furthermore, many “commandments” of Jesus, particularly those in the Gospel of John, though “precepts,” are presented as teachings by which believers are to live their lives.42 In other words, the concept of “commandment” in the New Covenant Scriptures has less to do with the modern concept of a forceful, “you had better do this or else” imperative and more to do with the concept of authoritative instruction for living, as in Tanach.

Göran Larsson points out that the “Ten Commandments” actually begin with “gospel”; that is, the announcement that Yahweh “saved the Israelites long before they came to Sinai and received ‘the law.’”43 Grace clearly precedes anything that may be designated “law” or perceived as orders given to God’s people. “It can be said without equivocation that the whole Bible is a book concerning the grace of God. It begins with the gift of creation and ends with that of the new Jerusalem but in between grace upon grace is experienced and proclaimed.”44

For Old Covenant Israelite believers, obedience to Torah was a way of life rather than the means of salvation. “The heart of Old Testament [covenant] religion cannot be characterized as legalism, nor was the Law given as the means of achieving a right relationship with God.”45 Rather, Yahweh gave Torah within the context of the Covenant to His people Israel; its purpose was to keep them in favorable relationship with the Lord of the Covenant by mirroring His holiness.46

Before and after the inauguration of the New Covenant true believers in Yahweh loved Torah (Ps. 1:1-2; 119:97, 127, 165). Paul wrote, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). Jesus himself stated that those who obey and teach “the Law” will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven (v. 19), and declared (Matt. 5:16-17) that He did not come to abolish “the Law” but to fulfill it. David Wenham submits, “The context suggests rather that the thought is that of ‘fulfilling and so establishing.’ The contrast in v.17b,   ‘I came not to abolish but to …,’ favors this view; ‘abolish - fulfill/establish’ are a more natural pair of opposites than ‘abolish - fulfill/transcend.’”47 Also, in regard to Jesus’ statement that nothing will pass from “the Law” until heaven and earth pass away, “This clause clearly suggests that the law’s validity is until the end of time. Until … suggests that the reference is to the long-term future (i.e., the Second Coming) not to the near future (i.e., to Jesus’ earthly ministry).”48

Previous discussion on Torah as presenting a picture of a sanctified (set apart) community pleasing to Yahweh is especially helpful when interpreting what it meant for Jesus to “fulfill the Law.” Although Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience transgressing no command, in fulfilling Torah He lived out a perfectly sanctified life, the complete expression of all that Yahweh desired of His chosen people.

For people living in a secular society with laws formulated, at best (from a human perspective) by chosen representative leaders, laws are often questioned, challenged, and even disobeyed. Law is frequently perceived as something in opposition to the will and inclinations of the individual, rather than something designed to work in accord with his or her best interests. In a sacral society, disobedience to “law” is considered disobedience to the gods (or God), and such behavior brings the community into danger of divine displeasure. Israel contrasted significantly with the surrounding nations, in that their God, Yahweh, was a beneficent ruler who loved His people and desired the best for them. His Torah was fair and just, and His people were always better off, personally and collectively, when they followed His instruction. Deuteronomy 4:6-8 presents the effective testimony God desired His people to be in the midst of a lawless world as they lived out Torah:

Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great  nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

The world would perceive Israel as wise and understanding, because Yahweh was with them, and He had given them His Torah. As the Creator, Yahweh designed His people to function best when in accord with His instruction. In contrast, the laws of other peoples were at best an imperfect similitude to the Torah of Yahweh; for instance, the Laws of Hammurabi expressed (but did not legislate) punishments that exceeded the crimes. Yahweh’s Torah was not oppressive. “The tone of the Hebrew law is most often more humane than that of the Babylonian.”49 Generally the penalties Torah imposed were corrective and restorative rather than simply punitive. This aspect alone supports the argument that Torah was a gift of grace. Instead of simply punishing offenders, or locking them in prisons (which ancient Israel did not have), Torah provided for the restoration of those involved as close as possible to the original state, thus demonstrating Yahweh’s grace to His people. The retributive “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” penalty (Exod. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21) not only dispensed justice, but apparently served to require those who caused harm to experience the harm they caused and thus benefit from the penalty.50 For example, a thief paid back double in order to experience what it was like to be a victim of theft. In other cases the penalty was greater in order to compensate the victim for loss of productivity. Even in the case of capital punishment, the penalty aimed to bring restoration. Although the guilty in such cases would not benefit, the community would experience restoration, as in the case of Achan (Josh. 7:1, 24-25).

Much of ancient Law, whether of Hammurabi or Torah, was paradigmatic; that is, the specific, detailed precepts served as examples which not only could be used for the exact situation described, but could be applied to other situations by applying the principle behind the injunction.51 Torah is skillfully worded, both with broad generalities to be applied in many different circumstances, and also with very specific details, to be applied in a variety of similar circumstances by means of the underlying principle. As Douglas Stuart points out, no Israelite could claim freedom from the penalty for stealing a sheep if he stole a goat, or punishment for striking a parent if he struck his grandparent.52 On the other hand, other instructions, such as loving God and one’s neighbor, were very broad. Jesus himself used these two “laws” as the paradigm for all Torah and the Prophets (Matt. 22:40). It was imperative that the Israelite people and their judges “learn[ed] to see the underlying principles in any law.”53 Because of the paradigmatic nature of Torah no sin could escape correction. Ancient Israelites familiar with the laws of surrounding people could (and should) rejoice in the fair laws of the God of Israel, and could understand Torah as a gift of love for a privileged people.54 They were much better off than the people groups surrounding them. The “Aaronic blessing” of Numbers 6:22-27 beautifully expresses the grace of God to His ancient people Israel:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

The Universality and Permanence of Torah

Torah and the Gentiles

Although Gentiles were not given Israel’s Torah, moral values have always existed, though they have not necessarily been revealed and enforced. Such absolutes, long before Israel came into being, represented the character of God (Rom. 1:18-20). Abraham was a righteous Gentile with no written torah, yet he walked in God’s ways and pleased Him (Gen. 15:6; 17:1; 26:5), as did Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Noah (Gen. 6:9) before him. Scripture describes Job as “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1), though apparently a Gentile, as the Book of Job gives no reference to Israel or to Torah. All of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, are essentially moral directives aligning with the human conscience at its best. Although the Ten Commandments are never called “Torah” in Tanach,55 because of their universal nature, it is reasonable to consider them the foundation of Torah. Their being written on stone, rather than only committed to memory or written on parchment, supports this view.

The “Law” Paul referred to as written on human hearts (Rom. 2:14-15) cannot refer to Israel’s Torah, to which Gentiles had not necessarily been exposed; rather it is the awareness of moral values stamped on the psyche of all mankind. To provide a nation, in contrast to individuals, with the knowledge to walk in God’s ways, a detailed standard was given, with the Decalogue at its heart. “The Mosaic laws were concrete examples of applications of God’s principles of His character and the way He made people to function, given in ancient Israel’s context.”56 The Jewish Scriptures present the possibility of Gentiles coming for refuge under the wings of the God of Israel (Ruth 2:12), for salvation outside of Israel and her Torah was an exception (as in the case of Job). “God elects a people Israel, gives the law as an act of grace and an act of loyalty, and moves to the Gentile world only on the basis of that fundamental election, disclosure, lawgiving, and Covenant.”57

Did Scripture Promise the Abolition of Torah?

In John 1:17, “For the law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (KJV), the King James Version inserts the word “but” before “grace,” implying that “the law” was opposite to grace and truth. In the same manner Luther, as mentioned previously, misunderstood this verse.58 Certainly Torah was truth in its purest form, though not as complete an expression of truth as in Jesus. Great grace was revealed through the Old Covenant, and multitudes of godly Jews and proselytes benefited from it, though again, this grace was not the full revelation of grace as in Jesus the Messiah. Although Torah was not intended to provide life, nevertheless, as Galatians 3:21 makes clear, it was not against the promise of grace in Jesus.59

Paul stated in Romans 6:14, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law [nomos] but under grace.” Paul is not placing Torah in a negative light. Those who shared in the Old Covenant received grace, though they were not “under grace,” as Paul presents New Covenant believers. Old Covenant believers were “under law (nomos)” in the sense that Torah was their guide for living and their model of the sanctified life. Through Torah they would know how to please God. New Covenant believers, though they can greatly benefit from the Old Covenant Scriptures, are presented the life of Jesus as the model of the sanctified life, and through the power of the Spirit, Torah’s principles are engraved upon their hearts, enabling them, through the same power, to live a sanctified life.60 That is, being “under law [nomos]” denotes being under an “outward constraint” by means of a “written code” rather than an “effective inner force,” the power of the Holy Spirit.61

Galatians 3:24-25 asserts, “So then, the law [nomos] was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Although Jewish believers in Jesus may no longer be under the guardian, certainly this does not call for the dismissal of the guardian. He remains as an honored member of the household, no longer serving as a pedagogue, but as an example of righteous living. In Romans 10:4 Paul announces that “Christ is the end of the law [nomos/tôrâ] for righteousness to everyone who believes.”  By this statement he does not mean, “Christ ended Torah,” which would contradict Jesus’ own words (Matt. 5:17-18).62 Although the authority of Torah over those living by the New Covenant has ended, Torah remains as an example of righteousness. “End” can also signify “fulfillment” or “goal”; in other words, all of the Law pointed to Jesus the Messiah, the one who could and would perfectly live by it. By so doing, He qualified as the acceptable sacrifice for sin, and also served as a perfect example of living for His followers.

Concerning Jesus, Ephesians 2:14-15 states that, “he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” Jesus did not “destroy the Law of Moses” (Eph. 2:15, CEV); as asserted previously, He affirmed the imperishability of “the Law” (Matt. 5:17-18). Torah had always marked the Jews as separate from the Gentiles (Exod. 19:5-6; 1 Kings 8:53). Within the context of this passage, which emphasizes the fact that Jews and Gentiles are united together in the Messiah with no distinction of privilege, Torah has, as a separator, been removed. This accords with the tenor of Paul’s emphasis throughout his letters and the New Covenant Scriptures as a whole. Both Paul and Jesus himself reiterated Torah. The idea of Torah being completely removed or destroyed is foreign to Jesus, and likewise to Paul, who stated that “the Law” is holy, righteous, good and spiritual (Rom. 7:12, 14; 1 Tim. 1:8-9).                                    

There is, however, a “change in the Law,”63 not introducing contradictions, but involving its use in the lives of believers, as Paul elucidates in Galatians 3:23, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.” Faithful Jews were kept in custody, but when the New Covenant was established they were released from Torah as their pedagogue (v. 24) into the power of the Holy Spirit, who would then govern their lives from within to bring them into conformity to the character of the Messiah. Torah could not lead beyond a “shadow of the good things to come,” and though it did call God’s people to be like Him in holiness (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26) it was incapable of making its adherents complete (Heb. 10:1). Temple worship and levitical sacrifices anticipated the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus; those elements have been overwhelmed by Him as a candle in daylight. Therefore, ceremonial aspects of Torah have been eclipsed by Jesus himself, having served their purpose as pointing toward His coming.

Passages which Predict Perpetuity

Jeremiah prophesied the anticipation of the New Covenant, not without Torah, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:33). Paralleling the expectation of a new and unwavering intimacy between God and His people is the fact that Torah, far from being done away with, will even have a more secure place in the lives of the people; it will be written on their hearts. Doubtless Jesus had this in mind when He stated the eternal nature of Torah; he would not abolish, but fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-18).64  Isaiah declared:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3) (also, Mic. 4:2).

In describing the coming millennial reign, Isaiah foretold the proclamation of Torah (synonymous with “the word of the Lord”) from Zion. There is no indication that Torah at that time will be fundamentally different from what it has always been.

The idea that Jewish believers, following new birth, would put aside as no longer necessary that which had been their spiritual food for generations is unreasonable. Acts 21:20 presents a picture of the early believers’ attitude toward Torah approximately thirty years after Pentecost: “And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law.’” This passage expresses several points:

    1. Thousands of Jews had been converted and were participants in the New Covenant.
    2. All of these Jewish believers in Jesus were zealous for Torah.
    3. By inference, Paul neither taught the Jews to forsake Moses, nor did he teach against Jewish circumcision, nor did he discourage living according to the Jewish customs.
    4. The passage thus does not place Torah observance in a negative light.

The assertion concerning the zeal of the Jewish believers was not challenged, nor do we find any evidence that the claim was inaccurate. Although the statement may contain a degree of hyperbole, the basic truth is evident: the early Jewish believers in Jesus did not abandon Torah.

Many Jewish believers probably embraced it even more firmly following conversion to the Lord than before.65 The passage continues (vv. 21-24):

…and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs... take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.

Paul offers no confession that the accusation leveled against him was true. The advice given Paul and his response indicate the charges to be false; Paul responded by cooperating with his brethren in order to disprove the charges and diffuse the antagonism.

Paul, himself, declared, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day” (Acts 22:3). For Paul to declare his upbringing as “according to the strict manner of the law,” and to compare his zeal for God with that of the Jewish authorities before whom he stood would have been hypocritical if he had abandoned his adherence to Torah. To speak in this manner while at the same time having turned from such training would have been deceitful. A later statement of Paul’s reinforces this, “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets …” (Acts 24:14). “Believing everything laid down in the Law” necessitated, not simply intellectual acknowledgment but adherence and obedience, which he confessed in his defense: “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense” (Acts 25:8). Clearly Paul’s life did not contradict Torah. Even the one whom God used to bring healing and spiritual light to Paul held the same convictions: “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him” (Acts 22:12-13). Ananias being devout according to Torah credentialed him in the eyes of Luke the author, Paul himself, and most importantly, the Lord.

In his letter to the Roman believers, Paul wrote, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law” (Rom. 2:13-14). Although “doing the Law” does not justify anyone, for believers are justified by faith, being a “doer of the Law” identifies the believer as one who has been justified. One is justified by faith and, thus, with “the Law” written on the heart (Jer. 31:33) one is enabled to live according to Torah through the power of the Spirit. Romans 3:31 reinforces this: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” In the end it will be said, “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). 

Torah and the New Covenant

In Paul’s mind, “… what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19b). “Paul … never thinks of the Law as being abolished. It remains the expression of the will of God. It is obvious that the new life in Christ enables the Christian to keep the Law not as an external code but in terms of its higher demand,” that is, the requirement to love the Lord with all of our being and our neighbor as ourselves.66 Therefore, the believer walking in the Spirit will fulfill “the Law” as Jesus fulfilled it (Matt. 5:17). Although not perfectly, nevertheless, because of the enabling of the indwelling Spirit whom Jesus sent to guide the believer into all truth (John 16:13), he or she will fulfill “the Law” to a much greater degree than if under Torah during the days of the Old Covenant.

The modern inference that Jews could be pleased to be rid of the supposed bondage and oppression of “the Law” would have been not only foreign but repugnant to the mind and heart of the devout Jew, whether or not he or she was a follower of the Messiah. The Book of Acts records, on the day of Pentecost and in the days following, thousands entering the kingdom of God. In the early years of the church all believers were Jews. Scripture does not indicate an abandonment of “the Law” upon conversion; in fact, following Jesus would require a deep respect for Torah, as Jesus said, “Till heaven and earth pass away…” Paul himself wrote that “the law is good…” (Rom. 7:12-16). Jesus never suggested that observance of Torah merited salvation, nor does this passage indicate this. Nevertheless, the passage does not put Torah observance in a negative light. It is not necessary to abandon Torah observance in order to participate in the New Covenant or to demonstrate that Torah no longer has binding authority over the believer. The common view that “the Law” enslaves is not accurate; rather that which enslaves are sinful proclivities which Torah exposes and from which Jesus delivers (John 8:34; Rom. 7:7-12). Irenaeus writes, “Christ did not abrogate the natural precepts of the Law, but rather fulfilled and extended them. He removed the yoke and bondage of the old Law, so that mankind, being now set free, might serve God with that trustful piety which becometh sons.”67 If one is convinced that through Torah observance one can merit salvation, or forfeit the same by not submitting to Torah, one has turned from the freedom that Messiah came to give. Of course, if one lives in conflict with Torah he or she is not being led by the Spirit, for one led by the Spirit fulfills the Law.

The lifestyle of a Torah-observant Jew, after accepting Jesus as Messiah (who followed Torah perfectly), would only improve. Such a lifestyle would certainly be in greater conformity not in greater contradiction to Torah. The change that came after Jesus’ resurrection was rather a change in perspective: One greater than Moses and Torah had come, with a better priesthood and better promises (Heb. 7:11; 8:6), that is, quantitatively better, rather than qualitatively, for Torah is as pure as the character of its Divine Author, it simply is not His final word (Heb. 1:1). Jesus came as the living completion and abiding fulfillment of Torah. Torah, having been previously set within the matrix of the Old Covenant, experienced change through supersession of the New Covenant over the Old. The New Covenant blessing of the fullness of grace and truth through the Messiah Jesus improved Torah by stripping it of its condemnation, for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1-2). Stephen Charles Mott states:

The fulfillment of the Law then is not its termination but the full expression of its principles, purpose and motivation. God’s purpose at the same time is that the just requirement of the Law might be fulfilled by those empowered and guided by the Spirit (Rom. 8:2-4, 9). The law of Christ is the criterion of love which fulfills the Law as it makes that obedience possible. For example, the obligation in the Law of responsibility to the poor is carried out through the grace of God flowing through the believer (2 Cor. 9:9-10).68

“Law” in the New Covenant Scriptures, therefore, points to spiritual meaning far beyond a civil code of conduct; it pertains to instruction for living for God’s people. Since the New Covenant brings a fulfillment to the Old Covenant, God’s instructions for living must be viewed from this perspective.

Shabbat: A New Covenant Perspective

Shabbat as an Apparent Anomaly: How Should It Be Observed?

Understanding Shabbat (the Fourth “commandment”) can serve to help the New Covenant believer relate to the whole of Torah. Since Jesus set the example for all believers certain questions call for answers. Did Jesus break the Fourth “Commandment” or teach in opposition to it? Did He keep all Torah, or all Torah except Shabbat? What did Paul teach in regard to Shabbat? Should believers in the present age observe one day as special? Or is there a principle for applying Torah in the same way to Shabbat as to rest of Torah? No true believer would challenge the necessity of conforming to instructions such as “do not murder,” or “do not steal.” The New Covenant provides no allowance for worshiping other gods, dishonoring parents, committing adultery, or the violation of any other commandment, except ostensibly the Fourth: “Honor the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.”

The Purposes of Shabbat

Shabbat originated, not with the giving of Torah at Sinai, but with the Creation story (Gen. 2:2–3); God “rested” on the seventh day, blessed it, and made it holy. “Theologically the absence of the refrain implies that creation was intended to enjoy a perpetual rest provided by God, although that rest was disrupted by human sin.”69 Although Scripture does not portray the patriarchs or anyone else observing Shabbat differently from any other day before rules were established for gathering manna following the Exodus (Exod. 16:5, 23), Jesus declared that Shabbat was made for man (Mark 2:27), indicating its universal intent. Four reasons for instructions concerning Shabbat surfaced during the formation stage of the nation of Israel. It served as a memorial of God’s rest following creation (Exod. 20:8-11), provided a day of rest and refreshment for God’s people (Exod. 31:15-16), reminded Israel of their deliverance from Egypt (Deut. 5:15), and signified Yahweh’s covenant with Israel (Deut. 31:13, 16-17).70

Jesus and Shabbat

“Most studies have argued that he [Jesus] openly challenged what is designated as ‘Jewish Sabbath observance’ and some have further argued that by doing so he had declared the ‘Jewish Law’ obsolete. … The evidence on the Sabbath in the Synoptic materials does not support this contention.”71 Jesus’ statement, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 12:8) does not imply that He claims the right to dispense with Shabbat, but that He, as the originator of it, is its only authoritative interpreter, as He is of all Scripture.72 In addressing Shabbat, Jesus went to the heart of Torah, as He did with murder and adultery.

If Jesus had truly violated Shabbat (broke the Fourth “Commandment”), He would have raised considerably more antagonism, not only from the Jewish leaders, but also from the population as a whole. More importantly, He would have sinned, become subject to death, and become incapable of atoning for the sins of others. Concerning Paul’s observance of Torah (including Shabbat), F. F. Bruce states, “There were few Greeks in Jerusalem, but both Jews and the church of God in that city would be scandalized if he failed to ‘observe the customs.’”73 Therefore, by Jesus saying, “My Father works and I work,” He could not have referred to work forbidden on the Seventh Day. “To do good and to save life” must always be considered lawful on Shabbat.

Jesus further proved His ministry not to be in violation of Shabbat by asserting His work as greater in value than the allowable feeding of animals or rescuing the same (Matt. 12:11; Luke 13:15). Therefore, by healing on Shabbat, rather than breaking Torah, He fulfilled it by providing rest from suffering. Although Jewish legal scholars considered minor cures not permitted on Shabbat, “The rule against cures applied to physicians, however, not to healings wrought by God, and Pharisees disputed among themselves whether prayer for the sick was permitted on Shabbat. Jesus’ opponents are therefore going considerably beyond standard Jewish rules to try to convict him.”74 Furthermore, simply speaking a word or giving a command, which Jesus did on some occasions to bring healing, “would surely be allowed on the Sabbath even according to the strictest rabbinic stance.”75 If the lawyers and Pharisees were honest, Jesus’ question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” (Luke 14:3) would have evoked a positive answer.

In regard to the episode of the disciples supposedly “harvesting” grain,76 Yong-Eui Yang asserts, “Since the disciples knew the priority of the principle of mercy over the sabbath law [as interpreted by some of the Pharisees] they behaved as such, and they were therefore guiltless.”77 Yang further states that the disciples were acting under the authority of the merciful one, the Lord of the Sabbath. Shabbat, intended as a merciful gift, had become a great burden through Pharisaic legislation. The Pharisees laid burdens on others rather than giving them rest.78 Furthermore, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ objection to the disciples gathering grain on Shabbat (“The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” [Luke 6:5]) suggests fulfillment of the Fourth commandment would bring about some manner of alteration. Since the Book of Hebrews describes the New Covenant as “better,” this should be expected. Jesus, as “Lord of the Sabbath,” would improve the commandment, but not by discontinuing Shabbat observance, which would constitute destruction of Torah; this He clearly stated He would not do. If Torah was “good,” removal of Torah could not be considered good, unless the “good” Torah was enhanced or incorporated into something better. As the injunction against murder was expanded into a restriction against even calling a brother a fool (which, from a positive perspective, would be to bless and not curse [Luke 6:28] even our enemies), Jesus’ fresh interpretation of Shabbat would have special significance as well, and become an even greater blessing.

The Present and Eternal Shabbat Rest

Against the backdrop of the Old Covenant Shabbat, the writer of Hebrews places the spiritual rest Shabbat typified–the rest of salvation in Jesus the Messiah. Hebrews 4 speaks of a Shabbat rest for the people of God, not merely one day in seven, but an eternal rest experienced partially (“now”) and fully (“not yet” but when Jesus returns). Yang writes, “the seventh day appears to have ‘an eschatological, proleptic’ aspect, and, therefore, the sanctification and the blessing of the seventh day may also be understood ‘in terms of the ultimate rest for the people of God’.”79 This is a rest believers have already tasted through the New Covenant. Therefore, every day is holy. Furthermore, all of life and all activities are to be holy, not only on one day but every day; all of Torah, not only the Fourth Commandment, aims at revealing holiness.

God has called believers to something more profound than simply following a rule of resting on one day in seven (as appropriate and helpful as that may be in the natural sense). Romans 14:5 declares: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike [alike is added by the translators]. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Through the New Covenant Paul thus considers every day special, not attaching Shabbat exclusively to one particular day.80 Every day must be a day of worship and of loving God and one’s neighbor with one’s whole being. Kathryn Greene-McCreight states, “While the ‘letter’ of the fourth commandment requires the observance of one day in seven, one might say that the ‘plain sense’ of the fourth commandment teaches that one must always and everywhere observe a perpetual Sabbath … One day in seven is not enough.”81 To fully participate in what the Lord intends in the present age for those walking in the Spirit, believers must “esteem all days,” not lowering Shabbat to the level of the other six days, but rather elevating the other six days to the level of Shabbat.

Apparently, the Old Covenant could only require of the Jewish people one day fully devoted to the Lord. Neither Moses nor Joshua was able to give rest to God’s people (Heb. 4:8); that remained for Jesus to do (Matt. 11:29). In Jesus, the giver of rest, Shabbat has become a perpetual experience. Although we labor physically, we find our Shabbat in Him, as Hebrews tells us to be diligent that we do not fail to enter into Shabbat-rest (Heb. 3:7-4:11). “The seventh day has no end and therefore is viewed as eternal. Whereas the human workweek recurs after each Sabbath, the sabbath rest of God is eternal since creation’s work is finished.”82 The resurrection of Jesus, being “an eschatological event,” has brought believers into the “new age” of the Spirit in which they experience a foretaste of the age to come,83 not only by seeing Shabbat differently, but all of Torah from a different perspective.

Conclusion

How the New Covenant Is Better than the Old

The Jews were commanded to observe Passover, with a severe penalty if they disobeyed. Jewish and Gentile believers are instructed to observe the Lord’s Supper, but will not be condemned if they do not. Jews were required to practice circumcision with no allowance for non-compliance. Jewish and Gentile believers are instructed to be baptized, yet such is not salvific, and no penalty is exacted upon those who are not baptized. Eating according to Old Covenant dietary restrictions provides health benefits; if a person eats as Jesus ate, he or she will likely live longer, but there is no biblical requirement to do so, or even any example or instruction concerning doing so in the New Covenant Scriptures.

The observance of Shabbat (or, in contemporary Gentile church culture—Sunday, as “the Lord’s Day”), therefore, is not salvific.84 Although one of the “Ten Words,” Sabbath observance is referred to as “a shadow” similarly as the ceremonial aspects of Torah: “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Shadows are not bad, nor are they something to be rejected. They indicate, however, the presence of something even more significant: Jesus, the object of our worship and devotion. Under the Old Covenant, Jews gave tithes of their incomes. Although tithing is a good practice, Jesus went beyond tithing and said, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:23). Similarly, the Jews gave one day in seven; believers today should give all seven. Paul pleaded, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship [latreia: service of worship unto God]” (Rom. 12:1).

Everything one does is to be an act of worship. No distinction remains for the New Covenant believer between secular and sacred, for believers are the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:9,16) and a holy priesthood called to offer acceptable spiritual sacrifices every day (1 Pet. 2:5). In regard to any activity, including labor, all is to be done in the name of the Lord (Col. 3:17), for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), and for the Lord, not for people (Col. 2:23). All speech should edify (Eph. 4:23); even every thought should be captive to obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), and believers are to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). Every aspect of life is for the Lord (Rom. 14:8) at all times, but due to the fact that all believers fall short of perfection, one day set aside exclusively for the pleasure of God is appropriate. Few, if any, give all their time to the Lord just as few give all their money. Therefore reluctance to set aside one day (Shabbat) for the Lord, just as failure to surrender only a tithe of one’s income, may betray a heart untouched by grace.

How Believers Apply Torah to Their Lives Today

Jesus has not rendered Torah null and void; He has fulfilled Torah. Immanuel (Matt. 1:23) is here with His people. He has given His Spirit to abide with believers forever (John 14:16) and to effect sanctification and conformity to Torah in their lives.

Roger Cotton writes:

No one need live under the Old Testament laws any longer in the specific applications of the Sinai covenant. But, everyone should live in harmony with the revelation of the One True God, of which these laws are a significant part. Though not under the law as a national constitution and certainly not as a legalistic religion, as some would mistakenly view the Pentateuchal faith, we are still responsible to live by the principles underlying the law, because they are based on the character of God which does not change.85

An example of a “specific application of the Sinai covenant” is the instruction against mixing two kinds of material in one fabric. Intended to reinforce the fact that the Jewish people were to be unmixed with the peoples of the world, this rule teaches a present-day principle of believers avoiding spiritually unequal partnerships, without being bound to the specific injunction. The principles in other “laws,” such as “you shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13), are more obvious.

Because believers in the present age have not attained perfect maturity, they do not necessarily have the mind of the Spirit. Since knowledge will not cease until the perfect comes, Torah is instructive in filling in the gaps in the believer’s understanding of holiness (1 Cor. 13:10, 12). “He may not despise external guidance since, being only partially sanctified, his conscience and good intentions are no infallible safeguard against failures in Christian duty.”86 It is understood that Torah is not intended to impart salvation, or acceptance in God’s sight. Such has always and ever will be received by grace through faith (Hab. 2:4; Eph. 2:8-9, 20). Torah does, however, present a picture of holiness in the sight of God. Since it expresses the perfect character and will of God, it must remain forever the ideal for humanity.87

By interpreting Torah in light of the teachings of the New Covenant writings, particularly the two “great commandments” (Matt. 22:35-40), and by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide in the inner person and through the community of believers, believers in this age may determine the abiding principles within Torah and will be able to grasp what the Lord is instructing for the present age. “The regenerate are thus commanded and to a large extent enabled to fulfill the laws, but at a deeper level by virtue of their new spiritual disposition (Rom. 8:1-9).”88 May it ever be remember that “The LORD was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious” (Isa. 42:21).

Endnotes

1. In this paper I generally refer to the “New Testament” as the “New Covenant Scriptures,” as the Book is not a “Testament.” Neither is it a “Covenant,” though it makes frequent reference to the Covenant(s).

2. Peter Enns, “Law of God,” in The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 4, gen. ed. Willem A. Van Gemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 4:899.

3. O. Raymond Johnson, “Law,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, ed. Everett F. Harrison (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), 318.

4. All Scripture references in this paper are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001) unless otherwise noted.

5. Irenaeus, Against Heresies,vol. 1 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 434-435.

6. Martin Luther, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, trans. Erasmus Middleton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1930), 317.

7. Ibid.

8. Bruce Waltke, with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 436n.

9. Ibid.

10. Enns, 893.

11. Frederick William Danker, ed. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd rev. ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 677.

12. Hans Hübner, “” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 473.

13. Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman et al., eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, electronic ed., (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 489.

14. Enns, 897.

15. Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary, of Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity, 1972), 50.

16. Johnson, 317-318.

17. Enns, 899.

18. In this paper I generally refer to the “Old Testament” as “Tanach,” as the Book is not a “testament.” Neither is it a covenant, though it frequently refers to the First Covenant. Tanach is an acronym from the first letters of Torah (the Law), Neviim (the Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings [Psalms and Wisdom Literature]).

19. F. F. Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 51-53.

20. John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 288.

21. Richard S. Ellis, “Hammurabi, code of,” in Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 13 (Americana Corporation, 1973), 751.

22. Walton, 290-301.

23. For example: “If you obey, then this will be the benefit. If you disobey, then this will be the penalty.”

24. John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986) 206-207.

25. Enns, 897. See also Martin J. Selman, “Law,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 499-500.

26. Exodus 19:5, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine.”  See also Deuteronomy 7:6.

27. “3795 ” in New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Verlyn D. Verbrugge, abridged ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 389.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. Stanley E. Porter, “Peace,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology,ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

31. Elmer A. Martens, God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 78.

32. Ibid., 79.

33. Ibid., 81.

34. Ibid., 80.

35. John E. Hartley, “1887 ( [command, charge]),” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. 2, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 757.

36. Frank Ritchel Ames, “1819,” in The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 1, ed. Willem A. Van Gemeren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 913.

37. Ibid.

38. Waltke, 436.

39. Göran Larsson, Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 138. Larsson also asserts that “‘the Law’ is indeed the foremost expression of grace.” Although this statement may be challenged as too extreme, there is an element of truth in it, in that God’s words to His people, whether in the Old or New Testament, generally do contain a significant element of grace.

40. Martens, 77.

41. Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament,vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 11.

42. Ibid., 13.

43. Larsson, 138-139.

44. Jacob M. Myers, Grace and Torah (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 1.

45. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 540.

46. Waltke, 436.

47. David Wenham, “Jesus and the Law: An Exegesis on Matthew 5:17-20,” Mishkan 8/9 (1988): 2-3.

48. Ibid.

49. Roy E. Hayden, “Hammurabi,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 608.

50. The penalty, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” except in the case of murder (“life for life”) is understood to be idiomatic rather than literalistic. Douglas Stuart, Exodus,vol. 2 of New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 493.

51. Ibid., 442.

52. Ibid., 443.

53. Stuart, 443.

54. Enns, 897.

55. Verbrugge, 390.

56. Roger D. Cotton, “Prescribing Old Testament Law: A Proposal” (Paper presented at the Central States Regional Committee Society of Biblical Literature, St. Louis, April 3, 2005).

57. Christopher R. Seitz, “The Ten Commandments: Positive and Natural Law and the Covenants Old and New—Christian Use of the Decalogue and Moral Law,” in I Am the Lord Your God, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Christopher R. Seitz (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 28.

58. Luther, 317.

59. “Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”

60. Another view, expressed by Douglas Moo, is that “to be ‘under the law’ means to be subject to the curse of the law that comes because of the inevitable failure to accomplish the law.” Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans of New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 388. See also Rom. 7:6.

61. James D. G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians of Black’s New Testament Commentaries (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 301.

62. “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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

63. “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well” (Heb 7:12).

64. Waltke, 436. “By the laws’ very nature then, they are eternal (James 2:10-11).”

65. According to Irenaeus, the apostles certainly did: “Upon all occasions do we find Peter, and James, and John present with Him–scrupulously act according to the dispensation of the Mosaic law … which they certainly never would have done, as I have already said, if they had learned from the Lord [that there existed] another Father besides Him who appointed the dispensation of the law.” Irenaeus, 436.

66. Ladd, 553.

67. Irenaeus, 477.

68. Stephen Charles Mott, “Ethics,” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 271.

69. Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A of New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 176.

70. Daniel Gruber, Torah and the New Covenant (Hanover, NH: Elijah Publishing, 1998), 91-95.

71. Herold Weiss, “The Sabbath in the Synoptic Gospels,” in New Testament Backgrounds: A Sheffield Reader, ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 109. See Gerhard F. Hasel, “Sabbath,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 855.

72. Hasel, 855.

73. F. F. Bruce, “Is the Paul of Acts the Real Paul?” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library, 58 (1975-76): 297.

74. Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 142.

75. Yong-Eui Yang, Jesus and the Sabbath in Matthew’s Gospel (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 208.

76. Gathering a few handfuls of grain, if evaluated honestly, should not be considered “harvesting,” as there is no essential difference between feeding oneself grain from a bowl or from a stalk; therefore doing so should not be considered violating Shabbat laws concerning “work.” See Stuart, 383.

77. Yang, 184.

78. Ibid., 187.

79. Ibid., 25.

80. Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 446. See Mathews, 181.

81. Kathryn Greene-McCreight, “Restless Until We Rest in God: The Fourth Commandment as Test Case in Christian ‘Plain Sense’ Interpretation,” in The Ten Commandments: The Reciprocity of Faithfulness,ed. William P. Brown (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 232.

82. Mathews, 176.

83. Ladd, 596.

84. Nevertheless, “In the New Covenant the person who claims to be a follower of Jesus but does not regularly set aside time to worship him is openly indicating that he is not a follower and that his claim to be such is deceptive” (Stuart, 457).

85. Cotton.

86. Johnson, 319.     

87. Ibid.

88. Ibid.

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Updated: Friday, June 16, 2006 10:22 AM