The Law and the New Testament
The Torah (tohʹrah. in Hebrew means ‘instruction’ or ‘teaching’); the law(s) is God’s instructions to Israel. Torah has been commonly translated as ‘law’ following the Greek translation as nomos (GK, ‘law’) and the subsequent Latin lex (‘law’). However, even nomos in the context of the Hellenistic period (333-63 B.C.) revealed divine legal and doctrinal elements. Thus, to identify torah with some sort of legalism is a complete misunderstanding of the term. As nomos means law in Greek, Pentateuch means the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
When referred to as the “Law of Moses” it is the whole body of the Mosaic legislation (1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 23:25; Ezra 3:2). It is called by way of eminence simply “the Law” (Heb. Torah, Deut. 1:5; 4:8, 44; 17:18, 19; 27:3, 8). As a written code it is called the “book of the law of Moses” (2 Kings 14:6; Isa. 8:20), the “book of the law of God” (Josh. 24:26).
The great leading principle of the Mosaic Law is that it is essentially theocratic; i.e., it refers at once to the commandment of God as the foundation of all human duty.
Rather than being defined as a legalistic Body of works that the Israelites were required to do, the law was the freedom of Israel to worship God and be saved from sin by Him. God chose the nation of Israel as his special people to have a relationship with Him and to be the mediatory and revelatory people for the world so that all nations might be blessed (Gen 12:3). But for the nation to have a relationship with the Holy God, and in order for this Holy God to reside in their midst they too must exhibit holiness. They must be a separate and distinct people. This, as was indicated above, was the rationale for the animal sacrificial system instituted to make it possible for the Israelites to receive forgiveness of sins and thereby exhibit holiness in god’s sight. It should be noted that the sacrifice of an animal really did forgive the sin. God considered the blood of the animal similar to the blood of Christ in that both forgave sin. The obvious difference was that the sacrifice of the animal forgave sin only temporarily while Christ’s blood forgave it forever (Hebrews 7-8).
Behind the precepts and meanings of what these sacrifices and atonement would accomplish is the instruction of the Law. The Law legislated the means for atonement as well as the admonitions and prohibitions Israel had to obey to live a life pleasing to God. Atonement means RECONCILIATION, “the reconciliation of God and mankind through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ” (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh ed.). In a word, the revealed Law was at the heart of what it meant for Israel to be holy. The laws provided the instruction defining what living a holy life before a holy God entailed (Lev 11:44–47; 20:22–26; Exod 22:31 [Hb. 30]; Deut 14:21). By obeying this written instruction Israel lived a holy life (Lev 19:2–37; 20:7–27; Num 15:39–41).
The Law of Moses was the will of God for those whom God had graciously redeemed. It was the practical guide for the man who was grateful for God’s deliverance and who had as his highest ambition adherence to the wishes and plans of God. In essence, the Law was the means whereby man was joined by holiness of life to God. Thus we see the intricate connection between holiness and the Law. Holiness was achieved by fidelity to the Law of God. The Holiness of the Law may also be seen from the fact that the Ten Commandments were placed in the ark, the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle. In short, the Law was not a burden or yoke for the people of God in the Old Testament but was rather the greatest blessings God had given to them (Deut 4:7–8; Ps 147:19–20; Rom 9:4–5) (Rooker, M. F. (2000). Leviticus (Vol. 3A, pp. 65–66). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers).
The OT has a variety of terms for law, the commonest of which are: tôrāh, ‘law, instruction, teaching’; hōq, ‘statute, decree’; mišpāt, ‘judgment, legal decision’; dābār, ‘word’; miṣwāh, ‘command(ment)’. Their number reflects the importance of law within the Bible. Indeed the first five books are called tôrāh, ‘law’, by Jews and the NT, even though they appear to be as much about history as law. The specifically legal sections are embedded in narratives about Israel’s early history, and this context is important for the understanding of biblical law.
The Law In the New Testament
Many think that the Law was abrogated by Jesus Christ’s New Covenant (new law, agreement). The new covenant was, as the Torah, a covenant between God and the people. The new Covenant is set forth in both the Old and new Testaments. It is set forth here:
“BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD,
WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT
WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH;
NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS
ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND
TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT;
FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT,
AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD.
“FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL
AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD:
I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS,
AND I WILL WRITE THEM UPON THEIR HEARTS.
AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD,
AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.
“AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN,
AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’
FOR ALL SHALL KNOW ME,
FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.
“FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES,
AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE.” (Hebrews 8:8-12; Jeremiah 31:33-34).
God did not bring a replacement Law. He brought a better law building carefully on the previous law set forth in the Old Testament. Jesus Himself said the following about the law:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19). Now God is going to write the Law on their hearts.
Jesus came first to fulfill the law so we who walk with Him can also fully have the Word written on our hearts also. When God’s Law (the Old Testament law) is written on our hearts then we are incapable of sin like Christ. How does this occur? Through the boundless measure of his grace revealed by Jesus Christ.
But you say the Lord was always opposing the Pharisees because of their keeping of the law?
Jesus was not gainsaying the Law or the use of it. In other words, on those occasions where Jesus seems critical of the Law it is not the Law he critiques but rather the incorrect interpretation or application of the laws (Matt 9:13; 12:7; 23:23). He is thus defending the Law. In this defense he stands with the Old Testament prophets in condemning illicit practices without criticizing the Law itself (Isa 1:11–18; Jer 7:21–24; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21–24; Mic 6:6–8). Mainly the Pharisees and other religious leaders were using the Law for their own means and to “Lord it over” the people. They neglected the simple things of the law like compassion.
Jesus respected the Law, while occasionally expanding upon it or sharpening its intention (Matt 5:27, 28). He gave the true interpretation of the Law of God in the Sermon on the Mount. Never did he detract from or deny the Mosaic Law. In fact, he sternly warned anyone who would dare to do so (Matt 5:19). The Old Testament Law was directed toward Jesus Christ (Rom 8:3; 10:4; Gal 3:24) and was only properly revealed in him. Yet surely in some respects it must be said that he did transcend it in that he fulfilled it in his ministry and especially in his death. Jesus was angry with the Pharisees in that they mishandled the Law. He said: “And ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people honors me with their lips; But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men”.
More often it is the case that in those passages where Jesus appears to be at odds with the Law, his statements are not challenges to the Law at all but rather his responses to the oral law of the Pharisees, the traditions of men (Mark 7:8).
Jesus was the Law. He said: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; IT IS THESE THAT TESTIFY ABOUT ME; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). The entire Old Testament spoke only of the Lord and His coming to earth.
We see that the Law is good. It is only bad when walked in according to human principles. As Paul said: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). Faith in the one sacrifice of Christ which did away with sin forever.
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