COMPARING GOD'S COVENANTS
TORAH OBSERVANCE VS. GRACE THEOLOGY
The Bible is comprised of both the Old Testament and New Testament. These Testaments are also known as Covenants because they contain all of the covenants or promises made by God with specific individuals and nations. Together, they constitute 66 books that progressively reveal God's purpose and plan for mankind.
But what makes the Old Covenant distinct from the New and what are the relevant differences between them? Most importantly, how does this issue impact our Faith? The following study is an attempt to answer these questions and satisfy the following objectives:
Reconcile the Old Covenant with the New
Identify which Old Covenant commands still apply in the New as opposed to those that have been fulfilled in Christ or abolished
Resolve the common pitfalls that arise from placing too much emphasis on either Law or Grace in our theology
Avoid veering too far into left field (no Law/antinomianism) or too far into right field (Torah Observance/legalism)
To accomplish these objectives, we will adopt the view of progressive revelation as we examine the purpose and intent of each Covenant in the following sections.
A COMPARATIVE SUMMARY OF THE COVENANTS
In brief, the Old Covenant highlights the problem of sin and man's inability to satisfy God's demands, while the New Covenant highlights the solution to this problem, represented in the sacrificial atonement of the Messiah. God gives the same moral instructions in both covenants. But in the New, He provides the Holy Spirit to supply both the motivation and the power to fulfill those instructions (Phil. 2:13).
THE OLD COVENANT/TESTAMENT
Beginning in Genesis, God seeks to restore fallen man from the curse incurred by Adam and Eve’s transgression. Every hallmark event thereafter is designed to bring man one step closer to complete redemption. To properly understand the Old Testament, we must view the entire biblical narrative as a progressive and unfolding revelation of God's plan for mankind. Otherwise, many of God’s prior dealings will seem to conflict with His future ones. This interpretive principle will greatly assist us as we proceed in our study.
The Old Testament is comprised of four major covenants established by God with specific individuals and their descendants. These are presented in the following chronological order:
1. Adamic (Gen 3:16-19)
2. Noahic (Gen 9:9-17)
3. Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3)
4. Mosaic (Ex 20)
When comparing all four of the above covenants, we find that God’s expectations of man increase significantly from one phase of history to the next. For example, the first and second covenants introduce the concept of blood sacrifice, and within the third, circumcision is added as a requirement for all of Abraham’s descendants. However, it is the fourth and final Old Testament covenant, the Mosaic, which is most significant. Moses gave the Law to Israel after meeting with God on Mt. Sinai. The Law or Torah, is especially prominent because it was established with an entire nation. It is also the most cumulous revelation from God to man in the entire Old Testament.
THE LAW’S PURPOSE
So why the Law? What was God’s purpose for giving Israel all 613 commandments if Jesus would later come to establish a new and better “Way”? This question is paramount to our understanding of the New Covenant. After all, if we can’t explain the Law's purpose then we are left to wonder what it was that Christ sought to accomplish by dying on the cross. But there are several reasons for the Law, which are as follows:
To Create a Holy Nation of Kings & Priests
God desired a peculiar people who would represent His character and holiness to the world. By obeying His commandments, they would achieve the status of Kings and Priests among the nations: Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation (Ex. 19:5-6).
To Define Sin
In the absence of law sin is undefinable. God's Law was therefore given to define sin and function as the supreme standard of right and wrong:
...for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20).
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet (Rom. 7:7 ).
To Bring Men to the End of Themselves
The Mosaic Law was so complex that it formed an unattainable standard of righteousness. The reason for this was so that men could not achieve righteousness by their own means. In this respect, the Law was an unbearable burden that functioned to frustrate and exhaust men's self-righteous endeavors. It was a heavy "yoke" which God used to bring His people to the end of themselves in order to point them to Christ, the better Way:
But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And…Peter rose up, and said unto them… why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? (Act. 15:5-10).
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight... (Rom. 3:20).
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them (Gal. 3:10).
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all (Jas. 2:10).
Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar… (Gal. 4:24 ).
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I…. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:15; 24).
HOW MUCH OF THE LAW STILL APPLIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT?
Needless to say, Christians are highly divided over this issue. Some maintain that the entire Law has been abolished by Christ and therefore irrelevant (antinomianism). Others argue that only the Ten Commandments still apply. Still others, believe in keeping all of the Law (Torah observance), and while affirming that Christ is both high priest and man's perfect atonement continue to anticipate a future theocracy in which the temple priesthood and sacrificial system will be revived. Undoubtedly, it's easy to get confused when encountering all of these views. So how does the Bible solve this issue?
First, it's important to recognize that ALL of the Law is relevant and useful for instruction (2 Tim. 3:16). Christians are "not under the law" (Rom. 6:14) in the sense that they are no longer under its curse and penalty (Gal. 3:13). And Jesus did not fulfill the Law in order to completely annul it (Mat. 5:18). Instead, He fulfilled it so that we could have peace with God through Faith, being made "perfect in every good work to do his will" (Rom. 5:1; Heb. 13:20-21).
So are Christians required to observe all of the Law? No. Most certainly not! The New Testament is abundantly clear on the fact that much of the Law is no longer binding on Christians by virtue of the Cross [note: the evidence for this will be presented later]. The best possible way to determine which laws are still binding on the Christian and which aren't is through the principle of reinforcement. Essentially, wherever the New Testament reinforces the laws of the Old Testament, those laws are still applicable. And wherever the New Testament abrogates specific Old Testament laws or portions thereof, only those are abrogated and no longer binding. As you can see, this method is very practical and specific. This means that the laws of the Old Testament deserve a case by case analysis. Lastly, we must remember that the applicability of the Old Testament Law in the life of a Christian always boils down to its usefulness in loving God and others (Mat. 22:37-40).
THREE CATEGORIES OF LAW
The division of the Law into different categories is a human construct designed to better understand the nature of God and define which commands still apply in the New Testament. At the same time, there is ample justification in both Covenants for dividing the Law into the following three categories:
(1) The moral law (containing the Ten Commandments)
(2) The Levitical/ceremonial law
(3) The judicial/civil law
The Moral Law
The moral law is based upon God's holy nature and contains ordinances or mishpatim (judgments) that relate to justice and judgment. It is holy, just, and unchanging. The mishpatim both define and govern spiritual practice and moral conduct. The purpose of the moral law is to promote the complete welfare of those who obey it.
The Ten Commandments, which are the highlight of the moral law, are especially significant by virtue of the fact that they were etched in stone TWICE by the very finger of God. Also, they were the only portion of the Law to be placed into the ark of the Covenant (Exo 31:18; 34:28; Deut 9:10). You will never find a single instance where Christ modified or made changes to the Ten Commandments. Therefore, the Ten Commandments will remain valid, binding, and unchanged until Christ returns to set up His Kingdom.
In large part, the ceremonial law applied directly to the Levite priesthood and regulated temple worship. Hence it is also called the Levitical law. It includes instructions on regaining right standing with God in respect to sin (e.g., sacrifices), the process for dealing with matters of uncleanness (e.g., sickness and disease), remembrances of God’s work in Israel (e.g., feasts and festivals), specific regulations meant to distinguish Israelites from their pagan neighbors (e.g., dietary and clothing restrictions), and signs that point to the coming Messiah (e.g., the Sabbath, circumcision, Passover, and the redemption of the firstborn).
Since the physical temple and levitical priesthood have been fulfilled in Christ and are no longer present, most of the ceremonial law is now abrogated. This is especially true of the memorial festivals, such as the Feast of Weeks and Passover, which were shadow pictures of God's redemptive program (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 10:1). Also, the Church is a spiritual kingdom distinct from the nation of Israel to whom many of these regulations applied. The book of Galatians explains that since Jesus has come, Christians are not required to sacrifice or circumcise (Gal. 3:23-25; 5:6; 6:15).
This set of laws formed the basis of Israel's legal code in matters of wrongdoing. It encompasses all of the moral laws, except the Ten Commandments, and includes everything from murder to restitution for a man gored by an ox (Ex. 21:12-36). Abstaining from murder and making restitution for crimes, intentional or not, are definitely areas of the Law that are reinforced in the New Testament (Luke 6:31; 19:7-10; Rom. 13:7-8).
“TILL ALL BE FULFILLED”
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Mat 5:17-19).
Jesus was born with a human body like ours. He endured the same feelings, emotions, thoughts, and temptations that all of us experience. But as a Jew, born under the Old Testament dispensation, He was fully subject to the Law. As such, He was obedient to it in every respect. Otherwise, He could not atone for the world's sin as an unblemished lamb. So what exactly did He mean when proclaiming that “I did not come to destroy the Law, but rather to fulfill it”? This question is paramount to our study. Many sincere Believers struggle to understand what Christ meant by this declaration. And as a result, it’s garnered a lot of confusion. But to truly understand this scripture we must realize that Christ’s advent fulfilled a very important ministry. For Jesus to usher in the New Covenant dispensation of grace, He had to be the one and only man who lived in sinless submission to the Law, thereby fulfilling ALL of it. The word “fulfill” in this case simply means to complete or satisfy (see G4137 in the Strong's). In other words, by satisfying the Law's requirements perfectly, Jesus completed His mission and fulfilled all that the Law had foreshadowed concerning His life and mission. To read Matthew 5:17 in this manner allows us to harmonize it with the rest of the New Testament and also relieves us of an impossible burden, namely subjecting ourselves to the full weight and demand of the Law when the absence of the Jewish temple and levitical priesthood negates that option.
THE "ABOLISHED" LAW
By completing His life's mission, Jesus allowed the phasing away of much of the Old Testament Law. His death on the cross fulfilled God's demand for justice and properly atoned for our sin once and for all, thereby eliminating the rituals and regulations associated with blood sacrifice. And when He ascended into heaven to become our high priest (Heb. 7:25), He also eliminated the function and purpose of the Levitical priesthood. As a result, much of the Law has now been abolished and no longer applies to us:
But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And…Peter rose up, and said unto them… why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? (Act 15:5-10).
Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation (Heb. 9:10).
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace (Eph. 2:15).
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross (Col. 2:14).
In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13).
And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished (2 Cor. 3:13).
Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second (Heb. 10:9).
TORAH OBSERVANCE PROOF TEXTS EXPLAINED
The Torah observance view maintains that all of the Law, with the exception of the sacrificial system, is still binding upon Christians today. It further asserts that the ceremonial laws relating to the priesthood and physical temple will be revived at the return of Christ and the millennial reign. To support this position, the following verses are used as proof texts:
Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law (Rom. 3:31).
For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified (Rom. 2:13).
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good (Rom. 7:12).
If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good (Rom. 7:16).
But we know that the law is good, if a man use it legitimately (1Tim. 1:8).
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin (Rom. 7:25).
And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Rev. 12:17).
When comparing the preceding verses with the ones examined earlier in our study, it is easy to accuse Paul of speaking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand, Paul seems to dismiss the Law as no longer valid, while on the other he is firmly upholding it. So how can we resolve this seeming contradiction in his writings? Here is where it's important to recall the three categories of Law previously outlined and their individual areas of relevance. You see, Paul's writings contain an implied difference between the voided portions of the Law as opposed to those that are still valid and binding. Evidently, this difference was easy to overlook and a source of confusion even in Paul's day. As a result, some Christians began to assume that all of the Law had been abolished—antinomianism. The above verses are merely Paul's attempts to correct this misconception by reaffirming the goodness and applicability of the moral law (i.e. the Ten Commandments, etc), which still remained binding on the Church. The fact that Christians are justified by Faith in Christ and the keeping of God's moral law is further reinforced in Revelation 12:17 and should not be ignored.
It must be recognized that the two predominant errors confronting the apostles in the first century was Torah observance, as promulgated by the Judaizers, and the antinomianism of the gnostics (e.g., Nicolaism, Manichaeism, Marcionism, etc). To counter these errors, Paul had to staunchly uphold the Law when dealing with antinomianism and deconstruct it appropriately when confronting full blown Torah observance.
ANTINOMIAN PROOF TEXTS EXPLAINED
As mentioned before, antinomianism asserts that none of the Law is still binding, having been made obsolete by the Atonement. This error forms the basis of the modern reductionist "gospel" that aims to reduce Christianity and its teachings to a very superficial and simplistic definition of "love" (see here). Yet this error is not a small one and has lead to the wholesale rejection of God's moral law, giving rise to immorality and licentiousness (a license to sin). So how do Christians come away with the idea that all of the Law has been abolished and no longer applicable? The following verses will help us understand how the New Testament's teachings have been misconstrued to form the basis for antinomianism:
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20).
Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:13-14).
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Mat. 22:37-40).
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:9-10).
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Gal. 5:14; 22-23).
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:4).
Cited above are some of the teachings of Christ and Paul concerning the keeping of the Law. Here again, we must be careful not to misappropriate Scripture just to make it say whatever we want it to. This is the danger in not taking the whole Word of God in combination when studying a particular issue or carelessly lifting scripture out of context.
Clearly, Jesus taught that the whole Law was summed up in “love God and neighbor”. And likewise also Paul echoes this principle in his own writings. But both of them are not suggesting that the Law is now useless or of no account. Rather, they are affirming the fact that all who love God and neighbor will naturally comply with the whole Law as a matter of consequence. When the Ten Commandments are thus honored, "against such there is no law". Meaning, the Law cannot condemn those who “love God and neighbor” in the exact manner commanded. Those who fulfill these two primary commandments will undoubtedly satisfy the rest also. This means that the righteousness of the Law will be fulfilled by those who walk according to God’s commandments in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). And only they will be justified before God (Rom. 3:20).
A DEEPER LOOK AT THE COVENANTAL DIFFERENCES
Note: Borrowed from an online source (in blue)
Because God’s revelation in Scripture is progressive, the New Testament brings into sharper focus principles that were introduced in the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews describes how Jesus is the true High Priest and how His one sacrifice replaces all previous ones, which were mere "foreshadowings". The Passover lamb of the Old Testament (Ezra 6:20) becomes the Lamb of God in the New Testament (John 1:29). The Old Testament gives the Law while the New Testament clarifies that the Law was meant to show men their need of salvation and was never intended to be the means of salvation (Romans 3:19). The Old Testament saw paradise lost for Adam; the New Testament shows how paradise is regained through the second Adam (Christ). The Old Testament declares that man was separated from God through sin (Genesis 3), and the New Testament declares that man can be restored in his relationship to God (Romans 3—6). The Old Testament predicted the Messiah’s life. The Gospels record Jesus’ life, and the Epistles interpret His life and how we are to respond to all He has done.
GOD'S PERMISSIVE WILL (OLD TESTAMENT) VS. GOD'S PERFECT WILL (NEW TESTAMENT)
The distinction between God's permissive will, which prevailed in the Old Testament, and His perfect will, revealed in the New Testament, is a rather stark one as demonstrated in the following verses:
Who in times past suffered all nations (INCLUDING ISRAEL) to walk in their own ways (Act. 14:16).
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent (Act. 17:30).
The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken (Deut. 18:15).
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees… (Mat. 3:10).
And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? …And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept (Mrk. 10:3-5).
For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God (Heb. 7:19).
…Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life (Heb. 10: 8-16).
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you… (Mat. 5:38).
As demonstrated above, Old Testament Israel operated under God's permissive will (Act 14:16; 17:30). The plainest evidence for this is displayed in Deuteronomy 17. When Israel demanded to have a king set over them in the manner of the Gentiles, God capitulated to their demands (Deut. 17:14), but only after including several stipulations as part of the “package”. No king was to multiply wives or amass wealth (silver and gold) so that His heart didn’t depart from God (Deut. 17:17). Yet every king in Israel's history lived in direct violation to this law (think Solomon). Surprisingly, there is no record of God using a prophet to reprove them for this infracture.
Mark 10:3-6 explains that God allowed certain concessions to become part of the Law even though they violated His perfect standard. But this was necessary under the former dispensation since it was inferior to what was to come. So whereas the Law was unable to make Israel perfect (Heb. 7:19), it was a good temporary solution that paved the way for the coming of the Messiah.
Jesus revealed God’s perfect standard expressed in the heart of the Law, not its letter (Mat. 5:38; Rom. 7:6; 2 Cor. 3:6). Christ’s advent and ministry ushered in the crucial transition between the permissive and perfect that was prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15, which gave it all of the credibility necessary. Israel was commanded to expect Christ's coming and to fully comply with His authority. And once Jesus had finally arrived, He did the impossible. He accomplished what none before Him could. He laid the ax to the root of the tree (Mat 3:10), signaling the end of the sin problem. Where the Old Testament could only deal with the visible elements of sin (stem and branches), the New Testament applied the remedy directly to the root of the problem. Thus the root of sin was finally addressed.
DID JESUS OVERTURN THE LAW OR AMEND IT?
In many respects, YES, which is a highly contentious issue from the perspective of Torah observance. Yet Deuteronomy 18:15 gave Jesus the express authority to modify, amend, or nullify any of God's commandments, so long as that reflected God's foreordained decree, which it did:
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31:31-34).
A perfect example of how Christ overturned the Mosaic Law can be found in Matthew 19:8-9, which deals with the law of divorce and cites a portion of Deuteronomy 24:
He said unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication and shall marry another, commits adultery, and whosoever marries her that is put away commits adultery.
Notice that Jesus acknowledges the fact that the Jews had received permission from Moses to divorce their wives over matters of sexual indecency that fell short of adultery (Deut. 24:1-2). He then proceeds to overturn this law by introducing God's perfect will in the matter. Here we see the permissive giving way to the perfect. Jesus repeated this process several times and always with the following formula: “You have heard that it was said…But I say unto you…” (Mat. 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). This definitive preface demonstrated that He had the authority of the Father when changing or amending the Law.
Under the Mosaic Law circumcision was a legal requirement and constituted the first right of passage into the Hebrew culture. The New Testament, however, clearly invalidates this practice as "unprofitable". The following scriptures aptly demonstrate that circumcision is no longer necessary, which is further evidence that many portions of the Law have been abrogated:
Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised (1 Cor. 7:18).
But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised (Gal. 2:3).
And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them (Act. 15:1-2).
Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision (Rom. 2:26).
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Rom. 2:28-29).
Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith (Rom. 3:30).
Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God (1 Cor. 7:19).
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love (Gal. 5:6).
And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased (Gal. 5:11).
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh (Php. 3:3).
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:11).
Note: Some Christians choose to circumcise their infants merely on account of its hygienic or medical benefit, which is a personal choice that is entirely non-condemnable. Both Jew and Gentile are free to act as they wish in regards to this matter.
A SHADOW OF THINGS TO COME
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect (Heb. 10:1).
What would you think of the man who walked around clutching a photograph of his wife close to his chest while his actual wife was only feet away? No doubt we would think him mad! In a very real sense, this kind of action characterizes Christians who are infatuated with the Mosaic Law after the New Testament has been established as the new and better way. These Christians appreciate the shadow of the real thing more so than the actual substance. The verse above clearly demonstrates that the Law was a mere shadow of “good things to come”, and not the actual reality. This is why we should be careful not to define our doctrines by the principles of the Old Testament.
Those who insist on preserving the entire Law in the current dispensation need to be consistent about its application. Since Torah observance teaches that you can't pick and choose which laws are still applicable it therefore necessitates complete compliance. Hence, Torah observant Christians should ask themselves whether they really want to be subject to the full letter of the Law. After all, the Law prescribed capital punishment (i.e. the death sentence) for many criminal offenses. Do Christians really want to live under such regulations? I hope not!
He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses (Heb. 10:28).
Thine eye shall not pity him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with thee. And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot (Deut. 19:18-21).
PRIESTS VS. LAITY
The Old Testament firmly established a dichotomy between the priests and lay people of Israel. This separation was also part of the political and religious hierarchy of that time. The priests were eligible to serve before God in the Temple and enter into the Holy of Holies, while the rest of the people were not (Ex. 38:21). The priests were called to be the “middlemen” who would mediate between God and man. When Jesus died on the cross, He once and for all abolished the middleman so that we could come before the Father boldly and with full confidence (Heb. 4:16). Only Jesus is our qualified Mediator who stands at the right hand of God continually interceding on our behalf (Rom. 8:34).
Sadly, many Christians today set up their Churches after the pattern of the Old Testament priesthood and maintain the same dichotomy or hierarchy between Church leaders and laity. Yet this practice was denounced by Christ as unbiblical and wrong: But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren (Mat. 23:8).
THEOCRATIC GOVERNMENT AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR WAR
Israel was taken out of the physical land of Egypt and led to a physical destination called the “Promised Land”. Soon they became an earthly kingdom and employed God’s Law to govern their nation. They set up a theocracy, and like any other nation required a standing army to defeat their enemies through physical means of warfare. In contrast, the New Testament is formed on the basis of a spiritual Kingdom called the Church (1 Pet. 2:9). And Christians are called out of a spiritual place called the World to journey toward a spiritual destination known as the “New Jerusalem” (Gal. 4:26, Heb. 12:22). If the Law was still in effect then the Church would have to use physical means to protect itself from physical enemies, as mandated by the Law. But the New Testament is clear that the Church isn’t called to protect itself against physical enemies through physical means (Eph. 6:12). Instead, Christ instructed us to expand God’s kingdom using non-combatant activities such as evangelism and prayer: Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence (Jn. 18:36). Hence, we exist by allowing God to defend and protect us.
THEOCRACY IS ANTITHETICAL TO THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
Old Testament Saints were governed by the "Church" of that day. Because Church and state were completely unified, membership and citizenship were combined into one. As a result, circumcision in the Old Testament was applied to infants and became the token proof of both citizenship and identity.
Borrowed from an online source (in blue).
The formation of the Roman Catholic Church was largely due to a marriage of church and state contrary to the teachings of the New Testament. The church leaders, in trying to gain power over the people, began acting as a state institution. Both should be governed by God’s will in their respective roles with the church being the spiritual guide and the state being the protector of the people. They exchanged evangelism as the Biblical means of growing the church for the state method of growing the state– conquering with the sword. They dealt with “heretics” the way the state deals with criminals–execution. Tithe became tax, and baptism was now for infants; because they became citizens and members at the same time. Doctrine was now established by state legislature, not by preaching and exhortation based on Scripture with the example of godly living.
Yet there is a delicate balance of power when both the church and the state are trying to fulfill God’s will. They will work in cooperation without trespassing the respective roles and boundaries God has ordained for them. Roman Catholics developed a church hierarchy much like the Old Testament with priests, temples, altars, and the communion became their sacrifice. Ultimately, they usurped Christ’s role as the one mediator between God and men when they made it illegal to give the Scriptures to the common people and taught confession of sins to the priest for forgiveness. These gross errors were produced by power hungry men in church positions, who became worldly and apostate; but didn’t want their positions challenged or their powers lost. This error was promoted by denominational bias and pride that wanted the state’s help in eliminating the opposition. Thus we have 1200 plus years of terrible persecution called “The Dark Ages”. The reign of the Anti-Christ system showed its true colors, and justified its slaughter of over 50 million non-conformist believers by saying they were just trying to “discipline erring sheep”. Sadly, this mother of harlots has had a number of daughters (protestants) who abuse the state-church union and also persecute any who don’t agree.
So far we’ve demonstrated that God manifested His plan for mankind by means of progressive revelation. While it may be argued that God’s character is immutable, and rightly so, we cannot deny that His dealings with mankind have changed between the Covenants. We've also seen how God’s Old Testament dealings with men were part of His permissive will since His perfect will had not yet been revealed. But this certainly changed after Jesus brought about total "reformation": …imposed on them until the time of reformation (Heb. 9:10). As a result, we can't ignore the great schism that exists between the Mosaic Law and the New Testament, especially in terms of character and application. Hence Torah continuity is impossible to prove without forcing our bias on the Bible or breaking key rules of interpretation.
The Bible is clear. The Levitical and Civil portions of the Law HAD to be changed: For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law (Heb. 7:1). And as a consequence of this change much of the Mosaic Law has now been abolished. Unless we accept this fact it's impossible to account for the New Testament’s prohibition on polygamy. Or divorce and remarriage. Or the abrogation of the sacrificial system and circumcision. Or the fact that we no longer follow the same guidelines in the treatment of female slaves and victims of rape (Deut 22:19-22). Or the stoning of adulterers, homosexuals, and transvestites. To deny this fundamental change leaves us with huge problems that can never be explained rationally.
On the flip side, we've also demonstrated how the moral law is transcendent, and that Christ simply enriched it with spiritual depth and meaning. Jesus reinforced the moral law and Paul established it as "holy, just, and good". So to toss out the Law completely, as in the case of antinomianism, is a grave mistake.
In conclusion, I hope this study has either challenged or reaffirmed your understanding of the distinctions between God's primary Covenants. More importantly, perhaps the question of how to apply the commandments of the Old Covenant within our current period has been cleared up enough to warrant confidence in the valid application of the Law. If so, then my purpose for this writing has been satisfied and I pray that we may now pursue the better and more excellent way found in Jesus Christ… (Heb. 6:1).