WAS THE LAW OF MOSES ABOLISHED AT THE CROSS?
One of the misconceptions concerning the Acts period is that the Law of Moses was not in effect after Christ’s death on the cross, and therefore, believing Israel should not have, or did not observe the law in the Acts period. Those who hold to this view often quote Gal. 3:24-25 and Hebrews 10:18. We will study Galatians and Hebrews 10 in order to put these two passages in their contexts so that we may understand their true meaning. We will also study other passages that seem to suggest that the law was not in effect during the Acts period.
Before we go to those passages let us first examine the question of whether the law was observed by believing Israel during the Acts period. It is clear from the book of Acts that they were indeed observing the law, as the following passages from that book will show. It is also clear from Gal. 5:3 that the whole law, not part(s) of it were observed. That verse reads, :”For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law”.
In Acts 21:20 we read, “…..You see brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed and all of them are zealous of the law.”
We read in Acts 21:24 of the believers in Jerusalem giving Paul the following advice, “Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.” The point of this passage is that Paul went out of his way to prove that he was observing the law. Was he wrong to do so? If he was then so was Peter, who as we shall see in the passages quoted below, was also observing the law. And so were James, the council at Jerusalem and the “thousands of Jews” who were “zealous of the law” (Acts 21:20). Surely, if believing Jews were wrong in continuing to observe the law Paul or Peter or James would have corrected them. Because there is no Scriptural evidence to show that all these men were wrong to observe the law, we must not assume that they were.
It has been suggested that Paul observed the law in order to “gain them that are under the law” (I Cor. 9:20). I would ask the reader to consider the life and devotion of Paul to the Lord during his ministry before coming to an erroneous conclusion of his actions in Acts 21. To say that Paul observed the law despite the fact that he knew that God had put it aside is to say that Paul cared less for God’s truth and more for the salvation of the Jews. This is not in keeping with the knowledge we get of Paul as we read God’s Word.
Consider also the moral dilemma this would create. That is to say, if Paul would go against God’s will in order to bring Jews to Christ, does that mean that we today should do the same? Are we to ignore the truth of God’s word as we understand it, to win men to Christ. If we would not, how can we think that Paul would? I suggest therefore, that Paul did not deliberately go against God’s truth in order to see men saved. Paul proved that he was keeping the law because he understood that believing Israel was still to observe the law.
But Paul did write in Cor. 9:20, “not as being myself under the law”. How are we to understand this phrase? I do not believe that Paul was being a hypocrite in Acts 21 when he proved that he was observing the law. I suggest that Galatians 3:24-25 will help us to understand Paul’s point in I Cor. 9. That passage reads, “wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster, for ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus”. What is Paul telling us in Gal. 3? He is saying that the law was their schoolmaster, i.e. God’s way of bringing them to faith in Christ. But when they have come to faith in Christ they are no longer under the schoolmaster, i.e. they are no longer under the law for the purpose of bringing them unto faith. In other words, for the purpose of bringing them unto faith in Christ, they were no longer in need of the schoolmaster, i.e. the law. But that doesn’t mean that the Jews were to no longer observe the law. If it did, then Paul was being a hypocrite in Acts 21 when he went out of his way to show believing Jews that he was observing the law.
Let me put this in other terms. In Acts 21 Paul proved to believing Jews that he was observing the law. But in I Cor. 9 he wrote, “Not as being myself under the law”, i.e. he was not under the law in I Cor. 9 because he was speaking of the law in terms of bringing some to faith in Christ. Because he had already come to faith in Christ, he was no longer under the law for the purpose of coming to faith.
In short, it is only by keeping in mind the lesson of the schoolmaster (i.e. the law) which was to bring them to faith that we can avoid the very unlikely scenario that Paul was being a hypocrite in Acts 21 when he proved to believing Jews that he was under the law and at the same time saying in I Cor. 9 that he was not under the law.
It has also been suggested that Paul, and all believers of Israel who were zealous of the law, did not know that the law was no longer in effect after the cross because God had not revealed that truth, and that God just let them continue in their ignorance. The events of Acts 21, according to Appendix 180 in the Companion Bible took place just three years before the end of the Acts period. I cannot believe, given the importance of the Law in the relationship between God and Israel, that God would have allowed that “ignorance” to continue for 30 years.
One other argument that has been suggested to me is that there is no Scripture saying that the law was to be observed in the Acts period. But then of course, as we shall see as we continue in this study, there are no scriptures which tell us that the law was not to be obeyed in the Acts period. In my opinion, the fact that there is nothing written in the Acts period which told Israel that they should continue to observe the law only points to the conclusion that the law was given to Israel, and that it was to be obeyed.
Some might object that while the law was in effect in the Acts period, the animal sacrifices were not offered. But we read in Gal. 5:3, “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law”. The animal sacrifices were part of the Mosaic Law, therefore, every circumcised man was obligated to continue offering animal sacrifices during the Acts period. And the sacrificial laws will be observed in the millennium proving that they were not abolished at the cross. Let us look at Is. 56:6-8 for the Scriptural evidence that sacrifices will be offered in the millennium, “Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of My covenant; even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon Mine altar; for Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people”.
The following are other scriptures given in the book of Acts which show that the law was being observed by believing Jews during the Acts period.
2:1, “When the day of Pentecost came, they (Peter and a group of believers numbering about 120-verse 15) were all together in one place”. They were all in one place because the Mosaic Law commanded that they do so on the day of Pentecost (see Ex. 34:22-23).
10:12-14, “It (a large sheet being let down to earth-verse 11) contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat’. ‘Surely not, Lord’! Peter replied. ‘ I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The fact that Peter had never eaten anything that was not allowed by the Law of Moses shows that he was still observing the law.
13:14b, “On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down”. This verse shows that Paul and his companions (verse 13) were still observing the Sabbath, as the Law of Moses required.
15:27, “….we (the council at Jerusalem) are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you (Gentile believers) with anything beyond the following requirements..…”. Note there is no message to Jewish believers telling them that they should not “be burdened” with the law.
There is one other scripture which tells us that Paul was observing the law during the Acts period. We read in Acts 16:1-3, “….a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek”. In verse 3 we read that “Him (Timotheus) would Paul have to go forth with him (Paul); and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek”. We learn in this passage that Paul had Timotheus circumcised . We know that Timotheus was a Jew from three pieces of evidence. 1) We are told in this context that his mother was a Jew. 2) As we shall see in the section below on Gal. 3, Paul was most upset that some Gentiles wanted to be circumcised. Paul would therefore, not have circumcised a Gentile and gone against his own teachings in Galatians. 3) In Acts 15 the council at Jerusalem in which Paul took part, sent out a letter to the Gentile believers saying that they were not obligated to observe the Law of Moses. Paul would not have gone against that ruling and circumcised a Gentile thus obligating him to keep the law.
What this tells us is that Timotheus was circumcised because he was a Jew, but because his father was a Gentile, he had not been circumcised according to the Mosaic Law on the eighth day. What is key in this study is that circumcision meant once Timotheus was circumcised, he was obligated to keep the law. Paul had him circumcised, Paul was obligating Timotheus to keep the law. If Paul obligated Timotheus to keep the law, surely Paul himself was keeping the law.
We might ask why were these Jewish believers observing the law. To answer that question we need to understand the mindset of Jews at the time of the Acts period. We understand that mindset by going to the Old Testament passages that speak of the law of Moses. For example, we read in Deut. 7:12-15, “If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep His covenant of love with you, as He swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land- your grain, new wine and oil- the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that He swore to your forefathers to give you. You will be blessed more than any other people: none of your men or women will be childless, not any or you livestock without your”.
Deut. 28:1-2 reads, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above the nations on the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God”.
Deut. 28:12-13, “The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of His bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail if you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them”.
Deut. 28:45, “All these curses will come upon you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees He gave you”.
Deut. 30:8-10, “You will again obey the Lord and follow all His commands I am giving you today. Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as He delighted in your fathers, if you obey the Lord your God and keep His commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul”.
Psalms 103:17-18, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and his righteousness with their children’s children- with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts“.
We can go on and on but anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the Old Testament knows how important, both to God and to His people, it was that Israel keep God’s commandments. So this was the mindset of the Acts period believers of Israel. The observance of the law and the worship of God went together. And so did the observance of the law and the hope of blessings go together.
Given the importance, both to God and to His people, of obedience to the Law, I believe that it would have to be made extremely clear if it were God’s will that Israel was no longer to observe the law. Because there is nothing in the Acts period epistles that say that Israel was no longer to be obedient to the Law of Moses, and because Paul would not have proved his obedience to it if the law had been put aside, I believe we must conclude that the law was to be observed during the Acts period. We must keep these things in mind if we are to understand the Gospels and Acts period epistles.
We have seen that believing Israel was “zealous of the law”, and that there is no Scriptural evidence to show that they were wrong in that zealousness. We are now ready to examine the passages mentioned above, which seem to teach that the law was abolished at the cross.
Gal. 3:24-25, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” What did Paul mean when he wrote to the Galatians that they were no longer under a schoolmaster? To answer that question we must understand the entire message and the reason for Paul’s letter to the Galatian church.
There are several verses that tell us the reason for Paul’s letter.
In Gal. 1:6 we read, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel”. We learn from this that they had listened to someone other than Paul, and that this person had led them astray from the truth of the gospel.
We see the same thing in 3:1, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?…..” and 5:7, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”
Gal. 2:15 is helpful in determining just what this false teaching was that was “bewitching” the Galatians. “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
We are getting a clue in this verse as to why Paul was so discouraged about the false teaching in Galatia. Someone was leading the believers of Galatia to believe that they needed to be circumcised and observe the law in order to be justified. They were teaching that faith was not enough, that they must also keep the law. That is the reason for Paul’s question in 3:3b, “After beginning with the spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
In 3:2-5 Paul sets the problem out for all to see. “I would like to learn just one thing from you? Did you receive the spirit by observing the law? or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing- if it really was for nothing? Does God give you His spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?”
The problem that Paul addresses in his letter to the Galatians was that some were preaching that faith in Christ was not enough; that they also needed to observe the law. That their “believing” was insufficient and that “human effort” was required of them. But Paul himself was zealous of the law. Why was he so discouraged about believers wanting to be circumcised?
It was not the act of circumcision itself that caused Paul to be discouraged. Nor was it that they were keeping the law in and of itself the reason that caused him to be discouraged. It was that they thought that their faith in Christ was not sufficient, that they must also observe the law, that caused Paul to be so discouraged with the believing Galatians. Let us continue with our study of Galatians to substantiate that point.
Gal. 3:6-7, “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Understand then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.” Here again, Paul is stressing the point that, just as was true of Abraham, they too are made righteous by faith, without the law.
Gal. 3:11, “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith”.
Gal. 3:18 reiterates the point, “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in His grace gave it to Abraham through a promise”.
Consider also 3:21-22, “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe”.
Now we are ready to consider the passage in question, that is to say, the passage that seems to teach that the law was abolished at the cross. Gal. 3:23-25, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come we are no longer under the schoolmaster”.
The law was the schoolmaster. What was the purpose of the schoolmaster? To lead them to faith, so that they may be justified. Why did they no longer need the schoolmaster? They no longer needed the schoolmaster (the law) because they had already come to faith in Christ. If we add an ellipsis from the immediate context it will help make this passage a bit clearer. Verse 25 would read then, “Now that faith has come we are no longer under the schoolmaster to bring us unto faith”. They were no longer under the schoolmaster to bring them unto faith because they already had faith.
Let us try to put this passage in perspective. The message to the Galatians is that the law does not justify, it is faith in Christ Jesus that justifies. That being the case, they did not need to observe the law for their justification because they had already been justified through faith in Christ.
However, we know that believing Israel, including Paul, were not only observing the Law of Moses during the entire Acts period, but were zealous of it. Why was Paul not upset that believing Israel was observing the law”? The answer to that question lies in the fact that “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Gal. 3:10b). The law was given to Israel. Their faith (the faith of each believing Israelite) was proved by their faithfulness to the law. Consider Rom. 2:13, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous”. Just as believers of Old Testament times showed their faith by observing the law given them by God, so too in the Acts period, Jewish believers showed their faith in the same way. So even though believing Israelites no longer needed the law to bring them to faith in Christ, they were still obligated to keep the law because it was given to them by God.
Gentile believers, on the other hand, were told by the council at Jerusalem, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28-29). Because the law was not given to Gentiles they were not required to observe the law.
So Jewish believers were required to observe the law because the law had been given to them by God, and they showed their faith in Him by keeping it. Gentile believers, on the other hand, were not required to observe the law in the Acts period because the law had not been given to them. But neither believing Jews or believing Gentiles were required to observe the law for the purpose of justification because justification came by faith in Christ. (For a more complete study of faith and works in God’s plan of salvation please see the paper on that topic).
As we shall see as we continue in this study, the law was given for several purposes. In Galatians we read that one of the purposes of the law was to serve as “a schoolmaster” to bring them to faith. But since the Galatians had already been brought to faith, that purpose of the law was fulfilled in them. Therefore, believing Galatians were no longer under the schoolmaster, that is to say, they were no longer under the law for that purpose. But it is clear that believing Israel continued to observe “the whole law” because that was what God had commanded them to do.
HEBREWS, CHAPTER 10
Hebrews 10:18 is a verse that seems to teach that the law should not have been observed by believing Israel during the Acts period. That verse reads, “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin”. From our vantage point in the 21st century, when Israel is not observing the law, there is a tendency to assume that the writer of Hebrews is saying that the sacrifices, as described in the Law of Moses, should no longer be offered, because Christ was the one true sacrificial Lamb. There is no doubt that Christ was the one true sacrificial Lamb, but what was the writer of Hebrews telling his readers about offering sacrifices? If we read this chapter through the eyes of first century Hebrews to whom the epistle was written, we might come to a better understanding of this portion of Scripture.
Consider that for centuries God had called on Israel to obey His commandments, which included the sacrificial laws. Consider also that the believing first century Hebrews were most likely very aware of the prophesy of Daniel 9:27 where it is said of the antichrist that “he will put an end to sacrifices and offering”. This prophecy shows that in the future, sacrifices will once again be offered, or the antichrist could not put an end to them. (We can not argue that these sacrifices were against God’s will because if that had been the case, the antichrist would not want to abolish them).
As we read in the section above, several passages in the Old Testament tell us that the law, including the sacrificial laws, will be observed in the millennial reign of Christ. (See Is. 57-8, Mal. 3:3-4, Ezek. 20:40 and 36:27, also, Zech. 14:21.) I believe that the idea of discontinuing the sacrifices would be the last thing that believing Israelites in the Acts period would expect. And indeed, I do not believe that is what the writer of Hebrews is suggesting.
What is the point of the 10th chapter of Hebrews? Let us examine that chapter and discover for ourselves.
The point of verses 1-4 is summed up in verse 4, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”. The writer does not tell his readers to discontinue the offering of sacrifices, but he does want them to understand that the blood of those sacrifices can not take away their sins.
The point of verses 5-10 is stated in verse 9, “He sets aside the first to establish the second”. What is the first? It is the daily sacrifice of bulls and goats. What is the second? It is Christ doing the will of the Father. Let us hold our conclusions about the setting aside of the first until we have studied this entire chapter.
Verses 11-18 make the point that “when this priest (Christ) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (verse 12). The writer emphasizes the completeness of Christ’s sacrifice. Again, the writer is not telling his readers to discontinue the sacrifices, but he wanted them to understand that it was Christ’s sacrifice that covers sins and their daily sacrifices do not add to that one bit, because Christ’s one sacrifice was all that was needed.
The passage from verse 19 to verse 24 is key in understanding the entire chapter. Verse 19, “Therefore, since we have confidence……..(22) let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,….” The key word “therefore” tells us that we are coming to the main point of this section of Scripture. The main point is not that the first century Hebrews should discontinue the sacrifices. The main point of this passage is that because Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to cover all sin they may come to God in faith in Him.
In order to determine the point the writer is making in verses 26-38, let us note a few key phrases. In verse 27 we read of the insulting of the “spirit of grace“. Note in verse 38, “….But the righteous will live by faith and if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him”. And then we have the great chapter on faith. How did faith and grace get into this discussion of sacrifices for sin?
Let us look back on some key verses. Verse 8, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them (although the law required them to be made)”. God required sacrifices, but even though these sacrifices would not cover sins, they were offered because God required them. That had not changed in the Acts period. As we read in the section above, believing Israel was zealous of the law in the Acts period and will observe the law in the millennium. Why? Because it was required of them.
I believe, therefore, that the point of Hebrews chapter 10 is not that Israel should discontinue the daily sacrifices, but that they recognize that those daily sacrifices did not take away their sins, only faith in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross could do that. Below is a list of reasons for this belief.
1) Israel was commanded by God to offer sacrifices and nowhere in the Bible do we read a clear commandment to do otherwise.
2) We read in verse 9 that “He set aside the first to establish the second”. We are told quite clearly in verse 7 what was meant by “the first”. It is the “sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings”. If the sacrificial laws were set aside, why then do we read of future sacrifices in the millennium? Because what was “set aside” was the idea that sacrifices could do away with sin, and it was replaced by the truth that Christ’s sacrifice was the only sacrifice that could cover sins. This is true for those offering sacrifices in the past and also for those in the future. Let us go on and see if this is a reasonable conclusion.
3) The “therefore” of verse 19 is important in that it gives us the point of this whole chapter. “Therefore ………..let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (verse 22).. How did faith enter this discussion? It entered because that is the point of this chapter. That is to say, when one puts their faith in the one true Sacrifice, then that person’s sins are forgiven. Does this necessitate Israel ignoring God’s law? Certainly not.
4) The point of chapter 10 is that Israel’s sacrifices, in and of themselves, never resulted in the forgiveness of sins. What they did do was show their willingness to obey God. It was that willingness to obey that showed their faith, which in turn led them to righteousness. Rom. 2:13 makes the same point and reads, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous”.
5) If we see that the topic in this chapter of Hebrews is not whether they should continue to offer sacrifices, but that they should offer them in faith in the one true Sacrifice, Christ Jesus, then it is clear why the faith chapter follows it.
Most 21st century readers have read into this chapter something that is not there. The 21st century reader reads into Hebrews chapter 10 the notion that the writer is telling his readers that the keeping of the law was not required in New Testament times. I believe, however, that the true message of Hebrews 10 is that Israel should put their faith in the Sacrifice of Christ on the cross, because it is not the blood of bulls and goats that take away their sins. Even though they have put their faith in Christ’s sacrifice, that does not allow them to disregard God’s commandments contained in the law.
Once again, we see in Hebrews 10:1 that one of the purposes of the sacrificial law was that it foreshadowed the true sacrifice of Christ, which is the only sacrifice that can cover sins. That particular purpose of the law was fulfilled by Christ, but believing Israel was to continue to observe the law, not because their continual sacrifices could take away sins, but because God had commanded them to keep His law.
We read in Romans 6:11-14, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. 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”. Was Paul saying that they were not to observe the law? I don’t believe he could have been saying that because he himself was, as we have seen, observing the law. What then did he mean in verse 14 where he wrote “ye are not under the law”? Let us look at the context.
The context is about yielding one’s members to righteousness rather than unrighteousness. Obviously, this passage is not addressing the question of whether they should be observing the law. I believe the verses that explain 6:14 are Rom. 3:20 and 5:21. “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). “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life -by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:21). Let me try to pull these three verses together. I believe that Paul is saying that, because no one could be justified by the law, the law could bring only death. But now that grace abounds, we are justified through grace, unto eternal life. So, for the sake of clarity may I amplify 6:14 to read, “For death that comes from sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under law (which can not make anyone righteous), but under grace which brings us unto life”.
As to the phrase in 6:14, “you are not under law”. Paul is saying that they were not under the law for the purpose of bringing them to righteousness. But there is no suggestion that they were not to continue to observe the law. There are two reasons for believing that Paul did not, or could not, have suggested that they no longer observe the law. 1) He himself was observing the law, as were thousands of believers in the Acts period. 2) As mentioned earlier in this paper, the law will be observed during the millennial reign. I see no reason why Paul would instruct Israel to not observe the law in the Acts period, only to resume obedience to the law during the millennium.
Again, just as we saw in our discussion of Galatians and Hebrews 10, here too we read of one of the purposes of the law. In this context the purpose was to teach Israel that because no one could be justified by the law, they should yield themselves unto righteousness. That they were dead to the law and alive unto God Who justifies by His grace through faith. Far from this passage proving that the law was not to be observed, it proves just the opposite. How? Because the law did not justify anyone in the Old Testament and yet it is obvious that Israel did observe it. Why? Because God commanded them to do so.
“For He is our peace, Who hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 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”.
What was the “middle wall of partition”? It was “enmity” between Jew and Gentile. It was “the law of commandments contained in ordinances”. Some have suggested that it was the ordinances given to the Gentiles by the council at Jerusalem that was abolished at the cross. “Wherefore, my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:18-19).
Our question is: was it the Law of Moses that was abolished by the cross, or was it the ordinances of the council at Jerusalem that was abolished by the cross? The Greek word translated “ordinances” in Eph. 2:15 is “dogma”. It is used of the ordinances of the council at Jerusalem in Acts 16:4 where we read, “And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees (“dogma”) for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem”.
But the word is also used of the Law of Moses. Col. 2:14, which is the parallel passage to 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 the cross”. In verse 16, Paul goes on to say “Let no man therefore, judge you in meat or drink or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days”. It is clear that Col. 2 does not refer to the ordinances of Acts 15, as they are entirely different ordinances. (Col. 2 will be discussed below). Because Col. 2:14 is the parallel passage to Eph. 2:15, we must conclude that it was not the ordinances of Acts 15 that were nailed to the cross; it was not the ordinances of Acts 15 that were “abolished at the cross”; it was not the ordinances of Acts 15 that was the middle wall of partition: it was the Law of Moses.
Consider also that the middle wall of partition was enmity between Jew and Gentile. The Greek word translated “enmity” is “ekthra”. It is used six times in the New Testament. The first occurrence is in Luke 23:12, “That day Herod and Pilate became friends-before this they had been enemies“. Note the contrast here between friends and enemies. In Romans 8:7 we read that the carnal mind is enmity against God”. And in James 4:4 we read that “friendship with the world is enmity toward God”. The ordinances of the council at Jerusalem would not qualify as enmity between Jew and Gentiles. On the other hand, the Law of Moses certainly would qualify as enmity between the two as it was the law of Moses that separated Israel unto God from all other nations .
Having concluded that it was indeed the Law of Moses that had been abolished by the cross, let us determine what Paul meant when he wrote that it was “abolished”. The Greek word translated “abolished” is” katargeo”. It is also used in II Thess.2:8 where we read of the “wicked” one, i.e. the antichrist. “And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming”. The word is also used in Heb. 2:14 of Satan, “…..that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil”. Consider also the use of the word in Romans 6:6, “Knowing this that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin”. Whatever meaning we attribute to this word, it is clear that it is not a temporary putting aside, it implies a permanent doing away with.
We read of sacrifices in the millennial reign in Zech. 14:21, “Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them”. We read in Mal. 3:3 that , “…Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years”. Ezek. 36:27, “And I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”. (See also Jer. 31:33 and Ezek. 20:40.)
Some have suggested that while the law was abolished by the cross, that abolishing did not go into effect until Acts 28. The problem with that suggestion is that the law was only temporarily put aside at Acts 28. That is to say, when Israel was put aside as God’s chosen people the law, which had been given Her, was also put aside. But it is clear from several Old Testament scriptures that the law would be observed in the millennial reign of Christ. Therefore it was put aside only temporarily.
Eph. 2:15 speaks of the abolishing of the law, which is permanent, not temporary. But the putting aside of the law at Acts 28 is temporary, i.e. until the millennium. Therefore, Paul could not have been referring to the putting aside of the law at Acts 28 when he wrote of the abolishing of the law by the cross.
To what then was Paul referring when he wrote that the law was abolished by the cross? We have seen in our discussion of Gal. 3, Hebrews 10 and Rom. 6 that each spoke of the law fulfilling a different purpose, and those purposes were fulfilled in Christ. In Galatians the law fulfilled the purpose of a school master, it was to bring Israel to faith. But once they had come to faith, they were no longer under the law for the purpose of bringing them to faith. In Rom. 6 the law was fulfilled for the purpose of bringing Israel to righteousness and In Hebrews 10 we learned that sacrifices were no longer needed for the purpose of forgiveness of sins because Christ’s sacrifice had accomplished that for all believers.
Eph. 2 speaks of the law serving as a partition between individual believing Jew and Gentile. But at the cross the law, which was given for the purpose of separating Jew and Gentile, was abolished. That is to say, the reason for breaking down of the middle wall as described in Eph. 2:16 was to “reconcile both unto God in one body”. So, for the purpose of separation of believing Jew and Gentile the law was abolished by the cross. Just as in Galatians 3 we learned that the law, for the purpose of bringing Israel to faith was abolished, and that in Hebrews 10 the law for the purpose of remission of sins was abolished. And in Ephesians 2, the law was abolished for the purpose of separating believing Jew and Gentile.
We are told in Eph. 2 that when Christ died on the cross, the middle wall of partition (the Mosaic law) was abolished. What that did was to create a body in Christ, in which there was no longer a partition between Jew and Gentile; believing Jew and Gentile were one in Christ.
The fact that the law for the purpose of separating the Jew and Gentile was abolished by the cross leads us to another question. Because the law, for the purpose of separating Jew and Gentile, was abolished by the cross, does that mean that the one body was established at the time of the cross? I believe it does. But one might object that the church which is His body did not begin until after the end of the Acts period. That is very true. But I am suggesting that the term “one body” of Eph. 2:15 describes the relationship of believers to each other (not separated by the middle wall of partition) and the “church, which is His body” is the term that describes the relationship of the believers (His body) to Christ (the Head of the church). The church which is His body is that group called out during the dispensation of the mystery. The one body spoken of in Eph. 2, on the other hand, is believers of the entire Acts period, believing Jews and Gentiles, one in Christ. Therefore, the phrase, “church which is His body” is not the equivalent to the phrase “the one body”. The paper on this web-site The One Body Of Ephesians Two Is Not The Church Which Is His Body will prove from Scripture that statement.
Let us begin by quoting the entire verse, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days”. In terms of understanding what Paul is teaching the word “therefore” is the most important word in the verse. That is to say, the word “therefore” tells us that this verse is the point of what has been said before. It behooves us then to study carefully what has been said before verse 16.
What comes immediately before verse 16 is, of course, verses 14-15 which read, “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 the cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it”.
What are the ordinances that were “against us”? They are explained in verse 16. They are the ordinances concerning eating meat, drinking, holy days, the new moon and sabbath days. It is clear that these “ordinances” are those of the Mosaic Law.
Now let us focus for the moment on the phrase “nailing it to the cross”. This tells us that what is being said in this passage is not limited to the dispensation of the mystery because the dispensation of the mystery did not begin at the cross. That is to say, the ordinances spoken of in this passage were nailed to the cross long before the beginning of the dispensation of the mystery. Therefore, the truths taught in this passage are not truths that are exclusively for the church of the present dispensation, i.e. the church which is His body, they are truths that are equally applicable for those who lived immediately after the cross, i.e. the Acts period.
In summary, the ordinances of the Mosaic Law were nailed to the cross. But that does not mean that observance of the law was discontinued at the cross because, as we learn in Acts 21, believing Israel, including Paul, was zealous of the law.
We have learned that the Law of Moses had been given for several reasons including to lead Israel to faith in Christ (Gal. 3), and for the separation of Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2). We also learned that the purpose of the law, as given in the context of each of these passages, was accomplished at the cross. So when one of the purposes of the law had been accomplished, the law was not to be observed for that purpose, even though believing Israel did indeed observe the law. We are now ready to consider the point of Col. 2:16.
As mentioned above, the ordinances of the law were nailed to the cross, but we know that the Jewish believers of the Acts period, including Paul, did observe the Mosaic Law, indeed, they were “zealous” of it. That tells us that the law was not done away with when it was nailed to the cross. I believe that another of the purposes of the law was accomplished by the cross. Is there something in the context of Col. 2, as there was in Gal. 3 and Eph. 2 that tells us what purpose was accomplished at the cross? Indeed there is.
Let us remind ourselves of Col. 2:14-16, “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 the cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days”. The Colossian believers were told to not let anyone judge them in terms of the Mosaic Law because Christ had not only nailed it to the cross, but He had also triumphed over them.
Now let us look at Col. 2:6-10 because, as will be shown, it is a parallel passage to verses 14-15. “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him; Rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ; for in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, Which is the Head of all principality and power”.
Believers were told in this passage that they should “beware lest any man spoil you in philosophy and vain deceit”. There is a parallel here with verses 14-16 where they were told to be not judged. There is also a parallel in these passages as to why they should not be judged and to be aware. In verse 14 it was because of what Christ had done, i.e. “blotting out the ordinances” and in verse 9 it is because Who Christ is, i.e. “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily”. There is another parallel in these passages. Note that in verse 15 Paul speaks of spoiling principalities and powers, and in verse 10 he speaks of Christ as the head of all principalities and powers. And yet another parallel is found in verses 8 and 20, both of which speak of “the rudiments of the world”.
Now let us carefully consider verse 10 which, in my opinion, is the central point of Col. 2:6-16. That verse reads, “and ye are complete in Him, Which is the head of all principality and power”. In verses 6-10 the Colossian believers are told that because they are complete in Christ they need to beware of philosophies, vain deceit, traditions of men and the rudiments of the world. And in verses 14-16 they are told that they should not be judged in respect to the Mosaic Law because they are complete in Christ.
So the point of Col. 2:16 is not whether or not anyone should observe the Mosaic Law, the point is that believers are complete in Christ and it is the shed blood of Christ on the cross that makes a believer complete in Him. Therefore no one should be judged in respect to the law, and not the philosophies or traditions of men. No, not even the Mosaic Law could make a believer more complete in Christ. In line with Gal. 3 and Eph. 2, for the purpose of making anyone more complete in Christ, the Mosaic Law had been nailed to the cross.
The message of Galatians is essentially the same as the message of Hebrews chapter 10. That message is that it is not the law, nor is it the offering of daily sacrifices that makes one righteous. It is faith,i.e. faith in the one true sacrifice made by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
In Galatians we read that the law was the schoolmaster that brought each believer to faith in Christ, that was one of its purposes. It was no longer needed to bring them to faith because they were already brought to faith. But that certainly did not mean that Jewish believers were no longer to observe the law. The law was given to Israel by God to separate them from the nations. Israel was obligated by virtue of circumcision to obey God’s law if they wanted to continue in God’s blessings.
In Hebrews we read of the offering of daily sacrifices. The writer of Hebrews is reminding first century believers that it is faith in Christ’s sacrifice, not the daily sacrifices, that brings them righteousness.
In Rom. 6 it is the truth that the law was fulfilled in faith, for bringing Israel to righteousness.
In Eph. 2 the law was abolished by the shed blood of Christ on the cross for the purpose of creating a unity between believing Jew and Gentile.
In Col. 2 the law was abolished for the purpose of adding anything to our being complete in Christ.
In the passages discussed above that seem to teach that the law was not to be observed in the Acts period, I hope to have shown that the law was given for several reasons. When those reasons were fulfilled, it was no longer necessary to observe the law for those particular reasons. But that does not mean that Israel was free to just disregard the law that God had given them.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please E-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org