THE BOOK, THE LAW, OR THE COVENANT?
A major problem for the Church in approaching and understanding the Bible developed in the second century, when the term "Old Testament" was first used to refer to the first thirty-nine books of the Bible, and the term "New Testament" was first used to refer to the last 27 books of the Bible. Even though almost everyone today has come to believe that is what the terms mean, it is not what they mean in the Bible.
These Biblical terms are more accurately translated into English as "Old Covenant" and "New Covenant." When the scriptures refer to the Old Covenant, the first Covenant, or the former Covenant, they are not referring to the first 39 books of the Bible. Nor are they referring to the Law of Moses. They are referring to the Covenant of the Law, the particular agreement which God made with Israel at Sinai.
What do some Christains mean when they say that the "Old Testament"/Tanakh, the Hebrew scriptures, have passed away? Do they mean that these God-given scriptures are no longer true? or that the yet unfulfilled prophecies they contain will never be fulfilled? Or do they mean that any promises God made in Tanakh including the promises of judgment for sin, and for the establishment of righteousness in the earth are no longer promised?
After Yeshua rose from the dead, He appeared to the disciples and taught them all they needed to know to proclaim the gospel. He taught them from the only authoritative revelation of God, Tanakh.
He appeared to some disciples and said to them "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary for Messiah to suffer these things and to enter into His glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning himself in all the scriptures." Lk.24:25-27
The Scriptures prophetically describe the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. The fulfillment of those prophecies demonstrates that Yeshua is the Messiah. The faith of the disciples had to be based on Moses, the prophets, and all the scriptures, i.e. Tanakh. They needed to understand Tanakh to be able to proclaim the gospel, to present Yeshua as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies.
On another occasion he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you that all things that are written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures." Lk24:44,45
In the gospels, none of the disciples ever quoted a single word of scripture. After Yeshua taught them, that changed. Peter quoted scripture after scripture in his first public speech on Shavuos. The quotations placed the pouring out of Gods Spirit as the fulfillment of what God had promised and was then fulfilling.
Peter always called the people to pay attention to what God had said in Tanakh: "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." 2Pet. 1:19 In all their writings, John and Paul also presented Tanakh as the foundation of all they taught and proclaimed. They quote from it to establish a point. Even in Revelation, the last book of the Bible, John quotes from the Law, the writings, and the prophets, speaking of their future fulfillment.
After Adams sin, God pronounced judgment on Adam, Eve, the serpent, and the earth. That judgment still stands, and all of Adam's descendants are still afflicted by the curse God then pronounced. After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah promising a rainbow as a sign that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood. That promise has not passed away. He said it would endure as long as the earth, its seasons, and day and night did.
God promised Abraham that he would be heir of all the earth. That promise has not passed away. All believers, even those who are Gentiles, must be children of Abraham to share in what God promised to Abraham. This is very important. Rom. 4; Gal. 3
Paul wrote about all the things that happened to Israel in the wilderness that, "These things happened to them as an example and they were written for our instruction upon whom the ends of the ages have come." I Cor 10:11 The Scriptures are still Gods Truth, and they still instruct us as to how we should live even until the end of this age. God doesn't change. Humanity doesn't change either. The same issues that arose in the time of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy still arise today.
Paul instructed Timothy to raise up faithful men and teach them what Paul had taught him. "Evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of knowing from whom you have learned them and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Yeshua, the Messiah. All scripture is breathed by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2Tim.3:14-17
Paul told Timothy that Tanakh gives the wisdom that leads to salvation, and is indispensable for teaching the believer how to live, and how to serve. Neither Paul nor Peter nor Yeshua nor any writer from Matthew to Revelation taught that the first 39 books of the Bible had passed away. They all proclaimed them to be the foundation of a life pleasing to God.
The Lord says in Isaiah 40:8 "the grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever." If the 80% of the Word of the Lord that is Tanakh has passed away already, what hope is there for the remaining 20%?
The Law of Moses
Sometimes some Christians think that "Old Testament" means the Law of Moses, and that the Law of Moses has passed away. In interpreting Paul, Martin Luther wrote that, "Christ has abolished all the laws of Moses that ever were." [Commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther, Translated by Erasmus Middletown, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1976, P.223] What a terrible thing that would be if it were true. There would be no laws against murder, theft, idolatry, adultery, bearing false witness, dishonoring ones parents, and on and on. Imagine the evil let loose in a world where God neither prohibits anything nor commands anything. Fortunately, Messiah did the opposite of what Luther claims. The Law is eternal. It cannot be abolished or destroyed. It is spiritual, holy, righteous, and good. God gave it and God breathed it. Like all the Word of God, it doesn't pass away. Luther and others have grossly misrepresented the teachings of Paul.
The historical record is actually very clear. All the apostles, including Paul, lived in accordance with the Law of Moses. All the Jewish believers did. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John. About 180 A.D., he wrote a book "Against Heresies", to safeguard the faith delivered by the apostles. He recorded the simple historical fact: "And the Apostles who were with James allowed the Gentiles to act freely, yielding us up to the Spirit of God. But they themselves, while knowing the same God, continued in the ancient observances...Thus did the Apostles, whom the Lord made witnesses of every action and of every doctrine...scrupulously act according to the dispensation of the Mosaic law..." Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol.5/1, trans. by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1867, Pp.313-314
The Law is the means by which we know what sin is. As Paul writes in Romans 7:7: "What shall we say then is the Law sin? May it never be. On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law for I would not have known coveting if the Law had not said you shall not covet." The Law defines and prohibits sin. "And where there is no law there is no transgression." Rom. 4:15
Paul recognized that, "until the Law sin was in the world but sin is not imputed when there is no law." Romans 5:13 If there is no law forbidding something, then it is not forbidden. If there were no law at all, then nothing would be forbidden. Nothing would be sin. Nothing would be wrong, and there would be no need or meaning for admonitions like, "Do not continue to present the members of your body to serve sin and lawlessness; but give yourselves to God as people resurrected from the dead to serve God in righteousness." Rom.6:13
Sin is lawlessness. It is breaking God's Law. cf. 1Jn. 3:4, Rom 2:12b If there were no law, then there would no sin, there are no sinners, and there is no judgment, because there is nothing to judge people for, and there is nothing to judge people by. There would then be no need for grace or salvation or a savior, because there would be nothing from which to be saved. On the contrary, the wrath of God will be poured out on the disobedient, those who have rejected His command. If there were no law or commandment, then there would be no right or wrong.
Paul understood the Law to be our tutor. It teaches us what righteousness and love are. It teaches us of Gods justice and judgment. It leads us to Messiah. As Moses said to Israel, "And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?" Dt.4:8
Yeshua taught that everyone would be judged for their sins. So did Paul. So did Peter. So did John. They never taught that Gods Law had passed away.
The Covenant of the Law
" Behold days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke although I was a husband to them, declares the Lord." Jer. 31:31-34
God promised to make a new covenant with Israel the same Israel that He brought out of Egypt and which later broke the Covenant of the Law. God had promised judgment, destruction, and ultimately exile for breaking the covenant He established at Sinai. That was being fulfilled in the time of Jeremiah. The northern kingdom of Israel was already in exile, and not much was left of the southern kingdom of Judah.
In the midst of this judgment for breaking the covenant made at Sinai, God declared His faithfulness to Israel. Though our fathers broke the covenant which He made with us at Sinai, God promised to make a new covenant. His choice and His purpose remained the same.
The "Old Covenant" is the agreement that God made with Israel at Sinai. It contains a specific revelation of Gods Law with specific details to demonstrate to and through Israel the righteousness of God, the necessity of faith and obedience, and the nature of Messiah. It was Gods gracious gift. God had chosen Israel long before Sinai when He chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Being chosen preceded redemption. It was because God had chosen Israel that He redeemed Israel.
The Law itself was not given as a means of salvation or redemption. Redemption from Egypt preceded the giving of the Law. The Law taught the chosen, redeemed people how to live before God.
If your father were king and you were a young child destined to rule one day, he would get a tutor to train you and teach you what you would need to know to rule the kingdom when your time came. He would give the tutor authority to teach, discipline, and punish you. When your time came, would you immediately shoot your tutor, reject everything he had ever taught you, and then have the audacity to proclaim your actions to be in accordance with the wishes, desires, and intentions of your father the king? The tutor is not the king. He is given by the king to train those who will one day rule. They must be trained so that they can properly make decisions and act in the liberty, freedom, responsibility, and position they will one day have.
The tutor is there so that you might take his lessons to heart, so that they might become a natural part of your thought processes. You are to rule according to what you have learned, even though the tutor no longer has authority to control or punish you. You will not need to be controlled from the outside, because you will have accepted what you have been taught. You will be controlled from within your own heart.
The Covenant of the Law was given out of God's love, mercy, and grace, but it promised judgment and death to those who broke it. The New Covenant is not God's means of destroying His Law. It is His means of establishing it. "I will write my Law within you. I will write it on your hearts, put it in your minds." God writes His Law on our minds and on our hearts so that we may remember and do all His commandments and be holy to Him. His Law is still his standard of holiness and righteousness. He puts His spirit within us to enable us to walk in obedience.
Thats why Yeshua said, "Dont even think that I came to destroy the Law. I didnt come to destroy it, but to bring it to fullness/to fulfill it/to establish it." All Israel had proclaimed many years before: "Cursed is he who does not confirm/fulfill/raise up the words of this law by doing them." Dt.27:26
As King of the Jews, Yeshua lived according to the holy law which God had given to Israel. That Law was breathed by God, given by His Spirit. Yeshua lived in harmony with the Law, because he lived in harmony with the Spirit. Thats why Paul wrote, "Do we then abolish the Law by faith? God forbid. We establish it." Rom.3:31 That's the whole purpose, that the righteousness of God might be established in us.
As Paul said of the New Covenant, Yeshua atoned for our sins and we received the Holy Spirit "so that the righteous requirements of the Law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." Rom. 8:4
I am guilty and condemned by the Law. As my kinsman-redeemer, Yeshua paid the penalty of death for my sins. If I accept his payment through identification with him, the judgment of the Law against me has been carried out and satisfied. I cannot be put into double jeopardy and condemned for the same crime after the penalty has already been paid.
God has always commended and desired righteousness, according to His revealed standard. "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the Law of the LORD, and on His Law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." Ps.1:1-3
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