Are Christians Supposed to Follow the Law of Moses?
Suppose you picked up a New Testament and decided to read it to see if Christians are supposed to follow the law of Moses. You would not read very far until you ran into some statements by Jesus himself that certainly would lead us to understand that the Law of Moses was here to stay.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19
I am a person who likes to take a simple first reading of the New Testament as its most obvious meaning. So this text would be a pretty good reason to understand that the Law was here to stay. The issue is a little more complicated than this as there are quite a few passages written after Christ’s death and resurrection that seem to teach that the law does not apply to Christians. Let’s look at this one.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16
We obviously have our work cut out for us if we are going to understand these passages. In Matthew Jesus tells us he did not come to abolish the Law, yet Paul two or three decades later writes to the Christians in Ephesus and tells them that Jesus abolished in the law.
How we deal with these two texts which are obviously contradictory at a simple first reading will say a lot about how we look at Scripture, seek to understand it and apply it to our lives and faith.
A real crude, but common, way to deal with this is just to pick one of the two texts that we like best and stick with it. Say we decide we really like the law so we go with the Matthew text as the explanation of what we believe. Anytime that someone quotes the Ephesians text to us we just shoot back our Matthew text to them and assume that settles the question. We are either assuming our Matthew text obliterates the Ephesians text or we are assuming that the Bible has a buffet of doctrines that we can pick and choose to our liking.
My understanding is that the Bible is a coherent whole. While we surely cannot answer all questions and clear up all doubts, we have to seek to understand the Word as logical and non-contradictory.
In the case of whether Jesus did or did not abolish the Law we need to look at the rest of the texts and find out what happened in between Jesus’ affirmation in Matthew and Paul’s teaching in Ephesians. Of course we understand that this is all God’s Word, both passages are inspired by the Holy Spirit.
We should look at what happened in between these two texts from two perspectives. In the book of Acts we can see this from the human perspective of the Apostles and other believers. The human perspective is in this space time reality in which we live and deals with things that were seen and heard, objective facts. In the book of Hebrews we will see this from God’s perspective. God’s perspective deals with spiritual and heavenly things that we can only know through God’s revelation to us, in Scripture.
Stephen O. Searfoss Sr.
October 28, 2010
Adapted from a work in progress…
“Why God Through Away the Rules”