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Validity of the Law Today

Law of Moses, Law of God, God's Law, Paul, New Covenant, Old Covenant, Jesus, New Testament, Old Testament, Mt. Sinai, tablets of stone, ark of the covenant, arc of the covenant

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Many people would quote Galatians 3:19 to determine the status of the Law. "What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made…"

The Law was indeed added. Its addition did not change the status of the Covenant of the Lord that was Israel’s governing law before the Law was added. Consequently if the Law were removed it would not affect that covenant or the judgments that came with the Covenant of the Lord. But let’s ask some questions about Paul’s statement above.

First, how did he know the Law was "till the Seed should come"? He doesn’t claim any special revelation. Is there anything in the Hebrew scripture that would indicate the Law was to be dissolved when Messiah came?

We’ve found nothing that indicates the Law would be dissolved, but there is a change of status indicated.

"The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear" (Deu 18:15).

Until this prophet arrives the Law was to be the absolute authority. Once the prophet arrives He is to be the authority. Does that leave Israel without direction until the Prophet re-establishes everything? There is no hint of that in what Moses says. Traditional Christianity reads Paul as if he believed the way they do.  It doesn't seem to understand that he continually reached back to the Hebrew scriptures for his validation.

So because the Law was subject to what the Messiah/prophet would say, doesn’t indicate that the Law was suddenly worthless, but that Messiah had authority over what Moses wrote if there seemed to be a conflict or if clarification was needed.

We should also ask, "When did Messiah, the Seed, come?"

I suppose it could be when He was born a human. On the other hand it makes more sense that He came when He began to fill the office reserved for Him.

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." … 21 'And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."' (Luke 4:18-21)

Messiah did not come when He was crucified.  That’s when He left.  He came when He started His ministry.  He began to speak as Messiah from that time on.  Did He negate the Law?

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Mat 5:17-19)

To ‘destroy the law’ to a Jew of the first century meant to improperly interpret it, as much as void it. In the same way ‘to fulfill’ meant to complete the full meaning or "to sustain by properly interpreting" (see Jerusalem Perspective , Mar 1988). This is one specific reason Jesus came to earth. It seems to agree quite well with Isaiah’s prophecy.

"The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake; He will exalt the law and make it honorable". (Isa 42:21)

Indeed this is what He did. In particular during the so-called Sermon on the Mount Jesus addressed a number of issues that are dealt with directly in the law. He also dealt with people’s perceptions of what the Law allowed. The law says don’t murder. Jesus told us to not hate. The Law said perform your vows or do what you swear to God to do. Jesus said don’t involve God in it; just do what you promise.

In all cases Jesus is raising the bar of what is proper conduct. He is not telling us to ignore the Law. So why are we surprised when Paul says, "Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good"? (Rom 7:12)  In some cases it is a minimum standard, but it is hardly to be discarded as a standard. Many stipulations of the Law Jesus did not address at all.

'Jesus answered him, "I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing."' (John 18:20)

"For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me." (John 17:8)

Those that became the Apostles grasped what Jesus told them. There were no secrets. It is not unreasonable to assume that they passed everything along to us that was new or of any importance. If Jesus didn’t speak on the matter the assumption should be that it stands as originally intended rather than it falls unless reconfirmed.

Nevertheless, there are requirements in the law that seem to be impossible to fulfill. Must we find a Levite to examine our house if it becomes moldy? Are tithes to be paid to Levites? There are also statements in the New Testament that seem to indicate the whole Law of Moses is not binding on Christians. These are especially in Paul’s letters, but some are in the words of Jesus and some are from other writers.

We need to remember the purpose for the Law. It was added because of transgressions. Also it was a "witness against" Israel. (Deu 31:26). At a minimum it established sin offerings, the Levitical priesthood and centralized worship at the temple. These have no basis in the Sinai covenant. They were not from the beginning and are not essential to the Law of God.

Hebrews is quite clear that Jesus Christ is now our priest not the local Levite (or preacher). Our sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ, not a sacrificed calf or goat. God allowed the temple to be destroyed leaving no doubt that His presence was removed. So regulations revolving around these institutions in the Law will need to be cautiously reevaluated. There is much to learn even in this instruction. It should not be thoughtlessly tossed aside.

The Law also added detail to some of what the Law of God already expected before the Law of Moses. Those stipulations in the law that detailed the previous Law of God should be assumed to stand. God’s Law does not change. It is especially the Ten Commandments with the judgments and statutes given at Sinai. If something included later in the Law further explains those concepts, it should be taken very seriously. Only if there is some explicit reason the detail added doesn’t apply to us can it be minimized.

After Paul indicated the Law was undergoing a change in status, he didn't leave us to assume what the new status would be. Unfortunately, it was lost on traditional Christianity.

Galatians 3:25 likens the Law to a 'tutor'. Actually the particular 'tutor' Paul named here was typically a slave who was responsible for the morals and 'common sense' judgment of a child, not necessarily academics. He was filling the role western society typically expects parents to fulfill. This tutor taught proper manners, respect and general virtues. These are not things one is supposed to discard once one reaches 'legal' age.

The child no longer reported to the 'tutor' after reaching legal age, but that doesn't mean he was free to discard what he was taught. Actually often the 'tutor' had a very close relationship with the adult child and would be consulted about various things as long as he lived. That is the relationship Paul seems to expect we will have with the Law of Moses.

The Law, including the Law of God, was written directly to ancient Israel. Because of that at first reading it might not seem to have anything to do with us, but God’s Law must be read for the principle or spirit, not the letter. For instance the judgments at Sinai contain a number of stipulations regarding slaves. However their application is not limited to slaves, but the principles behind them are valuable in corporate law, responsibility within a family as well as our responsibility to our Maker.

David didn’t think the godly were wasting their time by meditating on the Law of God day and night. He expected it would give him great stability and productivity (Ps 1:2-3). David also asked to be taught because he was trying to understand the mind of God and it is not intuitive to human nature. (Ps 27:11)

"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa 55:9)

If this is the case how can we expect a surface reading of his Law will tell us everything we need to know? Don’t expect to understand how to completely apply the Law of God to your life unless you seek Him yourself.  Study first what is obviously part of His Law.  You will then be in a better position to evaluate the Law of Moses to glean its wisdom.