Is the Mosaic Law abolished for Christians or do we still honor it?
Biblical Law, Ordinances and Feast Days
The Importance of the Law of God for Christians
There is a great deal of confusion and disagreement among Christians today concerning the role of Old Testament law (Hebrew: Torah) for believers under the New Covenant. A variety of Christian books and articles assert that the Torah is divided into three, four, or even five parts, and claim that a certain one or more parts are eternal and the rest abolished. In truth, the Old Testament laws are actually not all divided by God into precise, clearly distinguished and stated sections, but are an undivided whole. We cannot arbitrarily pick what we want to follow and call the rest "ordinances". In fact, there is disagreement over what exactly constitutes an "ordinance;" for example, some call the food laws ordinances and claim they are abolished, while others call them statutes and say they are eternal. The English word, ordinance, is itself an indistinct term, coming from the Latin, ordinare, meaning "to ordain." The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as:
- An authoritative command or order.
- A custom or practice established by long usage.
- A Christian rite, especially the Eucharist.
- A statute or regulation, especially one enacted by a city government.
So by dictionary definition, an ordinance is a statute! Additionally, what is called an "ordinance" in some verses of the King James Bible is often translated by words such as statute, law, or command in other English versions, and vice-versa. So what do we say to Christians today who want to know their New Covenant relation to the various commands of Old Testament law?
The key is to understand the change in the law from Old Testament to New. In fact, the word "New" in the term "New Covenant" is Kainos (ka-hee-nos) in Greek, and means "renewed or refreshed." This reflects the Bible's teaching that Old Testament laws are not "abolished" during the New Covenant era; they are "changed." The Apostle wrote in Hebrews 7:12, "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." So the Torah, the Old Testament law, was not abolished, it was changed, as Paul clearly states.
If the Old Testament laws were not abolished, then what was? The Apostle says, "It is not for us to use veiled language, as Moses veiled his face. He did it, so that the people of Israel might not go on gazing at the features of the old order, which was passing away." (2 Cor. 3:13) The old order or "Old Covenant" passed away and was superseded by the New. Yet the Old Covenant and the law are not synonymous terms. The Old Covenant agreement ended and was replaced by the New Covenant, while the law went through a change, as Paul said.
What is the change in the law? The Apostle wrote, "But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises." (Heb. 8:6) It was made better because now we are not dependent upon perfect obedience to the law to obtain salvation, nor do we need to sacrifice animals as sin offerings: "Whereas Jesus continues for ever and his priestly office is unchanging...one who has no need to do as those other priests did, offering a twofold sacrifice day by day, first for his own sins, then for those of the people. What he has done he has done once for all; and the offering was himself." (Heb. 7:24, 27)
Note that the priesthood was not abolished; it continued, but now with Christ as our high priest for all time. Likewise, the Old Testament blood sacrifice for sin was not abolished; it was changed: now we use it to claim Christ as our sacrificial lamb, instead of sacrificing animals year-by-year. Yet the law principle remains: "...without shedding of blood is no remission" of sins (Heb. 9:22)
We therefore have our own form of sacrifices under the New Covenant: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." (Rom. 12:1)
So we see that the Torah, including any sacrificial statutes or ordinances, was never abolished; it was changed into something better under the New Covenant. To give another example, we are no longer required to undergo physical circumcision. Yet circumcision was not abolished, it was changed. The principle now applies to the heart: "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) If circumcision was simply abolished under the New Covenant, then the Apostle's argument would have fallen apart. Paul is saying that the ordinance of circumcision still exists for us today under the New Covenant, but it has changed, and for the better.
No Biblical command of God has been abolished, despite the feeble attempts of disobedient and sinful men who want to be freed from Divinely-ordained constraints. Instead the Old Testament law has changed for the better for us under the New Covenant; now it represents principles and precepts for us to follow. We constantly hear Christians use the word "abolished" for either some or all of God's laws, even though the Apostle Paul clearly said the opposite: "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." (Rom. 3:31) Paul did NOT say that three-fourths (or some other arbitrary amount) of God's law was upheld for us as Christians, and the rest abolished! He considered the Torah, or Old Testament commands, to be an undivided whole, and upheld it all for us as Christians. Yet, as we saw previously, he recognized that there was a change that occurred under the New Covenant.
Christ Himself also proclaimed the continuing validity of the precepts of the law: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 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. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20) The last I looked, the heavens above had not passed away! Why do some teach that a whole section or more of the law is abolished, when Christ emphasized that not even a jot would be abrogated?
Why does the Old Covenant have so much to say about blood sacrifices for sin? This is simply because the doctrine of salvation which it encompasses is the most important teaching in all of the Old Testament. The New Testament, and the Book of Hebrews especially, has much to say about it as well. (Heb. 5:1; 7:27: 8:3; 9:9, 23-26; 10:1-12, 26; 11:4: 13:15-16)
Israel's Old Testament holy days―of which the three main were Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles― are variously called both statutes and ordinances. It might surprise you to know that these "feast days" were kept by the apostles and the early Christian church, a fact well known to historians. The early Church kept a Christian Passover, which they did not call "Easter." Interestingly, the word, "easter," in Acts 12:4 (King James Version) is actually "pascha" in the original Greek, meaning "Passover." (See the Amplified Version, Moffatt, Young's Literal, Lamsa, and several other translations). In fact, these feast days are an important part of the annual Christian calendar of Liturgical churches such as Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and others; and with good reason! Having grown up in the Lutheran Church, I had long experienced in worship the Biblical feasts and fasts kept throughout the liturgical year.
How do we keep these feast days today? Not by animal sacrifices or sleeping under palm-branched shelters as during the Old Covenant. The Torah, or Old Testament law, is to be upheld under the New Covenant as principles and precepts, not by legalistically (and often mindlessly) imitating Old Covenant rituals. Christ exclaimed, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." (Matt. 23:23; cf. Luke 11:42) Let us not neglect God's law, or leave it undone, but emphasize through it the New Covenant principles such as judgment, mercy, and faith.
Passover is important for us as Christians, for it was a foreshadowing of Messiah's coming and death for sin. The waving of the palm branches, up and down, symbolized resurrection from the dead. The unleavened bread symbolized the sinless perfection of Christ, the Passover lamb.
Pentecost or wheat harvest symbolized the ecclesia, or church. The twelve leavened loaves were emblems of the twelve tribes of Israel who have constituted the core of Christ's body during this Church Age. The loaves are leavened, symbolizing our present mortal bodies whose sins are washed clean only by the Blood of the Lamb.
Tabernacles or Sukkoth, the fall harvest, is kept today in America and Canada under the name of "Thanksgiving." Our early American Christian forefathers modeled it upon the Biblical feast. Even the non-religious in our land join in keeping this ancient festival; should we not give thanks to God from whom our harvest blessings flow?
This is only an overview of a timely and important subject. It is discussed in further detail in my study available from CBIA, "The Better Covenant," also posted at www.israelite.info/thebiblestoryfiles/better-covenant.html
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