The Old and New Law

You have read in the Bible of animal sacrifices, a priesthood, temples and tabernacles. As you read the Old Testament these things play a very prominent role. But today, Christians do not offer animal sacrifices, nor have a special holy priesthood, temples and tabernacles. Very few are the things of Old Testament times that professed followers of Jesus Christ practice today. Why is that so? Is the Old Testament simply out of date? Do we look to the Old, or the New Testament for our guidance today?

It is difficult for many to accept the fact that the Mosaic Law is no longer applicable or binding. Many have grown used to the idea that if one lives by the Ten Commandments God will bless and approve his or her life. While it is true that such a life would be based upon a high standard of morality, it is not true that the Ten Commandments, any part of the Mosaic Law, or the Prophets are the basis for serving and pleasing God in this age.

The Bible is the complete word of God. Both the Old and New Testaments came by His divine guidance through the Holy Spirit. Peter wrote, “And we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:19-20).

Both Testaments are truth for both came from the source of all truth. The Psalmist declared, “Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth” (Psa. 31:5). Paul spoke of those who “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever” (Rom. 1:25). John affirmed, “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:6). Jesus prayed that the chosen disciples would be set apart through the truth and added, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

The same apostle wrote, “Wherefore I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and are established in the truth which is with you” (2 Pet. 1:12). The King James translates the last phrase, “the present truth.” The New Testament is the present truth. Old Testament truth past truth. That does not mean the Old Testament is no longer truth; it means that it is not the truth under which God’s people today are to work, worship, and serve the Lord. Notice the following comment:

Present truth -- “i.e., the truth which is present with you through the instruction of your teachers...” Vincent’s Word Studies, Vol. I, page 683. Teachers in the New Testament taught that the Old Testament served its purpose and was removed. Paul wrote the Corinthians and affirmed he had been made an “adequate servant of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Letter here refers to the Mosaic law, given at Mount Sinai. The law of Moses is associated exclusively with the Old Covenant. Notice further. As he referred to the Jews who were observing the law after the death of Jesus, he wrote: “But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the Old Covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (verses 14-16).

The law of Moses is described as a law “contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:15). In this passage Paul affirmed that Jesus abolished that law “in His flesh” (His death on the cross). Add to that his statement, “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14).

The law of Moses was never intended to do what the Gospel does. The question is posed, “Why the Law, then?” Then it is answered. “It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made” (Gal. 3:19). It was added as an interlude. It was added to God’s promise to Abraham concerning the blessing to all nations. That blessing came through Abraham’s seed, and that seed was Christ. Next, we read verses 21-25.

“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.”

The Old Testament law did not provide freedom. Jesus said “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The term “shut up” (NASB) reads, “consigned to sin” in the RSV. The NIV translates it as if one is a “prisoner of sin.” The law was unable to provide life and freedom from sin, therefore righteousness is not base on law.

The expression “before faith came” is explained by that which was “to be revealed” after the law served its purpose. Faith is used objectively here to mean the entire gospel system of faith that came through Christ’s revelation. Now that faith is come, the law has no further purpose to serve. It is compared to a “tutor.” The word for “tutor” is a translation of the Greek term from which our word pedagogue is derived. At the time Paul wrote, a pedagogue was usually an educated slave who was assigned to accompany children to and from school. Christ Jesus is the teacher and the law is the escort. The primary function of the law was to bring the Jews to Christ.

An additional function of the law was to expose sin. Paul said that through law was the knowledge of sin (Rom. 7:7-13). People were made aware of their sins because God condemned sin through the Mosaic law. The same law that identified sin also required obedience. Sacrifices were to be offered for sins. The blood of “bulls and goats” were offered in compliance with the law of Moses, but were never offered forgiveness. The Hebrew writer wrote: “For the law, since is has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:1-4). Language can hardly be clearer. Nothing but the blood of Christ can take away sins.

In the foregoing scripture there is reference made to perfection. Perfect obedience to God’s law would have produced perfect worshipers. Perfect obedience means doing everything the Almighty commands and doing it flawlessly. The late Guy N. Woods wrote:

“Perfect obedience means doing all that is our duty to do (which implies perfect knowledge of our duty) from the moment we become Christians without the slightest mistake or imperfection. This is humanly impossible. But this is what justification by law demands. Hence if we are ever justified it must be by faith in Christ, and not by (perfect) obedience. This does not excuse us from rendering the best obedience we are capable of rendering, but it does shift the emphasis from obedience to faith as the basis for our hope of eternal salvation. It is faith, made alive by the best obedience we can render, by which we are justified. It was the law that taught the Jews the impossibility of being justified by works, and to hope for salvation through Jesus Christ.” (Annual Lesson Commentary, Gospel Advocate Series, 1948, page 106).

The Old Testament has been removed because it was weak. “For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment (the Law of Moses) because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (Heb. 7:18-19). The weakness of the Law lay in its inability to bring perfection. It was not a mistake on God’s part. It was never intended to make things perfect. When men seek perfection through obedience to the law of Moses, they misappropriate it. They seek to make it accomplish what it was never intended to do. Thus, it was “set aside.” It served its God-given mission. Never did God intend it to be a means of justification and salvation.

The better hope was brought in through Christ and the Gospel. This is the New Covenant of which He spoke. “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Again the Hebrew writer says, “So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (10:22). The New covenant is better in every way. Through the New covenant comes the promise of remission of sins. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied of the taking away of the Old Testament law and the bringing in of the New. The quotation is found in Hebrews 8:8-13. “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

Jesus Christ is the mediator through whom this New Covenant is made. “He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6).

While we believe the Old Testament is truth, we cannot seek to use it as our rule of faith and practice under Christ. We must no longer be under any law other than Christ’s law. Paul said that he could be as those “without law, though not being without the law of God, but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). Are the Old and New Covenants of equal importance? Hardly. Are we who live this side of the death of Christ, when he nailed the law to the cross, to keep the law of Moses? Surely not. “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” (Heb. 1:1,2). God spoke to the Jew by prophets. Now He speaks to all through Christ, His son. By “His son,” and the apostles he now speaks to all men. May God help us all to see and apply this very basic and fundamental truth.

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