Christians and the Mosaic Law

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Galatians 3:13 says Christ died to redeem us from the curse of the law. Deuteronomy 28 and 29 list all the blessings under the Mosaic Covenant. Should believers in the new covenant expect all the blessings listed in the Mosaic Covenant?”

The simple answer to that is no. Galatians is referring to something else. The point that is about to be made is one that is not clearly understood by probably 98% of Christians. This is it: The Mosaic Law is a contract God made with Jews. The entire Mosaic Law.

Treaty_of_Kadesh-1024.pngDeuteronomy means second law and it's the last book of the Pentateuch. The laws given mostly in Leviticus, and then there's Numbers and the wandering in the wilderness where one whole generation dies off, and then there's a repetition or a restating of the law in Deuteronomy for a new generation. The structure of that particular book follows a very precise framework that is an ancient treaty structure between a great king called the suzerain and his vassals.  

This just reinforces the notion that this is a contractual arrangement (that's what a covenant is, a contract) between one party and another party. God and the people who he saved. I am the Lord your God who rescued you out of the land of Egypt. Therefore, you are now mine and you need to obey me. You do these things and I will protect you. You don't do these things and I'm not going to protect you. This is seen in Deuteronomy 28 through 30; the blessings and cursing. This is all for Israel. Lock, stock and barrel. There is nothing in the Mosaic Law that applies to Christians in virtue of it being in the Mosaic Law.

Here is an illustration or comparison; Just like there is nothing in the law of the state of Illinois that applies to me as a resident of the state of California.” There are going to be things in that law, in the state of Illinois, that are in there not because they are parochial legislation for people in the state of Illinois, but because there are certain things that should be illegal everywhere, like homicide. As a result they show up there.

The same thing goes for the laws in California. They also have homicide laws. You may also notice that homicide laws are in all the states. This is because no one should commit homicide. They're included everywhere because homicide is wrong, and by the same token you see certain legal requirements in the Mosaic Law that transcend the Mosaic Law. They are universals which is why they show up there.

This is why we are beholden to some of those laws. Then it's a question of which laws are those? The safest and simplest way is just to look at the New Testament and see at what things are morally obligatory for Christians under a different covenant called the New Covenant.

You'll see some of those things are most of the 10 commandments, except for the commandment about the Sabbath. It isn't that there's nothing in the Mosaic Covenant that doesn't reflect a universal that applies to all of us, but the Mosaic Covenant as such, is not a Gentile covenant at all. It is a covenant (under a certain set of circumstances) between God and the Jews. Even for Jews that covenant has been set aside, because now they have a new covenant.

The prophet Jeremiah in chapter 31 prophesied a new covenant that would replace the covenant which Israel broke, which is the Mosaic Covenant. He specified the one that God gave you when you came out of Egypt. That's the very first thing. There is nothing in there, as such, that we as Gentiles are to follow. It is for this reason that the blessings and cursing of the Mosaic Covenant do not apply to Gentiles. Period.

That doesn't mean there are no blessings for obeying God, and that there are no troubles for disobeying Him. We know that for other reasons. The point being made here is that the specific provisions of the Mosaic Covenant are for the Jews under the theocracy and that's it. We can learn about God from those laws and there are things we understand about God's nature et cetera. But the line items themselves are not for us.

In Galatians, when it says that God rescued us from the curse of the law, Paul is speaking to Galatians. That means people who live in Galatia and these are comprised of diaspora Jews (dispersed Jews who lived in the Galatian region which is now Turkey) and also the Gentiles who became believers and are joined in that community. The curse of the law is any requirement of law for justification. We cannot keep that. Any requirement of any law, including moral law (which are those universals that are in the Mosaic Covenant which apply to Gentiles, not in virtue of being Mosaic, but in virtue of being universal moral requirements), weigh upon us.

The Laws act, as Paul says in Galatians, as a tutor because we face the moral demands on our lives, and we realize we don't measure up to them. Therefore, we need to be rescued. In Galatians 5, Paul talks about being rescued from that. However, if we are seeking to be justified by Law then we are under obligation to keep the entire thing.

For the Jews this was the entire Mosaic Covenant. For Gentiles all moral obligations that befall them, in virtue of living in God's world. We have been rescued from that and instead we have been placed, all of us, under a different covenant that we call the New Covenant and the New Covenant is not just for Jews, it’s also for Gentiles as well. That's the covenant in which there is full and complete forgiveness of sin and that there is the giving of the Holy Spirit to allow us to progressively defeat sin in our life as we grow in Him.

All of these things are in the book of Galatians. The fact that the law as a tutor. The fact that if we try to live according to law, whatever law it is, we are under obligation to keep the whole law. If we receive circumcision as a Jewish person or if we try to keep the provision of Mosaic requirements then, if that's the way we are being justified we are being severed from grace. It's one or the other is the way Paul is describing there. However, we are under a new covenant. We have been rescued from any obligation towards a law for the purpose of individual justification before God. That's the message of Galatians that so critical.

Going back to the question at the beginning, the short answer is that we do not get the benefits of a covenant that we are not in. We are in the new covenant. We are not under the Mosaic Covenant. Therefore, we cannot demand the benefits that He offered in that covenant by trying to follow that covenant.

One thing that can be realized when reading through the New Testament, is how much of it addresses this question of the Law. It was such a big issue back then. Paul gives the image of the believers in Christ being grafted in through faith onto the root, and those who don't believe him being cut off (the branches being cut off). If Gentiles are being grafted into the root of God’s original covenant with with Abraham, the question would be, Do the Gentiles have to follow all of these these requirements of the law?”

Much of the New Testament addresses this concern. One of the biggest parts that does this is chapter 7 in Romans. It explains how when we are joined to Christ we die and we are released from the Law. Then we are raised in Christ so that we can be joined to Christ. We don't have to be joined to the Law. We are actually joined to Christ. We receive the Spirit and the Spirit changes us and enables us to become more like God. 

That's the whole purpose of the Law. To shape the nation to be more like God so that they would reflect God to the world. And of course the Law fails to do that, because the Law can’t empower us to do that. hebrew-text 300x228.pngThis is the point that Paul makes in Romans 7, that when we are raised with Christ the Spirit enables us to become more like God; which was the point of the law in the first place. Therefore, it's better to be in the Spirit than to be under the letter of the law which can give you no power to do those things. 


That fight between the flesh and the Spirit is described in Galatians 5. This is all part of the argument that Paul is offering in Galatians. The passage found in Galatians 3:8 refers to the curse of the law which underscores the point being made above. Keep in mind that Galatians is written to those in Galatia. They were Gentiles who have trusted in a Jewish messiah but then were being pressured to adopt the practices of the Jewish law as essential for their justification. That's the background, and the group of people doing this were called Judaizers and Paul says that is a separate accursed gospel.

Paul was trying to explain how this all works and in chapter 3 he refers to Abraham (remember the Abrahamic covenant). Genesis 12 verses one through three is the backbone covenant of the rest of the Bible. It's God's plan to rescue the world. He calls one man to found a nation. Which God protects and organizes and develops into a functional nation. Then that nation will be used by God to bring blessing to all the goy (Strong’s 1471) all the nations, all the Gentiles.

Galatians 3:8 says, The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, all the nations will be blessed in you.” That's what was just being referring to. So then, those who are of faith…” As opposed to law Paul's arguing here, “…are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For…” Now he's contrasting this to the law, as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse;” Which curse is that? for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.’“

Then he caps it off with verse 11, Now that no one is justified by that law…” and of course you could see you're not going to be justified by that law unless you keep it all, and no one can keep it all. That's Paul’s argument. Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for,…” and then he cites here from Habakkuk, “the righteous man shall live by faith. However, the law is not of faith; on the contrary, he who practices them shall live by them.”

Finally in verse 13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree and he continues that argument, but when you read that flow of thought, when we practice never read a Bible verse you can see the kind of case that Paul is making there. He's making the case against Gentiles being pulled into a legal system that could never justify them in the first place. They can't keep the Law nor was the Law intended to justify them. But rather, there is a different program that would not only justify believing Jews but justify Gentiles as well. All blessed through Abraham and that is the Gospel of Grace.

The mistake that Jews were making while under the Mosaic Covenant was that they were pursuing justification as if it were by law (by works) rather than by faith. As Paul makes clear in Romans 9:30-32, the promise to Abraham was always by faith. That's the only way it can be guaranteed to someone. The Law had a different purpose. The Law was there to shape their culture and to reveal their own sin to them. It was never meant to justify them because it can't. Here is what that passage says,What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” They lost sight of the fact that this was about faith in God for justification. However, they were pursuing the works and the works will never save you.

Don't hear what’s being said and think that the Law is irrelevant; the Law is relevant. The Law was given to Israel to train them to know what God is like. Now our motivation to be like God is grounded in different things and it's empowered by the Spirit, but we can still see who God is by looking at the laws that tell us not to lie, not to steal, not to murder, and how to treat people, what's important, what isn’t important, what is just, what does justice look like, all these things we learned from the Law.

It's really important for us to read the Law and to let that shape our minds; as long as we realize this is not the way that we become righteous. We become righteous in Christ by faith. So as long as we keep that in mind, don't think that the Law is useless or we have no need to read it or that it has no purpose, the Law still has a purpose in our lives. Paul says the Scriptures were written to exhort and to train so that we could be ready for every good work. That's written in 2nd Timothy.


Do modern Christians over emphasize or idolize the 10 commandments? This confuses non-Christians about the applicability of the Old Testament laws.”

We don’t know exactly what the questioner means by idolize. However, the phrase “idol” does perhaps get tossed around a little bit too much. If we are obliged to keep the 10 commandments, as part of the Mosaic Law (we were just describing above how there's a qualification that needs to be understood), but if by doing the thing that God tells us to do, having written those details down is not making those details an idol. It just means that we’re obeying the instructions that God has given us. With those elements in mind, we have no sense that Christians have somehow idolized the 10 commandments.

Many Christians do have a misunderstanding about how the Law in general is supposed to be used. If the 10 commandments have application to us today, it's not idolatry to obey them. It's the opposite since one of the commandments is against idolatry. My conviction is that 9 of the 10 commandments are still obligatory, not because they are in the Mosaic Covenant, but because they are obligatory for everyone. That's why they're in the covenant and that's why they're obligatory in the New Testament they are universals.

The one exception would be the Sabbath. We are not obliged to keep the Sabbath, nor do we by the way. Except for Seventh Day Adventists, Christian’s don’t keep the Sabbath. The Sabbath is Friday night to Saturday night, that's the Sabbath. It's not Sunday morning. We see that it’s a new practice of the Christians in the first century. They gathered on Sunday morning, but they were not redefining the Sabbath. They were just celebrating on Sunday morning (the first day of the week) because that was the day that Jesus rose from the dead. That’s why, from this perspective, Sabbath does not apply but the other ones do. Not in virtue of them being in the 10 commandments or in the Mosaic Covenant but in virtue of them being universal's and therefore repeated as such in the New Testament.

We did another episode on the Sabbath where we went into more detail (#STRask episode 590). The 10 commandments are a summary of some very basic moral teachings. The Sabbath is different. The idea is that there are some things in the Old Testament laws that were precursors of Christ. They were supposed to prefigure Him in some way and now that Christ is come they have been fulfilled.

Here's what it says in Colossians 2:16-17, Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or Sabbath day things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”

When Christ came He was the fulfillment of that shadow. The shadow was there to help us to see Christ and to understand what was going on when Christ arrived. This is why that particular command is somewhat different. Whereas the other commands are all basic moral categories which summarize most of the moral rules that we ought to be following in SermonOnTheMount 200x223.pngorder to be more like God. That's our motivation now. We are new creatures. We put aside our old selves and we are becoming more like Christ. This is what God says His goal is for us. That's what He says is our good, in Romans 8:28-29, that He is making us more like Christ and that is our goal and that's why we are putting our sin to death. Not because we are trying to earn anything.

In terms of this question, many Christians are confused about all of this. However, the answer is not to ignore the 10 commandments, but rather to help people understand and to explain all this to them. This is a huge problem today. Many people don't realize what's going on and it is in the benefit of everyone to be aware of this as we read through the New Testament. As you do this, you will see how much of the Law comes up all the time. It was a huge deal even back then and there's plenty in the bible about it. Part of the challenge could be just that we are not reading straight through, and so we don't make the connections between the different parts of the New Testament that are talking about this. It could be also that what they are discussing is simply being misunderstood.

It is recommended that you go through the teaching at Stand to Reason called The Bible Fast Forward” (audio, DVD), because there you get 8 sessions that start in Genesis and really focus in on the Abrahamic covenant. We show how these covenants, the Abrahamic, the Mosaic and the New Covenant are all tied together in a very significant way. Then the consequences of their relationship are played out in the advent of Christ. Unless you see how those things were meant to operate, you won't see clearly how Jesus fits into the whole picture, which is the kind of thing that Paul argues regarding the passages we were just referring to.

Even the New Testament church needed to be educated on that. The Jews had need for clarification on the nature of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant, which they were familiar with both, in some measure. The Gentiles didn't have a clue, and so they had to be instructed in the relationship of these things in order to see the significant role that Jesus played in tying everything together, fulfilling it all and giving us an entirely fresh, new and deep way of relating to the Father.



The above article is an adaptation from Stand To Reason’s #STRask podcast with Amy Hall and Greg Koukl.
Date: 12/27/2021
Episode: 613

Referenced Episode #590:
Referenced Episode #590