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WHAT IS AND WHAT AIN’T:  PART TWO
  New Covenant versus Old Covenant law
  (What Is The law Of The New Covenant?)

 

The Cornelius Event:

        The Cornelius event is very instructive as to the question of what laws are applicable under the New Covenant and what laws are not. In Acts 10 we have the account of the Gentile Cornelius, the Roman centurion who became a Christian.  Cornelius was a Gentile Roman centurion.  He would have had charge of 100 soldiers.  He would be on duty 24/7.  He would be responsible for maintaining peace and enforcing the laws of the Roman Empire.  Those laws would include moral codes of conduct.  On the other hand, Cornelius, being an uncircumcised Gentile Roman Centurion, would not have been keeping the Sabbath.  As an uncircumcised Gentile he would not have been allowed to associate with Jews in the synagogue.  Cornelius would not have been keeping holy days, dietary restrictions or the various other laws that separated Israelites from Gentiles. 

       Yet Cornelius and his family are identified as fearing God and practicing works of righteousness.  It is apparent Cornelius and his family acknowledged the God of Israel as the one true God and conducted their live in accordance with the moral law established by God since creation. 

        Acts 10:1-2: At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.

        We see in the account of Peters visit to the home of Cornelius God confirming the acceptance of Cornelius by bestowing the gift of tongues on this Gentile and his family.

        Acts 10: 34-35: Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him (KJV).  Verse 44-45; “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.

        Why were the circumcised believers astonished that God had accepted this Gentile and his family?  They were astonished because they knew these Gentiles were uncircumcised.  These Gentiles were not converts to Judaism. They knew this Gentile family didn’t keep the Mosaic regulations.  They knew this Roman centurion did not keep the Sabbath, holy days, dietary laws, do sacrifices or perform any of the other regulations  they believed made only Israel eligible to have a relationship with God. Yet here they see God confirming that these uncircumcised Gentiles were being accepted by God.

       After his conversion to Christianity, was Cornelius required to be circumcised, start keeping the Sabbath, holy days, new moons, dietary restrictions, and the host of other Mosaic regulations in order to maintain his new found relationship with God?  No he was not.  At the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15, Peters experience with Cornelius is referenced when he says;

        Acts 15:7-11:  Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

        What yoke was it that Israel was unable to bear?  The yoke they were unable to bear was trying to establish and maintain a relationship with God by works of the law.  This included circumcision, and all regulations that separated Israel from Gentiles.  The Gentile Cornelius was clearly keeping the moral code as he is described as doing works of righteousness.  Obedience to the moral code has been defined as works of righteousness since creation. On the other hand, as a Gentile, Cornelius works of righteousness would not have included being circumcised and the keeping of the ritualistic, ceremonial and separatist regulations of the Mosaic Law.   

        In not requiring Gentiles to be placed under the yoke the Israelites were unable to bear, Peter is not referring to the moral law.  Obeying the moral law was a requirement irrespective of covenants. It applied to all mankind from creation. It was included in the Old Covenant but not inclusive to the Old Covenant. Peter was not suggesting that Gentiles no longer had to keep moral law.  Peter was saying that Gentiles should not be required to observe the ritualistic, ceremonial and separatist regulations of the Mosaic Law in order to be accepted by God.  This was the yoke that Israel was unable to bear.

       Some may point out that keeping these regulations are also works of righteousness since God required them.  God did require them under the Old Covenant system.  While that system was extant, these regulations were considered works of righteousness.  It is quite evident, however, that this system was being set aside. In carefully reviewing the New Testament documents, you will not find these regulations included in the New Covenant.   What you do find is repeated emphasis on the moral law as expressed through love. 

       Some will argue the Scriptures show first century Christians keeping the Sabbath, holy days dietary regulations, etc.  This is very true.  As stated earlier in this essay, Jewish converts to Christianity did not suddenly stop keeping the Mosaic Law.  First century Jewish converts to Christianity were not converts as we generally understand that word.  They did not leave Judaism for Christianity.  They simply added Christ to the Mosaic system.  Some of these Jewish Christians also believed the Gentile Christians should adhere to the Mosaic system.

        It was this mindset that created such a challenge for Peter and his associates. Peter would not have had reservations about going to the house of Cornelius if this Gentile was a convert to Judaism and was keeping the  Mosaic Law.  God showed Peter through the vision of clean and unclean meats recorded in Acts 10 that Gentiles were being welcomed into fellowship with God outside of being required to keep ritualistic, ceremonial and separatist regulations.

        Another instructive event showing the covenantal transition that was taking place is found in the altercation between Paul and Peter as recorded in Galatians 2.  Peter apparently had been eating with Gentiles but when some Jewish associates showed up, Peter withdrew himself because He feared what they might say.  Paul rebuked Peter for being two faced and pointed out that Gentiles were not compelled to live as Jews.  How did Jews live?  They lived by a variety of Mosaic regulations which included dietary laws which Gentiles did not observe.  The moral law is not at issue here.  What was at issue here were separatist laws that Christ had done away with through His death and resurrection. 

       Peter apparently had come to understood this and was living like a Gentile as Paul pointed out.  Peter simple became squeamish when his Jewish friends showed up who hadn’t yet come to understand the full significance of the Christ event relative to the Old Covenant.  

The Jerusalem Conference and the Law of Moses:

       Sometime subsequent to the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius and his family and the conversion of a number of other Gentiles to Christianity, some men came from Judea to Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were ministering.  It is said these men were teaching Gentile converts they cannot be saved unless they are circumcised.

       Acts 15:1: Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved."

       It is recorded that this led to a sharp debate between Paul and Barnabas and these men from Judea. The result was that Paul, Barnabas and other believers were appointed to travel to Jerusalem to see the Apostles and elders about this matter. After arriving in Jerusalem, they were met with a challenge from some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees.

       Acts 15:5: Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses."

       The term “the Law of Moses” is found 13 times in the Hebrews Scriptures and 8 times in the Greek Scriptures. In Acts 15, it becomes a central issue in a debate between Jewish Christian converts Paul and Barnabas and Jewish Christian converts who belonged to the religious party called Pharisees.  What makes this event more interesting is that Paul had been a Pharisee.

       The debate was about whether Gentile converts to Christianity were required to be circumcised and keep The Law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas argued against such requirement and others argued in favor of such requirement. This event is generally identified as the Jerusalem Conference.

       To properly understand the dynamics involved here, it is important we examine exactly what it is that was called the Law of Moses. Was The Law of Moses just another name for The Law of God?  If so, why was it called the The Law of Moses?

       We know from OT history that God gave a great deal of Law to Moses.  God gave The Ten Commandments to Moses on two tablets of stone at Mount Sinai as recorded in Exodus 20. In Exodus 21-23, we see a great deal of additional law given to Moses in the form of rules and regulations pertaining to every aspect of Israelite life. Beginning in Exodus 25 through chapter 40, we see much additional instruction given to Moses regarding sacrifices, the building of a tabernacle and the selecting of a Priesthood including what they would wear and how they would function. We see instruction about the Sabbath and annual feast days.  In Deuteronomy and Leviticus we see more law given by God to Moses including dietary regulations, sexual conduct directives and more instruction about keeping annual occasions called Feasts of the Lord.

       In view of the fact that this massive amount of Law is seen as being given to Moses who then becomes the administrator of this Law among the people, it simply came to be known as the Law of Moses even thought it came from God and was in reality the Law of God.

       This great body of Law is first mentioned as The Law of Moses in Joshua 8:31.  It is recorded that Joshua built an alter to the Lord according to the specifications found “in the book of the Law of Moses.”  Then, in the presence of the Israelites, he copied on stone the Law of Moses which he (Moses) had written.  Following this, Joshua read to the people all the words found in the Book of the Law.

       Joshua 8:34-35.  Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law--the blessings and the curses--just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them.

       It is recorded that Joshua read every single word of what Moses had commanded.  We find in Deuteronomy 31:24 that shortly before his death, Moses wrote in a book the words of the law from beginning to end. It would appear from what we have read thus far, The Law of Moses includes every rule and regulation God had ever given to Moses.  This would include the Ten Commandments, dietary regulations, feast days and every other rule God gave to Israel through Moses.

       1 Kings 2:1-3: When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. "I am about to go the way of all the earth," he said. "So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.

       Here we see included in the Law of Moses the decrees, commands, laws and requirements God required of Israel, a rather all inclusive statement.  During the time of Nehemiah, we see the Book of the Law of Moses brought to the people and apparently read it in its entirety.

       Nehemiah 8:1-3: All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate….and all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

       Nehemiah 8:13-14:  On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law.  They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month.

       So here we find that the feast of the seventh month, what was called the feast of tabernacles, was part of the Law of Moses. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that all the other feast days recorded in Leviticus 23 were also part of the Law of Moses. In Luke 24, we see Jesus, after His resurrection, telling His disciples the following:

       Luke 24:44:  He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."

       The phrase, “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms" has always been understood as identifying the tree-fold division of the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Law of Moses refers to the Pentateuch which are the first five books of the OT.  While not everything in these five books has to do with the Law, it certainly would have included the entire Law given to Moses by God.

       It should be apparent that the Law of Moses included all sacrificial law, ceremonial law, dietary law and worship law.  It included the keeping of the Sabbath and annual feast days.  It included moral law as seen in the Ten Commandants and the many civil laws. This was a complete package of law that made up the covenant God made with Israel.  When God entered into a covenant relationship with Israel we see it is the Law given to Moses that spelled out the terms of the covenant.  This Law included the Ten Commandments.

       Exodus 34:27-28: Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant--the Ten Commandments.

       Deuteronomy 4:13-14: He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. And the LORD directed me at that time to teach you the decrees and laws you are to follow in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.

       The NT clearly shows that the covenant made with Israel was being replaced with a new covenant based not on the Law of Moses but on faith in the sacrifice of Christ.  This new covenant would require behavior based not on the regulations found in the Old Covenant but on the “law of love” which is basically defined by the “Golden rule” which teaches we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

       We find the “law of Love” in operation from the time of creation as such things as murder, theft, lying, adultery and other such behaviors are seen as sin from the beginning.  These behavioral laws were incorporated into The Law of Moses and became part of the Old Covenant.  When that covenant was replaced by the New Covenant, these behavioral laws became part of the New Covenant.  Are there other laws contained in the Law of Moses that became part of the New Covenant?  What about the Sabbath, Feast days, dietary regulations, tithing etc. This takes us back to the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15.

The Jerusalem Conference:

       Some Jewish Christian converts were insisting that the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses which would have included observing the Sabbath, annual Feasts, dietary regulations and a host of other rules.  So the question before them was simply this: Must Gentile converts to Christianity be circumcised and required to keep the Law of Moses and do all that is contained within that law.  Here is the answer:

       Acts 15: 6-10: The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.

       Peter relates that God accepted the Gentiles based on their faith in Christ. He sees circumcism and The Law of Moses as a yoke that Israel was never able to bare, a fact clearly born out by a review of OT history.

       Following Peter’s speech, Paul and Barnabas told of the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them, thus giving evidence to the Gentiles being accepted by God outside of being circumcised and adhering to the Law of Moses.  Apostle James then got up and the prophet’s spoke of the Gentiles would come to be accepted by God.  He then mad a judgement.

       Acts 15:19-20: It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

       In James saying “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God,” he is backing up Peter who spoke of the Law of Moses as a yoke which Israel could not bare.  He is telling the group that the Gentiles should not be burdened with this body of Law.  Gentiles should not be required to adhere to the requirements of this Law which would include being circumcised, observing the Sabbath, Feast days or following the dietary regulations.

       It may be asked why James directed the Gentile converts to “abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”  Aren’t regulations against eating blood part of the Law of Moses?  We find prohibition against eating blood in Leviticus 7 and 17 and Deuteronomy 12 and 15.  These prohibitions involved the proper draining of blood of animals killed for food or sacrifice. Strangled animals would not have had their blood shed properly.

        So was James picking out certain regulations from the Law of Moses and imposing these laws on the Gentile believers?  Idol worship, sexual activity associated with idol worship and eating meats associated with idol worship was a common practice among the Gentiles. It appears James is simply telling the Gentiles they are to discontinue their involvement with such practices.  Such practices would have been especially offensive to the Jews.  James may have simply been trying to foster better relations between Jews and Gentiles.  We see in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 that Paul modified this some and allowed meats offered to idols to be eaten provided it didn’t offend a brother in Christ.

       It is apparent that the Gentile Christians were not required to be circumcised or keep the Law of Moses.  There is nothing in the NT narrative that teaches that Gentiles Christians were required to keep the Sabbath, Feast days and dietary regulations or any other requirements of the Law of Moses. This Law pertained to Israel only and never pertained to Gentiles.  Many of the Jewish converts to Christianity continued to keep the Mosaic Law as this was their heritage and it took time for them to realize they were no longer under obligation to keep this body of law.  This is why you see evidence in the NT of Jewish Christians keeping the Sabbath, Feast days, dietary laws and other regulations of the Law of Moses.

       The writer to the Hebrews made it clear that the Old Covenant was being replaced by a New Covenant resulting in the Old Covenant being abolished and passing away.

       Hebrews 8:13: By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.    

       As can be seen, the passing of the Old Covenant was in process. While the Christ event made it obsolete, adherence to it didn’t disappear until the Temple was destroyed in AD 70.

       In Part Three of this series we will discuss the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

PART THREE