The Old Testament takes up 2/3rds of the Holy Bible yet lots of Christians pay little attention to it. I think it’s because many of us have been taught that the Good News message in the Gospels somehow makes the rest irrelevant; after all isn’t the Old Testament full of laws and regulations that Christ’s death on the cross nullified?
Though Christ inspired into the hearts and minds of Hebrews the New Testament accounts were first written in Greek and all future translations that would spring from them came with slight variations.
For instance: “The Hebrew word ‘Torah’ literally [meaning] ‘teaching, doctrine’ is rendered in both the Septuagint and the New Testament by the Greek word ‘nomos’ which means ‘law.’” Daniel H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., p. 25.
Could this be how the impression that the Old Testament was simply a legalistic message came to the minds of us Western Gentiles?
What Was The Christ’s Intentions Towards the Law?
The “Law” or “Tanakh” (which includes the Torah, the messages of the minor and major prophets and sages, and other writings) was something that He claimed that he did not come to overturn or destroy.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one title will by no means pass from the laws till all is fulfilled. 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, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19 (NKJV).
Here is a Jewish version of the same message:
Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to fulfill. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod of one thorn will pass from the Torah until all has been established. Therefore the man who violates of these small mitzvoth and teaches sons of men to do like him will be called small in the kingdom of Heaven, but whoever does and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of Heaven. The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels, A Hebrew/English Translation, by Vine of David, ©2011.
The Christ even expressly endorsed Moses’ five books:
“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” John 5:46-47 (NKJV).
“For if you would only believe Moshes, you would also believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” Yochanan (John) 5:46-47, The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels.
The Christ Came to Redeem the Intended Law
What God the Father delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai was meant to show his chosen people what was sinful, and that He loved them and wanted them to reciprocate that love. It was basically a how-to guide to get right with the Lord. There is no better way to describe it then the way The Christ once did to a lawyer:
Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” “This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40 (NKJV).
Instead, as always happens, men decided to improve what God the Father perfected. So they added to the Law and soon it became a standard for righteousness rather than what it was intended to be- an instrument for repentance and forgiveness. Instead of people understanding that the Lord loved them they feared him, believing he was cold, cruel and always on the look-out for ways to condemn them. Meanwhile, the overseers of the Law became self-righteous and intolerant to those who did not keep their interpretation of the Law. This is what Christ sought to end and he taught the apostles to advocate. We should never forget that Christ’s Holy Spirit inspired all of the Law.
“How terrible for you, hypocritical scholars and Prushim [Pharisees]! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but neglect the weighty things in the Torah: justice, kindness, and faith.” Mattai (Matthew) 23:23. The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels.
“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:7-9 (NKJV).
When the Pharisees and the Herodians tried to bait Christ to espouse treason against Rome he replied: “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Matthew 22:18 (NKJV).
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Matthew 23:13 (NKJV).
“He said to them: “Thus it is written and decreed that the Mashiach [Messiah] will be afflicted and will arise from the dead on the third, and that teshuvah will be proclaimed in his name and the forgiveness of sins among all nations beginning with Yerushalayim [Jerusalem].” Lukas (Luke) 24:46. The Delitzch Hebrew Gospels.
He taught at the Temple and local synagogues too. Check out a few of the many examples found in the Gospels like Mark 1:21, 12:35, and John 7:14. What was taught in these places? Why the Torah, and the writings of the minor and major prophets and sages of course!
Well, after Christ ascended into Heaven did his apostles follow His intentions?
The Apostle Peter
He cites many Old Testament scriptures in both epistles named after him. For instance, in Acts 2:16, he quotes a passage from an Old Testament minor prophet- Joel 2:28-32. In 1st Peter 1:10, he referenced the prophets who foretold the grace of Christ that would one day come. In 2:6, he cited the fate of those who accept or reject Christ as being like builders who reject a chief cornerstone, references found in Isaiah 28:16, and Psalms 118:22.
The Apostle John
In 1st John, an epistle to refute the destructive teachings of the Gnostics, he wrote in 3:12, a reference to Cain’s murder of his brother and why he did it which goes back to Genesis 4:4. He cites obedience to the Commandments in 3:22; as well as holding the belief that Yeshua, son of David and Mary, was the promised Christ; and, in 3:23, the importance of loving one another.
The Apostle Stephen, First to be Maryted
The words of Stephen in Acts Chapter 7, where he accused some arrogant, puffed-up religious leaders of ignoring the spirit of the Law by adding to it in places and ignoring it in others roused up such a stir that the members of the Sanhedrin stoned him to death.
The Apostle James
James, the brother of John, was also following Christ’s directive to shake things up by turning the people to the true intent of the Law which included accepting Christ as their personal savior. He was seized and brought before Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great of Christ’s time of birth.
Herod Agrippa I, was half Jewish. It is speculated that he wanted to make up for not being fully Jew by blood, so he became a devout follower of their religious customs and practices. To gain the favor of the Jewish spiritual leadership in Jerusalem he ordered James’ execution as told in Acts Chapter 12.
The Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, first generation Christian, church planter, author of the majority of the books of the New Testament, continued to respect the Tanakh, (what we Gentiles call the Old Testament, which included the Torah, the books of the major and minor prophets and sages). He continued to go to the local synagogues and the Temple in Jerusalem.
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” Romans 3:31 (NKJV).
“Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” Romans 7:12 (NKJV).
Those who think Sha’ul [Paul] sought an escape from the Jewish Law in order to make Christianity easy for pagan converts must find this verse difficult. It proves that [he] neither had an un-Jewish view of the Law nor desired to abrogate it. This verse witnesses to [his] lifelong high regard for the Torah, which corresponds to his lifelong observance of it (see Acts 13:9N, 21:21N). This attitude would have been with him from his youth, since his parents were Pharisees (Acts 23:6); it would have been strengthened by his studies with Rabban Gamli’el (Acts 22:3); and there is no reason to suppose that his coming to faith in Yeshua –who did not “come to abolish the Torah” (Matthew 5:17) – would have changed it. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 378.
Here is Paul’s great tribute to the Law. It is caused by or filled with the Spirit of God. Paul condemns law only on one ground- legalism. He resists that view which regards law as a lien upon the being of God- by which God is obligated to do this or that for man (e.g. to save him) because man has kept certain statutes. The Wycliff Bible Commentary, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, ©1962, p. 1204.
Paul was obviously pro-Torah but not, for instance, to the point that following the circumcision requirement would discourage the spreading of the faith to the Gentiles.
In Eph. 2:14-15, Paul is speaking about how the gentiles who were called the un-circumcision (v. 11), were separated from Christ (v. 12), but have now been brought near (to God) by the blood of Christ (v. 13). Jesus removed the requirement of having to follow the Law in order to please God, established justification by faith, and thereby united both Jew and Gentile into one group in Christ. This is when Paul says in verse 15 that he abolished in his flesh the enmity which is the law of commandments in ordinances. The Law was that which separated Jew from Gentile and since it has been fulfilled in Christ, it is no longer something that would separate Jew and Gentile. Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, carm.org.
He was involved in another similar disagreement in Acts 15:1-29. In both instances the only thing eventually required of Gentile believers was to avoid four cited sins. Somehow, over the centuries since, this slight variation from Torah law has been misunderstood as an indication that it was entirely invalidated, thrown out all-together, even for Jewish followers of Christ. Rather, it was the legalistic rules that the Pharisees and Sadducees added to the Torah (and which they were hypocritical of) that they used to control people, and solidify their power. Christ was adamant about doing away with these.
Paul insisted that trusting in Christ doesn’t abolish the Law; rather it confirms it; but what about other apostles?
Paul at the Synagogue & Temple
And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.” Acts 13:5 (NKJV).
And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rules of the synagogue [in Antioch] sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:” Acts 13:15-16 (NKJV).
“When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent, but took leave of them saying, ‘I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.’ And he sailed from Ephesus.” Acts 18:20-21 (NKJV).
“Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.” Acts 14:1 (NKJV).
Just What is the Relevance of the Law to You and Me?
The best way to put it is this: The Law, or a portion of the Law, meaning the Ten Commandments just for instance, gives us a definition of what God considers sin. Even to the person who has lived on a deserted island all his life and never heard of God or Christ knows, just for instance, that stealing is wrong. That’s because that sin and others are written onto your hearts as something wrong. That voice inside of him that says he shouldn’t take something from his neighbor and its wrong for his neighbor to do the same to him we call a conscience.
Well, the Ten Commandments and the other laws spelled out in the first five books of the Holy Bible memorialize what we know in our conscience to be right and wrong. For those instances when we aren’t sure, God’s rules for life, first written on those two stone tablets, are there to guide us. Just like the Holy Spirit, it gives us guidance to living holy and acceptable lives in God’s eyes. That’s why Christ proclaimed that he didn’t walk the earth to overcome or end the Law. He came to fulfill them. Living holy and acceptable lives according to Christ’s definition is what being a Christian is all about. Far to many today who claim to be Christian have no regard for this simple truth; even leaders of congregations.
Sadly, many Christians today do not understand that Christ was pro-Torah. He never taught his apostles to be any other way. But we 21st Century Westerners, being so “Gentilized”, so divorced from the Jewish roots of the faith, tend to miss this important understanding.
Does this mean that we should start attending a Messianic synagogue? Should we install a mezuzah on our home doorpost or start wearing a Yammica? No, but we should call upon our church leaders to emphasize that Christ’s sacrificial death didn’t end the Torah. Instead it ended that which was maliciously added to it. Why would we be ignorant or disobedient of these commands or any other He gives us?
May this new awareness enrich our understanding of the reasons for Christ’s earthly visit, and bring our relationship with Him closer. Let it lead to a better understanding of the significance of the Tanakh, and shorten the distance between our hearts and those of that special people He declared to be his chosen that we Gentiles are grafted into.