Christians and the law of Moses

Part 1

Jim Bramlett

 

Next to salvation, nothing can be more important for the Christian than having the revelation of all that Jesus has done for us in the New Covenant. He said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you" (Luke 22:20, NIV). He implemented the New Covenant with His own precious blood! That is how important it is. It is a central truth.

 

Yet most Christians do not know the difference between the Old and New Covenants and are often confused.

 

My primary interest is in Bible prophecy and the soon return of the Lord, but I consider this subject important to prophecy. Why? That is because before they depart for glory, Jesus wants His people to better understand this subject, and not be like the Galatians, whom Paul called "foolish," and "bewitched" (3:1). I am told that the Judaizers of today hate and ignore the book of Galatians and wish it were not in the Bible.

 

I have had an interest in and burden for this subject for many years, during which time I have had many Seventh-Day Adventist friends, and still do. My wife used to be an Adventist. They are wonderful people. They love Jesus and His Word, but they do not understand the New Covenant. Because of the writings of founder Ellen G. White, most insist they cannot know whether or not they are saved and believe it depends on how well they keep the law of Moses, especially the Fourth Commandment. It is really sad. Some Messianic Jewish circles either embrace or are dangerously close to this unscriptural view.

 

This message is Part I on this subject, and I have permission to quote from Pastor/author Marvin Byers’ new book, The Mystery: a Lost Key, about Israel and the Gentile church, "a life and death issue for all believers," he says. The book is available from Hebron Ministries, Section 0374, P.O. 02-5289, Miami, Florida 33102-5289, or call 1-800-LAST-DAY.

 

Marvin Byers is a Messianic Jew and an astute Bible scholar. Below is an excerpt from his new book, pages 154-157.

In the next part, I will share what he says about keeping the Sabbath.


Excerpt:

 

QUESTION:

 

Should Gentile and Jewish believers keep the law of Moses the best they can?

 

ANSWER:

 

The law of Moses involves both laws of ritual and laws of righteousness. The New Testament actually validates the laws of righteousness. However, the heart of the law of ritual is a temple and a Levitical priesthood, chosen to offer blood sacrifices. It is impossible to obey a large portion of the law of Moses found in Leviticus and other books of the Pentateuch without a temple and animal sacrifices.

 

Some very convincing arguments are being presented to Gentile believers these days regarding the importance of "keeping Torah." "Torah" is the Hebrew word for "law." Unfortunately, one of the serious misunderstandings of Scripture, among others, that forms the basis of such teachings involves the biblical definition of the word "Torah" or "law." The biblical definition of "Torah" or "law" is the root of the problem. The "Torah (or law) of Moses," is, of course, one place where this word is used. However, over 400 years before the "Torah of Moses," the original Hebrew tells us that Abraham "kept Torah" (Gen. 26:5). That is, he kept the "law" of God. One of many New Testament references to the "law of Moses" is I Corinthians 9:9. The Greek word used throughout the New Testament to translate the "Law" that Moses gave is "nomos." Therefore, "nomos" and "Torah" speak of the same thing --"law." However, Paul writes: "In the law (nomos) it is written: ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,’ says the Lord" (I Cor. 14:21). The problem is that Paul is quoting from Isaiah 28:11-12 and not from the law of Moses. Either Paul considered the prophets to be part of God’s law, or else he made a mistake. John 10:34 tells us that "Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law,’ I said, ‘You are gods’"? Jesus is quoting from Psalm 82:6 and calls it the "law" (nomos).

 

Other Scriptures show that neither Jesus nor Paul made a mistake in calling the Psalms and prophets the "law." The Bible uses the term "torah" or "law" to refer to all the Word of God, not only to the five books of Moses. Psalm 119:142 defines the "Torah" saying, "Your law is truth." Therefore, we are definitely called by God to "keep Torah," or, in other words, to obey God’s Word. However, this does not refer to observing the rituals of the law of Moses as some claim.

 

Regarding keeping the law, James tells us that "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas. 2:10). It is impossible to observe the most important aspects of the ritual found in the law of Moses, which include atonement through blood sacrifice. If we cannot obey what is central to that law, why should we put a yoke on people that is unnecessary and impossible to bear by telling them that they should obey all the other rituals that they should keep the law of Moses. Peter asked, "Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" (Acts15:10). Paul gives an even stronger warning about the law of Moses itself: "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’" (Gal. 3:10 NIV).

 

The question of whether or not Gentiles should keep the law the best they can was decided in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. At that time, it was still possible to keep every detail of the law, since the temple and priesthood were still functioning. In that council, the Holy Spirit revealed that there are only four aspects of the law necessary for Gentiles to keep (Acts 15:28-29). (Interestingly, some Gentile believers are not concerned about obeying even those "necessary things.") How did the leadership of the Church arrive at their conclusions?

 

First, Peter spoke regarding how the lord sent him to the Gentiles and that the law is an impossible yoke (Acts 15:7-11). Then, Paul and Barnabas testified of God’s glory among the Gentiles who obviously had not been keeping the law up until that time (Acts 15:12). Finally, James spoke (Acts 15:13-21). For some reason, James’ words were sufficient to convince the leaders that the Gentiles did not have to keep the law of Moses. At first glance, his discourse does not even seem to bear any relevance to the issue of keeping the law, much less provide the answer for the Church. But a close examination of his reasoning shows why he had the key to the resolving the problem, and it came strictly from the Old Testament itself.

 

James linked the entrance of Gentiles into the Church to the fulfillment of God’s promise to rebuild the tabernacle of David (Acts 15:14-17). He was declaring that the events in the early Church were a fulfillment of this promise, and that is was actually for this reason that the Gentiles were entering the Church. This means that the clearest revelation of the New Testament tabernacle, or the Church in which the Lord dwells, was the tabernacle of David in the Old Testament, not the tabernacle of Moses or the temple of Solomon. For many reasons (that are outside the scope of this book), David’s life is a revelation of a believer’s New Testament life in Christ. Interestingly, David’s name is the first and last human name mentioned in the New Testament (Mt. 1:1; Rev. 22:16). Also, Christ inherited the throne of His father David (Lk. 1:32-22). Therefore, David’s kingdom provided the first biblical revelation of the New Testament kingdom, just as the first revelation of the New Testament priesthood was given in Melchizedek.

 

What is there about the life of David that shows that the Gentiles are not required to keep the law? It is simply that David himself was not under the law, and his life and kingdom are revelations of the New Testament life and kingdom. David seemed to "violate" one major issue of the law of Moses after another, and he did so with the blessing of God. David was not really violating the law. Rather, his spiritual life had simply risen above outward rituals, so that he was no longer "under" them. Here are some examples of areas in which his life rose above the law:

 

While only the priests were permitted to eat the showbread, David went into the tabernacle and ate it along with his friends (Mt. 12:3-4).

 

The law demanded that a murderer and adulterer be stoned without mercy (Deut. 19:13; Heb. 10:28). But God forgave David for both, and he did not have to die (II Sam. 12:13).

Under the law of Moses, the ark of God had to be kept in the tabernacle that Moses built (Exod. 40:3). After being dissuaded at first, David brought the ark to his home (I Chr. 13:13; 15:1-3, 16:1).

 

The law allowed only the High Priest to go in before the ark once a year. David was not even a priest, but he went in before the ark whenever he wanted (II Sam. 7:2, 18; 15:24-25). The way into the Holy of Holies is part of New Testament life (Heb. 9:3, 8; 10:19-20).

 

The law demanded that all sacrifices be offered on the altar that Moses built in the tabernacle that he built. David built another altar and offered sacrifices in a different place (Deut. 12:5-6; Josh. 22:29; II Sam. 24:18).

 

The early Church leaders were surely aware of these facts. Therefore, once they realized that the Church that Christ was building was patterned after David’s tabernacle, kingdom, and life, they realized that the Gentiles did not have to keep the law of Moses. Why? Because David himself did not keep the letter of the law of ritual because the law was in his heart.

 

Paul’s way of living regarding keeping or not keeping the law is spelled out in I Corinthians 9:20-21. He kept it when he was with the Jews, and did not keep it when he was with the Gentiles. This was in keeping with what the council in Acts 15 determined, combined with the selfless Spirit of Christ in Paul who sought to win others, both Jews and Gentiles. From Paul and the context of the New Testament, it is clear that the Gentiles were not required to keep the law, nor were they forbidden to do so. On the other hand, the Jews were not forbidden to keep the law, nor were they required to do so either. However, most of the believing Jews continued to keep the law until the temple was destroyed (Acts 21:20-25). Therefore, we conclude that it is not sinful to participate in Jewish customs, but neither is it necessary. However, doing so could, in fact, become sinful if a person does so out of obligation, trusting in outward rituals, and then teaches others that they are required to do the same. This is what Paul warns against in Galatians 3:10 (NIV), quoted above. There is a tendency in some Messianic circles to go to this extreme.

 

Next installment: What about keeping the Sabbath? Learn what Marvins Byers says about this, and also Pastor Dale Ratzlaff, former Seventh-Day Adventist, fourth generation SDA, educated in SDA church schools from first grade through seminary and pastor of two SDA churches. After receiving the revelation of the New Covenant, he left Adventism and is now pastor of Sedona Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational, evangelical church. His well-researched book on the Sabbath, Sabbath in Crisis, is a classic.


Part 2: Christians and the law of Moses

 

In Part 1, I shared an excerpt from Marvin Byers’ book, The Mystery: a Lost Key, which addressed the general subject of the New Covenant and the law of Moses. In the further excerpt below, he specifically addresses the controversial Sabbath question.

Excerpt, pages 157-160:

 

What about keeping the Sabbath?

 

Since it is one of the ten commandments, how can we assume that we should keep the other nine and ignore the commandment to keep the Sabbath? Not only do some Jewish believers use this reasoning effectively to influence Gentile believers, but so do the Seventh Day Adventists. We considered part of the answer in Chapter 13. The New Testament was given to help us make the transition from life in the Old Testament period to life in the New Testament period. We should obey every part of the Old Testament that is not clearly annulled or changed by the New Testament. However, it is imperative that we recognize that the law by which we must live was definitely changed, as Hebrew 7:12 clearly states: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." In other words, as New Testament priests, we are not, and cannot be, governed by the law of Moses regarding Levitical priests since we are not Levites. In the context of the law of Moses, Hebrews 7:18 even declares that the law was annulled. The very reason for which we no longer need to offer animal sacrifices is why we no longer need to be involved in any other outward ritual -- because Christ fulfilled them on the cross, and He daily fulfills them in our hearts in a far deeper way than is done by observing outward ritual. Galatians 5:14 explains this: "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

 

Regarding the Sabbath, Paul wrote:

 

"One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observed the day, to the Lord he does not observe it." (Romans 14:5-6a).

 

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ . . . Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations -- Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, which all concern things which perish with the using -- according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh." (Col. 2:16, 20-22)

 

Here are clear New Testament references to the issue of observing the Sabbath, telling us that it is an ordinance that is no longer required. Why? Because it was a shadow of something far more important. In the Old Testament the Sabbath was one day out of every seven, but in the New Testament, it is a life that we live every day. It involves entering into God’s rest where we cease from our own works (the works of the flesh), as God ceased from His works (Hebrew 4:10). Is it sinful to observe the Sabbath? Paul makes it clear that we are free to observe it or to not observe it.

 

What about Sunday? Some say that it is actually displeasing to the Lord to observe Sunday, and that this is a pagan custom that should be eradicated from the Church. They declare that Sunday is never mentioned once in the Bible. It is true that the English word "Sunday" is never found in the Bible. However, the Hebrew word for Sunday is simply "the first day," and there are many references in both the Old and New Testaments to the "first day" of the week. A documented study for this is outside the scope of this book, but some examples of important events on Sunday are the following:

 

Jesus began His ministry on a Sunday in John 1:35-38. For proof of this, see Alfred Edersheim’s comments on this passage in Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969).

 

Jesus entered Jerusalem in His Triumphal Entry on a Sunday. See Alfred Edersheim for documentation of this also.

 

Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday morning. If He sanctified the seventh day by resting after the Creation, was not the first day of the week sanctified also by the most important event in history—the Resurrection?

 

The first official meeting of the resurrected Lord with His apostles was on the first day of the week (Jn. 20:19).

 

As the New International Version brings out, the second official meeting of the resurrected Lord with His apostles was on the first day of the week (Jn. 20:26 NIV).

 

The first meeting of the early Church in which the Holy Spirit was poured out was on the first day of the week in Acts 2. We know this from Leviticus 23:10-11, 15-16, where Israel was commanded to celebrate the feast of Pentecost on the first day of the week. Rabbinical Judaism has made many changes in God’s ways, and the celebration of Pentecost on a day other than the first day of the week is just one such change.

 

In Acts 20:6-7, the disciples of Troas gathered to break bread on the first day of the week.

 

In I Corinthians 16:2, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to give their offerings on the first day of the week.

 

Am I saying that the "Gentile Church" is correct in meeting on Sunday instead of on Saturday? Not at all. I am saying that those who condemn them for doing so, because Sunday is not mentioned in the Bible, have erred greatly. I believe that Paul makes it very clear – a New Testament believer is not bound to set apart a specific day, but if he so desires, he is free to sanctify to the Lord any day he chooses. After all, why should it be considered less spiritual to give the Lord and the first day of our week instead of the last?

 

Should we keep the Jewish feasts each year? Keeping the three main feasts in accordance to God’s way, as opposed to the way of Rabbinical Judaism, begins with a journey to Jerusalem (Deut. 16:16; Lk. 2:42; Acts 20:16). Of course, part of the reason for the journey was that certain animal sacrifices had to be offered in the temple there. Obviously, we can no longer do this. Some are saying that God requires us to celebrate the Jewish feasts. Since we cannot fulfill the most important aspects, who is ordained to tell us which aspects we can and should observe and how to observe them? Again, Rabbinical Judaism is what is being observed today. However, I am not saying that it is wrong for believers to remember the biblical feasts of the Lord and observe them in some way. How could it be wrong to remember the holidays that the Lord Himself ordained? I am saying that it is wrong to make the observance of the feasts to be part of the gospel, and to say that it is a requirement of God if we can to be more spiritual. All Gentile believers should note God’s love for the feasts. Once the Lord is reigning in Jerusalem, the biblical feasts will be observed again, as Zechariah 14:16-19 indicates.

 

Should a believe man wear a Jewish kippa or use a tallith (prayer shawl)? These are ordinances that Rabbinical Judaism has imposed, based on their interpretation of the law of Moses, but nowhere does the Old or New Testaments speak of these things. Again, to do such things for the sake of winning the Jews is not wrong, but to teach that Gentiles should do them to please God, or to be more spiritual, is wrong.

 

In Part 3, I will include further thoughts on the Sabbath by Pastor Dale Ratzlaff, former Seventh-Day Adventist, fourth generation SDA, educated in SDA church schools from first grade through seminary, and pastor of two SDA churches. After receiving the revelation of the New Covenant, he left Adventism and is now pastor of Sedona Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational, evangelical church. His well-researched book on the Sabbath, Sabbath in Crisis, is a classic.


Part 3: Christians and the law of Moses

 

Parts 1 and 2 of this series quoted Marvin Byers on the difference between the old and new covenants, with Part 2 specifically about the Sabbath. In case you missed either, or any past prophecy updates, you can find them all archived at http://insights.injesus.com.

 

This Part 3 includes further insight into the question of the Sabbath, by Pastor Dale Ratzlaff. Dale Ratzlaff is a former Seventh-Day Adventist, fourth generation SDA, educated in SDA church schools from first grade through seminary, and pastor of two SDA churches. After receiving the revelation of the new covenant, he left Adventism and is now pastor of Sedona Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational, evangelical church. He also has a ministry called Life Assurance Ministries. His well-researched book on the Sabbath, Sabbath in Crisis, is a classic. I strongly recommend it. It is the clearest and most exhaustive explanation on the whole subject of the new covenant and the Sabbath I have ever seen. The book was born out of a seven-month inductive Bible study on the Sabbath he led with a group of Christians in 1982. At the conclusion of this study, many requested he put the study in book form. He continued studying the topic of the gospel, the covenants and the Sabbath and published Sabbath in Crisis in 1990. God has called Ratzlaff for this purpose. His Web site, which explains his ministry to former and present Adventists and sabbatarians and where you can order the book, is at http://www.ratzlaf.com.

 

Below is the excerpt from his book, pages 261-265.

 

Excerpt:

 

Scripture shows that the Sabbath of the Fourth Commandment was inseparably linked with the Sinaitic Covenant, the words of which are the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath commandment was in the very center of the Sinaitic Covenant and was the sign of that covenant. While circumcision was the entrance sign for the sons of Israel, the Sabbath served as the repeatable sign Israel was commanded to "remember." The Sabbath is related to every aspect of the Sinaitic Covenant: the covenant itself, the tabernacle of the covenant, the worship of the covenant, the people of the covenant, the land of the covenant, and the blessings and the cursings of the covenant. The laws for observance of the Sabbath were laws of the Sinaitic Covenant. There are no laws for Sabbath observance outside of the Sinaitic Covenant. Therefore, if one is going to observe the Sabbath of Sinai, he must do so in accordance with the laws of Sinai.

 

From the teaching and actions of Jesus we learned that He is the new covenant center. He took authority over the old covenant and was continually trying to move the Jewish leaders’ reference point of authority away from Sinai to Himself. It was the questionable Sabbath activity of Jesus, coupled with His claim to be the son of God, which infuriated the Jewish leaders and caused the events which led to His crucifixion. Jesus knew the rigid framework of Judaism could not hold the dynamics of the new covenant gospel of justification by faith in Christ.

 

The New Testament defines the old or first covenant as the "tablets of stone" and the laws "written with ink." The epistles, in contextual teaching, state that the Sinaitic Covenant is not binding in any way upon the Christian. This covenant, which was good for its time, has been superseded by the new, better covenant. The new covenant law of love interpreted by the New Testament writings and applied under the guidance of the Holy Spirit far surpasses the laws given to Israel. Scripture makes it clear, however, that the moral principles upon which many of the Sinaitic Covenant laws were based are included in the moral principles of the new covenant. However, in the new covenant there is a different administration of the moral principles, and the new covenant has different signs. Baptist in the new covenant takes the place of circumcision in the old, and the Lord’s supper in the new covenant replaces the Sabbath in the old.

 

Under the new covenant the emphasis is no longer on sign and symbol, rather it is on reality and relationship. There are no long lists of minutely detailed laws, rather the new covenant is characterized by general principles which have application to all nations and cultures, not just the sons of Israel in the promised land. The epistles teach that Christians can add nothing to the righteousness provided for them in Christ. Those who seek to add their own works of obedience to the perfect, finished work of Christ by keeping any of the observances of the old covenant are in serious danger of falling from grace. The new covenant writings show one cannot pick and choose among the old covenant laws. If one is seeking to be under Sinaitic law, he must be under the whole law. However, to do this is to fall from grace.

 

There is no biblical evidence which proves the Sabbath of the seventh day was transferred to the first day of the week. While there are many important events which transpired on the first day of the week, there is no biblical command to keep it holy.

 

Nevertheless, it appears that the first day of the week did have significance to New Testament believers because of the important events which happened on that day. It is necessary that Christians have a time to worship. It is necessary that time be given to pursue the things of God, yet the first day should never be seen in the same light as the Sabbath of the old covenant. Rather, the emphasis is on what happens rather than on when it happens.

There is no discussion regarding the Sabbath in the book of Acts, rather the discussion about law is on the topic of circumcision. This is to be expected because circumcision was the entrance sign for the old covenant community and the Sabbath did not apply unless one was a member of the covenant community.

 

Nearly every ceremony in the old covenant in some way pointed forward to the work of Christ. The seventh-day Sabbath is no exception. While it pointed back to the perfect relationship which existed between God and man on Eden’s seventh day, it also pointed forward to the time when that relationship would be restored. The writer of Hebrews unequivocally shows that the rest which remains for the Christian is not the seventh-day Sabbath of Sinai, nor is it the "rest" which Israel experienced under the leadership of Joshua or David. Rather, the rest of the new covenant is the "rest" of a restored relationship between man and God similar to the rest of creation’s seventh day, which one enters by believing.

 

All the Sinaitic Sabbaths -- seventh-day Sabbaths, seasonal sabbaths, sabbatical years and Jubilee -- seem to have been like small oases in the desert where the son s of Israel pretended they were back in the Garden of Eden. These Sabbaths not only pointed back to that seventh-day rest of creation, but they pointed forward to the restored relationship which was to take place within the new covenant: the fellowship of the Holy Spirit indwelling the heart of the believer who is saved by grace. These sabbaths served a very important function in giving purpose, direction and hope to the people of Israel. But like the dozens of other pointers, which were also shadows of good things to come, their value ended in the presence of the Creator. Jesus drew all these old covenant signs and shadows of hope to Himself.

 

The Pharisees demonstrated the heartbreaking paradox of old covenant Sabbath law. The laws that were designed to point forward to the open fellowship between man and God were the very laws which blinded their eyes to the present reality of the Creator standing in their midst. Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life" (Jn. 5:38,39).

 

The actions of the Pharisees can be likened to a person driving from the East Coast of the U.S. to visit California’s Yosemite Valley. For thousands of miles the traveler has been following a road map to Yosemite. During this time he becomes so intent on watching the map -- lest he make a wrong turn -- that when he reaches Yosemite he fails to see the beauty of the country. With one eye on the road the other on the map he drives through Yosemite Valley without ever seeing El Capitan, Half Dome or Yosemite Falls. Finding a parking place, with his eyes still glued to his packet of instructions, he reads about the beautiful park but never leaves the seat of his car to personally walk the trails and never lifts his eyes to the majesty above.

 

The map and trail guide served important functions. But upon arrival at the destination it is time to put the map down and look up. So it is with the Sabbath. Rather than seek to keep a day holy let us put the day down and step into the arms of our holy Creator. Let us enter "today" into fellowship, into a "rest" which remains for those who have believed.