Torah Observance by Christians – Part 1

Statement of the Issue

Issue: Must Christians now obey the laws recorded in Genesis through Deuteronomy — “Torah observance” — or not? For instance, are all Christians required to keep the dietary laws, celebrate festivals and circumcision?

This question has some practical implications. Is Sunday the day God intended for Christians to worship? Should Christians keep the Passover? Is it acceptable to God for Christians to eat bacon? These and many other practical questions are implicated in the theological issue stated above.

The Law of Moses Has Been Superseded

The New Testament gives numerous reasons for believing that the Law received by Moses was superseded by the death, resurrection and present intercession of Jesus Christ as our high priest.

First, we will consider the little-known facts about Jesus’ role as our high priest. The high priest defined by Mosaic Law must be a descendant of Aaron (Exod. 29:7-9; Num. 3:10), but Jesus, of the tribe of Judah, is our high priest (Heb. 8:1; 7:14), contrary to the law received by Moses. How can that be?

Jesus did not become a high priest according to the Mosaic Law. Instead, Jesus was appointed a priest in the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17; Gen. 14:18), and he holds his high priesthood permanently since he lives forever (Heb. 7:24; 8:1). Further, the author of Hebrews tells us that when the priesthood changes, such as when the high priest is appointed in a non-Mosaic way, a change in the law must come as well (Heb. 7:12). Indeed the law has changed!

The law received by Moses has been set aside because it is weak and useless and made nothing perfect (Heb. 7:18-19). Those are strong words, but the author of Hebrews does not hesitate to state them forcefully. Do other NT books say the same?

Paul tells us that all believers in Jesus Christ have died to the Law in order that they might serve in the new life of the Spirit (Rom. 7:4-6; Gal. 2:19). He later says that Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe (Rom. 10:4). In Galatians, Paul explains that the Law served as a guardian until Christ, but now that faith has come we are no longer under a guardian (Gal. 3:23-25). All of these statements point in the same direction, and Paul applies the concept in Eph. 2:15-16 in terms of the unity in Christ of believers from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.

The Priesthood of Jesus Far Surpasses the Law

The ministry of Jesus is superior to all others, including the Law, since the new covenant he mediates is also better than the old covenant and is enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6). The author of Hebrews says that If the covenant through Moses had been faultless, no one would have looked for a second (Heb. 8:7). But God demonstrated the fault of the old covenant when he said that the people did not continue in it and had no regard for it; as a result God promised a new covenant (Heb. 8:8-12 quoting Jer. 31:31-34).

When God speaks of a new covenant, he makes the covenant through Moses obsolete (Heb. 8:13). When did this new covenant take effect? Jesus declared that the “new covenant” was instituted “in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The death, resurrection and appointment of Jesus as “Son-of-God-in-power” (Rom. 1:4, NET) all provided for the institution of the new covenant.

Jesus Mediates the New Covenant

As mediator of the new covenant, Jesus died to set free all those who had failed to keep the covenant received through Moses (Heb. 9:15; 9:26). Formerly, under the Law of Moses, the sins of the people had to be dealt with in a different way. The priests under the old covenant had to offer sacrifices over and over, year after year (Heb. 9:25), but the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins permanently (Heb. 10:4). God did away with sacrifices offered according to the Law in order to establish the one sacrifice made once and for all (Heb. 10:8-9) by Jesus’ offer of himself for our sins (Heb.10:10).

[Continued in Part 2]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

4 thoughts on “Torah Observance by Christians – Part 1”

  1. 1. The ‘atonement’ for sin, not ‘forgiveness’ by sacrifice in the offering of blood was the only thing that changed. The ‘law’ for living ‘holy’, acceptable lives before the living God has not. And that is why Jesus stated he came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to ‘fulfill’ them, which he did not only on the cross, but out of the pits of hell holding the keys to both hell and death.
    2. The Feast of Tabernacles will be held in the Millennium as stated in Zach. (a commanded requirement for all nations).
    3. We are to learn and know about God’s ways. The ‘law’ is His ways of living, not ours. Our ‘word’, the bible is here for us to both know and ‘do’ His will by obeying His laws which are His ways. We either are obedient unto death just like Christ, or we are not.

    1. Thank you for your comment.
      As to point 1, it is notable that you agree that the part of the law designed to accomplish (temporary) atonement has changed. It is also true that God has always required holy behavior, but how that holy behavior is described and carried out is another matter. Most of the New Testament beyond the Gospels is designed to explain how we must live to please God. James informs us that if we are still obligated to obey the law of Moses, then we cannot fail to keep any one point of it (James 2:10). But keeping the law is a practical impossibility with no Temple and no Levitical priesthood. Jesus’ remarks (Matthew 5:17-20) were made to those still under the law, because Jesus had not yet gone to the cross to satisfy the penalty for our sins.
      As to point 2, you are correct that Zechariah 14:16-19 indicate that the nations will go to Jerusalem in the millennial age to observe some form of the Feast of Tabernacles. However, there is no basis for generalizing that to mean that the entire law is still in effect. No doubt God will insist that people exclusively worship him, as the Ten Commandments also say, but that does not mean the law is back in effect. The New Covenant in Christ’s blood is the one we must rely on.
      As to point 3, you make several independent points. Yes, we are to learn God’s ways, but he has made different covenants with different people at different times. Yes, the law was one such covenant, but the law of Christ is far superior as the entire Book of Hebrews demonstrates. Yes, we must remain obedient to death, but only to the covenant relationship that God has established with us. Our relationship is with Jesus, not the law of Moses.

      May the kindness of God toward us in Christ Jesus fill us more and more,
      -Barry

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!