Torah Observance by Christians – Part 2

[See also Part 1]

The Law of Moses in Relation to Contemporary Christians

The discussion above [see Part 1], principally from Hebrews, raises an important question. NT scholar Harold Hoehner says: “Does this mean that there are no laws in the Mosaic law that the believer of today is obligated to obey? Only those that have been reiterated in the NT. We are under the new covenant, and the old covenant has been done away.”[1] For example, murder is prohibited in both the Law and the New Testament, but the dietary regulations of the Law were not reinstituted under the new covenant (Acts 10). We are required by God to obey the commands given in the New Testament.

Many scholars believe this question of required Christian obedience to the Law of Moses was settled forever in Acts 15 when a similar controversy disturbed the church in Antioch. Luke said, “While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: ‘Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ” (Acts 15:1, NLT). Paul and Barnabas strongly disagreed, and the matter was referred to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2). In Jerusalem some believers who were Pharisees said, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5, NLT).

However, Peter led in a different direction by saying, “Why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10, NLT).

In the end, the elders in Jerusalem wrote to Antioch saying: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29, NLT). The Law of Moses was not required of the Gentiles.

Although the Law of Moses separated Israel from the nations, it proved unable to achieve righteousness because that was not its purpose. The author of Hebrews says that the law received through Moses was but a shadow of the good things brought by Christ because it was completely unable though its continual sacrifices to perfect those who came to worship (Heb. 10:1).

The Greek verb for “to sanctify” [better “to set apart as holy”] is hagiaz?, and it occurs 28 times in the New Testament. For example, sanctifying (Greek hagiaz?) Christians does not take place through keeping the Law but did take place through the one-time sacrifice of Jesus (Heb. 10:10). The author of Hebrews also says, “For by a single offering he [Jesus] has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified [Greek hagiaz?]” (Heb. 10:14). In fact, only judgment and punishment await those who reject the blood of the new covenant that sanctified [Greek hagiaz?] them (Heb. 10:29).

The above ideas lead to a conclusion: Sanctifying Christians does not take place through keeping the Law but instead took place through the one-time sacrifice of Jesus (Heb. 10:10).

Indeed, rather than sanctifying us, the Law kept us enslaved until Christ redeemed us and gave us full rights through our adoption as sons of God with the Spirit indwelling us (Gal. 4:1-7). Going back to keeping the Law has a disastrous effect. Paul says that taking on the obligations of the Law is rejection of freedom in Christ in favor of slavery (Gal. 4:21-5:1).

It is ominous to say, but anyone who puts themselves under the Law is obligated to keep the whole Law (Gal. 5:3; James 2:10). For reasons discussed below, the only way for a contemporary Christian to keep the Law is through a large number of reinterpretations and excuses (e.g. “we don’t need to make the required sacrifices when no Temple exists”).

Some Reasonable Expectations

If some Bible teachers were correct in thinking that all Christians are required to obey all the laws given by Moses, then it seems reasonable to expect we would find certain things in the New Testament:

  • A New Testament command to keep the Law received through Moses; there is none!
  • A New Testament statement that keeping the Law is essential for sanctification or growth in Christ; there is no such statement!
  • Statements in Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament that Christians were going to the Temple — still standing until 70 AD — to make sacrifices according to the Law received by Moses; there are no such verses!
  • A New Testament command to keep the festivals of Israel; none exists.

There is just one way for those who believe in Torah observance by Christians to overcome this lack of evidence supporting their view, and that is to say that we are obligated to imitate Christ, who kept the Law.

The idea of imitating Jesus in all things has been popular in certain parts of Christian history, but it has some serious limitations. Just to pick a few easy ones, who among us can be born of a virgin or die to atone for the sins of the world? Are you able to create the church or send the Holy Spirit? Which of us can stand up and say, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18)?

It should not surprise you that imitating Christ in all things is not put forth in the New Testament as the method for Christian sanctification. Instead, New Testament authors occasionally call on believers to imitate Paul or their spiritual leaders (1 Cor. 4:16; 2 Thess. 3:7; 3:9; Heb. 6:12; 13:7), to imitate God in terms of love (Eph. 5:1-2) or to have the save self-sacrificing attitude as Jesus (Phil. 2:1-11). The sanctification of Christians is not based on keeping the Law or imitating Christ but on the finished work of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 10:10).

What Jesus Knew

One reason that Jesus did not command the keeping of the Law given to Moses may be that he knew that Jerusalem, including its Temple, would soon be utterly destroyed (Matt. 24:1-2). The Roman general Titus carried out these terrible acts in 70 AD, when the church was in its infancy.

The idea that Christians must keep the Law runs headlong into serious problems. There is no Temple or priesthood to support required sacrifices; nor is there any provision in the Law saying that it is okay to lapse on those parts if no Temple or priesthood exists.

Consider too that no one other than Jesus ever was able to satisfy the requirements of the Law. To say that Christians must keep the law to be sanctified is setting them up to fail. The new covenant operates on a completely different principle than keeping the law — grace.

The Law of Christ

Paul says of himself that “I am not free from God’s law but [I am] under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21, NET). He also says, “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). James 2:8-13 is also worthy of close study in regard to the centrality of love for one’s neighbor. There is no doubt whatever that the Holy Spirit is central to living under the new covenant (Romans 6, 8).

Christians today are not required to obey the laws of Moses in Genesis to Deuteronomy (so-called “Torah observance”). For instance, we are free from dietary restrictions and are not required to celebrate the Jewish feasts. We summarize with Paul’s ringing words to the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. (Gal. 5:1, NET).

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


[1] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 376.