Should Christians Keep Israel’s Feasts?

Recently I got detailed questions from someone connected with the movement that believes Christians should keep the Law of Moses. Below I summarize the incoming question (with supporting verses) and then give my point-by-point response:

The core of your questions is this: “I am wondering why Christians don’t celebrate the Lord’s feasts.” You raise several points in favor of our doing so:
a. God says the feasts are a “perpetual” command (e.g. Lev. 23:14). You favor the assumption that it also applies to Christians since we have been grafted in (Rom. 11:17) and are now part of the people of God.
b. Jesus observed the feasts (e.g. John 10). You say we are to be like him.
c. You dismiss Col. 2:16-17 by referring to an Aramaic/English Bible and an interpretation from it that Paul was referring to pagans judging Christians.
d. You cite Acts 20:16 [“he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem,if possible, by the day of Pentecost” (NIV)], Acts 18:21 [“I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem” (KJV)], John 10:22-23 [“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade” (NIV)], and John 12:20 [“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast” (NIV)]. You use these quotes in support of two ideas: (1) “the apostles did celebrate the feasts after Jesus’ ascension” and (2) “it would be right” to celebrate the feasts as Jesus did.

I will try to deal briefly with each of the points. However, even at this point I must say that I seriously doubt that you or any other Christian can possibly be keeping these feasts in accordance with the Law of Moses because you are not making all the required sacrifices, have no earthly High Priest to perform some of the steps, and have no Temple standing at which to perform the appropriate worship. These are serious problems! James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10, NIV 2011).

Now let’s take your points one-by-one:

Claim: God says the feasts are a “perpetual” command (e.g. Lev. 23:14). You favor the assumption that it also applies to Christians since we have been grafted in (Rom. 11:17) and are now part of the people of God.

Response: The short answer here is that we are not Jews. The fact that Paul uses the metaphor of grafting a wild branch into the olive tree does not mean that the wild branches are the same as the natural branches. If they were, what would be the point in naming two different types of branches and talking about how God is dealing with them differently?

You are correct in saying these feasts are a “perpetual” command, but the verse says “it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings” (Lev 23:14, ESV), and the “your” is not a reference to Christians either historically or now. This involves the Jews.

Claim: Jesus observed the feasts (e.g. John 10). We are to be like him.

Response: The key here is that these events all take place before Jesus died on the cross in satisfaction of all that God required. His death changed everything profoundly, and we live after his death not before it. Jesus obeyed the Law of Moses because that was what was required of him. It does not logically follow that all that was required of Jesus is required of us as well. For example, Jesus died for the sins of the world. Must we do so as well? Jesus lived in Nazareth. Must we do so as well? Being like Jesus has serious limits.

Claim: You dismiss Col. 2:16-17 by referring to an Aramaic/English Bible and an interpretation derived from it that Paul was referring to pagans judging Christians.

Response: Actually it does not matter who was doing the judging. What matters is that we as Christians are not to be involved in those practices mentioned in Col. 2:16, and the reason is simple. Col. 2:17 says, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (NIV 2011). The feasts were part of the “shadow of the things that were to come,” but Jesus did come! So, now we put aside the shadow-things in favor of the reality found in Christ. As I said before, his death and resurrection changed everything.

As a person who studies Bible translations closely, I do not recommend you rely on an Aramaic translation of the NT. The NT was revealed to us in Koine Greek, and the Greek text is hard enough to translate into English. Putting Aramaic into the picture makes matters worse, not better.

Claim: Your next points all involve the apostles allegedly observing feasts after the ascension of Jesus. [I am leaving out the verses about Jesus in John 10 and John 12 because I have previously covered the fact that these events happened before Jesus’ death.]

Response: You cite Acts 20:16 [“he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem,if possible, by the day of Pentecost” (NIV)]. So far, so good. However, this verse does not state that Paul was doing that in order to observe the feast like the Jews. It is far more likely, in light Paul’s theology and mission, that he wanted to be in Jerusalem at Passover because there would be a maximum number of Jews to whom he might proclaim Christ. In any event, he did not observe the feast due to violence plotted against him.

In a similar case, I have been to the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, but that does not mean I went there to worship like a Mormon. We must be careful about assumptions.

Claim: You cite Acts 18:21 [“I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem” (KJV)].

Response: No modern English translation retains that clause because it is not supported by the best Greek manuscripts of the NT. Thus, it is not a valid basis for Christian doctrine.

Summary: Although it is true that the feasts have many interesting analogies in relation to Christ, we now have Christ himself and no longer need the analogies.

Hebrews 3:1–3: “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.”

[For further information on this topic, I suggest you read the two posts that begin here.]

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

 

Are you holding on tight?

Are you holding onto your salvation with a firm grip? If you are, there will come a day when your hand gets tired. Or perhaps that day has already arrived.

You had an iron grip on eternal life the day you trusted in Jesus to pay the penalty for your sins. But as time went on there was the incident of cheating on the exam, the casual sex with someone you just met, the cash payment on which no taxes were paid. We both know God rejects all that as sin, so maybe your grip on heaven is not as firm as you thought. In place of confidence, a secret sense of foreboding about your salvation has seeped into your heart. Are you — again — lost?

Jesus foresaw that fear would steal into your heart, he understood that your grip on salvation was only that of human strength. He knew someone had to watch over us in the dark of night when human hands must lay their burdens down, someone to shepherd the vulnerable flock. “I am the good shepherd,” he said. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

As wonderful as that promise is, it is a one-time protection, for a dead shepherd protects no sheep. Jesus knew that too, so he added, “I lay down my life only to take it up again” (John 10:18). Our resurrected shepherd keeps unending watch over his flock!

Yet our fear again takes voice to wonder whether we are still part of his flock. Might it be that our sin has banished us from his care? Jesus answers No! in the most emphatic possible words:

27 My sheep listen to my voice; and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. (John 10:27–28, NET Bible)

The context makes clear that those who listen to Jesus’ voice are those who have put their faith in him. At the moment of salvation, Jesus gives them eternal life, and they will absolutely not — the negative forms of the New Testament Greek are the strongest possible — spiritually die forever! Jesus goes further to say that “no one will snatch them from my hand.” But that is not the end of the assurance he gave about our salvation, for he said:  ”My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand” (John 10:29, NET Bible).

You may rest now and relax your grip. Your hand has never been the one that mattered in holding your salvation eternally secure. No one will snatch it from the hand of Jesus. No one can take it from the hand of the Father. No one will, no one can. Not even you.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

A Model for Christian Life – Part 2 of 3

[Part 1 ended with a metaphor of a mental “map” which represents our understanding of God and the created reality in which we live.]

Distortions in Our Maps

Our individual, mental maps have distortions and omissions which make our journey more difficult. These map errors arise from several sources. For example, the family into which a child is born passes its own flawed maps on to the child who knows no other reality. Selective attention also plays a role in producing map distortions. And misinformation can prove worse than none at all!

As a result of these factors, some people become adults with a map that approximates a US topographic map while others have something like a pirate-treasure map from a grade-B movie. What can be done about getting a better map?

“What is truth?”—Pontius Pilate

The dilemma we face is one of finding a reliable standard against which we can correct our maps. To achieve some correction, we can compare our mental maps with those of others through probing discussions. Or we can consult an expert. But it would be naive to accept such input as absolutely reliable. Centuries ago the greatest minds in France advised their king that the Black Plague had been caused by a conjunction of planets. They were completely confident and totally wrong!

Human beings currently suffer from a plague — a plague of subjectivity that resists attempts at a cure. That’s exactly why it makes so much sense for God to communicate with man by means of a Bible which is inerrant in its original manuscripts. As Christians, we need an objective reality-base which can be trusted as we attempt to correct our mental maps.

Improving Our Maps

God has always had access to all available information. No wonder he has the only accurate map. But we still face the distortions that subjective humans introduce during translation and interpretation of the biblical text. So while the Bible is totally true, our personal perception of it is not.

God works from the outside and the inside to refine the map within us. The Bible and the created world both serve as external standards, while the Holy Spirit works within a Christian’s mind to prompt the admission of information. The Spirit does this in a non-forcing way to leave us responsible for what we learn and what we believe.

As the life-manager actively expresses love and seeks biblical knowledge, he or she will grow through changes in the perceptual map of reality. This search for increasing levels of truth will take the form of an uninterrupted series of approximations to actual reality. (I say “actual reality” to distinguish it from the “subjective reality” we each have.) This mental map will draw nearer to truth over time because of the Holy Spirit’s work, assisted by God’s revelation in the Bible.

In effect, the Bible serves as a travel guide, or a mission order, for the Christian’s journey. It can help tremendously, but it cannot substitute for traveling. Too many Christians conduct their spiritual journey by memorizing their travel guide instead of living out love, freedom and life-management. Nor was the Bible ever intended to be a Christian’s sole source of truth, though all other sources require additional validation.

The entire process involves a measure of struggle which continues throughout the journey. In fact, the absence of struggle over a prolonged period probably indicates that the traveler has abandoned his journey by favoring safety over progress. Inevitably, the changes we have described will result in interpersonal differences with those who do not share a similar map.

Filling in the Blank Areas

While many Christians have an accurate map of the path to salvation in Jesus Christ, a lot fewer have an understanding of what the Lord has mapped out for their growth toward Christian maturity. I intend to offer my view of that plan.

Before I start on the biblical basis for the model, one additional matter needs attention. I do not join those who see the Christian life as a grim, lifelong struggle against sin. Theologian B.B. Warfield called this “miserable-sinner Christianity.”[1] Rather, I believe that Christians are new men and new women in Christ who can please the Lord by performing their life-management using all the resources God has already provided through Christ. All of what follows is part of what such a manager must know.

The Goal of the Christian Development

As I understand the New Testament, the goal of Christian life is to grow to maturity in Christ. I arrive at that conclusion through verses such as the following:

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,” (Gal. 4:19).

“until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

“A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph. 5:1).

However, some believers have not advanced beyond infancy (1 Cor. 3:1–3) and others are still at a beginning level of Christian truth (Heb. 6:1–3). These are not managing their lives effectively for Christ, and they can expect little, if any, reward.

Our Identity in Christ: Life-Manager

As Christians we are those in whom Christ dwells (John 15:4–5; Col. 3:11). Alternatively, one may describe believers as those in whom the Holy Spirit lives (Rom. 8:13). Perhaps these are two ways of saying the same thing.

In addition to describing us as life-managers for Christ, the New Testament also refers to us as the “new man” and as the “people of God.” These aspects of our identity will be further developed below [in Part 3]; they are part of what we must be in Christ.

I have previously presented the role of life manager for Christ as a useful metaphor for understanding Christian life. Bible references related to this role are: Gen. 1:26–28; Matt. 25:14–28; Luke 19:12–27; Matt. 24:45–51.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Part 3 will conclude the series with more about our new identity in Christ.


[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 1:113-301.

 

A few words about judging others …

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “You have no right to judge!” Sometimes they quote Jesus as their authority in saying so.

Yet all of us make judgments about people in the common course of life. We do it almost unconsciously when we look for a “good” doctor or want a “dependable” babysitter. In business, friendship, or marriage, people want someone they can trust; that means that some others cannot be trusted. And parents must often decide which of their children is telling the truth. So, what exactly did Jesus say about judging?

Right before Jesus made his famous statement about judging, he said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). So, the context of his statement about judging others was one of showing mercy to others!

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37–38)

In Luke 6:37 we run smack into the main problem: What did Jesus mean when he said, “Do not judge”? That question can be readily solved, if we assume that Jesus knew we would need further elaboration and that he gave it immediately. In other words, when Jesus said, “Do not condemn,” he was explaining what he meant by saying, “Do not judge.” Believers are not to judge in the sense of condemning another person with harshness and finality.

Matthew also describes the Sermon on the Mount and presents what Jesus said about judging others. Right after Jesus spoke about judging, he gave his disciples another command that made it obvious that they would not be able to avoid evaluating other people. He said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matt. 7:6, italics added).

Jesus wasn’t talking about house pets and barnyard animals; he was describing certain kinds of people. To follow this command, his disciples would have to be discerning and make value judgments about people, distinguishing the “dogs” and “pigs” from more receptive people. By using those terms, Jesus was referring to people who treated the Word of God and the miracles of his Son with contempt.

So, Jesus was not saying that we can never evaluate other people or form opinions about them. He knew that his disciples would have to do that. That’s simply part of life. But the spirit in which it is done makes a great difference; the Lord requires that mercy be infused into our judgments.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Excerpted from The Path to the Cross (forthcoming).

Taking Sides: Joining Jesus When It’s Hard

As I was doing my new Bible reading plan this morning, I was reading about the time when Israel was camped below Mount Sinai and Moses returned from meeting God on the mountain. Consider this bracing passage in Exodus 31:19–29:

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” [END]

Clearly, God was not playing games! As believers, we are compelled to acknowledge that life is God-given, and he can also take that life whenever he chooses. Set that issue aside and consider that this story is about taking sides. Who is on the Lord’s side? One answer, based on this story, is that those “running wild” in defiance of God were rejected by him. Another answer is that those who were willing to serve God no matter the cost were blessed.

A more personal question is this: would you have stood with the Levites on that day? Jesus challenged the following crowd in a similar way in Luke 14:25–27:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus challenges all to take a side! Following Jesus may cost a lot. The cross that we carry is a symbol of our death, and death severs all relationships except one.

To deal with a distraction, the word translated “hate” (Luke 14:26) by NIV2011 might better be rendered “disregard” according to the standard Greek lexicon (BDAG-3).

So, the Luke 14 passage ties to Exodus 31 in regard to taking sides. But I think Exodus 31:27 may relate to another enigmatic thing Jesus told his disciples: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36, NIV2011). Both passages feature a sword. The swords in Exodus are literal, but I think the ones in Luke 22 are metaphorical. Jesus is telling his disciples to get ready to take a stand for God; the decisive hour is upon them, and they will be forced to take a side at risk of their lives.

The idea of taking sides may also explain Matthew 10:34, where Jesus  says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” You may have other passages to suggest as well.

When all is done, the message is clear: Stand with Jesus, no matter what!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

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.

 

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.