"The teaching (Torah) of the wise is a
foundation of life, turning a man from the snares of death" (Prov 13:14).
The nation of Israel passed the
Law down from generation to generation be it from a leader to his people, from
God to His chosen leader, or from a father to his son, to ensure that they
would not stray from God's way.
Joshua (Josh 1:7-8).
to Solomon (1 Kgs 2:3).
Jesus and Paul, in making its
essence explicit, elaborate the continuation of the Law into the New Testament
(NT). The usage of the word 'Law' falls
into at least five different categories:
a. Legal term (Rom 2:4)
Those who are not Israelites and
do not join the Jewish faith through circumcision are considered as having no
Law. This group of people includes those
preceding the era of Moses (Rom 5:13).
entire OT Scriptures
Sometimes, the Law itself is a
sufficient representation of the OT Scripture as a whole, though "Law and
prophets" is the more common designation (Mt 7:12; Lk
16:29; Rom 3:2 1). At times, 'the OT
Scripture' is described in its full Hebrew categorization (Lk
Whenever the combination of
"Law and prophets" appears, the Law is always taken to mean the five
books of Moses, and the rest of the Scriptures designated the
"prophets" (Rom 3:21).
d. The mode of
behavior or principle
The two laws existing within a
person designate the two irreconcilable modes of behavior. 'To lead by the flesh' means to be oriented
to the corrupt form of existence which directly opposes the redeemed nature of
man (Rom 7:21).
e. God's Law
The Ten commandments
are summarized in the single commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself (cf Lev 19:18; Rom 13:9ff).
They constitute the standard of righteousness (Rom 9:31; 10:3).
The last point is the main thrust
of this article. Its purpose is to
confirm the relevance of the commandments, which include the Ten
Commandments. The article begins by
examining the enactment of the Commandments and their continuous effects on
those who are in Christ.
The Ten Commandments are the
essence of the Law. The book of Exodus
discloses the stipulation of ordinances and statutes which were to enforce the
observance of the Ten Commandments (Ch 21-31).
The Ten Commandments epitomized
the Sinai covenant between God and His people (Exod
24:12ff; Deut 4:13; Deut 5:3ff), thus demonstrating the spirit of the Law. Later, through their idolatrous sins, the
people broke the covenant (Exod 32), but God renewed
it by re-inscribing the Ten Commandments onto two new tablets of stone (Exod 34).
Israel repeatedly transgressed the
covenant of God, despite there being the mouthpieces of God, at different
times, to remind them to obey Him. Their
rebellion (Deut 9:7ff) rendered the outward restraint from sinning provided by
the Law ineffective. God in His
pre-ordained knowledge decided to adopt a radical approach to help His
people. He was going to change them from
within. He did it by establishing a new
"Behold the days are coming,
says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and
with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their
fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land
of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them says the
Lord. But this covenant I make with the
house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord: I will put My Law in their minds, and write it
on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My
people. No more shall every man teach
his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'know
the Lord' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of
them, says the Lord. For I will forgive
their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jer 31:31ff).
However, at the beginning of the
NT, the re-introduction of the Law as the sole agent for salvation sparked off
contentions and controversies. Not many,
in the time of Jesus and the apostles, had the capacity and the keen faculty to
know the ministry of this new covenant.
Many failed to grasp its purpose and spirit.
To correct them, Jesus reveals
that it is the human heart that must be transformed and not merely the expressions
of sin that must be restrained, by His statement: "You have heard..."
and "But I say..." (Mt 17:190.
The sowing of good seeds upon a piece of dry and unplowed land would be
an exercise in futility. A bountiful
harvest starts from land transformed and made conducive for germination and
growth. The heart of the people in the
OT had been likened to this piece of dry land.
They had no place for God's law though the law was good.
We need to know that, on the one
hand, the establishment of the new covenant exposes the inadequacy of the Law
as a total system to help us obtain righteousness (Gal 3:11). Without Christ, the Law can do nothing by
itself. It only brings awareness of sin;
relates to the old nature and arouses it to sin (1 Cor
15:56); convicts us of sin; and leads us to death eventually (Rom 7: 5ff). If the Law can impart life, then
righteousness would indeed have been based upon it (Gal 3:21), and Christ would
have died needlessly (Gal 2:21). Even in
the OT, God did not reckon the ancient saints righteous on account of their
work of Law. Faith played an important
role in the history of Israel. This was first shown in Habakkuk (2:4). God promised His people that the Chaldean invaders, who had destroyed the land and captured
His people, would one day fall, but the righteous shall live by his
faithfulness. Likewise, Enoch was made
righteous because he walked with God (Gen 5:22). Abraham was reckoned righteous on the merit
of his faith long before the stipulation of the Law (Gen 15:6).
On the other hand, the
inauguration of the new covenant is by the death of Christ (8:7-13; 10: 14ff)
and makes markedly clear that its initiation included the Law (Heb 8:7ff, 10:
Coming in the form of sinful
flesh, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law in us (Rom 8:2fo. The death of one spouse sets the other free
from the marriage vow of man and wife'.
In the same way, the death of Jesus frees us from any charges against
our previous transgression of the Law (Rom 7:1-6). This occurs when we are enjoined in His death
in baptism (Rom 6:6f).
By the indwelling and the leading
of the Spirit, God writes His Law in our hearts, so that we will not
deliberately go against Him (Gal 5:22f, 18).
God Himself (the Holy Spirit) transforms us from within and pours into
our hearts the love of God (Rom 5:5; 15:30; Col 1:8), which in turn is demonstrated
in our keeping of His commandments (Jn 14:15, 21, 23;
15:10). In Christ Jesus, the observance
of the commandments is on faith (Rev 12:17), reaffirming the importance of the
Law (cf Rom 3:31; 7:7,12;
Gal 2:2 1). Having an abiding faith,
since the Holy Spirit is of faith (Gal 3:3,5) helps us
attain to the righteousness of the Law (Phil 3:9; Rom 9:30ff; cf Gal 5:5).
Judging from the above, the
difference between these two covenants lies not with their contents, but
forms. For this reason Paul says,
"...a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter
kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6f;
Within the new covenant which He
established (cf Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20), Jesus gives a new commandment to His disciples -
to love one another (Jn 13:34). There is no ambiguity when Paul bequeaths
"to love one another" as "you shall love others as yourself'
(Rom 13:9f). If that is the case, why
then is it reckoned new? After all, it
is only a repetition of an OT command (Lev 19:18). There are at least three factors which make
it new. Firstly, the new covenant
associated with it is inaugurated by the atoning blood of Jesus (Heb 9:14ff). Secondly, it is re-issued by the Lord
Himself, who constantly reiterated its importance, and is the distinguishing
mark of those who are His disciples (Jn 13:35). Thirdly, it is the law of love, which Jesus
Himself embodies. In Him, it finds a new
dimension for its operation (1 Jn 2:8). He who loves his brother abides in the light
and there is no cause for stumbling in him (1Jn2:10)
Moreover, this law of Christ,“to love one another” sums
up and brings to perfection all the commandments. We can explain the summation by focusing on
three different perspectives in the NT.
The order ‘to love one another’ encapsulates the spirit of two greatest
commandments enunciated by Jesus. From
the Synoptic Gospels, the greatest commandment entails loving the Lord our God
with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our
mind and with all our strength (Mk 12:29f, Mt 22:37f). The second, is to
love our neighbors as ourselves. If someone says, "I love God", and
hates his brother whom he has seen, he cannot love God whom he has not
seen. 0ne who loves God should love his
brother (1 Jn 4:20f).
The extension of love to our brethren here is the result of having
established a fellowship with the Father (1 Jn 1:3;
5:2). Sinning against God by breaking
the first four commandments, for example, would sever us from fellowship with
the Father (1 Jn 1:6ff). Such a severance removes the common ground,
which is the truth, for loving our brethren in Christ (1 Jn
1:8ff). Surely, we who truly love others
would not deceive them by acting wickedly against God.
This one commandment encompasses
the ten commandments (which are the word of God - Mt
15:4fo. Paul explains to the mixed
congregation at Rome:
"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor
has fulfilled the Law. For this, 'You
shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall
not covet,' and if there is any commandment, it is summed up in this saying,
'You shall love your neighbor as yourself"' (Rom 13:8ff, cf Jas 2:11ff).
This new commandment transcends
the ten commandments (Rom 13:10). Under the name 'love one another', being
partial may amount, to transgressing the Law (Jas 2:8f). With it, the abider is pro-active and
spontaneous in giving what he has, such as to serve others (Gal 5:13f). It also Includes practicing every conceivable
teaching in the Bible (Rom 12:9ff, 1Jn 2:4; 3:22ff; 5:1-3; 2 Jn4ff; 1 Cor 7:19; Rom 3:20; 1 Jn 2:4;
3:23ff; Rev 14:12).
Today, however, some may
misunderstand Jesus' declaration of coming to fulfil the Law, thinking that the
commandments have already been done away with (Mt 5:17). But, surely what Jesus means is not the
abolition of the Law. His declaration
puts Him in a new position as opposed to that of the Jewish tradition to
explain the Law and to fulfill it. The
other explanation is that His betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death, burial,
resurrection and ascension fulfilled the OT prophecies about Himself - He
Himself was the prophesied Messiah in the OT.
To still some, the words of Paul
to the Ephesians (2:15) and the Colossians (2:14) are their foundation for the
abolition of the commandments. Let us
thoroughly analyze these two verses by reading their preceding and subsequent
"For He Himself is our peace,
who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between
us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is the law of commandments contained
in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making
peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the
cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Eph 2:14-16). The key word in these verses is enmity or hostility. Paul is not talking about the abolition of
the Law. Jews are under the obligation
to keep the whole Law. They would be
considered righteous if they could keep the Ten Commandments (Law) in totality
(Deut 6:25). Sadly, their inability to
keep the Law complete makes them fall under the hostility, which is punishment,
of the Law (cf Gal 3:10, 13ff). Even when the gentiles do not have the Law
they do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having, the Law, are a
Law to themselves (Rom2:14). In this
respect, they too come under the same enmity.
The Scripture has confined all under sin (Gal 3:21). Nevertheless, through His death, Jesus has
fulfilled the requirement of the Law for us (Rom 8:3), by washing away our sins
"And you, being dead in your
trespasses and the circumcision of Your flesh, He has
made alive together with Him, having forgiven all your trespasses, having wiped
out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to
us. And He has taken it out of the way,
having nail it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He
made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them in it" (Col 2:13-15).
The answer to these verses is
similar to the one above- An important term used here needs explanation –
“handwriting”, which is also translated "the certificate or bond". It is part of the ordinance, which contains a
penalty clause. As explained before,
every individual, be he Jew or Gentile, has an obligation to the Law that has
never been discharged. The violation of
the Law would invoke the penalty clause.
Since it confronts us (which is enmity), Jesus has to disarm it for us
by forgiving our sins in baptism (Col 2:11f).
In conclusion, our sinful nature
rendered the outward governing of the Law on us ineffective. The coming of Christ and the in-dwelling of
the Holy Spirit fulfill God's promise of creating inner transformation. This takes place when our sins are forgiven
in baptism; and the Holy Spirit inscribes His Law in our hearts. Keeping God's commandment, in Jesus, is a
respondent effect of His love having been showered into our hearts. To abide in His life, we naturally love God
and man. Thus, the one new commandment
of loving others as ourselves sums up all other commandments (1 Jn 5:2). For every
action within the community of faith ripples throughout the body of
Christ. The reciprocal love of Christ in
His body cushions us against breaking the commandments.