But what if we've inherited a big misunderstanding? Are we free from God's instructions for righteous living, or rather free from slavery to sin? The New Testament stresses the need for set-apart, sinless living, and it repeatedly refers to the quote-unquote “Old” Testament to define holiness.
Here are twenty questions that might make you rethink the idea that God's instructions to the Hebrews have been voided.
- The apostle John defined sin for us, stating that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). What law was this Israelite saint talking about?
- If the Torah was no longer binding after Jesus' crucifixion, why did he not make that abundantly clear during his many post-Resurrection days spent with the disciples? After all, the disciples were Hebrews whose lives were built around the instructions which had come with supernatural fire and smoke and earthquake at Sinai. If they were expected to toss it aside, why is there no record of such a monumental change?
- Some time after the Resurrection, Ascension, and Day of Pentecost, God used a vision of unclean animals to teach the apostle Peter to stop treating non-Hebrew people as unclean (Acts 10:9-29). During the vision, Peter refused to eat the unclean animals that were offered to him. Did Peter not get the memo about the dietary laws being tossed out with the rest of the Torah?
- When Moses pronounced the Law to the Israelites, he called two witnesses, Heaven and Earth, to testify to the covenant (Deut. 30:19). Jesus later said, "Do not suppose that I came to throw down the law or the prophets--I did not come to throw down, but to fulfill; for, verily I say to you, till that the heaven and the earth may pass away, one iota or one tittle may not pass away from the law" (Matt. 5:17-18). Since the two witnesses are still present, how can the Law have passed away?
- If someone pays the fine for a friend's DWI, does that nullify the law against drunk driving or just the debt owed for drunk driving? Does the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus nullify God's laws or just cancel the certificate of debt that we incurred by sinning? (Col. 2:14)
- Peter warned the readers of his second epistle that there are things in Paul's letters which are hard to grasp, "which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability" (2 Pet. 3:15-17). Note that Peter specifically mentions lawlessness, or Torahlessness, as the error that results from misunderstanding Paul. Considering this strong warning, why do Christians consistently refer to the teachings of Paul in order to establish the doctrine that the Law is no longer in effect?
- Paul's teaching is not always obscure. Sometimes he was pointed, as in this statement: "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law" (Rom. 3:31). We know that Christ's perfection was substituted for our imperfection in the courtroom of YHVH, but where is it written, "Messiah kept the Law, so we don't have to bother?"
- If the Law is done away with, how can Jesus on Judgment Day say to professing Christians, "I never knew you, depart from me ye who are working lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23)? (The last word in that sentence is often translated "wickedness" or "iniquity" but the Greek anomos literally means "without law.")
- Any conservative theologian will acknowledge that Jesus kept all of the Torah perfectly and did not fail to uphold even the least command. Nor could he teach others to do so, for he himself said, "Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19). Yet Gentile theologians turn around, point to Mark 7:14-23, and claim that Jesus was teaching others to disregard the dietary commands. Many Bible translations even insert a parenthetical phrase not found in the original: "(Thus he declared all foods clean.)" (v. 19). Jesus' statements about defilement and digestion follow directly on the heels of a passage about Jewish traditions versus Torah commandments. So was Jesus doing the very thing that he said not to do--teaching others to relax even one of God's commandments--or was he lecturing on the fact that rabbinic hand-washing practices cannot contribute to one's moral cleanliness?
- The apostle John writes, "Whoever says he abides in [Christ] ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:4-6). If we must imitate the Messiah in order to be genuine disciples, then wouldn't that include obeying the Torah?
- A stone chair has been found in ancient synagogues (in Hamath, Chorazin, En-Gedi and Delos) next to where the Torah was kept. When reading from Scripture, the reader would apparently sit in that chair and read the Torah to the congregation. It is to this practice that Jesus refers when he says, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice" (Matt. 13:2-3). The disciples were to obey the Law of Moses but not rabbinic traditions. After his resurrection, Jesus instructed his followers to go and make other disciples, "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). If he had already commanded the disciples to obey the words of Moses, wouldn't they be obligated to make sure that new believers do the same?
- On returning to Israel from a missionary journey to the Gentiles, Paul visited Jerusalem and gave report to the apostle James (Ya'akov), leader of the Jerusalem church, which was the Elder congregation at the time. "And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20-21). If the Torah had been put away, why would it be profitable for James to brag that the new Jewish believers were zealous for Torah?
- James told Paul that there were bad reports about him which claimed that he was teaching Jews to apostatize from Moses. These were disturbing allegations to the elders of Jerusalem, and they asked Paul to defend himself against these charges, saying, "Do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Take them with you, be purified with them, and pay the expenses connected with having their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that there is nothing to these rumors which they have heard about you; but that, on the contrary, you yourself stay in line and keep the Torah" (Acts 21:23-24). If Paul had indeed been teaching the abolition of Torah, why did he escort the four brethren to the Temple and pay for their rites (which involved animal sacrifices)?
- Acts 20:6 tells us that Paul and his company waited until after the festival of Unleavened Bread, a high Sabbath, to sail away from the Greek city of Philipi. Since they were not in Israel, what reason would they have had to linger if not out of lawful observation of the holy days?
- Why did Paul repeatedly leave Greece in order to celebrate the Feasts of Pentecost and Tabernacles in Jerusalem? (Acts 18:21, 20:16)
- One popular notion is that the Torah was a yoke of bondage from which Jesus set us free. This idea comes primarily from the following verse: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1). This bondage is interpreted to be God's instructions as codified by Moses, as opposed to the religion of salvation by self-effort. Considering that most of the believers in the congregation at Galatia were Gentiles who had never lived under Torah, how could Paul issue a warning against being entangled again by a law completely alien to them?
- The prophet Amos writes,"Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets" (3:7). If the Torah was to be abolished at the cross, when before that point did God reveal his intention to the prophets?
- The last nine chapters of Ezekiel constitute an oracle about the future Holy Temple, where the Messiah will reign as king of the whole earth. The prophecy is extremely detailed, giving dimensions for the architecture, descriptions of the artwork and craftsmanship of the sacred items, and instructions for Levitical services, including sacrifices. In the midst of this oracle, YHVH pointedly states that the priests of Israel will "keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts, and they shall keep my Sabbaths holy" (Ezek. 44:24). Was Ezekiel a false prophet for teaching that the Law and sacrificial system would be in full effect during the Millennium, and if so, why has God allowed the Book of Ezekiel to remain in the canon?
- If the Law is no longer applicable, why is it that during the Millennium all nations will go to Mount Zion to hear the Torah and word of YHVH (Isa. 2:1-3), and will be cursed if they do not make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (Zech. 14:16-19)?
- If obeying the law of the land makes you a good citizen, then why does obeying God's law make you "legalistic?"
Without a doubt, salvation from sin and death is by faith in the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah. But after being saved by the blood, we should then be a set-apart people and learn to keep all of God's commandments that we are able. That is how we bear good fruit.
Perhaps the prophecy of Daniel 12:10 is coming to pass: "Many will purify themselves and be made white and be refined, but the lawless [lit.: torahless] will act lawlessly, and none of the lawless shall understand: but they who are wise shall understand."