Duration of the Torah

Synopsis:  According to the books of Hebrews and Galatians, the jurisdiction of the Torah reached a termination point with the arrival of Jesus.

The book of Hebrews cites the promise of a new covenant by the prophet Jeremiah to demonstrate that the earlier legislation made at Mount Sinai had proved inadequate; otherwise, there would have been no need for a new and better covenant. This logic also indicates the temporary jurisdiction of the Torah, the legislation delivered to Moses by angels at Sinai. The very need for a new covenant demonstrated that the former covenant was not “faultless” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 2:1-5, 8:7-13).

Because of the sin of Israel, the Levitical rites established by the Torah were incapable of achieving the “purification of sins.” The old system was inherently inadequate; “In saying, ‘Of a new sort’, he has made obsolete the first” (Exodus 24:1-8, Hebrews 1:3-4, 8:13).

For this reason, God promised a new covenant, one that would not be “according to the covenant” He made at Sinai. It would not be a renewal, reinstatement, or a reaffirmation of the old legislation and rites; rather, something quite different and new, a covenant based on “better promises” (Hebrews 8:1-6).

The New Covenant was inaugurated by the death of Jesus, which means the old covenant is now “obsolete” and, already, “vanishing away.” Implicit in such statements is that the jurisdiction of the Torah is no longer in force (Hebrews 7:22, 8:6, 8:13, 9:15-20, 10:29, 12:24).

The Apostle Paul was more explicit in responding to claims that Gentiles must be circumcised and keep some of the “works of the Law.” He referred to the “law” in the singular number; more specifically, to the legislation given at Mount Sinai. Paul used the phrase, “works of the law,” not for good works in general but for the specific requirements of the Torah, including circumcision. At issue in Galatia was whether believers are acquitted before God “from the works of the Law” or “from the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:15-21, 3:10-19, 4:4-104:24).

Paul appealed to the common experience of the Spirit by the Galatians.  Had they received the Spirit in response to a hearing of faith or “from the works of the Torah?”  Having begun in the Spirit, why did they seek “to complete” their faith on the basis of “the flesh,” in this case, circumcision? He cited the example of Abraham who was reckoned righteous from his faith, not from his circumcision (Galatians 3:1-9).

The Apostle to the Gentiles claimed that those who are from “the works of the Law are under a curse.” The Law itself attests that “cursed is everyone who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law.” Had not Israel committed itself to do everything that Yahweh had commanded (Exodus 24:3, Deuteronomy 27:26, Galatians 3:10)?
Jesus came to redeem us from the “curse of the Law” by becoming a curse on our behalf. This was so the “blessing of Abraham,” the “promise of the Spirit,” might come upon Gentiles in Christ Jesus through faith, not from the “works of the law.” 

Paul described the custom that “a man’s confirmed covenant” cannot afterward be altered. So also, the “promise” made to Abraham and to “his seed,” which is Jesus.  The covenant was confirmed by God 430 years before the Law was given at Sinai, therefore, the Mosaic legislation did not add to or subtract from the original promise.  The covenant made with Abraham took precedence; his inheritance was based on the previous “promise,” not on the Law given centuries later (Galatians 3:15-19).

The Law, therefore, was supplemental, an added interim stage to deal with “transgressions until the seed should come,” the one to whom the promise was made. The Law was incapable of “making alive,” otherwise, “righteousness would have been in law.”  The Law “confined all things under sin that the promise might come on the basis of the faith of Jesus Christ,” given to all who responded to Him in faith.

Before the arrival of faith, the Torah was Israel’s custodian “unto Christ.” But Jesus, having come, “no longer are we under a custodian”; the custodianship of the Law ceased. Therefore, no longer can there be “Jew or Greek, bond or free, male and female.” All who are in Christ are “Abraham’s seed, according to promise, heirs,” regardless of ethnicity, gender or social status. The social divisions inherent in the Law no longer apply. But a return to “the works of the Law” would rebuild those same barriers (Galatians 3:23-29).

Paul provides a similar contrast in the fourth chapter of Galatians. While still a minor, the intended heir is “under guardians and stewards until the day appointed of by his father.”  Likewise, prior to the arrival of the seed, “we were infants, in servitude under the elementary principles of the world until the fullness of time,” at which point Jesus came to “redeem them who were under Law, that we might receive the adoption.”  Therefore, no longer are we servants but sons and heirs (Galatians 4:1-6).

In each case, Paul argues on the understanding that the jurisdiction of Torah ended with the arrival of the promised “seed,” Jesus Christ.  If the Mosaic legislation is still in force, and if obedience to it remains mandatory for right-standing before God, then Paul’s whole line of argument falls apart. Thus, his earlier declaration:  If acquittal before God is based on the “works of the law,” then Jesus died in vain (Galatians 2:17-21).

Put another way, if we are “under the Law,” then we are NOT heirs according to the promise and, therefore, we remain under servitude to the “elementary principles of the world” (Romans 10:4 – “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes”). The old covenant is still in force; the new one has yet to be inaugurated, and we are all still dead in our sins.

Anyone who puts him or herself under the Mosaic legislation will experience servitude, not liberty. A return to it means the abandonment of the “faith of Jesus Christ” and renders his death pointless, a trespass and blasphemy of the worst order.


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