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The Old and New Covenants

       “One of the major deficiencies in ‘mainstream Christianity’ is its total misunderstanding of the Old and New Covenants.” 1     Most people believe that Christ brought a New Covenant that somehow does away with the Ten Commandments.  Yet, nothing could be further from the truth!

       What is a “covenant”?      “…a covenant, comments Webster, is a ‘mutual agreement, a legal undertaking to do or to refrain from some act; a document containing the terms of agreement.’   In biblical usage a covenant is a contract, or agreement, by which one party promises certain rewards or payments in return for certain stipulated performance by the other party.”2

        At Mt. Sinai, God proposed an agreement (or Covenant) with the people of Israel (Ex.19:3-6).  This was the “Sinai Covenant,” often now referred to as the “Old Covenant.”   The agreement at Sinai was that IF the people would obey God, then they would be a special people to God (Ex.19:5-6).   In return for their obedience, they would receive great physical blessings from God (Deut.28:1-14).   (There was no mention of spiritual blessings.)   So, the peoples obligation in this agreement or covenant was to OBEY God (Ex.19:5).   This they agreed to do:  All that the Lord has spoken we will do  (verse 8).   So they accepted that they would enter into an agreement (or covenant) with God.

       God then instructed that the people be gathered together at the foot of Mt. Sinai on the third day (verses 10-18).   Here God would begin to instruct the people as to WHAT they should obey.  He would instruct them in the Ten Commandments (chap. 20:1-17) and in the statutes and judgments (chap. 21-23).   The Ten Commandments, along with the statutes and judgments, were all a part of the Old Covenant, and were what the people agreed to obey!

       So, on the third day, God Himself spoke the words of the Ten Commandments directly to the people (Deut.5:22-26, 4; 4:10-13,33,36; 9:10; Ex.20:22).

       After they listened to God speak the words of the Ten Commandments, they became afraid and asked Moses to have God speak further ONLY to him (Deut.5:23-25; Ex.20:19).   They said to Moses, You go near and hear all that the Lord our God may say, and tell us all that the Lord our God says to you, and we will hear and do it (Deut.5:27).

       Consequently, the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was (Ex.20:21).   Then God instructed Moses that an altar of earth or unhewn stone be made, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen.  In every place where I record My name [cause My name to be remembered, says marginal rendering] I will come to you, and I will bless you (verse 24).

       After this brief instruction to Moses that he should build an altar (verses 24-26), God then---in chapters 21 through 23----spoke the statutes and judgments to Moses.   Immediately thereafter, Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the judgments [and statutes (Deut.5:31)].   And all the people answered with one voice and said, All the words which the Lord has said we will do (Ex.24:3). 

       So now, after Moses had SPOKEN the statutes and judgments to the people, Moses then WROTE these statutes and judgments in a book---the Book of the Covenant  (Ex.24:4,7).

       Then, early the next morning, Moses built the altar that God had instructed him to build (verse 4).   Moses then sent young men to offer burnt offerings to the Lord (verse 5).   And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant [i.e., the statutes & judgments which Moses had just written down] and READ in the hearing of the people [AGAIN relaying to them the statutes and judgments].  And they said, All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient”  (verses 6-7).  This was the third time the people had agreed to the terms of the Covenant---i.e., to obey God---to obey the Ten Commandments, the statutes and the judgments.

       So then, Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold, the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words (verse 8).   So notice, the Covenant was now complete.  With the sprinkling of the blood on the altar and on the people, the Covenant (or agreement) was now sealed & made binding!   It had now been RATIFIED!   The Israelites were now contractually bound to obey the Ten Commandments, and the statutes and judgments.

       “Once a covenant is signed, sealed or ratified---confirmed---it cannot be added to  (Gal.3:15).   Anything appearing ‘beneath the signature,’ so to speak, is not legally any part of the covenant.” 2       (See Note #1 at end of this article.)

       Immediately thereafter, Moses went up into Mt. Sinai where he stayed 40 days (Ex.24:18)---his first 40-day stay there.  While there, he received from God these things:  (1)  two tablets of stone, with the Ten Commandments written on them by the finger of God (Ex.31:18);  (2) instructions on institution of the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:1 to 31:11);  (3) instructions on a priesthood (Ex.28:1; 30:30) and their service;  (4) instructions on consecration of the priests [consisting largely of animal sacrifices] (chap. 29).

       Before giving Moses the two tablets of stone and sending him on his way, the final thing God discussed with Moses was the issue of the Sabbath being a sign between God & His people (Ex.31:12-18). 

       Moses then descended the mountain and discovered that the people had committed a great sin, involving worship of a golden calf  (chapter 32).   Upon seeing this, Moses anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain (verse 19).   Moses then fell down before God and fasted another 40 days  (Deut.9:17-18).   Thereafter, God punished the people for this great sin  (Ex.32:26-35).

       Shortly thereafter (chap. 34), Moses went back up to Mt. Sinai for another (a second) 40 day period---in which he fasted a third 40-day fast (verse 28).   Here, God once again wrote the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone (verses 1, 28).   [This was to initiate the RENEWAL of the Sinai Covenant, since the people had already grievously broken that Covenant (or agreement).   The Ryrie Study Bible entitles chapter 34 as The covenant renewed.]

 

Three TYPES of Laws in the Old Covenant

       The Old Covenant agreement consisted of obedience to three types of laws, each of which came from God:  (1) the Ten Commandments (Ex.20);  (2) the statutes, judgments and ordinances (Ex. 21-23);  (3) the ceremonial laws (Ex.25-40). 3

       The Ten Commandments form the fundamental core of God’s laws.  The first four show the basics of how to love God (Deut.6:5), and the last six show the basics of how to love fellowman (Lev.19:18).   On these two Commandments---love to God and love to fellowman---“hang all the Law and the Prophets”  (Matt.22:36-40).

       What about the statutes and judgments?   The statutes and judgments show how to apply the Ten Commandments in specific situations.3   They are based on the Ten Commandments, and spell out in detail how to keep God’s spiritual Law.   They, like the Ten Commandments, are based on the principle of love toward God and fellowman.2

        God gave the statutes for the general well-being of the people.4    “These statutes are expressions of the Great Lawmaker, usually commanding or forbidding certain matters of lesser significance than the ten great commandments.  Thus the statutes and other laws of God actually magnify, or reveal specific applications of, the Ten Commandments.  [Examples of these statutes will be given later.]

       “Along with the statutes, God also gave the patriarchs His judgments for the protection of everyone’s legal rights.  The judgments are binding decisions based on God’s previously revealed law.  These decisions are used to settle similar future disputes and to render a sentence or verdict.”2      (For additional judgments given by God after Sinai, see, for example,  Num.27: 6-11----as well as Deut.12:1 and the chapters that follow.4)

       Many of the principles of the statutes and judgments “can be found in the civil laws of nations around the world today (see Exodus 21).…These laws are a blessing---even in a civil society---not a ‘curse.’” 3

       Finally, consider the third type of law given by God----the ceremonial laws.   “The ceremonial laws are a different matter altogether….[The ceremonial] laws concerning sacrifices and offerings were not originally part of the Old Covenant  (Jeremiah 7:21-23).   These laws were added later ‘because of transgressions [of the spiritual law]’  (Gal.3:19).” 3

       More about the ceremonial laws later.

 

Preeminence of the Ten Commandments

 

(1) The Ten Commandments were the very core of the Old Covenant!   Accordingly, they were even referred to as “His covenant”“So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments…”   (Deut.4:13; also see Ex.34:28).

(2) The Ten Commandments were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant (Heb.9:4), whereas the Statutes and Judgments (the “Book of the Covenant”) was placed beside (in the side of, KJV) the ark  (Deut.31:26). 

(3) The Ten Commandments were written directly by God Himself (Ex.31:18), whereas the Statutes and Judgments were written by Moses, after God had spoken them to Moses  (Ex.24:3-7).

(4) The Ten Commandments were spoken directly by God Himself to all the Israelites gathered at Sinai (Deut.5:22-26), whereas the Statutes and Judgments were spoken by Moses, after God had spoken them to Moses (Deut.5:31).   (Although it may very well be that God would likewise have spoken the Statutes and Judgments to the people---if they had not become afraid---the fact remains that God saw to it that the Ten Commandments---the very core of the Old Covenant---were, in fact, spoken directly by Him to the people.)

(5) The Ten Commandments is the spiritual law of God (Rom.7:14, 7), whereas the Statutes and Judgments were part of the civil law that God gave to Old Testament Israel.   Notice that immediately when God finished speaking the words of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, we read this:  “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly…and He added no more”  (Deut.5:22).    The Ten Commandments is a complete law---the spiritual law of God.   “He added  no more---to THAT LAW!   Any other laws are different, separate laws---NO PART OF THAT SPIRITUAL LAW!   It is complete in itself!”   (Herbert W. Armstrong, booklet Which day is the Christian Sabbath?, 1976, p.43). 

(6) Although God’s Statutes and Judgments were in existence prior to the time of Mt. Sinai (Gen.26:5; Ex.18:16), the Ten Commandments have always been in effect!    Furthermore, they always will be in effect, because the Ten Commandments are a summary statement of God’s WAY of life---the way of love.  Yes, they are an expression of God’s basic NATURE, and the nature of God does not change!  (Mal.3:6).

      (“Then why did God have to reveal his law to the children of Israel when establishing his covenant with them?   Simply because the people had strayed so far from the truth by the time of Moses that God had to reveal his laws and statutes anew to the Israelites.   Ancient Israel had lost much, if not most, of the knowledge of God’s ways while in Egyptian bondage.” 1    Additionally, although God’s spiritual law was in effect prior to Sinai---just as the law of gravity was in effect---only a select few, prior to Sinai, knew very much about God’s laws, statutes and judgments.   “God’s law was known by only a special few in ancient times.  Those whom the Eternal individually called to perform a special work in His service---the patriarchs and prophets of old---knew and kept God’s Ten Commandments, statutes and other Laws [Gen.26:5]” 2)

(7) The supreme importance of the Ten Commandments is clearly shown by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.   When asked, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life,” Christ replied, “if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.”   Christ then showed which commandments He was speaking of, by naming at least half of the Ten Commandments  (Matt.19:16-19).    Regarding the ones He didn’t name, Christ showed elsewhere that they are even more important!  (Matt.22:36-40).      (Also see Rev.22:14.)

Sacrificial Laws Added LATER

       At Mt. Sinai, God entered into an agreement with the people of Israel.  The people agreed to obey God’s Ten Commandments and also His Statutes and Judgments.  Did God also, at that time, give them a system of sacrificial laws and rituals?   No!   “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.  But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people… (Jer.7: 22-23).   The law of sacrifices and rituals was added later.   “What purpose then does the law serve?   It [the law of sacrifice and rituals] was added because of transgressions, till the Seed [Christ] should come”  (Gal.3:19).   So it was added because of “transgressions.”   Transgressions of what?   There must have already been a law in effect that was being transgressed----because “where there is no law there is no transgression”  (Rom.4:15).   The law that was already in effect and being transgressed was the spiritual law of God, which the people at Mt. Sinai had agreed to obey.

       The law of sacrifice and rituals was added later, by God----after the Sinai Covenant was made and ratified!!   “Animal sacrifices and ceremonial laws were not part of the original Sinai Covenant.  These were added later, after the covenant was enacted by blood  (Ex.24:8). 5

       God’s Statutes and Judgments (Ex.20:22 through chapter 23) were written down by Moses.   He wrote them in a book, called the “Book of the Covenant” (Ex.24:4,7).    “But this book did not, at first, contain the laws of burnt offerings, sacrifices and washings.   God had these added later---within a year---as a separate part of the civil statutes because the Israelites had transgressed his [spiritual] laws.” 6

       “These physical laws [of sacrifice and rituals] foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ and were a ‘reminder of sin’ to teach the people the need of the Messiah…who would pay the penalty of human transgression for all mankind (Heb.10), at which time these sacrificial laws would cease. 2

       “Notice that these temporary ritualistic laws did not define sin.   They were reminders of sin.   God’s spiritual laws define sin.   The laws that explain what sin is [God’s spiritual Laws] are the ones we are to keep in the spirit as well as in the letter today.” 6

       In the “Book of the Covenant” there is only ONE sacrifice mentioned----the annual sacrifice of the Passover lamb.  This Passover sacrifice had already been introduced by God to these people back in Exodus chapter 12, weeks before Sinai.   It (like the Ten Commandments and Statutes and Judgments) was not originally instituted by the Sinai Covenant, but it was a part of the Sinai agreement. 

       What about voluntary sacrifices?   “The principle of voluntary offering of sacrifices existed, of course, before Moses….Cain and Abel made voluntary offerings to God  (Gen.4:3-4).  But in the period from Moses to Christ, the practice of giving offerings was COMMANDED, made RITUALISTIC and regulated in great detail.

       “Why?

       “Simply because the children of Israel were a physical, carnal people without God’s Holy Spirit.   They could not offer themselves in obedience to God, so God gave them ritualistic washings to perform and had them offer animal sacrifices as substitutes.  The Israelites needed to be [repeatedly] reminded of Jesus’ then-future sacrifice and of the Holy Spirit, which was pictured by the various ritualistic washings.

       “These laws [the rituals & sacrifices] had no further use when the Lamb of God died for the sins of the world, and when the Holy Spirit became available for those God would call.”6     (These ritualistic laws ceased, not because they were a part of the Old Covenant, but because the

true Sacrifice for sin, Christ, had been offered.)

 

Old and New Covenants:  MARRIAGE Agreements!

       The Old Covenant was, symbolically, a  MARRIAGE AGREEMENT.   In the Old Covenant, God (Jesus Christ in His pre-human existence) marrried the nation of Israel.    “‘Yes, I swore an oath to you and you became Mine,’ says the Lord God”  (Ezek.16:8).   “‘Return, O backsliding children,’ says the Lord; ‘for I am married to you’”  (Jer.3:14).    “‘My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,’ says the Lord”  (Jer.31:32).

       Because of their blatant and continual sinning---their continual “adultery” against their Husband---Christ eventually DIVORCED the 10-tribe House of Israel, and sent them into captivity.   “…for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce…”  (Jer.3:8). 

       Although the tribe of Judah also sinned and became a self-righteous nation, God did NOT divorce Judah.  Yet, He did eventually send them into a temporary captivity. 

       Christ’s death on the cross COMPLETELY freed Him from His marriage to all 12 tribes (both the House of Israel and the House of Judah).  

Therefore, the last remnant of the Old Covenant contract ended at Christ’s crucifixion. 2, 6

       At this point, the question could be asked:  Since the Old Covenant was not completely abolished until Christ’s crucifixion, does that mean that Jesus Christ, while on earth, preached an Old Covenant message?   No!   Jesus Christ came as “the Mediator of the new covenant”!  (Heb.12:24).   Christ is “Mediator of a better covenant”  (Heb.8:6).   The final book of the Old Testament records a promise of the coming of “the Messenger of the covenant”  (Mal.3:1).   This is obviously speaking of the NEW Covenant, which had already been prophesied back in Jeremiah chap. 31---“’Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant …’” (verse 31).     (Also see “Progressive Revelation and Dispensationalism.”)        

       Now, why did God intend to make a new Covenant?   For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second”  (Heb.8:7)    So there was a fault with the Old Covenant agreement.  Was the fault with God’s Law?   No!   The fault was with the people!  Continuing in verse 8:  “Because finding fault with them [the people]…”    The fault was not with God’s holy and perfect law  (Ps.19:7; Rom.7:12,14).   Rather, the fault was with the people---that they did not keep God’s law!

       Yes, Christ is “Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises”  (Heb.8:6).    What are the better promises?   The promise under the Old Covenant was that of great physical and national blessings----whereas the promises under the New Covenant are (1) the possibility of eternal life, and (2) the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit----which enables one to live by the spirit and intent of God‘s spiritual Law.   Therefore, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the essential ingredient of the New Covenant!   It enables one to  live by the spirit and intent of God’s spiritual Law.  

       The New Covenant does NOT do away with God’s Law!  In fact, it validates God’s spiritual Laws, by putting them right into the minds and hearts of true Christians!   “For this is the covenant that I will make with the House of Israel after those days, says the Lord:  I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts…”  (Heb.8:10). 

       Yes, both the Old and New Covenants require God’s people to live by His spiritual Law! ----the Law summarized by the Ten Commandments.     One of the main reasons why God raised up the nation Israel----and entered into a covenant, or agreement, with them----was to clearly demonstrate that mankind NEEDS the Holy Spirit dwelling within him!   God never offered the Holy Spirit to the people of ancient Israel---only to the prophets and patriarchs.  Without Gods Spirit in them, the Israelites could NOT truly live Gods way.  They could not live by the spirit and intent of the spiritual Law; and oftentimes they did a very poor job of even obeying the letter of the Law. 

       “The New Covenant in no way does away with, or ‘waters down,’ even the letter of God’s spiritual law.  Rather, it empowers genuinely converted Christians, by God’s Spirit, to obey that law in the letter and in the spirit.  It enables Jesus Christ---through the Spirit---to live His life in Christians.” 5     Jesus Christ, while on earth, lived a life of obedience to God‘s spiritual Law----and He will live that same, obedient life within us!  (Heb.13:8).

       Furthermore, both the Old Covenant AND the New Covenant are, symbolically, MARRIAGE agreements!   They are marriage agreements between Christ and the Church.   In the Old Covenant, Christ married sinning, physical Israel---“the church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38, KJV).   Christ’s death  freed Him from that marriage, and enabled Him to be in a position where He could eventually RE-marry.   This time He will marry spiritual Israel, a cleaned up and converted wife, as we read in the 19th chapter of Revelation:  “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.   And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints…”  (verses 7-9).

       Right now, Christians are the affianced bride of Christ---not yet married, but preparing for that marriage.  We are beginning to have God’s spiritual Laws written in our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit, which dwells within those who obey God (Acts 5:32).   Those who have God’s Spirit are now living under the terms and conditions of the New Covenant, although we won’t fully participate in the New Covenant until we are glorified as spirit-composed beings.  It will be at that time---after Christ’s return---that these righteous immortals (spiritual Israel)---will marry Christ.

       What is the New Covenant agreement?   It is the agreement we enter into at baptism!   “At the time of baptism, a truly converted person enters into a genuine New Covenant relationship with God….[that person] makes a covenant with his Creator…to stop breaking God’s spiritual LAW! ….Of course, we will not keep the commandments perfectly in this physical life….[When] we fall short, we‘re to repent and confess our sins to God so we can continually be cleansed and forgiven  (I John 1: 9-10).” 1 

       “Today we’re called out ahead of time, as ambassadors, as first fruits,and we’re living under the terms and conditions of the New Covenant, preparing to marry Christ….Yes, we’ve got to have the New Covenant relationship with Jesus Christ right now!  And then we will be in that wonderful marriage when Christ returns and that Covenant will be completed.” 7

       “Just as Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant made at Mt. Sinai, so Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant.   And just as His [Christ’s] marriage with Israel at Mt. Sinai set up the physical kingdom of Israel, so the marriage of the Church to Christ will set up the spiritual Kingdom of God.   Thus, the good news of that coming marriage actually is the Gospel Jesus preached---the coming Kingdom of God [Mark 1:14]! ….. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God [which Christ preached] contains the terms and conditions for entering into the New Covenant agreement with Jesus Christ….Keeping God’s spiritual law as defined in the Ten Commandments is one of the conditions of the New Covenant [the other condition being acceptance of Jesus Christ and His shed blood] ” 2

       So, after Christ’s return, the New Covenant will come into FULL force and effect.  It will come into full force and effect in two ways:  (1) The “first-fruits” (the affianced bride of Christ) will MARRY Christ;  (2) The New Covenant will begin to be proposed to ALL mankind.

       The fact that the New Covenant has not yet been fully established, can be seen by looking at Hebrews chapter 8: 10-11.   Verse 10 says that under the New Covenant, God’s Laws will be put into people’s hearts and minds.  Yet, God’s Laws are NOT now in people’s hearts and minds!   In fact, most professing Christians believe that God’s Laws have been done away!  Also, notice verse 11:  None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for ALL shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.”  This obviously has not yet come to pass!   All do not yet know the Lord, and there are many today who still say, “Know the Lord”!

 

New Covenant for GENTILES?      

        A common belief today is that the Old Covenant was for the Israelites, whereas the New Covenant is for Gentiles.   Actually, the New Covenant will not be made with Gentiles!   The covenants and the promises pertain to Israel  (Rom.9:4).    Yet, Gentiles can become partakers of the promises!   All true Christians are Israelites---i.e., spiritual Israelites---Israelites by grace, not necessarily Israelites by race.   It is only through Christ that a Gentile can become a spiritually adopted Israelite---and thus become a seed (child) of Abraham---who was the father of Israel, and to whom the promises of God were made.  Speaking to Gentile-born Christians, Paul said, And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise  (Gal.3:29).      ... those who are of faith [in Christ] are sons of Abraham  (verse 7).    “....that he [Abraham] might be the father of all those who believe  (Rom.4:11).    Therefore remember that you, once [formerly] Gentiles in the flesh...that at that time you were withouth Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.   But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ...Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God  (Eph.2:11-13,19).

       Yes, through Christ, Gentiles can be grafted in and become spiritual Israelites (Abraham's spiritual seed).    Romans 11:11-25 shows that, spirituallly, Israel today means the Church.   “For I speak to you Gentiles... And if some of the branches [Old Covenant Israel] were broken off, and you [Gentiles] being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them... [it was] Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith... And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again  (verses 13-23).

       A Jew, even today, can become a converted Christian.   Indeed, the early New Testament Church was nearly altogether Jewish!   Yet, God does not have two kinds of Christians!    For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.   There is neither Jew nor Greek [Gentile]... for you are all one in Christ Jesus.   And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise  (Gal.3:27-29).

 

 

  Christ MAGNIFIED Gods Spiritual Law

        Jesus Christ did NOT come to do away with God’s spiritual Law!   He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law”!  (Matt.5:17).    Rather than destroy the Law, “Our Savior magnified [Isa.42:21] or enlarged God’s Ten Commandments and made them even more binding.”1    We are now to live by not only the letter of God’s spiritual Law, but also by its spirit and intent.   For example, not only are we to refrain from committing the physical acts of adultery and murder (the letter of the Law), we are also to avoid committing them in our thoughts!  (Matt.5: 21-22, 27-28).   

       “Remember that Jesus was giving instructions, not for a civil government such as ancient Israel’s, but for a spiritual CHURCH.

       “In verses 38-42 [of Matt. 5], Christ quoted from the Old Covenant---from Exodus 21:24.   He revealed that a true Christian should be willing, if necessary, to suffer wrong done to him…Jesus was magnifying, for the New Testament Church, the APPLICATION of the civil laws given to ancient Israel---not abolishing them, but magnifying them and making them more honorable (Isa.42:21).

       “He raised them from narrow, national laws---given to a carnal nation to be administered according to the strict letter---to a spiritual plane regulating, ultimately, the whole of human society.  Six times Jesus said:  ‘Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time…But I say unto you…’    And then He proceeded to expound the spiritual principles underlying the civil laws given to ancient Israel. 2

       Christ “outlined the terms and conditions of the New Covenant” when He said that man shall live by “every word of God”  (Luke 4:4; Deut.8:3). 1

 

 

Which of God’s Laws Are STILL in Effect?

        As stated earlier, the Old Covenant agreement consisted of obedience to three types of laws which came from God:  (1) the Ten Commandments (Ex. chap.20);  (2) the statutes, judgments and ordinances (Ex. chap.21-23);  (3) the ceremonial laws (Ex. chap.25-40).8       So now let’s now look at each type of law, to see which are still in effect today.

       “God----Jesus Christ----never changes His underlying spiritual laws, which reflect His basic character.   ‘For I am the Lord, I do not change…’ (Mal.3:6).   And:  ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever’  (Heb.13:8).” 5

       Since God’s Ten Commandments, statutes and judgments existed prior to the covenant made at Sinai, they therefore were not abolished by the cessation  of that covenant!      [Although the Sinai Covenant ceased to be in force when Christ was crucified, the Ten Commandments, statutes and judgments did not cease!]   Termination of a covenant (or agreement) could not render void what that covenant did not bring into force! 2

       What about the ceremonial rituals?   The ceremonial rituals were added for the purpose of teaching and instilling the habit of obedience----things to do repeatedly morning, noon and night.  Yet, this system of rituals was only a temporary substitute.  Once God’s Holy Spirit was made available (after Christ’s resurrection), these physical rituals were no longer needed  (Gal.3:24).

       Likewise, the system of animal sacrifices was only a temporary, physical substitute.  It was a substitute for----and until----the Sacrifice of Christ  (Heb.7:27).   It served to remind the people of their sins (Heb.10:3), and also to remind them that the penalty of sin is death  (Ezek.18:4).

       “The author of Hebrews describes the physical ministry of the Levitical priesthood:   ‘It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience; concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of  reformation  (Heb.9: 9-10).

       “Animal sacrifices, washings and the carnal ordinances of the Levitical priesthood were added later, as we have seen---and are no longer necessary for the ‘Israel of God’ (Gal.6:16), now that the sacrifice of Christ has been made and the Holy Spirit is available to spiritually cleanse converted Christians.” 5

       ….Even the Mosaic writings indicate that the ritual sacrifices and offerings did not begin until the Tabernacle was dedicated---a year after the Old Covenant was made at Sinai (Ex.40:17, 29)…. the ceremonial laws were additions to the Old Covenant, and….These alone were terminated at the death of Jesus.” 3   [Rather than “a year after,” it may have actually been a little less than a year afterward  (compare Ex.19:1 to Ex.40:17).]

 

       Finally, let’s look at the statutes, judgments and ordinances.  The late Raymond F. McNair had much to say about this issue.  Notice his following comments from his article “Must Christians Keep the ‘Law of Moses’ Or Only the Ten Commandments?”:

     In many… scriptures, the Apostle Paul clearly taught obedience to the law of God.  However, he also taught [in Gal.5:3] that Christians did not need to keep the entire “law of Moses,” or the “whole law”….referring to everything in the first five books of the Old Testament....

    What did Paul mean when he spoke of the “whole law” (Gal.5:3)?   Clearly, in context, he was referring to the whole law of Moses, which did include the Ten Commandments, God’s statutes and judgments---and also the animal sacrifices, meat and drink offerings, carnal washings, rituals and numerous ordinances pertaining to the flesh [Heb.9:10] which were added by God, later, to the covenant He had already ratified with Israel (Ex.24) after the Israelites had sinned by making an idolatrous golden calf (Ex.32)

     He [Paul] taught that Christians need not keep the whole law (meaning the whole law of Moses).   But that did not annul every other portion of God’s law.  Even today, if a court annuls or abrogates or supersedes some specific part of a state’s legal code, does that court’s action throw out the entire penal code?  Certainly not!   Our primary Christian focus should still be on the SPIRITUAL LAW of God as summarized by the Ten Commandments.  But even they [the Ten Commandments] are not the ONLY part of the Mosaic law Christians are still required to observe.

     ….the apostles’ letter to the Gentile converts [Acts 15] listed four prohibitions: 1) things offered to idols… 2) blood… 3) things strangled… 4) sexual immorality---all of which are specifically prohibited in the five books written by Moses---Genesis through Deuteronomy!

     ….Those prohibitions were specifically mentioned because devotees of the Gentile religions often utilized temple prostitutes, offered unclean animals to their idols, ate or drank blood, especially by eating the flesh of strangled animals from which blood was not drained.  Notice that these prohibitions were part of the divine statutes which clearly defined how you were to live by the Ten Commandments….Clearly, these four specific prohibitions and even numerous other laws besides the Ten Commands are still binding on all Christians today!

     Many so-called “Christians” think we only need to keep those OT laws reiterated in the NT.   They have it completely BACKWARDS!   In reality, we must keep ALL laws revealed in the Old Testament unless they are specifically, or in spiritual principle, abrogated in the NT.

     ….The sacrifices and washings were imposed on God’s people “UNTIL the time of reformation.” ….[The time of reformation was] when Jesus Christ offered Himself as the Lamb of God and then ascended to heaven to serve as High Priest for the people of God.  [Notice Heb.9: 8-12:  “…the first tabernacle…with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.  But Christ came as High Priest…with greater and more perfect tabernacle…not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood…”]…

     We have seen that the Jerusalem Church Council (c. 50 A.D.) enjoined on Gentile Christians four prohibitions found in the law of Moses.  But how can one know which other laws, statutes and judgments of the law of Moses are to be kept, today? Should individual Christians or churches each pick and choose which laws, statutes, ordinances or testimonies of God they will keep?  Or, should they let the New Testament Scriptures show them which laws, statutes and judgments in the law of Moses are still binding on true Christians today?

     There are literally scores of laws, statutes or judgments in the law of Moses which any honest Christian would have to freely admit are still obligatory for the followers of Jesus Christ to keep in the modern world.

     God used His statutes and ordinances as practical applications of the spiritual principles of the Ten Commandments.  Can you figure out which of the spiritual principles of the Ten Commandments apply to the following examples?   1) Would any Christian say that witchcraft" or sorcery is now permitted, while it was strictly forbidden (Lev.19:31; 20:6; Deut.18) in the law of Moses?  2) How about Gods statute forbidding kidnapping (Ex.21:16)?  Is it still binding on Christians?  3) Should Christians keep the law of Moses that requires one to honor the elderly (Lev.19:32)?  4) Are the Mosaic laws prohibiting bestiality (Ex.22:19; Lev.18:23) still binding on Christians?  5) Is homosexual conduct forbidden to Christians (Lev.18:22; 1 Cor.6:9)?  6) Are those laws which prohibit oppressing or afflicting widows and orphans (Ex.22:22-24) still to be kept by Christians?  7) Are Christians allowed to revile God...[or] curse a ruler of their people (v. 28)?  8) Is the law against being a talebearer or gossip (Lev.19:16) still to be observed by all true Christians?  9) Can Christians ignore Gods statute which says an employer must never defraud his employee (Lev.19:13)?  10) Would Christians deny that one must be diligent to maintain just and equal weights and measures (Lev.19:35-36)?

     These are just a few of the examples of ethical standards which God expects His people to keep.  There are many other laws, statutes and judgments in the law of Moses which true Christians must still obey!

     Again, how can one really know what is still binding on Christs followers and what is not? One must diligently study the entire NT to see what Christ and His apostles believed and practiced!  As an example, Jesus and His apostles kept Gods Sabbaths (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14-15; 17:1-4; 18:4).  They also observed the annual Holy Days of God (Lev.23; John 7; Acts 2; 12:1-4).  Even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, kept Gods Holy Days  (Acts 20:6, 16; I Cor.5:6-8; 16:8).

    ….There is absolutely nothing in the NT which abolishes those so-called dietary laws [“unclean foods of Lev.11; Deut.14]!

    ….We can only know which OT laws, statutes, ordinances and testimonies are still binding on Christians by carefully studying the words and practices of Christ and His apostles as mentioned in the NT Scriptures.

    ….After Jesus Christ’s resurrection, He revealed to His apostles that though they were to keep God’s spiritual law, it was not now necessary for them to keep the whole law, which in NT times was known as the law of Moses.    (Global Church News, July-Aug. 1995)

 

Notice now the following enlightening comments by Herman Hoeh in his article “Which Laws in the Old Testament Have Authority Today?”:

     The law of Moses comprises civil statutes and judgments that God gave him to communicate to the people….When Moses first delivered the statutes and judgments, the law of Moses had no sacrifices connected with it.   Jeremiah said so (Jer.7:22).  The law of Moses was originally the civil law, based on the principles of the Ten Commandments.  ….Some of these civil laws were included in the covenant made at Sinai (Ex.21-24) and others were promulgated at later times (Deut.12:1 and following chapters, for example).

      After the ratification of the Sinaitic Covenant [Ex.24:3-8], the Levitical priesthood was established [Ex.28, 29] and the laws regulating offerings were added to the law of Moses...(Before this time offerings were voluntary and young men were priests---Ex.24:5.)

     Therefore the law of Moses has more than one part!

     Notice God’s definition of the original part of that law in Malachi 4:4, RSV:  “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.”

     This law [the original statutes and judgments given at Mt. Sinai] we are not to forget.  We are to keep it!

     But added later to this law were other statutes regulating material rituals, such as sacrifices, lighting of candles, burning incense and various washings for the unclean.   This almost unnoticed fact, that the law of Moses was composed of two distinct parts ---the CIVIL and the RITUALISTC ---is what causes so much difficulty in understanding.

     Jesus said the two great commandments were love to God and love to neighbor... [He quoted these] Out of the book of the law---the laws that Moses spoke to the people  [Deut.6:5; Lev. 19:18]…

    The civil law of Moses [the original statutes and judgments given at Sinai] expounds the Ten Commandments by revealing how the 10 basic principles are to be applied.  We are to keep this part of the law, not in the old strictness of the letter, but according to its full spirit and intent.

     Then why do we read in Acts 15 that gentile converts do not have to observe the “law of Moses,” except for four points?  The answer is made plain in Acts 21:21.

     The law of Moses, here called in question, involved “customs” [the ceremonial or ritualistic part of the law of Moses] …The Jews were mistakenly accusing Paul, saying that he taught Jews living abroad “that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs”  (Acts 21:21)!

     The controversy in the early Church did not involve the spiritual intent of the original civil law of Moses [the original statutes and judgments].  It involved the ceremonial additions to the original civil law of Moses---customs---added ceremonies or rituals.

     This fact is further proven by noticing the four points [of Acts 15:20].   These four points were originally part of the civil law of Moses.   But these four points were ALSO included later within the added ceremonies [Why?] because gentiles ate their sacrifices with the blood, often strangled their animals, presented them to idols and commonly committed fornication in their religious ceremonies.

     To prevent these pagan customs being practiced by Israel, God included the four civil points of the law along with the rituals  (Lev.17:7,10; Num.25:1-3).   

     Because some newly converted Christians would have thought, therefore, that they were abolished along with the temporary rituals when those ceremonies were declared no longer binding (in Acts 15), these four points had to be specifically declared still in effect.  Since these four points were part of the civil law BEFORE the addition of the rituals, they remained binding after the need of the physical sacrifices and washings ceased.

     The civil law [statutes & judgments] of Moses that defined sin was not called into question in Acts 15---it was not involved.    (Paul, of course, explained elsewhere that the civil law, formerly administered in the letter, was now to be observed in the spirit and full intent of its meaning---II Cor.3.)

     The many CIVIL laws regulating tithing, clean and unclean meats and the annual Sabbaths are still for the New Testament Church because they help explain what sin is.   They were NOT part of the ceremonial law of Moses mentioned in Hebrews 9:10 and in Acts 15.     (The Good News magazine, Oct.-Nov. 1983)

 

 

Additional Comments Concerning Sacrifices

       Let’s now clarify this issue of sacrifices, by reiterating and expanding upon points already made.  

       God entered into a covenant (or agreement) with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai.  At the time it was ratified and made binding (in Ex.24:3-8), this Covenant did NOT contain the ritualized laws of animal sacrifice and other rituals.  Such ritualistic laws were added by God---soon thereafter---as a result of the people having grievously failed to uphold their end of the agreement, which was to obey God’s spiritual law. 

       “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices.  But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God…’”  (Jer.7:22-23).   “What purpose then does the law [of sacrifice and rituals] serve?   It was added [later] because of transgressions [of the spiritual law], till [yes, only until] the Seed [Christ] should come”  (Gal.3:19). 

       “The book of Exodus concludes with the erection of the tabernacle….How was Israel to use the tabernacle?   The instructions in Leviticus answer that question.  [Yes, the laws regulating sacrifice and offerings were given, basically, in the book of Leviticus.], and [those laws] were given to Moses during the month and 20 days between the setting up of the tabernacle (Ex.40:17) and the departure of the people from Sinai (Num.10:11).” 8

       Again, the laws regulating sacrifices and offerings were not even given by God until after the Old Covenant had been ratified and made binding in Ex.24:3-8.    They were added later ---within a year---due to grievous transgression of the spiritual law (Gal.3:19).     (We can see how serious God considered this sin, by reading the following passages:  Ex.32:6-12, 21, 27-28, 31, 35.)

       This ritualistic and regulated system of sacrifices and offerings was given for the purpose of instilling the habit of obedience, and to remind the people of their sins (Heb.10:3), and to remind them that the penalty of sin is death (Ezek.18:4).   It was this regulated system of sacrifices, given by God basically in the book of Leviticus, to which God was referring when He said,  “I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices” (Jer.7:22).    (Sacrifices were not originally part of the Sinai Covenant.)    In His comment in Jer. 7:22, God was not referring to other sacrifices, such as the following:

(1) There were burnt offerings and peace offerings made during the ceremonial ratification of the Sinai Covenant, in which the blood was sprinkled both on the altar and on the people to formalize the agreement  (Ex.24: 3-8).

(2) The Passover lamb sacrifice is the one and only sacrifice mentioned in the Book of the Covenant  (Ex.23:18; 24:4,7).   This Passover sacrifice had already been introduced by God to the Israelites back in Exodus chapter 12---weeks before Sinai.   Although it was a part of the Sinai agreement, it was not originally instituted by that Covenant. 

(3)  Voluntary sacrifices:   The principle of individuals voluntarily offering sacrifices had existed all the way back to Cain and Abel.   Such a freewill offering is mentioned in Exodus 22:20.  

(4)  In Exodus chapter 29---after the ratification of the Sinai Covenant in chapter 24---God gave instructions in certain animal sacrifices that would be carried out once the Tabernacle was erected.  These sacrifices described in chapter 29 were not for the sins of the people.  Rather, they would be for the purpose of sanctifying the priests and the tabernacle, once the tabernacle was erected.  Chapter 29 begins by saying, “And this is what you shall do to them to hallow them for ministering to Me as priests…”  (verse 1).   In the concluding statements of the chapter, God says, “So I will sanctify the tabernacle of meeting and the altar.   I will also sanctify both Aaron and his sons to minister to Me, as priests”  (verse 44).

 

       Finally, consider this.   [Although the system of ritualized sacrifices was not begun until almost a year after ratification of the Sinai Covenant, God had given instructions for the institution of a tabernacle and a priesthood during Moses’ first forty days on Mt. Sinai (presumably during the latter part of that forty day period).   Since the tabernacle and priesthood were largely instituted for the purpose of offering sacrifices and performing ritualistic ceremonies, it is obvious that God had already---during that 40-day period---decided to establish a system of sacrificial offerings. 

       Yet, the reason that He decided to do this was because of the grievous sin committed by the people while Moses was on Mt. Sinai.   And we can see how very serious God considered this sin, by reading the following:  Ex.32:6-12, 21, 27-28, 31, 35.]     Raymond McNair refers to “…the animal sacrifices, meat and drink offerings, carnal washings, rituals and numerous ordinances pertaining to the flesh which were added by God, later, to the covenant He had already ratified with Israel (Ex 24) after the Israelites had sinned by making an idolatrous golden calf (Ex 32)…” 9      Yes, God added these sacrifices and rituals after ---and because of--- this great sin committed by the Israelites almost immediately after they had solemnly agreed to obey God!

 

 

 

An Outline of Exodus  (Selected Events)

 

 

Ex. 20: 1-17                               Ten Commandments spoken by God to the people.

 

Ex. chap. 21 thru 23                   Statutes & Judgments spoken by God to Moses, who then spoke                        

                                                 them to the people and wrote them down  (Ex.24: 3-4, 7).

 

Ex. 24: 3-8                                 Covenant ratified and made binding (including sprinkling of blood).

 

Ex. 24: 15 thru chap. 31              Moses’ 1st 40 days on Mt. Sinai, where he received from God the                                   

                                                 Ten Commandments written on stone (Ex.31:18) and also instructions

                                                 by God on instituting a tabernacle (Ex. chap. 25 thru 31:11).   In the                                            

                                   midst of these instructions, God gave (in chap. 29) instructions on

                                                 consecrating the future tabernacle, as well as instructions on the

                                   institution and consecration of a priesthood.

 

Ex. chap. 32                               The great sin of the golden calf (which had been occurring while                              

                                                 Moses was on Mt. Sinai).   Upon returning and seeing this great sin,

                                                 Moses broke the 2 tablets of stone (verse 19), and then fell down

                                                 and fasted another 40 days  (Deut.9:17).

 

Ex. chap. 34                               Moses’ 2nd 40 days on Mt. Sinai, where he again received the Ten

                                                 Commandments written by God on stone  (verses 1, 28).

 

Ex. chap. 35 thru 40                   Construction of the tabernacle.

                                                 In the final chapter of Exodus (chap. 40), the tabernacle was raised

                                                 up (verse 17).   During the month and 20 days after the raising up

                                                 of the tabernacle, God gave instructions (basically recorded in

                                                 Leviticus) which would now regulate sacrifices & offerings.                    

                                                

 

 

 

Notes:

(1)   As a technical point of consideration, it may be that the animal sacrifices and ceremonial laws were never technically part of the Old Covenant.   The Sinai (Old) Covenant was ratified and made binding in Ex.24:3-8 (as discussed above).   The Apostle Paul says that once a covenant “is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it”  (Gal.3:15).   “Once a covenant is signed, sealed or ratified---confirmed---it cannot be added to (Gal.3:15).    Anything appearing ‘beneath the signature,’ so to speak, is not legally any part of the covenant.” 2, 6

      The adding of ceremonial laws to the Covenant would, in fact, be “annulling or adding to” a confirmed covenant! 

      Gal.3:19 makes it plain that the ceremonial laws were, indeed, “added.”   Yet, the question is whether they were added to (and became a part of) the Covenant itself, or whether God intended these ceremonial laws to function along with the Old Covenant.   In either case, when these ceremonial laws were added (within a year after the Covenant was ratified) they became binding, and---like the Sinai Covenant---were to remain in effect until Christ’s crucifixion.

      (Exodus chapter 34 speaks of the Sinai Covenant being “renewed.”   However, that still does not answer the question posed above.  Furthermore, the word “renewed” is not used in the text of chapter 34---or anywhere else in the Pentateuch---and, instead, is employed as an editorial chapter title in certain Bibles.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

1.  “A New Covenant?”  Roderick Meredith, The World Ahead magazine, Feb. 1995

2.  “The Plain Truth About the Old and New Covenants,” Lesson 17 of Ambassador College Bible  Correspondence Course, 1983                                              

3.  “Did Jesus Abolish the Law?” Douglas Winnail, Living Church News, Nov. 2002

4.  “Which Laws in the Old Testament Have Authority Today?” Herman Hoeh, The Good News,  Oct.-Nov. 1983

5.  “A New Covenant?” Roderick Meredith, Tomorrow’s World Magazine, Nov. 2005

6.  “WHY The Old and New Covenants?” Lesson 6 of Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, 1991

7.  “The Truth About the Covenants,” sermon by Roderick Meredith, 1995

8.  “Introduction to the Book of Leviticus,” Ryrie Study Bible, 1985 ed.

9.  “Must Christians Keep the ‘Law of Moses’ or Only the Ten   Commandments?”  Raymond F. McNair, Global Church News, July-Aug. 1995