Why was the Law Weak?
There are a plethora of views relative to the Hebrew scriptures or what is commonly called the "Old Testament." Some believe the Law of Moses (contained in the Hebrew scriptures, Luke 24: 44) is as a whole and in particular an antiquated system of laws pertaining to a far removed people and that the gospel, in which age we live, is a system of do "Your own thing," without restraint and commandments. While considering the New Testament, many never seriously study the Hebrew scriptures; hence, much ignorance abounds. Some have gone as far as to advocate that there are two different gods observed in the Bible, the god of the Hebrew scriptures and the god of the New Testament scriptures. Even though this material might be considered a "negative treatment" of the Law of Moses, one matter that we need to establish at the outset is that the Law of Moses was perfect as far as its design was concerned. Hear the apostle Paul:
"12: Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Rom. 7).
Notwithstanding this statement affirming the goodness of the Law, Paul continued to state just a short while later in his treatise on Law to the Christians in Rome the following:
"3: For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8).
Is there, then, a contradiction between Romans 7: 12 and Romans 8: 3? Nay, verily. The Law was designed to be a type and tutor to bring the Jew to Christ (Gal. 3: 24). Thus, the Law, as a whole, designedly lacked many things and possessed built in inabilities. Having said this, the Law has much intended utility today and the Christian lacking conversance with the Hebrew scriptures is indeed incomplete (Rom. 15: 4, 2 Tim. 3: 15-17).
The conscientious Jew under the Law struggled. Due to the fact of the Law not being the end, but pointing to a stated end, Jesus Christ and His Covenant, the Law could not do many things (see addendum 1). The famous passage in which Paul expressed inability to do what is right provides, I submit, insight into the life and mind of the Jew struggling under the law relative to the flesh, an area through and in which Paul said, "…it was weak." Consider the stated struggle:
"15: For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16: If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17: Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not" (Rom. 7, see addendum 2).
In keeping with the expressed temporary and typical design of the Law of Moses as a system, it was superseded by its anti-type, the Covenant of Jesus (Col. 2: 14f.). Even this was prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures (Jere. 31: 31-34, cp. Heb. 8: 6-13).
Let us now explore, in the main, why the law was said to be "weak."
The Law could not remove sin. Sin has always been a problem with man and God alone can offer forgiveness. However, the animal sacrifices under the Law of Moses were not sufficient and efficacious enough to permanently remove sin.
"1: For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2: For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3: But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4: For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Heb. 10).
Under the economy observed in the Hebrew scriptures, sin was "moved forward a year" each time, but expiation was not, in reality then attained (Lev. 16). It is not until we come to the gospel that we encounter the idea of present forgiveness of sins. Jesus said:
"28: For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26, cp. Acts 2: 38, I John 1: 7-10).
Jesus offered himself, "once for all" for the sins of all men (Heb. 10: 5, 9: 25-28, see Heb. 8: 7-13, 9: 15).
The Law did not have a God/man Mediator. The closest thing the Law of Moses had to a mediator was Moses, as he often intervened for the people (Exodus 20: 19). Moses himself was flawed and certainly had trouble understanding God. However, in the scriptures comprising the New Testament, we see the perfect Mediator. A Mediator who could represent and understand both man and God. I am referring to Jesus Christ.
"5: For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6: Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (I Tim. 2: 5).
Jesus is not only presented as
Mediator, but also as High Priest. He serves as no other High Priest ever
served; in that, first, he is the Son of God and, secondly, Jesus suffered and
was tempted as a man (Heb. 4: 14-16). Thus, he can "…be touched with the feeling
of our infirmities."
The Law was weak in that it could not provide justification. In order for man to be justified by the Law of Moses, man had to flawlessly keep the Law. However, no man, save Jesus, flawlessly kept the Law (Rom. 3: 10, 23, Heb. 4:15). Paul wrote thus of the Jew under the system of law only:
"10: For as many as are of the works of
the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that
continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do
them. 11: But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is
evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12: And the law is not of faith:
but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13: Christ hath redeemed us
from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed
is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Gal. 3).
The Law could not offer the perfect example. There were good men who served God anterior to the gospel and the coming of Jesus; however, none of them were without fault and offered the perfect example. However, Jesus did provide such an example.
"21: For even hereunto were ye called:
because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should
follow his steps: 22: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth" (2
While Jesus did not contradict the teaching of the
law, he did articulate a "new commandment" (John 13: 34). The Hebrew scriptures
taught love for others, but it did not teach the spiritually lofty love that
Jesus both taught and exemplified, the love to which the Hebrew system could
only point (John 13: 34). Even the moral laws residing in the Hebrew scriptures
were sublimated. Hence, while there are potentially greater blessings associated
with Jesus, there are also greater consequences for disobedience and rejection
(Heb. 10: 25f.).
Due to the "temporary" design of the Law of Moses,
it was superseded by Jesus and all that appertained to him. Here Paul:
"25: But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26: For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27: For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29: And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3).
This is some of the meaning of John’s statement:"17: For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1).
Jesus provided all that the Law was not structured to provide: His own blood; superior mediation; justification, and a perfect example (addendum 3). No doubt Paul had in mind Jesus, his teaching and example, when he wrote to the Romans, "…the law was weak through the flesh…" (Rom. 8: 3). I say this because Paul ended by saying, "God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin the flesh." We joined with Paul in saying, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift" (2 Cor. 9: 15, Jesus, cp. 2 Cor. 8: 9). (A complimentary study is, "A Study of Moral Law")
Addendum 1: The law or Hebrew scriptures contained many static, moral laws, which, as such, do not come and go. Laws such as Jesus quoted and applied, showing an all people and all time application (cp. Matt. 22: 34-40). However, even these indigenously true laws lacked what they would later find in the covenant of Jesus, a "…better covenant, which was established upon better promises" (Heb. 8: 6, see in full chapters seven, eight, and nine of Hebrews and Romans 10: 4).
Addendum 2: It is manifest that Paul is not writing from a personal slant as an apostle and Christian. I say this because thus writing, he expresses confidence and great spiritual attainment (I Cor. 11: 1, 9: 27). It is clear, then, that in the context in which Paul is treating the subject of the law and its applicability as a system, he speaks as a Jew striving under a system that is "…weak through the flesh" (Rom. 8: 3, ch. 7).
Addendum 3: The Law of Moses is often presented in the scriptures as onerous and burdensome. There are two reasons for this misery and struggle. As mentioned in the body of this material, even the moral laws lacked all the requisite motivation that would in Jesus’ Covenant be in place (cp. Rom. 7). Also, we must realize that the structure God gave to Israel consisted of at least six areas. They were the priesthood (Ex. 28, cp. 1 Pet. 2: 5); many food regulations (Lev. 11, cp. I Tim. 4: 3-5); offerings and taxation (Lev. 6, etc.); agrarian or land laws (Ex. 23, Lev. 25); types and shadows (Ex. 20: 8, Heb. 1: 1-9); and civil or theocratic protocol and teaching (Ex. 21-23). All of these areas involved great detail and many oppressive requirements. It is no wonder, then, that after Paul showed that that arrangement as a system has been removed, he wrote: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hast made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5: 1, see 4: 21f.).