The Gospels, Old Law or Jesus' Law?
Our question is not as simple as some may think when it comes to providing an answer that is tenable and free of problems. There are simplistic answers too often given that have resulted in chaos, the rejection of precious truths, and false teaching in general. For instance, some say all teaching before Acts 2 is the Law of Moses and is, therefore, inapplicable to the Christian today. Others maintain that the gospels are part of the Covenant of Christ and as a consequence, are binding on Christians. Both these positions are extreme and untenable.
We are under the Last Will and Testament of Jesus Christ, not the Law of Moses. There is no mistake that the "handwriting of ordinances" was "nailed to his (Christ, dm) cross" (Col. 2: 14). The Law of Moses was never designed to be a universal law for all nations (Deut. 5: 1-3). Moreover, as a theocracy it would have no practical application to any people other than the Nation of Israel (I am not saying the morals laws, as such, are irrelevant). However, a system was prophesied that would be for all nations (Isa. 2: 2, 3). In regards to the inauguration of Jesus' Testament, he said: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations " (Matt. 28: 19, cp. Mk. 16: 15, 16). Jesus' Testament was ratified by the shedding of Jesus' own efficacious blood and began to be officially binding when it was proclaimed and announced in Acts 2 (see Heb. 9: 15, also chapter eight). Moreover, if one seeks justification by the law (the law containing circumcision) Paul said: "Ye are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5: 4, 1-3). A law demanding perfect law keeping in order for pardon (the Law of Moses) and the "perfect law of liberty," the law involving grace are mutually exclusive (Jn. 1: 17; Jas. 1: 25). In other words, the Law of Moses and the "perfect law of liberty" cannot co-exist (Rom. 11: 6). Jesus' Testament is a system of law, but also, unlike the Mosaic Code, contains the provision of grace (Gal. 6: 2, I Cor. 9: 21; Jn. 1: 17, Eph. 2: 8-10).
The gospels and the Law of Moses. Jesus was born, lived, and died under the Law of Moses (Gal. 4: 4). Hence, the law that Jesus sinlessly kept was the Law of Moses (Heb. 4: 15, Gal. 4: 4, for the expression "law of Christ" and "Law of Moses" see Gal. 6: 2 and Luke 2: 22). Therefore, all of Jesus' personal teaching that he did while on earth was under the canopy of the system that God gave to Moses for the Jews.
Not only did Jesus perfectly live according to the Law, but also he instructed the Jews whom he taught to follow the law. Hear him:
"1: Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2: Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: 3: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not" (Matt. 23).
Jesus also exposed those who perverted the teachings of the Law by their oral traditions (Matt. 5: 20-48). Scorching condemnation proceeded from the lips of Jesus in regards to the teachers who did not live according to the Decalogue (Matt. 23: 13 ff.). In addition, Jesus provided instruction to different individuals that was congruous with the statutes peculiar to the Law, such as physical sacrifice or offerings (Matt. 5: 23-25). Notwithstanding, all these biblical facts do not simply mean that all anterior to Acts 2 pertained to the Law of Moses and the Jews and all subsequent to Acts 2 is binding today. It just is not that simple.
Much of Jesus' personal teaching (the Gospels) was anticipatory of his law. John the Baptist, just as Jesus, lived and died under the system of Moses. However, he preached to the people, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3: 1). John, while under the law, "baptized in the wilderness, and preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mk. 1: 4). Many were baptized of John (Mk. 1: 5). While John's birth and life were prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures, John's teaching and baptism were anticipatory, that is, they looked beyond the arrangement God had made with physical Israel. John's baptism was not only a "baptism of repentance" (baptisma metanoias), but it was also a "baptism unto repentance" (baptizo eis metanoian, see Mk. 1: 4, Matt. 3: 11). John's baptism, then, was the result of people repenting and his baptism also produced repentance. The produced repentance, I submit, was that repentance to be associated with Jesus' baptism that was fully begun in Acts 2 (see. Vs. 38). In this same vein, we read that "Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John" (Jn. 4: 1). Both John and Jesus' baptism were under the Law, but not part of the Law, as such. They were preparatory and anticipatory and of the New Era that was coming, the Age of the Son of God (I shall return to this thought later).
God spoke through his Son. The writer of Hebrews affirmed that God spoke to man ("the fathers," the Jews) in "divers manners" (Heb. 1: 1). The King James renders verse two thus: "Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son ." The proponents of the view that everything before Acts 2 is the Law of Moses and does not apply today say, "Hebrews 1: 2 is proof that God speaks in the last days through his Son, the time after Acts 2. The Greek of Hebrews 1: 2 is "ep eschatou ton emeron touton" (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Nestle/Marshall). Literally translated, the Greek is saying that the Father spoke to man at the end of these last days or toward the termination of the Law of Moses. The American Standard reads, "Hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son " (Heb. 1: 2). What is the point? Hebrews 1: 2 shows that Jesus' teaching, at least some, while he was on earth and under the Law of Moses (before Acts 2) is binding and authoritative in this final era.
Some indicators as to Jesus' personal teaching being a part of his Last Will and Testament. Shortly after Matthew mentions the preparatory work of John the Baptist, we read regarding Christ, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3: 2; 4: 17). Six verses later we find this statement, "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom " (Matt. 4: 23). Was Jesus while on earth simply and only preaching matters peculiar to the Law of Moses? Nay, verily, Jesus was announcing kingdom truths. Remember that Jesus told his apostles that the Holy Spirit would, " bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (Jn. 14: 26). These matters brought to their remembrance that Jesus had taught them (before Acts 2) would help constitute the teaching for the kingdom. Were these matters simply Jesus' teaching relative to endemic truths concerning the Law of Moses? I think not. In addition to the miraculous assistance of the Holy Spirit, Jesus told his disciples, "Remember the word that I said unto you " (Jn. 15: 20). We find about fifteen references to "the gospel" or "the gospel of the kingdom" in the Gospels. Jesus said, "The poor have the gospel preached to them" (Matt. 11: 5). Notice that this is before Acts 2. In regard to the matter of the woman who anointed Jesus he said, "Verily I say unto you, wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her" (Matt. 26: 13). The "whole world" meant Jew and Gentile. Hence, "the gospel" as here used by Jesus was not the Law of Moses. Notice, however, that Jesus said "this gospel," it was then being preached, at least in prospect.
In connection with the Great Commission, Jesus said "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you " (past tense, Matt. 28: 20). Relative to kingdom truths being enunciated during the three and one half year period of Jesus' ministry, please consider Jesus' statement: "The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it" (Lk. 16: 16).
Present tense teachings issued in the gospels while the Law of Moses was still binding. The gospel of John contains the famous "I ams" (ego eimi) of Christ. Jesus said, "I am the resurrection, and the life " (Jn. 11: 25). Jesus was not, in a technical sense, actually the resurrection as he spoke, he had to first die and be raised (I Cor. 15: 20). However, it was certain that he would be raised (the figure of prolepsis, cp. Rom. 4: 17, "calling those things which be not as though they were"). Jesus spoke in the present tense climate to the Jews anterior to Acts 2 regarding "eating his flesh and drinking his blood" (Jn. 6: 53). Jesus continued to say that those who imbibed him "hath eternal life " (vs. 54). All of these teachings and more Jesus enunciated before Acts 2. We understand, though, that these matters, while spoken in the present tense, looked to Jesus' resurrection, coronation, and glorification.
Jesus taught in the present tense when he emphatically told Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again" (Jn. 3: 7, see vs. 3-8). Even though Jesus presently spoke, we know his teaching was anticipatory (Jn. 3: 14 ff.). Consider Jesus' teaching regarding personal offences:
"15: Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16: But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17: And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matt. 18).
The church was not even in existence when Jesus set forth the procedure for matters of personal offence. Hence, his teaching was looking ahead to when his church would become a reality (Acts 2).
Some are heard saying, "None of the teaching before Acts 2 applied to the kingdom of Christ because that would mean there were two laws binding at the same time." The fact that Jesus issued much teaching in the gospels that would constitute kingdom laws does not necessarily mean that two laws were simultaneously binding. These teachings about the new birth, what to do in matters of personal offence, etc., clearly were not teachings of the Law of Moses. They were doctrines that would be peculiar to the final dispensation, which started in Acts 2.
Jesus' teaching regarding divorce and remarriage. Much of the to do about "all before Acts 2 is part of the Law of Moses" is an effort to circumvent Jesus' teaching regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage (Matt. 5: 32; 19: 9). In the case of Jesus' teaching about divorcement, it is not a part of the Law of Moses but of the original moral law given by God in Genesis two (compare Matthew 19: 4-9 with Genesis 2: 23-25). Jesus' teaching is not the concession of Deuteronomy 24, that which was granted because of "the hardness of their (Jews) hearts, but the restoration of the original marriage law. Jesus' teaching and the original law stood opposed to the concession.
I repeat, if we say Jesus is only explaining the Law of Moses in Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9, we must of necessity say that the particular nuance of the law being explained is the concession provision found in Deuteronomy 24 (see Matt. 19: 9, 3-7). Hence, "uncleanness" (ervah, matter of offense, Hebrew) is fornication (Deut. 24: 1).
The position that uncleanness only means fornication is replete with many irreconcilable problems. In the first place, there was not a problem regarding what a mate could do with their adulterous spouse (regarding the divorce and remarriage issue). This is because the adulterer was to be put to death (Lev. 20: 10). It is the height of folly to imagine God allowing a concession (divorce for adultery only) when the law demanded the death of the adulterer! In the second place, God himself practiced divorce on grounds of adultery (the spiritual nature of the marriage matters not, Jere. 3: 8, 14). Would God practice something that was only granted because of the hardness of the practitioner's heart (in this case, God, Matt. 19: 8)? Hence, the position that Jesus' teaching regarding divorce and remarriage must be limited to the Law of Moses not only creates a situation of contradiction, but even degrades God himself!
Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9, then, applies to God's original and changeless law regarding divorce and remarriage and is to be understood as part of the final covenant and testament of Jesus Christ. We do not want to loose where God has not loosed, but we sure do not want to bind where God has not bound. It is a constant effort to avoid doing either one (in regards to the so called "Pauline Privilege," click here and see addendum). (Related articles to read are "The Truth about Marriage," "Scriptural Divorcement," and "The Truth about Remarriage.")
In closing, I suggested to you at the very outset that the matter of the gospels, old law or Jesus' law is not something that can be without consideration answered. Either view simply stated is simplistic and untenable. We must realize that the gospels contain teaching that is peculiar to the Law, a restoration of original moral law, and both preparatory and anticipatory for the kingdom laws (Mk. 1: 44; 19: 4-9; 18: 15-17; Jn. 3: 3-12). When this biblical fact is realized and accepted, it then becomes a matter of carefully studying and determining if a particular teaching in the gospels is Mosaic or a kingdom truth.