Law and Grace
Distinctions between the Old and New
For the Law was given through Moses;
grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. NASB
What is the Law?
Definition and Terminology
The Law is most commonly used to speak of God’s moral standard by which He judges righteousness among mankind, both in people’s relationship to God and people’s relationship to neighbor, as outlined in the writings of Moses. It may have reference to a certain section of Scripture, or may be in general a reference to God’s standards for general or specific things. Many times it is used to refer to the Decalogue (10 Commandments), or the Torah (The Pentateuch or the first 5 books of the Bible), or even the entire Old Testament. It is helpful to make the distinctions of moral, civil, and ceremonial. That is the law was really threefold: the Moral Law, as summed up in the Decalogue, the Ceremonial Law, prescribing the ritual and all the typical (shadow) enactments, and what might be called the Civil Law, that relating to the people in their national, political life. The distinction is not closely observed, though sometimes the reference emphasizes one aspect, sometimes another, but generally the whole Law without any discrimination is contemplated. Sometimes the Law means the whole Old Testament Scriptures, as in John 10:34; 12:34; 15:25. At other times the Law means the Pentateuch, as in Luke 24:44.
The Law is a major theme in both Old and New testaments. Because God is the Judge of all mankind (Gen 18:25, Psa 94:2, Heb 9:27, 12:23), He judges according to the righteous standard of His holy Law. In this judgment, God expects perfect righteousness, as He has subjected all mankind in His Law to the standard which the Law puts forth (Rom 3:19-20). Therefore, when one transgresses God’s Law, it is called sin, and act of lawlessness or a transgression of God’s Law. This standard is consistent with God’s own moral character (Rom 7:19) and explains how that moral character is implemented and carried out in our human existence and relations with both God and neighbor.
The Law can also be referred to as the Mosaic Covenant, which is the covenant that God made with Israel after He delivered them by His grace from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. In this sense we also refer to it as the Old covenant. Generally speaking, and looking back from a New Testament perspective, we refer to the Law in the same sense that we do as the Old or Mosaic Covenant. At times, we may refer to the whole Old Testament as the old covenant or the Law, but when doing so, one must give some context to this as these terms can be easily misconstrued or confusing.
In the New Testament, we look back at the Old Testament and see that its fulfillment has come in Christ. In this way, much of New Testament teaching is seen in contrast to the Law, or the old covenant, or even the entire Old Testament. Context is always important in these matters, but generally, the New Testament holds forth a distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law being Gods’ righteous standard of the Old Covenant which all people have violated (Rom 3:23,5:12, Gal 3:22, 1 John 1:8), and have thus become sinners worthy of judgment and death (Gen 2:17, Eze 18:4, Rom 6:23, Jam 1:15), and the Gospel being what God has done in the person and work of Christ (Rom 3:21-24) to deliver the believer from sin and death (Rom 8:1-4). This distinction between Law and Gospel is the very heart of the Christian Faith and the most important message in the Bible because it is the heartbeat of God’s redemptive work the history of Creation and mankind.
The word “law” in the Bible is used in several different ways. It is used as a term to describe;
· regulations for a society (Est 1:19, 3:8, Dan 6:12, 15, 7:25, 1 Cor 6:4, 6)
· as a general principle (Rom 3:27, 8:2)
· as a specific reference to the Word of God (Psa 1:2, 19:7, 119:72, 77, John 10:34,12:34, 15:25)
· most commonly it is a reference to the Old Testament Mosaic Law (Josh 8:31-32, Isa 42:21, Matt 5:17-18, Rom 8:1-4, Gal 2:16,19, Phil 3:5-56, Heb 7:19, 9:19, 10:1).
The Mosaic Covenant Law
In both Old and New Testaments, the Law most commonly refers to the commands and regulations of the Mosaic Covenant. These are contained in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Although the word “Law” in the Bible is usually referring to Torah as a whole, which also includes the book of Genesis. These first five books of the Bible are also referred to as the Pentateuch. Usually when it is used in this common way, it is capitalized, “Law,” and this is because it is a formal rendering referring to the Mosaic Covenant Law delivered by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. It is often referred to as “the Law of Moses.”
Joshua 8:32 – 32 And he wrote there on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written, in the presence of the sons of Israel. NASB
Nehemiah 8:1 – 8 And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. NASB
Luke 24:44 – 44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” NASB
Hebrews 10:28-29 – 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. NASB
As the “Law of Moses,” it was a strict moral code that God gave to govern the society of the Israelites, God’s chosen people. It was instructive, teaching them how to treat one another in a Theocracy (a society governed by God), and this aspect of the Law is commonly called the Moral Law. It also gave them regulations for how God was to be worshipped, through the means of a Priesthood, an altar for blood and grain sacrifices, performed at a Tabernacle, and these are commonly referred to as the Ceremonial Law. It also contained laws, both perceptive requirements as well as penal sanctions, that were meant to bring authoritative order to the entire Israelite assembly. This aspect of the Law is commonly called the Civil Law. This means that God, as Lawgiver and Judge, would command for people to do certain things (preceptive requirements), and NOT to do other certain things for which there were penalties which could be even as severe as death (penal sanctions). Therefore the governance of this Israelite society was seen as a matter of the authority of God their ruler and King, under His holy Law as their Lawgiver, by which the people would be judged in His court as their Judge.
The Nelson’s Bible Dictionary gives some helpful insight here…. “Biblical law is more than a record of human law. It is an expression of what God requires of man. It rests on the eternal moral principles that are consistent with the very nature of God Himself. Therefore, biblical law (the Ten Commandments) is the summary of moral law. As such it sets forth fundamental and universal moral principles….. Moreover, the biblical concept was that law comes from God, issues from His nature, and is holy, righteous, and good. Furthermore, at the outset of God’s ruling over Israel at Sinai, God the great King gave His laws. These laws were binding on His people, and He upheld them. In Israel all crimes were crimes against God (1 Sam 12:9-10). Consequently, He expected all His people to love and serve Him (Amos 5:21-24). As the final judge, He disciplined those who violated His law (Ex 22:21-24; Deut 10:18; 19:17). The nation or community was responsible for upholding the law and insuring that justice was done (Deut 13:6-10; 17:7; Num 15:32-36). God’s law, unlike those of other nations of the ancient world, also viewed all human life as especially valuable because man is created in God’s image. Thus, biblical law was more humane. It avoided mutilations and other savage punishments. Victims could not inflict more injury than they had received. Neither could criminals restore less than they had taken or stolen simply because of a class distinction. Everyone was equal before God’s law. The “eye for eye” requirement of the Mosaic Law was not a harsh statement that required cruel punishment. Instead, it was a mandate for equality before the law (Ex 21:24). Each criminal had to pay for his own crime (Num 35:31). Under the law codes of some pagan nations, the rich often could buy their way out of punishment. God’s law especially protected the defenseless orphan, widow, slave, and stranger from injustice (Ex 21:2,20-21; 22:21-23). What is often called the civil law includes those specific laws in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) that regulate civil and social behavior. All such laws are fundamentally religious since God is the lawgiver and ruler over everything. There are eight distinct categories of civil law in the Old Testament: (1) laws regulating leaders, (2) laws regulating the army, (3) criminal laws, (4) laws dealing with crimes against property, (5) laws relating to humane treatment, (6) laws about personal and family rights, (7) laws about property rights, and (8) laws regulating other social behavior. (from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers).”
And so the Law is generally referred to in the Bible as the totality of this “Law of Moses.” It was an instructive and amazingly beneficial system of law and order, which was particularly moral and righteous, and if obeyed would also bring about the blessing and favor of God. It was filled with wise instructions for God’s people. It is also often associated with terms such as “commandment, statute, precept or ordinances.”
Nehemiah 9:13-14 – 13 “Then Thou didst come down on Mount Sinai, And didst speak with them from heaven; Thou didst give to them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. 14 “So Thou didst make known to them Thy holy sabbath, And didst lay down for them commandments, statutes, and law, Through Thy servant Moses. NASB
Deuteronomy 4:6-8 – 5 See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. 6 So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? 8 “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? NASB
This is because the Law is filled with such “commandments and precepts.” As such, there is an emphasis many times on these “commandments” and the teaching of the commandments which are to be practiced and obeyed. Thus the Law is normally referring to what God has commanded people to do and is often linked with words like, “keep, do and obey.” There are at least 613 commandments in the Torah, and these are summarized in 10 commandments given on the two tablets of stone to Moses on Mount Sinai. The first tablet contained 4 laws dealing with man’s relationship to God, the second tablet contained 6 laws dealing with man’s relationship to his neighbor. The two tables of the Law are summarized by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 22…
Matthew 22:36-40 – 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” NASB
Thus, Jesus summarized “the whole Law and the Prophets,” (terms referring to the entire Old Testament), under the two tables of the Law. To love God and love your neighbor was the Messiah’s interpretation of the entire Law and Prophets. This is a profound and simple commentary from God Himself on the meaning of the Old Testament Law. Christian, you will do well to memorize these verses and understand that the Law is fulfilled in and through God’s Love, expressed toward Him first, and then to our neighbor.
Romans 13:8-10 – 8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. NASB
This idea then, is a helpful principle in understanding and applying the Law as a New Testament Christian. If it is not an expression of true biblical love, then it is most likely being misapplied. The general nature of the Law is love, because it is God’s Law, and His nature is love.
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