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Has the Law Changed?

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Has the Law Changed?

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When God gave His law to the ancient Israelites, He told them to observe the Ten Commandments as well as certain additional ordinances and rituals. To ancient Israel and to first century Jews this was the Law, the Torah. To them, the Bible consisted of three parts: The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. When Jews talked about the Law, they were referring not only to the Ten Commandments, but to that section of the Scriptures we call the Pentateuch-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Regarding the precepts found in those books, Jesus Christ said, "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). When He uttered these words, the Jews of His day took Him to mean the whole section they called the Torah.

How Can We Know What Applies?

Since Christ has not returned, and we do not have the promised new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:1), we know that all has not yet been fulfilled. Therefore, the Law—the Torah—remains in effect, although today we do not observe everything listed in the five books of the Law. However, should contemporary Christians be responsible for observing every ordinance and ritual in the Torah? If not, how can we know what applies and what does not?

There is a logical and simple way to address this issue, for while nothing has passed from the law, there have been three critical changes in the law, and those changes all have to do with the way the law is administered. Once we thoroughly understand these changes, we gain a better grasp of how God intended to magnify His law and make it more honorable (Isaiah 42:21). Christ kept that promise. He said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). That is, through His life and teachings, He filled the law full, clarifying its original spiritual intent and magnifying it.


In the early years of the Church, people from every walk of life came into fellowship with the brethren, and the apostles had to define the Christian approach to the law for them. Acts 15 tells us that some believing Pharisees saw the strong scriptural admonitions regarding circumcision, and claimed that in order to be a Christian a male had to be circumcised (verse 5). That was the law. But the apostles discovered that God had decided otherwise. We see this starting in Acts 10 when Cornelius received the Holy Spirit. In time the apostles accepted what God had done and administered God's decision. They saw more clearly Christ's spiritual intent in the regulation regarding circumcision. They realized that God wanted more than a mere physical act to be performed. In that regard, Moses had told the ancient Israelites, "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer" (Deuteronomy 10:16). In addition, God inspired Ezekiel to write, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26).

God wants willing obedience. To achieve that in His people, He promised, "this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:33). Having Christ's magnification of the law in view and understanding that circumcision merely pointed to God's spiritual intent of circumcising the hearts of His people, the apostles administered God's ruling that physical circumcision was no longer necessary. Peter summarized this decision when he said, "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them [the gentiles] by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they" (Acts 15:8-11).

Our hearts are purified by repentance, submission to God and the receipt of His Holy Spirit. This is the circumcision that defines and identifies a Christian. His Word tells us, "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Romans 8:9). No longer would physical circumcision be required, but rather a spiritual circumcision of the heart through repentance and living the way of loving obedience and submission to God. The first change, then, was to change the administration of circumcision of the flesh to circumcision of the heart.

Civil Regulations

The second change involves the civil commands God gave the Israelites. We cannot administer these regulations since the civil government of God no longer exists and these laws can only be administered within the civil government whose head is God. Christ made it clear that His followers were not to be a part of this world when He prayed in the garden just before His crucifixion, "I have given them [His followers] Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:14). Christ's Kingdom—the Kingdom we must prepare for—is of the world tomorrow, not of this present world. He told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36), most certainly because the world is evil (Galatians 1:4).

Since God has called us out of this evil world and has not given us civil authority today, we don't have the responsibility of enforcing civil regulations. That duty now goes to worldly rulers, as Paul wrote, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil" (Romans 13:1-4). God has given limited authority to the rulers of this world. When He gave the Israelites that responsibility, they failed to enforce it properly, and those in authority today are failing. That's one reason Christ is returning to implement His Father's rules correctly.

One aspect of the civil law was the administration of the death penalty (2 Corinthians 3:9-11). The Church does not condemn, but administers the righteousness of God. And godly righteousness leads to eternal life. Sacrifices and Rituals One final area of change in the law involves the sacrificial and ritualistic regulations associated with the temple service. When Titus destroyed the temple in A.D. 70, Jews and Christians alike had to adjust to the changes in their lives this tragic event caused. Christ said it would happen: "Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, 'Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down'" (Matthew 24:1-2). When that happened, it necessitated a change in the way Christians worshiped their Creator. Prior to its destruction, Christians frequented the temple and even participated in many, if not all, of its services. They continued "daily with one accord in the temple" (Acts 2:46). Paul prayed in the temple (Acts 22:1-17). At one time he even went there with four men who were under a Nazarite vow (which called for an animal sacrifice, Numbers 6:2-11) and who had to fulfill the requirements of their pledge, for the brethren of that day were zealous for the law (Acts 21:21-24). These early Christians cherished the temple and their relationship with it. But now it was gone.

This problem is addressed in Hebrews. The sacrifices and rituals of the temple are no longer necessary because they all pointed to Christ, "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). Christ's blood, however, could because He was God in the flesh and lived a sinless life, "For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself" (Hebrews 9:24-26). Christ's priesthood now supercedes that of the Levites (Hebrews 7:11-28). Everything that pertained to them foreshadowed Christ, which required a change in the law (verse 12). This portion of the law is now administered by Christ instead of the Levites.

Notice, however, that there has been no change regarding the observance of the annual Holy Days and the Sabbath, for example. Paul wrote that we should "let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17, King James Version). No man should judge us, Paul contends, because God is our Judge and He has ordained that we keep the Sabbath and the Holy Days. Why? Because these things are (not were) a shadow of things to come. They can only foreshadow future events if they exist in the present, so God established these requirements apart from the regulations modified as a result of Christ's life and sacrifice.

Christ's words, that nothing would pass from the law until all has been fulfilled, remain intact, although the application (administration) of that law has been changed because God has given His Holy Spirit so His people can have a greater spiritual understanding. But those changes have been limited to only three: circumcision, civil regulations and the temple services. When we keep these facts in mind, understanding what part of the law we must follow and what part of it is no longer binding becomes easier. We can, then, return to "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3) and keep the whole law as magnified and fulfilled by Jesus Christ.