The Law of Moses and the Law of Christ
God gives law to humans living in every age. He gave commands to the first humans living in the sinless environment of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:26-30; 2:15-17). He gave commands to Noah (Genesis 6-9). He gave commands to Abraham (Genesis 12:1; 17:10-14). He gave commands to the Israelites—known as the Mosaic Law—after delivering them from their bondage in Egypt (Exodus 20 – Deuteronomy 34). He has given commands to Christians (Romans 1-Revelation 3). These biblical distinctions are important, for though all Scripture is written for the benefit of the Christian, only some portions of it speak specifically to him and command his walk with the Lord. Just as the Christian would not try to obey the commands God gave to Adam in Genesis 1-2, or the commands God gave to Noah in Genesis 6-9, so he should not try to obey the commands God gave to Israel in Exodus through Deuteronomy. Romans chapter 1 through Revelation chapter 3 marks the specific body of Scripture that directs the Christian life both regarding specific commands and divine principles.
Adam lived under laws, the sum of which may be called the code of Adam or the code of Eden. Noah was expected to obey the laws of God, so there was a Noahic code. We know that God revealed many commands and laws to Abraham (Gen. 26:5). They may be called the Abrahamic code. The Mosaic code contained all the laws of the Law. And today we live under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) or the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Rom. 8:2). This code contains the hundreds of specific commandments recorded in the New Testament. (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 351)
God gives law to direct the behavior of His people, and the Mosaic Law is no exception. The Mosaic Law refers to “the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai” (Lev. 26:46). The Mosaic Law:
- Revealed the holy character of God (Ps. 19:9; Rom. 7:12).
- Was given specifically to Israel circa 1445 B.C. (Lev. 26:46).
- Was regarded as a unit of laws (613 total), and had to be taken as a whole (Gal. 3:10; 5:3; Jam. 2:10).
- Existed for nearly 1500 years before being rendered inoperative (2 Cor. 3:7, 11; Heb. 8:13).
The Mosaic Law is typically viewed in three integrated parts:
- The moral law consisting of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:2-17; Deut. 5:6-21).
- The civil law which addressed slavery, property rights, economics, etc., (Ex. 21:1–24:18).
- The ceremonial law which addressed the tabernacle, priests, worship and the sacrificial system as a whole (Ex. 25:1–40:38).
It should be noted that these categories are intermingled in the text of Exodus–Deuteronomy; within a given context, all three aspects of the law may be described. Nor is it always a simple matter to distinguish between the three aspects of the law. In any case, the law was Israel’s constitution with the Lord, the King. (Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 59)
The Mosaic Law was the expected rule of life for the Israelite (Ex. 20-Deut. 28). None of the surrounding nations of Israel—the Gentiles—were expected to live by the commands of the Mosaic Law, because they were not God’s people and were not in a covenantal relationship with Him (see Eph. 2:12). The Gentile was no more under the Mosaic Law than a Canadian is under US law, as laws only speak and have authority to its citizenry.
The Mosaic Law was never a means of justification before God, as that has always been by faith alone in God and His promises (Gal. 2:16). Over time, the Mosaic Law became perverted into a system of works whereby men sought to earn their salvation before God (Luke 18:9-14). Even in the time of Christ men asked, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus responded, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:28-29). Regarding the fact that the Mosaic Law never justifies anyone, Merrill F. Unger comments:
By nature the Law is not grace (Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10; Heb. 10:28). It is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual (Rom. 7:12, 14). In its ministry it declares and proves all men guilty (Rom. 3:19). Yet it justifies no one (Rom. 3:20). It cannot impart righteousness or life (Gal. 3:21). It causes offenses to abound (Rom. 5:20; 7:7-13; 1 Cor. 15:56). It served as an instructor until Christ appeared (Gal. 3:24). In relationship to the believer, the Law emphatically does not save anyone (Gal. 2:21). A believer does not live under the Law (Rom. 6:14; 8:4), but he stands and grows in grace (Rom. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:18). The nation, Israel, alone was the recipient of the Law (Exod. 20:2). (Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament, 125)
The New Testament reveals the Mosaic Law was regarded as a “yoke” which Israel had not “been able to bear” because their sinful flesh was weak (Acts 15:1-11; cf. Rom. 8:2-3). There is no fault with the Mosaic Law, for it “is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). The Mosaic Law is holy because it comes from God, who is holy and righteous and good. Because the Mosaic Law is holy, it exposes the faults of mankind and shows him to be sinful (Rom. 3:20). More so, because man is inherently sinful and bent toward sin, when he comes into contact with God’s holy Law, it actually stimulates his sinful nature and influences him to sin even more (Rom. 5:20; 7:7-8).
Paul made clear that the Mosaic Law was not the rule of life for the Christian. He even referred to it as a ministry of “death” and “condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:5-11). Paul stated that it was intended to be temporary (Gal. 3:19), that it was never the basis for justification (Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:21; cf. Rom. 4:1-5), but was intended to lead men to Christ that they may be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24). Now that Christ has come and fulfilled every aspect of the Law and died on the cross, the Mosaic Law, in its entirety, has been rendered inoperative as a rule of life (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:7, 11; Heb. 8:13). “As a rule of life, the Law of Moses was temporary … [and] came to an end with the death of the Messiah.” (Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology, 373-374)
Too many pastors and theologians attempt to keep part of the Mosaic Law alive today and make it part of the Christian walk, but there is no need to do this, as the Mosaic Law has been rendered inoperative in its entirety, and the New Testament guides the believer to live by “the Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Because God is the Author of both law-codes (i.e. the Law of Moses as well as the Law of Christ), it is not surprising that He chose to incorporate some of the laws He gave to Israel into the law-code which He has given to the Church. When trying to understand which laws have carried over and which have not, the general rule to follow is: what God has not restated in the New Testament to the Church, has been altogether abrogated. Charles Ryrie states:
The Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Tim. 4:4), some old ones (Rom. 13:9), and some revised ones (Rom. 13:4, with reference to capital punishment). All the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has. (Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology, 351-52)
Paul stated the church-age believer is “no longer under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14; cf. Gal. 5:1-4). Grace is the rule of life for the Christian. Though rendered inoperative as a rule of life, the Mosaic Law can be used to teach such things as God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, the need for atonement, and the ultimate need for men to trust in Christ for salvation (Rom. 3:10-25; 5:20; 10:1-4). All Scripture is for us, though not all Scripture is to us (1 Cor. 10:11). Regarding our being under grace, Henry Thiessen states:
The believer has been made free from the law, but liberty does not mean license. To offset this danger of antinomianism, the Scriptures teach that we have not only been delivered from the law, but also “joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God” (Rom. 7:4). We are thus not “without the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; cf. Gal. 6:2). Freedom from law should not result in license, but love (Gal. 5:13; cf. 1 Pet. 2:16). The believer is, consequently, to keep his eyes on Christ as his example and teacher, and by the Holy Spirit to fulfill his law (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:18). (Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 171)
Being under the grace-system does not mean the believer is without law and can therefore sin as he pleases (Rom. 6:14-16; Titus 2:11-12). The New Testament speaks of “the perfect law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25), “the royal law” (Jam. 2:8), the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), and “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2). Writing about the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2, Thomas Constable states:
The law of Christ is the code of commandments under which Christians live. Some of the commandments Christ and His apostles gave us are the same as those that Moses gave the Israelites. However this does not mean that we are under the Mosaic Code. Residents of the United States live under a code of laws that is similar to, but different from, the code of laws that govern residents of England. Some of our laws are the same as theirs, and others are different. Because some laws are the same we should not conclude that the codes are the same. Christians no longer live under the Mosaic Law; we live under a new code, the law of Christ (cf. 5:1). (Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Gal. 6:2)
Just as the Israelite living under the Mosaic Law had a clear body of Scripture to which he could look for guidance in day to day living (i.e. Ex. 20-Deut. 28), so the Christian has a clear body of Scripture that guides him (Rom. 1 through Rev.3). To understand God’s will, the Christian should think and live according to the “Law of Christ” as it is revealed in the New Testament (Gal. 6:2). Some of the commands from the Mosaic Law have carried over into the “Law of Christ” (e.g. no other gods, honor father and mother, etc.), but most have been abrogated (e.g. slavery laws, tithing, sacrificial system, dietary laws, etc.), and there are some new commands (e.g. do not grieve H.S., do not quench H.S., love as Christ loved, etc.). These distinctions are very important to understand if the believer is to live God’s will in every particular and glorify Him both in time and eternity.
The Law of Moses has been disannulled and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2 and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new law, totally separate from the Law of Moses. The Law of Christ contains all the individual commandments from Christ and the Apostles applicable to a New Testament believer. A simple comparison of the details will show that it is not and cannot be the same as the Law of Moses. Four observations are worth noting. First, many commandments are the same as those of the Law of Moses. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are also in the Law of Christ. But, second, many are different from the Law of Moses. For example, there is no Sabbath law now (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16) and no dietary code (Mark 7:19; Rom. 14:20). Third, some commandments in the Law of Moses are intensified by the Law of Christ. The Law of Moses said: love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev. 19:18). This made man the standard. The Law of Christ said: love one another, even as I have loved you(John 15:12). This makes the Messiah the standard and He loved us enough to die for us. Fourth, the Law of the Messiah provides a new motivation. The Law of Moses was based on the conditional Mosaic Covenant and so the motivation was: do, in order to be blessed. The Law of Christ is based on the unconditional New Covenant and so the motivation is: you have been and are blessed, therefore, do. The reason there is so much confusion over the relationship of the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ is that many commandments are similar to those found in the Mosaic Law, and many have concluded that certain sections of the law have, therefore, been retained. It has already been shown that this cannot be the case, and the explanation for the sameness of the commandments is to be found elsewhere…The same is true when we compare the Law of Christ with the Law of Moses. There are many similar commandments. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are to be found in the Law of Christ, but this does not mean that the Law of Moses is still in force. The Law of Moses has been rendered inoperative and we are now under the Law of Christ. There are many different commandments; under the Law of Moses we would not be permitted to eat pork, but under the Law of Christ we may. There are many similar commandments, but they are nonetheless in two separate systems. If we do not kill or steal today, this is not because of the Law of Moses but because of the Law of Christ. On the other hand, if I steal, I am not guilty of breaking the Law of Moses but of breaking the Law of Christ. (Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology, 650-51)
The Christian living under the Law of Christ has both positive and negative commands that direct his life. Where the Scripture does not provide specific commands, it gives divine principles that guide the Christian’s walk (i.e. to walk in love, to glorify God in all things, etc.). Romans to Revelation provide the body of commands for the Christian living under “the Law of Christ”.
Mosaic Laws and Grace Laws are absolutes and the believer should never try to mix the two (Rom. 6:14; 7:6; Gal. 5:1-4). One is saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9), lives by grace (2 Pet. 3:18), and performs good works as a “thank you” response to God’s kindness (1 Jo. 4:7-11). When living by grace, the believer should realize that divine commands are consistent with grace, so long as they do not become a substitute for it. Grace is learned through daily study in the word of God. The ignorant believer almost always gravitates toward legalism, and thinks his works win God’s favor. As the believer advances in his knowledge of God’s Word, he realizes that faith is non-meritorious and the only way to receive God’s grace (Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9).