How do we relate to the Law?


“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.  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.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5.17-20

During a talk by Chris a few weeks ago on reading the Bible, he recommended reading it from cover to cover, beginning to end.  I agree, but we have to reckon we will hit some difficulties if we do this.

You may sail through reading Genesis and the first 20 chapters of Exodus, which have a good story line and are interesting to read. However, once you get to Exodus 21 through to the end of Deuteronomy, that is about 200 pages in my Bible, you will hit a problem: the Law section of the Torah. There, we find page after page of laws and regulations, much of which no one keeps today (not even Torah-observant, Orthodox Jews). There are some bits of narrative interspersed in it, but, to be honest, it is not a very exciting read. And you may be put off when thinking, ‘There is no way I can do all this‘; so, you may feel like giving up. 

What are we to do with it, with that section of the Bible? How do we interpret it? How do we relate to the Law, the Torah, especially in the light of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount just quoted above? Does breaking one of the least of these commandments apply to what Torah commands? If that is the case, we are in trouble, especially if we don’t circumcise our sons, keep kosher eating habits or keep the legal Sabbath. 

Jots and Tittles

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus assures His audience that He had not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; rather, He had come to fulfil them. Then, in verse 18, Jesus emphasizes the eternal nature of God’s Word:

“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled”

Matthew 5.18

His statement naturally prompts the question of what’s a jot? And what’s a tittle?

Most of us are unfamiliar with jots and tittles because most of us do not read the Hebrew language. Jots and tittles have to do with letters and pen strokes in Hebrew writing.

A jot is the tenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the smallest. It was written above the line and looks to us rather like an apostrophe:

Jot is related to our modern English word iota, meaning “a very small amount.” The Hebrew spelling is yod or yodh.

A tittle is even smaller than a jot. A tittle is a letter extension, a pen stroke that can differentiate one Hebrew letter from another. An example can be seen in the comparison between the Hebrew letters resh and daleth (r and d in English):

The resh (on the left) is made with one smooth stroke. The daleth (on the right) is made with two strokes of the pen. The letters are very similar to each other, but the distinguishing mark of the daleth is the small extension of the roof of the letter:

Jesus authenticates the whole of the Hebrew Bible

When Jesus said, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” in Matthew 5:18, He was stating emphatically that God’s Word is true and trustworthy. Not one word or letter is to be changed or left out. God has spoken, His words have been written down accurately, and what God has said will surely come to pass.

Even the smallest letter of the Law will be fulfilled. Even the smallest pen stroke of the Prophets will be accomplished. The NLT translates the verse this way:

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.

Matthew 5.18

Both Judaism and Christianity affirm the Hebrew Bible

One of the remarkable facts about Christianity is that it has taken the whole of the Hebrew Bible and incorporated it into its own Holy Book, with the addition of the New Testament / New Covenant.

Orthodox Judaism has also kept the Tenach / Old Testament as its Holy Book, but without the addition of the New Testament which they see as a foreign book from another religion.

Judaism and Christianity interpret the Bible differently

According to rabbis, followers of Judaism need the Talmud to understand Torah and to apply it to every day life today. People also need rabbinic guidance to understand תָּנָ״ךְ Tenach / Tanakh

These discrepant positions lead to very different interpretations, not just on whether Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Messiah suffering for our sins fulfilled in Jesus or whether it is Israel who is suffering as the Servant of the Lord.  Hasmo incident re David.

New Testament view of the Old Testament

Messianic Jews and Christians who understand the Hebrew roots of our faith do not see the New Testament as ‘the book of another religion’ but the necessary fulfilment of the Old Testament with the revelation of the promised Messiah fulfilled in Jesus, rooted in the Hebrew scriptures.

 The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed. 

The Old and New Testaments are one book speaking of the progressive revelation of one God from Creation and Fall through to redemption, through Messiah / the One Way of Salvation in Yeshua the Messiah.

In the Matthew 5 statement, Jesus is indicating that not one letter of the Law and the Prophets, the Jewish Bible is to be altered or discarded. It is all to be regarded as the Holy Word of God.

Should Christians keep the commands of the Torah?

But what about the word of Jesus?  

Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:19

Are we to keep all of the commandments found in the Torah? In the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy? Did He mean therefore that we are obliged to keep all the commandments in the Torah and, if we do not, we will be called ‘least in the kingdom of heaven’, or even we may not enter heaven?

27 ‘If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally by doing something against any of the commandments of the Lord in anything which ought not to be done, and is guilty,

Leviticus 4:27

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2

14 ‘But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments,

15 and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant,

16 I also will do this to you:

I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart.

And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

Leviticus 26:13-15

The Seventh Day Adventists teach that though we are saved by grace, we are kept by the Law. Therefore we must keep Old Testament dietary and ceremonial laws, paying particular attention to keeping the Saturday Sabbath and the Ten Commandments, and most importantly, making sure to faithfully pay the tithe. 

What do Seventh Day Adventists Really Believe? –

As Christians become interested in the Jewish roots of our faith, some are coming to the conclusion that the answer to this question is ‘Yes.’  For example the website, ‘The Refiner’s fire’ says Gentiles are called to enter into the Malchut Elohim (kingdom of God) to follow Mashiach (Messiah) and observe Torah, saying that the ‘Torah’s “forever” commands pertain to EVERY believer and are Torah observant believers in Christ! Those are the ones who will ultimately “make the Jews jealous.”’

Malchut Elohim, The Kingdom and Kingship of Our Creator

In the context of this argument this article quotes Numbers 15.15:

15 “One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger [= Gentile living in land of Israel] be before the Lord, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. 16 One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.’ “

Numbers 15:1516

This scripture is interpreted to mean that Torah commands are perpetual commands to be kept by all Jews and Gentiles who come to faith in the LORD. In fact, this quote already presents a problem to this teaching because, in the context, it is about offering burnt offerings of a bull, a lamb or a goat as sacrifices before the Lord, which neither Orthodox Jews nor Christians do today. We could also point out that these commandments are given specifically to ‘the children of Israel’ to be kept when ‘you have come into the land you are to inhabit

“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you have come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving to you, and you make an offering by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfil a vow or as a freewill offering or in your appointed feasts, to make a sweet aroma to the Lord, from the herd or the flock,

Numbers 15.2-3

Orthodox Judaism teaches that Torah commands are for Jews only not for Gentiles. 

38 “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. 39 And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, 40 and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God. 

Numbers 15.38-40

The New Testament distinguishes Torah’s and Jesus’ teaching

When we come to the Gospels, we find that Jesus kept the Law as far as the teaching of Moses was concerned. However, there is already a distinction with the Torah also to be found in the teaching of Jesus.

In John 1.17 we read,

17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1.17

In Matthew 5 in the words which follow the passage quoted about the Law and the Prophets Jesus says

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5.21-48

In other words, Jesus says: I’m telling you something new. While Jesus quotes words from the 10 commandments, He restates the written command, but adds what is going on in our thought life. 

He says not only do not murder, but do not hate / be angry without a cause and seek reconciliation with those you have offended or are offended by (Matthew 5.21-24).

He says, not only do not commit adultery, but do not look at a woman to lust for her. 

27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Matthew 5.27-30

The Gospels go on to provide commands Jesus gives to his followers, which we are not found in the Torah (e.g. Go into all the world and preach the Gospel). And it is these commands rather than the commands of the Torah which we are to keep. In 1 John 3 we read:

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. 23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.  24 Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

1 John 3.21-24

Here John does not mention commandments given by Moses in Torah but commandments given by Jesus.

Acts 15 – Council at Jerusalem What to do with Gentile converts?

The Book of Acts and the Epistles also speak not just about the outward observance of God’s commands, but the inward desire to do so as a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit. He gives us a new heart and a new spirit which shows us how to live according to the ‘law of Christ.’

But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

Acts 15.5

In Acts 15 this issue is addressed directly. Gentiles began to be saved by believing in Jesus as the Messiah. Then Pharisees who had also accepted Jesus as Messiah said that these Gentile converts should be circumcised and made to keep Torah.

Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them 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. 10 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? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

Acts 15.6-11

Hebrews 7 – Change in the priesthood

In the Hebrews 7.11-19 the writer says that there has been a change in the order of the priesthood, with Jesus replacing the Levitical priests. A priest is a mediator between people and God expressed through the act of offering sacrifices. In Hebrews we see the change in the priesthood from the tribe of Levi to Judah.

11 Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.

14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest 16 who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. 17 For He testifies:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

18 For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, 19 for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.

Hebrews 7.11-19

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said:

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tithe of all.

Genesis 14.18-20

Jesus brings in a new way in which we approach God through His unique and final sacrifice which does away with the need for the sacrifices offered under the Torah. Because of this change in the priesthood, there is also a change in the law: 

12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.

14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. 

Hebrews 7.12-14

Hebrews 8 – the New Covenant Quoting Jeremiah 31.31

This ‘new covenant’ is described as being a better covenant, which replaces the former one.

Hebrews 8 quotes the prophecy of Jeremiah 31.31-4 concerning the new covenant through which God says

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. 

Hebrews 8.7-13

According to this covenant, God will write His laws on the heart of the believer and will remember their sins no more. 

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. 33 But 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. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31.31-34

The Lord Jesus is the priest of the new covenant, and the old is becoming obsolete and growing old and ready to vanish away. The new covenant is mediated through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross which replaces the sacrifices of the old covenant.

The Law as a tutor to bring us to Christ

In Galatians 3.24, Paul describes the Torah given as a temporary measure given until the Messiah should come.  

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

By this he means that the commands of the law reveal to us the fact that we sin against God and therefore need a mediator to save us from the penalty of sin (God’s judgement). In Romans 5.8-11 Paul explains how we are justified with God by faith in Jesus Christ.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Romans 5.8-11

As a result of this Paul says,

14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 6:14

18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:18

Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

Romans 7:4-6

The curse of the Law

In Galatians 3.10-14 Paul speaks of the ‘curse’ which comes with the law:

10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3.10-14

Today, Orthodox Jews are very offended by Paul’s teaching about the ‘curse of the law’ and many in the Messianic movement are also seeking to distance themselves from this teaching.

However, Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy when he makes this statement. In Deuteronomy 27.26 this statement comes at the end of the summary of the Torah. 

26 ‘Cursed is the one who does not confirm all the words of this law by observing them.’

“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ ”

Deuteronomy 27.26

The Torah is given as the constitution and the legal system of Israel to be kept as they go into the land. Keeping its commands places them under the blessing of God and the following chapter, Deuteronomy 28, describes the blessings which will come upon Israel when they keep the commands of the Torah and the curses or judgments which will come upon them when they break these commands.  

12 The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them. 14 So you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right or the left, to go after other gods to serve them.

15 “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:

16 “Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country.

17 “Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

18 “Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.

19 “Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.

20 “The Lord will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me.

Deuteronomy 28.12-20

So Paul is saying here what Deuteronomy also says, that failure to keep the law brings a curse. 

The history of Israel which follows Deuteronomy in the Old Testament confirms this. When they are faithful to the Lord and keep His commands, God blesses them. When they are disobedient God judges them. Judgement equals curse. 

It also shows that the failure to keep the commands of the Torah is universal. Paul writes in Romans 3.10

10 As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”

Romans 3.10-12

To remedy this God sent the Messiah into the world. He is without sin and became ‘a curse for us’ when He bore the sins of the world upon Himself through His death as a sacrifice for sin.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the labour of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53.10-12

Through faith in this sacrifice our sins are forgiven as we believe in Him and are born again to eternal life. 

So do we just disregard the Law / Torah? 

No. There is much we can learn from studying it. In fact, the New Testament plan of salvation does not make sense unless we see it as the answer to the problem raised by God’s righteous commandments in Torah and humanity’s unrighteousness in disobeying them.

The Law is one unit, summarised in Deuteronomy (the second statement of the Law)

However it has different aspects. Some have talked of three categories in Torah.

Spiritual and moral aspects

These are found in the 10 commandments, (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) and in the many passages dealing with commandments to worship the one God and not idols, commandments on sexual morality, stealing, murder, etc.

And God spoke all these words, saying:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

12 “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.”

Exodus 20.1-17

These are summed up in the command to love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind (Deuteronomy 6.5) and your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19.18).

29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12.29-31

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

Deuteronomy 6.5

18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19.18

Ceremonial laws

These relate to the construction of the tabernacle and the priesthood (Exodus 26-40),

the sacrifices (Leviticus 1-10),

and the festivals to be observed (Leviticus 23).

In particular the Day of Atonement / Yom Kippur / (Leviticus 16-17)

Legal and civil aspects

These relate to laws on how Israel should live in the land and include laws relating to crime and punishment, capital punishment and the administration of the death penalty (Leviticus 20, Deuteronomy 13),

laws on tithing (a kind of income tax), the agricultural laws concerning fields lying fallow in the seventh year (Leviticus 25),

laws on repaying and cancelling debt (Deuteronomy 15.1-6),

“At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbour shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the Lord’s release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother, except when there may be no poor among you; for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance— only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today. For the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; you shall reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over you.

Deuteronomy 15.1-6

slavery (Deuteronomy 15.12-18),

12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; 14 you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the Lord your God has blessed you with, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today. 16 And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you, 17 then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear to the door, and he shall be your servant forever. Also to your female servant you shall do likewise. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you send him away free from you; for he has been worth a double hired servant in serving you six years. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.

Deuteronomy 15.12-18

warfare (Deuteronomy 20),

on family relationships and discipline (Deuteronomy 21.18-21),

18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. 20 And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.

Deuteronomy 21.18-21

laws on cleanliness / food laws, cleansing of lepers (Leviticus 11, 13-14).

Biology and the Jewish Bible

If Jesus meant in Matthew 5.19 that Christians must be Torah observant, then anyone who breaks the least of these commandments and teaches men so to do will also be ‘the least’ in the Kingdom of Heaven; therefore, everyone will be ‘the least’ in the Kingdom of Heaven, including Peter and Paul.  

Next time I speak on this subject I will tell you how we are to observe these laws.

How does this apply to New Testament?

The moral laws – love for God and neighbour – are all restated in the New Testament and often given an additional dimension dealing with the thought-life which gives birth to sinful acts and needs to be renewed by the Holy Spirit.

The ceremonial laws to do with the priesthood, the sacrifice, the tabernacle are all fulfilled in Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross as He becomes our great High Priest who has paid the price for sin (our failure to keep God’s laws) through His death on the cross.

The social laws are intended to be kept by Israel as a sovereign nation in the land. The true church is a gathered people from all nations, living within different nations with their own political and social systems. Generally speaking, we are not in a position to make laws for the land. If the land is influenced by Christianity, its laws will be too (e.g., Britain prior to modern times).

However, even in those lands influenced by Christianity, now that we go away from the Lord, we find our laws become non Christian or even anti Christian.

We can learn how God wants people to behave from studying these Old Testament laws, but neither we (nor Jews in diaspora or even in modern Israel) are able to make them the law of the land.

According to Judaism there are 613 commands in the Torah

One has to say that, even strictly Orthodox Jews today, do not keep all the commands of the Torah as they are written in the books of Moses – not by any means. With the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people from the land of Israel many of these became impossible to keep. 

According to Judaism there are 613 laws in the Torah which Jews are obliged to keep. It also acknowledges that no one keeps the 613 commandments today.

In his book ‘The Handbook of Jewish Thought’, Rabbi Kaplan states:

‘There is a tradition that God included 613 commandments in the Torah. Of these, 248 are positive, while 365 are negative. Many of these commandments, however, deal with the laws of purity and sacrifice, and were thus only applicable when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem. Therefore, of all the commandments, only 369 apply today. Of these, 126 are positive, and 243 are negative. Even of these, however, many only pertain to special cases or circumstances. The total number of commandments which apply to everyone under all conditions is 270. Of these, 48 are positive, and 222 are negative.’  

The Handbook of Jewish ThoughtRabbi Kaplan

New Testament view – Law / Torah replaced with the new covenant

The New Testament does give an answer to this question. Since the coming of Jesus as the suffering servant Messiah, the commands of the Torah have been replaced with the new covenant. Next time I speak I will show specifically how this comes to pass.

To sum up, Yeshua has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. Those who follow Him are now brought into the new covenant in which we are saved by faith in what Jesus has done for us as we recognise our sin in breaking God’s commandments and our need of salvation through repentance and faith in Messiah who fulfilled the promise of Isaiah 53.6.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53.6

Now, we are born again to a living hope in Him. We receive the Holy Spirit who works in us to enable us to keep the law of Christ and obey His commands. We are to walk in newness of life through faith in Yeshua the Messiah by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Galatians 5.19-25

The goal of life in the new covenant is sanctification by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to produce the fruit of the Spirit, not works of the flesh. Repentance and faith are required to be filled with the Holy Spirit.


Back to Jesus’ word in Matthew 5

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20

As the New Testament is going to go on to explain, by our own righteousness, none of us will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only by the righteousness of God imputed to us by our repentance and faith in Yeshua the Messiah will we enter in. And anybody, even the least of these in the kingdom, who takes up God’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life through repentance and faith in Jesus will enter in.

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