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The Torah, Foundation of Covenant Continuity: The Torah in the Life of Christians

March 12, 2023Author: amazingtangledgrace

Continued from The Torah, Foundation of Covenant Continuity: The Torah in View of Canon.

Exploring the Torah in the life of Christians, picks up on points raised in previous sections. First, God uses the Torah within the event space of ancient Israel to not only expose sin (cf. Rom 7:7) but to reveal mankind’s desperate need for a Savior as well (cf. Rom 7:24,25). Second, keeping the law is a human response to God’s grace and not a way to merit His favor (cf. Deut 5); therefore, this NT theme is not new at all. Though not a referendum on all sin, the decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, which “seemed good to the Holy Spirit,” acknowledges that observance of the law is no longer practiced as it had been previously, or perhaps, a better way of interpreting the decision, the law of Christ,[1] is in terms of fulfillment and clarification of the Pentateuch. God did not undergo evangelical conversion just prior to the NT; in fact, God repeatedly calls His people to Himself for their own good, and God lamented with the heartache of a forsaken parent when His people turned to other gods.[2] As Craig Keener puts it, “Israel’s loving God, her betrayed and wounded lover, is ultimately fully revealed in Jesus as the God of the cross, the God who would rather bear our judgment than let us be estranged from him forever.”[3] Therefore, without the Torah, there would be no messianic vision, no promise to fulfill, and no Christ.

Speaking metaphorically, E. A. Martens contends, “A mother is not inconsistent when at one moment she sharply instructs her children not to cut the flowers in the flower garden, yet moments later asks a daughter to cut some flowers for a table bouquet,” to explain that God may choose to alter His directives as lawgiver, and that change does not indicate inconsistency.[4] Jesus’ response with regard to God’s position on divorce in Matthew 19 reiterates: “He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so’” (ESV)[5] in verse 8. Whereas the Pentateuchal civil system seeks to regulate behavior within ancient Israelite society, for example capital offenses reveal acts that the law took so seriously it stipulated death sentences, it is incorrect to conclude that the church is granted carte blanche freedom to execute capital punishment for the same offenses (Deut 13:10-11; 17:12-13; 19:18-20; 21:21);[6] what is more, the corrective action ordered by Paul in reaction to the case of incest in I Corinthians 5 substantiates this understanding. Nowhere does Paul, or Jesus, denigrate or dismiss the OT law, as Jesus’ elaboration to His opponents makes plain in Matthew 5:18-48;[7] therefore, the Torah actually demands an even higher standard in the life of Christians. While Israel’s civil code states, “You shall not kill” or “commit adultery,” Jesus goes even further by demanding, “You shall not want to kill” or “want to commit adultery.”[8] Matthew 5 shares the same accord as Leviticus 19 by proclaiming the message that a “lawgiver stands behind their injunctions,” meaning that a “personal will is more determinative than any verbal proposition;” hence, the Torah is a legitimate expression of God’s will, but the law does not express “the sum of the divine will.”[9]

After his rebuke in Galatians 5 concerning circumcision, Paul concludes in verse 6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” The issue of circumcision sparks debate today just as it did during Paul’s time and is a favorite of skeptics who see it as grounds for biblical inconsistency, even inconsistency within the writings attributed Paul (cf. Acts 16:3). Circumcision is ideal for exploring a proposed dichotomy between fulfilling the heart of the law through Christ and not being burdened with the letter of the law. With regard to the Sabbath, Paul employs the same thinking (cf. Col 2:16). Although Christians are not called to live out the precise mandates of the law, there are occasions, as in cases of the morality, where they do, though it is not out of any legalistic, civil obligation, but rather, in order to live out the spirit the law expects. Thus, concerning abiding in Christ, “This love brings the Christian into harmony with God’s character and law of love. To receive God’s gift is to accept, cooperate with, and live out the moral transformation that he offers. The strength that he makes available.”[10]

The accounts in Luke in which Jesus instructs the wealthy ruler in to sell all that he owns and give the proceeds to the poor, then responds favorably to Zacchaeus’ offer to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back four times the amount to anyone he had cheated in the next chapter, illustrate Paul’s point to the Galatians about circumcision that God’s primary interest is with the heart. As circumcision is the cutting away of something signifying a removal of that which has been cut away, Paul writes to the Romans, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God“ (2:29). In addition, application of this understanding offers insight into Acts 16: “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek” (3). In the case of the Galatians, circumcision became a question of fundamental doctrine; whereas, Paul’s decision to circumcise Timothy was done so as to reach Jews who would have otherwise shut him down at the onset. What may initially seem like an invitation to flexibility in interpretation and implementation of the law, Jesus, again, actually demands more;[11] the removal of flesh is inadequate in comparison to circumcision of the heart.

 “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6). The Torah tells of a time when God will circumcise more than flesh but the heart; therefore, the NT view of circumcision is foretold and consequently not distinct from the law at all. Gane’s conclusion is within the same line of thought in that converted Christians are those for whom God’s commandments are not burdensome, because their obedience is from the heart, not the flesh.[12] Covenant continuity between Testament eras exists in a way that demonstrates God’s covenant faithfulness and grace rather than a disconnected dichotomy of law verses gospel. Therefore, the Torah in the life of Christians “reveals something about God; it also orders the life of the community, and its telos is a character of holiness. Even more, the law is life-giving, life-enhancing.”[13] While the Torah serves a purpose and function within the historical context of ancient Israel, its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth is a manifest expression of God’s covenant faithfulness found throughout the canon of Scripture. Christ is the perfect atoning sacrifice, once and for all; we have been made clean!

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).

[1] 1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2.

[2] Craig S. Keener, “Reading the Torah as the Law of Faith.” Southwestern Journal of Theology 64, no. 1 (Fall 2021): 90.

[3] Ibid., 90.

[4] E. A. Martens, “How is the Christian to Construe Old Testament Law?,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 12, no. 2 (2002): 207.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

[6] Keener, 89.

[7] Martens, 209.

[8] Keener, 88.

[9] Martens, 210.

[10] Roy E. Gane, Old Testament Law for Christians: Original Context and Enduring Application (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 401-03.

[11] Martens, 207.

[12] Gane, 399.

[13] Martens, 207.

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Author: Narrow Path Ministries

Non-denominational, Independent, Bible believing Church

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