Are Non-Jewish Christians Obligated To Follow All of the Commands of the Old Testament?
Happy Tuesday, friends! By the time you are hearing this my family and I will be – Lord Willing – on our way to Fresno, California for a two day little mini-vacation – staying at a socially distanced Airbnb and planning on doing some hiking and such in the 105 degree weather. We live in Salinas, California, and you’d expect – it being central California, and only 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean – that it would be warm here, but it really isn’t. The weather is nice, but it rarely gets out of the 70s in July, and highs are sometimes in the 60s.
Okay, sorry about that – weather intros are amongst the worse. I’ll try harder tomorrow. Today’s Bible readings include Judges 12, Jeremiah 24, Acts 15 and Mark 10. Today’s Bible question is one that we have covered, at least in part, previously, but it is such a big and important question that I think we need to focus in on it again. When most Christians talk about ‘the Bible,’ they are thinking about one big book that was written in ancient times that tells us about God, and Jesus, and His followers. That’s true in many ways, of course, but that might just be too broad an overview of something so spectacular in the same way that describing the Niagara Falls as some water flowing over some rocks is accurate, but not nearly accurate enough to give one an idea as to what the Niagara Falls actually is. The Bible is a collection of 66 books, written by a vast multitude of different people, from different perspectives and vastly different time periods. Most of the writers are Jewish, but some are Gentiles, such as Luke and possibly the writer of Hebrews (that is, if the writer of Hebrews isn’t Luke.)
In Acts 15, the apostles tackle an incredibly important question: Are non-Jews (AKA Gentiles) required to obey all of the law of Moses? Let’s read the passage and see the answer.
The answer that the first apostolic council came to was delivered to the non Jewish (Gentile) churches as a letter, which said this:
24 Since we have heard that some without our authorization went out from us and troubled you with their words and unsettled your hearts, 25 we have unanimously decided to select men and send them to you along with our dearly loved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who will personally report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—not to place further burdens on you beyond these requirements: 29 that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell.”
The question being asked was: Must Gentile Christians be circumcised and follow the law of Moses? In Biblical terms, basically any person that was not born in Israel, or born to Jewish parents was considered a Gentile. In the Old Testament, God commanded His people to be circumcised – every male. This is an oft-repeated Old Testament command, and was very important. This was NOT a tertiary issue that the apostles tackled here, but a primary one. They deliberated, discussed and heard from the Holy Spirit as to their answer which basically boiled down to bringing forward FOUR different Old Testament commands:
- Abstain from food that was knowingly offered to idols
- Do not consume blood
- Do not eat anything that was strangled to death (because meat that was strangled generally had all of the blood still in it)
- Do not commit sexual immorality.
Let’s reread vs 28, “28 For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—not to place further burdens on you beyond these requirements: ” Does this mean that Gentile/Non-Jewish Christians are no longer under the commands of the Old Testament? I believe it most certainly does, something that Paul makes explicitly clear in Romans 6:14
4 For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under the law but under grace.
It is made even more clear in Galatians 3:
19 Why, then, was the law given? It was added for the sake of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise was made would come. The law was put into effect through angels by means of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator is not just for one person alone, but God is one. 21 Is the law therefore contrary to God’s promises? Absolutely not! For if the law had been granted with the ability to give life, then righteousness would certainly be on the basis of the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise might be given on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe. 23 Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. 24 The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. 25 But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus.
This is a meaty passage, but read it and reread it and grasp what Paul is saying. The law was given UNTIL THE SEED TO WHOM THE PROMISE WAS MADE WOULD COME. BEFORE faith came, says Paul, we were imprisoned by the law – the law was our guard, but ONLY until Christ, so that we could be justified BY FAITH. Since faith has come, WE ARE NO LONGER UNDER THE GUARDIAN OF THE LAW. Hebrews 7 tells us that the New Covenant (begun by Jesus and His sacrifice) is BETTER and the old command was annulled
18 So the previous command is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable 19 (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 8 continues to tell us that the New Covenant obtained by Jesus is SUPERIOR to the Old and the Old Covenant is now obsolete and passing away.
6 But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been established on better promises.7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second one. 8 But finding fault with his people, he says:…13 By saying a new covenant, he has declared that the first is obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old is about to pass away.
Some of you are out there wondering about Jesus’ comment that the law will NOT pass away – not even a jot or tittle of it. Let’s look at that passage, because it is crucial for our discussion here:
17 “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.
I absolutely believe this passage, and I believe that the Bible teaches us that Jesus DID ACCOMPLISH ALL THINGS and DID FULFILL THE LAW in His perfect life of obedience and in His perfectly undeserved death on the cross. Jesus accomplished the purpose of the law and has begun a New Covenant. I love how the Gotquestions.org team explains this:
Jesus came not to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them. In fact, the ceremonies, sacrifices, and other elements of the Old Covenant were “only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves” (Hebrews 10:1). The tabernacle and temple were “holy places made with hands,” but they were never meant to be permanent; they were but “copies of the true things” (Hebrews 9:24, ESV). The Law had a built-in expiration date, being filled as it was with “external regulations applying until the time of the new order” (Hebrews 9:10).
In His fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, Jesus obtained our eternal salvation. No more were priests required to offer sacrifices and enter the holy place (Hebrews 10:8–14). Jesus has done that for us, once and for all. By grace through faith, we are made right with God: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).
There are some who argue that, since Jesus did not “abolish” the Law, then the Law is still in effect—and still binding on New Testament Christians. But Paul is clear that the believer in Christ is no longer under the Law: “We were held in custody under the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the Law became our guardian to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (Galatians 3:23–25, BSB). We are not under the Mosaic Law but under “the law of Christ” (see Galatians 6:2).
If the Law is still binding on us today, then it has not yet accomplished its purpose—it has not yet been fulfilled. If the Law, as a legal system, is still binding on us today, then Jesus was wrong in claiming to fulfill it and His sacrifice on the cross was insufficient to save. Thank God, Jesus fulfilled the whole Law and now grants us His righteousness as a free gift. “Know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).