What Is the Bible’s View?
Can a Perfect Law Have a Fault?
THE Law that God gave to the Israelites was perfect. Regarding that Law the Scriptures tell us: “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12) Yet it may be asked, Why, then, does the Bible also say that the Law covenant had a weakness, a fault?
We read: “If that first covenant had been faultless, no place would have been sought for a second.” (Heb. 8:7) “There occurs a setting aside of the preceding commandment on account of its weakness and ineffectiveness. For the Law made nothing perfect.”—Heb. 7:18, 19.
To understand how a perfect law could be spoken of as ‘weak’ and ‘ineffective,’ we must keep in mind that perfection can be relative. For example, a perfectly round peg is unsuitable to fill a square hole.
Similarly, in the case of the Law, it could not do that for which it was not designed. Nevertheless, it was holy, righteous, good, yes, faultless, as regards God’s purpose respecting it. What purpose did it serve?
Answering this question, the apostle Paul wrote: “It was added to make transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive. . . the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ.” (Gal. 3:19, 24) “The Law has a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things.”—Heb. 10:1.
The Law fulfilled perfectly its purpose to make transgressions manifest. It set bounds, pointing out clearly what Jehovah God required as to the conduct of his people. Being imperfect, the Israelites were unable to keep that Law perfectly. Hence, it made their transgressions manifest. The Law showed undeniably that the Israelites needed to be forgiven of their transgressions, also that a sacrifice was required that really could atone for their sins.
As a tutor, the Law served to prepare the Israelites to receive the Messiah or Christ. In ancient times, the tutor or pedagogue was not the teacher, as a teacher in a school is. His responsibility was to keep the child from physical and moral harm. He could discipline the child and instruct it in matters of conduct. But he did not provide all the instruction needed. The tutor accompanied the child to school, turning it over to the instructor there.
Now, the Law did function like an ancient tutor. Its regulations were designed to safeguard the Israelites against damaging their relationship with Jehovah God and injuring themselves thereby. They were told: “In all the way that Jehovah your God has commanded you, you should walk, in order that you may live and it may be well with you and you may indeed lengthen your days in the land of which you will take possession.”—Deut. 5:33.
The Law was also a strict disciplinarian. Wrongdoers did not go unpunished. Regarding serious violations of the Law, such as adultery, murder and kidnapping, we read: “Any man that has disregarded the law of Moses dies without compassion, upon the testimony of two or three.” (Heb. 10:28) Speedy execution of deliberate transgressors served to fill observers with a healthy fear and acted as a restraining force on lawless action.
When the Messiah arrived, a repentant Jewish remnant willingly received him as their instructor. In their case, the Law fulfilled its purpose as a flawless tutor.
Various aspects of the Law, including festivals, the tabernacle and sacrifices, had a shadow that represented greater things to come. A shadow gives some idea of the general shape or design of the reality that casts it. Likewise the shadows of the Law aided right-hearted Israelites to identify the Messiah, as they could see how he fulfilled these shadows. Writing to Christians at Colossae, the apostle Paul pointed this out: “The reality belongs to the Christ.”—Col. 2:17.
However, though the Law perfectly served the purpose of God, it could not do what it had not been assigned to accomplish. Something else was needed to bring about permanent cleansing from sin and to give individuals a clean conscience before Jehovah God. The new covenant, which God brought in through Christ Jesus, was, therefore, superior to the old Law covenant. The new covenant was validated, not by animal sacrifices, but by the sacrifice of the perfect man Jesus Christ. That perfect human sacrifice can purify from sins and give a clean conscience to those exercising faith in its atoning value.
The animal sacrifices offered under the Mosaic law arrangement merely foreshadowed the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ. At Hebrews 10:1-4 this is made plain: “Men can never with the same sacrifices from year to year which they offer continually make those who approach perfect. Otherwise, would the sacrifices not have stopped being offered, because those rendering sacred service who had been cleansed once for all time would have no consciousness of sins anymore? To the contrary, by these sacrifices there is a reminding of sins from year to year, for it is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats, to take sins away.”
In addition to the fact that animal sacrifices could not take away sins, the Jewish high priest was himself a man subject to sin and death. Contrasting the position of Jesus Christ as high priest and that of the Jewish high priests in the line of Aaron, Hebrews 7:26-28 states: “Such a high priest as this was suitable for us, loyal, guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners, and become higher than the heavens. He does not need daily, as those high priests do, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for those of the people: (for this he did once for all time when he offered himself up;) for the Law appoints men high priests having weakness, but the word of the sworn oath that came after the Law appoints a Son, who is perfected forever.”
So the Law was ‘weak’ in the sense that its priesthood of dying men and its animal sacrifices could not completely or perfectly relieve the Israelites of all consciousness of sin. Only the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his superior priesthood could accomplish that.
The Holy Scriptures thus make it clear that the Law given to Israel was perfect in a relative sense. There was no flaw in its carrying out the purpose for which it had been given. It made transgressions manifest, foreshadowed a greater reality, made identification of that reality possible, and readied a people to receive the Messiah. Serving a preparatory role, the Law was replaced by the reality centering around Jesus Christ. Compared with that reality, the Law was weak and had a fault. However, when viewed from the standpoint of the purpose for which it was provided, the Law was perfect, flawless.