What the Mosaic Law Means to You
1. (a) What indicated that, beginning with 36 C.E., uncircumcised Gentiles were acceptable to Jehovah as Christians? (b) But over what issue did some early Christians have strong feelings?
A HOTLY debated issue in the days of the apostle Paul was whether Gentile Christians were obligated to conform to the requirements of the Mosaic Law. It is true that in 36 C.E. holy spirit had come upon uncircumcised Gentiles. But some Christians of Jewish background felt strongly that Gentile disciples should be circumcised and taught to observe the Law of Moses. Was it, in fact, necessary for them to keep that Law, or perhaps part of it? About 49 C.E. the issue was referred to the governing body in Jerusalem.—Acts 10:44-48; 15:1, 2, 5.
2. Why does this issue interest us?
2 The outcome is of keen interest to us. Why? Not only because at times we meet people who argue that Christians must conform to certain requirements of the Law, such as Sabbath observance, but also because the Bible itself says that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12) Though referred to as the Mosaic Law because Moses was the mediator of the Law covenant, that Law code actually originated with Jehovah God.—Ex. 24:3, 8.
Why the Law?
3. Why was the Law given to Israel?
3 How we view the Law today is affected by whether we understand why Jehovah gave Israel a Law code. The Scriptures explain: “It was added [to the Abrahamic covenant] to make transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive to whom the promise had been made . . . Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith.” (Gal. 3:19, 24) How did the Law do this?
4. (a) How did that Law “make transgressions manifest”? (b) How did it also lead faithful ones to Christ?
4 By setting out a perfect pattern covering the various facets of life, it showed up the Jews as sinners. It became evident that, despite any good intentions and diligent efforts, they could not measure up to its requirements. Using the Jews as a sample of the imperfect human family, the Law exposed all the world, including each one of us, as sinners, liable to God for punishment. (Rom. 3:19, 20) Thus it emphasized the need for a savior for mankind, and it led faithful ones to Jesus Christ as that Savior. In what way? It identified him as the only one who kept the Law perfectly, thus the only human who was sinless. Animal sacrifices under the Law had only limited value, but as a perfect human, Jesus could offer his life as a sacrifice that would really remove sin and open the way to eternal life for all those exercising faith.—John 1:29; 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:18, 19.
5. Using the scriptures provided, answer the questions included with this paragraph.
5 With this background in mind, how would you answer the following questions?
Was the Mosaic Law ever meant to be binding on all mankind? (Ps. 147:19, 20; Ex. 31:12, 13)
Did Jehovah give any indication to Israel that someday the Law covenant would end? (Jer. 31:31-33; Heb. 8:13)
Did the Ten Commandments, including the requirement to observe a weekly Sabbath, continue in force after the rest of the Law was canceled? (Col. 2:13, 14, 16; 2 Cor. 3:7-11 [as made clear by Exodus 34:28-30]; Rom. 7:6, 7)
By what means did Jehovah bring the Law covenant to its end? (Col. 2:13-17; Matt. 5:17, 18; Rom. 10:4)
6. What is implied by arguments claiming that the Mosaic Law is still in force?
6 In the light of this, what is implied by arguing that the Mosaic Law is still in force? In effect, this constitutes a repudiation of faith in Jesus Christ. Why is that so? Because such a view rejects the fact that Jesus fulfilled the Law, thus paving the way for God to terminate it. To persons who professed to be Christians but who were swayed by arguments in favor of keeping the Law, or some portion of it, the apostle Paul forcefully wrote: “You are parted from Christ, whoever you are that try to be declared righteous by means of law; you have fallen away from his undeserved kindness.”—Gal. 5:4; see also Romans 10:2-4.
7. (a) What is not fully appreciated by those who argue for continuance of certain features of the Law? (b) How important are Christian works, and what relation do these have to our receiving the gift of eternal life?
7 Those who argue for continuance of certain features of the Law do not fully appreciate that a righteous standing with God depends, not on one’s works of the Law, but on one’s faith in the value of Jesus’ sacrifice. (Gal. 3:11, 12) They feel that a person must prove himself righteous by such works—something that is impossible for sinful humans. It is, indeed, important to do works in obedience to commands of God and Christ that apply to Christians. (Jas. 2:15-17; Matt. 28:19, 20) These are a means of demonstrating our love and faith, and lack of them would indicate that our faith was dead. But we cannot earn salvation no matter how hard we work. No salvation from sin and death would be possible without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Thus eternal life is a gift from God through Jesus Christ, an expression of extraordinary undeserved kindness and not payment for our works.—Eph. 2:8, 9; Rom. 3:23, 24; 6:23.
8. What did the first-century governing body decide about the issue involving application of the Mosaic Law to Gentile Christians?
8 When the issue involving application of the Mosaic Law to Gentile Christians was presented to the governing body in Jerusalem in the first century, their decision was in harmony with these facts. They recognized that Jehovah was not requiring Gentile believers to perform works in obedience to the Mosaic Law before holy spirit was poured out on them. The decision of that governing body did list as “necessary things” certain prohibitions that were in harmony with that Law, but these were based on the Bible record concerning events that predated the Law. So there was not an imposing on Gentile Christians of a responsibility to conform to the Mosaic Law or some portion of it but, rather, there was a confirming of standards recognized prior to Moses.—Acts 15:28, 29; compare Genesis 9:3, 4; 34:2-7; 35:2-5.
9. (a) Are Jews still required by God to obey the Mosaic Law? (b) What special provision was made for them by the manner in which Christ died?
9 After Pentecost of 33 C.E. the Jews themselves were no longer required by God to conform to the Mosaic Law code. And those Jews who exercised faith saw special reason to rejoice in this. Why? Although the Gentiles were also sinners and hence dying, the Jews alone had come under God’s curse because of being violators of the Law covenant. But by the manner in which Christ died—impaled on a stake as if he were an accursed criminal—he took the place of those Jews who would put faith in him and provided release for them from the penalty incurred as a result of their disobedience to the Law. (Gal. 3:10-13) Thus he provided for them forgiveness that they could never have had under the Mosaic Law.—Acts 13:38, 39.
10. In what way did removal of the Law prove to be a factor in united worship?
10 The Law had, in fact, fenced the Jews off from the Gentiles. Requirements that did not apply to the Gentiles were laid on the Jews, and uncircumcised Gentiles were barred from sharing fully with the Jews in their worship. (Compare Exodus 12:48; Acts 10:28.) But once the Law had accomplished its purpose and was removed, it was possible for Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles to be united through Christ in worship of the only true God.—Eph. 2:11-18.
Knowledge of the Law Benefits Us
11. How does knowledge of the Law help us to understand the teachings of Christ?
11 Although we today are not under the Law, knowledge of it is of great benefit to each one of us. In what way? Remember, Jesus was born to a Jewish mother and came to be under the Mosaic Law. Certain things he did can be fully understood only on the basis of knowledge of the requirements of that Law. (Gal. 4:4; see Luke 22:7, 8.) Also it was among people who were under that Law that he carried on his ministry. So his teachings often were built on circumstances related to the Law.—Compare Matthew 5:23, 24.
12. (a) What connection did Jesus point out between his life and the Mosaic Law? (b) How did the apostle Paul indicate the value of having knowledge of the Law? (c) What can result from our grasping the spiritual significance of its requirements?
12 Following his resurrection, Jesus reminded his disciples that his life as a human had fulfilled the things written about him in the Law, in the Prophets and in the Psalms. (Luke 24:44) Also, the apostle Paul referred to features in connection with the Law covenant as being “a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things” and he said that “the Law has a shadow of the good things to come.” (Heb. 8:4, 5; 10:1) Amazing details that find fulfillment in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and in the sacrifice of his human life are embodied in the Mosaic Law. Our grasping these can enrich the meaning of such provisions to us. Among the prophetic patterns are details pointing to the arrangement for worshiping Jehovah acceptably today at his great spiritual temple. As our understanding of these grows, our appreciation for the spirit-anointed congregation and its role under Jesus Christ in connection with our worship will also increase.
13. Why is it beneficial to meditate on the fine principles reflected in the Law?
13 The Mosaic Law is part of the Scriptures inspired by God, all of which are “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Our searching out and meditating on the enduring principles on which the Law is based can help to build up in us a heartfelt desire to do the things that are pleasing to God. If we perceive the spirit toward which the Law pointed and reflect that spirit in our lives, how beneficial that can be!
14. (a) How did Jesus illustrate the value of grasping the spirit toward which the requirements of the Law pointed? (b) Draw attention to some of the additional fine principles embodied in the Law, as shown on page 152. (c) How can appreciation of these things aid us to be more pleasing to God?
14 Jesus effectively illustrated this in his Sermon on the Mount. Speaking to people then under the Law, he showed that, instead of merely refraining from murder, they needed to root out any tendency to continued wrath and refrain from using their tongue in downgrading speech about their brothers. Instead of being content because they had never committed adultery, they should not even look at a woman lustfully. As was true of them, so, too, we should endeavor to use all our body members in harmony with Jehovah’s righteous ways. (Matt. 5:21, 22, 27-30; see also Romans 13:8-10.) If we do this, we will show that we also understand the meaning of the greatest commandment in the Law: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.” (Matt. 22:36, 37) Surely this will draw us closer to Jehovah God. Though we are not under the Mosaic Law code, we will definitely be benefited by accurate knowledge of the principles on which it is based and the prophetic patterns that it contains.
● Why are those who insist on obedience to the Mosaic Law really rejecting Christ?
● How does knowledge of the Law help us to understand Jesus’ role in Jehovah’s purpose?
● Although we are not under the Law, what valuable things can we discern from study of it?
[Box on page 152]
Some Basic Principles in the Mosaic Law
Responsibilities Toward God
Worship only Jehovah Ex. 20:3; 22:20
Treat his name with respect Ex. 20:7; Lev. 24:16
Love and serve him with whole heart, Deut. 6:5; 10:12; 30:16
soul, vital force
Fear to disobey, be in awe of him Deut. 5:29; 6:24
Approach him only in the way he Lev. 1:1-5; Num. 16:1-50;
approves Deut. 12:5-14
Give him your best; it came from him Ex. 23:19; 34:26
Worshipers must be physically clean Ex. 19:10, 11; 30:20
Sacred interests not to be pushed aside Ex. 20:8-10; 34:21;
for secular pursuits Num. 15:32-36
Forbidden Religious Practices
Idolatry Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 7:25
Interfaith Ex. 23:13; 34:12-15;
Spiritism, sorcery, fortune-telling, Ex. 22:18; Lev. 20:27;
divination, magic, casting spells Deut. 18:10-12
Marriage and Family Life
Adultery prohibited Ex. 20:14; Lev. 20:10
No marriage to one not serving Jehovah Deut. 7:1-4
Incest forbidden Lev. 18:6-16; 20:11
Avoid sex perversions Lev. 18:23; 20:13
Respect life of unborn child Ex. 21:22, 23
Honor your parents Ex. 20:12; 21:15, 17;
Teach your children Jehovah’s ways Deut. 6:4-9; 11:18-21
Duties Involving Other Persons
Hold human life sacred Ex. 20:13; Num. 35:9-34
Love fellowman; avoid grudges Lev. 19:17, 18
Be considerate of elderly ones Lev. 19:32
Show loving concern for ones in Lev. 25:35-37;
economic adversity, orphans, widows Deut. 15:7-11; 24:19-21
No mistreatment of deaf and blind Lev. 19:14; Deut. 27:18
Be honest in business practices Lev. 19:35, 36; 25:14
Respect property rights Ex. 20:15; 22:1, 6; 23:4;
Do not covet what belongs to others Ex. 20:17
Expose gross wrongdoers Lev. 5:1; Deut. 13:6-11
Be truthful; not bear false witness Ex. 20:16; 23:1, 2
No partiality because of position Ex. 23:3, 6; Lev. 19:15