According to Matthew 5:17-20 NIV, Jesus says

17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus here is obviously referencing what we Christians terms as the "Old Testament" and what Judaism designates more broadly as the Written Torah or Tanakh. It is apparent to me that in modern-day Christianity, most sects and denominations rather teach against it and don't follow it in its entirety (mostly just following the Ten Commandments). It is also apparent to me that a central tenet to the Christian faith is the belief in Jesus, not only the critical verbal confession that he died and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins and that Jesus is Lord, but also following his commands; as He says in John 14:23 NIV:

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me."

and James 2:14-26:

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."

Now, if genuine belief in Jesus is proved right by our deeds, then, according to the very words of Jesus, should we be not only following the Mosaic Law but also teaching it as well?

  • 2
    This appears to be asking about Christian beliefs/practices, not about how ancient audiences understood a specific biblical text. This would be a better fit for Christianity
    – Dan
    Oct 14 '18 at 14:19
  • The separation of the Sabbath from the rest of the weekdays, and that of clean animals from unclean ones, mirrors the separation of Israel from the Gentiles. With the coming of the Christ, the latter is supposed to end (e.g., Pentecost undoes Babel; see also Psalm 72:11-17; 82:8; 86:9; Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 27:7; etc), and, with it, so are its symbolic representations.
    – Lucian
    Oct 15 '18 at 15:38

The Torah laws consisted of a great deal more than just the ceremonial system. The Law of Moses can be loosely divided into several sections that overlap somewhat, but this will help to clarify the discussion.

  1. Ceremonial system - includes all the regulations around sacrifices, temples services, annual holy days, circumcision, the priesthood, etc, etc.
  2. Jurisprudence and civil law - includes regulations around how court cases were to be conducted, how wars should be fought, how foreigners were treated, property laws, tort laws, criminal treatment, etc.
  3. Health and Hygiene laws - includes things such as quarantine laws, some dietary laws, purification laws, etc.
  4. Moral Laws including the Ten Commandments and some others (eg, Lev 19:18 and Deut 6:5).
  5. A range of personal ethical laws such as generosity to the poor, attitude to foreigners, respect for authority, the rule of law, safety rules, oaths, tithe, offerings, treatment of animals, treatment of slaves, etc. Some writers include these laws with the Moral Laws listed above.

Historical Positions

Until at least the 19th century, most mainstream churches taught that the Ceremonial system in the Law of Moses had been fulfilled by Jesus and that the only law incumbent upon Christians was the Moral Law. Indeed, the Church of England 1662 liturgy for Holy Communion required the minister to read each of the 10 commandments and the congregation would respond, “Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.” King Alfred the Great of England based his original civil code of law on section (2) above - Jewish jurisprudence. That is, while not adopting the Jewish laws directly, he used them to inform his civil code.

In the history of the Church, there have been several official theological positions regarding the ceremonial laws in the Pentateuch. Here is a short list (I will ignore such refinements as Adamic Law and Noahide Law as extra-Biblical ideas):

Position #1: The entire Mosaic Law should be kept.

Position #2: The Ceremonial System should be kept, including sacrifices and holy days, but not the priesthood and temple parts. The Ten Commandments should also be kept.

Position #3: Only the Holy days should be observed, and the Ten Commandments kept.

Position #4: Only the Moral Law should be kept and possibly the personal ethical rules as well

Position #5: No law should be kept because we "under a covenant of grace".

Notes on These Various Positions

Position #1 is not possible because the temple does not exist and neither does the priesthood. If this position had been intended by God, then God would have preserved both the priesthood and the temple.

Position #2 is similarly inconsistent - the Ceremonial System cannot be implemented without the temple and priesthood - the Pentateuch makes this very clear. Even the Jews understand this. Many Jews want to re-start the whole ceremonial system but realise that without the temple and priesthood they cannot. Therefore, they do not do it.

Position #3 is equally inconsistent as Position #2. The ONLY way to keep the annual holy days is as per the extensive regulations in the Leviticus, including its sacrifices; but all these requirements need the temple and priesthood, and thus cannot be implemented.

Position #4 as stated above, used to be that of most churches. (Now many are not clear.) The usual justification for keeping the Ten Commandments as opposed to the ceremonial laws was based on several observations:

  • The stated purpose of the Jewish ceremonial system was as a teaching device to inculcate the plan of salvation (Heb 9:8, 9, 11-14, 10:1) and had no salvific function (Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22). That is, it used symbols to teach about the coming Messiah. When Messiah arrived and offered sacrifice for sin and the example of the exemplary life, the ceremonial system’s usefulness ceased to exist.
  • Even in Old Testament times, the ceremonial system had been misunderstood and abused and did not provide propitiation but only symbolised the sacrifice of Jesus (yet to come), eg, Isa 1:10-17, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22, Hos 6:6, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Jer 6:20, Micah 6:6-8, etc. Therefore, in New Testament times, after the reality of Jesus had come, its value was gone.
  • When Jesus died on the cross, the ceremonial system was finished and the temple curtain diving the Holy from the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45, see also 2 Cor 3:13-16) to symbolise this.
  • No sacrifices were ever offered by the Apostles and no Jewish feasts were celebrated by them.
  • The council at Jerusalem excused Christians from the ceremonial law requirements except for the prohibition about eating blood (a health regulation!) See Acts 15:29.
  • The famous passage in Col 2:14-17 discusses the “handwriting of ordinances” – a clear reference to Moses’ hand-written law (ceremonial regulations + the annual Sabbaths) on a scroll placed outside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut 31:25, 26), while the 10 commandments were written by the finger of God on stone and placed inside the Ark (Ex 40:20).
  • Jesus encouraged people to keep the moral law (Matt 5:17-19, John 15:10, etc), for example when approached by the rich young ruler (Matt 19:18, 19, Mark 10:19).
  • The Jews clearly understood and differentiated between the 10 commandments and ceremonial laws as shown below.

The Ten Commandments:

Spoken by God, Deut 4:12, 13; Written by God, Ex 31:18, Deut 5:22; Written on Stone, Deut 4:12, 13, 5:22; Placed inside the Ark, Ex 40:20; Eternal, Matt 5:17 - 19; Ratified by Jesus, Heb 9:28; Spiritual, Rom 7:14; Defines sin, Rom 3:20, 4:15, 7:13; Perfect, Heb 8:6, Rom 7:12; Need to keep whole law James 2:10-12

Ceremonial Law - Sacrifices and Feasts

Spoken by Moses, Lev 1:1, 2; Written by Moses, Deut 31:9; Written in a Book, 2 Chron 35:12; Placed beside the Ark, Deut 31:25, 26; Temporary, Heb 8:7, 13; Ratified by animal sacrifices, Heb 9:19, 10:11; Temporal, Heb 7:16; Does not define sin nor can remove sin, Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22; Imperfect, Heb 7:18, 19, 10:5, 6; Cursed are those who keep ceremonial law Gal 3:10.

However, the 10 commandments are not the only binding requirements that remain as shown by Jesus in Matt 22:36-40 as He listed at least two more. Therefore, even position #4 is incomplete.

Position #5 is untenable as encouraging lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and anarchy, and is unbiblical. Paul specifically tackles this problem by saying a number of times that by grace we should uphold the [moral] law (Rom 6:15, 7:7-12, 14, etc).

Thus, the attitude to the various requirements in the Torah has been quite varied and continues to be divisive.


The Law is divided into three parts. 1. ceremonial. 2. Civil. 3. Moral. The ceremonial consists of the parts that point to the Messiah and are fulfilled by him, and now abrogated. See commands to kill and eat unclean food, and the tearing of the veil of the most holy place. 2. The general equity of the civil remains instructive to modern governments, but the particular situation of ancient Israel is not identical to ours. 3. The moral law, summarized by the ten commandments, is binding on all men at all times.

  • Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for this contribution that is broadly consistent with most church teaching. Do you have some Bible references that you might quote?
    – user25930
    Oct 13 '18 at 6:43
  • Not so simple. "As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication". Acts21:25, 15:20-29. It was (and is in Orthodox churches) a kind of keeping "laws of Noah" (later rabbinical concept, but emerged earlier) Oct 14 '18 at 14:06

The OT law is not binding on the NT believer today. Colossians 2:14 states plainly that the law has been taken out of the way by the sacrifice of Christ.

14 blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us. He took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross; (KJV21)

The OT law (which “was” a requirement for all people) was fulfilled by Christ and then Christ’s righteousness was given to all by His substitutionary sacrifice. Christ did what you and I could not do and that was to live a sinless life according to the Law of Moses and the Commandments. We who believe/trust in Christ have received his perfect sinless life and have been credited with already keeping the whole OT law and commandments. That is what Christ’s righteousness is all about.

So then, what about your specific references to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) and James 2? We need to understand the greater context to understand how these verses fit into the NT covenant of grace.

In the Sermon on the Mount, we need to remember that Christ was teaching the law. He taught not as the scribes and Pharisees but as someone with authority. In Matthew 5, Jesus elevated the requirements of the law to a level above the capability of any human. Jesus is putting attaining righteousness by your own deeds, out of reach by all human beings.

You quoted Matthew 5:20 (NIV):

20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Here Jesus is stating plainly that unless a person can exceed the ‘righteousness” of the extreme religious zealots of the day, you can’t enter into the kingdom of heaven. So, if you are trying to attain heaven by physical means, ie trying to keep the law by your good deeds and acts of holiness, then you are destined to fail. Again, Christ is putting the OT law requirements out of reach of all humans. That’s why Jesus wanted people to come to Him for their salvation. Grace gives us (for free) what we don’t deserve!

If you look at the format of most of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5-7, you will see it fits the pattern of “you have heard it said, but I tell you”. Here Jesus is stating what the law says (or what most people believe it says) and then He elevates the requirement to the thoughts and intent of the heart. It’s not about murder, it’s about being angry with your brother. It’s not about the adultery, it’s about having lustful thoughts. Again, He elevates the requirements of the OT law to a level unattainable for all humans for which one of us has not had a stray thought and as James states, “if you offend in one point, you are guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

The reason that Christ taught this way was to get the Pharisees to see that they were sinners. The Pharisees always denied their sin. They were the epitome of self righteousness. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount attacked that self righteousness and attempted to get even the most hardened heart to see if they measured up to the spirit of the law and not just the written letter.

In James chapter 2, we must understand that James is differentiating between the works of the flesh (ie works of the law) and the works of faith/grace. This is very important to understand the words you quoted.

In James chapter one, James contrasts this difference in statement “doer of the word”.

James 1:22 (YLT):

22 and become ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,

James is referencing Paul’s statement in Romans 2:13 (KJV):

11 For there is no respect of persons with God. 12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; 13 For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

In Romans 2, Paul makes the point that no one can be a doer of the law for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So, James quotes that same principal and purposefully changes the word “law” to “word”, an obvious reference to the gospel of grace.

James then, takes this understanding that no one can be a doer of the law and makes a dramatic case for all believers to be judged no longer by the OT Law of Moses and the Commandments but they are to be judged to a new standard, the Law of Liberty.

James graphically illustrates what that will look like. He says at the end of chapter 1, that we should not have faith in Christ while having “respect of persons” or showing partiality, for partiality comes by the OT law. He says pure religion is to visit the widow and the fatherless in their affliction. This is significant because the Pharisess and Scribes would never visit those people in their affliction because the Pharisees blamed the widow and the fatherless for their own condition. The Pharisees believed that that if something bad happened to you, then someone’s sin was responsible. (see story of blind man in John chapter 9). Again, this belief system was completely based on the standard of the OT law and judgments against that standard.

James then, continues to draw distinctions between the OT covenant of the Law and the NT covenant of grace. In chapter 2, he continues the teaching on partiality by the discussion about the rich man coming into the assembly. James says not to treat the rich man with more favor and the poor man with less favor, which are judgments based completely on physical works and accomplishments. He then states that we should operate by the “royal law” which is to love thy neighbor as yourself. This is followed up by the instruction to show mercy for mercy rejoices against judgment (ie, judgments about sin and behavior based on the OT Law of Moses).

James then makes the statement in verse 12-13 (KJV):

2 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.

Here James states that mercy (powered by the NT covenant of grace) and NOT by judgment (powered by the OT covenant of the law) is the preferable way to live. He states that we are to live by a new law, a law called the Law of Liberty.

James goes on to demonstrate what he means. He tells us to show our faith by our works. However, these are NOT works of holiness or good deeds based on the OT Law of Moses. Instead, he says these are the works of faith that are based on the “royal law” which is to love you neighbor as yourself. He then gives examples of these works of faith: Abraham and Rahab.

Abraham contemplated murder as he moved to fulfill God’s instructions and Rahab lied to save the spies that were sent from Joshua. The very pointed teaching here is that a person will be praised by God as being faithful and will receive imputed righteousness who fulfils God’s will without allowing the Law to dictate his/her actions. The true believer will believe God when He tells us that all sin has been atoned at the cross and those who trust in Him receive His imputed righteousness through the sacrifice of Christ alone.

So yes, works are the evidence of faith but we should clearly understand that these are actions apart from the commandments and the OT law.

  • Really all OT laws are annuled? Including Decalog? Is gossip not forbidden? Is putting an obstacle in front of blind not forbidden? Oct 14 '18 at 10:15
  • This is not antinomianism. As Paul stated, the law has only one spiritual function; it is a school master to bring us to Christ. As Martin Luther stated, “let your sins be strong”; the law brings about a knowledge of sin and the need for a savior. However, the glory of the OT law where it was binding on people and affected their relationship with God, has faded away (2 Corinthians chapter 3); it was designed by God to fade away and be abolished (verses 7 and 13). (con’t)
    – alb
    Oct 14 '18 at 12:15
  • For the NT believer, as Paul aptly expresses “all things are lawful for me but all things are not expedient” (1 Corinthians 6:12) for today its “the love of Christ constrains us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
    – alb
    Oct 14 '18 at 12:15
  • One more thought: Romans 13:8 "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law."
    – alb
    Oct 14 '18 at 12:34
  • This is not a new thing: rabbi Hillel, before Jesus already taught it. "Pirke avot" is full of such sentences. The question is about one, who does not love everyone else: can he say gossip, or not to honor his parents? Oct 14 '18 at 13:57

Because it was written within the Hebrew Bible that the Mosaic Law was ONLY for the Israelite People, not Christians:-

Psalm 147:19 NWT "He is telling his word to Jacob, His regulations and his judicial decisions to Israel.

Psalm 147:20 NWT "He has not done that way to any other nation; And as for [his] judicial decisions, they have not known them. Praise Jah, YOU people!"


  • Flesh of a living animal: "However, flesh with its life-blood [in it], you shall not eat." (9:4) Murder and courts: "Furthermore, I will demand your blood, for [the taking of] your lives, I shall demand it [even] from any wild animal. From man too, I will demand of each person's brother the blood of man. He who spills the blood of man, by man his blood shall be spilt; for in the image of God He made man." (9:5–6) Oct 14 '18 at 14:24
  • A good reminder. (Acts 15:28, 29) 28 For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you except these necessary things: 29 to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you carefully keep yourselves from these things, you will prosper. Good health to you!” This goes back to Noah thus to all mankind.
    – user26950
    Oct 17 '18 at 19:47

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