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Matthew 5:17-20 (NKJV)

17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Acts 15:24-29 (NKJV)

24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, [h]saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment— 25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one [i]accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual[j] immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

Is Matthew 5:17-20 supporting the entirety of the Law and promoting its teaching and observance, whereas Acts 15 is promoting the nonobservance of (portions of) the Law? Is there any contradiction?

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  • Christianity, following in the line of thought of Hellenistic Judaism, sought to (re)interpret the Law and its commandments along a spiritual dimension, rather than a literal or physical one, as the Pharisees have done, and as Rabbinic or Talmudic Judaism still does until this very day.
    – Lucian
    Sep 30 '20 at 4:31
  • 'These least commandments' refers to the commandments of Jesus in the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount. It is a matter of the kingdom of heaven. And circumcision is fulfilled in the new birth (the entrance into the kingdom of heaven). I can see no contradiction whatsoever, only fulfillment.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 30 '20 at 8:06
  • Remember, Jesus is talking to a group of Jews who live under 'the Law'. The Law was part of the Old Covenant for the Jews - it only applied to them. Acts is referring to Gentiles, who are not under the Old Covenant. However, they are under the New Covenant, which is (basically) the spirit of the Law. So there is much overlap, but particularities such as food laws, circumcision, and so on, do not apply to people in the New Covenant. Feb 5 at 18:31
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In the Bible, "Law" has no meaning except as it is part of a covenant. Similarly, "covenant" has no meaning unless it has an accompanying law - a covenant without requirements is meaningless.

In the OT there are many covenants between various parties - contracts that govern a relationship between two parties, eg, Gen 14:13, 21:27, 32, 26:28, 34:44, Ex 23:32, Josh 9:6ff, 1 Kings 12 (= 2 Chron 2), 2 Kings 23:3, Ezra 10:3, etc.

Here, we are interested in Covenant initiated by God which are always salvific in nature. These God-initiated covenants (as with all ancient OT covenants had a standard format:

  • Statement of pre-amble and/or purpose of the covenant
  • Promise of benefits given by God. This shows that such divine covenants are the initiative of God alone. In no case were such covenants initiated by humans.
  • Promise of curses/consequences if the covenant is not kept
  • Requirements of people on whom the benefits are bestowed. This is sometimes also call the associated “law” of the covenant.
  • A sign of the covenant to remind the people of their responsibilities
  • A ceremony, usually consisting of a “cutting”, always a sacrifice or similar.

Now, this gets tedious so I will place much material in the appendices below to avoid cluttering the thread. as best I can determine, there are several divine covenants in the OT including:

  1. Edenic Covenant - see appendix 1 below
  2. Noahide Covenant - see appendix 2 below - it is this covenant from the requirements about not eating blood are taken in Acts 15. This illustrates that this covenant was eternal, Gen 9:16.
  3. Abrahamic Covenant - see appendix 3 below. This was essentially about the promised land and the promised Messiah This was also an eternal covenant, Gen 17:9, 13, 19
  4. The Israelite Covenant - see appendix 4 below. This covenant was also eternal, 1 Chron 16:17, Jer 50:5, Ps 105:8
  5. The Levitical Covenant - see appendix 5 below. This covenant was also eternal, Lev 24:8, Num 25:10-13, Ps 106:30
  6. The Davidic or Royal Covenant - see appendix 6 below. This covenant was also eternal, 2 Sam 23:5, 1 Kings 9:5, 2 Chron 13:5, Eze 37:25, 26

Thus, none of these covenants was abrogated as confirmed by Matt 5:17, “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.” See also Matt 5:18-20.

The Christian Covenant or "New" Covenant

According to Heb 8:7, 8, 9, the New Covenant was created, not because the Old was defective but because the people (literal Israelites) did not understand, rejected the old covenant and a New Covenant was made with new people, Christians, who accept the promises by faith. Jesus made the same point in Matt 21:43, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” See also Gal 3:29, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise”. Paul makes the same point in Rom 9:6-9, 11:11-22 where the old covenant was not revoked (it was immutable, Jer 31:35-37) but Christians, people of faith, were grafted into the original “olive tree”. This is also confirmed by Eph 2:12 where Paul discusses Gentiles being absorbed into spiritual Israel becoming part of the ancient covenant promises, all by faith.

As usual, the key to understanding this is the centrality of Jesus. See Heb 8:6-13, and Heb 9:15.

  • The purpose of the Old Covenant is exactly the same as the New Covenant: Specifically, God said of the Christian community, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9, 10 (Compare Ex 19:5, 6, Hos 1:9, 4:6).
  • All the promises God made under the Old Covenant to Israelites find their fulfilment in Jesus as mediator of the New Covenant to Christians, Matt 5:17, Gal 3:14, 16, 22, 29, Eph 1:18, Col 3:23, 24, 2 Cor 1:20, Rom 9:8, Heb 9:15, 11:18, 1 Peter 1:4. Thus, the New Covenant promises to save all people. For example, The Old Covenant was to save people from slavery, Ex 20:1, 2, 23:23, Deut 5:6; the New Covenant is also designed to save people from slavery (of sin), Luke 4:18, 19, John 8:32, 34-36, Gal 3:22, 5:1, 13, 14, Acts 8:23, 13:38, 39, Rom 6:14, 18, 22, 8:1-4, 20, 21, James 1:25, 1 Peter 2:16, 2 Peter 2:19, etc.
  • The Jerusalem council resolution in Acts 15:28, 29 is a specific set of requirements that were repeated from the Old Covenant for the New Covenant.
  • Hebrews discusses the same idea that the Moral Law of God is to be written on our hearts, Heb 8:7-13, 10:16, 17, exactly as it should have been under the Old Covenant (compare Deut 6:5, Jer 24:7, 31:33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28). Significantly, when Heb 8:10, 10:16, “I will write my law on their hearts” quotes Jer 31:33, the word used for “law” is “Torah”. This further reinforces the idea that it was the Torah and its Israelite Covenant that is to be kept.
  • Christians were to be “called by my Name” as confirmed in Acts 11:26, just as under the Old Covenant (2 Chron 7:14, Isa 43:7, 65:1). Matt 10:22, 24:9, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17, Acts 15:17.
  • Indeed, being “called by my name” (= Christians) and imitating Christ is the seal of God and of the New Covenant as administered by the Holy Spirit, 2 Cor 1:22, Eph 1:13, 14, 4:30. See “Seal of God”.
  • Jesus is the promised King of the new Christian Community, ie, the Kingdom of Heaven, or, Kingdom of God, Luke 1:33, John 1:49, Acts 13:23, Rev 11:15. Compare Jer 33:14-17, Eze 37:22. Thus, Jesus inherits the Davidic Covenant. He is also the “Son of David” (Matt 1:1-16) and “Son of God” as predicted in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7); and His kingdom will never be defeated and is eternal, Luke 1:33, Heb 1:8, Rev 11:15, compare Ps 61:7, Isa 9:7, Ps 146:10.
  • Jesus is now seated on the eternal throne in heaven at the right hand of God, Matt 26:64, Mark 14:62, 16:19, Luke 22:69, Acts 2:33, 7:55-56 (standing), Rom 8:34, Eph 1:20, Col 3:1, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2, 1 Peter 3:22. See also Ps 110:1, Matt 22:44, Mark 12:36, Acts 2:34, Heb 1:13, Rev 5.
  • Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant Heb 4:14-16, 5:10, 7:23-28, 8:1, 2, 9:1-28, 10:1-18. Thus, Jesus inherits and was the fulfilment of the Levitical Covenant (See Mal 3:1). Jesus did this in several ways as well such as:
  • Jesus was the fulfilment of what the sanctuary/temple typified, John 2:19-21, Heb 9:1-28, 10:1-18
  • Jesus represented the foundation of the temple as well, 1 Peter 2:4-8 (Compare Isa 28:16, Ps 118:22)
  • Jesus’ body was represented by the curtain in the temple, Heb 10:20.
  • Jesus was the bread of life, John 6:35, 41, 48 (compare Ex 25:23-30, Lev 24:8).
  • Jesus was the light of life, John 8:12, 9:5 (compare the lampstand Ex 25:31-39, Lev 24:3, 4, Isa 53:11, Ps 56:13, etc)
  • Jesus provides the water of life, John 4:13, 14 (Compare the laver Ex 30:17-21. See also 1 Cor 6:11)
  • Jesus is the promised seed of the woman Gal 3:16 (compare Gen 3:15, and the Abrahamic Covenant)
  • Jesus was the Passover Lamb and thus the promised Messiah, John 1:29, 1 Cor 5:7, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 12:1-14).
  • Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant in fulfilment of the Levitical covenant, Heb 4:14-16, 5:10, 7:23-28, because He was “pure, blameless, set apart” exactly as the Levites were. See also Heb 9:15, 12:24.
  • Jesus provided the blood of the new covenant of which the communion ceremony was to be a memorial, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, Heb 13:20, 1 Peter 1:19 (compare Ex 24:5, 8).

CONCLUSION

  • Jesus did not abolish the Israelite Covenant and Moral Law but came to fulfil them, Matt 5:17-20, Gal 3:21. The moral law still applies to Christians BUT Jesus fulfils the Levitical and Davidic covenants by being the eternal High Priest and the eternal King of the Kingdom of Heaven.

One of the best summaries of the New Covenant is found in 1 Peter 1, 2.

  • Purpose: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may express the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light … Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:9, 12. (See also Matt 5:16.)
  • The promise: Salvation by grace through the promised Messiah, 1 Peter 1:3-12, 20, and freedom from slavery to sin, 1 Peter 2:16. (See also 2 Peter 2:19.)
  • Moral Requirements: holiness (1 Peter 1:15), Purity (v22), Obey the truth (v22), love (v22), “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (1 Peter 2:1), abstain from sinful desires (1 Peter 2:11), submit to civil authorities (v13-17), see also Rom 13:1-7, etc.
  • Sacrifice: Blood of Jesus, 1 Peter 1:18, 19

Some suggest that Christians are not subject to law and do not need to obey any laws as we are under "grace" or the "law of Christ". [It was such thinking that lead to disasters like that of Jim Jones who was "lead by the spirit" to commit heinous crimes and mass murder. In any case, the NT actually contains more "laws" than the OT, see https://www.facebook.com/notes/the-real-truth-movement/the-1050-new-testament-commandmentslaws/690826194404882/ and http://www.wholebible.com/NT_commandments.htm

APPENDIX 1. Edenic Covenant: Gen 1:26, 28-30, 2:16, 17.

This covenant is not as explicit as those which follow because the word “covenant” is not used. However, following the general principle that laws are never given without a being in the context of a covenant, there appears to be a clear implication of one. This covenant consists of:

  • God blessed mankind, Gen 1:28
  • God gives the gift of all seed-bearing plants as food, including fruit trees and green plants, Gen 1:28, 2:16
  • Instruction to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”, Gen 1:28
  • Instruction to “subdue the earth”, Gen 1:28
  • Instruction to “rule over the all creatures”, Gen 1:26, 28
  • Instruction to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil else they would die, Gen 2:17. This was fulfilled in Gen 3.

APPENDIX 2 - Noahide Covenant: Gen 8:20 – 9:17.

The Noahide Covenant is actually a covenant with all living creatures and all mankind. It consisted of:

  • This covenant was initiated in order to ensure continuity of seasons without interruption, Gen 8:21, 22.
  • God promises never to curse the ground again, Gen 8:21.
  • God promises never to destroy humans and animals by flood again, Gen 8:21, 9:11.
  • God promises that seasons would never be stopped again, Gen 8:22.
  • God commands humans to multiply and increase on the earth, Gen 9:2, 7.
  • God commands humans to take charge of the earth and maintain it responsibly, Gen 9:2, 3; see also Gen 1:28, 29.
  • God commands humans not to eat blood, Gen 9:4.
  • God commands humans not to commit murder else an accounting will be required. Murder destroys the image of God in mankind, Gen 9:5, 6.
  • The rainbow is given as a token/sign (Heb: “oth”, Gen 9:12, 13, 17) of God’s promise to save mankind.
  • The covenant was initiated and solemnised by animal sacrifice, Gen 8:20. Note that in this statement of God’s covenant of grace, it is universal and applying to all mankind and all animals (Gen 9:8-10, 16, 17), despite the recognition that mankind is evil (Gen 8:21). Further, the prohibition against murder and eating blood are specifically prohibited to prevent God’s image in mankind being marred. One of the unusual aspects of this covenant is the animals – God promises something to animals!

APPENDIX 3 - Abrahamic Covenant: Gen 15, 17, 18:9-15, 22:15-18

The Abrahamic Covenant is stated in two places, Gen 15 & 17, 13 years apart (and repeated in Gen 18:9-15, 22:15-18 without using the word “covenant” nor formal sacrifices) and consisted of the following: Gen 15

  • God promises Abram a biological son
  • God promises Abram uncountable descendants
  • God promises Abram’s descendants the land of Canaan, “from the wadi of Egypt to the great river Euphrates”.
  • God promises to return Abram’s descendants to Canaan after Egyptian slavery of 400 years
  • God promises to punish the Egyptians
  • God promises great possessions to Abram’s descendants when they leave Egypt
  • The covenant was initiated and signified by a ceremony (significant to the culture of Abraham) of cutting several animals in half and God passing between the halves, and (and so solemnly promising) to keep the provisions of the covenant.

This ceremony of cutting sacrificed animals in half is a direct allusion of the word “berith” (= “covenant”), meaning, “to cut”. That this covenant was a covenant of grace is confirmed by Gen 15:6, “Abram believed the LORD and he credited it to him as righteousness”. (See also Rom 4:3, Gal 3:6, James 2:23.) Gen 17, 18:9-15

  • God promises a biological son by Sarah, viz. Isaac
  • God promises to greatly increase Abram’s numbers
  • God promises Abram that he would be the father of many nations
  • God promises Abraham the land of Canaan
  • God promises that Ishmael would also be fruitful
  • Abraham and his descendants must promise to be faithful to God
  • The covenant is signified by the token/sign (Heb: “oth”, Gen 17:10, 11, 13, Rom 4:11) of circumcision (= circular cut), Acts 8:7, and a change of name from Abram to Abraham. It is immediately clear that this covenant is a re-statement, with only slight variations, of the covenant in Gen 15, and was an eternal covenant, Gen 17:7, 13.

NOTE 1: The promise of the land of Canaan, “from the wadi of Egypt to the great river Euphrates” (Gen 15:18) was only ever fulfilled during the time of King Solomon (1 Kings 4:20-25, 2 Chron 9:26). However, because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, Isaiah prophesied that they would lose all the land (Isa 27:12), which finally happened when Babylon conquered them (2 Kings 24:7). Israel has never regained all this territory. See “Israel”.

NOTE 2: The token/sign of the Abrahamic was circumcision (among other things) and their inheritance of the Promised Land, Josh 5:7. See also Acts 8:7. There is no indication that circumcision was a sign of the Israelite covenant, although it was used as metaphor of dedication, Deut 10:16, 30:6, Jer 4:4. Thus, when the circumcision was dispensed with in Acts 15, the Abrahamic covenant was seen by the Christian church as ended - the Jews had rejected God.

APPENDIX 4 - Israelite Covenant: Exodus 19-24, and expanded in parts of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – often called, “The Old Covenant”, or, “Moral Covenant”, or, sometimes incorrectly called, “The Mosaic Covenant”.

In Ex 19 Moses is instructed in the Covenant directly by God. Moses then conveys the content of the covenant to the people which is recorded in Ex 20:1-17 as the 10 Commandments, and then explained and amplified in Ex 20:22-23:33. The people answered, three times, “whatever the Lord has said we will do”, Ex 19:8, 24:3, 7, thus creating the Israelite covenant. [Later they rejected the Covenant and a New Covenant had to be instituted with Christians with the same content.] This Covenant was open to all people from its inception and was voluntary. See “Israel”.

This Israelite Covenant consisted of the following:

  • God promises to “save” Israel from Egyptian slavery and deliver them to the Promised Land as stated in the preamble to the 10 commandments, Ex 20:1, 2, 23:23, Deut 5:6. This was to fulfil God’s earlier promise to Abraham and others to give the Promised Land to Abraham’s descendants, Ex 2:24, 6:4, 5, forever, 1 Chron 16:15, Ps 105:8, 111:9.
  • God promises to protect His people by sending a protecting angel, Ex 23:19, 20, and establish their borders, Ex 23:31.
  • The benefits/promises of the covenant are also clearly set out in Lev 26:1-13, Deut 28:1-14 (blessings for obedience), and, Lev 26:14-39, Deut 28:15-68 (curses for disobedience).
  • The purpose the Covenant (Ex 20:1-17) is stated clearly in Ex 19:5, 6 – to make the Israelites God’s peculiar treasure, his special people, distinguished by the way they conducted themselves. Ps 50:16-18, 74:20, 78:36, 37. This purpose of the covenant was stated in other ways as, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, … ” Ex 6:7. This is stated repeatedly: Lev 26:9-12, Deut 29:9-13, 2 Sam 7:24, 1 Chron 11:2, Ps 50:7, 95:7, 100:3, Isa 40:1, Jer 7:23, 11:1-4, 24:7, 30:9, 22, 31:1, 33, 32:38-40, Eze 11:20, 34:30, 31, 36:26-28, 37:23, 24, Hos 1:9, 4:6, Joel 2:26, 27, Zech 8:8. It is significant that the first of the 10 Commandments is a decree to have only ONE God, the LORD, Ex 20:3, Deut, 5:7, 6:4-6.

This same idea is also expressed another way – creating a people who would be “called by the name of the LORD”, or, “called by my name”, 2 Chron 7:14, Isa 43:7, 65:1; that is, to bear the character of a gracious, loving, kind God. The Jerusalem Temple was also a symbol of this covenant because it was “called by my Name”, 1 Kings 8:13, Jer 7:10, 11, 14, 32:34, 34:15. Such people, God declared, “out of all nations you will be my treasured possession … a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Ex 19:5, 6. See also Ruth 1:16.

Significantly, in Eze 36:16-38, the LORD sternly rebukes Israel because, “they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, yet they had to leave His land.’ But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they had gone. (v22, 23). That is, Israel had profaned the name of God by sinning.

  • The requirements of the Israelite covenant are the 10 Commandments as recorded on the tablets of stone and amplified in Ex 20:22-23:33, the book of Deuteronomy and elsewhere such as Lev 17-19, 26. This is shown by the following facts:
  • Ex 24:7 introduces the “Book of the Covenant” as already existing, ie, Ex 20:22 – 23:33. It served as an expansion and legal context in which to place the Israelite Covenant of the 10 Commandments.
  • These tablets of stone with the 10 Commandments are called “the covenant” (Ex 34:27, 28, Deut 9:9, 11, 15) and placed inside the ark (Ex 25:16, 21, 40:20, Heb 9:4). [The tables of stone were also called “the tables of Testimony” (Ex 31:18, 32:15, 34:29), or just, “The Testimony” (Ex 25:16, 21).]
  • The “Ark of the Covenant” (Num 10:33, 14:44, Deut 10:8, 31:9, 25, 26, Josh 3:3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 4:7, 9, 18, 6:6, 8:33, etc) or, “Ark of the Testimony” (Ex 25:22, 26:33, 34, 30:6, 26, 31:7, 39:35, 40:3, 5, 21, Lev 16:13, Num 4:5, 7:89, Josh 4:16, etc) is described thus precisely because it contained the stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God (Ex 31:18, Deut 9:10) with the Israelite Covenant of the 10 Commandments. 1 Kings 8:9, 2 Chron 5:10.
  • The ancient sacred “Tabernacle”, also known as the “tent of meeting” (Ex 39:32, 40:2, 6, 22, 24, 35, Lev 17:4, Num 3:7, 8, 4:25, 31) was also called the “tent of covenant law” (Num 9:15, 1:50, 53, Ex 38:21) because it housed the Ark of the Covenant containing the Covenant Law.
  • The re-statement and expansion of the 10 Commandments as the covenant in Deut 4:13, 23, 31, 5:2, 3 includes a reference back to the Covenant at Horeb, ie, Mt Sinai (See Ex 3:1, 17:6, 33:6, etc, and the statement of the covenant in Ex 19, 20, and restated in Ex 24).
  • The 10 Commandments Covenant is distinct from the Levitical law and Davidic Covenant.
  • The visible symbols of the Israelite Covenant solemnity and importance included: an altar of 12 stones (Ex 24:4), a sacrifice (Ex 24:5), sprinkled blood of the covenant (Ex 24:8). The blood of the covenant was used dramatically when painted on the door posts in Egypt at the first Passover (Ex 12).
  • The tokens/signs of the covenant (Heb: “oth”) appear to have been the law of the 10 Commandments themselves (Deut 6:8, 11:18), and especially the Sabbath (Ex 31:13, 16, 17, Isa 56:4, 6, Exe 20:12, 20, see “Sabbath”); the blood of the covenant from the Passover Lamb is also used as a sign in Ex 12:13; the famous “Ark of the Covenant” containing the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone (Ex 16:34, 24:12, 25:16, 21, 31:18, 32:15, 19, 34:1, 4, 28, 40:20, Deut 4:13, 9-11, etc). [Note: This did not include circumcision as this was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant to which the Israelites fell heirs.]
  • Lev 26:44, 45, Jer 31:35-37, 32, 40, 33:25 declare the Israelite covenant immutable and irrevocable. See also Heb 13:20, 1 Chron 16:17, Jer 50:5, Ps 105:8, Eze 37:26.

The ancient Israelites were often reprimanded for assuming that God’s covenant with them was a mere matter of ceremonies, the stone tablets and the temple. 1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, etc. That is, they confused the Levitical and Moral Covenant. More particularly, the Israelites were repeatedly told that the conditions of the Covenant were a matter for the heart and NOT external regulations (Deut 6:5, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28), because God initiated the covenant to save Israel; it was a covenant of transforming grace and forgiveness! Isa 59:21 says the covenant is the eternal gift of the Spirit.

That this Israelite Covenant was a covenant of transforming grace is confirmed by several ideas:

  • The Old Covenant was a covenant initiated entirely by God alone, to save Israel. God alone set out the requirements and blessings. God makes it clear that they were selected as the chosen people, NOT because of any Israelite merit, but simply because God wanted to. Deut 7:7, 9:5, 6, 10:15.
  • The Old Covenant was a matter of the “heart” (Deut 6:5, 10:12, 16, 11:18, 22, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:1, 33, 34, 32:38-40, 36, 26-28) and NOT mere regulations (1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8). These references make it clear that the Old Covenant did not really include the animal sacrifices, and that they could not define nor atone for sin. (Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22). The animal sacrifices and the sanctuary ritual were part of the Levitical covenant which acted as teaching device that anticipated, and was a type of, the High Priestly ministry of Messiah.
  • The Ark of the Covenant, containing the Covenant stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, was constructed in a highly symbolic way. The 10 Commandments were inside the box and the “atonement cover” or “mercy seat” was placed above them. Ex 25:17-22, 26:34, 30:6, 31:17, 37:9, 40:20, Lev 16:13; see also Heb 9:5. This arrangement was placed in the Most Holy Place, in the sanctuary, and always remained at the center of God’s Covenant people.
  • In Solomon’s prayer of dedication, he describes the (Israelite) Covenant as God showing “lovingkindness”, or, “steadfast love”, to people. 1 Kings 8:23, 2 Chron 6:14, See also Neh 1:5, 9:32, Ps 89:28, 33, 34, 103:17, 18, 111:4, 5, 9, Isa 54:10, 55:3. This suggests that the Law of God, or the Moral Law, is an expression of God’s love and is just as eternal.

Note: Most of the confusion about the various covenants arises because people confuse the Israelite Covenant with the Levitical Covenant, or, assume that the Levitical Covenant and the Davidic Covenant are part of the Israelite (Old) Covenant. This confusion is perpetuated by the (erroneous) practice of labelling the Israelite and Levitical covenants, “Mosaic”, as if they are the same thing.

APPENDIX 5 - Levitical Covenant: – Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11, Neh 13:29, Mal 2:4-8. This is an eternal covenant (Num 25:12, 13, Ps 106:30) of salt, Num 18:19.

The Levitical covenant is stated in Num 3:11-13, 25:12 where God takes the Levites (especially the line of Phineas as High Priest) instead of the all the firstborn of each family, thus changing the (informal) priesthood from the firstborn of each family to the (formal) priesthood of tribe of Levi. Several Bible writers refer to this Levitical Covenant including:

  • Neh 13:29 – “the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites”
  • Jer 33:18, 21 – “covenant with the Levitical priests.”
  • Mal 2:4-8 – “the covenant with Levi”
  • Num 25:10-13 – the eternal covenant of priesthood was also a covenant of peace and a covenant of “salt” (Num 18:19), ie, very solemn and eternal.
  • Isa 54:10 & Eze 34:25 also describes the covenant of peace with the Levites From other Bible passages we can see what the Levitical covenant was.
  • The purpose of the Levitical covenant was to teach and inculcate the plan of salvation (Deut 33:9, 10, Heb 9:8, 9, 11-14, 10:1-3, Col 2:16, 17). That is, it symbolically taught about salvation by grace through the coming Messiah via His substitutionary death in the place of the sinner. Thus, the sacrifices, Levites, priests and High Priest became a type of Jesus in various ways.
  • A promise by God to set them apart, ie, make them “holy” (Num 3:12, 13), to be a substitute for the first born in Israel, and to have the primary responsibility for caring for the sanctuary, its ritual services and sacrifices, maintaining and transporting its equipment. Ex 32:25-29. In this way, they became the priests of Israel. All these regulations were contained in Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27.
  • Thus, the Levites enjoyed a “blessed” (and privileged) status. Ex 32:29, Mal 2:5.
  • The book of Leviticus (and Num 1 & 18) sets out the responsibilities of the Levites in operating the ceremonial rites and sanctuary services and caring for the sanctuary equipment. See also Num 1:53, 18:2, Deut 10:8, 31:9, 25, Josh 3:3, 2 Sam 15:24, 1 Chron 15:26.
  • The token/sign (Heb: “oth”) of the Levitical covenant appears to have been the unleavened bread at the annual festival (Ex 13:6, 9, 16, Lev 24:8).

The Israelite Covenant never mentions a formal priesthood; thus the Israelite covenant was distinct from the Levitical covenant. In the NT, this Levitical Covenant with all its ceremonies was often abbreviated to “the Law of Moses”, or just, “circumcision” and are clearly understood as distinct from the Old Israelite covenant laws, 1 Cor 7:19, Eph 2:15, Acts 15. See “Law”, “Ceremonial System”.

Historical Note: When God instituted the Levitical Covenant with all its rites and ceremonies, it was NOT done “ex novo”, nor, “ex nihilo”. The idea of animal sacrifices of various kinds had been going on in various informal ways since the time of Abel (Gen 4). Even the sanctuary layout had precedents in other cultures which were taken over in modified form to teach about the greater reality of eternal salvation.

APPENDIX 6 - Davidic (or Regal, or Royal) Covenant: 2 Sam 7, 23:5, 1 Kings 6:11, 12, 8:25, 1 Chron 17:11-14, 2 Chron 6:14-16, 7:17, 18, 13:5, Ps 89:4, 29, 34, 39, 132:11, 12, Jer 33:21, Eze 37:15-28. This is an eternal covenant.

The provisions of the Davidic Covenant were as follows.

  • God promised to make David, a shepherd king over Israel. 2 Sam 7:9, 1 Kings 8:25, 2 Chron 21:7.
  • God promised to defeat all David’s enemies and give him peace on all sides, 2 Sam 7:9
  • David’s name would be great, 2 Sam 7:9-11
  • God promised there would always be a blood descendant of David on his throne, by an eternal “covenant of salt” (ie very solemn), 2 Chron 13:5, forever, 2 Sam 7:13, 15, 16, Eze 37:26, (2 Sam 23:5).
  • God promised that the descendant of David would have God as his Father and he would be His son, 2 Sam 7:14.
  • David’s son, Solomon, was the person to build the temple, 2 Sam 7:12, 13.
  • David and his descendants must remain faithful to God and keep all that is written in the Book of the Law (Deuteronomy), Deut 17:18, 31:26. Note that the Davidic Covenant was distinct from the Israelite and Levitical Covenants – David became a type of the eternal reign of Messiah to come. While David and his successors were earthly kings, they were to recognise that the real king of Israel was God. 1 Sam 8:7, 8, 24:6, 2 Sam 19:21, 1 Chron 28:5, 2 Chron 9:8, 13:8, Ps 5:2, 44:4. See also 1 Sam 12:14.

Note that it is a simple matter of history that David’s descendants were not always faithful and the earthly Davidic dynasty ended in 586 BC with the final capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. However, the New Testament calls Jesus Christ, Messiah, “the Son of David” as a direct fulfilment of the (ultimately) eternal throne of David which Jesus inherited. Matt 1:1, 20, 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30, 15, 21:9, 15, Mark 10:35, Luke 1:32, 33, 18:38, 39, John 1:49, Acts 13:32-37, Heb 1:8. See also Rev 11:15, 19:16. Such a Messiah was prophesied long ago: Ex 15:18, Ps 10:16, 61:7, 68:16, 92:8, 93:5, 146:10, Isa 9:7, 47:7, Lam 5:19, Micah 4:7, etc. Compare Isa 55:3 with Acts 13:34.

Note especially, what the angel said to Mary before Jesus’ birth in Luke 1:32, 33 –

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end!”

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Do Matthew 5:17-20 and Acts 15 contradict each other?

There is no contradiction'

CHRIST AND HIS CRUCIFIXION WAS THE END OF THE LAW

Christ was the promised Savior (Luke 2:8-14) who gave his perfect life as a ransom sacrifice to save mankind fron sin and death. "In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace." (Ephesians 1:7 NASB)

What happened to the Law? Paul explains that we are no longer under a tutor, the Law was removed.

Galatians 3:25 NASB

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. Paul says, Christ, redeemed us from the curse of the Law.

Galatians 3:10-14NASB

10 For as many as are of the works of [a]the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” 11 Now that no one is justified [b]by [c]the Law before God is evident; for, “[d]The righteous man shall live by faith.” 12 However, the Law is not [f]of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live [g]by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a [h]tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might [i]come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Christ is the end of the Law.

Romans 10:4 NASB

4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Romans 6:14 NASB

14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Christians come under this New Covenant and are subject to Christian laws, so there is no contradiction, but many of its basic laws and principles were adopted into Christianity.The death of Christ was the end of the Law.

Hebrews 8:7-13 NASB

7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. 8 For finding fault with them, He says, “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord.

10 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, And I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. 11 “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them. 12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.” 13 When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

Luke 22:20 NASB

20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.

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  • 2
    But then why did Jesus say "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled". Have heaven and earth passed away? No (I mean, I'm pretty sure I'm on Earth right now). So, does that mean that the Law is still effective today? Sep 30 '20 at 9:05
  • Are you suggesting that there is no law?? What is the "Christian Law" that you refer to?
    – Dottard
    Sep 30 '20 at 10:45
  • The Law covenant was canceled on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross (Col 2:14), the new covenant replacing it.​ (Heb 7:12; 8:13 9:15; Ac 2:1-4.) God foretold the new covenant by prophet Jeremiah and stated that it would not be like the Law covenant, which Israel broke (Jer 31:31-34). On the night before his death, Jesus established the celebration of the Lord's Supper and announced the "new covenant", to be validated by his sacrifice. (Luke 22:20) Sep 30 '20 at 20:04
  • On the 50th day from his resurrection, Jesus poured the holy spirit which he had received from his father, on his disciples (Acts 2:1-4, 17, 33; 2Cor 3:6, 8, 9; Heb 2:3, 4.)Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the new covenant (Heb 8:6; 9:15) and is the primary Seed of Abraham. (Gal 3:16, 29) There not enough board ,a full answer would take several pages Sep 30 '20 at 20:04
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Good question re "till heaven and earth pass away" and "till all is fulfilled". Really depends on what you mean by 'pass away'. My view is similar to Ozzie here, but I think 'all was fulfilled' around AD 70, with the destruction of the Second Temple (which housed the presence of God), at which point heaven and earth passed away and we have a new heaven and earth (the holy city 'comes down' to the new earth, see Rev., but there is no temple, only God's presence in the true temple, Jesus, and by extension our hearts when grafted onto Jesus). ... Feb 5 at 18:42
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No, there is no contradiction. Each passage speaks of the same concept of the new age ushered in with Jesus life and death from a different perspective.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NKJV) 17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.

Jesus then goes on to explain that if they are not willing to accept him as the way to God and redemption, then they had better keep the law even better than the best or the kingdom will not be obtained. He's not being literal here, but using hyperbole to make his point - there is no way to keep the law to get into the kingdom.

Acts 15:24-29 is speaking of the confusion the Jews had over whether the Gentiles should be made to do the physical actions associated with the core of the law - keeping the Sabbath, circumcision etc. These are the obvious things that set God's people apart in the time until Jesus. He brings the new covenant based on grace and the spirit.

The apostles agreed that the 'burden' of such actions is not warranted under grace. The Jews were a bit miffed that they had to do those things and MANY more, but the gentiles got in too easy! (There is a lot in all that but this is not the place)

There is still a law of sin and death... BUT -

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Rom 8:1-

So the law's intent and purpose is not abandoned, but fulfilled in Christ. It was never designed to bring life - only to lead to Christ. The entire OT system was a type of Christ who was to come - the sacrifices, the offerings, the bread, the tabernacle, temple, priesthood, Holy days, foods etc etc etc - everything!

So the law became our guardian to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. Gal 3:24 We should not misunderstand the expression 'end of the law'

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Not meaning an abolishment of law, but a completion, a fulfilment as noted in Rom 8 above. The law had a purpose that served well until Jesus. Only by his sinless life and sacrifice could the requirements of the law be realised - and by grace, we all may share in his victory over sin.

Now we are under the law of spirit and life. We live in Christ and are under no requirement to 'obey to be saved' or made 'right' with God - we have that abundantly in Jesus. The requirement to obey was accomplished in Jesus perfect obedience. Now we are compelled, given the desire to submit our will to God that it may by His work in us be aligned with His - as Jesus prayed for himself.

Phil 2:13 or it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

EDIT

The law of sin and death is still active until there is no more flesh and blood life left on earth.

The resurrections allow for all men to choose/receive life. Any who do not will die eternally - for their sin. They cannot come under God's grace except through Jesus the Saviour. It remains however, that the law can never bring life as all have sinned in Adam and are worthy of death because of this state.

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  • So, do Christian need to obey a law? If so, what is it? If not then are we free to do anything?
    – Dottard
    Oct 2 '20 at 10:01
  • @Dottard The law of spirit. The spirit giveth life. And that law is at a much higher standard than the old law - see Jesus' examples of 'it has been said' and 'I say to you'. Feb 5 at 18:44
  • @AnthonyBurg - that is true - Jesus was consistently amplifying the requirements in the law. Again, if we are not under law but under the spirit and the spirit tells me to kill someone (there are many like this) does this make such an action acceptable? How do we know?
    – Dottard
    Feb 5 at 18:47
  • @Dottard Ultimately, I suppose that is between you and God. You have to be honest with yourself, check what you think the spirit is telling you with what Jesus says about how we ought to act, what the fruits of the Holy Spirit are (see Paul), and so on. As we do with almost any intuition we have, we check to make sure it's correct and develop discernment through life. But the biggest objective check is: does this accord with how Jesus (Paul, Peter, James) say I ought to act? Feb 5 at 18:50
  • @AnthonyBurg - that is interesting - the moment you say, "does this accord with how Jesus (Paul, Peter, James) say I ought to act?" you have applied an objective law! See abc.net.au/reslib/201407/r1308729_17984331.pdf and cai.org/bible-studies/1050-new-testament-commands
    – Dottard
    Feb 5 at 18:52
0

While Jesus was talking to everyone in Matthew 5, he was not aiming against his current disciples or future ones.

19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The "whoever" here targeted specifically the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the teachers.

20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus himself claims to be the fulfillment of the law.

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

The Father declares that Jesus is greater the Law and Prophet:

Matthew 17:1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Mark 7:19 For it doesn't go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

Do not take Matthew 5:19 out of its context. Jesus was talking to everyone about the Pharisees and Sadducees. If you do, you may run into a contradiction.

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  • Thanks for the answer, but I think you are wrong. The context of Matthew 5 is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus was teaching his disciples: "Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them". So, no, in Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus is clearly teaching his disciples to obey the Law, there is no question about that. He used the Pharisees and Sadducees as a comparison baseline, but the teaching was directed at his disciples, and the text clearly promotes observance of the whole Law. Sep 30 '20 at 21:26
  • SRI is correct, but you're both missing the point. Why would Jesus be telling them to keep the whole law? He spent his ministry time preparing the people to understand the new covenant in his blood! His point is no matter how well you keep it - it wont be good enough - the law will not allow the gift of life that only the spirit can give. Or to put another way, only Jesus righteousness will exceed the Pharisees - we need to go with him. "I am the way"
    – steveowen
    Oct 1 '20 at 12:32
  • Good comments. I made modification.
    – Tony Chan
    Oct 1 '20 at 15:20
0

Is Matthew 5:17-20 supporting the entirety of the Law and promoting its teaching and observance,

Yes.

whereas Acts 15 is promoting the nonobservance of (portions of) the Law?

No.

Is there any contradiction?

No.

I gave a long explanation of this in exegesis - Were there implicit laws not referenced in the Acts 15 letter to gentile believers? - Christianity Stack Exchange.

I'm not going to repeat it all here, but the main points are:

  • Christians are not bound by the terms of the Old Covenant with Israel, nor with the laws specific to the levitical priesthood.
  • Acts 15 is specific to new and potential Gentile converts.
  • Public libraries didn't exist, so converts had to visit synagogues to read and learn, so needed to be accepted by the Jewish community.
  • Good Gentiles should obey the 7 Noahide Laws (still a belief of modern Judaism).
  • The converts weren't expected to understand and practice all God's laws immediately.
  • To show their sincerity, converts were expected to at least adhere to the 7 Noahide Laws.
  • Four of these Laws were common to almost all religions (blasphemy, murder, theft, injustice), so weren't explicitly mentioned.
  • Three of the Laws weren't so obvious, so were explicitly mentioned:
    • worshiping idols,
    • sexual immorality,
    • eating meat that had not bled to death (e.g. strangled or diseased, or still alive (oysters)).

It is those three, non-obvious, Noahide Laws that were immediately imposed on new converts in Acts 15.

As the converts learned the truth, and became more comfortable with what was expected of them, they were expected to eventually obey all of God's Laws (excluding those that were specifically given as part of Israel's civil government, or part of the religious rituals for the Levites).

What was Paul trying to teach in Romans 14:5-6 when he talked about "special days" and "considering one day more sacred than another"? gives another example of minimizing the impact of suddenly God's laws on new converts.

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