Why does Paul dilute and change God's Moral Law requirement of mankind (Mt. 5:17-20) for the Gentiles to four other requirements instead (Acts 15:19-21, 28-29), calling the Decalogue a yoke upon the neck, a burden, and not necessary (Acts 15:10, 28-29), when that is the law mankind are to be judged by (James 2:12)?

  • Does this answer your question? Did the Jerusalem council allow believers to eat e.g., rabbit meat? Commented Mar 28 at 2:53
  • My answer to the suggested duplicate includes: "sacrificing to idols, consuming blood, eating strangled meat, and sexual immorality are part of the Noahide Laws. These were requirements that required the Gentile converts to change their normal behaviour. Fully listing the Noahide Laws wasn't necessary though, as Gentile pagans generally already follow them (e.g. murder, theft, cursing God).". Paul's list was not for Christians in general, only a minimal list for new proselytes to make them acceptable to the Jewish community while they were learning to become Christians. Commented Mar 28 at 2:55
  • Ray Butterworth - No, I wasn't thinking about whether Paul allowed them to eat rabbit meat, but since you mentioned it, Col. 2:16 sounds like he allowed them to eat anything they wanted, even a rat or a snake, as long as it wasn't sacrificed to an idol.
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 28 at 4:12
  • Ray Butterworth - I am not familiar with the Noahide Laws, could you list the Scriptures where I might find them? My concern is why Paul is teaching them other things than Jesus taught His disciples, and calling God's Moral Law a burden for them. I would question whether the Gentile pagans were generally following the other commandments which he left out for them. What makes you think that Paul's list and teachings were not for Christians in general? Were his letters to these churches in Asia and Europe meant for only them, or did he expect all Christians to adhere to them?
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 28 at 4:36
  • Sorry, I suggested the wrong article as a duplicate. Instead, read my answer to Were there implicit laws not referenced in the Acts 15 letter to gentile believers?. Commented Mar 28 at 15:13

5 Answers 5


The OP is conflating two separate laws and covenants, see appendix below. Further, all these covenants are declared eternal and unbroken - but in a way that most do not understand.

When the NT refers to "the law" one must always determine which of the laws associated with which covenant is referenced.

Now, let us be very clear about what Matt 5:17-19 actually says and what it does not say. This text has been the cause of much dispute as people with various pretexts want it to say less than it actually says. For example, legalists want to emphasize “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets” and ignore the rest. Many modern evangelicals only see “I came to fulfil them” and understand that this means that the Law and Prophets have been abolished. Both positions focus on aspects of their own theology that excludes the centrality of Christ. Thus, this pivotal text actually means more than either are saying and places Jesus at the crux of its understanding – note that Jesus says twice, “I have not come to abolish the law … ”.

Thus, the Noahide covenant still exists and applies to all people. The Davidic covenant still exists but is fulfilled by Jesus as the true king of Israel. The Levitical covenant (which the Jews found burdensome) still applies but was fulfilled and still applies to Jesus as the "Lamb of God". The Christian covenant is simply a continuation of the Israelite covenant with the same moral law.

Gal 3:26-29 - You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.

This is further confirmed by the existence of the moral law well before Sinai - appendix 2 below.

APPENDIX - Bible Covenants

Many people refer to the Torah as the "Mosaic Covenant". This is too simplistic as they are at least six covenants that God made with people, just one of which was "Israelite Covenant". Here are the six covenants that I found:

1. Noahide Covenant: Gen 8:20 – 9:17.

2. Abrahamic Covenant: Gen 15, 17, 18:9-15, 22:15-18 involving a miraculous son and the land of Canaan. It was a covenant of grace.

3. 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”. It was a covenant of grace (see below).

4. Levitical Covenant – Lev 1-9, 16, 21-27 , Num 3, 4, 8, 18, 25:10-13, Deut 33:8-11. 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 where God takes the Levites 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.

5. Davidic (or Regal) 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 132:11, 12, Eze 37:15-28. This involved the eternal kingdom of David and the permanence of his posterity on the throne.

6. Christian Covenant – often called, “The New Covenant”, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6-13, 9:15, 10:16, 29, 12:24, (Jer 31:31, 33), an eternal covenant (Heb 13:20).

All these covenants have the same pattern:

  • God promises to give a number of privileges
  • God sets out a series of requirements, almost always moral requirements for the people
  • There is some kind of token or sign of the covenant (more than one is some cases)
  • The covenant is initiated by "cutting" (hence the Hebrew word for covenant is "berith") always involving a sacrifice.

The Israelite covenant was set out primarily in Ex 19-23 but later expanded in some chapters of Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

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 grace and forgiveness! Isa 59:21 says the covenant is the eternal gift of the Spirit.

That this Israelite Covenant was still a covenant of 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.

It is this "old" (Israelite) covenant that the Israelites failed to properly understand; it is also the covenant referred to when unqualified in the OT. Note that the Old Covenant is called eternal (1 Chron 16:17, Jer 50:5, Ps 105:8).

The New Covenant is discussed in several places and always in a language that makes it the continuation of the Old Covenant. According to Heb 8:7, 8, 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.

APPENDIX 2 - Ten Commandments before Sinai

The following (far from exhaustive) list shows that people knew of the law and ten commandments well before the formal giving at Mt Sinai. Indeed, we have the very general comment –

  • Gen 26:5, because Abraham listened to My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.

Commandment #1 – Worship only YHWH:

  • Gen 22:5, 24:26, 48, 52 all describe worship of the true God of heaven, YHWH.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #2 – Idolatry prohibited

  • Gen 31:32-35 – Jacob clearly understood that idolatry was forbidden.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #3 –Cursing and taking the name of the LORD in vain prohibited

  • Job 1:5 – When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

Commandment #4 – Sabbath worship

  • Gen 2:1-3 – Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. And by the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on that day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on that day He rested from all the work of creation that He had accomplished.
  • Gen 16 also records the incident with manna and that collecting manna on the seventh-day Sabbath was forbidden

Commandment #5 – Respect for parents, elders and authority

  • Gen 28:6, 7 tells of the story of Jacob following his mother’s advice. Respect for parents is built into the very fabric of the patriarchal stories in Genesis.

Commandment #6 – Sanctity of Human life

  • Gen 4:8-12, 15 records Cain’s punishment for the sin of murder
  • Gen 9:5, 6 records that murder was prohibited under the ancient Noahide covenant

Commandment #7 – Adultery prohibited

  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for almost tricking a pagan king into committing adultery
  • Gen 19 records the appalling events involving attempted pack-rape of the two angels
  • Gen 39:7-9 – Joseph calls Potiphar’s wife proposal “a great evil and sin against God”.
  • Gen 49:4 – Reuben is scalded for his sin of incest
  • Gen 34 – the story of Dinah records a heinous incident involving her defilement (plus murder and lying)

Commandment #8 – Stealing prohibited and respect for property

  • Gen 30:33 – Laban and Jacob discuss the problem of stealing of wages and property
  • Gen 31:32-35 – Laban is angry about the sin of stealing the household gods

Commandment #9 – Lying prohibited; insistence of honesty and integrity

  • Gen 4 – the story of Cain being punished, among other things for not being honest with Abel and God in his statements
  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for lying to a pagan king about their marital status
  • In the story of Jacob, he is pejoratively called Jacob = “deceiver”, Gen 27:36.

Commandment #10 – Coveting prohibited

  • Gen 3:6 – the woman is tricked by the serpent using the sin of covetousness

Other Laws

Even the prohibition against eating blood is listed among the requirements in the Noahide covenant, Gen 9:4, 5.

  • Dottard - A great exposition that will take me some time to digest, so I'm not sure if it will shed any light on me as to Paul's teaching of which leaves me completely baffled.
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 28 at 6:03
  • @Joanne - note that there is no difference between the requirements for the gentiles or anyone else - the moral law still applies as it is quoted numerous times in the NT as still applicable. It is the ceremonial law that was fulfilled in Christ as the Passover Lamb.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 28 at 6:48
  • Yes that is what I understand, but what I see from Paul's teaching to the Gentiles is faith alone and throw out the bondwoman (God's law from mount Sinai). "Ye observe days,..." (God's fourth commandment). (Gal. 4:10, 24). Jesus' teaching was to do and teach them. I don't find these two teachers and what they are teaching to different audiences anything alike.
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 29 at 3:53
  • @Joanne - this situation is not that simple - the "bondwoman" represents the legalistic (ie, non-faith) approach to salvation - trying to be good enough by law-keeping to gain God's favor. However, we already have God's favor. Therefore, we do not keep the moral law in order to be saved - we keep the moral law because we are saved by faith and transformed to Christ's image. See 2 Cor 3:18 and Eph 2:8-10.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 29 at 6:31
  • Dottard - Had the message been stated like you say, it makes more sense. My reasoning from Paul’s words are if you are keeping God’s moral law “for any reason,” you are NOT “throwing it out.” You can’t keep something if you throw it out.
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 29 at 15:35

Dottard's answer provides a well-present list of covenants in the Bible, which I won't repeat here. However, although all these covenants were initiated by God, it's essential to note that most of them are unilateral except for the Israelite covenant and its associated Levitical covenant, which are bilateral. In Exodus 19:3-8, God summons Moses to send His message to the Israelites. The response from the Israelites is positive, as described in Exodus 19:8, and thus the covenant is established.

While unilateral covenants made by God pose no problem because of His faithfulness, it is the bilateral covenants that the Israelites struggle to comply. Their failure lies in becoming conformists, showing favouritism toward the ceremonial law rather than the moral law.

The Law and the Prophets convey God's words. Jesus did not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17), which means bringing them to fruition. However, the Jewish leaders misguided people, emphasizing outward adherence to the law. In contrast, Jesus teaches His followers to submit themselves to God inwardly, from their hearts. In Matthew 15:1-20, Jesus describes the Pharisees and teachers of the law as hypocrites, honoring God with their lips while distancing their hearts from Him. He then shares a short parable;

What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11 NIV)

Peter asked for an elaboration, prompting Jesus to provide further clarification in Matthew 16-20

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Paul did not alter or dilute the moral law. Instead, he emphasized precisely what Jesus instructed: to have faith and act from the heart in honor of the Lord.

Ephesians 6:6 NIV

Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.

Colossians 3:23 NIV

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,

  • Yes, God looks at the heart, in fact, Hebrews 10:16 says He will put His laws into their hearts, and in their minds He will write them. That don't sound to me like God considers them a yoke upon people's necks, nor a burden and unnecessary as Paul states. Paul did agree that a Jew is not one outwardly, but one inwardly, of the heart and in the spirit. (Rom. 2:28-29)
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 28 at 5:26
  • Vincent Wong - I do disagree, though, with your statement that Paul did not alter or dilute the moral law. He did both for the Gentiles. He gave them four necessary things; however the Moral Law of God contains 10 Commandments. Jesus taught His disciples that not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law until all is fulfilled, so don't break one of the least of them, but do and teach them.
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 28 at 5:40
  • At the Jerusalem Council, Paul vigorously opposed the circumcision of Gentile belivers. His argument centered on the ceremonial law, rather than the moral law. Acts 15:10 attributes a statement to Peter, while James speaks in Acts 15:19-21. The text does not explicitly tell Paul's response to these words, so we'll maintain a neutral perspective. From Paul's writtings, he seems to be more flexible concerning the ceremonial law, yet he firmly commited to the moral law. Can you identify any biblical instances where Paul alters or dilutes the moral law? Commented Mar 28 at 13:39
  • Vincent Wong - I see that reducing the 10 commandment moral law to four requirements instead is both altering and diluting it. But you are right, that it was Peter and James who came to that conclusion after Paul's and Barnabus' disputation with the men from Judaea. Maybe I am getting the ceremonial law mixed up with the moral law. What is the ceremonial law, is it just circumcision? The way I read Gal. 4:21-31 Paul is likening God's moral law (the covenant from mount Sinai) to Hagar, saying "cast it out," so I see it has gone from being altered and diluted to being cast out entirely.
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 29 at 2:11
  • @Joanne - The ceremonial law consisted of ordinances, rituals, and sacrifices, integral to the ancient sanctuary system, included Sabbaths, offering sacrifices, priestly duties, and even circumcision. It was abolished upon Jesus' sacrifice as Jesus is the lord of Sabbath, the eternal high priest and the perfect sacrifice. The moral law such as the Ten Commandments is still abiding and unchanging. It is worth noting that James's speech emphasized certain requirements that many gentiles were unfamiliar with, but not an intention to replace the ten commandments or the moral law. Commented Mar 29 at 3:41

Many Apostles had to deal with this matter in the first century. It threatened to take Christians back to a legalistic bondage to the law. Paul's explanations go into greater depth. He certainly supported everything the Jerusalem Council decreed in Acts 15 though was not involved in that, at that point.

First, what Jesus said in Matthew rightly shows both Jews and Gentiles how love is the outworking of those moral requirements Jews were under, still in force when Jesus spoke, as he had not yet died and risen. Nothing has changed there. Jews wishing to abide by the old covenant legal system have to love God utterly, and to love their neighbours as themselves. That sums up the entire Ten Commandments (and many more Mosaic laws besides.) Of course, nobody can possibly keep that law; they violate it here, there and all over the place no matter how hard they try to keep it (James 2:10). That is why Christ died - to bear in his body on the tree the full punishment for law-breaking - 1 Peter 2:24. Paul explained how the letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:1-2). All the Apostles knew this, so when Christian Jews started trying to get Gentile Christians circumcised, they instantly stood up against that. Why?

To make circumcision a requirement for Christians would oblige them to keep the whole of the old law covenant. But that had only been for the nation of Israel, to point them to the Christ who would usher in the new covenant, in his blood. That blood had now been shed; sin had been legally dealt with by God, at Calvary, so the old law covenant (the shadow) had served its purpose, pointing to the reality - Christ. Jewish Christians were no longer under the condemnation of the law. So why were some of them trying to get converts shackled to it via circumcision?

The Apostles referred to them as 'Judaizers' - and showed that Christ would be of no effect to those holding on to the law. They must not be circumcised! "Ye could not be justified by the law of Moses," Paul explained when in Pisidian Antioch. Read Acts 13:23-39. Paul even more clearly stated:

"For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law, but desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh." Galatians 6:13, compare with Acts 15:1 & 5.

He showed how justification only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Christians cannot profess faith in Christ on one hand, while holding on to the Mosaic law with the other!

This is where people get confused, for they wrongly assume that that means jettisoning moral living. Paul explained clearly how accusations of Christians becoming licentious were utterly false. (Read Romans chapter 6.) It's the opposite; Christ set the bar higher, for it's what we think and what's in our hearts that determines if God views us as sinners or not. Someone who never outwardly breaks commands (such as 'Do not murder', 'Do not commit adultery' etc) can be seen by God as wicked in their thoughts and lusts and hatreds.

Acts 15 enabled oil to be poured on the troubled waters of that time, where conflict was arising between Jewish Christians and Gentile converts. It also ensured that Jewish people would not be offended and stumbled at Christians. If the necessary requirements, to avoid forms of idolatry, sexual immorality, eating meat with blood in it, and blood-guilt (like murder) were kept, Jews observing Christians would remain open to hearing the gospel. "For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest days, and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath" (vss. 19-21).

James (2:8-13) spoke of the law that gives freedom - which the Mosaic law never did, for it could only condemn. James spoke of "the royal law", while warning that even for them to show favouritism would mean they sinned, and would be condemned by the law as law-breakers, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." But "the law that gives freedom" is the law of Christ, the law of love, the law of the Spirit, the law of faith - "the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ freed me from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2 & 3:21-22).

All New Testament teaching is in harmony with Christ's teaching about moral living. It shows how the moral standard is so high as to be unattainable for anybody, but once people put faith in how Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), then "He forgave all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross" (Colossians 2:13-14).

  • Your comments show me how some may come to Christ from two different poles. The moral code means to me that it is God’s character, therefore unchangeable, and the means we are all going to be judged by, that is why , when Jesus first started His ministry, He said: “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Thanks be to God for His mercy. I don’t see God as cancelling the written code, that would be like cancelling Himself, but rather changing it for us by putting it into our hearts and minds. (Heb. 10:16) Ps. 119:97-104: “O how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day….”
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 29 at 17:13
  • @Joanne "For by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested... which is by faith of Jesus Christ." "But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Rom.3:20-22 & 8:6 & 10:4. ) Now, please re-read Col.2:13-14 and believe what that scripture states.
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 29 at 17:57
  • Your words remind me of a game we used to play as children: “Simon says,” have you heard of it? So far, heaven and earth haven’t passed for me so therefore not even one jot or one tittle has passed from the law, so Jesus said to do and teach them. (Mt. 5:17-20). I would suggest you read towards the end of the story, i.e., rev.
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 29 at 20:43
  • Anne - That is Rev. 22:14.
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 29 at 20:45

I have to take issue with some suppositions of the OP before answering the main question.

  1. The OP says Mt. 5:17-20 is "God's Moral Law requirement of mankind." That is not how it is portrayed in the text. Jesus is speaking to Jews (his disciples) about the Law of Moses, not only the moral laws that pertain to everyone. He goes on to tell them that they must be even stricter about this than the Pharisees, again showing that this is an internal issue among Jews.

  2. The OP suggests that Paul changed Jesus' teaching to "four other requirements instead (Acts 15:19-21, 28-29)." There are two problems with this statement. First, Acts 15:19ff relates the decision of the leaders of the Jerusalem church, particularly James, not Paul. Second, while Jesus's statement in Matthew refers to the Law of Moses, the teaching in Acts 15 is based on the Noahide law, which indeed pertained to laws to be followed by Gentiles as well as Jews. So the OP is quite confused here.

  3. The OP thinks that when Acts speaks of laws becoming "a yoke upon the neck, a burden,..." it refers to the Decalogue. This is not the case. It specifically refers to the claim in v. 5 that “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.” Circumcision was not one of the 10 Commandments, and the "yoke" refers to the Mosaic law in its entirety. Once again the OP misunderstands what is at issue here.

As to the question of why Paul's requirements regarding the moral law were different from those of Jesus, the general answer is that Paul taught about what was required for a person be saved from sin. Jesus (in Mt. 5) taught about how to avoid sin in the first place. For Paul, no one could achieve the moral standard that either Moses or Jesus set forth, so it was necessary for Jesus to because a sacrifice for sin, so that Christians could vicariously share in this righteousness.

Conclusion: the basic answer to the OP's main question is that Paul did not think that salvation could be achieved through moral behavior, either by Jews or Gentiles. No one could live up to the moral standards taught by either Moses or Jesus. However, underlying data in the OP are confused.

  • Dan Fetterman - Let me get this straight, are you saying that just because no one could live up to God’s and Jesus’ standards, those standards are to be thrown out? You don’t throw out the baby with the bath water (so to speak). I know circumcision was not one of the 10 Commandments, and circumcision of the heart was what mattered, but the Decalogue was given to Moses (5) and I am referring to the requirements Jesus put on it. So now where am I confused?
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 30 at 15:46
  • Dan Fetterman - Referring to your Item 2, if the decision in Acts is only based on the Noahide Law, why was the abstaining from pollutions of idols, and from fornication included?
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 30 at 18:46


Paul’s requirements for the Gentiles are not in the least way different from Jesus’ teaching of the Moral Law!


Paul states positively:

“I did not receive it from any human being, nor did anyone teach it to me. It was Jesus Christ himself who revealed it to me” (Gal 1:12).

Will Jesus teach Paul something against His own teachings?

The simple answer would be “no”.

Since the list of the Ten Commandments is written twice in the Old Testament, there is no need to repeat the same as a list in the New, unless one or more specific commandments are cancelled. But no cancellation of any commandment is mentioned in the New Testament.

However, these commandments are mentioned throughout the New. They are found in Pauline epistles also as binding!

Paul says:

“For whatever things were written before were written for our instruction, that through patience and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4).

Ten Commandments in Pauline Writings

(I am giving only samples. This is not an exhaustive list).

First Commandment:

“we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God except one” (1 Cor 8:4).

(Paul and Barnabas got frightened and tore their clothes when people in Lystra made them into gods – Acts 14:14).

Second Commandment:

“On account of this, flee from idolatry, my beloved” (1 Cor 10:14).

“While Paul was waiting in Athens for Silas and Timothy, he was greatly upset when he noticed how full of idols the city was” (Acts 17:16).

Third Commandment:

“Because knowing God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful. But they became vain in their reasonings, and their undiscerning heart was darkened” (Rom 1:21).

Fourth Commandment:

“For He has spoken somewhere about the seventh day this way, "And God rested from all His works in the seventh day" (Heb 4:4).

“So, then, there remains a Sabbath rest (Sabbatismos) to the people of God” (Heb 4:9).

(It is significant that Paul uses “Katapausis” for “rest” 7 times in this chapter but uses “Sabbatismos” in one place. Sabbatismos is a combination of 2 Greek words: Sabbath + ismos. The English word “ism” as in criticism stems from “ismos” and means “practice”. Another example is Baptism. Another significant point to consider is that Paul doesn’t say Sabbath practice for Church of God or Jews. He combines both and says “the people of God”!)

Fifth Commandment:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with a promise, "that it may be well with you, and you may be long-lived on the earth" (Eph 6:1-3).

Sixth Commandment:

“knowing this, that Law is not laid down for a righteous one, but for lawless and undisciplined ones, for ungodly and sinful ones, for unholy and profane ones, for slayers of fathers and slayers of mothers, for murderers” (1 Tim 1:9).

“Do not murder” (Rom 13:9).

Seventh Commandment:

“But the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…….Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Then taking the members of Christ, shall I make them members of a harlot? Let it not be! Or do you not know that he being joined to a harlot is one body? For He says, "The two shall be into one flesh." (1 Cor 6:13, 15-16).

“Do not commit adultery” (Rom 13:9).

Eighth Commandment:

“The one stealing, let him steal no more, but rather let him labor, working what is good with the hands, that he may have something to give to the one that has need” (Eph 4:28).

“Do not steal” (Rom 13:9)

Ninth Commandment_:

“Therefore, putting off the false, speak truth each with his neighbor, because we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25).

“Do not bear false witness” (Rom 13:9).

Tenth Commandment:

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Let it not be! But I did not know sin except through Law; for also I did not know lust except the Law said, "You shall not lust" (Rom 7:7).

“Do not lust” (Rom 13:9).

These commandments are written in epistles to the Gentiles.

No, the Ten Commandments are not “nailed to the Cross” by Jesus. Paul is not so crazy to teach like that!

Law cannot Generate Life

But, the Law cannot and will not give life!

Even in Science, the Law of Biogenesis says that “life can come only from pre-existing life”. There is no spontaneous generation of life.

Ultimately, life can come only from God, the Source of all life.

But………., mark it well, law can “sustain” life, though it cannot generate life. God created life and gave laws to sustain that life. We break the law and we are dead men.

Law is Only a Mirror (James 1:23)

The Law acts as a mirror. A person (sinner) looks in the mirror (Law) and sees dirt (sin) on his face. But the mirror cannot wash the face; it can only show the dirt to the beholder. We need water (Jesus’ blood) to wash our dirt.

This is exactly what Paul also says throughout his epistles.

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Let it not be! But I did not know sin except through Law; for also I did not know lust except the Law said, "You shall not lust" (Rom 7:7).


Jesus the Lord and His apostles all speak the same truth. Paul is not different. But his great learning caused him to be misunderstood.

  • Nephesh Roi - The difference I see between Jesus’ teachings vs. Paul’s when it comes to the moral law is that Jesus taught His disciples that until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law, so “do and teach” them; whereas Paul in Gal. 4:25 calls that law Hagar, a bondage, and in verse 30 says to “cast it out.” In what way do you consider these instructions to be the same? There don’t seem to be a general conception that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews.
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 31 at 15:07
  • I strongly disagree with you, Joanne. Paul has repeated all the 10 commandments in his epistles as I have shown in my answer. He never called the moral law as Hagar. He called the first covenant as Hagar (Gal 4:24-25) to be cast out because we have a better new covenant, called the “Jerusalem from above”. But moral law is the same backbone of both covenants. Commented Mar 31 at 16:22
  • We may just have to disagree then. Paul may have “repeated” all 10 commandments, however I don’t see him advocating others to do all of them, esp. the 4th one, and telling others to cast them off is certainly not doing and teaching them. The law given from mount Sinai (the 10 Commandment law which he calls Hagar) and the one God writes on the heart and mind in the New Covenant are one and the same law from the same God. “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30)
    – Joanne
    Commented Mar 31 at 18:09
  • @Joanne – It is okay with me to agree to disagree. However, there is a reason why Paul asked to cast out the first covenant (the Hagar. But the 10 Commandments is not Hagar). The reason is; that covenant contained a lot of “fleshly” ordinances like circumcision, various washings and animal sacrifices (Gal 6:12-13; Heb 9:9-10) which cannot absolve our sins. These were temporary (Gal 3:19) and were a burden. Commented Apr 1 at 16:22
  • 1
    @Joanne – We will stop our fruitful discussion here. It is okay if we disagree. But you have commented that baptism “is a spiritual circumcision”; “circumcised of the heart”. This is what I also meant. A +1 for you. Commented Apr 6 at 11:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.