In our previous discussion, I presented at least three usages of the Hebrew word, Torah, translated as “The Law” in English bibles. Although in its strict sense Torah refers to the first five books (Pentateuch) of the Old Testament, it is occasionally used to refer to the entire Old Testament. Since the term Torah means instruction or teaching, in a very real sense the word can be applied to the entire Bible also.
Let us, now, talk about the New Testament. The new revelation that Paul and others received and taught in the churches is now part of the New Testament. What does the New Testament tell us about the Old Testament?
Romans 15:4 NIV For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
The Old Testament then is for our learning! What do we learn from the Old Testament and why do we have to learn from the Old Testament? I believe the majority of the revelation we have about God is in the Old Testament. Does God have to repeat, in the New Testament, every information that he has already revealed in the Old Testament? I believe the answer is obvious.
The Scriptures of the Old Covenant give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises of both the old and new covenants to be fulfilled.
Paul’s revelation about the Old Testament
Paul’s revelation and teaching in the book of Romans and Galatians is not about doing away with the entire teaching of the Old Testament. In these epistles, Apostle Paul clarified that a believer under the Old Covenant was reckoned righteous because he or she kept all the teachings about sacrifices. The righteous people under the Old Covenant were not sinless. They were right with God because they observed “All the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.” For example, what does the bible tell us about Zechariah and Elizabeth who lived under the Old Covenant?
Luke 1:6 NLT Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.
Paul declares that he himself was considered righteous under the Old Covenant, see Phil 3:6 and Romans 10:5. A believer under the Old Covenant trusted the coming Messiah and offered in faith the required sacrifices for his sins.
Now that the ultimate sacrifice for sin has been made by the Lamb of God, we are justified (declared righteous) by believing in Him. We no longer need to offer sacrifices as the perfect sacrifice has already been made, fulfilling all the legal requirements.
Gal 3: 23-25 NLT Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.
Is Paul talking about the entire Old Testament, or is it about the “Law of Moses.” Reading this in the context, we know it is about the “Law of Moses.” However, we need to remember that Paul is referring to the law (teaching) of Moses or the teaching that was given to Israel through Moses concerning righteousness. Why is this important? The Pentateuch reveal so much about God that it would not be correct to say that we do not need the revelation in those books. For example, do the Ten Commandments stand canceled in the age of grace? What sections of the Pentateuch is then no longer applicable to us? Only the teaching that has to do with righteousness.
There are specific commandments and ordinances in the Old Covenant that would make a man or woman righteous if he or she kept them. There are specific sacrifices and feasts of the Lord that Old Covenant believers were expected to keep. Each one of these sacrifices or feasts pointed to Jesus the Messiah, and what He would do to deliver mankind from sin. By observing those sacrifices and celebrating those feasts, the Old Covenant believers expressed their trust in the Messiah who was yet to come. The Passover (Jesus is the Passover Lamb, 1 Cori 5:7), The Feast of Unleavened Bread (this pointed to the Messiah’s sinless life), The Feast of First Fruits (Resurrection of Jesus as the first fruit of the righteous) and the Feast of Weeks also known as Pentecost (harvest of souls and the gift of the Holy Spirit to Jews and Gentiles) have been fulfilled. Believers under the New Covenant do not have to celebrate them. “They were meant to lead us to Christ.”
Jews and Judaism
Many believers hold the wrong impression that the Lord Jesus was against the Old Testament because of His frequent confrontations with Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees. So, it will be worthwhile to consider few facts about the religion these groups followed. We do not see these three groups anywhere in the Old Testament books. From the time of Malachi (about 400 B.C.) till John the Baptist, there was a not a single prophet among the Jews who spoke to them authoritatively. During this period, the Jewish elders and scholars began to write separate interpretations and comments to the Old Testament books. These books, Mishna and Gemara forming the Talmud, and Midrashim and Kabbala were superimposed upon the Old Testament teachings. Obedience to the laws of these books was mandatory, and in effect these traditions replaced the Word of God. So the Jews during that 400-year period were not following the Word of God or Torah, but the traditions of the elders. This new religion can be called Judaism.
It is said that there are 252 commandments (I have not personally counted them) and laws in the Old Testament. Judaism had 613 commandments and laws. The commandments codified by the Pharisees, put people in real bondage. For example, God commanded His people to rest on the Sabbath. Pharisees made a law that you can walk only 1100 meters on Sabbath days (see Acts 1:12). God did not say that, they added that to God’s word. The Lord Jesus never approved the teachings and practices of Judaism, but he held high the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Once, while confronting the Pharisees, He said,
Matt 7:9-13 NLT “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”
The Lord, in fact, upbraided them because they were not teaching the Old Testament.
In the first chapter of the book of Galatians, the Holy Spirit through Paul speaks about “Another gospel.” This another gospel is the erroneous teaching that the born again gentile believers should be circumcised in order to be saved. This erroneous teaching was already discussed at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and rejected by James, Peter and John, who were considered pillars of the church in the first century. However this false teaching did not die out quietly. False brothers tried to secretly bring in such teachings in the church.
What is circumcision?
Circumcision was a sign or seal of righteousness, see Romans 4:11. Under the Old Covenant, the Israelites were required to undergo circumcision. The circumcision did not make them righteous but it was a sign or seal of their separation or distinction from the gentiles. They were counted righteous because they observed all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.