Decoding Jesus' treatment of the Law through the words of Paul
There is no denying the New Testament - and actually the entire Bible - is all about Jesus. His sacrifice for humanity is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation. He IS the key to the gospel. Having said this, the life and writings of the Apostle Paul dominate much of the New Testament. His experiences and teachings are pronounced, and in the eyes of many, go too far. Critics see the Apostle Paul as a combatant against the gospel of the kingdom Jesus taught. The basis for their criticism is the way Jesus reflected the role of the Jewish Law and the way that Paul essentially wrote it off. How do we manage this? Was Paul at odds with the core values and teaching of Jesus?
Jesus vs. Paul?
One of the big debates in the early church raging on even today is whether or not Paul threw out the Jewish Law that Jesus not only followed but confirmed in Luke 16:17: "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail." Critics argue that Jesus never said Christians DON'T have to fall in line under the Law's many requirements. On the other hand, Paul was clear that the new Gentile converts would NOT be subject to all the Law's requirements like circumcision and food restrictions. Who was right? Aren't we all taught that at least the 10 Commandments are valid in their admonitions to love God, love our neighbor and so forth?
Moral - Ceremonial - Judicial
The key to cracking this case is understanding that the Jewish Law was divided into three parts: moral, ceremonial and judicial. The moral law of love, as expressed in the 10 Commandments, will never be replaced. It remained in play for both Jew and Gentile. In God’s future kingdom, it will stand as a beautiful requirement for all of mankind.
Shadow vs. Reality
Not only did the ceremonial parts had to do with cleanliness of people and food, but also how the Israelites atoned for their sins with sacrifices. Special sacrifices were required year after year in order to temporarily “cleanse” them of sins. This allowed a relationship with the heavenly Father to continue as long as the people remained in that clean state. These are recorded in great detail in the Old Testament. In hindsight, we see these foreshadowed the monumental sacrifice of Jesus that allowed the early Christians to have a relationship with God. This applies to Christians throughout the age - right down to you and me. The comparison between the “shadow” of the literal ceremonial events with how Jesus fulfilled them as the reality of the shadow is striking and faith-inspiring. Paul explains in many texts how Jesus replaced this part of the Law.
After Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, the ceremonial parts of the Law were no longer necessary to have a relationship with God. (And they were completely obsolete after the Temple burned down in 70 A.D.!) What about the judicial parts of the Law? These had to do with pronouncing and administering the consequences to breaking the Law. But with the ceremonial parts obsolete, the judicial part would necessarily shift to personal responsibility of how we are judged and how we judge others. On this point, it is easy to show how Jesus and Paul agreed.
Christianity was not to be a sect of Judaism. Jesus’ death and resurrection changed everything – except the fundamental law of LOVE. Listen to our podcast from February 24, 2020 called, “Did the Apostle Paul Contradict Jesus?” It is the last of our four-part series on the Apostle Paul and really brings the details of the controversy front and center. Paul lived, breathed and taught Jesus and the gospel 24/7. He devoted his life to being a faithful steward. What an example for all of us!
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