The “commandments of God” in Scripture have been a source of much confusion among Christians. Some claim that only Paul’s teaching applies to us directly. Some claim that all “New Testament” commandments are for us. Others say some Old Testament commandments apply also. Others say all of the commands in Scripture are to be obeyed. Who is correct? If we must obey all commands in Scripture, then animal sacrifices and stoning our children when they disrespect us are called for.
If only some of the commands from the Old Testament apply to us, on what basis can we make this distinction? The Bible does not divide the “Law” into a “moral law” and “ceremonial law.” That is an arbitrary distinction. And what of Jesus’ commands? He told the rich young ruler that if He kept the commandments he would have “eternal life.” Yet Paul said it is not by works of the Law! And if we limit the application of the commands of Scripture to Paul’s words only, then how do we explain the Great Commission? Jesus said to preach the Gospel to all the nations and teach them to observe ALL THINGS He commanded His disciples (in the four Gospels)! He said, “if you love me, keep MY commandments.” It is the job of the Church to teach the Gentile nations to observe Jesus’ commandments.
This is THE most crucial question in Christian theology. Different systems, like Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, are attempts to develop a framework that works consistently with all Scripture. But both systems have serious problems in several passages. Unless the right dynamic system is used, all other biblical interpretation is skewed.
One of the things missed by most Christians is a distinction between “principles” on which commandments are based and the commandments themselves. God’s moral principles never change. They are uniform from Genesis to Revelation. But, specific commandments do indeed change, and are specific to certain individuals, nations, or other entities. The context of a given passage indicates to whom the commandments are addressed. God is always the same. His character never changes. Yet, He has not always required the same things of all people. His dealings with people vary depending on His covenants.
Covenants are legal contracts between two parties where one or both parties pledge to do certain things. One party may pledge to do or abide by certain conditions, and the other party pledges to do certain things in response. This is a “conditional” covenant. Other covenants are “unconditional” since one party pledges to do something regardless of what the other party does. The specifics of the Covenants that God has made with various individuals and groups vary. But, God is the same, and His principles and His character never change. All His covenants are in keeping with His moral character. Yet, the specifics vary depending on circumstances involved, as well as God’s PURPOSE in making each covenant.
God made a covenant with Noah.
He made one with Abraham.
He made another with Moses and the twelve tribes of Israel after the exodus.
Later, He promised a “new covenant” to replace the “old covenant” (Mosaic covenant) in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
He also made a covenant with David regarding the Messianic Kingdom.
The “New Covenant” was inaugurated by Jesus with His disciples.
Some of these were unconditional. This is true of the covenant with Noah. God promised to never again destroy the earth with a flood. It did not depend on what Noah or his descendants did. The same was true of God’s covenant with Abraham. He promised to make a great nation from Abraham’s descendants. He also promised that through Abraham’s seed all (Gentile) nations would be blessed. It mattered not what Abraham did. God was bound by His covenant. The same was true of the Davidic Covenant. God swore to David that He would raise up a king of David’s descendants to rule over Israel forever.
The Law, including the 10 commandments given through Moses on Mt Sinai, was a conditional covenant. It was made only with one nation, Israel. And its “blessings” were conditional upon the Israelites keeping the commandments. A look at Deuteronomy. 28,29 clearly shows the conditional nature of the Mosaic Covenant (Old Covenant). Even Jeremiah’s prophecy of the “New Covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31-34) indicated that the New Covenant would eventually replace the Old Covenant BECAUSE Israel did not keep their end of the covenant.
Contrary to what many in the Hebrew Roots movement teach, the Old Covenant has been completely replaced and superseded by the New Covenant. I see no way to escape this conclusion. The following passages clearly teach this.
6 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.
7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
8 For finding fault with them, he saith, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord….”
13 In that he saith, “A new covenant,” he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.
8 Above when he said, “Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law”;
9 Then said he, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The question then is, are the 10 commandments separate from the Old Covenant, or are they its centerpiece?
28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
13 And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.
It is obvious from these verses that the 10 commandments are the centrepiece or icon of the Old Covenant. If the Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant, then the 10 commandments are necessarily obsolete.
This is not to say that the principles on which the 10 commandments are based are obsolete. The moral principles are based on God’s character which never changes. We are not at liberty to steal, or to kill, or to commit adultery just because the Old Covenant is obsolete. The New Covenant has its own set standards that we must live by as Christians. And these standards forbid all of these things. They are in keeping with the character of God, and the universal principles of morality and right and wrong. But they deal much more directly with the heart that is the source of sin.
The New Covenant is a much more MATURE covenant. The Old Covenant should be compared to the rules we give our children when they are young. They need specific seemingly cumbersome rules in order to learn the principles of right and wrong, and what is good for them in the long run and what is harmful. But, when maturity is developed, the cumbersome rules are no longer needed. Yet, the basic principles remain. This is the perfect illustration of the relationship of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant. In fact, this is the illustration Paul used in Galatians 3, where he said the Law was the “schoolmaster” to point Israel to Christ. But, once Christ came, Israel is no longer under the old schoolmaster.
THE LAW OF CHRIST
When Jesus began to preach the New Covenant, one of the first things He did was to take His disciples up into a mountain, just as God took Moses up into Mt. Sinai. Jesus proceeded to give His disciples 10 of His own commandments, contained in Matthew 5-7. These commandments are based on the same principles or “spirit” of the Old Covenant 10 commandments. But, they are not identical in their specifics, they are new. They deal with the heart, not with outward observances.
It is easy to see that Jesus was actually superseding the Old Covenant, not just returning them to a better understanding of the Law, as Hebrew Roots folks claim. For example;
31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:…
38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (KJV)
The Sermon on the Mount is the foundation of all New Covenant teaching. The rest of the New Testament teaches us as Christians to live by the Sermon on the Mount, in order to be pleasing to the one who called us out of darkness to light.
Jesus did not arrive on the scene one day and declare the Law of Moses obsolete, and that He was replacing it with His own Law. He said He did not come to “demolish” the Law, but to “fulfil” it [Matthew 5:17]. The word “fulfil” means to bring to its proper conclusion. It is the same word used of Christ’s fulfilling the prophecies of His coming. Did Jesus “fulfil” the Law in one day? No! He did it over His entire ministry, by walking in perfect holiness, and by becoming the sacrifice of which the Law was prophetic.
There was a slow transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. In fact, this transition took 40 years, [one generation]. From AD 30, when John the Baptist and Jesus first began to preach the New Covenant, until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, when God saw to it that Biblical Judaism could not be practiced anymore, there are exactly 40 years. Hebrews 8:13 says that the Old Covenant was “waxing old” and it was “about to vanish away.” This was written shortly before the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, which Jesus had clearly predicted in Luke 19:14-44, because the Jews had refused to accept the New Covenant. During Jesus’ ministry, the two covenants existed alongside one another. It took Jesus 3.5 years to fully implement the New Covenant. And it took 40 years for the Old Covenant to fully expire. After the Day of Pentecost, God still allowed a period for the nation of Israel to accept the gospel.
During His ministry, Jesus did not publicly teach New Covenant doctrine to the multitudes. But, when He was alone with His disciples, He taught them privately New Covenant doctrine. [Take a look at Mark 4:10-12, 33,34]. Jesus was preparing them to be His missionaries to the whole world.
The most important key to understanding the teaching of Jesus is this: Everything He taught directly and specifically to His disciples, is New Covenant doctrine. How do I know this?
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (NKJV)
Did He say to teach to the nations all things He taught to the crowds? Or to the Scribes and Pharisees? No! Because much of this teaching was Jesus’ rebuke for their failure to keep the Old Covenant as God intended. Jesus commanded the disciples to only teach what Jesus had personally taught to them. To whom were they to teach this? To all nations! And for how long? Until the end of the age! That is the Great Commission!
Make more disciples, baptize them, and teach them everything Jesus taught His disciples. The best place to start is the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ 10 commandments, the “Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
When I finally realized the full impact of this passage, I did something that really made the Gospels come alive for me. I went verse by verse through the four Gospels and highlighted everything that Jesus taught His disciples directly. Try this, you will like it. Now, at a glance, you can see exactly what God expects from you, and what you are to teach to His sheep. Some of the major discourses you should highlight would be Matthew 5-7, Matthew 18, Matthew 24&25, and John 13-17. There are many more smaller passages scattered throughout the Gospels too.
There is so much confusion in Christianity regarding what in the Gospels applies to the New Covenant, and what does not (or even if the New Covenant is in force yet). Some have made the mistake of drawing a line on a certain date, like the Day of Pentecost, or the day of Jesus’ baptism. They think everything before that event is “Old Covenant” and everything after it is “New Covenant.” But this is arbitrary, and clearly wrong. Those who divide dispensations at Pentecost, toss out all of Jesus’ teaching! And that is what He said to take to all the world! They have become “Paulians” instead of “Christians.” But those who draw a line at His baptism, are confronted with statements like the one to the rich young ruler. They just don’t fit with the New Covenant. But, when you recognize that Jesus brought in the New Covenant, while allowing the Old Covenant to begin to expire at the crucifixion, and then completely at the destruction of the Temple, everything fits. The division of dispensations was not on a certain date. The division should be drawn by the audience to whom Jesus was speaking! The transition took place over a period of years, not on a single date.
In my opinion, this issue is the single most important theological dilemma facing Christianity. It is the main reason for the plethora of Christian denominations. It is the main reason for the separation of Christian brethren over various doctrinal issues, including eschatology. And it is the main reason so many Christian laymen are at a loss when it comes to good biblical exegesis of Scripture, and are forced to rely on what they are told rather than allowing the Spirit of God to teach them through independent Bible Study. If I could get across to pastors only one thing from all of my years of research, and work on the Last Trumpet websites, it would be this. Teach your people HOW to interpret the Scriptures by building this foundational understanding of the covenants of God, and how they relate to each other. Everything else falls into place once the foundation is laid. This is how you can equip them to be “approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:15).
Copyright © Tim Warner