Question 130:

Does not abolishing the Law of Moses, e.g. the commandment to circumcise or the prohibition against eating pork, represent a rejection of God’s will?


Answer: At the centre of Jesus proclamation was the message of the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mk 1:15). In this way Jesus relativised the early Jewish law. Jesus by no means declared the Mosaic Law as invalid and obsolete. He did, however, criticise and reveal, in the most authoritative tone, the will of God expressed originally in the law (Mt 5ff: “But I say to you...”). Jesus’ critical words regarding the law and the culture include, for example, His proclamations regarding marriage, vengeance and love for ones enemies (Mt 5:31ff.38.43ff par Lk), ritual purity (Mk 7:15), healing on the Sabbath (Mk 2:27ff), the laws focus on the dual commandment to love God and ones neighbour (Mk 12:28-34) and regarding the narrowness of the Jerusalem Temple cult (Mk 14:58). Some of these proclamations are closely linked to certain behaviour of Jesus e.g. His unconditional devotion to sinners (particularly in eating with them: Mk 2:15-17; Lk 15) and the sick (healing on the Sabbath: Mk 3:1-6; Lk 13:10-17; healing outcasts: Mk 1:40; Lk 17:12), as well as the prophetic sign of cleansing the Temple (Mk 11:11-17). Jesus’ execution by the Jewish rulers then in power indicates that His criticism of the Law and the culture overstepped the bounds of what was permissible and tolerable in the eyes of certain circles.

In the early Christian communities some members continued to unproblematically follow the law and participated in the Temple cult (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 21:20). Others, the Hellenists, drew far-reaching consequences that were critical of the law from Jesus own behaviour, His execution and their belief in His resurrection. Their leader Stephen was stoned because of this criticism of the law and the Temple (Acts 6ff). His followers were persecuted and they fled Jerusalem. The persecutors included Saul/Paul. The fact that he was a Pharisee and a fervent follower of the law and as such persecuted the Hellenistic Jewish Christians (Gal 1:13ff; Phil 3:5ff) also throws light on the Hellenists critical attitude towards the law. Understandably, they made the first approach to include heathens in the community of believers without requiring circumcision and following the Mosaic Law (Acts 11:20; Acts 15; Gal 2:22-24).

After Paul himself became a Christian he, more than any early Christian prophet, continued to concern himself with the difficulties of the law and frequently referred to them in his written testimonials. The profession of faith that God has raised Jesus, who had been condemned by the law, from the dead and made Him Lord leads to the conviction that it is not by adhering to the law that all people get to live in God but through the faith in Jesus Christ given by God’s mercy (Gal 2:16; 3:10-14; Rom 1:17; 3:20.24ff). Thus the law does not stop being divine beneficence but as a path to salvation it ends in Christ (Rom 10:4). The ethical instructions remain valid in realising life through faith in Christ, particularly the commandment to love ones neighbour (Gal 5:14; 6:2; Rom 13:8). However, they are valid only by constantly observing the gift of salvation previously granted by God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

In short: Jesus did not negate the Mosaic Law. However, His proclamation of God’s reign fundamentally altered its significance as well as the early Jewish interpretation of the law. Christianity drew various conclusions from Jesus behaviour, execution and resurrection. Particularly significant and momentous here is the Apostle Pauls insight that it is not the law that is the decisive path to salvation but Jesus Christ, whose Holy Spirit is alive in a special way in His Church.

What we have stated clearly answers our question: Jesus’ relativising single commandments of the law, His summing up the entire law into the commandment to love God and ones neighbour to the point of loving ones enemy, and the Churchs stance derived from this regarding the detailed commandments of the Mosaic Law do not signify a rejection of the will of the God of the prophets but is their deepest fulfilment.


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