Thursday, May 10, 2018


The Books of Moses (Torah) were not a set of rules for earning salvation. God had already rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt by grace when he gave them. He had given them a new land by grace, too.

The Torah was not a system of salvation by works. It was a way to preserve the deliverance and salvation that they had already received by grace. They needed protection from three things.

  • The tabernacle sacrifices provide them with protection from the spiritual powers of evil.
  • The justice laws provided protection from internal conflict that could tear them apart.
  • The laws of separation and defence provided protection against attacks from the surrounding nations.

Works of Law

Theologians argue about what Paul meant by “works of the law” (Rom 3:20,28; Gal 2:16;3:2,5,10). They argue about which laws the expression describes, but this misses the point. Work of law are "works of law", not "responses to grace". When any law stops being grace for protection, and becomes a work to earn salvation or blessing, it is a work of law. Any law can stop being grace for protection and become an effort to earn blessing by works.

Paul was responding to Jews living under the domination of the Roman empire. This made it impossible to apply the justice laws and the Instructions for Economic Life. In this environment, it was easy to focus on the laws about food and the Sabbath that distinguished them from the Romans.

While living under Roman rule, they did not feel like that had been delivered by race, so it was easy to slip into trying to earn God’s blessing. Without a sense of God grace, it was easy to fall into the trap of turning Sabbath and food laws into works of law.


Paul has been criticised for claiming that the Judaism was faulty. The issue is not that the Torah was faulty, but that it was incomplete and needed to be fulfilled.
  • The tabernacle sacrifices were effective for dealing with the spiritual powers of evil, but they pointed to Jesus. It was because they foreshadowed Jesus perfect sacrifice that they spiritual powers of evil had to accept them. Once Jesus died and rose again the temple sacrifices became redundant, because Jesus sacrifice did every that they tried to do, but more completely. That is why God shut them down in AD 70. When the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus, the temple sacrifices lost their efficaciousness, and the spiritual protection of the people and the temple was lifted.

    If the leaders of modern Israel rebuild the temple and start the sacrifices, they will not be effective for dealing with the spiritual powers of evil, because they would not point to Jesus.

  • The Torah also needed the Holy Spirit to be fulfilled. Without the fruit of the Spirit, loving your neighbour as yourself was almost impossible. Jesus death, resurrection and ascension opened the way for the Holy Spirit to be poured out. The Spirit was able to the Torah on the hearts of those who choose to serve Jesus.

If Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, it was natural that he would change Torah observance.
  • Jesus made the temple sacrifices and priesthood redundant. He expected people to trust his perfect sacrifice and redemption.
  • Jesus modified the Sabbath for an urban culture and re-focussed it on meeting human needs.
  • The feasts were fulfilled by Jesus and replaced with the Lord’s Supper.
  • Food laws were modified to allow his followers to take the gospel into alien cultures.
God’s system of justice and protection remained. Jesus declares that the laws of justice continued to be authoritative.

Jesus confirmed the Instructions for Economic Life and used them to restore village life. When he sent his disciples out on a mission, he told them to go to a village and stay with a person of peace. Their aim was not just to get converts, but to invigorate the Instructions for Economic Life to restore village communities to God’s model for economic life. The disciples took no money with them, so they would be dependent on giving and sharing for their survival. They would give healing and deliverance from evil spirits. The people of the village would give them food and shelter. The experience would jolt them into implementing the Instructions for Economic Life.

Jesus tightened the law for his followers by changing “love your neighbour” into “love one another”.

Big Box

The Torah is a big box. It contains the following.

  • Creation
  • History
  • Patriarchs
  • Genealogies
  • Land distribution
  • Covenant
  • Sacrifices
  • Tabernacle design
  • Priesthood
  • Feasts
  • Vows
  • Blesses and curses
  • Infection control
  • Food rules
  • Instructions for Economic Life
  • Judicial Laws
The judicial laws and the Instructions for Economic Life were really important protecting the peace and welfare of their society.

The Torah was not intended to make people righteous. That could only happen after the cross and the Spirit. The tabernacle sacrifices were given so that unrighteous people could have spiritual protection and be at peace with God.


Although the Torah is grace, not works, Judaism at the time of Jesus and Paul was not really Torah-observant. Being controlled by the Romans, they could not apply the system of justice and defence that God gave in the Torah. They were also neglecting the Instructions for Economic Life. As Jesus pointed out, they were ignoring the weighty parts of the law like justice and economics. Instead, they were obsessed with the less important parts of the law, that distinguished them from the surrounding culture:

  • Food laws
  • Sabbath
  • Circumcision.
Perhaps these were the easiest to practice when living in a strange culture and wanting to be separate from it.

Note: Circumcision was not part of the law. It had been given to Abraham as a way of distinguishing his physical descendants.

Judaism had given up some important parts of the Torah as it accommodated with Roman and Greek culture. The point of the laws of separation was to provide spiritual protection from the evil spirits that surrounding nations carried. Once Jews had moved to living amongst the Romans and Greeks, refusing to eat with them was pointless, because they had already given up the spiritual protection that the Torah provided.


The civil laws in the Torah dealt with the following:
  • Assault
  • Murder
  • Theft
  • False Witness
  • Adultery/sexual immorality
  • Judicial process
  • War
  • Parents
  • Sabbath
  • Mixture
  • God
  • Blasphemy
Some theologians argue that Paul did not tell Jews to stop observing the Torah. They say that he only told the Gentiles to stop being Torah-observant. Once the full scope of the Torah laws is understood, it becomes clear that this is wrong.

Paul taught the Gentiles to obey the weightier parts of the Torah.

  • Paul taught gentile Christians to apply the Instructions for Economic Life. He supported giving and sharing within communities and between communities (2 Cor 8,9; Phil 4:10-19).)

  • Paul taught gentile Christians how to implement the justice and protection laws in their communities (1 Cor 5, 6:1-8; Rom 13:1).

  • He encouraged the application of laws about adultery and sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:9-19).

  • Paul encouraged children to honour their parents (Eph 6:1-3).

  • Paul encouraged a day of rest on the Lord’s day.

  • With regard to food, Paul focussed on meat that had been offered to idols. He explained that this was fine if Christians gave thanks to the Lord. Interestingly, the Torah did not forbid eating meat that had been offered to idols.

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