Jesus and the Old Testament Law

Many times Jesus said He came to bring us a new commandment and that is love. All the rules of the Old Testament religion are replaced by one simple one - Love. Christians however quote the Sermon on the Mount to say that Jesus told us to uphold the Old Testament laws. The opposite is true.

Matthew 5:17-19 (AMP)

Do not think that I came to do away with or undo the [a]Law [of Moses] or the [writings of the] Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For I assure you and most solemnly say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke [of the pen] will pass from the Law until all things [which it foreshadows] are accomplished. 19 So whoever breaks one of the least [important] of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least [important] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Many Christians believe that the above verses means that we should keep the Old Testament rules and regulations. However, if you read the whole Matthew 5 carefully, you will see that Jesus actually said we should no longer follow the Old Testament Law.

Lets start with verse 17 above.

The word 'fulfill' is plēroō

to make replete, that is, (literally) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (figuratively) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish (a period or task), verify (or coincide with a prediction), etc.: - accomplish, X after, (be) complete, end, expire, fill (up), fulfil, (be, make) full (come), fully preach, perfect, supply.

Jesus came to complete it, finish it, to end it and to expire it!

In verse 18 above Jesus says not one letter will fall away until it was accomplished. When was it accomplished? - When Jesus died on the cross (at the time of the sermon, this hasn't taken place yet).

The verse that confuses most Christians is verse 19 ... 'whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments ... will be called the least ... but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great ...'.

Jesus is saying - I did not come to bring a more relaxed version of the mosaic law (Old Testament) - and anyone who teaches that will be called the least. The law needs to stay in tact, and those who taught that will be called great (think of Moses and all the prophets). Jesus needed the law to stay in tact so that He could complete and fulfill it. He needed to fulfill and complete it because He was going to replace it with something new. He was not planning on just relaxing the laws a bit.

The above interpretation is the only one that makes sense. How else can Jesus in one verse say that not on letter of the law should fall away but then in the following verses completely remove and replace certain laws? (see below)

Jesus did not teach a stricter version of the mosaic law, He replaced it!

At first glance you might get the idea that He was making the old laws even more strict. In verse 21 for example He says that you don't physically need to kill someone to break the law, if you do it in your heart you have sinned. So isn't He reinforcing the old laws? No, because if you read a bit further you will see that some other rules He completely replaced with different ones!

In verse 38 He talks about the Old Testament law of 'An Eye for an Eye'. This was an actual law in the Old Testament: Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21 In verse 39 He does not make it more strict, He completely throws it out - replace it with the opposite. What happened to 'not one letter shall fall away'?

Jesus did not teach us to follow the Old Testament law and even made it more strict - He fulfilled the Old Testament Law and then replaced it with something completely different.

A Written Law is Flawed and Imperfect

Any law, especially if you know it well will have loopholes - just think of how attorneys gets criminals to go free. This is exactly what happened with the mosaic law. In Matthew 15:4-5 Jesus talks about how people used a loophole in the law to avoid taking care of their elderly parents.

Jesus replace all the written laws in the Old Testament with a simple new commandment

John 13:34-35

I am giving you a new commandment, that you [a]love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.

With a list of written rules you will be able to find loopholes and shortcuts. With a simple command like 'Love one another' it is not possible. That is what Jesus explained in the sermon on the mount. Several times He gave examples by saying 'You know what the law says, but if you know in your heart it is wrong, if it goes against love, then it is a sin' (used my own wording here).

Read the full Matthew 5 again and it will become clear - Jesus was replacing the old way of doing things with something completely different, something better.

The teaching of Jesus that we should not use a 'written law' in our faith does not only apply to the Old Testament. A lot of Christians use the New Testament to 'write a new list of laws'. They do that because they think every single verse is a commandment from God - it is not - read Is the Bible the Word of God.

Hebrews 8:10-11

I will imprint My laws upon their minds [even upon their innermost thoughts and understanding], And engrave them upon their hearts [effecting their regeneration]. And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. And it will not be [necessary] for each one to teach his fellow citizen, Or each one his brother, saying, ‘Know [by experience, have knowledge of] the Lord,’ For all will know [Me by experience and have knowledge of] Me, From the least to the greatest of them.

The new law is written in our hearts.

The new law is Love - but is the new law even more strict?

The best known example of where people think Jesus made the old rules even more strict is 'even when you look at another woman you have already committed adultery'. Jesus never said that! Lets have a look at what He really said

Matthew 5: 27-28

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who [so much as] looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart

Jesus said if you look at another woman WITH LUST. The word lust is 'epithumeō' and it means to covet, to long for, to lust. The definition of lust is uncontrolled sexual desire. Jesus never said that if you walk on a beach, see a woman and think she looks sexy, that you have sinned. That would be a ridiculous law that no man will be able to live by.

Jesus said that if a married man (He was talking about adultery) secretly longs for and lusts after another woman, if he is unfaithful to his wife in his heart, he has already sinned. It has nothing to do with you can't watch (sexy) music videos or how you should dress on the beach or any other silly rule.

What did Jesus think of people who placed difficult and 'heavy' rules on others? He called them pretenders, hypocrites, serpents and spawn of vipers - read Matthew 23. Jesus is not in the business of creating impossible rules to live by.

If I need to follow a written law of 'do not commit adultery' - then there are hundreds of ways I can still be unfaithful to my wife and convince myself that it is not adultery (having an online affair, flirting, etc).

If however the rule is simply love your wife, then I need to ask myself, if my wife somehow heard this conversation, will she feel hurt and betrayed? Not so easy to find loopholes in this rule!

The opposite is also true. I don't need to follow ridiculous rules - I just need to ask myself, can I do this in love - will I cause harm to myself or anyone else? By the way, causing someone harm and offending someone is not the same thing. Jesus offended a lot of people and did not try to keep everyone happy.

It is no longer about following silly religious rules. It is simply that we should love one another. We no longer need to try and be something we are not.

Gospel of Thomas, Saying 6

His disciples asked him and said to him, "Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?" Jesus said, "Don't lie, and don't do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed