The Law of God as found in the pages of the Old Testament was intended for Adam, then Noah, then Abraham and finally for the nation of Israel at the time of the Exodus. Its application lasted until the death of Christ on the tree of crucifixion. That Law was holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12). But the apostle Paul said that the Law in the Old Testament was intended by God for people who were spiritual infants, mere children in the faith. It was not to be used for determining righteousness once Christ Jesus died for the sins of the world.
Christ introduced a new concept of religious practice which Paul called “the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This new Law of Christ is not an outwardly written law to be read on tables of stone, but is written upon the hearts of Christians and manifested by their observance of the nine fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). This was the Law for Christians that Paul established in his letters to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians. It replaced the written Law of the Old Testament — with the Ten Commandments and subsidiary Laws given to Israel.
Some people feel the Law can never be changed, even to the crossing of a “t” or the dotting of an “i.” Those who believe this will be shocked at what the Bible says. The Law of God can be changed and parts abolished if God so desires. This is Progressive Revelation in action.
To show that the Law of God can be changed, or even abolished, it is necessary to see how historically the Law of God started, developed, and finally became the Old Covenant. We need to see how the Law was changed and altered from time to time from Adam to Noah. It later changed:
The former Law of God changed quite often, with additions and/or deletions, throughout the various periods associated with the men just mentioned.
Some people, however, have the mistaken notion that the Law of God can never change in any way. That belief is sheer nonsense and has not the slightest validity in the biblical revelation. Why, God can change and alter His Law any time He pleases. He can change whole sections, or He can revise small and minor points. God is not restricted in matters dealing with His Law and assumes all authority to add to, or eliminate precepts from His Law at any time.
The Law of God in the Old Testament was a very flexible piece of legislation that changed dramatically when God saw the need for such alterations. The Law of God is not the universally consistent piece of legislation (with an eternal permanence associated with it) that a few “law-keeping” Christians have erroneously taught. The Law of God changed dramatically, and often, from Adam to Christ.
To understand this matter clearly, we need to be reminded that when the apostle Paul talked about the Law of God, he plainly stated that Christians were no longer “under the law.” He then gave an illustration from that Law, of Sarah and Hagar recorded in Genesis (Galatians 4:21–31). This reference of Paul to the Law was long before Moses established the Old Covenant at Mount Sinai. The Book of Genesis itself was reckoned by Jews and by biblical authorities as the first book of the Law. The Law of God, commands of God given to man, begins with the first chapters of Genesis, not with the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus where the Ten Commandments and subsidiary laws were given for the nation of Israel.
What is the very first Law of God found in Holy Scriptures? The first Law is found in Genesis 2:16–17, with both a positive and a negative command. It is,
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [bad], you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.’”
God also recorded a judgment upon man if he would ever disobey God’s command and eat of the forbidden tree. That was “For in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.” Paul said that mankind found that this Law (indeed, any Law of God) was impossible to keep or to save a person. Before long, Adam and Eve were eating of the forbidden fruit and the Law, meant to keep them alive, espoused death for them. Spiritually that “death” of Adam spread to embrace the whole human race (Romans 5:12–21). This doctrinal fact is a prime teaching of the apostle Paul.
In the period from Adam to Noah, there were a few other laws of God recorded in the Holy Scriptures. There were laws against
Jewish theologians put these early laws into one package, with a few other laws and called them the “Laws of Noah.” These laws, mentioned especially around the time of Noah, were the only ones that Jews in Christ’s time (and even today) felt that all Gentile nations were specifically required to observe for a right relationship with God. In the time of Noah, no other laws were mentioned in the Scriptures as necessary to be kept. For example, the Sabbath was not a requirement during the first 2,500 years of man’s existence. There was no command in Genesis 2 that said that humans were required to observe the Sabbath day as God did on the seventh day of creation. 1
From the records found in the Bible, there were very few requirements in the worship of God until the time of Abraham, and even then it was only when Abraham was given the circumcision covenant at 99 years of age that real physical ritual became a necessity. However, the selection of Abraham and his family as a special group demanded that distinct laws regulate their lives before God.
Thus Abraham and his family (along with his later descendants) came into a unique relationship with the creator. No longer could Abraham or his seed act like their neighbors around them. They were set apart and sanctified as special people in the eyes of God. This meant that the simple laws revealed before the time of Abraham which allowed mankind to be in a proper relationship with God were no longer sufficient to please God as far as Abraham and his family were concerned. This is a clear example of God changing His mind about His Laws. The Law of God began to take on new proportions with extra and different commands and laws from the time of Abraham to Moses. The differences are very great.
With the introduction of the covenant of circumcision between God and man (specifically with Abraham and his seed), religious requirements became more ritualistic and distinctive. Later, when Moses was commissioned by God to give the Israelites His Old Covenant revelation, elaborate ceremonialism became even more pronounced with a vast amount of new laws coming into existence.
Let us look at the dissimilarities and see how God altered His laws many times. So, when you ask about the need to keep God’s Law, you first must determine what period of Law (and what laws) you mean. In no way are “laws of God” eternal or for application at all periods of time or for all people. One must be careful and not make such erroneous evaluations. Note some major differences.
The differences between the religious system of the patriarchs and that of Moses were dramatic. If a religious Israelite after the time of Moses could have been transported back to Abraham’s time and witnessed Abraham (not knowing who he was) performing his religious duties, he would have called him an unconverted heathen. And though it is made clear in the Scriptures that God knew Abraham “obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:5), those laws (the Law of God in Abraham’s time) were very different from those later laws commanded to Moses and to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.
Indeed, for Abraham’s first 99 years of life he was not circumcised, later
What God did in the time of Moses was to rescind the religious requirements of the Patriarchal period in favor of stricter laws ordained in the time of Moses. The two religious systems were so completely different that if one were to mix the teachings together, utter contradiction and confusion would result. There is no compatibility at all between the two systems.
However, some people today are so conservative in their views that they will not allow God to establish new religious systems different from previous ones. They cannot believe God would ever change ritualistic or ceremonial teachings that He once gave to His people. In no way is this true biblical teaching. Certainly God does not change His mind in overall philosophical matters that dominate His character and personality (Malachi 3:6), but He most decidedly changed His own religious systems in the past when He saw fit.
God uses the principle of Progressive Revelation throughout the Bible. God has introduced new and progressively more mature systems of worship adding and deleting them as He pleases. This is seen when we distinguish the essential differences between the Patriarchal System of religious requirements and the Mosaic System, two patterns of conduct dissimilar and utterly distinct.
The other prime example of such vast changes in God’s laws, commandments, and teachings is God’s change from the Mosaic System to the advanced Christian System which depends not on Mosaic Law, but on the merits of grace. Diversities between the Mosaic and the Christian Systems are so pronounced that the two cannot be compared in a systematic sense. There is as much difference between the teachings of Christianity and Moses as there is between the Mosaic and the Patriarchal Systems.
People should recognize this biblical teaching of Progressive Revelation and apply the newer teachings if they ever hope to understand what God now requires of them.
It is normal for some Christian societies who want to retain the Ten Commandments as the basic constitution of their legal system to state that those ten laws are eternal commands of God that can in no way be changed or altered. While they are willing to let other laws be modified or eliminated (such as circumcision), they would not believe for a moment that a single one of the Ten Commandments could be changed, even by God Himself. This, however, is limiting God, and even challenges Him and His authority to do as He pleases as any time He pleases.
While this belief of special sanctity attached to the Ten Commandments may look quite proper on the surface, people who adopt such a belief are as wrong as can be. Even in the Old Testament itself God changed some of the Ten Commandments or they were modified to include exceptions to the rule.
Note the Second Commandment. A part of that command is that God will “visit the iniquity of the fathers unto the children unto the fourth generation.” But just a generation later God altered this part of the Commandment when a father committed a capital crime.
“The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.”
Indeed, this part of the Ten Commandments was prophesied by Jeremiah the prophet to be eliminated altogether from the Law of God (Jeremiah 31:29–30) and this was confirmed by God in the time of Ezekiel the prophet.
“Does not the son bear the iniquity of the father [as stated in the Ten Commandments]? When the son has done that which is lawful and right, and has kept all my statutes, and has done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sins, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
Now, this is a major change in one of the Ten Commandments. Further, the command of passing down the iniquity of the father to the fourth generation did not apply in New Testament times. Paul said:
“And the woman which has a husband that believes not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”
1 Corinthians 7:13–14
Children were reckoned as “holy” even if one of the parents was not. Iniquity was not automatically passed down to the children any longer. These statements by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the apostle Paul represent a clear alteration in the strict wording and and command of the Second Commandment.
The Second Commandment also stated dogmatically that there was to be no “graven image” and no “likeness of anything in heaven,” in earth, or “in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). But this command did not have universal application, as so many believe today. There were clear exceptions to this command.
These things, of course, were done inside the Tabernacle or Temple. This shows that the part of the Second Commandment forbidding any kind of images does not apply within the House of God itself. So, God does modify His commands for certain circumstances, or He gives exceptions to the rule if He is the One who is doing it. These changes, however, do not show the eternal and universal inviolability of the Ten Commandments as some people imagine.
There is more. Look at the Third Commandment. It says that God “will not hold him guiltless [the person will be guilty] who takes God’s name in vain.” But Christ said that all blasphemy can now be forgiven (Mark 3:28–29), except that against the Holy Spirit.
The Eighth Commandment said “Thou shalt not steal,” but God told the Israelites a few years later to take spoil of the Midianites (steal the property of the Midianites, Numbers 31:1, 9–11, 25ff). Taking booty of war from non-Israelites was not considered as having an application in the Eighth Commandment.
The Tenth Commandment said, “Covet not thy neighbour’s house.” But God told Israel to take over the whole land (houses and all) of the Canaanites and uproot them totally. Again, in war with non-Israelites these commands were not to be in force.
Even the Seventh Commandment must be interpreted within the framework of the society that then existed. Its interpretation varied quite extensively even within the period of the Bible. For example, though the command said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” Abraham (and others including Moses himself) had more than one wife and/or concubines. These sexual encounters with various women were not looked on as adultery. King David had several legitimate wives, but he did not commit adultery by sleeping with all of them until he took Bathseba, another man’s wife.
Later, however, the apostle Paul made it a clear teaching of God that no leader of an ekklesia (that is, a congregation of Christians) should have more than one wife at a time (1 Timothy 3:2), though Paul did not forbid plural marriages for other Christians. If, on the other hand, the custom of Christian congregations at the time of Paul was to forbid any Christian man to have more than one wife at a time (like we normally do today), no matter if he were laity or ordained, then the limit of one wife at a time that Paul placed on a leader in the Christian community would have been irrelevant. The early New Testament ekklesia allowed plural marriages (though not for leaders of congregations).
Why, even God Himself entered into plural marriages and some cardinal doctrines involving the Millennium (showing how Christ will rule on earth at that time, depend on applying the laws concerning plural marriages as found in the Holy Scriptures. 3
The implied point I wish to make by introducing this subject is to show that a man with four wives (as Muslims are permitted in Islam), in applying the words of the Ten Commandments, would not commit adultery until he had sex with a fifth woman who was not his legal wife. These allowances are all within the boundaries of meaning and intent within the Ten Commandments. In mentioning this, let me state categorically that I have no ulterior covert motives in referring to these proper interpretations of God’s holy laws. The sad fact is, though, this true understanding is often disregarded by preachers, priests, and ministers who give their own judgments as to what constitutes adultery in our present societies. This is wrong.
There is also the command to keep the Sabbath. We will discuss the Fourth Commandment (the Holy Sabbath day) at length in due course. But for now, let me say that when God commanded that “thou shalt not do any work,” God meant “any work”! We find later legislation in the Holy Scriptures which shows that God meant not to perform any business whatever. Even the striking of a match to light a fire — which, by extension, means not to turn on the heat in your home, use the lights, make up the beds, wash a single dish or utensil.
People who claim to be ardent “Sabbath keepers” today violate almost all these commandments of God on how to keep His Sabbath day and they have not the slightest shame in breaking them. Their church authorities have made up their own “Talmud” of what a person can or cannot do on the Sabbath. And in most cases, what the church authorities “allow” are opposite the plain statements of the Holy Scriptures on Sabbath-keeping.
People continually change the meaning of the laws of God to make them adaptable to modern societies. This happens in so-called law-keeping groups all the time. I am pointing out the biblical fact that even the Ten Commandments have been changed by God (with several exceptions being granted within the meaning of the laws).
It is folly to say that God cannot change any law or command that He wishes if circumstances have changed from those that required the former legislation. Not even the Ten Commandments are eternal or of universal application because they have undergone revisions made by God.
It may at first seem almost impossible to believe, but God Himself admitted that He gave Israel laws at the time of Moses that were not good, and judgments that were counter to the welfare and benefit of the Israelites. Because the Israelites did not like to keep the Sabbaths and other judgments that God (that is, the angelic hosts) gave to Israel at the time of Moses, God deliberately and with dogmatism gave some very bad and destructive laws for Israel to keep. God commanded they observe these laws to learn a lesson from Him. God said:
“Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were NOT GOOD, and judgments whereby THEY SHOULD NOT LIVE; And I polluted them in their own [sacrificial] gifts.”
God’s severity “gave them such laws.” Do not make the mistake of saying that God gave them up to their own human ways as though the people themselves were responsible for devising those statutes and judgments. In no way is that true. The text plainly states that it was God Himself who “gave them statutes and judgments that were NOT GOOD.” In conformity with His statement in Isaiah 45:7, God commanded Israel to perform terrible statutes and judgments (actually evils).
Read Ezekiel 20:26–44. According to God’s own Holy Scriptures, God gave Israel statutes that were not good. God even commanded idolatry in the Temple (Exodus 25:18–22), and alas, even the extermination of the Canaanite children (Deuteronomy 3:2, with 6). Yes, some of God’s laws were not good!
There is a clever device many “Law-keepers” use to show distinction between other biblical laws and the Ten Commandments — which they feel are the basic constitution of God, and can never be changed or altered in any way. They differentiate some biblical laws into a category of being subsidiary laws, given to Moses as ritualistic actions to govern ancient Israel in their infancy. True, just after God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, Moses recorded a number of other laws at the same time that directed the religious observances of Israel.
These other laws were given the title by some as the “Law of Moses.” Some separate them from the “Law of God” that the Ten Commandments is supposed to represent in an exclusive sense. They, by their own authority and without sanction from God, arrogantly state that some laws are superior to others.
Here again, people who assume such an interpretation are very wrong. Remember, the Holy Scriptures themselves tell us what represents the “Law of the Lord” (that is, “God’s Law”). The “Law of Moses” is called nothing less than the “Law of the Lord” in the New Testament itself, and this designation included the sacrifice of animals at the Temple in Jerusalem.
“And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him [Christ Jesus] to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord; And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
And to make sure that people did not distinguish between the Law of Moses and the Law of the Lord, Luke finally states:
“And when they [Joseph and Mary] had performed all things [animal sacrifices, etc.] according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.”
It is time to get rid of the absurd interpretation of the Law of Moses and the Law of the Lord are two different laws. Indeed, even the laws that governed Adam, Noah, and also the Patriarchs were the “Law of the Lord.” All these were “God’s Law” and to break even a minor law was equal in God’s eyes to breaking all the Law (James 2:10).
Some people also assume that once the Law of God was codified and made holy in the time of Moses at Mount Sinai, that the Law of God could never have editions. But the Bible shows in no uncertain terms that the Law was added to when later circumstances demanded it.
In the time of Samuel, in order to give new laws that God designed to govern the kingdom of Saul and then David, Samuel opened the Book of the Law and added sections to it that pertained to the Kingdom of Israel then being developed.
“Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a [the] book, and laid it up before the Lord.”
1 Samuel 10:25
Samuel actually wrote the new laws about the Kingdom (now found in Deuteronomy 17:14–20) and placed them in the Book of the Law of God which was in the Sanctuary (Deuteronomy 31:9, 17:18). Indeed, Samuel had an example of another righteous person doing the same thing. Joshua also added new teachings to the Law. “Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God” (Joshua 24:26).
As a matter of fact, when Ezra the priest in the 5th century before Christ finally canonized the Old Testament, he not only added all the later books to the Old Testament canon [which then represented the Law of God], but Ezra went through the first five books of Moses and made a number of additions to the Law where he thought it necessary. This editing by Ezra, and the addition of biblical books, was under the approbation and command of Almighty God and Christ Jesus agreed with it. 4
These early changes and modifications (and even outright deletions) in some laws, including the Ten Commandments, show that there was nothing extraordinary in the procedure of God when He substituted the Law of God that existed from Adam to Christ, with the new unwritten Law of Christ. This took place when God established proper factors of the New Covenant with Israel and Judah at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. The first phase of the New Covenant with Israel was not even established in a definite manner until the night before the crucifixion. The full New Covenant stipulated with Israel will only be made with Israel at the Second Advent of Christ back to this earth.
The whole ministry of Christ while He was in the flesh was not the new Christian message finally taught by Peter, John, and Paul. Christ’s earthly ministry and teachings were nothing more than the final application of the Law of God that existed from Adam to Moses, and then from the time of Christ before His crucifixion. It is most important that all who love the teachings of the Holy Scriptures understand this fact.
What we find in the Bible is precisely what the apostle Paul taught — that the Bible is partitioned into various sections of doctrines and laws, and that some of those teachings and codes apply only to certain people and not to others. To appreciate and understand the Holy Scriptures properly, the apostle Paul said that we should be “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Yes, the Bible teachings should be “divided” (or partitioned) to know what parts pertain to us, and what parts are intended for others on the earth and not to us. Remember, in “dividing” the word of truth, one must do it “rightly” and not in a wrong way.
While every bit of the Bible is holy and inspired, some parts of Scripture no longer apply for those mature Christians who have advanced into spiritual adulthood in Christ. This is the simple teaching of the apostle Paul. It is the practice of Progressive Revelation that God uses in a way that best pleases Him. We should never challenge God when He changes laws (or even eliminates them). That is His divine right and He is very jealous to exercise His prerogative with all the freedom that He can muster.
The next chapter explains how the ministry of Christ was intended for physical Israel alone within an Old Covenant environment and that most of those early teachings of Christ are not intended for any Christians today. To apply today many of the early laws and commands that Christ gave to physical Israel is actually very wrong. This would be a prime example of wrongly applying Paul’s teaching to always be “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The proper application of Progressive Revelation from God changes things.
1 God was not giving an example for man to follow, else man would have had to duplicate the acts of God on the other six days of creation, and of course, no man has such a command from God, or the ability to perform such creative acts. ELM
2 See my book The Tithing Dilemma, available free at http://www.askelm.com/tithing/index.asp. ELM
3 I will have more to say on this important subject later in the book, and how significant it becomes in explaining the essential doctrines of God in His divine relationship to human beings. I do not advocate polygamy. I personally think such marriage arrangements are not conducive to good harmonious relationships within a family; and are usually horrendous for women with normal emotional needs who are involved in such unions. In spite of this judgment on my part, no Old or New Testament teaching expressly forbids such marriages. ELM
4 See my book Restoring the Original Bible where this is explained in detail. ELM
Order our Book: Essentials of New Testament Doctrine to read all the chapters.
© 1976-2021 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions