The apostolic law breakers

This is the fifth (and final) part of my essay on the Christian law.

Despite the previous examples of support shown for the law, the apostles  are occasionally quite negative toward it (and to the old covenant). In Acts, Peter is asked by a group of Jews whether gentiles ought to be circumcised in order to be saved. Peter replies:

Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. (Acts 15:6-11.)

Peter thus regards at least part of the law as a yoke that his people have never been able to bear, and he feels that gentiles should not be expected to observe it.

As we saw previously in this essay, Paul does not consider himself to be under the law:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. (1 Corinthians 9:19-21.)

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul argues again that the old law no longer holds:

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!” (2 Corinthians 3:6-9.)

Returning to Galatians, we see the same idea:

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (Galatians 3:23-25.)

Paul reiterates this view in his letter to the Ephesians:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. (Ephesians 2:14-15.)

In Acts, Peter appears to a group of Jews led by Cornelius. Peter tells them:

You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. (Acts 10:28-29.)

Clearly, Peter feels called by God to break the old law in this case, indicating that it is not a requirement for Christians.

Finally, the author of Hebrews also speaks against the old law:

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. (Hebrews 7:11-12.)

It must be noted that in some of the scriptures quoted above, the apostles do not reject adherence to the law outright, they simply suggest that it is no longer required for salvation, as it was under the old covenant. The view of the apostles as law breakers is, therefore, not a particularly convincing one.

The previous part of this essay.

The introduction to this essay.

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One Response to The apostolic law breakers

  1. RuediG says:

    Keith,
    Good points. The old cultic law as a way to God, or as a way to be identified and separated as a follower of God, did not accomplish its purposes and has been superceded.

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