Christian Objections to Observance of the Law
We now move on to address those Christian objections directed against general observance of the Law.
What are the Christian objections that have been directed against general observance of Law? What is the truth behind these Christian objections. We find out here.
The New Covenant
The classic Christian argument against observance of the Law is based on the new covenant passage of Jeremiah 31:30. Christians read this passage as an annulment to the Law presented at Sinai and the introduction of a new spiritual law. The problems with the Christian interpretation are manifold.
The Truth: Even if the interpretation were true (which it is not), the prophet makes it clear that the new covenant era has yet to begin. The prophet tells us that during the new covenant times all of Israel will know God (Jeremiah 31:33) – something we still look forward to. As of the writing of these words (July 2007), we have yet to enter the new covenant.
Furthermore – the new covenant is not a new Law. Jeremiah was not the only prophet who spoke of the new covenant – Moses spoke of the New Covenant as well. There can be no question that the circumcision of the heart described by Moses (Deuteronomy 30:6) stands as a direct parallel to the new covenant of Jeremiah. Both are set in the context of the last days (Deuteronomy 30:1 – note the parallel to Deuteronomy 4:30, Jeremiah 31:26 – note the parallel to Ezekiel 36:11,12). Both describe the return to the land (Deuteronomy 30:3, Jeremiah 31:22). Both describe the great blessing of the land, and God’s joy in bestowing that blessing (Deuteronomy 30:9, Jeremiah 31:27). Both; the circumcision of the heart spoken of by Moses, and the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah result in a remaking of the nation’s heart for everlasting loyalty (Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 31:32).
In the context of this new covenant, Moses describes our observance in the end times as “obeying all that I (Moses) command you today” (Deuteronomy 30:8) – hardly a new Law.
Observance in the Land of Israel
Another of these Christian objections presented in an effort to render observance of the Law dispensable, focuses on Moses’ words in the book of Deuteronomy. Moses describes the Law as that which ought to be observed in the land – namely the Land of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:1, 12:1). The Christian argument then is that outside of the Land of Israel, the Law need not be observed.
The Truth: The truth is that there are quite a number of commandments that are only pertinent in the land of Israel. These passages in Deuteronomy, are followed by the commandment to destroy the idols in the newly conquered land (7:1-6, 12:2-4). The commandments relating to the tithes (Deuteronomy 12:6-12, 17-19, 14:22-29, 18:4, 26:12-15), the Sabbatical year (Deuteronomy 15:1-11), the cities of refuge (Deuteronomy. 19:1-10), and first-fruits (Deuteronomy 26:1-11) are all pertinent only in the land. The totality of the commandments can only be fully observed in the land. But all the commandments which are not linked to the land are applicable wherever we live. The Torah makes this clear in Deuteronomy 30:2, where Moses tells us that by obeying the commandments we will merit to return to the land – it is evident that obedience to the commandments is demanded from us while we are yet in exile.
The “legal loopholes” of Rabbinic Judaism
The last of the Christian objections that missionaries present to justify an abandonment of the Law, is based upon the unsound maxim of “two wrongs make a right”. Missionaries argue that the religious leaders of the Jewish people have also abandoned the Law. In some cases the missionaries contend that they have simply ceased to observe the Law, while in others they are accused of creating legal loopholes which effectively negate the authority of the Law. While these do not justify an abandonment of the Law on behalf of Christianity, this does represent a serious accusation against Judaism. Let us then examine this accusation.
The Truth: As an example, let us focus on one of the situations in which missionaries accuse Israel of abandoning the Law in the application of capital punishment. The Talmud reports that when murder became rife in the later years of the Second Temple, the courts ceased to administer capital punishment (Avoda Zora 8b). Is this an abandonment of the Law? Did any Jewish leader declare the Law to be null and void? The Talmud itself painstakingly records all of the details of the laws of capital punishment. It is clear that the Rabbis recognized the eternal nature of these laws. It was only in the realm of application that the Rabbis applied their understanding of the totality of the Law, and decided that in that limited situation the Law does not apply. This is well within the jurisdiction of our judges to decide. God explicitly appointed them arbitrators in matters of application of the Law (Deuteronomy 17:10). There is no way this example can be used to justify a wholesale abandonment of the Law.
The legal loopholes which the missionaries ridicule are not what they seem to be at first glance. The example most often cited by the missionary is the Prozbul instituted by Hillel. The Torah ordains that all debts be annulled in the Sabbatical year (Deuteronomy 15:2). The Talmud tells us that when Hillel saw that people refrained from lending to the poor for fear of losing their money, he instituted the Prozbul. By writing a Prozbul, the loan is effectively transferred to the hands of the courts to whom the nullification of debts does not apply (Gittin 36a). At first glance, it seems that Hillel invented a legal fiction to neutralize the Law of God. But this is not so. The laws of the Sabbatical years were part of a fifty-year cycle spelled out in the book of Leviticus (25:1-24). This fifty-year cycle was only relevant when the land of Israel was apportioned to the twelve tribes. One of the main functions of the Jubilee year was the return of the land to the proper tribal inheritance. This was only relevant during the First Temple era, when each tribe had its designated portion. In the times of the Second Temple, the majority of the nation was still in Babylon. The only tribes that were represented in the Land of Israel were the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The fifty-year cycle could no longer be observed. Still, in order to preserve the spirit of the Law, the leadership of the nation instituted that the nation continue to maintain the seven-year cycle despite the fact that the full fifty-year cycle could not be followed. Thus, during Hillel’s time, the nullification of debts was not a biblically ordained law, it was only a rabbinical institution. In light of the fact that this law was not biblical in nature, Hillel was able to circumvent it. This legal loophole serves to reinforce the distinction between biblical law and rabbinical institutions. Instead of circumventing the Law of scripture as the missionaries contend, these loopholes actually sustain the supremacy of Torah.
This post was originally posted here.