“Jehovah is our Lawgiver”

There was a time when there was no law. And, then humankind was created and law came into being. The first commandment ever uttered to humankind by God was: “Become fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” [Genesis 1:28] The second law with a sanction was: “You must not eat from the Tree of the knowing of good and bad, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.” [Genesis 2:17] It was first then that it might be said as the prophet Isaiah later proclaimed: “Yehowah is our Judge. Yehowah is our Lawgiver. Yehowah is our King.” [Isaiah 33:22 NCMM; James 4:12]

The word “law” may be defined as a rule of conduct for which there is a punishment if the law be broken or disobeyed. In Hebrew the word for “law” is generally TORAH though there are also synonyms, such as commandment, regulation, judicial decision. The word “law” occurs about 600 times in the Bible. The first occurrence is at Exodus 12:49 where it occurs in the context of the Passover meal of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt: “A single law is to exist for both the [Israelite] and the stranger who resides among you.” [NCMM]

What is the purpose of law?

It is not created for law-abiding persons, that is, righteous people who automatically do not violate any law. Law comes into existence because of law-breakers. So, a 1st Century Jewish rabbi wrote: “Law does not exist for the righteous person, but rather for the lawless, rebellious, irreverent, sinners, unholy, profane, mother-killers, father-killers, murderers, prostitutors, bedders of males, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and any other thing opposed to healthy teaching.” [1 Timothy 1:9, 10 NCMM] Thus, if all persons were righteous there would be no need for any kind of law. For example, if people - out of kindness and reason - naturally drove at safe speeds, there would be no need for speed limits enforced by police.

The words “law” and “commandment[s]” occur most often in what are called the Books of Moses - 170 times from Exodus to Deuteronomy, and most often in the later, a Bible book named after the Greek meaning for “Second Law.” After the Passover mentioned above, about the year 1512 BC, millions of Israelites entered into the Law Covenant with their God Yehowah at the foot of Mount Sinai. As a people they agreed to observe ALL of God’s laws and commandments if they would become a “holy nation of royal priests.” Their agreement is expressed at Exodus 19:5-8,

“’And now if you [Israelites] will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you [Israelites] will certainly become my special property out of all [other] peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me. And you [Israelites] yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you are to say to the sons of Israel.’ So Moses came and called the older men of the people and set before them all these words that Jehovah had commanded him. After that all the people answered unanimously and said: ‘All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.’" [NWT]

Thus, the Law Covenant was born. It was a law with a prime constitution of Ten Commandments as well as about 600 other regulations and commandments. They covered a wide spectrum from morals to rituals, from foods clean and unclean, to precise outlines for ceremonial worship.

Before his death the great leader of the Hebrews, Moses, under inspiration, established the blessings and cursings based on whether the Israelites obeyed ALL of these laws and commandments. Read these in Deuteronomy chapter 28. Deuteronomy 28:1, 2, 15 itself promised:

"And it must occur that if you [individual Israelites] will without fail listen to the voice of Jehovah your God by being careful to do all his commandments that I am commanding you today, Jehovah your God also will certainly put you high above all other nations of the earth. And all these blessings must come upon you and overtake you, because you keep listening to the voice of Jehovah your God. … And it must occur that if you [individual Israelites] will not listen to the voice of Jehovah your God by taking care to do all his commandments and his statutes that I am commanding you today, all these maledictions must also come upon you and overtake you.” [NWT]

For over 1,500 years the Israelites - later called the Jews - professed to live according to these laws. The sad fact is that by far the majority throughout most of this period failed to observe all of these laws. Thus, it was destined that “curses” would befall the Jews. Indeed, it reached a point about the 7th Century BC that one of the Israelites’ greatest prophets said: “We [Israelites] have for a long time become as those over whom You [Yehowah] do not rule.” [Isaiah 63:19]

Moses’ Law Regarding a New Prophet

Among all of these hundreds of laws, there was one particular one that would prove to be a real curse to a particular generation of Jews, and, indeed, all those Jews to follow. It was the words of the greatest of all Hebrew lawgivers and prophets, Moses. Speaking for Yehowah the God of the Israelites, Moses said: “A prophet I shall raise up for them from the midst of their brothers, like you [Moses]; and I shall indeed put my words in his mouth, and he will certainly speak to them all that I shall command him. And it must occur that the [Israelite] man who will not listen to my words that he will speak in my name, I shall myself require an account from him.” [Deuteronomy 18:18, 19 NWT] Thus, a time would come when God would use a new prophet, greater than Moses, who would speak words other than those commandments in the Law of Moses.

Just so, at the beginning of the 1st Century AD that prophet greater than Moses showed up right on time in the person of Jesus the Nazarene. He was, of course, a Jew whose lineage stretched back through all the great Hebrews as his forefathers. Paul writes of this: “When the time was fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born subject to Law.” [Galatians 4:4 Weymouth Translation] As a man born to be “subject to the Law of Moses” we would expect that he would observe those original laws and commandments given through Moses. Thus, he kept all of the Ten Commandments and those other regulars among the 600 that applied to him.

What did Jesus the Nazarene have to say about this Law into which he was born? In his first public sermon to his fellow Jews, Jesus told them: "Do not for a moment suppose that I have come to abrogate the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abrogate them but to give them their completion. Solemnly I tell you that until Heaven and earth pass away, not one iota or smallest detail will pass away from the Law until all has taken place.” [Matthew 5:17, 18 Weymouth Translation] What did the Nazarene mean?

The word “until” indicates a time when this Law of Moses will no longer exist. Jesus says that the purpose of his coming was not to destroy the TORAH, but rather to fulfill it. How did he do this? First, by keeping the TORAH perfectly, something no other Jew had ever done. In his mountain sermon the Nazarene rabbi gave commentaries on several portions of the TORAH. These included Exodus 20:13, Exodus 20:14, Deuteronomy 24:1, Numbers 30:3, Exodus 21:24, and Leviticus 19:18. In doing so, he went to the kernel or fundamental principles of these Laws. For example, on the law on murder, he discussed hate; on the law on adultery, he discussed passion.

Second, by fulfilling certain features of the Law of Moses, particularly as a sin-offering Sacrifice to whom all the Law pointed. [Luke 22:44] Such was foretold by Isaiah chapter 53 where Messiah is designated as a sin-offering or sacrifice. Jesus taught that the Law served a particular purpose only until the coming of John the Baptist. For example, the Nazarene says, "The TORAH and the Prophets were until John. …Indeed, it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one particle of a letter of the Law to go unfulfilled.” [Luke 16:16, 17 NWT] In Jesus all the Law was fulfilled. [Romans 8:4; 13:8, 10]

When asked which was the greatest of the Laws of Moses, the Nazarene answered, citing two: “And one of [the Jews], versed in the Law [of Moses], asked, testing [Jesus]: “’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ He said to him: ‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this, 'You must love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.’" [Matthew 22:35-40 NWT] Later one of the inspired disciples of the Nazarene was to explain that all the Law of Moses was “fulfilled” in one commandment: “For the entire Law has been obeyed [or, “fulfilled”] when you have kept the single precept, which says, ‘You are to love your fellow man equally with yourself.’” [Weymouth Translation]

Were Christians, Jews and Non-Jews, Under the Law?

After the Messiah Jesus “fulfilled” the Law of Moses, how was it to be viewed by his disciples? It took the inspired Jewish rabbi Paul of Tarsus to discuss this subject in all its detail. For example, the word “law” occurs scores of times in just his letter to the Romans. But, first, when Paul speaks of “law” what does he mean? Though Paul uses the word “law” in several contexts, when he means the Law of Moses, he includes the Ten Commandments. [Romans 2:18-22; 7:7; 13:8, 9] So, Paul does not divide the Law of Moses into a moral and ceremonial law. Like his fellow Jew and Christian, James, he agrees, “For whoever observes all the Law but stumbles in one point has become guilty of [breaking] all of them.” [James 2:10 NCMM] Or, as the Weymouth Translation puts it: “A man who has kept the Law as a whole, but has failed to keep some one command, has become guilty of violating all.” Thus, a person who breaks the Sabbath law just once is the same as a murderer or adulterer.

Paul writes that the Law of Moses is only for those who as Jews are under the Law: “But it cannot be denied that all that the Law says is addressed to those who are living under the Law, in order that every mouth may be stopped, and that the whole world may await sentence from God. For on the ground of obedience to Law no man living will be declared righteous before Him. Law simply brings a sure knowledge of sin.” [Romans 3:19, 20 Weymouth Translation] He also here states, as he does elsewhere, that by observance of the Law of Moses no one can be declared “not guilty” by God.

What was the Purpose of the Law of Moses, Then?

Its purpose could only relate to those who were related to those who had originally vowed to keep all the Law before Mount Sinai - Jews themselves. And this only up to that moment before Jesus the Nazarene fulfilled the Law. In Romans 5:20 Paul explains the Law’s purpose: “Now Law was brought in later on, so that transgression might increase. But where sin increased, grace has overflowed.” [Weymouth Translation] He does this again with a different approach at Galatians 3:19, “Why then was the Law given? It was imposed later on [after the Abrahamic covenant] for the sake of defining sin, until the seed should come to whom God had made the promise; and its details were laid down by a mediator with the help of angels.” [Weymouth Translation] The word “until” indicates a time when the Law would have served its purpose and no longer be binding. Paul continues in this vein:

“Before this faith came [in the year 29 AD], we Jews were perpetual prisoners under the Law, living under restraints and limitations in preparation for the faith which was soon to be revealed. So that the Law has acted the part of a tutor-slave to lead us [Jews] to Christ, in order that through faith we [Jews] may be declared to be free from guilt. But now that this faith has come, we [Jews] are no longer under a tutor-slave.” [Weymouth Translation]

Thus, according to Paul, the Jews are no longer under the Law of Moses, and have been released from the curse of the Law. Note this in Galatians 3:13, 14:

“Christ has purchased our freedom from the curse of the Law by becoming accursed for us [Jews]--because ‘Cursed is every one who is hanged upon a tree.’ Our freedom has been thus purchased in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing belonging to Abraham may come upon the nations, so that through faith we [Jews] may receive the promised Spirit.” [Weymouth Translation]

What about Jewish Christians in General?

Are they bound to observe the Law of Moses, including its Ten Commandments? Must they observe annual festivals such as the Passover, the Day of Atonement, or the Feast of Booths? Must they keep the Sabbath [Friday 6 PM to Saturday 6 PM]? Must their sons continue to be circumcised? Paul makes the answer clear in his letter to the Romans:

“For Sin shall not be lord over you [Jews], since you [Jews] are subjects not of Law, but of grace. Are we [Jews] therefore to sin because we [Jews] are no longer under the authority of Law, but under grace? No, indeed!” [Romans 6:14, 15 Weymouth Translation]

And again:

“Do you [Jews] not know, brethren -- for I am speaking to those [Jews] who know the law --that the law is binding on a [Jewish] person only during his life? … Likewise, my brethren, you [Jews] have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. … But now we [Jews] are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we [Jews] serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” [Romans 7:1, 4, 6 Revised Standard Version]

And still again:

“For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.” [Romans 10:4 Revised Standard Version]

Only the Jews were under the Law of Moses. After Messiah fulfilled the TORAH, Jews were no longer under the Law. It was no longer binding upon them. They were dead to it. The Messiah ended, completed, or fulfilled the Law so that it was as binding on a Jew as that “law of a husband” who had died. [Romans 7:1-4]

Elsewhere Paul writes in a consistent manner. At 1 Corinthians 9:20, he states: “I myself am not under [the] Law [of Moses].” Galatians 2:16, 19:

“{You Jews] know that it is not through obedience to Law that a man can be declared free from guilt, but only through faith in Jesus Christ. We [Jews] have therefore believed in Christ Jesus, for the purpose of being declared free from guilt, through faith in Christ and not through obedience to Law. For through obedience to Law no human being shall be declared free from guilt. …For it is by the Law that I [as a Jew] have died to the Law, in order that I may live to God.” [Revised Standard Version]

And finally in Ephesians 2:15-17,

“For he is our peace, the One who took down the fence [of the Law] walling us [non-Jews] off -- he made ineffectual this animosity [of the Law] by his flesh -- the dogmatic law of the commandments [of Moses] -- so that he might create the two [Jew and non-Jew] into one new person in himself, and he might completely pacify both into one body to The God through the stake, having killed the animosity [of the Law] himself.” [NCMM Paraphrase]

At this point some will use the word “commandments” as applying to the Law of Moses in affect in the Christian Church. Let us examine also the word “commandments.” It is true that Paul uses the word “commandment[s]” with regard to the Law of Moses. [Romans 7:8-12] In the context of Jewish circumcision, Paul also writes: “The Circumcision is nothing, and the Uncircumcision is nothing, but observance of God’s commandments [is something].” [NCMM] When Paul mentions “God’s commandments” does he mean the Law of Moses? How could this be the case when Paul writes that such commandments are abolished or set aside? [Ephesians 2;15; Hebrews 7:18]

The apostle John helps us here to understand what “God’s commandments” are within the Christian Church. Though the beloved apostle uses the word “commandment[s]” often in his first epistle [1 John 2:3, 4, 7, 8] he makes it clear these are new, and not the old Mosaic commandments. 1 John 3:23 summarizes these commandments of God:

“Now this is His commandment: first, we believe and trust in the name of His Son Jesus Christ; and, second, love one another just as He commanded us. Now the individual who observes His commandments abides with Him and He abides in them.” [NCMM Paraphrase]

Thus “God’s commandments” within the Christian Church are not the abolished Laws of Moses, but rather the simple principles of faith and love taught by Jesus. [1 John 4:21; 5:2, 3]

What confuses most is this: how can the Laws of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, be abolished, so that a Christian is no longer bound by these, and yet continue to keep the very same principles of the Law? Jeremiah 31:31-33 foretold the reason:

"’Look! There are days coming,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I will conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant; not one like the covenant that I concluded with their forefathers in the day of my taking hold of their hand to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt, which covenant of mine they themselves broke, although I myself had husbandly ownership of them,' is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For this is the covenant that I shall conclude with the house of Israel after those days,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘I will put my law within them, and in their heart I shall write it.’” [NWT] 

A New Covenant was to be made with Israel, unlike the old Law covenant with its Ten Commandments and hundreds of other laws. This new law in the New Covenant would be written - not on stone tablets - but on hearts.

Paul alludes to the principle here at Romans 2:15, 16 with regard to the non-Jews who knew nothing of the Mosaic Law:

“For when Gentiles who have no Law [of Moses] obey by natural instinct the commands of the Law [of Moses], they, without having a Law, are a Law to themselves; since they exhibit proof that a knowledge of the conduct which the Law requires is engraven on their hearts, while their consciences also bear witness to the Law, and their thoughts, as if in mutual discussion, accuse them or perhaps maintain their innocence.” [Weymouth Translation] 

Here Paul alludes in passing to wording similar to Jeremiah 31:30, 31. The non-Jews who never heard of the Law of Moses possess what the Nuremberg Court called “the universal human conscience” and thus by nature obeyed the Law. Paul quotes Jeremiah 31:31-33 in his epistle to the Jews called Hebrews:

HE8:7 For if the first [covenant] was without fault, it is unlikely a second [covenant] would be sought. HE8:8 Note how [God] finds fault with the people of [Israel] when He says, “’Behold! Days are coming,’ YHWH says, ‘and I will conclude with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah a New Covenant HE8:9 unlike the covenant which I made with their forefathers in that day when I took hold of their hand and led them out of Egypt. Because they did not remain in My covenant and so I showed no concern for them,’ says YHWH. HE8:10 ‘Because this is the [new] covenant which I will covenant with the House of Israel after those days,’ says YHWH, ‘giving my laws into their understanding minds. And upon their hearts I will write [My laws]. Then I will be a God unto them, and they will be a people unto Me. HE8:11 They will never teach each other’s fellow-citizen, nor each other’s brother by saying: “Know the LORD.” Because they will all know Me from the smallest to the greatest. HE8:12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins I will never remember.’” [Jeremiah 31:31-34] HE8:13 By the use of the word, “New,” [God] had made the first [covenant] “old.” Now, what is “old” is becoming older and is about to disappear.” [NCMM]

Thus, according to Paul, the New Covenant made the faulty Old Covenant “obsolete.” [TCN; GDS; NWT]

Therefore, though the Law of Moses engraved on stone tablets was abolished and down away with, God has imprinted on the hearts of those in the new “Israel of God” two vital principles: faith in Christ, and love for one another. [1 John 3:23] With these two motivating forces no other law is necessary.

Must Jewish-Christian Boys Be Circumcised?

On this subject there is one final matter that needs some discussion - circumcision. There are those Christians who insist that either the Law of Moses needs to be observed by the Church; or, that circumcision and observance of the Law should be kept by Christians who claim to be fleshly Jews. What about these?

In the early Church of the 1st Century the first Christians between the years 29-36 AD were circumcised Jews. This was in fulfillment of God’s covenant promise of a seven year period of Grace. [Daniel 9:25-27] This created a problem for some when the door to the non-Jews was opened when Peter used the “key of the kingdom” regarding the Gentile Corneilius. [Acts 10] Some Jewish Christians insisted that these non-Jews had to first get circumcised and observe the Law of Moses. [Acts 15:1, 2, 5] These had earlier been called that schism “the Circumcision.” [Acts 11:2] These troublesome Judaic-Christian teachers would become a problem for decades in the early Church. [Acts 15:24; Galatians 1:7]

The problem was at least settled officially when the apostolic body in Jerusalem sent Church-wide letters indicating to the non-Jewish believers that such was not the case. The only imposition put on the non-Jews were stated in the letter recorded in Acts 15:23-29. We note nothing is mentioned about the observance of the Law of Moses. Nor are these non-Jews told they must observe the Sabbath or any Jewish festivals.

But, what of Christian Jews themselves? Were they still bound to continue under the Law with its commandments on circumcision? The word “circumcision” occurs about 30 times in Paul’s letters. Never does he write that Jews should continue to be circumcised. Rather, he makes such statements regarding his inspired position:

“Circumcision is, in fact, of benefit only if you [Jews] practice law; but if you are a transgressor of law [which all Jews were (John 7:19)], your circumcision has become uncircumcision. If, therefore, an uncircumcised person keeps the righteous requirements of the Law, his uncircumcision will be counted as circumcision, will it not? And the uncircumcised [person] that is such by nature will, by carrying out the Law, judge you [the Jew] who with its written code and circumcision are a transgressor of law. For he is not a Jew who is one on the outside, nor is circumcision that which is on the outside upon the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one on the inside, and [his] circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code [of the Law of Moses]. The praise the meaning of the name “Jew”] of that one comes, not from men, but from God.” [Romans 2:25-29 NWT]

At 1 Corinthians 7:19 Paul writes, “The Circumcision [of the Jew] is nothing.” [NCMM] He continues this line of thought in his letter to the Galatians: “For in Christ Jesus [there is] neither circumcision nor uncircumcision.” [Galatians 5:6 RSV] As he has said in Galatians 3:27-29, the Church is neither Jewish or Greek. No Christian can insist on either circumcision or uncircumcision. There is no law or regulation regarding such within the Church, whether Jew or Greek. Those who insist on circumcision have parted from Christ and fallen from Grace. Galatians 5:11, “But if I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?” [RSV] Paul did not preach that Jewish babies had to be circumcised, otherwise he would not have been persecuted by the Jews and the Judaizing Christians. Galatians 6:15, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision.” If it were necessary that Jewish Christians continue the practice of circumcision he could not have said this, for to these Jews circumcision would count for something.

A Rule for the Israel of God

Paul writes regarding a rule, or general principle, that applies to all the Israel of God - whether Jew or non-Jew. Note this in Galatians 6:13-16:

“For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.” [Revised Standard Version]

First, Paul states that those who claim to keep the Law of Moses do not do so. Next, he points to the motive of these Christian Jews who wanted non-Jewish Galatians who became Christians to get circumcised - they wanted to boast in making another convert to Judaism in their Christian form. Third, when Paul says, “by which the world has been crucified to me,” he means the Jewish world with its Law of Moses and their rituals. He is now dead to the Law of Moses as a Jew and no longer must he observe it. Then fourth, as mentioned above, as a Jew he states that circumcision means nothing. Now, Paul mentions a certain rule in which the Israel of God should conduct themselves - “all who walk by this rule.” The Greek word here for “rule” is CANON and later was used of “church canon” or rule. What “rule” does Paul mean for every “new creation” in the “Israel of God”? “Circumcision is nothing,” would be at least part of that rule. For either Jew or non-Jew within the Israel of God circumcision is unnecessary as a requirement of God’s Covenant with Abraham or the Law of Moses. Peace [and thus unity and harmony] will come upon those who walk according to that principle - “circumcision is nothing … but a new creation is.” 

Did Paul Observe the Law or Obey James?

Some who insist Christian Jews should continue to observe the Law of Moses point to the example in Acts chapter 21. Let us examine this account and see to where it leads.

Acts 21:20-25 gives the opening context: In Jerusalem Paul relates his experiences in the missionary field to the presiding officer James and the elders:

“After hearing this they [James and the Elders] began to glorify God, and they said to him: ‘You behold, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews; and they are all zealous for the Law. But they have heard it rumored about you that you have been teaching all the Jews among the nations an apostasy from Moses, telling them neither to circumcise their children nor to walk in the [solemn] customs. [This is more or less exactly what Paul writes.] What, then, is to be done about it? [James authorizes his own decision which turns out to be a failure.] In any case they are going to hear you have arrived. Therefore do this which we tell you: [Paul responds to orders from James.] We have four men with a vow upon themselves. [See below on “vows.”] Take these men along and cleanse yourself ceremonially with them and take care of their expenses, that they may have their heads shaved. [See below on the Law’s requirement.] And so everybody will know that there is nothing to the rumors they were told about you, but that you are walking orderly, you yourself also keeping the Law. [See below.] As for the believers from among the nations, we have sent out, rendering our decision that they should keep themselves from what is sacrificed to idols as well as from blood and what is strangled and from fornication." [NWT]

We note that this decision was from James and not the original apostolic body mentioned in Acts 15. We will also note that the suggestion of James to calm the Jews is a failure and a riot results despite Paul’s efforts. The problem was the thousands of new Jewish converts and an element in the Church that wanted to continue with the observance of the Law of Moses. Paul is accused of “apostasy” through the mouth of James, and that he has told the non-Jews that it is not necessary for them to circumcise themselves or their children. Comparing what Paul has written, he has said, “Circumcision is nothing.” Paul has written that Christian Jews and non-Jews are “dead to the Law of Moses” and “no longer under the Law of Moses.” [See notes above.]

Paul does write that when trying to win Jews to Christ he is willing “to become a Jew” as though that were necessary since he was a Jew. He also wrote that “to those without law, I become as one without law.” If Paul choose to observe a certain law of Moses for the purposes of converting Jews, he does not sin.

Now James makes the decision that Paul take four Jewish men who have made a vow and have them purified or cleansed after the fulfillment of their vows. This vow, or oath, is based on Numbers 30:2, which says, “In case a man makes a vow to Jehovah or swears an oath to bind a vow of abstinence upon his soul, he must not violate his word. According to all that has gone out of his mouth he should do.” [NWT] There was also another vow in which a person became a Nazirite and pledged that during the time of keeping the vow he/she refrained from cutting the hair [as in the case of Samson] and also refrained from grapes or anything made from grapes. At the completion of the vow several requires were demanded by the Law of Moses.

In Numbers 6:14-18 we have the commands which James is directing Paul to do:

“Now this is the law about the Naz'i·rite [vow]: On the day that the days of his Naziriteship [vow] come to the full, he will be brought to the entrance of the tent of meeting. And he must present as his offering to Jehovah one sound young ram in its first year as a burnt offering and one sound female lamb in its first year as a sin offering and one sound ram as a communion sacrifice, [And thus the “expense” that Paul would have to cover in the case of the four Jews above.] and a basket of unfermented ring-shaped cakes of fine flour, moistened with oil, and unfermented wafers smeared with oil, and their grain offering and their drink offerings. And the priest [Paul must present the animals to the priest at the Temple.] must present them before Jehovah and render up his sin offering and his burnt offering. And he will render up the ram as a communion sacrifice to Jehovah along with the basket of unfermented cakes; and the priest must render up its grain offering and its drink offering. And the Naz'i·rite must shave the head of his Naziriteship at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and he must take the hair of the head of his Naziriteship and put it upon the fire that is under the communion sacrifice.” [NWT]

Now to those who insist Christian Jews should observe ALL the Law of Moses, we would ask: Would they fulfill this law exactly as it is stated above? Would they acquire the three animals and the other sacrificial items, go to some Jewish temple some where, and have a Jewish priest offer these up? Would such Christian Jews be required to shave their heads? If Christian Jews insist the Law of Moses be observed and cite this example, then they are bound to also observe the Law in all its details as required above.

There is a particular problem here: Jesus the Nazarene himself orders no making of vows at all! Consider what he says in his Mountain Teachings:

Again, you heard it said to the Ancients: “Break not your vows [See Numbers 30:3; Deuteronomy 23:33; Ecclesiastes 5:4. Note James 5:12 remembers well this Nazarene teaching.] but repay your vows to the Lord.” But, I tell you: Never make vows! Not by heaven for it is the Throne of The God. Nor by earth for it is His footstool. Nor by Jerusalem for it is the city of the great King. Nor by your own head for you are unable to make one hair white or black. But, let your word be YES for YES and NO for NO. For any more is from the Wicked One.” [Matthew 5:33-37 NCMM]

Yes, Jesus says to Jews to make no such vows. James himself later writes that he understood this: “But above all things, my brethren, do not swear, either by Heaven or by the earth, or with any other oath. Let your `yes' be simply `yes,' and your `no' be simply `no;' that you may not come under condemnation.” [James 5:12 Weymouth Translation] What are to include then? Was James in error in his decision? Does he, then, later write more in agreement with the Nazarene? Did Paul just go along with the whole affair - not committing any sin - to mollify James and the sensitive Jews? “Becoming a Jew to win Jews,” as he writes?

So, in summary to this point: the decision by James flew in the face of the Nazarene, and James later writes so himself. It would be impossible for a modern Christian Jew to obey this Law of Moses for no such priesthood or temple with sacrificial provisions exists today. And, indeed, every time a Christian Jew - against the Nazarene’s teachings - made a vow he/she would be bound to buy three animals, make the sacrifice, and then shave all their hair.

Paul obediently follows the directions of James and the Jewish elders, as the account continues: “Then Paul took the men along the next day and cleansed himself ceremonially with them and went into the temple, to give notice of the days to be fulfilled for the ceremonial cleansing, until the offering should be presented for each one of them.” [Acts 21:26 NWT] Just as Numbers 6:14-17 required - something impossible for a modern Jewish Christian - Paul paid for all the animals needed, a considerable expense, and did as James directed. In doing so Paul committed no sin as there was no requirement to either obey the Law of Moses or not obey it. Paul evidently went along with the attempt to calm the Jewish feelings in Jerusalem at the time. That James’ decision did not work is seen by what follows in Acts 21:27-32.

Despite this appearance in the Temple with the required dozen animals and the other requirements of the Law of Moses, the Jews still accused him of apostasy against Moses and a riot resulted. It seems clear to many that Paul’s letters indicate that both Jews and non-Jews are “dead to the Law” and “no longer under the Law.” From the standpoint of some Jewish interpretations Paul’s teachings could be understood as something of an apostasy against Moses. This is not the way Paul puts it, but rather that “the Law is fulfilled by love.” 

The Difference Between Titus and Timothy

Another argument present by some modern Jewish-Christians regards Titus and Timothy. Galatians 2:3 records: “Nevertheless, not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek.” [NWT] The Greek uncircumcised Titus was not compelled by the apostolic body in Jerusalem to become circumcised. Why then does Paul have Timothy circumcised? Consider Acts 16:3, “Paul expressed the desire for this man to go out with him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for one and all knew that his father was a Greek.” [NWT] Timothy was half-Jew evidently, his mother being Jewish. Regardless, the reason for Paul’s step is “because of the Jews.” Not because it was required of Timothy be the Law of Moses, but “because of the Jews.” Had this not been a problem, then Timothy would have no need to get circumcised. Something similar is done in modern days where an uncircumcised Christian missionary from a Palestinian background is circumcised so that Jews do not think him a terrorist. Paul does not sin in circumcising Timothy, no more than many people do in the modern world who also circumcise their baby boys. “Neither circumcision or uncircumcision amount to anything,” Paul wrote to Galatian Jews and non-Jews. If parents wish to circumcise their children it is up to them. It makes no difference once way or the other.

But, wasn’t Circumcision an Eternal Covenant?

The original covenant between God and Abraham regarding circumcision stated according to the Jewish Publication Society’s Tanakh: “Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact.” The 3rd Century BC Jewish Greek version reads: “My covenant shall be on your flesh for an everlasting covenant.” [Genesis 17:13 Bagster] Does this mean an eternal or unending covenant so that Jews throughout eternity would continue to circumcise their baby boys?

The Hebrew word translated “everlasting” in Genesis 17:13 is OLAM [Strong's Exhaustive Concordance #5769] and though the word is used for eternal or everlasting, it is also used of an unknown or indefinite period of time. An example may be seen regarding the Levitical Priesthood which is also said to remain OLAM. Exodus 29:9 states: “And so they shall have priesthood as their right for all time.” [JPS] However, where is this “eternal” priesthood? It ceased when Jerusalem was destroyed! Even though some Jews continue to carry the name Cohen [priest] or Levi [after the Levitical priesthood] they do not serve as priests in any Jewish temple accepting burnt sacrifices. Paul also writes that such priesthood was “made obsolete” by the one great sacrifice of the High Priest Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 8:13 and Hebrews 10:9 Paul writes - in the context of the Mosaic tabernacle and its accompanying priesthood - “By the use of the word, ‘New,’ [God] had made the first [covenant] ‘old.’ Now, what is ‘old’ is becoming older and is about to disappear. …He removes the first [covenant] to establish the second [covenant]. [NCMM]

Thus from Paul’s standpoint the Jewish priesthood would come to an end “and disappear” when replaced by the New Covenant. In view of this the Hebrew word OLAM, as well as the Greek word AIONION, at Genesis 17:13 may also be limited to their other meanings regarding something temporary but without a known period of time.


God is a God of law. He is, as Isaiah said … “our Lawgiver.” Though Jews were enslaved to the Law for 1,500 years, no longer do Christians remain so. They are dead to the Law - whether Jew or non-Jew. However, God has engraved on the Christian heart the key principles of His law so that each disciple is motivated by two forces: faith and love. Exercising these as the royal standards, God is well-pleased. The Christian need not fret whether something breaks this or that law. Each Christian need only ask: Is it of faith? And, is it loving? Then all of God’s laws will be fulfilled perfectly.

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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