JESUS, PAUL, AND THE LAW

Among the arguments made by those who claim that Paul contradicted Jesus, is the argument that Paul contradicted Jesus with regards to the Law.

Is this so? To begin, let’s consider the following:

Throughout scripture, the Law is referred to as the Law of Moses some 23 times by the following witnesses:

  • Joshua (Joshua 8:31, 32 and 23:6)
  • Daniel (Daniel 9:11, 13)
  • Luke (Luke2:22 and 24:44)
  • Paul(Acts 13:39 and 28:23; 1 Corinthians 9:9)
  • The Pharisees (Acts 15:5)
  • John(John 7:23)
  • The author of the book of Hebrews(Hebrews 10:28)
  • The author of the book of 1 Kings (1Kings 2:3)
  • The author of the book of 2 Kings(2 Kings 14:6 23:25)
  • The author of the book of 2 Chronicles (2 Chronicles 23:18 and 30:16)
  • The author of the book of Ezra(Ezra 3:2 and 7:6)
  • The author of the book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:1)
  • Jesus and God, I saved the best for last (John 7:23, Malachi 4:4).

Moses was the one through whom God gave the law to the children of Israel to govern them as a nation. Time and time again the scripture says, “Moses commanded” or “Moses said” or “Moses gave.”

For example, in Matthew 19 the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why did Moses command to give a writing of divorcement?” Jesus answered, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts allowed you to put away your wives: but in the beginning it was not so” (v. 7-8).

The Pharisees specifically asked, “Why did MOSES give a writing of divorcement?” Yet the Law was given by God, through Moses, for the people (Deuteronomy 24:1-3).  Moses’ instructions were authoritative for the people of Israel, for through Moses, God  gave the Law to the children of Israel.

According to Jesus, the bill of divorcement was a law catered for the hard hearted and not God’s intent for marriage. God’s will is for a man to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife just as Jesus says above. In like manner, Paul says something very similar in Ephesians 5.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. ~ Ephesians 5:22-28

As we can see from Paul’s words above, Paul was on the same page with Jesus in his view of marriage as a holy institution ordained by God.

Paul’s standard concerning husbands loving their wives is actually higher and exceeds the commandment given in Deuteronomy 24:1-3 to regulate hardheartedness. Without question, Paul’s teaching regarding marriage is absolutely in harmony with the teachings of Jesus.

Under the law, the writing of divorcement protected the woman from the oppressiveness of a husband who did not love her, and thus she was allowed to remarry. In no way did this writing of divorcement express God’s will concerning the union of a man and his wife. God’s will is for the husband to love the wife and to care for her.

The mistake that many people make when they attempt to disqualify Paul’s teachings is they do not rightly divide the scriptures that pertain to the law. The law was not simply a religious code to live by. The law was the rule of law for the nation and was given to guide the civil affairs of the nation as well as the religious conduct.

Not making this distinction, leads some to question Paul’s teachings about the grace of God. They fail to consider that Paul’s apostleship was to the gentiles to whom the law given to Israel did not apply. The writing of divorcement applied to Israel’s civil laws, and if a man gave his wife a writing of divorcement, it could be said that he had “kept the law”, but he had not fulfilled God’s will in his marriage. Only love fulfills the law.

There is a stark contrast in keeping the law and fulfilling it.

Those who argue that Paul contradicts Jesus often claim that Jesus taught that the Law would continue while Paul claimed it had been done away with. Yet, this contradiction is cleared up when the words of Jesus and the teachings of Paul are understood within their context.

First, consider the words of Jesus in Matthew, chapter 5:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. ~ Matthew 5:17-18

When Jesus said these words, he was not intending to imply that he had come as an enforcer of the Law, but rather to bring the Law to its fruition through fulfillment.

Jesus told the people,except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:20

The scribes and the Pharisees were all about ”keeping the law”. They had no interest in fulfilling it. This is evident in Matthew 23 where Jesus says, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. ~ v.2-4

Jesus was not an opponent to the Law or the message of the prophets. His mission was not to destroy (by discrediting) either one. Instead, his mission was to fulfill the law and the prophets by leading the people of God into the way of righteousness which is faith from a pure heart.

In Matthew 5 Jesus says – “you have heard it said…but I say to you”  in reference to what the people had heard from the teachers of the Law.

The Law says, “Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.” In contrast Jesus says, “whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca (worthless), shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” 

The letter of the Law says “thou shall not kill” but Jesus says keep your heart right towards all men. The law says “thou shall not commit adultery” but Jesus says don’t desire her in your heart. The law says “love your neighbor and hate your enemies” but Jesus says love your enemies.

The letter of the Law could not, and cannot give man a right heart and this is what is at the core of the issue. The letter of the Law merely deals with the outward actions of sinful men and does nothing to change his heart.

While the Law addresses man’s outward actions, Jesus Christ searches the reins and hearts (Revelation 2:23).

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. ~ Hebrews 4:12-13

When the Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, they had every right according to the letter of the law to condemn her and to stone her. They had no desire to show mercy or to restore her. They placed the heavy burden of condemnation on her with the wording of the law, but had no compassion towards her.

Jesus by the wisdom of God challenged their motives and dispersed them.  He then sent the woman away without condemnation, telling her to sin no more. Those who condemned her wanted to enforce the law, Jesus fulfilled it. 

Those who condemned the women that Jesus freed, were fixated with the letter of the Law from their uncircumcised hearts. They missed the weightier matters of the law which according to Jesus is mercy, faith, and justice (Matthew 23:23). Rather than liberating the people they used the Law to put heavy burdens on them.

Jesus never employed the law to ensnare people. Instead, Jesus taught that the law was fulfilled by love (Matthew 7:12; 22:34-40) and demonstrated it by showing mercy and compassion on the people. Paul also taught that it is love which fulfills the law:

Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. ~ Romans 13:8-10

Paul’s words in Romans 13 (above) align perfectly with Jesus’s teachings from the sermon on the mount. Paul says elsewhere, For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. ~ Galatians 5:14

Paul actually refers to the fulfillment of the law through love as “ the law of Christ.”

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. ~ Galatians 6:1-2

Paul’s doctrine regarding love fulfilling the Law is in perfect harmony with Jesus. Jesus taught that all the prophets and the Law prophesied until God sent John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13). The ministry of John the Baptist was the great point of change from the administration of the Law of Moses through the nation of Israel, to the administration of Christ in the hearts of all who believe in him.

Through Christ, the Law of God is written in the mind and the heart of the child of God. Our conscience has been cleansed by the Blood of Jesus and we have been made alive together with Christ. His life abides in us and the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in us through his love which is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

In those texts where Paul speaks of the Law being abolished, he is not referring to the necessity of obedience to God or righteous living. He is referring to the Law in the manner in which it made a distinction between the Jew and the Gentile.

The law given to Israel served as their constitution and rule to govern them as a theocracy. The Kingdom of God was manifested through Israel and one could not be a part of God’s Kingdom without becoming a member of the nation of Israel.

Israel was a theocracy, and the Law separated Israel from all other nations as the people of God. Yet, Israel was often very rebellious against God and did not serve him according to the Law God had given to govern them. Consequently Israel inherited the curse.

This is what Paul is dealing with when he addresses the Law as being annulled. The Kingdom of God is no longer a theocracy demonstrated through a physical nation. God’s Kingdom is in the heart of those who follow Jesus, and God’s people are in every nation.

Being circumcised and taking on Jewish identity through the letter of the law no longer has value with regards to covenant relationship with God. What matters is having a circumcised heart through Jesus Christ who died for his people, and in no way did Paul contradict Jesus regarding the law.

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