Good Question…does the NT contradict the Hebrew Bible in its discussions of the 'passing away' of the Mosaic Law?


[Updated: Dec 10/2005  |   Summary ]


I got this GREAT question a while back:




I was really hoping to find out why Christians are stupid and whether or not to listen to Kenny G, but I guess I'll pick another topic :).


Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures we see the strongest language available in the Hebrew language to indicate that the Mosaic Law is eternal.


This is particularly, but not exclusively, true of those aspects which Christians say are not binding any longer.


For example in regards to the Hebrew Festivals we see many references to their eternity:  The Sabbath is called an "eternal covenant" in Exodus 31:16-17.  Passover is called eternal in Exodus 12:13,17, and 13:12.  Shavuot or "Pentecost" is identified as such in Leviticus 23:21, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) in Leviticus 16:29, 31, 34 and 23:31.  And Succot or "booths" is likewise identified as such in Leviticus 23:41.


Furthermore the Levitical Priesthood and sacrificial system is identified as eternal in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Priesthood itself is described as an eternal covenant in Numbers 25:12,13 see also Exodus 29:9 and 40:15.  Likewise of the Priestly vestments in Exodus 28:29,43.  Regarding Temple vessels we see the basin being commanded forever in Exodus 30:21 the Menorah in Leviticus 24:3 and the trumpets in Numbers 10:8.  The Shewbread is described as eternal in Leviticus 24:8 and scattered indications of eternal sacrifices such as in Leviticus 7:36 (and those sacrifices implicitly included in the festivals).


Most of these use the Hebrew word "olam" which translates as "forever" or "eternal" (and translated as such in the KJV).  Plus many compound this with the phrase "throughout their generations".


Elsewhere outside the Mosaic books themselves we see these themes stated in general ways.  For example, "You must always be careful to keep the decrees and ordinances, the laws (Torah, Hebrew singular) and commands he wrote for you" 2 Kings 17:37 (NIV).  Always being in Hebrew "every day" which seems to be an idiom for eternal or always.


Likewise we see Psalms 119.  "I will always obey your law forever and ever" vs. 44.  "My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end." vs 112.  Likewise when we recall that Psalms, being Hebrew poetry, uses synonymous parallelism we see it indicated in such verses as 142 "Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true".  In general we can say that the author of Psalm 119 had quite a different perspective on the Mosaic code than today's Christian (and dare I say the NT itself).


Proverbs makes a rather blunt statement, "If anyone turns a deaf ear to the Law, even his prayers are detestable" 28:9, I do believe that Proverbs is using the same language to describe the prayers of the one who rejects the Mosaic law as it does to describe homosexual behavior.


Furthermore we see prophetic descriptions of obedience to the Mosaic code.  Besides general one such as Deuteronomy 30:8, Jeremiah 31:33, and Ezekiel 37:24 we again see specific references.  We see references to Priesthood and sacrificial service in Jeremiah 33:18 and Malachi 3:3-4.  Likewise we see mention of festival observance in Zech. 14:16 and Isaiah 66:23.


All of this is in direct contrast to the teaching of the New Testament, particularly of Paul and the authors of Hebrews.  How can the New Testament teach something contrary to the Hebrew Scriptures and both be inspired and G-d remain immutable?




[Historical note (added Dec/05): The objection/question raised above will sound familiar to many, for it is often believed to be a central belief of modern Judaism. Historically, this was expressed for the first time (systematically, at least) by Maimonides (1138-1204), whose 13 Principles formed the basis for the informal definition of heresy by the Orthodox Jewish community.

However, neither the 13 Principles in general, nor the Ninth Principle--on the Eternity of Torah--specifically, were accepted by all, or even 'most', of the rabbinic authorities of his day (or subsequently).

Readers should be aware of the controversy surrounding this assumed 'foundation' of historic Judaism.

I refer readers here to an excellent specialist work in the field, The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised, by Marc B. Shapiro [The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004]. Readers who are interested in seeing the rabbinic disagreements with Maimonides should consult this work for further/additional historical detail.]

There are two main questions in here:


  1. Does the NT contradict the Hebrew Scriptures in its treatment of the immutability(?) of the Mosaic Law?
  2. Would a "change of law" compromise the immutability of God?



Sub-questions hiding inside these questions include:


  1. What do statements of 'eternal' (e.g. olam) mean in references to specific laws and/or covenants?
  2. How would such an 'immutability' view deal with change within the Mosaic law?
  3. Is God 'free' (legally, righteously) to annul a covenant once it was described as 'eternal' (olam)?
  4. What is the relationship between Mosaic Law, the Mosaic Covenant, and Torah?
  5. How would the New Covenant of the Hebrew Bible be understood in an immutability view?
  6. How would Jewish believers of apostolic times (e.g., Paul, author of Hebrews) have even come up with the idea of a 'change of Law' (given a presumed  'immutability' understanding in apostolic times)?


This is a pretty thick issue, so we'll need to break it down rather fine.


[One opening caveat--this is an internecine discussion, between those who profess to hold to the teachings/inspiration of the Hebrew Bible but not to the "New Testament", and those who profess to hold to the teachings/inspiration of BOTH sets of documents. This is not a 'skeptical' issue per se, but rather is situated in a context of deliberate and intentional submission to the revelation of God. What that means for this discussion is that I will work on the common set of assumptions of this 'paradigm community'--that of the inspiration, authority, and accuracy of the Hebrew Bible. Accordingly, I will NOT go into discussions about "how do we know God inspired this verse?" or "does this apparent disagreement between passage X and passage Y disprove the Hebrew bible?" or "isn't this a stupid command for God to give people?" and such. That means that many, many apologetic and historical questions will not even be raised (but do not infer from this that I do not 'see them hiding in there'--smile!), but this is NOT a fault of the article, but rather an agreed-upon  presupposition of the paradigm community for which this discussion is written, and from which the question was probably constructed.]



Let's start with some obvious things…


1. No one [in this paradigm community, remember!] disputes that God's ethical principles of love, fairness, and integrity are part of His eternal character and therefore, ethically normative for creatures of will throughout all the ages. Such principles are inherent within His character, which is--fortunately for us--reliably 'immutable'.


2. Virtually no one [in this paradigm community…and I will stop adding that to each statement from now on--just remember it is implicit in this discussion] disputes that some of God's commandments were one-time-only, specific to one-individual at one time, and not binding on any other soul. Examples might be the commandment to Moses to climb the mountain to look at the Land and then die, or the command to Noah to build an ark in preparation for the Flood, or the command to Jeremiah to buy a specific field before the Captivity. These are imperatives and commands (mitzvoth), but they do not apply to everyone and to every time and to every situation (generally, they only applied once).


3. In between these two extremes is a very wide spectrum of 'commandments'. Consider some of these, and where they should be placed on the continuum between universally obligatory and 'disposable', 'once-use-only':


·         The command to Abraham to circumcise himself, his descendants, and all the males in his household. Was this ethically binding on the Gentiles? On Terah, Nahor, and Laban? On Noah or Enoch?

·         The command to "love your neighbor as yourself".

·         The command for all Jewish males--WHEREVER THEY LIVED--to visit Jerusalem three times a year (and no less). During the Babylonian captivity? "Backward-obligatory?"--when enslaved in Egypt?

·         The command for Isaiah to go around half-naked for several months, as a statement to Israel.


4. Notice from the above that the question of 'backward-compatibility' (or 'backwardly eternal'?) has bearing on our question. Through some 'curious' logic and  a bit of semi-equivocation (i.e., equating Torah with the Mosaic Law), some in Rabbinic Israel made an argument that ran like this:


·         Torah includes the Mosaic Law.

·         Torah and Wisdom are identified (Prov 8.22ff, and constantly so in the Rabbinics).

·         Wisdom was said to be present 'at the creation of the world' (Proverbs again).

·         Therefore, the Mosaic Law was present before the Creation of the World.



So, this leads us into the discussion, which I want to structure in this fashion:


  1. What IS torah, and its relationship to Law and to the Mosaic Covenant?
  2. Does 'eternal' mean 'unchangeable', when applied to various commands in the Law?
  3. What exactly was the content of the word 'olam' (eternal) in biblical and rabbinical writings?
  4. What did the rabbis say about a change/annulment of Torah?
  5. How does the New Covenant of Jeremiah and Ezekiel fit in with the Mosaic Covenant (as far as our question goes)?




1. What IS torah, and its relationship to Law and to the Mosaic Covenant?


The first thing to realize is that Torah is not equated with 'law': EVERYONE complains about this, 'Jew and Gentile' alike! Torah is instruction, teaching, the revelation of God's will and intent. It comes in many forms: laws, narrative, proverbs, oracles.


First, from the Rabbinic scholar Solomon Schecter:


"It must first be stated that the term Law or Nomos is not a correct rendering of the Hebrew word Torah. The legalistic element, which might rightly be called the Law, represents only one side of the Torah. To the Jew the word Torah means a teaching or an instruction of any kind. It may be either a general principle or a specific injunction, whether it be found in the Pentateuch or in other parts of the Scriptures, or even outside of the canon. The juxtaposition in which Torah and Mizwoth, Teaching and Commandments, are to be found in the Rabbinic literature, implies already that the former means something more than merely the Law (e.g b. Ber 31a; b. Makk 23a; m. Abot 3.11). Torah and Mitzvoth are a complement to each other, or, as a Rabbi expressed it, "they borrow from each other, as wisdom and understanding - charity and lovingkindness--the moon and the stars," but they are not identical. To use the modern phraseology, to the Rabbinic Jew, Torah was both an institution and a faith.  (Solomon Schecter in [HI:ART, p.117f])


"To the great majority of the Rabbis who retained their sober sense, and cared more about what God requires of us to be than about knowing what he is, the Torah was simply the manifestation of God's will, revealed to us for our good; the pedagogue, as the Rabbis expressed it, who educates God's creatures." [HI:ART, p.135f]


Then consider other, evangelical statements:


"What has handicapped our modern appreciation and usefulness of the Pentateuch more than anything else has been the incorrect, or at least overly restrictive, narrow and inadequate translation of the Hebrew word torah in the Greek Septuagint as nomos, "law." This in turn gave rise to the French rendering of loi, and the German Gesetz. The problem with all these translations of torah is that they continue to give credence to the notion that this portion of Scripture denotes merely formal regulations or rituals that the community could use to attain salvation….But this view is also incorrect because it fails to understand what torah means. Torah comes from the verb "to point [out the direction one should go]." It was intended to serve as guidance and direction for one's life, not as static requirements that supplied a rigid set of rules demarcating what was in bounds from that which was out of bounds. That is why the wisdom books refer so frequently to the contents of torah as being a "path" for one's lifestyle: it pointed the direction a person should go; it was guidance….The legal sections of the Torah are a relatively small part of the total Pentateuch. If one places all the material from Exodus 20-40, the entire 27 chapters of Leviticus, and the first ten chapters of Numbers together, they form only 58 chapters out of a total of 187 chapters. In other words, there are 129 chapters in the first five books of the Bible that are not included in the legal portions of the total Torah. [sic: not sure how he counted Deut here…] And there is more. What laws do appear are fully integrated into the total story and text of the whole Pentateuch that trace the progress of God's word of promise to his people. Thus, to discuss one or more of these so-called laws (or to use a better word, directions) in abstraction, and apart from the context of the story setting in which they occur, is to do a disservice both to the so-called law and the context of the narrative itself." [OT:OTDATRR:182f]


"A survey of the 220 occurrences of tora throughout the OT reveals three main aspects to this word. It involves (1) teaching or instruction to be learned, (2) commands to be obeyed and (3) guidance about how to live in specific situations….The idea of tora as teaching is particularly prominent in Deuteronomy and Exodus…Fourth, the written law of Deuteronomy has attained a fixed and authoritative form. Several references are made in Deuteronomy 28-31 to the "book of the tora," which is probably synonymous with "this law" discussed above. The existence of a written form of tora gave it a final form that was not to be added to nor subtracted from (Deut 4:2). The idea of written tora was not, of course, new. It goes back to the Ten Commandments, which were written by God (Ex 24:12), and to the book of the covenant, which Moses wrote at Yahweh's command (Ex 24:4). However, the fact that Deuteronomy includes narrative and sermon alongside individual commands and teaching takes the notion of written tora to a new dimension. The presence of extensive sections on the historical context of the new generation (Deut 1-4), interpretation of the detailed laws (Deut 5-11), the need for a fresh response (Dent 27-30) and a future perspective (Deut 31-34) also shows that this authoritative written tora contained principles that were adaptable to new situations….The central distinguishing feature of Pentateuchal law is that it expresses the will of Yahweh…This is the main reason why 'instruction' or 'teaching' often conveys the sense of tora better than 'law'." [OT:DictOT5, s.v. "Torah"]


The breadth of the word can also be seen in the usage of it in the rabbinics:


"In rabbinic literature, the word 'Torah' bears seven meanings: (1) the written Torah; (2) the one whole Torah, oral and written, revealed by God to Moses at Sinai; (3) a particular thing, such as a scroll, containing divinely revealed words; (4) revelation in general; (5) a classification or rules, as in 'the torah of…,' meaning 'the rules that govern ….'; (6) the act of studying the Torah; and (7) the status of teaching, namely, deriving from the Torah, as against deriving from the scribes." [HI:DictJBP, s.v. 'torah']



That the torah is much more extensive than just 'law' can also be seen from the Psalmist's usage of it, in which reference is made to the miracles (obviously not 'law'--but good instruction) and Israel's rebellion (obviously not 'law'--but good instruction):


"According to the Psalms, the Israelites used the tora to teach their children about God's wonders and Israel's repeated rebellion (Ps 78.5)…" [OT:DictOT5, s.v. "Torah"]




Since torah included historical sections/narratives, with obvious time-delimited significance (e.g., the command to Noah to build an ark), torah was more eternal revelation of the character/will of God (e.g., God looks to show grace and makes plans to rescue the needy) than eternally-binding commands (e.g., "everyone should build an ark, X cubits by…").


This means, of course, that even laws-in-historical-contexts could reveal the heart of God, whether one-time-only (e.g., go down to Egypt because of the famine) or enduring (e.g., thou shalt love the Lord your God).


So, the 'law' might not have to be in force at all to be 'torah'…all it had to do was reveal the heart/character of God, as a guide to how we should think and act. An eternal torah, therefore, would NOT require there to be a set of eternally in-force or continually obligatory regulations.


I experience this personally in my devotional life. I read through the legal sections of the Mosaic law at least once a year in the Hebrew, and meditate closely on it--for what it reveals about the good-heart of my God. I am touched and challenged every year by the 'torah teaching' behind many of the 'torah commands' in the legal corpus. For example:



I cannot read some of these passages without weeping and without worship--they are simply too 'revelatory' of a Heart so different (kadesh) and so loyal (hesed) and so sage (hokmah)…and they show to me --standing here squarely in the New Covenant--an exact pre-declaration of what Messiah would look like: The express image and portrait of YHWH.





2. Does 'eternal' (olam) mean 'unchangeable', when applied to the Law?



The curious thing about this issue is that it is a little unclear what the assertion of 'eternal law' really means


Historically, those who have argued the most tenaciously about the Mosaic law being still in-force and applicable eternally were some of the formative Jewish rabbis. But oddly enough, the element of change and annulment of specific commands of the mosaic law can be documented (1) within the Mosaic corpus, (2) within the OT/Tanaak, (3) in post-biblical Judaism, and (4) absolutely within Rabbinic Judaism! Let's survey some of this data on the mutability of the Mosaic Law.


  1. Mosaic Law changed within the lifetime of Moses.






"These are the terms of the covenant the LORD commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb (Deut 29.1)


·         Slightly related to this is the difference in God's pre-Mosaic law and God's Mosaic law. The patriarchs seem to reflect slightly different laws (e.g. the penalty for Reuben's sleeping with his father's wife/concubine was loss of firstborn inheritance rights, and not death, as under the Law of Moses), further showing that torah did indeed change. For example, in Gen 26.5 Abraham is said to have kept all of God's "charge, commandments, statutes and laws" (torah). Does this mean that Abraham celebrated the Passover (before the Exodus), went to the non-existent tabernacle for sacrifices, gave his tithes to non-existent Levites, fasted on the non-existent Day of Atonement, observed the Sabbath (before it was legislated in the Mosaic Covenant), and abstained from making treaties with the inhabitants of the land? Of course not--torah can and has and does change…The 'obligatory content' (i.e., laws) contained in Torah for Abraham was different than that for Noah, Moses, Adam, Ezekiel-in-Exile, and Ezra-in-the-land.



  1. Mosaic Law changed within the post-Mosaic period of the Hebrew Bible, with some laws becoming obsolete and new ones being added.


·         "Other rabbis, however, saw in this contradiction [Ezek vs. Moses on 'children dying for sins of fathers'] a direct prophetic improvement upon the words of the Torah. 'Moses said, 'God visits the sins of the father upon the children,' but there came Ezekiel and removed it and said, 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die'"" [HI:ART, p.187; cites b. Makk 24a]


·         Some of the more obvious examples of this would be the 'annulment' of the laws of the layout of the tabernacle when the Temple (with its different dimensions and layout) was built,  the addition of singers under David, legal execution by the 'avenger of blood' and the cities of refuge as protection against that, and specific monetary amounts of fines (e.g., shekels).

·         Of course, the feast of Purim arose after the Mosaic period, too--it wasn’t part of the Mosaic feasts, but is typically considered torah because it is in the Hebrew Bible.

·         In fact, the Hebrew bible represents the Laws as coming from "Moses plus prophets":


"The LORD warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your fathers to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.” (2 Kings 17.13--notice the plural 'servantS', delivered not just through Moses. Commandments were added after Moses, 'changing' the Law)




  1. And many of these 'eternal laws' were obsoleted before we get to the NT/Rabbinic periods, but many more were 'obsoleted' by the Rabbi's themselves:


·         "But even a superficial analysis will discover that in the times of the Rabbis many of these commandments were already obsolete, as, for instance, those relating to the arrangements of the tabernacle, and to the conquest of Palestine; whilst others concerned only certain classes, as, for instance, the priests, the judges, the soldiers and their commanders, the Nazirites, the representatives of the community, or even one or two individuals in the whole population, as, for example, the king and the high priest. Others, again, provided for contingencies which could occur only to a few, as, for instance, the laws concerning divorce or levirate-marriages. The laws, again, relating to idolatry, incest, and the sacrifices of children to Moloch, could hardly be considered as coming within the province of the practical life even of the pre-Christian Jew; just as little as we can speak of Englishmen being under the burden of the law when prohibited from burning their widows or marrying their grandmothers, though these acts would certainly be considered as crimes." [HI:ART, p141]


·         "Nor were these [rabbinic] deliverances confined to laying down the proper way of fulfilling the requirements of the law under changing conditions, or to protecting the law from infringement by a thickset hedge of prohibitions more stringent than the letter. When the exigencies of the time seemed to them to demand it, the rabbis in council or individually did not hesitate to suspend or set aside laws in the Pentateuch on their own authority, without exegetical subterfuges or pretense of Mosaic tradition. Where justification is offered for extraordinary liberties of this kind, Psalm 119,126 is frequently quoted, with a peculiar interpretation. Instead of, "It is time for the Lord to do something, they have made void thy law," the verse is taken, "It is time to do something for the Lord." … "There are in fact numerous rabbinical enactments from all periods which are more or less directly at variance with the plain letter and intent of the law. Among the most noteworthy was the legal fiction called prozbul (or prosbul) devised by Hillel. The law of Deut. 15, 1-3 by which all loans were cancelled at the beginning of every seventh year worked as, in human nature, such a utopian economic experiment might be expected to work. Notwithstanding the pathos of the exhortation in verses 7-11, and no matter what the distress of the borrower might be, moneylenders could not be induced to make a loan in the fifth or sixth year which would automatically become a donation in the seventh. Like much equally well-meant legislation in later times, the effect of the law was the diametrical opposite of its intent. Hillel's remedy was the execution in court of an instrument, attested by the seals of the judges or witnesses, by which the lender retained the right to reclaim the loan at any time he saw fit. Shortly before the outbreak of the Jewish War in 66 A.D., in consequence of the multitude of adulterers, R. Johanan ben Zakkai did away with the ordeal of jealousy (Num. 5, 11-31), alleging as a warrant for the abrogation of the law Hos. 4, 14: 'I will not punish your daughters when they commit harlotry, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery; for they themselves go apart with harlots and sacrifice with the prostitutes of the sanctuary.'  In a similar way the frequency and boldness of murders led, we are told, to the abolition of the antique rite prescribed in Deut. 21, 1-9, when the victim of a murder by an unknown hand was found lying in the open field." [HI:JFCCE, 1, 259, 260; other examples (?) of using this principle: Yoma 69a: wearing the priestly garments outside of Jerusalem (to meet Alexander!); Gittin 60a - using/carrying a portion of the prophetic scrolls; Temurah 14b - writing of tradition or not (Soncino: "When a thing is done in the name of God it is sometimes necessary to nullify the Law")…!

·         Such changes were made in wholesale after the Destruction of the Temple, of course. The exiled rabbis invented all sorts of substitutes for sacrifice and atonement--quite substantial 'changes to an eternal law'. (For a list of these, see Section C, "The phenomena of sacrifice in the Pharisaical Jewish world of first century Palestine"   in cross3.html.).

·         This is, of course, one of the problematic issues for Jesus, too: "He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your  tradition. 10 “For Moses said, ‘ Honor your father and your mother ’; and, ‘ He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him  be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God ),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your  tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”" [Mark 7.9f]



Given this mutability of the specific legal status of the various 'laws', it is not altogether clear what is being asserted when someone says 'the law is eternal' or 'cannot be changed'…So, let's look at our main word for eternal -- olam.




3. What exactly was the content of the word 'olam' (eternal) in biblical and rabbinical writings?



Oddly enough, the lexical data will indicate how something could be 'olam' and still easily be of finite duration.



One: Lexical/Biblical data.


If you look at the lexical works, you arrive at this conclusion very quickly:


·         "long duration, antiquity, futurity: a. indefinite futurity , c. prep. for ever , always (= during the lifetime );  slave for ever ;  serve for ever ;  redemption at any time; ever pregnant (womb); of persecutors of Jeremiah; always at ease ;   may the king live always ; so of the pious;  I will sing for ever (as long as I live); other emotions and activities continuous through life. b. = continuous existence , (1) of things: the earth; other phr., heavens and contents, ruined cities, ruined lands or a witness for ever , in a book; (2) of nations: Babylon, of Judah; (3) families; the dynasty of Saul; house of Eli; (4) national relations: continual enmity ; of exclusion from; various relations;   perpetual reproach , of dynasty of David, families ;  of God’s covenant:  everlasting covenant ; covenant with Noah ; God remembers it; will not break it, e. of God’s laws; temple to bear God’s name; consecrated; its ceremonies; Levit. priesthood; Aaronic priesthood. f. of God’s promises: his word; promised dynasty of David; of holy land; given, inherited; dwelt in; other blessings; Jerus. to abide"  [BDB]


·         "long time, duration , usually eternal, eternity, but not in a philosophical sense"…[HALOT]


·         "1. everlasting, forever, eternity, i.e. , pertaining to an unlimited duration of time, usually with a focus on the future ( Ge 3:22 ); 2. ancient, old, i.e. , existing for a long time in the relative past ( 1Sa 27:8 ; Ps 119:52 ); 3. lasting, for a duration, i.e. , an undetermined duration of time without reference to other points of time, with a focus of no anticipated end, but nevertheless may have limits ( Nu 25:13 ; Jer 18:16 )"  [Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 1997, 2001]

·         "Though ôlām is used more than three hundred times to indicate indefinite continuance into the very distant future, the meaning of the word is not confined to the future. There are at least twenty instances where it clearly refers to the past. Such usages generally point to something that seems long ago, but rarely if ever refer to a limitless past. Thus in  Deut 32:7  and  Job 22:15  it may refer to the time of one’s elders. In  Prov 22:28 ;  23:10 ;  Jer 6:16 ;  18:15 ;  28:8  it points back somewhat farther. In  Isa 58:12 ,  61:4 ;  Mic 7:14 ;  Mal 3:4 , and in the Aramaic of  Ezr 4:15 ,  19  it clearly refers to the time just before the exile. In  I Sam 27:8 , in  Isa 51:9  and  63:9 ,  11  and perhaps  Ezk 36:2 , it refers to the events of the exodus from Egypt. In  Gen 6:4  it points to the time shortly before the flood. None of these past references has in it the idea of endlessness or limitlessness, but each points to a time long before the immediate knowledge of those living. In  Isa 64:3  the KJV translates the word “beginning of the world.” In  Ps 73:12  and  Eccl 3:11  it is translated “world,” suggesting the beginning of a usage that developed greatly in postbiblical times…Jenni holds that its basic meaning “most distant times” can refer to either the remote past or to the future or to both as due to the fact that it does not occur independently (as a subject or as an object) but only in connection with prepositions indicating direction ( min “since,” ad “until,” “up to”) or as an adverbial accusative of direction or finally as the modifying genitive in the construct relationship. In the latter instance ōlām can express by itself the whole range of meanings denoted by all the prepositions “since, until, to the most distant time”; i.e. it assumes the meaning “(unlimited, incalculable) continuance, eternity.” (THAT II, p. 230) J. Barr (Biblical Words for Time (’1969), p. 73) says, “We might therefore best state the “basic meaning” as a kind of range between ‘remotest time’ and ‘perpetuity’”. But as shown above it is sometimes used of a not-so-remote past. For the meaning of the word in its attributive use we should note the designation of the lord as el ōlām , “The Eternal God” ( Gen 21:33 )…The LXX generally translates ōlām by aiōn which has essentially the same range of meaning. That neither the Hebrew nor the Greek word in itself contains the idea of endlessness is shown both by the fact that they sometimes refer to events or conditions that occurred at a definite point in the past, and also by the fact that sometimes it is thought desirable to repeat the word, not merely saying “forever,” but “forever and ever.”.. Both words came to be used to refer to a long age or period—an idea that is sometimes expressed in English by “world.” Postbiblical Jewish writings refer to the present world of toil as hāōlām hazzeh and to the world to come as hāōlām habbā" . [TDOT, s.v. 'olam']


Notice how they all can use 'eternal' for some cases, but 'indefinite duration' for many, many others (including the past).


Now, notice some of the uses of olam along these lines (from ["Notes On The Biblical Use Of " עד־עולם", by Brian Long,  Westminster Theological Journal, V41 #1, Fall 1978]):


·         "There are other examples which, though not ‘everlasting’ in the unlimited sense, are usually translated ‘everlasting’. Servant ‘forever’ or ‘everlasting’ ( עבד עולם ,  Deut. 15:7 ;  1 Sam. 27:12 ; Job 40:28) certainly does not mean everlasting in the sense of unlimited time. A slave would not be a slave after he died.


·         "A short excursus at this point will illustrate this with an interesting example. When Hannah prayed for a child, she told God that if He heard her and granted her request, she would give him to Yahweh all the days of his life ( I Sam. 1:11 ). After the birth of Samuel, Hannah explains to Elkanah that she would not go tip to offer sacrifice until Samuel could be brought, so that he could appear before the Lord and stay there forever (vs.  22 ). When she brought him to Eli, she said that as long as he lives he is lent, or dedicated, to the Lord (vs.  28 ). Whether or not there are syntactical factors determining which expression is used where, it is obvious that ‘all the days of his life’ is synonymous here with ad-olam 1 Sam. 1:11, 22, 28"


And we might also note a few other items from the lexical entries:


·         redemption at any time ('olam')

·         ever pregnant (womb);

·         of persecutors of Jeremiah; always (olam) at ease;   [and Ps 73.12:  "Behold, these are the wicked; And always at ease, they have increased in wealth." Biblical doctrine would not typically maintain that these people are 'at ease' today, some 3000 years later--if you get my meaning…]

·         temple to bear God’s name always (the temple was destroyed, a couple of times)


These are all olam-things, which obviously were not meant as 'eternal' per se (or at least not 'continuously').



Olam thus seems to mean 'indefinitely, with reference to the nature of the thing being so described.' If the nature is God, then olam means 'truly eternal'. If the nature is  a human, then it means 'as long as he lives'. If the nature is a relationship, then it means as long as the conditions upon which the relationship is based still hold. [More on this in a moment--the notion of 'reversible' or 'cancel-able' olam.]



Two: Rabbinic Understanding/usage: That olam did not typically mean 'philosophical eternity' was certainly understood by the rabbis. They understood it to mean various indefinite or 'uninterrupted' periods of duration, but it was almost always bounded by the status quo or existing order. It was the present 'world' that was stable, unchanging, uninterrupted and so it was the 'measuring rod' of 'olam'. Olam thus was frequently translated 'world' in the rabbinics. And when the rabbis were commenting on the olam-passages, they often reflect this finite-duration understanding of the biblical word/phrase.


Look at some of the data from Jastrow [DTX]:


·         His definition of 'olam' -- "strength, endurance, nature, existence, world;" (b.h) "life-time, eternity" [DTX]


·         y. Ber. IV, 7b: referring to I Sam 1.22 ("that he may appear before the Lord and stay there forever"):  "but the life-time (active service) of the Levite is only up to fifty years." [Notice how the 'olam' in this passage is understood by the rabbi as being not even 'as long as he lives', but rather 'as long as his condition of service is operative'. Olam came to an 'end' in this case, but did so 'naturally'.


·         Kidd 15a, referring to Ex 21.6 "And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently."): "I might have thought, that it meant really for ever (for life)"…[note: they understood this olam to refer to 'lifetime']


·         "Now, both ‘and ye shall return’ and ‘[and he shall serve him] for ever’ must be written . For had the All-Merciful written ‘for ever’ [only], I would have thought, literally for ever; therefore the All-Merciful wrote ‘and ye shall return’. And had the All-Merciful written ‘and ye shall return’ [only], I would have thought: when is that? If he had not served six years [after being bored]; but if he had already served six years, his last phase should not be more stringent than his first: just as his first phase was for six years, so should his last be for six years [only]; hence ‘for ever’ teaches us, for the eternity of jubilee." [Soncino, Kidd 15a; Jastrow notes that the writer attaches to 'shall return' and "it is intimated that l-olam means up to the period of the jubilee" This finite period is quite different from 'eternity', but has implications for the New Covenant, possibly.]


·         Ber 17a "May thou see (enjoy) thy existence [olam] during thy lifetime"


·         Arach 16b "…has received (his reward) in this world [olam]"


·         "For it was said in the West, [i.e., Palestine] in the name of Raba b. Mari: The Holy One, blessed be He, will give to every righteous man three hundred ten worlds [olam], (Sanh 100a)


·         Gen. R. s.3 "He created worlds and destroyed them again" ['olam' can come to an end!]


·         m. Ket. 4.5 "She (betrothed) continues  to be (olam) under her father until she is married…" [not endless, obviously]


·         b. BM 59a…"under all conditions (olam) a man must guard the honor of his wife…" [not a statement of time]


·         "R. Hanina said:17 Never [olam lo, 'in my lifetime'] did a man consult me concerning a wound inflicted by a white mule and recover." (Yoma 49a; obviously not 'endless')


Thus, for the rabbis, olam when used in the Hebrew bible was generally/often relative to the 'base' of the thing under discussion; and when used in their own discussions, referred to the something like 'the lifetime of the existing world/order'. It was long in duration, generally, but definitely bounded and capable of being ended.


So, the combined lexical data from biblical and rabbinic usage argues that olam does NOT mean 'invariably unending time', but rather an 'indefinite continuation of some present condition, subject to inherent limitations on the duration'.




The lexical/usage data bear this out clearly (taken from ["Notes On The Biblical Use Of " עד־עולם" (ad olam), by Brian Long,  Westminster Theological Journal, V41 #1, Fall 1978, p54])


·        "The most repeated usage of עולם (olam) is in qualifying such nouns as covenant (17 times), statute (33 times) and ruins or tell (9 times). When the references are to the past, it is usually rendered ‘ancient’ or ‘of old’ as in ‘ancient ruins’ and ‘days of old’. When Moses says to remember the ימות עולם [days of 'olam'] (Deut.  32:7 ), he refers not to some ‘days of eternity’ but to specific, though ‘ancient’, history. Another interesting use of עולם [olam] is that of the גבעות עולם ('everlasting hills') of  Gen. 49:26  and  Deut. 33:15 , which in  Hab. 3:6  are said to collapse ( שחו ), hardly appropriate for ‘everlasting hills’.


·         "When the future rather than the past is in view, as for חרבות עולם [ruins 'olam'] in  Jer. 49:13 , the rendering is no longer ‘ancient’ but ‘everlasting’ or ‘perpetual’. Whereas past history is not ‘everlasting’, the future, considered as open-ended, is not so restricted, so that ‘everlasting’ can be applied, even if only by hyperbole. How ‘everlasting’ these ruins are becomes problematic when the ruins referred to in  Isaiah 58:12  and  61:4  are to be rebuilt. The same considerations apply to the parallel expression שממות עולם predicted of various countries. The prediction concerning Jerusalem in  Jer. 25:9  ( לחרבות עולם ) [ruins 'olam'] was not referring to ruins and desolation of unlimited duration, as the prediction of rebuilding, replanting and repopulation in  Jer. 31:4  shows.



And especially the data about curses/judgments (legal contexts, as would be in covenant contexts):


"The fourth major contextual area where עד־עולם [ad-olam, to 'olam'] is used relates to curses—to predictions and accomplishments of disaster, ruin and desolation. The same considerations and problems discussed previously apply here. Moses told the Israelites to stand and watch the salvation of the Lord, for the Egyptians whom they had seen they would not see again עד־עולם [ad-olam] (Ex. 14:13 ). Certainly we are to understand that the Egyptians who drowned then were never again alive, but the עד־עולם [ad-olam] is being applied to the Israelites not seeing them again. Is there any relevance in telling the people that even after their own death they would not see those Egyptians? The point of the verse is that as long as they live, they would not again see the Egyptians. An interesting twist is given to this passage in  Deut. 28:68 , where Moses concludes the curses on covenant unfaithfulness, saying that they would be brought back to Egypt, referring to what God had told them they would not again see.


"Earlier in the same chapter, Moses told them that the curses would overtake them until they were destroyed, and would be a sign and wonder on them and their descendants עד־עולם [ad-olam] vs.  46 ). This is similar to Jeremiah’s language concerning the anger and wrath of God which would burn and consume Israel, and not be extinguished ( Jer. 7:20 ;  17:27 ; cf.  2 Kings 22:17 ), and which would burn עד־עולם [ad-olam] (Jer. 17:4 ; cf.  15:14 ), which devastates and is still not satisfied ( Isa. 5:25  ;  9:11 ,  16 ,  20 ). God also says, however, that He will restore them to their own land, which He gave to their fathers ( Jer. 16:15 ).


A similar pattern occurs in  Isaiah 32 , where the palace has been abandoned, the city forsaken, hill and tower have become caves עד־עולם [ad-olam]… until the pouring out of the spirit from on high (verse 14 , 15 ).


"The various terms for ruins ( חרבות ), desolation ( שממה ), reproach ( חרפה ) and others are often described by עולם [olam] words. Hazor will become a dwelling place for jackals, and a desolation עד־עולם [ad-olam] ; no one will live there ( Jer. 49: 33 ). This language, both with and without עד־עולם [ad-olam], is used elsewhere, especially in Jeremiah and Isaiah: Jerusalem will be a heap of ruins, a dwelling place for jackals, the cities of Judah will be desolation, without inhabitant ( Jer. 9:11  ;  10:22 ) ; Babylon will be a heap, a dwelling place of jackals, without inhabitants from generation to generation (often a synonym for עד־עולם [ad-olam]), completely desolate ( Jer. 51:37 ,  50:13 ,  19 ) ; Isaiah speaks of the jackals and other animals that will prowl Babylon, which will not be inhabited (another synonym for עד־עולם [ad-olam]) or lived in from generation to generation ( Isa. 13:20–22 ) ; Moab will become a desolation עד־עולם [ad-olam] (Zeph. 2:9 ).


"In parallel to this, though not using the same complex of expressions, Jeremiah describes Babylon’s future as עולם שממות [desolations 'olam'] ( Jer. 25:12 ;  51:26 ,  62 ), as does Ezekiel for Mount Seir (Ez.  35:9 ). A synonymous expression (often translated identically into English) is חרבות עולם [ruins 'olam'], which the cities of Bozrah will become ( Jer. 49:13 ), and which the enemies of the Psalmist have become ( Psalm 9:7 , where לנצה is used instead of עד־עולם ). More examples are easily found, as well as various synonymous expressions.


"The question is, how are we to understand the permanence of the desolation עד־עולם [ad-olam] ? ‘Forever’ seems at first to be the best sense, until the same expression is found in  Isaiah 58:12  and  61:4 , where the people are told that some of them will rebuild the חרבות עולם [ruins 'olam'].  Jeremiah 25:9  predicts that Jerusalem will be made into חרבות עולם [ruins 'olam'], which happened as predicted, but this was not a ‘forever’ desolation ( Jer. 31:4 )."



A rather striking example of this comes from I Sam 2.30:


"Therefore the Lord the God of Israel declares: ‘I promised that your family and the family of your ancestor should go in and out before me forever (olam)’; but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me; for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt. 31 See, a time is coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestor’s family, so that no one in your family will live to old age. 32 Then in distress you will look with greedy eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed upon Israel; and no one in your family shall ever live to old age. 33 The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep out his eyes and grieve his heart; all the members of your household shall die by the sword. 34 The fate of your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you—both of them shall die on the same day. 35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed one forever." [NRSV]


This olam statement was an unstated conditional one, based on the original state of fidelity continuing. When that state has ended--via the actions of Eli and his sons--that 'world has ended' (that olam is no more). WBC notes: "Though Yahweh has to admit that he once made the promise that Eli would function as priest before him, he now reverses that promise in a new oracle and underscores it with an oath."


In fact, Eli was the descendant of Ithamar, son of Aaron, and Phinehas, who was a descendant of Eleazar, son of Aaron, was also promised an 'eternal priesthood' (Num 25). Since Eli was not of Phinehas' line, the 'eternal priesthood' (generally considered the high priesthood) of Phinehas was obviously not an uninterrupted one. His line did end up with the priesthood at the time of Solomon (Zadok), but would have 'lost it again' when it 'went up for sale' (!) during the inter-testamental period.


One has to wonder what 'eternal' means, if it can be "interrupted" for long periods of time.


There are other 'olam'-type statements that end up being revealed to be conditional, sometimes even within the same passage:


"When Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, 2 the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. 3 The Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me; I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever [olam] ; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 4 As for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David, saying, ‘There shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’ 6 “If you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them; and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight; and Israel will become a proverb and a taunt among all peoples. 8 This house will become a heap of ruins; everyone passing by it will be astonished, and will hiss; and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this house?’ 9 Then they will say, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of the land of Egypt, and embraced other gods, worshiping them and serving them; therefore the Lord has brought this disaster upon them.’ " [1 Kings 9, NRSV; notice how this/these 'olam' was/were conditional on continued royal fidelity to YHWH. These agreements were "eternal" as long as the condition was being fulfilled! This makes 'olam' look to mean something like 'certain' or 'continuing' or 'indefinite', as long as some 'condition' or 'nature' supported it.  Olam could be 'revoked', as in the case of Eli.]



And then some olam-covenants 'expire' when the world changes so totally…The Noahic olam-covenant reads:


"As long as the earth endures,  seedtime and harvest,  cold and heat,  summer and winter,  day and night will never cease." (Gen 8.22; called an olam berith in 9.16)


and parts are 'scheduled for expiration' in Zechariah 14.6:


"Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime- a day known to the LORD. When evening comes, there will be light. On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea  and half to the western sea,  in summer and in winter." [NAS]


"There seems to be cosmic change perhaps related to the Noachian covenant (Gen 8:22). In Gen 8:22 God promised Noah and all mankind that there would always be 'seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.' This promise was to assure mankind of the regularity of nature. Man needed that assurance because of the great destruction and death caused by the flood which in turn was caused by man's sins. Now in this last day of Yahweh there will be no need of such a promise because the curse of sin will be removed. There will be no extremes in temperature (cold or hot), no darkness and light, or day and night, no extremes of brightness. It will always be light. There will be one continuous day (Isa 60:19-20)…With continuous day there will be no clouds and no rain. The land will be watered by a stream of living water flowing out of Jerusalem ( cf.  Ezek 47:1–12 ;  Joel 3:18 ;  Rev 22:1–2 )." [WBC, in loc.]


[This can also be seen from some of the data in the original question. Notice this part of it:


Likewise we see Psalms 119.  "I will always obey your law forever and ever" vs. 44.  "My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end." vs 112.


This is exactly what olam means--'to the very end' (not just 'to the end', but with SOME notion of 'continuance'). The 'very end' could come in a natural fashion (as in the death of the Psalmist?) or in an 'unscheduled' fashion, precipitated by unexpected changes in conditions (e.g., failure of Eli).]



So, olam neither means 'continually in force, throughout infinite time--no matter what happens to the world'; nor is it irreversible or something God cannot put to an end, should He desire to do so, or should conditions change as to warrant such a change.





4. What did the rabbis say about a change/annulment of Torah?


I have often pointed out on the Tank that early Jewish Christianity was merely a subset of early first-century polymorphic Judaism. And I have sometimes even said that it was an 'uncreative' one at that, meaning that it was much more 'conservative' in its interpretations of the Hebrew Bible than some of the other 'Judaisms' of the time.


In this matter of a New Torah or Changed Law or New Covenant, the messianic believers were in the same situation. Rabbinic theology of the time (to the extent it can be inferred from the later Rabbinic writings, of course) was split on the issue of the status of the Law in the New post-today World. Jewish Christianity fit comfortably in synch with some of the rabbinic positions.


So, in this section, I want to simply illustrate that little-heard-of side of Rabbinic theology from the sources and demonstrate that the NT understanding of the 'changing of the laws' was NOT such a radical break from the Jewish theological stock, as some presuppose nowadays.


One. The rabbis believed in two olams/two worlds. A this-world and a next-world, with a messianic 'transitional' world somewhere at the intersection.


·         m. Ber. 9.5 "[At one time] all blessing in the Temple concluded with 'forever'. When the heretics (textual variant: "Sadducees") corrupted [the practice] and said, 'There is but one world [but no world to come]' (world = olam), they ordained that they should say, 'forever and ever' [thus suggesting the existence of a world to come]" [translation by Neusner, [HI:M2N] ; Danby notes: "olam means both 'world' and 'eternity']


·         Gen R. s. 30 "has seen a new world (a great change)" [olam for world]


·         Jastrow gives: olam hb' (the world to come, the messianic days, the days of resurrection) [DTX]


·         "R. Jose son of R. Hanina says: He is privileged to inherit two worlds (olam), this world and the next." [Ber 51a]


·         m. Abot 4.16: "R. Jacob said: This world is like a vestibule before the world to come: prepare thyself in the vestibule that thou mayest enter into the banqueting hall." [Note the preparatory character of this olam…for another olam]


·         m. Sanh. 12.1 "All Israelites have a share in the world [olam] to come, for it is written: Thy people also shall be all righteous, that shall inherit the land forever" (citing Is 60.21)


·         "Such utterances [of eternity] are not to be pressed into the strict sense of eternity: the authors may not push their vision at the farthest beyond the present order of things, the world as it now is. But the Jews, through all the vicissitudes of their fortunes, held fast to the faith that there was a better time coming, as the Scriptures foretold. The visions of this time in the prophets are numerous and diverse. Many of them are the promise of a kind of national millennium, deliverance from subjection to the Gentiles, the restoration of an independent Jewish state expanded to its ancient boundaries and exercising dominion over the countries around it far and wide. Some of these prophecies predict a revival of the Davidic monarchy, while others say nothing about the political constitution of the state. All agree in picturing, often in idyllic imagery, a time of lasting peace and prosperity under the favor of God. The seventeenth of the Psalms of Solomon best represents to us, in a composite of Old Testament prophecies, how the messianic times were imagined by an orthodox Jew a half century before our era. Philo shows us how the golden age could be conceived without reference to a restoration of the monarchy…But there were also in the Prophets predictions of a greater change, of a catastrophe in which all nature is involved, of new heavens and a new earth, and of a new order of things, a new age of the world, beyond this crisis. For this new order of things the Jewish name is 'the age to come' (olam ha-ba) in contrast to 'this age' (olam ha-zeh), the world we live in." [HI:JFCCE, 1, 270-271]



Two: The 'natures' of these two worlds (two 'olams') were considered to be significantly different:


·         "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the Lord be One, and His name one: is He then not One now? — Said R. Aha b. Hanina: Not like this world is the future world. In this world, for good tidings one says, ‘He is good, and He doeth good’, while for evil tidings he says, ‘Blessed be the true Judge’; [whereas] in the future world it shall be only ‘He is good and He doeth good’. ‘And His name one’: what does ‘one’ mean? Is then now His name not one? — Said R. Nahman b. Isaac; Not like this world is the future world. [In] this world [His name] is written with a yod he and read as alef daleth; but in the future world it shall all be one: it shall be written with yod he and read as yod he. " (Pes 50a, 'olam'-this and 'olam'-new! Note that in the new age the name of God will actually be pronounced again, and the adonai-for-yhwh substitution will not be used/needed)


·         "The scene of that age (note: the Age to Come) was indeed the earth, but a transformed and glorified earth, where all the conditions of existence were so unlike those of human experience as to be imaginable only by contrast. Between this and that lay the judgment that was the end of history and of the very stage on which the tragedy of mankind had been played. The new age began, so the Pharisees taught and the mass of the people believed, with the resurrection of the dead, who entered thus on a new and different life. To the caviling question of the Sadducees, to which of her seven husbands the woman should belong who had six times been passed on from brother to brother in levirate marriage, Jesus answered, "When men rise from the dead) they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven.  It is sound Pharisean doctrine: "The age to come is not like this age. In the age to come there is no eating and drinking, no begetting of children, and no trading, no jealousy, no hatred, and no strife," etc.' In the Mishnah itself it is taught that there is no death there, no sorrow, and no tears (Isa. 25, 8)." [HI:JFCCE, 1, 272]




Three: Many rabbis considered vast and important areas of the Law to be annulled or inoperative in the Coming Age. They looked forward to a New Torah, from God through the Messiah, connected sometimes with the New Covenant of Jeremiah (sounds a bit like the NT claims, doesn't it?):


·         "With the Law in the Age to Come the case was different. The scene of that age was indeed the earth, but a transformed and glorified earth, where all the conditions of existence were so unlike those of human experience as to be imaginable only by contrast. … The new age began, so the Pharisees taught and the mass of the people believed, with the resurrection of the dead, who entered thus on a new and different life…The following quotation also is apposite: "In this age Israelites contract uncleanness and get themselves purified according to the directions of a priest; but in the future it will not be so, but God himself is going to purify them, as it is written, I will dash pure water upon you and you shall be pure; from all your uncleannesses and from all your idols I will purify you" (Ezek- 36, 25; at Pesikta 41b and Tanh, Hukkat 28). [HI:JFCCE, 1, 272; notice that in the New Age, the priestly laws of purification will be changed!--and this conclusion was based on a passage in Ezekiel…]


·         "Note 25 Zerubbabel.  As to the part to be played by Zerubbabel in  the Messianic times, see Alphabet R. Akiba, 27-28, where it is said that he will  recite the Kaddish after the lecture to be delivered by God on the new Torah  which He is to reveal through the Messiah."  [HI:Ginz, notes on the Return]


·         "With the [Messianic] banquet the chain of events of the Messianic era reaches its end. What remains thereafter, to endure for centuries, for millennia, or forever, is the new order of a world ruled by King Messiah. When this stage is reached in the legendary narrative of the future, the Messiah texts, with their imagination exhausted, lapse into generalities. We are told, but without any particulars, that new worlds would be created, that the pious would do the will of God, that God would teach them a new Tora, and that the Messiah would give them thirty new commandments. However, not a word is said about what will be new in that new Tora, compared, that is, to the old Tora of Moses. This silence on so crucial an issue is due to the fear that any concrete indication of new teachings or new commandments would be an infringement on the sanctity and immutability of the Tora of Moses. Even the notion of a new Tora in the abstract may have been a daring proposition in view of the established doctrine, codified by Maimonides in his Thirteen Principles of the Faith, the ninth of which reads: "I believe with a complete faith that this Tora will not be exchanged and there will be no other Tora from the Creator, blessed be His name."…." [MTJL, pp.247f)


·         "When he, about whom it is written, Lowly and riding upon an ass (Zech. 9:9) will come... he will elucidate for them the words of the Tora ... and elucidate for them their errors. R. Hanina said; "Israel will not need the teachings of King Messiah in the Future to Come, for it is said, Unto him the nations shall seek (Isa. 11: 1 0)--[the nations, but] not Israel." If so, why will King Messiah come, and to do what will he come? To gather the exiles of Israel, and to give them thirty mitzvoth [commandments]...." [Gen. Rab. 98:9; notice also here the messianic interpretation of Zech 9.9…]


·         "R. Hizqiya in the name of R. Simon bar Zibdi said: "The whole Tora which you learn in This World is vanity as against the Tora of the World to Come. For in This World a man learns Tora and forgets, but in the Future to Come [he will not forget], as it Is written, I will put My Tora in their inward parts and in their heart will write it (Jer. 31:3 3)." [Eccl, Rab. 11: 1; notice how this future olam is linked to the New Covenant of Jeremiah…]


·         "In the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will sit in the Garden of Eden and expound [the Tora]…And the Holy One, blessed be He, will expound to them the meanings of a new Tora which He will give them through the Messiah." [Mid. Alpha Beta diR. Akiba, Bhm 3:27-29" [MTJL, Cited at p.252f]


·         "When the Holy One, blessed be He, sees David and the Messiah, he calls David and says to him; 'My son, sit on My right, for I have brought sufferings upon him [the Messiah], and praise Me…' And the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and reveals the meanings of the Tora to them: Why he prohibited us pork, and blood, and lard, and meat with milk, etc." (Pes. Hadta, Bhm 6.47, cited at [MTJL, p.253]; notice also the Suffering Messiah…)


·         "In the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will seat the Messiah in the supernal Yeshiva (house of study), and they will call him 'the Lord,' just as they call the Creator…And the Messiah will sit in the Yeshiva, and all those who walk on earth will come and sit before him to hear a new Tora and new commandments and the deep wisdom which he teaches Israel…And no person who hears a teaching from the mouth of the Messiah will ever forget it, for the Holy One, blessed be He, will reveal Himself in the house of Study of the Messiah, and will pour His Holy Spirit upon all those who walk on earth, and His Holy Spirit will be upon each and every one. And each one in His House of Study will understand the Halakbot on his own, the Midrashot on his own, the Tosafot on his own, the Aggadot on his own, the traditions on his own, and each one of them will know on his own.... And even the slaves and the slave-women of Israel who were bought for money from the nations of the world, the Holy Spirit will rest upon them, and they will expound on their own ... and each one of them will have a House of Study in his house, the House of the Shekhina." (Yemenite Midrash, pp. 349-50; notice the connection with the New Covenant blessing of  "they shall need no teacher…" and the class-universalism of Joel 2)

·         "The inference that the law would cease was already drawn by the Amora of the fourth generation, R. Joseph bar Hiyya. In Nidda 61b we read: “the commandments will be abolished in the Hereafter,” a statement that is likely older than its communicator. The Pauline reference is thus early represented in the traditions of rabbinic Judaism. It is notable that Philo and certain apocalyptic writings also imply the cessation of the law in the Messianic era."  [Westminster Theological Journal—V45 #2—Fall 1983—p369]

·         "Our Rabbis taught: A garment in which kil'ayim was lost [note: it was known that a thread of wool had been woven into a garment of flax or a thread of flax into a garment of wool but the thread could not be traced so as to be extracted]  may not be sold to an idolater, nor may one make of it a packsaddle for an ass, but it may be made into a shroud for a corpse. R. Joseph observed: This [The permissibility to use kil'ayim for a shroud] implies that the commandments will be abolished in the Hereafter. [Soncino note: at the resurrection. Had they remained in force the revived dead would he transgressing the law of kil'ayim]  Said Abaye (or as some say R. Dimi) to him: But did not R. Manni  in the name of R. Jannai state, ‘This was learnt only in regard to the time of the lamentation  but for burial  this is forbidden’?  — The other replied: But was it not stated in connection with it, ‘R. Johanan ruled: Even for burial’? And thereby R. Johanan followed his previously expressed view, for R. Johanan stated: ‘What is the purport of the Scriptural text, Free among the dead? [Ps 88.6] As soon as a man dies he is free from the commandments’." [b. Nid 61b; notice the connection with Paul in Romans 7--' a man is freed from the law once he is dead…']

·         "This realization takes on particular force when it is seen against the background of rabbinic views of history with which Paul was likely familiar. Within that tradition some rabbis held that human history was divided into three periods: (1) the period of “chaos,” lasting from Adam to Moses, when the law had not been given; (2) the period of “Torah,” lasting from Moses till the Messiah, when the law would reign; (3) the period of the Messiah. Now regarding this last period there was considerable discussion among the rabbis about the place of the law. According to some, the Torah was expected to cease in the messianic age; others held that the Messiah would perfect the law by giving it a new interpretation or that he would promulgate a new Torah. " [HSOBX, at Romans 12.4]



Four: This New Torah was sometimes seen as very radical, affecting Festivals, dietary laws, priestly cleansing rituals, the role of teachers, and even the core sacrificial system!


"Though the dominant thrust of the rabbinic tradition was that Torah would continue in and through the messianic age, that it was eternally valid, there are also many who thought there would be modifications, that some teachings would cease to be applicable, that others would acquire a new relevance, that the sacrificial system and the festivals would cease, and that ceremonial distinctions between “clean” and “unclean” would no longer hold. Thus, a rabbinic tradition which both affirmed the continuance of the law in the messianic age and recognized some form of cessation and/or modification forms the backdrop for Paul’s experience and new understanding. The messianic age had dawned. The Torah could no longer be seen as before." [HSOBX, at Romans 12.4]


"This day was now set for the annual Day of Atonement, without which the  world could not exist, and which will continue even in the future world when all other holy days will cease to be." [HI:Ginz, III, 139]


"Note 139:  WR 22. 10, (WR = [Midrash WaYikra Rabbah], ed. Wilna 1887, quoted by chapter and paragraph.)  where it is explicitly stated that Ziz and  Leviathan belong to the "clean animals", whereas in 13. 3 and Tehillim 146, 535, it is emphasized, with reference to the use of these animals, that in the time of  the Messiah a new Torah will be given which will dispense with the present  dietary laws." [HI:Ginz, Notes to Creation, 139]


"In the last source [Mishle 9. 61] a view is quoted to the effect that of all the festivals only Purim and the Day of Atonement will be celebrated in the time to come." [HI:Ginz, note 194 to Ester, p. VI.481)]


"There is one exception to the general silence about the contents of the Messianic dispensation. In Leviticus Rabba, it is stated that all sacrifices and prayers will be abolished in the Messianic days, except for the thanks offerings and thanksgiving prayers, because, as Isaac ben Judah Abrabanel (1437- 1508) explains, in those happy days there will be no Evil Inclination and thus no sin, so that no offerings or prayers to atone for transgressions will be needed. Of course, Leviticus Rabba [tn: see text below] was written in the fifth century, that is, about four hundred years after the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of the sacrificial ritual, which made it relatively easy for the authors to contemplate such a contingency." [MTJL, pp.247f]


"R. Pinhas and R. Levi and R. Yohanan in the name of R. Menahem of Galya: "In the Future to Come all the sacrifices will be abolished, but the thanks offerings will not be abolished. All the prayers will be abolished, but the thanksgiving prayers will not be abolished ....." (Lev. Rab. 9:7)


"The Midrash makes the righteous ask in surprise "'Is this ritually correct slaughter?' and R. Abba bar Kahana attributes to God the answer "'For Torah shall go forth from Me" (Isaiah li, 4) - new Torah law [hiddush Tora] shall come forth from Me.'" Although the 'hereafter' and Torah taught by the 'Holy One, blessed be He,' are spoken of here, yet in these Messianic legends the terms 'the days of the Messiah', 'the Garden of Eden', and 'the world to cone' approximate to one another and the distinctions between them we blurred." [SWWRT, p.311; notice how Is 51.4 is taken to refer to a New Law.]



Five: Rabbinic beliefs of the time, then, contained a multiplicity of views about the New Age/Messianic Age--relative to the Law--and this 'multiplicity' only became 'conflicting' when the claims that the Messianic Age had arrived began to be made by Jesus and His followers:



"In so far as the Torah was concerned, the days of the Messiah were in the eyes of the Sages an age when the Torah could be fulfilled in its entirety, and hence they continued to occupy themselves with the laws relating to the Temple and the holy things, and even decided Halakhot in respect of these subjects; thus many enactments and Halakhot were explained in the light of the possibility that 'the Temple would soon be rebuilt.' The two approaches existed side by side, and the express testimony for the annulment of the precepts in the hereafter has reached us with the addition of remarks by the other side: ' "The Lord permitteth forbidden things" [Psalms cxlvi 7, usually rendered: 'The Lord looseth the prisoners']. What is meant by "permitteth forbidden things" ? Some say: Every beast declared unclean in this world the Holy One, blessed be He, will declare clean in the hereafter ... but others say: He will not permit them in the hereafter...' (Midrash Psalms cxlvi § 4, p. 535). So long as the Messianic expectation did not claim that it was in the process of being fulfilled, the two views - even if they were not integrated - could at least dwell in peace side by side. But when this claim was made, the clash came." [SWWRT, 313f]



So, where does this leave us?


It shows us that whatever olam means, it does not necessarily mean 'eternally in force', and that it was understood by many (both rabbis and Jewish believers)  in ancient times to have an 'expiration date' of the "end-of-the-present-world". The early Christian position was accordingly, just one of the many Jewish theological positions which showed up in Rabbinic Judaism as well. Nothing surprising here (unless it be the fact that this does not seem to be very well known by modern Jews or Christians).


So the use of 'eternity' and 'perpetuity' type words, in describing ordinances, statutes, and even covenants would not preclude 'change' or 'annulment'.


[And, since we know the Mosaic covenant was a conditional one, it could easily have been understood after the model of many others in the OT/Tanaak: "eternal, as long as the agreed upon conditions are met". And it was exactly the failure of the OT people of God to live the torah that prompted God to create a way for them to actually be able to fulfill torah--the New Covenant.]





5. How does the New Covenant of Jeremiah and Ezekiel fit in with the Mosaic Covenant (as far as our question goes)?



The New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 is a major theme in the NT book of Hebrews. This New Covenant (henceforth abbreviated by 'NCX') was seen by the author of Hebrews as superseding the Mosaic Covenant, and the laws and institutions contained therein.


"The very words 'a new covenant' antiquate the previous one. In saying this our author does not go beyond Jeremiah, who explicitly contrasts the new covenant of the future with the covenant made at the time of the Exodus, and implies that when it comes, the new covenant will supersede that earlier one. The moral of the situation had been appreciated already by Paul, who speaks of himself and his colleagues as "ministers of a new covenant; not in a written code, but in the Spirit"; and by contrast with this new covenant refers to that associated with Moses as "the old covenant" (2 Cor. 3:6, 14). And if the covenant of Moses' day is antiquated, our author further implies, so must be the Aaronic priesthood, the earthly sanctuary, and the Levitical sacrifices, which were all established under that covenant. The age of the law and the prophets is past; the age of the Son is here, and here to stay." [NICNT, at Heb  8.13]


and this was an acceptable form of (rabbinic) argument:


"The present verse presupposes the rabbinic principle that a new act of God supersedes the old; a principle which underlies the argument in 4:8; 7:11, 28; 10:2, and is found also in Philo Rer. Div. Her. 178. There is indirect evidence that the application of this principle to the new covenant was part of a tradition represented both in the NT and at Qumran. Hab. 1:5 was applied at Qumran to the new covenant (1QpHab 1:5), and the same text is cited in Acts 13:41 in a passage which has many points of contact with Hebrews (Acts 13:33 = Ps. 2:7 = Heb. 1:5; 5:5; in Acts 13:38, the forgiveness (aphesis) of sins (cf. Heb. 10:18) is contrasted with the inefficacy of the old dispensation; aphanismos in Heb. 8:13 recalls aphanisthate in Hab. 1:5b = Acts 13:41b). " [HI:NIGTC, at 8.13)




So, in this section I want to look at how this New Covenant related to the "Old" Covenant of Sinai (and Deut.).


The first thing to note is that the Hebrew Bible sees these two covenants as being in contrast (and not merely the NCX being a 'restatement' of the Mosaic). And one of the two major points of difference is that ONLY the New Covenant is 'olam'!

"The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt- a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,' says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more." [Jeremiah 31.31ff, NRSV]


"In Jer 32:37–41 , which is a parallel passage to 31:31–34, the covenant of the future is described as an “everlasting covenant”. The term “everlasting covenant” appears also in Jer 50:5. Previously, only the unconditional covenants given to Noah, Abraham, Phinehas, and David, along with a few lesser ones, were taken to be everlasting. Unconditional covenants were at home in southern theology, i.e., in P traditions ( Gen 9:16 ; 17:7 , 13 , 19 ; Exod 31:16 ; Lev 24:8 ; Num 18:19 ; 25:13 ) and psalms from the Jerusalem temple ( Pss 89:20–38 — Eng 89:19–37 ; 111:5 , 9 ; cf. 2 Sam 23:5 ). At some point before the Exile, the covenants to Abraham and David were expanded so as to cover Jerusalem and the temple ( Isa 37:33–35 = 2 Kgs 19:32–34 ; Pss 105:8–11 = 1 Chr 16:15–18 ; 132:11–18 ; cf. Isa 31:4–5 ; Jer 7:1–15). Ezekiel and Second Isaiah look forward to an everlasting covenant between Yahweh and the nation ( Ezek 16:60 ; Isa 55:3 ; 61:8 ) which they describe elsewhere as a covenant of “peace” ( Ezek 34:25 ; 37:26 ; Isa 54:10 ) or one in which Yahweh’s Spirit will indwell the people ( Ezek 36:27–28 ; Isa 59:21 ). These varied descriptions of the future covenant were part of the larger messianic hope taking shape at that time. The servant figure of Second Isaiah will personally embody the new covenant ( Isa 42:6 ; 49:8 ), and through this servant other nations will be brought into covenant relation ( Isa 55:1–5). One finds a universalism in Second Isaiah not existing in Ezekiel. Malachi’s “messenger of the covenant,” finally, is cast as a priestly figure ( Mal 3:1 ; cf. 2:1–9 )." [REF:ABD, s.v. "New Covenant"; Notice--the Mosaic covenant was never described as being a 'olam covenant']



This is also an implied contrast in Ezek 16.59f:


"Yes, thus says the Lord God : I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; 60 yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant." [NRSV; the Mosaic covenant is NOWHERE called an 'olam' covenant in the Hebrew Bible, but the New one is…]


And referenced also in Jeremiah 50.5:


"In those days and in that time, says the Lord, the people of Israel shall come, they and the people of Judah together; they shall come weeping as they seek the Lord their God. 5 They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, and they shall come and join themselves to the Lord by an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten."  [NRSV]


[Let me note again here that the Mosaic covenant is never called an 'olam berith' in the Hebrew Bible (unlike other covenants). The closest possibility to something like this is in the acrostic Psalm 111, which states that God either 'commanded' or 'ordained' His covenant l'olam (to forever) in verse 9. This would be close, if we could be sure that it was referring to the Mosaic covenant (and if we could be sure that the literary conventions of acrostic poetry would allow us to press this detail that far), but the verbal parallels are more closely related to the Patriarchal promises (a la Ps 105.8--cf. 111.5) than to the covenant of Sinai. For example, the reference to redemption in the FIRST half of the verse, would place the context more surely in the promises to Abraham for the Exodus. The Exodus was a result of the Abrahamic covenant, NOT the not-yet-in-existence Mosaic one. But in any case, YHWH never--especially in the Pentateuch--refers to the covenant in such terms, in legal, 1st-person, or narrative contexts.]



The second thing to note is that the other major difference between the two covenants was about Torah--about how the covenant people would finally be able to live torah, because God would place it in their hearts!


In the Mosaic covenant, the people were supposed to write the law on their own hearts, but they did not. According to the prophets, their hearts were hard, uncircumcised, and made of stone. But in the New Covenant, those who entered into the New Covenant got new hearts -- hearts of flesh--and the beauty of torah was written by God onto their hearts, via the ministry of His Spirit!


"Even the memorizing of the law of God does not guarantee the performance of what has been memorized. Jeremiah's words imply the receiving of a new heart by the people-as is expressly promised in the parallel prophecy of his younger contemporary Ezekiel: "I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God" (Ezek. 11: 19f.; cf. 36:26f.). When first they heard the covenant-law they said: "All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient" (Ex. 24:7). But they did not have the moral power to match their good intention. Hence the necessity arose of repeatedly returning to their God and his covenant, only to turn aside to their own ways once again. The defect did not lie in the covenant-law; it was good in itself but, to borrow Paul's language, "it was weakened by the flesh" (Rom. 8:3)--by the inadequacy of the human material which it had to work upon. What was needed was a new nature, a heart liberated from its bondage to sin, a heart which not only spontaneously knew and loved the will of God but had the power to do itThe new covenant was a new one in that it could impart this new heart. It was not new in regard to its own substance: "I will be their God, and they shall be my people," quoted here from Jer. 31:33, was the substance of the covenant of Moses' day. "I will take you for my people, and I will be your God" was God's promise to the Israelites while they were still in Egypt (Ex. 6:7);"1.,,.. will be your God, and you shall be my people" was his promise to them when he had given them his law in the wilderness (Lev. 26:12), a promise taken up and applied in apostolic days to the people of the new covenant (2 Cor. 6:16). And in the New Testament Apocalypse, when a new heaven and earth come into being, and God's dwelling-place is established with his people, the ancient covenant-promise is repeated: "they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them [and be their God]" (Rev. 21:3). But while the "formula" of the covenant remains the same from age to age, it is capable of being filled with fresh meaning to a point where it can be described as a new covenant. "I will be your God" acquires fuller meaning with every further revelation of the character of God; "…[NICNT, at Heb 8.8]


But this torah is not identical with the 'previous' torah--at least not at the ordinances level. Not only is the teaching role of the Levities essentially discontinued, even the very symbol of the presence of God among His people is not included:


"In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the LORD, “men will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. (Jer 3:16, NIV)


Note that if the Ark was NOT SUPPOSED to be remade, then all of the rabbinic hopes of a restored-to-precise-originals Temple worship were fundamentally off-track. This needs to be considered carefully, because this has MAJOR implications for how one views the 'eternity' of the Mosaic ordinances.  For example, any 'olam' ordinance about the Mosaic Day of Atonement simply cannot be performed in this New Age/World/Olam.


[It is interesting that Rashi, commenting on this verse, makes a teaching strangely like the NT teaching of the assembly of believers as the 'temple of God': "The entire people will be so imbued with a spirit of sanctity that God's Presence will rest upon them collectively, as if the congregation was the Ark of the Covenant" (from The Stone Edition Tanach)]


For another example, take this description of the New Age in Isaiah 66:


I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans  and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.  20 And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels.  21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD."  (Is 66:19-21, NIV)


"66:19-21 . People outside Israel will turn to Him and worship Him. The remnant of believing Israelites will travel as missionaries to other parts of the world, to tell Gentiles about God’s glory. Those places and peoples will include Tarshish, probably in southwestern Spain (cf. 23:1, 6, 10, 14; 60:9), Libyans in northern Africa, Lydians in western Asia Minor, Tubal in northeastern Asia Minor, Greece, and distant islands. These and other peoples will be converted and will travel to Jerusalem to worship in the temple (cf. 2:2; Zech. 8:23). Some of them will even be selected as priests and Levites, thus showing that all the nations will in fact be blessed through Israel (cf. Gen. 12:3)." [BKC, in loc]


When non-Israelites can be 'selected as priests and Levites'--without ANY blood ties to Aaron, Levi, or Israel!!!!--the torah has obviously and radically changed…It still reveals the same beautiful, gracious, and inclusive heart of YHWH and is therefore still 'torah-as-teaching', but the 'torah-as-Mosaic-law' aspect has completely been removed in this case of New Age life…



So, the Hebrew bible is clear on a couple of things here:


1.        The New Covenant is NOT some 'version' of the Mosaic One--it is explicitly  'not like' it, and contrasted with it.

2.        The New Covenant is 'eternal' (olam), unlike the Mosaic One.

3.        The change of covenant is specifically to allow for the internalization of Torah (not achieved under the original covenant of Moses)

4.        The internalization of Torah would be accomplished by God, through the giving of the Spirit (indwelling), the implanting of His torah, and the forgiveness of sins.

5.        This internalization would remove (at a minimum) the necessity for the Levitical teaching system, so at least that part of "Mosaic torah" would be changed in the "New Tora". And the absence of the Ark, for another example, would indicate major structural changes to this torah as well, as would the inclusion of non-Israelites in the priesthood and Levitical ranks.



The third thing to note is that this Covenant is something in the future for the biblical writers, even the post-exilic ones, and actually was prophesized by Moses in Deut:


"Ezekiel had spoken to the same effect [as Jeremiah], though the word “new covenant” is not used in the passage, in ch 36:27 : “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.” In ch 37 Ezekiel again speaks of the great blessings to be enjoyed by the people of God, including cleansing, walking in God’s statutes, recognition as God’s people; and he distinctly says of this era of blessing: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them” ( v 26 ). Other important foreshadowings of the new covenant are found in Isa. 54:10 ; 55:3 ; 59:21 ; 61:8 ; Hos. 2:18–23 ; Mal. 3:1–4 . We may well marvel at the spiritual insight of these prophets, and it is impossible to attribute their forecasts to natural genius; they can accounted for only by divine inspiration" [ISBE, s.v. "New Covenant"]


Here are some of the verses mentioned as 'foreshadowings':


Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David. (Is 55.3)


And as for Me, this is My covenant with them, says the Lord: My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring,' says the Lord, 'from now and forever.' (Is 59.21)


For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery in the burnt offering; And I will faithfully give them their recompense, And I will make an everlasting covenant with them. (Is 61.8)


 In that day I will also make a covenant for them With the beasts of the field, The birds of the sky, And the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, And will make them lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord. (Hos 2.18ff)


Along with…


"I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for all time, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they may not turn from me " (Jer 32.39f)


And I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord ; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart." (Jer 24.7)


And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them" [Ezek 37.26]


And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20  that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances, and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God." (Eze 11:19-20; notice again that the goal is obedience to the torah, as we saw in Jer 31)


And in Deut 30.6, Moses points out that, in some future age after exile, God will do something in their hearts, that they might live and might obey His will from a new heart--a prophetic reference to the New Covenant:


"Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live." (NAS)





Fourth, we should note that this New Covenant was not fulfilled with the return from Exile, for post-biblical Jewish groups held it to be still future.


"The politically minded among these strict adherents to the covenant of Moses turned to open rebellion against a succession of Seleucid rulers and eventually obtained political independence. Others, however, were content to wait upon God to establish the new covenant with his people which Jeremiah (Jer 31:31–34) and Ezekiel (Ezek 36:24–37:28) had predicted, a covenant in which God himself would give them a “new heart” and a “new spirit,” removing their “heart of stone” and giving them a “heart of flesh” in its stead (Ezek 36:26). Thus the authors of Jubilees and of the Qumran documents frequently echo these passages (Jub. 1:22–25; 1QS 4, 5; 1QH 4, 5, 18; 4QShirShabb 2) and witness to a belief that these prophecies were being fulfilled within their communities."  [NT:DictPLs.v. "Law"]


"In postexilic Judaism the covenant idea contains all the ambiguity characterizing the larger eschatological hope generally. National life has been reconstructed along the old lines, which is to say the Mosaic covenant is again central and the Law (Torah) occupies a position of supremacy. In Nehemiah 9–10 a “faith covenant” is made to walk according to Yahweh’s tôrâ given through Moses. Ezra prays that the people will thereby return to the “faithful heart” of Abraham ( 9:7–8 ). At the same time a new covenant is looked for in the future, at which time the Messianic Age will dawn. Baruch 2:35 speaks of an everlasting covenant which will secure Israel’s tenure in the land. In Jubilees, where the Law has eternal validity and the Messianic Age is thought to have already begun, an everlasting covenant is described in which the people on their part will confess sin, and God on his part will create a holy spirit in the people and will cleanse them ( Jub. 1:22–24)." [REF:ABD, s.v. "New Covenant"]


[We had already noted the Rabbinic references to this as being future, above.]



Fifth, even though the New Covenant was for the implanting of torah in the hearts of the people, this torah was still considered somewhat different and a little 'new' by the Prophets.  We have seen this briefly--but decisively with the issues of the Ark and non-Israelite "Levites"--but this can also be seen from the Rabbinic references to the New Torah (see specific citations above), which cite or allude to OT/Tanaak passages. We might remember from above:


·         Ezek 36:25 was taken to refer to the annulment of the priestly purification tasks.

·         Isaiah 50.1 was understood to refer to a 'New' torah ("Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching (torah) will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples." [NRSV]).


But, interestingly, post-biblical writers thought the 'obligatory elements' of the New Torah (of the NCX) would be either stricter than that of the "old" covenant (e.g., Qumran, some rabbinics) or less strict (e.g., others of the Rabbi's)--but the fact of SOME change was apparently a given. Things would be different--along some axis of interpretation and praxis.


·         "5.1. Law Keeping at Qumran. The sectarians of Qumran frequently referred to themselves as “covenant-keepers” (1QS 5:2) because they, like Abraham, kept the commandments of God (CD 3:2). While the halakah at Qumran are more directly biblical than Pharisaic/rabbinic rulings, it does seem that the sect distinguished between biblical laws, certain hidden laws revealed for the present evil age, and ideal laws to be instituted in the messianic age. M. O. Wise has proposed that the Temple Scroll is the messianic Law mediated by the Teacher as the eschatological prophet. If true, this thesis shows that the new covenant was a version of covenantal nomism even stricter than that of the OT, with wider application of purity rules and absolute exclusion of foreigners from Israel. Nevertheless the covenant was understood to be essentially continuous from creation to the end time." [NT:DictPL, s.v. "Qumran and Paul"]


·         "In so far as the Torah was concerned, the days of the Messiah were in the eyes of the Sages an age when the Torah could be fulfilled in its entirety, and hence they continued to occupy themselves with the laws relating to the Temple and the holy things, and even decided Halakhot in respect of these subjects; thus many enactments and Halakhot were explained in the light of the possibility that 'the Temple would soon be rebuilt.' The two approaches existed side by side, and the express testimony for the annulment of the precepts in the hereafter has reached us with the addition of remarks by the other side: ' "The Lord permitteth forbidden things" [Psalms cxlvi 7, usually rendered: 'The Lord looseth the prisoners']. What is meant by "permitteth forbidden things" ? Some say: Every beast declared unclean in this world the Holy One, blessed be He, will declare clean in the hereafter ... but others say: He will not permit them in the hereafter...' (Midrash Psalms cxlvi § 4, p. 535)." [SWWRT, 313f]


·         "It is clear that the new covenant played a central role in the constitution and self-understanding of Qumran; but it was understood as a more rigorous re-establishment of Torah observance, with additional rules." [HI:NIGTC, at Hebrews 8.8]



And the use of terms like 'statutes' and 'ordinances' etc. would NOT require the NCX torah-content to be equivalent to the Mosaic content, since (a) the mosaic content was constantly shifting itself; and (b) the reference to Abraham's obedience to 'statutes', 'ordinances', torah, etc. shows that those terms can refer to a wide range of actual praxis (and in the case of Abraham, a quite minimal set of rules, apparently).


Obviously the 'as strict as biblical law' (some rabbis) and 'stricter than biblical law' (Qumran, Jubilees) positions would have a major problem with there being no ark and with non-Israelites being allowed into the priesthood…but that's THEIR interpretive problem (smile)….



Sixth, this New Covenant was a feature of the Age-to-Come, and was to be ushered in by the Messiah. It was to be inaugurated by the resurrection, and to be a manifestation of health, shalom, and miraculous power. Jewish expectation about the exact overlaps between this-age (this-olam), the messianic age, and the age-to-come (olam) were uncertain/vague, but this would allow for some overlapping period between the major Ages. The followers of Jesus saw this overlap and this introduction of the New Age happening in front of their very eyes…For Paul, the end-time resurrection of Israel had started "prematurely", with the resurrection of Jesus--and thus for him, the New Age was "rushing into the present"…


·         "Most of Judaism regarded the present age as under sin, but believed that God would rule the coming age unchallenged, after he raised the dead and judged them. Christians recognized that they had begun to experience the life of the future world; they were the vanguard of the future kingdom . ."  [BBCNT, at Heb 6.5]

·         "Nevertheless, the 'world to come' is something which it is already possible for believers, not only to 'speak' about, but to some extent to experience. The previous verses, with their references to soteria, not only as a future (1.14) but also as a present (2.3) reality, have given example of the 'powers of the world to come' (6.5), which are already at work (2.3f)." [HI:NIGTC, at Heb 2.5]


·         "Because the Messiah, the Spirit and other events that had arrived in Jesus were normally relegated in Judaism to the age to come, early Christian writers could say that believers in Jesus experienced a foretaste of the future world in their present relationship with God" [BBCNT, at Heb 6.5]


·         "The goodness of God’s word and the endowment of members of the community with charismatic gifts (2:4) are what they heard and saw. Together, the clauses describe vividly the reality of the experience of personal salvation enjoyed by the Christians addressed. The Holy Spirit had not only formed the community but was bringing it to eschatological fulfillment. The present period was already pervaded by the power of the coming age, which, through Christ, had made a profound inroad upon the community.  [WBC, at Heb 6.5]



Seventh, this transitioning-process was explicitly the plan of God and the conscious "action agenda" of Jesus! The messianic Servant of the Lord in Isaiah was not only supposed to call the people to covenant-righteousness, but YHWH had actually embodied the New Covenant within Him! He was supposed to be, and inaugurate, and authenticate, and sacrificially ground, and actualize the New Covenant--all by Himself, as the very Sent and Commissioned Presence of God. And it was the evidence of the  'in-breaking of the New Age' that Jesus used to encourage a disheartened and imprisoned John the Baptist…


"The servant figure of Second Isaiah will personally embody the new covenant ( Isa 42:6 ; 49:8 ), and through this servant other nations will be brought into covenant relation ( Isa 55:1–5)." [REF:ABD, s.v. "New Covenant"]


"I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness."  (Is 42.6, NIV; Jesus applied this to Himself, early in His ministry to Israel).


"This is what the LORD says:  “In the time of my favor I will answer you,  and in the day of salvation I will help you;  I will keep you and will make you  to be a covenant for the people,  to restore the land  and to reassign its desolate inheritances,  9 to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’  (Is 49.8, NIV; notice this figure is to be a covenant to the 'people--a covenant to Israel)



"In Luke 16:16 Jesus announces a fundamental shift in salvation history: “The Law and the prophets were until John: since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently.” Especially in light of Luke 16:17, Jesus cannot mean that the significance of the OT is terminated; he must mean that John’s coming has signaled a fundamental shift in the role and importance of “the Law and the prophets.” Matthew’s parallel (11:13) adds an important nuance: “the Law and the prophets prophesied until John.” Here Jesus claims that the entire OT has a prophetic aspect, that the Law itself has some kind of forward-looking element. This reference furnishes an important clue to the Matthean viewpoint on the Law and helps us unravel the meaning of Matthew 5:17." [NT:DictJG, s.v. "Law"]


We should note that there is an intrinsic post-Mosaic element in the Hebrew bible. Between the "a prophet like unto me", and the "Song of Moses" at the end of Deut, and the constant prophetic expectation/announcements of Elijah, Messiah, and Messianic times, and the very closing passages about the Messenger of the Covenant--the Hebrew Bible looks forward to something beyond itself--something in continuity with it (as the realization of the hope of righteousness and concomitant shalom), something demanded by it (to fulfill the needs for a righteousness that went beyond 'occasional'), and yet something with a higher level of revelational intensity -- "God with dwell among us" and God speaking 'face to face, as a man speaks with his friend' (Deut 33.11); and also with a higher level of God's intimate sanctifying work--"I will place my Spirit within them" and give them "a new heart".



"4.3. “This Is My Blood of the Covenant Poured Out for Many.” At the third cup of the Passover meal, after the traditional blessing, “Blessed be thou, Lord our God, King of the world, who has created the fruit of the vine …” or in lieu of it, Jesus said “this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many.” The imagery recalls Exodus 24:8, where Moses seals the divine covenant by pouring half of the “blood of the covenant” upon the altar and sprinkling the other half on the people. The covenant blood of Exodus 24:8 is understood in the Targums Pseudo-Jonathan and Onkelos as being given to “atone” for the sins of the people—as being expiatory in nature. Similarly, the Matthean addition “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28) makes explicit what is already implicit in the expression “blood of the covenant” (cf. Heb 9:20–22; 10:26–29)….Although not directly quoted, Jeremiah 31:31–34, with its reference to a “new” covenant, is also alluded to in this word. Even as the Qumran community spoke of a “new covenant” (CD 6:19; 8:21; 19:33–34; 20:1–2; 1 QpHab 2:1–4; 1 Q28b 3:25–26; 5:21–22; 1 Q34 3 ii 5–6), Jesus perceived his mission as having inaugurated a [new] covenant which would be sealed by his sacrificial death. Even if “new” was not expressly stated by Jesus, it is certainly implied. In this it recalls Jeremiah 31:34, which speaks of forgiveness of sins accompanying a new covenant. The centrality of forgiveness in this [new] covenant is also supported by the additional expression “which is poured out for many” found in the Markan and Matthean accounts. (The Lukan “for you” in 22:20 is most probably a liturgical change introduced to balance the “for you” of 22:19.) This recalls the expiatory and sacrificial self-giving of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:12 who bears the sin of many. (It is illegitimate to interpret “many” as denoting a limited atonement, for the expression here means “transgressors”; i.e., it refers to all, as the synonymous parallelism in Is 53:12b-c clearly indicates.)…This word indicates that Jesus in referring to his “blood poured out” understood his death as sacrificial (Lev 17:11–14) and sealing a [new] covenant. It is difficult not to interpret this word along the lines of Mark 10:45; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; etc., where Jesus gives his life—pours out his blood—as a vicarious atonement for sinful humanity. This and the first word indicate the voluntary nature of Jesus’ self-surrender, but this word adds that this self-surrender involves a sacrificial death which establishes a [new] covenant. It also seems clear that the words “this is my blood” would not have been interpreted literally by any of the disciples in light of the OT prohibition against drinking blood (cf. Lev 3:17; 7:26–27; 17:14; etc.), for if one remembers the difficulty Peter encountered in Acts 10:6–16 with regard to non-kosher meat, it is difficult to conclude that the disciples would have had no qualms drinking what they thought was real blood. The fact that there is not the slightest hesitation nor reservation mentioned in any of the accounts to drinking the cup indicates that they interpreted Jesus’ words metaphorically. The cup—that is, the contents of the cup—symbolizes Jesus’ death, his poured-out blood, shed as a sacrifice which seals a covenant." [NT:DictJG, s.v. "Last Supper"]




The exchange with John is illuminating because it portrays the olam-differences also:


"And the disciples of John reported to him about all these things. 19 And summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” 20 And when the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’” 21 At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He granted sight to many who were blind. 22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23 “And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.” ( Lk 7:18-23.NAS; referencing Is 35.5 and 61.1)


In this verse, Jesus authenticates his identity to John, but the passage goes on to contrast the "olams":


"And when the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the multitudes about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces. 26 “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. 27 “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ 28 “I say to you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”


This passage contrasts the "torah-compliance levels" attainable under the two different covenants. Under the Mosaic covenant, no one is/was greater in righteousness than John the Baptist. But, since the least person under the New Covenant has the torah-internalized, has been 'born from above', and has the very Spirit of God inside, they are 'greater than the great'. The New Covenant Spirit of God manifests itself in spontaneous acts of love, affection, and goodness--the end goal of the Law of God.





Well, we've at least seen that the Mosaic Laws were not necessarily going to persist into the New Covenant world--without an Ark, for example, much of it would be impossible to do. And, we've seen that many rabbis knew this, too. So what would the content of the 'torah' of the New Covenant actually be? Since we know some of the things that are NOT carried forward, what things MIGHT be carried forward in the New Torah?


Let's try to piece this together…


We have seen that the Messiah was supposed to come and give a New Torah (and annul some of the more fundamental aspects of mosaic ordinances, according to the biblical and rabbinic writers: dietary laws, festivals, sacrifices, teaching orders, Ark--and associated ritual, some prayers, purification processes, and even the hereditary requirements for priesthood). In some rabbinic passages the messiah was to bring '30 new commandments' (mitzvoth).


And Jesus actually seems to step into this New Torah model, somewhat. Compare His 'Sinai revelation' in John 13.34, in which Jesus gives a 'new commandment' and one that would differentiate His followers from others, just as the Mosaic code was supposed to differentiate Israel from her neighbors:


A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (NAS)



So, instead of 30 new mitzvoth we only get ONE? (with a good rabbinic shrug-gesture here…smile)


"Unfortunately" (smile), the ONE was the ALL anyway…


Remember how Jesus (and one of his interlocutors) summarized the whole law into TWO great commandments (both of 'love'):


"And one of them,  a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, ”‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”  ( Mt 22:35-40, NAS)


“Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Mt 7:12, NAS) [This is in complete conformity to Jewish teaching--cf: "That one 'should not do to others what one would not wish done to oneself' was a common teaching; it occurred in the Jewish book of Tobit, in the teaching of the early Jewish teacher Hillel and in Greek sources as well." [REF:BBC]]


"One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12.28ff)



and how Paul did the same thing in Romans 13.8 and Gal 5.13/6.2:


"Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,”  and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law."


"For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.


"Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ."


And Paul was simply in good rabbinic company (like Jesus) when he did so:


"Other Jewish teachers also summarized the humanward commandments of the law in terms of this quotation from Leviticus 19:18; Paul prefers this summary to all others, however, because this was the summary Jesus offered (Mk 12:31)." [REF:BBC, at Gal 5.13]


"It is important to appreciate the fact that the idea of the law being summed up in a single formulation is not new or distinctively Christian. According to Shabb. 31a, Hillel summed up the law in the negative form of the golden rule: “That which you hate do not do to your fellows; this is the whole law; the rest is commentary; go and learn it”; note also Luke 10:26–28 and Mark 12:32–33. More striking still, Rabbi Akiba spoke of the same passage (Lev 19:18) as “the greatest general principle in the Torah” (Sipra on Lev 19:18). And later still Rabbi Simlai (third century) maintained that Amos and Habakkuk had each reduced the law to one principle: “Seek me and live” (Amos 5:4); “The righteous man lives by his faith” (Hab 2:4) (b. Mak. 23b–24a). In so arguing, therefore, Paul is not making an anti-Jewish point; on the contrary, it is one that many Jews would readily accept. The difference would be that Hillel and the others would see the fundamental principle as one from which all the other commands could be deduced. Hillel certainly did not mean to discourage the would-be proselyte from observing the law: “Go and learn it!” (“the accent lies on the ‘Go, learn’”). Paul, on the other hand, evidently saw the love command as so much the substance of the law that such love could stand in place of much of that law. If the law is performed in loving the other (v 8), then it does not require further supplementation. Of course, the love command would come to expression in not committing adultery, not murdering, etc.; but not necessarily in rules regarding the sabbath and diet. On the contrary, Paul would no doubt say, insistence on such rules had offended against the law of love or prevented its coming to expression…Paul envisages a fulfilling = a meeting of the law’s demands in both letters, since in both letters his endeavor is to separate the law from its too restrictive function of setting Jew apart from Gentile. Hence also the normal recourse to the assumption that Paul can only have the moral law in view here is also slightly off target: it is the whole law, in its function of promoting love of neighbor, which is in view. In Jewish thought that meant bringing mankind “nigh to the law” (Hillel—m. Abot 1.12), that is, bringing them within the bounds of Judaism. But for Paul the love command meant an opening out of Judaism itself, to lose its ethnic distinctiveness; and that meant that the rituals which set Jew apart from Gentile become an unjustified restriction of the love command (this was the point of 2:25–29). The love command is not opposed to ritual per se; in Paul’s hands it simply questions the assumption that love of neighbor must (or will inevitably) be expressed in certain rituals, and it warns that some cherished rituals may come to prevent love of neighbor" [WBC, at Romans 13.8ff]


Paul seemed to understand the inclusiveness of the New Torah (cf. the non-Israelite 'levites' earlier), which was obvious in the universalism of the prophets. Consider Isaiah 19.19ff:


"In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border.  20 It will be a sign and witness to the LORD Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them.  21 So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them.  22 The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. 23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together.  24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.  25 The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.


The coming of the Messiah was to produce the unity of the world, around the worship of YHWH. The Israel-first-then-gentiles priority of the gospels illustrate this universalistic and inclusivist view of the OT prophets. Too many of the amazingly beautiful elements of Jewish worship had become barriers to Israel fulfilling its role as a 'kingdom of priests' and 'teacher of the gentiles'. The temple had become a point of division and barrier, and even the Sabbath--the very sign of the Mosaic covenant--had become a 'line of death':


"Rabbinic literature is filled with sabbath regulations and detailed instructions that go far beyond anything found elsewhere in Jewish literature. The most extensive regulations are gathered together in the Mishnah (Šabb. 7.2; Bes\a 5.2; and in Erubin, cf. TDNT 7:12–14). Many of these instructions are aimed at protecting the sabbath from profanation. In cases of emergency, however, particularly as regards threats to life, one could flee on sabbath (Tanh. 245a), act as a midwife on sabbath (Šabb. 18.3) to preserve life, and put out a fire on sabbath (Šabb. 16.1–7). These are exceptions and sabbath sacredness is to be maintained in cases of doubt (Tanh. 38b). The rabbis followed the thought that the sabbath was made for the Jews and not for anyone else (Midr. Exod. 31.12 [109b]; Exod. Rab. 25.11; Deut. Rab. 1.21). A Gentile who keeps the sabbath, according to Rabbi Simeon b. Laqish (mid 3d century A.D.), “deserves death” (Sanh. 58b). Sabbath-keeping and Jewish identity were one concept in normative Judaism." [REF:ABD, 'sabbath']


This is so counter to the biblical intention of the Sabbath, as a time of rest, safety, intimacy, and celebration. The approach of Jesus was decidedly different:


"The gravamen of the Pharisees’ complaint was that Jesus was setting himself above the Sabbath, and therefore changing the Law of Moses. Jesus’ answer to this charge is found in his comment after he healed the woman who had been paralyzed: “Was it not necessary that this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Lk 13:16). In Mark’s three passion predictions (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:32–34) the important word dei, “it is necessary,” is used to denote a divine necessity for Jesus’ death laid down for him in Scripture. There was also a divine necessity for healing on the Sabbath, insofar as the Sabbath was divinely ordained to be for Israel a foretaste of the kingdom of God. By healing those bound by the kingdom of Satan, Jesus had enabled the kingdom of God to break in upon human life (Lk 11:20; Mk 3:27). Thus, since the Sabbath was a foretaste of the kingdom, there was no better day for him to perform his acts of mercy. Since the kingdom had arrived, the Son of man was Lord of the Sabbath (Mk 2:28)…When Jesus’ disciples pluck ears of grain on the Sabbath (Mk 2:23–28), it therefore comes as no surprise that Jesus should appeal to David’s example in 1 Samuel 21:1–6, with the added comment that “the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). This indicates something which for Jesus the Pharisees had missed—the humanitarian purpose of the Sabbath in Deuteronomy. To interpret it in an antihumanitarian fashion is to misinterpret it. Matthew 12:5–7 makes the same case. If the kingdom has arrived, all this activity is justified. The Pharisees, of course, do not accept that the kingdom has arrived. Here it would appear that the author of Hebrews has faithfully represented Jesus’ teaching by seeing the Sabbath as a shadow of that rest which remains for the people of God when they enter the kingdom (cf. Heb 4). The followers of Jesus live in a constant Sabbath rest insofar as they live in the kingdom. They are the weary and heavy-laden who have found rest (Mt 11:28)." [NT:DictJG, s.v.  "Ethics and Law", section 4.1]


The Sabbath was not part of the torah of the Patriarchs--it was exclusively part of the Mosaic covenant. In fact, it was the sign of that covenant (and not part of the other covenants of the Hebrew Bible):


"Here (Ex 31.12-17) the Sabbath is to be a "sign" of the covenant "between me and you" (Ex 31:13,17). The expression "between me and you" occurs as covenant formula in the covenants with Noah and Abraham (Gen 9:12; 17:11). So the sabbath is the sign of the Mosaic covenant just as the rainbow is the sign of the Noahic covenant and circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant. Unlike the rainbow, this sign is primarily for the benefit of Israel. Its function is that Israel may know that Yahweh makes Israel holy (Ex 31:13). It is a sign of relationship between Yahweh and Israel. Thus as God originally declared the sabbath day itself holy, the sabbath command for Israel declared that they also were made holy by God. This is forward-looking, anticipating the goal of covenant history (i.e., the eschatological holiness of New World/Olam Israel).



For Paul, ALL aspects of law had to be subservient to the foundational principle of love. That meant that dietary restrictions and festival observance were matters to be subordinated to the 'weightier matters' of love, mercy, and compassion. Note this ordering in Romans 14 where he discusses these:


"Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.  2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.  4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. …5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.  7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.  8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. …9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  11 It is written: ”‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.  14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.  15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.  16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.  17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,  18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.  21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.  23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin." (Romans 14)


Everything goes back to faith, and to love. And these are 'solidly' Jewish/Rabbinic ideas of the time.


Paul indeed aspired to produce in the Christian believer the attitudinal and behavioral righteousness as demanded by Torah--he just saw the process/problem 'from the inside out'. He saw the OT/Tanaak problem of the 'spirit of stubbornness' and 'spirit of harlotry' in humans, so often spoken about by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The OT prophets saw how deep the problem was, and that only a new heart, a new resurrection (Ezek 'dry bones'), an implanted Torah, and an implanted Spirit could solve that. And THAT could only be instituted by a 'better sacrifice'…Paul points this out in Romans 8:


" For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." ["Paul’s point here is that whether the law brings life or death depends on whether it is written in one’s heart by the Spirit (Ezek 36:27) or practiced as an external standard of righteousness, which is unattainable by human effort (cf. 3:27; 9:31–32; 10:6–8)." [REF:BBC, in loc]]



And, as suggested by many of the Rabbi's in their discussions about how this New Torah would differ--in appearance--from the Mosaic Torah, the pattern was set by the Liberator Himself:


"The Gospels simply assume, but do not discuss, the freedom of God. They speak more clearly about the freedom of Jesus which may be suggestively characterized as follows: Jesus is independent of all parties and groups in Judaism in his day and free with regard to Jewish traditions (e.g., Sabbath observance) and many social and religious conventions (e.g., relationships with lepers, a Samaritan, women and sinners). In other words, Jesus is free to associate with any and all who heed his message, just as God loves both sinner and saint. “This is why Jesus is the paradigm of freedom from the ideological use of ‘God’ to sanction either the status quo or efforts to remodel it on the basis of our grievances” (Keck, 79)….Jesus is free to reinterpret the Law of Moses, as illustrated in his familiar words “But I say to you” (see Commandment). He enjoys the freedom of authority given him by the Father, such as his authority to judge others and to have life in himself to give to whom he wills (Jn 5:21–29). Thus he is free to lay down his life or to take it again (Jn 10:17–18)….Jesus’ freedom, however, does not mean independence. He is sent by the Father and only does what the Father wills (Jn 6:38). His freedom is based on the oneness with the Father established by the Father’s loving gift (Jn 17). In turn, Jesus’ freedom is a model for the freedom of his followers who gain their freedom through their relationship to him (Jn 8:36)." [Green, Joel B., Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. electronic ed., Page 250. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997, c1992.]


The implanted torah and word of the Lord (dabar) would create both the freedom from 'forms' and the true freedom of the heart (a la Ezekiel) to achieve the goal of torah--love. This can also be seen in the Book of James:


"…in James the “law of freedom” is linked with “the implanted word” that offers salvation (Jas 1:21). This suggests a strongly Christian connotation to the phrase (-). According to James, the freedom offered by this law is a liberty from self-serving behavior in order to do the works of true faith—acts of charity, self-restraint and harmonious living (Jas 1:27; 2:15–17; 3:9–10, 17–18; 4:11). In this regard James echoes the Gospels’ theme of freedom from self-servitude as well as freedom from external powers of evil (Jas 3:6; 4:7). Whatever the apparent differences between James and Paul on faith and works, in practice both make the love of neighbor the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:8–10; Jas 2:8–10)." [Martin, Ralph P., and Peter H. Davids. Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000, c1997.}


A good example of this would be the dietary laws, of clean and unclean foods. The New Testament is quite clear in its reporting that Jesus 'declared all foods clean' (Mark 7.19). This is echoed in Luke 11.39-41 ["Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you."], probably 'remembered' by Peter 'again' after his Acts 10-11 experience ["The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”], and affirmed by Paul in numerous places. Jesus completely sets aside the classic torah-as-laws of external purity:


"The question of ritual purity was quite prominent among various sects of Jews at the time of Jesus, e.g., the Essenes bathed three times a day to ensure their compliance with the law. Jesus and His disciples often found themselves in conflict with the Pharisees over this question; for instance, the disciples were criticized for eating with unwashed hands (Mk. 7:1–7) and Jesus for dining with sinners (Lk. 15:1f; 19:1–10). Jesus, in contrast, accused the Pharisees of having forgotten the weightier matter of justice in their zeal to follow the law (Mt. 23:23ff); He compared them to whitened sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones (Mt. 23:27). In light of the laws regarding ritual purity and death. Jesus could scarcely have used a more pungent reproach. In anticipation of the new covenant, Jesus went further in deliberately setting aside the whole question of ritual purity. He taught that it is words flowing from a corrupt heart that defile a man, not food, which merely enters the mouth on the way to the stomach (Mk. 7:14–23)." [Bromiley, Geoffrey W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. electronic edition., Vol. 1, Page 722. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001, c1979-1988.]


As anticipated by many of the Rabbi's, "(Mosaic) Torah observance" was only a defining feature of the prior covenant, and would be radically changed and/or annulled in the Age to Come/Messianic Age. For Jesus and the members of His New Covenant community, that Age had been initiated and their "(New Covenant) Torah observance" could only be seen in acts of love, inclusion, fellowship with Gentiles, and celebration of all things:


"But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer." [1 Tim 4.3, NAS]


"All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. 25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience‘ sake; 26 for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience’ sake. 28 But if anyone should say to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience‘ sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved." [1 Tim 12.23]


"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. " [Col 2.16]


The Mosaic covenant looked forward (noted above)--it was called a 'shadow' looking forward to the Love and Freedom of Messiah, and to a 'post-sin' and 'post-uncleanness' Age.


The author of Hebrews, for example, expresses this aspect of the "old" covenant in words taken from the Hebrew Bible (Ex 25.40):


"The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,  2 and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. 3 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer.  4 If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.  5 They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”  6 But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises." [Heb 8.1ff, NIV]


The earthly dwelling of God in the Mosaic covenant was a 'copy' of the true dwelling of God in heaven (so well recognized by Solomon - 1 Kings 8.27 ). This was an established argument by other Jews of the day:


"Parallels between the heavenly and earthly were common in Judaism (e.g., the heavenly and earthly court or Sanhedrin), as elsewhere in ancient thought (e.g., the Babylonian temple of Marduk, called Esagila, and the Canaanite temple of Baal). (Some ancient Near Eastern temples and later mithraea were also designed to reflect the structure of the whole cosmos, signifying the deity’s universal rule. Philo naturally applied the principle of heavenly prototype and earthly copy even more broadly, following Platonic models. When specifically comparing the heavenly and earthly temples, Philo allegorized in great detail, regarding the ideal heavenly temple as virtue, its altar as ideas, its linen as earth, etc.) Correspondences between heavenly and earthly temples were presumably intended in Exodus 25:8–9, part of which is cited in Hebrews 8:5…Much of Judaism, from Hellenized wisdom traditions (Wisdom of Solomon 9:8) to apocalyptic visionaries and writers and later rabbis, spoke of the earthly temple as an imitation of the heavenly one. The eternality and value of the old temple are relativized by comparing it with the true temple in heaven." [BBC, at Heb 8.1ff]


Again, this argument that the earthly was a copy of the heavenly is widespread in early Judaism--this is NOT a 'Christian innovation'! The reader is invited to look at: Josephus' Ant 3.123, War 5.212f; 2 Baruch 4.2-7; Ascension of Isaiah 7.10; Jubilees 31.34; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 1QSb 4.24ff. For example, Wisdom of Solomon 9.8:


"You have given command to build a temple on your holy mountain, and an altar in the city of your habitation, a copy (mimena) of the holy tent that you prepared from the beginning (arche)."



And Hebrews continues the argument in 12.1:"The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves."


The rabbis/scribes would call the law a 'pedagogue who educates God's creatures' (Gen Rab 1, cited at [ART:136]); Paul would call it a "pedagogue leading us toward (God's) Messiah" (Gal 3.23).


Without the backdrop and foreshadowing of the Law, there would have been no possible way to appreciate the depth, riches, and grace of the God-given Suffering Servant, the very living, "God with us"  Temple of God (John 2.20 and Mt 12.6). Without the prophecies in the extended Torah of the Hebrew Bible, we would not have recognized Messiah. Without the promises of the New Covenant within the Hebrew Bible, we would not have known the liberation of the heart promised by God in Tanaach. 


Every New Covenant believer finds awesome delight in the OT/Tanaach for that reason--the incredible work of God in Christ for us is much too vast and too rich to be exhausted by mere words like 'sacrifice' and 'substitute' and 'savior'. We have to watch the process at the Day of Atonement, of the joint actions of death and banishment--to appreciate what Jesus experienced for us on the Cross. We have to watch a burnt ola offering be completely and utterly consumed to appreciate the wholehearted, self-denying commitment of Yeshua to the Father. We have to tremble in desperate hope and expectation that the Cohen Gadol will emerge from the Sanctuary alive on the Day of Atonement--signifying the forgiveness of sins for another year--to have our modern hearts completely calmed once-and-for-all(!) from the very real prospects of the-terror-of-outraged-holiness, solely by the work of the Suffering Servant, who was 'bruised for our transgressions'. We have to see the radical 'ugliness' of uncleanness in the Law to appreciate the depth of love (hesed) and mercy of forgiveness (of the New Covenant promises) which crossed that line of ugliness to reach us and to rescue ones such as us. We have to read all the laws God made for the poor--as an expression of His hear, to understand the closeness and solidarity God intends for our relationship with Him and among ourselves--as modeled in the Carpenter from 'nothing-good-from-Nazareth' who 'eats with sinners and outcasts'. I have to watch the zealous religious of ancient Israel put tassels on their garments and frontlets on their head--for purposes of keeping Torah before them at all time, to appreciate the beauty, grace, provision, and peace of having the indwelling promised Spirit of God perform that 'task'--"this is the way, walk in it"--for all New Covenant believers.


There is (and was) extreme and warranted joy in the Mosaic Law itself--for it was a true window into the heart of God, into the needs of humanity, and created the framework and expectation of the work of God in Christ, and the revelation of the Final Torah in His person [ "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by("in") his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.  3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,"]. But now, in New Covenant days, that "Old" covenant becomes a source of joy at a different and higher level. As a New Covenant believer, I do NOT have to 'obey' the regulations of the Mosaic Covenant (assuming we could figure out today WHICH ONES God would still 'require', given all the changes throughout biblical and post-biblical history -- a real methodological problem for those who, holding firmly to "non-modern" views of the Hebrew Bible, do not accept rabbinic halakah as 'torah', yet who aspire to keep "historically Mosaic" torah today, IMO), but I am (apparently) free to do so--as long as: (1) I do not depend on my "compliance" for 'primary' righteousness [e.g., I can do something to honor God, knowing that it is a righteousness 'derivative' from my primary righteousness, 'bought and given' by Christ]; and (2) I do not try to 'socially enforce those' theologically on others, especially by 'elitism'. [This is Paul's argument in Romans 14, above--I can celebrate Sabbath or Passover all I want--and feel/know that God is genuinely pleased by my doing so to remember His work in our histories--as long as, (a) I really believe that, given what I know about the New Covenant; (b) I already have a repaired relationship with God, based upon the work of the High Priest and Sacrifice Jesus the Messiah; and (c) I don’t' consider myself 'more holy' than those who don't do the same things…More could be said here, but this is the net of Paul's explanation in Romans 14).]







Pardon my digression here, but…


I find it amusing/amazing sometimes that so many people believe that Paul was an anti-Rabbi, and that his views are perversions or aberrations of what he had presumably been taught at the feet of Gameliel.  I find too many people who have been taught that the 1st-century Jews were not looking for a messiah (when that belief is profuse/pervasive through the rabbinic material--see messiah.html), and most people do not realize that many rabbis DID believe in a New Torah at the coming of the Messiah (all the passages we cited above). And most people do not realize that most of Paul's theological themes can be found in the rabbinics as well.


A striking example of this (and I hope I don’t get too far off track here) is in the contrast between faith and law-works in Gal 3.11:


"Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”  12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”



This contrast between 'works' and 'faith' can be found in the Talmud, in an almost-exact formulation. Consider this beautiful (and famous, for this is where the myth of the "613 Mosaic laws" comes from--notice in the passage how that number was 'calculated'…smile) passage in b. Makk 23a-b:


"R. Simlai when preaching said: Six hundred and thirteen precepts were communicated to Moses, three hundred and sixty-five negative precepts, corresponding to the number of solar days [in the year], and two hundred and forty-eight positive precepts, corresponding to the number of the members of man's body. Said R. Hamnuna: What is the [authentic] text for this? It is, Moses commanded us torah, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob, ‘torah’ being in letter-value, equal to six hundred and eleven, ‘I am’ and ‘Thou shalt have no [other Gods]’ [not being reckoned, because] we heard from the mouth of the Might [Divine]. David came and reduced them to eleven [principles], as it is written, A Psalm of David. Lord, who shall sojourn in Thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in Thy holy mountain? — [i] He that walketh uprightly, and [ii] worketh righteousness, and [iii] speaketh truth in his heart; that [iv] hath no slander upon his tongue, [v] nor doeth evil to his fellow, [vi] nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour, [vii] in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but [viii] he honoureth them that fear the Lord, [ix] He sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not, [x] He putteth not out his money on interest, [xi] nor taketh a bribe against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. ‘He that walketh uprightly’: that was Abraham, as it is written, Walk before Me and be thou whole-hearted. ‘And worketh righteousness,’ such as Abba Hilkiahu. ‘Speaketh truth in his heart,’ such as R. Safra. ‘Hath no slander upon his tongue,’ that was our Father Jacob, as it is written, My father peradventure will feel me and I shall seem to him as a deceiver. ‘Nor doeth evil to his fellow,’ that is he who does not set up in opposition to his fellow craftsman. ‘Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour;’ that is he who befriends his near ones [relatives]. ‘In whose eyes a vile person is despised;’ that was Hezekiah the king [of Judah] who dragged his father's bones on a rope truckle-bed. ‘He honoureth them that fear the Lord;’ that was Jehoshaphat king of Judah, who every time he beheld a scholar-disciple rose from his throne, and embraced and kissed him, calling him Father, Father; Rabbi, Rabbi; Mari, Mari! ‘He sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not,’ like R. Johanan; for R. Johanan [once] said: I shall remain fasting until I reach home. ‘He putteth not out money on interest,’ not even interest from a heathen. ‘Nor taketh a bribe against the innocent,’ such as R. Ishmael son of R. Jose. It is written [in conclusion], He that doeth these things shall never be moved. Whenever R. Gamaliel came to this passage he used to weep, saying: [Only] one who practised all these shall not be moved; but anyone falling short in any of these [virtues] would be moved! Said his colleagues to him: Is it written, ‘He that doeth all these things [shall not fall]’? It reads, ‘He that doeth these things’, meaning even if only he practises one of these things [he shall not be moved]. For if you say otherwise, what of that other [similar] passage, Defile not ye yourselves in all these things? Are we to say that one who seeks contact with all these vices, he is become contaminated; but if only with one of those vices, he is not contaminated? [Surely,] it can only mean there, that if he seeks contact with any one of these vices he is become contaminated, and likewise here, if he practises even one of these virtues [he will not be moved].


"Isaiah came and reduced them to six [principles], as it is written, [i] He that walketh righteously, and [ii] speaketh uprightly, [iii] He that despiseth the gain of oppressions, [iv] that shaketh his hand from holding of bribes, [v] that stoppeth his ear from hearing of blood, [vi] and shutteth his eyes from looking upon evil; he shall dwell on high. ‘He that walketh righteously,’ that was our Father Abraham, as it is written, For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, etc.; ‘and speaketh uprightly,’ that is one who does not put an affront on his fellow in public. ‘He that despiseth the gain of oppressions,’ as, for instance, R. Ishmael b. Elisha; ‘that shaketh his hand from holding of bribes,’ as, for instance, R. Ishmael son of Jose; ‘that stoppeth his ear from hearing of blood’, one who hears not aspersions made against a rabbinic student and remains silent, as once did R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon; ‘and shutteth his eyes from looking upon evil,’ as R. Hiyya b. Abba [taught]; for R. Hiyya b. Abba said: This refers to one who does not peer at women as they stand washing clothes [in the court-yard] and [concerning such a man] it is written, He shall dwell on high.


"Micah came and reduced them to three [principles], as it is written, It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the Lord doth require of thee: [i] only to do justly, and [ii] to love mercy and [iii] to walk humbly before thy God. ‘To do justly,’ that is, maintaining justice; and to love mercy,’ that is, rendering every kind office; ‘and walking humbly before thy God,’ that is, walking in funeral and bridal processions. And do not these facts warrant an a fortiori conclusion that if in matters that are not generally performed in private the Torah enjoins ‘walking humbly,’ is it not ever so much more requisite in matters that usually call for modesty?


"Again came Isaiah and reduced them to two [principles], as it is said, Thus saith the Lord, [i] Keep ye justice and [ii] do righteousness [etc.]. Amos came and reduced them to one [principle], as it is said, For thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye Me and live. To this R. Nahman b. Isaac demurred, saying: [Might it not be taken as,] Seek Me by observing the whole Torah and live?But it is Habakuk who came and based them all on one [principle], as it is said, But the righteous shall live by his faith. [b. Makk 23a-b]


Notice a couple of things about this moving passage (apart from its obvious love of rabbinic schools and teachers…smile):


1.        The speaker repeatedly 'summarizes' the Law, as did Jesus and as did Paul.

2.        The 'smaller' the summary, the closer the summary looks like those of Jesus and Paul

3.        The conclusion of Rabbi Simlai--the summary about seeking God by faith--is explicitly in the line of "Pauline" theology (Gal 3.11 and Romans 1.17) and that of the Book of Hebrews (Heb 12.38 and 11.6)

4.        Another rabbi DISAGREED with Simlai and  argued for 'law observance'!!!!!! (How many times has THIS been repeated?!…)


The more I read and study the rabbinics, the more I realize that early "Christianity" was almost totally a part of first-century Judaism. I can find so many passages in Talmud that look strikingly like Paul--so many images, so many motifs, so many arguments. And, to a lesser extent, the same can be said of Hebrews.


One other simple example--the priority/superiority of the Messiah in Hebrews.


The Book of Hebrews argues for the superiority of God's New Covenant in many ways, with the first part of the book showing the superiority of the Lord Messiah over the angels and then over Moses (without deprecating either of them!). How different is this argumentation from this point in Tanhuma, as noted by Ginzberg?


"Note 836. Tehillim 21, 179. This passage also states that the rays which will emanate from the countenance of the Messiah will spread a stronger lustre than those of Moses and Joshua. Does this mean that the Messiah will be greater than Moses?  See Tan. B. I, 139, where it is said: "The Messiah is greater than the (three) patriarchs, more exalted than Moses, and superior to the angels."   [HI:Ginz, notes to Moses, 836]


[Remember also Jesus's word that Abraham rejoiced to see His day…]


…and even the giving of the exalted name, to Jesus, of YHWH (Philip 2) and of THEOS (Heb 1) can be paralleled somewhat from the Midrash:


"In the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will seat the Messiah in the supernal Yeshiva (house of study), and they will call him 'the Lord,' just as they call the Creator…And the Messiah will sit in the Yeshiva, and all those who walk on earth will come and sit before him to hear a new Tora and new commandments and the deep wisdom which he teaches Israel…" (Yemenite Midrash, pp. 349-50)



Part of the misconception, I expect, is due to the images in the Gospels of the 'conflicts' between Jesus and the Pharisees. Whereas the Synoptic gospels focus on more 'mundane', slightly less-theological issues and controversies, the Gospel of John contains much more of the theological interaction between Jesus and His 'opponents'. Sometimes this gives the impression that Jesus was extremely and radically neo-Jewish, but this would be a false conclusion. The controversies stand out because only they are recorded--to help define the relative positions. No doubt there were more teachers and leaders who agreed with Jesus than just Nicodemus, Joseph, and the unnamed scribe in Mark 12.28ff. And, of course, Jesus typically took Pharisean positions while disputing with the Sadducees.


But the passage with the commended scribe in Mark 12 is instructive in this regard, if under-representative:


·         "The reply of the scribe is peculiar to Mark. There are no grounds for questioning the authenticity of this brief dialogue, and it is therefore an the more impressive as serving to dispel the all too common belief that the Judaism of Jesus' day was one of hidebound legalism. To be sure, a cursory reading of Paul's letters (especially Galatians and Romans) is often a trap for the unwary, seeming to support this view. It is well to bear in mind that the scribe's response to Jesus is rooted in the Old Testament tradition: cf. I Sam 15:22, Hos 6:6. There is no judgment on his part as to what is or is not essential, and certainly no repudiation of the sacrificial system which was a present reality, but the scribe asserts the primacy of love of God and of fellow." [C.S. Mann, Mark, AB, in loc.]


·         "These verses, which record the approving response of the scribe and Jesus' recognition of his favorable disposition in the perspective of the Kingdom of God, are confined to the Marcan account. The omission of the divine name in the reaffirmation of the Shema' ("he is one") is typically Jewish, and stems from a respect for the name of God grounded in the third commandment (Ex. 20:7). The qualifying phrase "and there is no other beside him" is drawn from Deut. 4:3 5 (cf. Ex. 8: 10; Isa. 45:21). The surprising feature in the scribe's response is the declaration that the double law of love is superior to sacrifice. The common scribal position is well summarized in the maxim of Simon the Just (ca. 200 B.C.): "The world rests on three things: the Law, the sacrificial worship, and expressions of love" (M. Aboth 1. 2). But there are also statements in rabbinic literature which are attached explicitly or implicitly to OT texts like I Sam. 15:22; Hos. 6:6; Prov. 21:3 which affirm the superiority of the moral life, and especially of love, to cult and sacrifice" [Lane, NICNT, Mark, in loc.]


For example, from the Talmud again:


"R. Eleazar stated, Greater is he who performs charity than [he who offers] all the sacrifices, for it is said, To do charity and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." [b. Sukk 49b]




In other words, early Jewish Christianity was a sub-set of early Judaism. All of the theological themes of the New Testament (with the possible exception of the merging of Jew and Gentile into one body, a la Ephesians 3) can be found in either undeveloped/nascent form, or in fully-developed (but not applied to the current day) in the rabbinics. And, in the case of a  New Tora (with different forms of 'law' than in the Mosaic), this was also the case…


"Thus ends the digression of Glenn…"



One final question about this: How unprecedented was it for God the Father to "change torah" (through Jesus)?


This is an interesting question, which is very instructive for our case.


After the New Testament period, some of the early Rabbi's were known to exclude any possible changes to the Mosaic law. They specifically (in the Rabbinics) said that (1) no prophets could change torah--even including Elijah when he would come(!); and that (2) no leader could change torah because of a 'voice from God' (bat kol). These two stipulations would pretty well preclude God from ever changing the law, even if He wished to.


But let's transport those rabbis back in time, to the post-Mosaic period of David/Solomon, in 1 Chronicles 28. David is commissioning the building plan and process for the coming Solomonic Temple. At one point in the narrative he says:


"Then David gave his son Solomon the plans for the portico of the temple, its buildings, its storerooms, its upper parts, its inner rooms and the place of atonement.  12 He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the LORD and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things.  13 He gave him instructions for the divisions of the priests and Levites, and for all the work of serving in the temple of the LORD, as well as for all the articles to be used in its service.  14 He designated the weight of gold for all the gold articles to be used in various kinds of service, and the weight of silver for all the silver articles to be used in various kinds of service:  15 the weight of gold for the gold lampstands and their lamps, with the weight for each lampstand and its lamps; and the weight of silver for each silver lampstand and its lamps, according to the use of each lampstand;  16 the weight of gold for each table for consecrated bread; the weight of silver for the silver tables;  17 the weight of pure gold for the forks, sprinkling bowls and pitchers; the weight of gold for each gold dish; the weight of silver for each silver dish;  18 and the weight of the refined gold for the altar of incense. He also gave him the plan for the chariot, that is, the cherubim of gold that spread their wings and shelter the ark of the covenant of the LORD.  19 “All this,” David said, “I have in writing from the hand of the LORD upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.”  [1 Chron 28.11ff, NIV]


"In a most remarkable declaration David shared with Solomon the plans and specifications for the temple and its furnishings which the Spirit of God had revealed to him (vv. 11-12, 19). The construction would be done by human hands but the plan and significance of the temple were from God. This also included the ministry of the priests and Levites (v. 13) and the weight of the gold and silver from which the sacred temple furnishings were to be made (vv. 14-18). Not wanting to leave anything to chance, David wrote down every detail of the heavenly revelation (v. 19). He encouraged Solomon to be strong for the task (cf. v. 10), courageous, and not fearful because God was with him (v. 20) and the workers would willingly assist him (v. 21)." [BKC, in loc.]




David is 'changing torah' from the tabernacle-centered, ark-based sanctuary, to a temple-centered, ark-based sanctuary (and changes in the Levitical duties and age qualifications). And these 'changes' to the Mosaic layout were specifically attributed to a revelation from God.  I can imagine a conversation between David and the rabbis running something like this:


Rabbi's: "Nasi David, you cannot do this blasphemy! The law of Moses was delivered to us once-and-for-all hundreds of years ago! You cannot change torah by abandoning the tabernacle instructions in the Law. This law is eternal and cannot be changed. We must move the ark (from outside the city) and the tabernacle (from its location at Gibeon) and bring them back together, in compliance with Torah. You must not abandon the Law of Moses."


David: "Guys, sorry, but God specifically told me--via His Spirit--to do exactly this, and to do it exactly in this detailed (and non-Mosaic) way. I cannot disobey the voice of God."


Rabbi's: "Oh, yes you can--and you must. Even if the voice of God were audible, as in a Bat Kol--"voice from Heaven"--you MUST not trust it. You must NOT listen to it, if it tells you to abandon the traditions that have been handed down to us."


David: "Fellas, are you sure about your 'closure theology' here? I mean, even a fully-authenticated-by-God prophet told me this was okay. Nathan himself specifically came to me and said that YHWH said to "do all that is in your heart" (1 Chron 17), although all He let me do was create the plans and gather the materials. I cannot disobey a prophet of the Lord!"


Rabbi's: "Oh, yes you can--and you must. Even if the prophet were the great Messianic forerunner Elijah, you must not listen to him if he tells you to change the law of Moses."


David: "Huh? Who is this Elijah character?"


Rabbi's: "Oops…we probably shouldn't have told you that…never mind"


David: "With all due respects, Rabbi's, I have every reason to believe that God wants me to 'change torah' (if this really constitutes such a change) instead of listening to your voice. I have at least two Bat Kol's (one about Shlomo building this temple, and one-probably internal--about the details/layouts), I have the explicit word of a prophet, and I have the God-enabled willingness and support of Israel and Judah (and you KNOW how hard it is to build consensus with this bunch!--it MUST be a miracle from God). I respect your zeal, but I think I had better "obey God rather than man" on this one. If God wants to "change HIS Mosaic law", that is HIS BUSINESS. As long as He commands it, I am going to have to go with it…And you guys will just have to take it up with Him."



[In defense of the rabbis, it should be noted that the Bat Kol criteria is not in itself bogus at all--if it is used to exclude isolated, one-off experiences (or claims to such experiences). A single extraordinary revelation--in the absence of any other  'supporting data'--should be treated with 'cordial suspicion' (but not dismissed out-of-hand, as this principle might seem to suggest). But in the cases of sustained patterns of revelation (a la the ministry of Moses and the ministry of Jesus & apostles), the criteria is essentially inapplicable. And the 'even Elijah' criterion is subject to no such 'qualification'.]


Was this really a 'change of torah'? Well, the detailed  innovations of God-via-David were certainly "changed from" (i.e., different) from the detailed regulations of God-via-Moses. With the sanctuary being the very center of Israel's worship, it would be difficult to find something 'more central' to the Mosaic law than this (unless you count the NT's emphasis on 'love' for God and people as the 'central' core--smile).


And even THIS Davidic change is foreshadowed by the Mosaic code. It looks forward to a 'king' and to a central sanctuary in some (undisclosed) city AFTER the closure of the Law (in Deut). It gives no detail, of course, but it certainly 'provides room for' the Davidic/Solomonic "innovations".


[This, btw, is one of the main challenges--in my opinion--that later (and modern) followers of "Moses" must face. When it is held that the Law must still be observed, we still must ask the question of 'which version of the Law'? We have--in this simple example of the sanctuary alone--at least four different 'sets of law': Mosaic (ark, tabernacle), Davidic/Solomonic (ark, Temple), Post-exilic (no-ark, Temple--but not built to the same 'revealed' specs as the Solomonic one, though); and Post-NT (no-ark, no-Temple)…It is not enough to say that only the unchanged laws (e.g., diet, Sabbath, festivals?) are to be observed today--this would simply ibe an "admission of guilt"--that (some of) the Law DID change, and that the theological grounding for 'torah immutability' is questionable and/or relative. It is not theologically obvious how one could ever be considered obeying the Law of Moses without a central, earthly sanctuary--even with clever rabbinic hermeneutics, most of which necessarily  presuppose a 'change in the surface of the code'. And when you divide the 'surface' (text) from the 'core' (intent/spirit), you immediately fall into the same methodological camp as the early Christians. And, at that point, you're no longer arguing from major theological, structural differences--now you're just 'haggling over details'…]


So, we DO have a clear precedent for God 'changing (Mosaic) torah' within the Hebrew Bible. (Also, the multiple examples of inner-Tanach law changes given earlier in the article could be seen the same way--as God authorizing alterations/abrogations of earlier stipulations.]







  1. Some aspects of torah are eternal and invariable (e.g., those reflective purely of the character/heart of God).
  2. Some commands in the Hebrew Bible were once-only commands, and not of 'eternally in-force' status (but they still could reveal God and function as torah-as-teaching, of course).
  3. Torah means teaching, instruction, guidance--and NOT simply 'law'.
  4. Most of the text of Mosaic "law" is NOT in legal form, but includes narratives, sermons, poetry, and oracles.
  5. Laws which were one-time-only or no-longer-in-force could still function as torah, since they revealed something about God.
  6. Torah included stories and narratives about the 'wonders of God' and the 'failures of people'.
  7. An eternal torah would NOT require even a single law to still be in force--and it could still function as 'eternal teaching'.
  8. The legal content of torah changed over time and changed as often as circumstanced required.
  9. Abraham was said to have kept the commandments and torah, but this would certainly not have been the Mosaic law-torah. Abraham's torah was different from Moses', which would have been different from Solomon's (with the Temple instead of the Tabernacle).
  10. Changes can be seen in all periods of biblical and post-biblical/rabbinic periods: Patriarchal, within the lifetime of Moses, post-Mosaic biblical, post-biblical, and rabbinic.
  11. Many Mosaic laws were obsolete by NT/Rabbinic times.
  12. The Rabbi's--who proclaimed the most loudly that the Law was 'eternal and unchangeable'--made many, many, many changes to the Law. [This was even one of Jesus' complaints against the Pharisees--they did NOT hold to the Law closely enough.]
  13. The Hebrew word 'olam' almost never means 'infinite duration'--it is always relative to the matter/objects under discussion.
  14. There are many, many examples where 'olam' is CLEARLY finite in duration.
  15. The Rabbi's themselves understood this clearly, and even use the word to describe 'worlds' or 'ages'.
  16. Olam does NOT mean 'irreversible' or 'non cancel-able' or 'irrevocable', either.
  17. There are many cases were something 'olam' is reversed or ended (e.g., ruins, judgment, cities, nations, covenants).
  18. There are several cases in which covenants which are called 'eternal' are clearly conditional ('eternal as long as…') and some that are clearly revoked for failure in those conditions (e.g., the priesthood of Eli).
  19. Olam-covenants can/might be changed without any 'failure' reasons (e.g., climatic conditions in the Noahic covenant).
  20. Olam doesn’t mean 'continually in force, infinitely--no matter what happens', nor does it mean 'irrevocable'.
  21. The rabbis believed in two olams--a world to come and the present world. (Two olams, reflecting the 'indefinite' duration of olam, but not reflecting an 'infinite duration' thereof).
  22. For the rabbis, the age to Come was radically different from the Now-Age.
  23. The New Age was an age of resurrection, no-sin, and miracles.
  24. Some/many rabbis understood the New Age to involve a New Torah--with the annulment of some of the Old Torah and a promulgation of a New Torah by the Messiah.
  25. This New Torah was associated with the New Covenant and the related passages in Isaiah/Ezekiel/Joel.
  26. Some of the items envisioned as changing in the New Torah/New Age were: clean/unclean distinctions, priestly purification processes, the festivals, sacrifices, prayers, dietary laws.
  27. Some even held that the whole body of commandments would be 'abolished in the Hereafter'.
  28. This belief in a MAJOR change of law existed side-by-side with Rabbinic views of a 'stricter law code'--both views were present in Rabbinic Judaism.
  29. Thus, a group of 'published' Rabbi's held that the Mosaic Law was not 'of infinite duration' or 'irreversible/irrevocable'. The NT writers are thus not unique or 'innovative' in believing this.
  30. The OT/Tanaak prophets explicitly contrasted the New Covenant with the Mosaic one, especially in its distinction as 'olam' and in its ability to produce true torah-compliance in us flawed people.
  31. The Mosaic covenant is never called by the phrase 'olam berith' (eternal covenant), even though other covenants are.
  32. The main goal of the New Covenant was to produce 'spontaneous' torah-compliance, from a people of life and Spirit.
  33. But the legal content of this torah would be quite different than that in the Mosaic code--without an Ark, without the Levitical teaching function, and with non-Israelite priests and Levites, this torah would be substantially ('unrecognizably'?) changed.
  34. The fact that the Ark would never again be remade or even remembered--according to the Hebrew bible--means that those first-century groups who believed that the New Age would be simply a 'complete return to ' or 'full elaboration of' the OLD LAW were fundamentally mistaken (e.g. many/most of the Rabbi's and the Qumran covenanters).
  35. The New Covenant was NOT fulfilled in pre-NT times--it was still considered (mostly) future by the pre-NT Jewish writers (e.g., Qumran, Jubilees, some rabbinics).
  36. The NT presents the person of Jesus as deliberately ushering in the New Age, via inauguration of the New Covenant and manifestation of the New Age life, wonder, love, and power.
  37. He consciously proclaimed the arrival of this New Age (the Kingdom of God) in His own person and ministry.
  38. The New Torah of Messiah Jesus ended up being only one commandment--but an all-encompassing demand for Sprit-generated love.
  39. Jesus' summary of the Law as being in one and two commandments (and Paul's similar summaries) were in conformity to Jewish argument and doctrine -- at least one strand of Jewish belief at the time.
  40. The core torah was thus the same--it was just implemented differently in matters of the heart (internal vs. external).
  41. But the ordinances and ceremonies of the Judaism of the time had become barriers to righteousness and shalom for many, and these were the targets of both Jesus and Paul.
  42. The inclusivist vision of the Hebrew prophets could only be realized when the ceremonial aspects of Jewish practice were subjugated to the 'higher' law of love, compassion, mercy, justice, and reconciliation.
  43. Paul sought to produce in the lives of believers the 'righteousness that the Law demands', but knew the Hebrew prophets well enough to know that it could only occur by the realization and embrace of the New Covenant by flawed humans.
  44. (Most, if not all, of Paul's theological themes and positions can be found in the Rabbinic literature--Christianity, especially in its Pauline expression, was situated squarely within the multifarious complex of belief of first-century Judaism. And this can be seen easily from the rabbinic literature.)
  45. [NT believers were self-consciously aware of the New Covenant foundations of their new lives. They expressed their life as being generated by 'the implanted Word of God' (Jas/1 Pet) and the teaching ministry of the indwelling Spirit (1 John).]



 So, I personally have to conclude that there IS no contradiction between the Two 'testaments' in this regard. To re-shape a Pauline expression:


"The Mosaic Law was a wonderful and effective torah-teacher, to guide us to Messiah, so that we in honesty and humility could embrace the free grace-gift of the Spirit and a New Heart--in the New Covenant--and finally be able to live in freedom from the flesh and in spontaneous and joyous torah-compliance…as 'lights in the world' and 'holy as He is holy'."


Hope this helps some,

Glenn Miller

February 24, 2003


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