Friday, December 30, 2011

When was the Law of Moses ended?

When did the Law of Moses end?  On the basis of Col. 2:14, it is often thought that the Law was ended with Jesus' death on the Cross:  "...having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross."  That the Law actually is in view here (not some other written bill of indebtedness, as is commonly asserted--and not merely by Seventh Day Adventists!) is clear from the parallel in Eph. 1:15.

On this basis, we would expect to find Paul preaching such a message in the synagogues, but we find no such thing.  Also, when Paul speaks of the end of the Law, he links it not to the death of Jesus per se, but to the death-in-conversion of a Jewish Christian:

--in 2 Cor. 3, Paul reflects on OT glory that suffers in comparison with the NT glory through Spirit.  He suggests a veil shielding God’s true revelation in the reading of the Old, and suggests that “only in Christ is it set aside” (3:14).  He notes that the veil remains to this very day at the reading of Moses, but “when one turns to Christ the veil is removed” (3:16). 

--in Romans 7, Paul begins by noting by analogy that as a woman is bound to her husband only until his death, in like manner those who “die to the Law through the body of Christ” (7:4) belong to another, to Christ.  In v. 4, he ties this transfer not to Christ's death per se, but to their death:  "you have died to the Law through the body of Christ."  It again is the nexus in time when the believer's death-in-conversion becomes fused with the dying of Jesus.

--in Galatians 2, Paul draws on the contrast between justification by “works of the Law” (2:16) and by “faith in Christ” (or better, by “the faithfulness of Christ”), and relates the distinction through his own personal conversion experience.  He apparently had “once tore down” a role for the Law in which "works" set the barrier against Gentiles, and determines not to rebuild it (or his previous destruction would thus be seen as transgression).  Being “in Christ” puts one outside the Law (where Gentiles are), making him a “sinner.”  When describing his actual departure from the Law, Paul does not draw attention to the death of Jesus, but  ”through the Law I died to the Law” (v. 19).  Again, it is his own death rather than Jesus' per se that marks the point in time.   He then makes explicit his death-with-Christ experience, “I have been crucified with Christ” and declares that his life in the flesh (rather than continuing with “works of the Law”) is lived by “faith in the Son of God” (or better, by “the faithfulness of the Son of God”).

Also, that the Law ends with the crucifixion is contradicted by Heb. 8:13.  This is the perfect opportunity, for the writer who has more interest in the transfer between Old and New Covenants than anyone, to declare the Old obsolete.  But all that he can declare is, “And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear” (8:13).  This is well after the Cross, yet it is yet to disappear.  This post-Cross activity of the Law is also seen in what is perhaps Paul’s most thorough treatment of the Covenants in 2 Cor. 3.  Paul notes the veiling under the Old continues “to this very day” (3:15).  And when Paul described the “end of the glory [of the Old Covenant] that was being set aside” (3:13), here was another clear opportunity for a Bible writer to declare the Old dead and finalized through the use of a Greek aorist or perfect tense.  Instead, Paul uses a present tense participle, suggesting the Law was still moving towards finality even as he wrote.  And this, noteably,  was long after the Crucifixion.

This was apparently written before AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  We should understand this event as the fulfillment of the scathing warnings of judgment on Jerusalem and Temple by Jesus in Matt. 24 and parallels.  He is bringing to a close the era in which Israel enjoyed special status before God as a chosen people, constituted as such in being bound within the covenant under Moses, as defined by the Law.  From the beginning of the New Covenant at the Spirit-Baptism of Pentecost until the formal end of the Mosaic order in AD 70, there was a “grace period” in which the Gospel was preached to God’s Jewish people.  The Covenant inaugurated with the blood of God’s own Son was offered to replace the Covenant of longstanding tradition which had been inaugurated merely with the blood of bulls and goats.  The message was, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40).  During this generation (forty years was often reckoned as a generational span), there was a “grace period” allowing time for the true “remnant” of the people of God to follow faith’s lead into a New Covenant of Messiah and Spirit.  Many of Jesus’ parables were designed to set up this parting of the ways, one broad and one narrow.

Returning to Col. 2:14, with this background we can even see that the Law’s nailing to the Cross is also referenced to the death-in-conversion of the Christian.  The phrase falls within a discussion of baptism as a replacement circumcision (it might be thought that we have Gentile converts in view, but Paul would seem to be speaking more relevantly with the circumcision allusion to Jewish converts at Colossae).  It was precisely tied to this instance and conversional event:  “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”  In other words, the moment at which the Law ends for each individual is the moment at which they die with Christ, taking up their own crosses and being buried with Him in baptism.  It is at this precise moment that, for this particular convert, the Law is nailed to the Cross.