Was the Mosaic Law Meant to Be Permanent?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

No, it wasn’t.  Not only does the New Testament book of Hebrews make clear that it was temporary, but the Old Testament itself promises a new covenant in Jer. 31 and Ezek. 36.  Should we completely ignore the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament where the Law is found, as hopelessly irrelevant for Christians today?

Not exactly.  The Torah does contain timeless commands that reflect God’s nature, but it also contains temporary laws that are directed at a deeply sinful people living in a flawed culture during a specific period of time in history.

Philosopher Paul Copan describes the situation in his book Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God:

When we journey back over the millennia into the ancient Near East, we enter a world that is foreign to us in many ways.  Life in the ancient Near East wouldn’t just be alien to us – with all of its strange ways and assumptions.  We would see a culture whose social structures were badly damaged by the fall.  Within this context, God raised up a covenant nation and gave the people laws to live by; he helped to create a culture for them.  In doing so, he adapted his ideals to a people whose attitudes and actions were influenced by deeply flawed structures.

At the beginning of the Torah, God lays down the ideals for mankind in Gen. 1 and 2.  According to Copan, those first two chapters “make clear that all humans are God’s image-bearers; they have dignity, worth, and moral responsibility.  And God’s ideal for marriage is a one-flesh monogamous union between husband and wife.”  But the subsequent historical narrative, as recorded in the remainder of Genesis, and then Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, is characterized by humanity’s precipitous fall into moral degeneracy.

How did God choose to move Abraham and his flawed descendants in the right direction?  After all, they had moved far away from the ideals laid down by God in the Garden.  We find in the Torah that God decided to meet them where they were, to accommodate imperfect, human-created social structures in order to move his people in the right moral direction.  Thus, the Mosaic Law (starting in Ex. 20) ends up being focused on a specific people living at a specific time.

Copan elaborates on God’s plans:

We know that many products on the market have a built-in, planned obsolescence.  They’re designed for the short-term; they’re not intended to be long-lasting and permanent.  The same goes for the the law of Moses: it was never intended to be enduring.  It looked forward to a new covenant (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36).

Copan quotes biblical scholar N. T. Wright: “The Torah is given for a specific period of time, and is then set aside – not because it was a bad thing now happily abolished, but because it was a good thing whose purpose had now been accomplished.”

  • Mick Curran

    Hi Bill,

    The obvious question that your piece raises is this:

    On what basis is a Sola Scriptura adherent able to decide with certainty which parts of the Mosaic Law were meant to be permanent and which ones were not?

  • Plmelvill30

    How can something written by the hand of God be temporary. On what basis does God declare that all have sinned and there are none righteous? What will judge the unbeliever? Also the convenant with Abraham preceeded the law as Hebrews teaches, Abraham became the Father of many nations because he was justified by faith looking forward the the Cross. Would a nice God put His son on the cross? No but a Holy, righteous and loving God would.

  • Plmelvill30

    Hi Bill, You have a good post and some good thoughts on the one side. I wondered if you should now consider why the church is not doing very well. Why so many christians never seem to go through a deep repentence of their sins and are very worldly. The statement about the Jews being “a deeply sinful people living in a flawed culture during a specific period of time in history” seems to describe America pretty well today, Brother.

  • Plmelvill30

    Yes, that is true. I wonder on what basis a person would see themselves as a sinner today in need of Christ were it not for the law showing us as falling short of the Glory of God.

  • Kevin

    Just remember folks, the concepts of tithing and a seventh day (NOT adventist) was given 700 years before the law, which is what much of the libertinism we hear today is directed at. Something tells me that none of us want to be stolen from, lied to, cheated on by our spouse, right. Those commandments are never negotiated. Invariably though, it’s always the laws, precepts, etc. that deal with God’s feelings that are always negotiable. Jesus, rather than abrogating those laws actually expanded the 3 I mentioned: now we committ adultery, murder just be thinking about it. Of course Matthew 5:17-22 couldn’t be clearer concerning those who want to be considerd the “least” in the kingdom of heaven. Most of those folks are alive right now with their self-absorbed Christianity. While we’re at it, NO genuinely saved person makes the following statement, “I don’t think you have to go to church to be a Christian.” Wrong. That is the very least you do for what Christ has done for you. This person may “believe” but they are not “saved”.

  • Parmenter

    This opinion piece doesn’t actually establish anything.

    God did not give an imperfect law, but one which proceeds from His character. Right and wrong do not change

    Human nature doesn’t change over the centuries.

    Hebrews teaches us that the religious laws of the Mosaic covenant are replaced, that we have “a new covenant, a new high priest, and a new law” Elements of that law are seen throughout the New Testament.

    The moral laws remain. I know of no Christian group who disagrees with that.

    As to the civil laws, I do not believe that we are better, or wiser than God, nor than the Jews of the day. If anything, this nation is far worse – look at the Kermit Gosnell trial.

    When we, as citizens, obey our calling from God as the government of this country, are we wiser than He as to what laws ought to be?

    Do we imagine that we are better, more evolved, more mature, so that we can legislate contrary to God’s given laws? As we look to apply them to our situation; a federal republic of sovereign States compared to the Israelite republic of several tribes, both with three branches of government, ours derived from theirs, let us be careful not to allow things that we imagine we ‘know better’ than God Almighty, whether that be homosexual sin, or abortion, or divorce and remarriage, or usuary, or whatever offends the modern unsaved consensus.

  • Parmenter

    The tithe Abraham paid was very different than the Mosaic tithe of 1/10 of your net, every third year.

    In the New Covenant ,we have a different situation. As sons, we do not pay the temple tax, But we -do- give all we are able to those in need, especially our famlies and brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Nick

    Jesus plainly stated that not one jot or tittle of the law would pass away until heaven and earth pass away, Heaven and Earth will pass away, (Revelation) However that has not happened yet. The ten commandments are God’s law and are the basis for our relationship with God and with our fellow man. The Mosaic law is not the ten commandments, as the book of Hebrews which you referred to plainly states that the writer is referring to rituals and washings and such things that have nothing to do with the purity of our hearts. The degeneration of the Church can be directly correlated to the growing philosophy and doctrine that we are not accountable to GOd’s law any longer. Such is the reason that sin is just as prevelent within the Church as without and the reason that there is no longer any fear of God, thus no repentance is forthcoming.
    If you read scripture regarding the items placed within the ark of the covenant, you will find that the ten commandments were placed within the ark but the other writings were only placed alongside it. There is a difference between the two laws. God Bless.