Where in the Bible does is say that it is wrong to eat pork? When did God change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday? Since Moses said to kill all homosexuals, why don’t we do so today? These are some questions that I have answered on the “What Does the Bible Say About..?” portion of my web site. That they are even being asked, and especially that the question about pork is one of the most frequently visited pages of that site, shows a fundamental error of many who consider themselves Christians today. The Law of Moses, which includes the Ten Commandments, does not apply to most of us today.
Over the past year or more there have been stories of people demanding that schools remove copies of the Ten Commandments. There was the case of the judge who refused, in the face of a court order, to remove a Ten Commandments monument from view in a courthouse. When people ask me whether I think the commandments should be displayed I have a standard answer. “I have no objection to the Ten Commandments being displayed in government buildings any more than I have an objection to portions of the Koran being displayed. If they are going to display these scriptures, they should also display a selection of Christian scriptures as well.” Frequently people are taken aback at this response, thinking that the Ten Commandments are Christian scriptures.
Then I point out that the Ten Commandments are part of the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was given specifically to the Jews. My possibly Jewish male ancestor notwithstanding, I am not Jewish and so have never been subject to the Law of Moses. If a Christian who has been by ethnicity or conversion a Jew chooses to follow the laws of kashrut (kosher), keep the Leviticus 23 festivals, and observe Sabbath, that is a matter of personal choice that is not binding on me. If I choose to eat a ham sandwich with cheese, that is a personal choice that I must not bind on him.
Two questions usually come up when I say that non-Jewish Christians are not bound by the Ten Commandments or any part of the Law of Moses. How can you say that? Does that mean that we can murder, commit adultery, or steal?
First of all, what I say about the Law of Moses is not original with me. I am just repeating what Jesus, Paul, and whoever wrote the book of Hebrews had to say. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Matt 5:17) “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” (Gal 3:19) “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” (Heb 7:11-12)
What does Jesus mean by “to fulfil” the law? What is the difference between abolishing and fulfilling? Jesus explained it in part in Luke 16:16-17. “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” The law had a term limit, and that limit was the coming of the kingdom of the Messiah, which was announced by John. After the “seed should come,” it had no more standing. Perhaps we can find a parallel example. If I borrow $10 from Les, I have an obligation to that debt. If I pay the money to Les, then I fulfill the debt. If Steve comes to me, while I owe Les, to ask that I pay him $10, I have no obligation to do so. The debt is not to him. If I loan him $10 after I paid Les, my obligation is to Steve, not Les.
And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Heb 10:11-14)
Jesus fulfilled the Law by paying the debt that the sacrifices under the Law could not pay in full. Paul even argues (Gal 4:4-5) that Jesus had to be born under the law so that he could save those who were also under it. Once Jesus died on the cross, the law was fulfilled. Its purpose was complete. Its time expired. We are no longer under obligation to a law that is no longer in force.
In keeping with what Jesus had said, he fulfilled the law. In doing so he did not destroy the law. (The King James Version uses the unfortunate mistranslation of “abolish” for “destroy.”) To destroy the law would be to end the law before its time. Jesus did not come to utterly destroy the Law of Moses. It was not his purpose or intent to do away with the law without fulfilling its term. While he lived on earth he kept the Law of Moses. Unlike anyone else, he kept it perfectly. If he were come to destroy the Law he would not have kept the Law. He would, rather, have gone out of his way to violate it. Instead he made sure to meet all of its terms.
When I tell people I am not under the Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, the next logical question is whether that means I think I can covet my neighbor’s wife or steal or kill. There are at least two responses to this ridiculous question.
The first response is that there are certain things that God considers sinful, regardless of any specific code of law. He didn’t need to have given the Ten Commandments for Cain to know that it was wrong to kill his brother Abel. Long before the giving of the Law a Pharaoh of Egypt knew it was wrong to take Abraham’s wife for his own. (Gen 12:13-20) Some of these are expressed in the Ten Commandments. Some are not.
The second response is related. Just because I am not subject to the Law of Moses doesn’t mean I am not subject to another law of God. If God has forbidden something separate from the Law of Moses, and under the law of Christ, then I am obligated to obey it, even if it is also under the Law of Moses. When a person in the United States breaks a law they are entitled to a trial by jury. Trial by jury was invented by King Henry I of England, and expanded by the great Henry II. Does the American citizen who commits a crime have the right to a jury trial because it is an essential part of English common law? No. When the United States won its independence from England it also won its independence from English law. An American jury trial is based on American law. Since the eighteenth century Americans have been freed from British law. When Christ fulfilled the Law of Moses he brought us into another law. (Heb 7:12, see above) If that law includes loving God and man, not stealing, not committing adultery, and any other thing that was part of the Law of Moses, it is not because it was part of the Law but because it is part of the Law of Christ.
Included in the Ten Commandments is a law that God never gave to anyone else before or since, the Sabbath. The only people that were ever required to keep the Sabbath were the Jews. Part of the Law of Moses established clean and unclean animals. Under that part of the law, it became wrong to eat pork. Why? Because God said so. There is no other reason that some animals should be singled out as unclean. These are part of what the rabbis consider unexplainable laws. They are so simply by decree of God. Just because it was part of the Law to the Jews doesn’t mean it is part of the law to me.
The state of Texas has no personal income tax. As a New Mexico resident, could I argue that I did not owe any income tax to New Mexico or the United States Government because of the Texas law? I would probably end up in jail. Laws that apply elsewhere don’t necessarily apply where I live.
Laws that were given to the Jews, and the Jews only, are not binding on those of us who are not and never have been Jewish. To try to make them binding on most Christians merely shows a lack of understanding of the principle of law. Paul said I should not condemn Jewish Christians for keeping Sabbath. At the same time he said they should not condemn me for not keeping it. “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Col 2:16-17) I can not judge anyone who keeps these things, but they were a shadow, and not to be bound on me.
If anyone chooses to eat pork, or observe Sabbath, or hold a Passover Seder I would be wrong to prevent it. My objection to Sabbatarians and those who mistakenly tell me Jesus told me not to eat pork comes only when they try to bind those things on me. If they rely on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, they don’t need to go to the Law of Moses for authority for anything. But as long as they continue to rely on Christ and not on keeping law, they have the right to observe things out of the law. And non-Jewish Christians have a right not to observe those things.