Question:

What is the "New Law"? If it is based or has its foundation in the "Old Law," what does that†entail for the Sabbath in regards to the Lord of the Sabbath? In Acts 15-20 the disciples(Jews)†tell the Gentiles to keep certain Laws and to learn from Moses every Sabbath day as it is read in the†synagogue. Please explain further about the "New Law"†in regards to the above chapters in Acts.


Answer:

In Hebrews, starting near the end of chapter 7 and continuing through chapter 11, the writer discusses a prophecy from Jeremiah:

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 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 in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

One of the points brought out is the use of the phrase "new covenant." "In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13). By Jeremiah saying that a new covenant was coming, God through Jeremiah made the current covenant old, obsolete, and ready to vanish away. And its authority did vanish away to be replaced by something better: "But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second" (Hebrews 8:6-7).

Paul argues that two covenants cannot be in place at the same time. Using the example of the marriage covenant as an example, he goes on to say:

"Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another -- to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful" (Romans 7:4-13).

The Old Law had its purpose. It made mankind aware of sin and our need of salvation, but it could not save. Salvation could only come through the bringing of a New Law. The problem with the Old Law is that it brought the condemnation of sin, but it could not bring freedom from sin.

"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory. For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels. For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious" (II Corinthians 3:5-11).

The Jews of this time (and since for that matter) could not bring themselves to let go of the covenant they knew all their lives, even though God gave a better one that would save them. They refused to see that the law had to be changed and was changed.

"Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech -- unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:12-18).

Another problem with the Old Law was that it was given only to the Jews. It excluded the Gentiles. "For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?" (Deuteronomy 4:7-8). Paul also addressed that problem:

"Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh--who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands-- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:11-18).

By abolishing the Old Law, Jesus was able to establish a New Law that included all people -- Jews and Gentiles. No longer is there a separation of two camps. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Speaking to the Christians who came from the Gentile world:

"In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Colossians 2:11-17).

What does that entail for the Sabbath, the other feast days, and the rules regarding food? Paul told the Gentile Christians to not let anyone condemn them (judge them) in regards to these matters because they were only shadows from the past. The reality is in Christ. The Old Law had faded away and the New Law had taken its place.

Understanding what Paul and others were preaching, we can then address the controversy that came about when some tried to undermine that teaching by saying Christians needed to follow the Old Law.

"And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question" (Acts 15:1-2).

These men were trying to impose a part of the Old Law on Christians, saying that salvation could not be obtained without following Moses. Paul and Barnabas strongly opposed this teaching. And since these false teachers came from Jerusalem and were using the reputation of the Jerusalem church to bolster their position, the brethren sent a group to Jerusalem to settle this problem.

"And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses"" (Acts 15:4-5).

It didn't take long for the ugly problem to rear its head. Notice the charge: "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." It is clear that this matter had not been openly discussed or considered before. For the apostles and the leaders in the church this was a new matter. "Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter" (Acts 15:6). And it was clear that they had a lot of disagreement. "And when there had been much dispute, ..." (Acts 15:7). So you can't say that these people did not consider this matter lightly.

What led everyone to conclude against these Judaizing teachers were the following key points:

  • Peter recounted that the Gentiles had already been shown to be acceptable to God without following the Old Testament (Acts 15:7-8).
  • They all knew that there was only one method of salvation (Acts 15:9, 11).
  • Peter also pointed out that even the Jews had found the Old Law a burden to follow (Acts 15:10).
  • Paul and Barnabas testified of the miracles which continued to be done among the Gentiles, even though they were not following the Old Testament; thus, showing Godís approval (Acts 15:12).
  • Finally, James cites the Old Testament to show that God planned to save the Gentiles as Gentiles and not as Jews (Acts 15:13-18).

The conclusion was that the Old Testament was not binding. "Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath" (Acts 15:19-21). The topics mentioned: staying away from association with idolatry, from fornication, and from the eating of blood, are all things which are forbidden in the New Law as well as in the old. So why point out these particular issues? Because they were common sins among the Gentiles and there were Jews in all the major cities who had been studying Moses for generations.

Please take note how you turned this statement around. This wasn't a command to the Gentiles to read the Old Law on Sabbath days. This is a statement in the past tense about what had been going on for generations in the Gentile cities. If Jews and Gentiles were to become one in Christ as God commanded, the Gentiles had to be extra concerned not to offend the Jews with the sins of their past that would make it especially hard for the Jews to accept Christ.

The problem remained that there were people roaming all over the world claiming that the church in Jerusalem was teaching something that it did not.

"Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, "You must be circumcised and keep the law" --to whom we gave no such commandment" (Acts 15:22-24).

Please take special note of Acts 15:24. They didnít saying they changed their minds. They said they never taught that people should be circumcised or keep the law of Moses, and they never asked anyone else to teach this doctrine.

When picking people to carry this letter, it included Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:25). In other words, between the two sides, the church in Jerusalem picked sides and said that Paul and Barnabas were right. They also sent some of their own members to verify what was in the letter (Acts 15:27).

What you find through the rest of Acts is Paul making sure that copies of that letter reached all the Gentile churches so that the false teachers would stop finding sympathetic audiences.

In the Jeremiah 31 text, it states that a law will will be put in their minds and written on their hearts. What law? Is this law also new? Leviticus 24:22 says that their was one law for those of Israel and for the stranger. In fact, the stranger upon acceptance of this law, became as one born in the land. In the longest chapter of the Bible, David gives a beautiful discourse on the above mentioned law (Psalms 119). These laws were the ones that John knew, for they were his Scriptures and of them he said they are not grievous and considered by him as obedience to God as well as how to love God (I John 5:3).

What are the commands mentioned in Revelation 14:12?

In regards to the Sabbaths and foods, Colossians 2:17 says, "Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ."

Finally please explain Acts 21:17-30.

I notice that you are dancing around all the passages I cited that state a change in the Law.

Perhaps one of the problems is that you do not realize that there are multiple terms all referring to God's law.

"The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward
" (Psalms 19:7-11).

Law, testimony, statutes, commandment, fear, and judgments are all synonymous terms for the same body of law. See "Is the covenant different from the Law?" to see additional terms, including covenant all refer to God's law.

Understanding that, when God said, "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 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 in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:31-33), the law and the covenant are referring to the same thing. That law, or covenant, will not be according to the covenant given at Mount Sinai. Thus the statement in Leviticus 24:22 is true about the law at that time -- a law that made a distinction between Jew and Gentile. But the new law, or new covenant, would not be the same. Instead of making a distinction between people, it pulls people together into one.

"Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh--who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands-- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father" (Ephesians 2:11-18).

Yes, God's Law, old and new, are beautiful works (Romans 7:12), but that does not mean they are the same.

While John was familiar with the Old Law, it does not follow that when he said, "And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also/ Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 4:21-5:3). In fact, notice that the particular command that John is referring to are the commands to love God and to love the brethren. In his second letter, John stated, "And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it" (II John 5-6). There was a new commandment -- one that did not exist before -- a commandment that we are to love one another. John is referring to Jesus' statement: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35). This new commandment had be taught from the beginning. Beginning of what? It was from the beginning of the Gospel (Mark 1:1), the new law, the law of Christ. "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). That law is referred to as a law of liberty, "But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25). As contrasted to the Old Law of Moses which was called a law of bondage. "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:1-4). Therefore, John was not referring to the Old Testament, but the New Testament.

"Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Revelation 14:12). This is not a contrast between the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, this is two ways to describe the same thing. A similar phrase was used in Revelation 12:17, "And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." As Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15).

Sabbaths, festivals, food laws, etc. all foreshadowed substantive things in the New Law. Just as the writer of Hebrews stated, "For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect" (Hebrews 10:1). The shadow and the actual thing are not the same.

Regarding the vow in Acts 21, see "Could you explain the vow Paul took at Cenchrea?"