Question:

A quick question on your article Is the covenant different from the Law?

If, as Psalm 19 says, "the law of the Lord is perfect," and the law mentioned there is the same as the covenant mentioned in Hebrews, then why wouldn't the covenant be faultless (i.e. "perfect") as opposed to Hebrews 8:7?

I believe your statement, "The law, the testimony, the precepts, the commandment, the fear, and the judgments all refer to the same written document" to be in error. While those all speak of the same thing, it doesn't point to a written document at all, but to God's perfect law, which has been witnessed "since the creation of the world [] so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20), then explained more clearly through the Law of Moses although still a shadow of things to come (Hebrews 10:1), and fulfilled in Christ not abolished (Matthew 5:17).

Therefore, the reference in Psalm 19 is not to a written document, but to God's pure and perfect Law that has always been one that we continue to learn about and submit more thoroughly to by correcting our actions when we find them counter to His Law. That Law has no fault and no weakness such as the covenant explained in Hebrews 8.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Answer:

I suspect you have your mind already made up and don't really want to hear what the Bible has to say on the subject.

Perfect or Flawed?

A covenant is an agreement between two parties. The Law of Moses was an agreement between God and the Israelites. "And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive"" (Deuteronomy 5:1-3). As David pointed out, the law was perfect. But there was a flaw in the agreement, not in the terms of the covenant, but in the Israelites failure to keep the covenant. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: "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 when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD"" (Hebrews 8:7-9).

As Paul pointed out in Romans, the law was righteous but he was not.

"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).

A perfect law was being violated by imperfect people. It required a new law "I will make a new covenant ... not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers ... because they did not continue in My covenant" (Hebrews 8:8-9).

Did Jesus Fulfill the Law Without Abolishing It?

Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).

The word "destroy" is from the Greek word kataluo. It means "to disintegrate, to demolish, to overthrown, or to abolish." Jesus' purpose was not to make ruin of the Old Law. That law had a purpose and served its purpose well.

The word "fulfill" comes from the Greek word pleroo, which means "fill, make full, supply fully, complete." Its meaning can be seen in how it is used in other passages. For example there are numerous passages that speak of something being done in order that a prophecy might be fulfilled, such as in Matthew 1:22; 2:15,17; etc. The word means that the prophecy was answered in full and brought to completion. When something is made completely full by a task, the task is finished. We say this in English when we say we went to the gas station and filled up the car. In other words, we stopped pumping gas into the car once it reach the full mark because no more gas could be added. This sense of a completed purpose is seen in Luke 7:1, "Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum." The word "concluded" is the Greek word pleroo. Jesus fulfilled his purpose in that particular lesson. There was nothing more that needed to be said at that moment, so he stopped. It is also seen in Acts 19:21, "When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome."" Paul had completed what he set out to do in Ephesus, so he looked to move on to another region. The same Greek word pleroo is being used, though it is translated as "accomplished."

By stating that the law would continue until all was fulfilled, or made complete, Jesus is implying that the law in its current state was not complete. We know from the apostle's writings that the Mosaical Law was missing some essential parts. It was unable to give its followers life (Galatians 3:21). It could not make its followers perfect (Hebrews 7:18-19). Thus, it had a fault, not in itself, but in the inadequacy of those who tried to live by it (Hebrews 8:7). It could explain and hold a person accountable for sin, but in itself it could not cleanse sin (Hebrews 10:1-4, 8-10, 14). It took the sacrifice of Jesus to fill in the missing elements (Hebrews 9:15).

The difference between destroying and fulfilling the law is the same difference between declaring a mortgage note null and void, tearing it up, and throwing it into the fire, and paying the note off in full. Both brings the mortgage to an end, but it is done in vastly different ways. Jesus did not cancel the law but brought it to a natural conclusion.

Jesus explained what he meant by "fulfilled" when he emphasized that the Law would not end until all was fulfilled. "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). This "fulfilled" comes from a different Greek word, ginotai. It means, "to be, to come into being, to be made, be done, become, or to be celebrated." Jesus is stating that the permanence of the law was conditional. He gave two possible ending conditions: either heaven and earth would come to and end, or all is accomplished. His phrasing is similar to the parent who tells his child, "You'll set here all night until you eat your peas." The implication is that the child would not be at the table all night; the peas would be eaten before then. In the same way Jesus is saying that the world would have a better chance ending before God didn't accomplished His purpose for the Law. Some people focus so hard on the first condition that they miss the fact that the second condition would occur before the first. The same type of phrasing can be found in Matthew 24:34 and Luke 21:31-33.

Another verse that speaks to this same topic is Romans 10:4, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." The word translated "end" is from the Greek word telos, which means "end, termination, conclusion, aim, result, goal, outcome." In other words the purpose of the Law was culminated in Christ Jesus. Jesus was its goal. With His death, he brought the law to its conclusion. "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" (Colossians 2:14). Or as Paul said in another letter, "Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Galatians 3:24-25).

But in completing the purpose of the Law, I don't want to leave the impression that Jesus left us lawless. "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a 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, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory" (II Corinthians 3:5-11). The glory of the old Law was fading, but what remains is more glorious. The Hebrew writer put it this way, "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" (Hebrews 8:6). But also notice that the writer of Hebrews said that what remained was a 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). From the time Jeremiah stated that there would be a new covenant, God had implicitly labeled the Law of Moses as old and fading away.

Is the Perfect Law Written?

I believe you'll have a hard time defending this. You already noted that David said the Law was perfect. Yet the Law he referred to was the Law of Moses. "Then the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them"" (Exodus 24:12). This is why they were refereed to as "scriptures" -- the written words of God. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). Of course the Old Testament prophets were a part of this perfect Law. "And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:19-21).

You misquoted Romans 1:20. It is annoying when a person uses ellipses to leave out what the passage is actually talking about in order to insert an entirely different meaning. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20). The part you skipped tells us that Paul is not discussing the law, but the invisible attributes of God's nature.

Now later Paul does argue that sin cannot exist without a law to be broken. "For where there is no law there is no transgression" (Romans 4:15). Since sin existed prior to Moses' Law, there was a form of law in the world. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned -- (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come" (Romans 5:12-14). Thus, laws can exist in non-written form, but this does not lead to the conclusion that the Law that David wrote about was not the written Law of Moses.

"So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might observe them in the land which you cross over to possess" (Deuteronomy 4:13-14).

"And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

"Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments. And may not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not set its heart aright, And whose spirit was not faithful to God. The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, Turned back in the day of battle. They did not keep the covenant of God; They refused to walk in His law" (Psalms 78:1-10).

"You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, Because I keep Your precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, That I may keep Your word. I have not departed from Your judgments, For You Yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way" (Psalms 119:98-104).

"The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts 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; they are righteous altogether"

(Psalms 19:7-9).

The terms are consistently used interchangeably.