Some thoughts on Israel’s law, the Gentiles, and Christ

by | Apr 22, 2011 | Biblical Theology, New Testament, Old Testament

I can think of at least three ways that Israel’s law is used in the Bible which proves that, on one level, it contained at least some laws that transcended old covenant boundaries. First, pagan nations were indicted for breaking some of Israel’s laws. Leviticus 18:24 says, “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things [the laws dealing with sexually immoral relationships stated in Lev. 1:1-23]; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled.” At some level, the pagan nations mentioned were under the laws of Lev. 18:1ff.. If they weren’t, how could God punish them for violating laws they were not under and still be just? Though they did not break the old covenant by violating these laws, they still broke God’s law as his creatures. We are not told by Moses how they came into contact with these laws, but what we are told is that they were guilty of violating them.

There is a second way which shows that at least some of the laws of the old covenant transcended the national and geographical boundaries of the old covenant. New covenant believers are commanded to obey some of the very same laws as published in the Mosaic Pentateuch (cf. Rom. 13:8-10; Eph. 6:4). These commandments first found in Moses’ writings are subsequently incorporated into the new covenant Scriptures. This further illustrates the fact that at least some laws first promulgated in the Pentateuch specifically for old covenant Israel in the land of Canaan transcend the old covenant both nationally and geographically.

And third (and very importantly), Christ is said to have died for Jews and Gentiles, redeeming them from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). Galatians 3:14 goes on to say that Christ redeemed us (Jew and Gentile) from the curse of the law “in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” So here, on one level, the law of the Jews is the law that cursed Gentiles (as well as Jews) and under which curse Christ died. Elsewhere Paul argues forcefully that Jew and Greek are both “under sin” (Rom. 3:9) and “under the Law” (Rom. 3:19). The “Law” must be the law of the OT, at least on some level. This, again, goes to show that the old covenant law as national law for Israel is only one of its functions, but not its only function. At least some of the laws of ancient Israel are common to all men because all men have at least two things in common – creation imago Dei and general revelation.

Other nations were indicted for breaking laws promulgated by Moses (actually by God via Moses) in the Pentateuch.[1] New covenant citizens are called to obey at least some of the very same laws as Moses penned for ancient Israel. And Gentiles, never under Israel’s law as a national covenant, were yet under the curse of the law, on some level. Finally, our Lord Jesus bore the curse of the law for both Jew and Gentile. I think these factors lead us to this conclusion: At least some of the laws of Israel are common to all men. Therefore, God must have incorporated moral law (i.e., law common to all men) into old covenant Israel’s national law as positive law for Israel under the old covenant.

[1] Some of the laws first promulgated in the law of Moses were assumed to be in place prior to the written/promulgated law. Cf., for example, the case of Cain in Gen. 4:8 and 1 Jn. 3:12. Cain hated his brother to death. He murdered him, yet murder was not written/promulgated by God via Moses as sinful until way after Gen. 4:8. Here is actually another way (a fourth) in which a law of Israel, as God’s old covenant nation, is shown to transcend the old covenant. In this case, a law formally promulgated via Moses at Sinai is assumed to be valid prior to its formal, covenantal publication.

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