Mosaic Law (Covenant). Also called the Sinaitic covenant. The law and covenant given to Moses at Mount Sinai for the Jewish people by direct revelation from God (Ex 12:41; Deut 5:2, 3; Jn 1:17; 7:19; Gal 3:17; Heb 7:11). Rarely in the plural and when used in such a way is combined with other similar nouns to refer to the collection of individual provisions; i.e., “statutes and judgments and laws” (Lev 26:36) or “precepts, statutes and laws” (Neh 9:14). Otherwise, it is singular, referring to whole system of Jewish legislation discoverable in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Similarly, it is a single covenant between God and Israel, even though He refers to a few particular laws as covenants: e.g., 1) the ordinances insuring the priesthood their portion is a “covenant of salt” (Num 18:19), 2) keeping the Sabbath is a “perpetual covenant” (Ex 31:16), and 3) the showbread an “everlasting covenant” (Lev 24:8). And of course, the Ten Commandments is a condensation or compendium of the covenant (Deut 4:13). God made a single covenant with Israel and it is called “the law.” Since Israel as a nation was in covenant with the Lord, they were duty-bound to avoid making covenant with any other nations (Ex 23:32; Deut 7:2). The covenantal relationship between God and Israel was unique and exclusive. Of this law, the Jews have discovered 613 commandments or “mitzvot” to obey.[i]
In this respect, Mosaic law is “the law” and Mosaic law is “covenant law.”[ii] The Mosaic law is perfect because God is the author of it and it reflects the perfection of His will, but this does mean aspects of this law could not be temporary or have imposed limitations. “Of divine laws there are some that are eternal and unchangeable; whilst there are others that are changeable; yet only by God himself, who has instituted them.”[iii] Besides being synonymous with the “law of Moses” used in Bible 21 times, the use of the modifier “Mosaic” reflects the attempt to clarify and improve communication about the Pauline use of the word “law,” which he uses 123 times. Paul makes his own distinctions with references to the “law of Moses” (1 Cor 9:9), the “law of God” (Rom 7:22, 25; 8:7), and the “law of Christ” (Rom 8:2; 1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2), but generally, he refers to “the law.” Luke uses the “law of Moses” and the “law of the Lord” interchangeably (Lk 2:22-24). Longenecker informs us that “No distinctions, however, can be made in Paul’s letter between the anarthrous and articular forms of νόμος [nomos] with respect to the Mosaic law.”[iv] Paul states that the [Mosaic] law was designed to be a custodian to bring us (Jews) to faith in Christ, but once that purpose has been realized, we (Jews) are no long under its tutelage (Gal 3:19-25). Yet, it is the [Mosaic] law that points out that all humanity is enslaved to sin (Gal 3:22; Ps 5:9; 10:7; 14:1-3; Isa 59:7-8) and that justification comes by faith (Gal 3:11, 22, 24, 25; Gen 15:6). The NT view of [Mosaic] law is both positive and negative, not out of ambiguity, but in view of the exceeding glories of the new covenant and the law of Christ (2 Cor 3:12-18). The [Mosaic] law is contrasted with the covenant of promise made with Abraham (Gal 3:18) because the [Mosaic] law [covenant] cannot undo an earlier promise [covenant] that brought justification by faith for both Jew and Gentile. Yet the [Mosaic] law also teaches justification by faith (Hab 2:4) and the salvation of the Gentiles (Isa 60:3). The terminus of the [Mosaic] law occurred while Jesus, the Son of God, suffered on the cross and experienced the judgment for sin and separation from God that the [Mosaic] law demanded. Sixteen hundred years of living under the [Mosaic] law did not keep Israel from demanding the crucifixion of their Messiah. “Go to the law,” says DeHaan, if you want to be saved by your own work and righteousness, but if you realize the impossibility of that, then you must go to the cross of Calvary. There, Christ’s death showed two things: 1) the law kills—He’s dead and 2) the law’s terminus—to reset to the covenant of grace with Abraham.[v] “And since any power to fulfill the law can reach the sinner only through Grace—of which the law knows nothing—it follows, lastly, that to be ‘under the law’ is to be shut up under an inability to keep it, and consequently to be the helpless slave of sin.”[vi] “[The author of Hebrews provides] a robust defense of the Christian dismissal of the purely ritual and cultic features of the Mosaic law.”[vii] “I think the Mosaic law as a whole was given to Israel for a limited time and purpose and is no longer immediately authoritative for the Christian.”[viii] “The Ten Commandments [which summarizes the Mosaic Covenant] came to a functional end at the cross.”[ix] “For Paul is not reasoning here as to mere ceremonies, but shows how much more powerfully the Spirit of God exercises his power in the gospel, than of old under the [Mosaic] law.”[x] See The Law.
Paul may give the appearance of contradicting himself, but the problem more often than not is one which we are erecting in our own minds—by taking what he says out of context, extrapolating what he says to a degree he did not intend, adamantly holding to an either/or mindset, or bringing to the text our denominational presuppositions. [xi] Be content with some paradoxes.
For example, Paul contrasts the Jews under the [Mosaic] law [that regulates their outward behaviors] and [Gentiles] without the [Mosaic] law [because they have their own customs and sensibilities]. But to avoid being misunderstood, Paul clarified that he was not lawless [in his actions] because his conscience was still bound by God’s or Christ’s law that transcends [Mosaic] law (1 Cor 9:21). Yet, it was the [Mosaic] law that informed him to live with integrity and to which he appealed to both Jew and Gentile for the support of his ministry (1 Cor 9:9-14). Paul appealed to the “law of Moses” (Deut 25:4; Lev 6:16-18) to explain that “God’s law” endorses the principle that those who labor in ministry for others have the right to expect subsistence in return.[xii] “It is necessary to stress at this point that the New Testament teaching about the law is first, and most basically, teaching about the Mosaic law.”[xiii] The Reformed and Adventist mindset has difficulty understanding that the concept of the abrogation of the Mosaic law as a covenant structure and system does not necessarily imply that Christians have no moral compass to guide their life.[xiv] They see as a contradiction the claim that the new covenant replaces the Mosaic covenant while at the same time resorting to the Mosaic covenant to underscore moral behaviors or ethical norms. But that is what Paul did.
Calvin tends to relate the phrase “Mosaic law” (which he does not use very often) to the ceremonies that bound Jews to certain behaviors, like circumcision, sacrifices, washings, and abstentions. For example, “He [the author of Hebrews] then intimates that all the rites of the Mosaic Law were a part of the old covenant, and that they partook of the same ancientness, and were therefore to perish.”[xv] This may have led to the misapprehension that there is a difference between the law of Moses and the law of the Lord, the former concerned with ceremonies, offerings, and the like, while the latter is reflected in the Ten Commandments. “However, the law of Moses and the law of God are one, and to state that the law of Moses was fulfilled and abolished at Calvary, and the not the law of the Lord, is a complete misunderstanding of the Bible.”[xvi]
Just as the rainbow is a sign (Heb. owth) of God’s covenant with Noah to never flood the earth again, so is Israel’s keeping of the Sabbath a sign of their covenant with the Lord (Ex 31:13-18; Ezek 20:12, 20). A sign is a visual cue or symbol of some other fact, condition, or quality. The sign is not greater than what it signifies, identifies, or designates. The covenantal bond between Israel and God was enacted after their deliverance from Egypt, and Israel assented to the historical reality of that event by their Sabbath-keeping. The meaning of the sign finds its context in an historic event. No other nation was chosen to be redeemed from such slavish circumstances, and so no other nation performed this unique, symbolical ritual; and this cemented into the Jewish mind that they were the only nation so covenanted with the Lord. “It is impossible for the Sabbath day to be at the same time ‘for all mankind’ and also to be a unique sign of the God’s old covenant with national Israel.”[xvii] Interestingly, in “The Christ of the Covenants,” Robertson (CS) does not mention the above Scriptures (Ex 31 or Ezek 20) in his discussion of the Sabbath or the Mosaic covenant.[xviii] However, Rushdooney understands the meaning of a sign. “But the sabbath is a sign of the covenant; it is not a law for a humanistic state, and has no meaning for it, nor can it be required of it. In a Christian state, it cannot be made anything resembling the sabbath of Israel. It must be a day of rest, and of peace and quiet, but the basic emphasis is on the authority of God, knowledge of Him, and rest in His government and salvation. The shifting of emphasis from the meaning of the Sabbath to quibbling about regulations for the Sabbath is certainly no honor to the Sabbath.”[xix]
[i] It appears that all of the laws are taken from Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, with the exceptions to be fruitful and multiply from Gen 1:28, and to not eat the “sinew which shrank” from Gen 32:32. Circumcision is based on both Gen 17:12 and Lev 12:3.
[ii] Clements, Ronald E. p. 289.
[iii] Ursinus, Zacharias. The Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 490.
[iv] Longenecker, Richard N. (NIGTC) The Epistle to the Romans, p. 631. Meaning “law” or “the law.”
[v] DeHaan, M.R. Law or Grace, p. x.
[vi] JFB, Bible Commentary, Vol 3, p. 227. (on Rom 6:14)
[vii] Clements, Ronald E. p. 293.
[viii] Moo, Douglas. “Response to Willem A. VanGemeren” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 84.
[ix] Ratzlaff, Dale. “The Covenants” Proclamation 17:3, p. 13.
[x] Calvin, Commentaires. Vol 20, p. 179 (2 Cor 3:7).
[xi] Moo, Douglas. “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 319-320.
[xii] My assessment here conforms with Bahsen in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 105-108.
[xiii] Moo, Douglas. “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses” in Five Views on Law and Gospel, p. 321.
[xiv] Reisinger, John G. Tablets of Stone, p. 97, 113.
[xv] Calvin, Commentaries, Vol 22, p. 195 (Heb 9:1).
[xvi] DeHaan, M. R. Law or Grace, p. 19.
[xvii] Kelly, Russell Earl. “Who Changed the Sabbath” in Proclamation! Vol. 18, No. 1. (Spring 2017) p. 10.
[xviii] Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants, p. 68-74; 167-199.
[xix] Rushdoony, R. Institutes of Biblical Theology, p. 154. (emphasis mine). I would differ from Rushdooney in this: that even “resting” as a required weekly physio-spiritual exercise is not required of the NT church.