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Part 2d: What Are the Terms? Abrogation

Glossary 19 Abrogation

Abrogation. To formally annul or nullify a legal agreement or parts thereof. Laws, treaties, provisions, stipulations, jurisdictions, institutions, ordinances, and the like, are usually the subject of abrogation. This is fundamentally an authoritative act, for instance, when a new regime invalidates or overrules laws of a predecessor. Abrogation removes the authority and power of a law to effect or hold accountable, “For where there is no law, there is no transgression” (Rom 4:15). A variety of Greek words convey the idea to cancel or dismiss, to do away with or abolish, to revoke or repeal, to bring to nothing or make void. Examples: The Pharisees nullified [Gk. akurro “no authority”] God’s commandment by [the authority of] their own traditions (Matt 15:6). God’s promises cannot be disannulled, repealed, or made void [Gk. atheteo “to set aside”, Gk. akurro “unauthorized”, Gk. katargeo “rendered useless”] by men (Gal 3:15, 17). Faith does not invalidate [Gk. katargeo “make void” or “destroyed”] the law (Rom 3:31).[i] Christ made peace between Jew and Gentile by His death, having abolished [Gk. katargeo “rendered useless”] the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Eph 2:15). The glory of the Ten Commandments is done away with [Gk. katargeo “abolished”] by the exceeding glory of the new covenant (2 Cor 3:6-14). The law that was delivered through the Levitical priesthood is changed [Gk. metathesis] and annulled [Gk. athetisis “to set aside”] by the oath of God to establish Jesus as a priest forever with His new covenant (Heb 7:12, 18). Jeremiah’s prophecy of a new covenant intimated that the Mosaic covenant would become old and disappear [Gk. aphanismos “vanish away”] (Heb  8:13).

Abrogation is the net effect of Christ’s fulfillment of the OT, by means of His incarnation, lifetime, death, resurrection, and ascension, on both the [Mosaic] law as a whole and specifically on the legal ceremonies and rituals of the law. Personal types (such as Joshua foreshadowing Christ) may be fulfilled, but these are not subject to abrogration, annulment, or abolishment—only legal types that constrained the Jewish nation to act out prefigurations of the person, work, and benefits of Christ’s redemption. “He says, therefore, that it is not in the power of men to make us subject to the observance of rites which Christ has by his death abolished, and exempts us from their yoke, that we may not allow ourselves to be fettered by the laws which they have imposed.”[ii] By the authority of Him who once gave those laws, they are now abrogated or done away with and rendered inoperative. Jesus intimated as much by claiming to be the Lord of the Sabbath—He may say what may or may not be done on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees have no such authority (Mk 2:28; Lk 6:5). As Calvin eloquently reasoned, something must be rendered void, either the ceremony or Christ: “Hence, the man that calls back the ceremonies into use, either buries the manifestation of Christ, or robs Christ of this excellence, and makes him in a manner void.”[iii] “The ceremonies, by which the distinction [between Jew and Gentile] was declared, have been abolished through Christ.”[iv] “The author here, as indeed everywhere throughout the epistle [Hebrews], designs to impress upon his readers the consciousness that the new covenant is not worse than the old, that Christianity is not something superfluous, something with which, at any rate, they might despise if only they have their beloved Judaism, but that the latter [the old covenant] rather has be made dispensable by Christianity.”[v] The fact that God abolished the old covenant and replaced it with the new gives us assurance that we belong to God as his children and that he accepts us in Christ.”[vi] The key to the relationship again is “fulfillment”—bringing to completion everything that was originally intended by God. The sacrifices will clearly be abolished, fulfilled once and for all in Christ’s death, while many moral principles will equally clearly remain unchanged.”[vii]

The fact that the Sabbath commandment is contained in the [Mosaic] law and/or in the Ten Commandments leads some to claim most emphatically that the Sabbath could not be abrogated by the new covenant. For example: “If Christ came to fulfill, and not to destroy, the law, then the commandment of the Sabbath is not abolished by Christ’s coming.”[viii] “Jesus’ New Covenant was not a completely new beginning. God did not send his Son to rescind all former covenants. Messiah did not entirely demolish the Old Testament and start afresh.[ix] “Jesus, therefore, does not abrogate the careful observance of the Sabbath but lays down principles by which we may properly keep the Lord’s Day holy.”[x]

Jesus said He did not come to destroy the law [Gk. kataluo, “break down” or “dissolve”] but to fulfill it [Gk. pleerosai, “fill up completely”]. Christ was not at odds with the law of God that He must bring it low. He is its author, not an illegitimate usurper; He is the Living Word, not an outside contrarian; He is its foremost interpreter and exemplar, not a foreign rebel and combatant; therefore, He must make it full, take it to completion, and achieve its intended goal. Jesus did not use any of the words that Paul used to describe the effect His death had on the law of Moses. His death did not destroy the law, but it did render aspects of it useless, since he fulfilled those parts. “It seems best to understand Jesus’ statement about coming to fulfil the law to mean his bringing into being of that which the law foreshadowed.”[xi] The following chart demonstrates the difference between destruction (what Jesus said He would not do) and fulfillment (what Jesus said He would do).

It is the viewpoint of non-Sabbatarians that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath laws by His life, death, and resurrection, and this in turn made Sabbath-keeping of no effect. This is not antinomianism—a decision to shun legitimate laws for self-gratification or self-promotion—but anti-Judaizing, a decision to shun illegitimate laws for the glory of Christ. For all that “rest” is, as presented in the OT, is to be found in perfection in Christ, who assured all who come to Him to find in full measure for their soul. Jesus makes full and brings to completion all that the Sabbath entailed for the Jews. As it was given in Exodus and described throughout their history, the Sabbath institution is entirely ceremonial and foreshadowing in its design. This is the only way that such a law can be fulfilled typologically (and annulled), and only Christ has the authority to do so. One may fulfill the requirements of a law in a legal sense (Ex 5:3; 1Chr 22:13; Jas 2:8), meaning observing it properly, but this “fulfillment” at the human level has no power to annul. Only by bringing in true redemptive rest can the ceremonial Sabbath be divinely fulfilled and authoritatively abrogated.


[i] Our faith is not an act of authority that gives us power to decide for ourselves how to live before God, but an act of submission to the authority and faithfulness of God. Our assent that Christ has fulfilled the law, and that we do, by God’s grace, follow Christ, we are in fact establishing the law. The defensive statement nearly echoes Jesus who asserted that He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. So, the sense of “establishing” the law must carry the idea of the primacy of faith as a response to the faithful outworking of God’s will as recounted through the whole law; and that by virtue of our union with Christ, His relationship to the law is our relationship. This verse hardly gives the impression that Paul is holding up the works of the law and the work of faith on equal footing.
[ii] Calvin, Commentaries. Vol 21, Col 2:16, p. 193.
[iii] Calvin, Commentaries. Vol 21, Col 2:17, p. 193.
[iv] Calvin, Commentaries. Vol 21, Eph 2:15, p. 237.
[v] Ebrard, John H. A., Biblical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews in Continuation of the Work of Olshausen, John Fulton, trans., (1853), Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock (2008) reprint, p. 141-142.
[vi] Brown, Michael G. “Dawn of the New Creation:The New Covenant” in The Outlook, 68:3 (May/Jun 2018), p.20.
[vii] Blomberg, Craig L. “Matthew” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, eds. () p. 20.
[viii] Thomas Shepard. Theses Sabbaticae, p. 153.
[ix] Chantry, Walter. Call the Sabbath a Delight, p. 63.
[x] Pipa, Joseph A. “The Christian Sabbath” in Perspectives on the Sabbath, John Donato, ed., (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011), p. 144.
[xi] Kruse, C. G. “Law” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, T. Desmond Alexander, et.al. eds. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000) p. 634.


3 Comments

  1. Manfred says:

    Good article, my brother. In addition to abrogating the law and the old covenant, in addition to fulfilling the law, He tore down/abolished the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, making the law comprised of commands and regulations of no effect. Even if a person could prove himself an ethnic Jew, the Old Covenant does not apply to him! That law and its religion serve to teach us about man and God but have no power as law over anyone.

  2. Yes. How else could Paul adopt both a Jewish and Gentile point of view (1 Cor 9:19-22) for the sake of the gospel? His views of ethnicity and his religious achievements radically changed (Rom 2:28-29; Gal 2: 26-29; Phil 3:1-11; Col 3:11) as he came to understand the nature of man, his spiritual need, and Christ’s messianic work. A commitment to the Mosaic covenant was understood as an obligation to continue in its precepts perfectly; an veritable impossibility (Gal 2:16). Though the wall is broken down, unfortunately, Jews continue in unbelief (Rom 11:26-32), and are now no different than Gentiles who reject the gospel of reconciliation and the revelation of God’s righteousness (Rom 1:16-17).

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