The Anti-Missionary’s Charge:
In his book Twenty-six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus, Asher Norman says that Jesus cannot be the Messiah because the Mosaic Law is eternal. Jews, he states, “are required to keep the laws (to the best of their ability) forever (emphasis his).” His objection is that the New Testament states that the Law of Moses has been fulfilled by Jesus and has been rendered “obsolete.” This concept he declares to be “specious” (lacking real merit). Jews cannot replace obedience to the Mosaic Law with faith in Jesus.
Is the New Testament position lacking real merit? What about the “eternal nature of the Mosaic Law?” Let’s begin our examination by defining what the word Torah means and then, to be precise and clear, use that meaning when we are discussing issues.
Define the word Torah:
The word Torah contains a broad range of meaning in the Bible, as seen from the entry in the respected Brown, Driver and Briggs lexicon.
n.f. direction, instruction, law – 1. instruction: a. human: of a mother; of a father; of sages; of a poet; kind instruction (of a wise wife). b. divine; through his servants. c. a body of prophetic (or sometimes perh. priestly) teaching; in the heart; myriads of precepts. d. instruction in Messianic age. e. a body of priestly direction or instruction relating to sacred things. 2. law (prop. direction): viz. a. of special laws, sg. of Feast of Massoth, sabbath; of direction given by priests in partic. case; of statutes of priest’s code; pl. laws; (of decisions in civil cases given by Moses); the laws of the new temple; those laws in which men should walk. b. of codes of law, (1)as written in the code of the covenant; (2) the law of the Deuteronomic code. (3) the law of the Priest’s code. 3. custom, manner: the manner of man, not of God, i.e. deal with me as man with man.
The point of presenting the lexicon entry is this; we have to determine the Biblical meaning of the word Torah from the context. Does it mean direction, instruction, or law? In addition to these Biblical meanings we have to determine if Asher Norman is using a cultural meaning as well. In Rabbinic Judaism a reference to “The Torah” is a reference to the written Biblical material and the oral, traditional material (the Mishna and the Gemara [Talmud]). In addition, in the Jewish community we often refer to “The Torah” and we mean the entire Bible (an alternative reference to the entire Bible is Tanak). So, you can see, a writer or speaker can use the term “Torah” and be referring to 5 different possibilities. To avoid confusion I will use the term “Law of Moses” rather than Torah. Unfortunately, Asher Norman appears to use the term “Torah” without distinguishing what meaning of Torah he is referring to which can be quite confusing.
With all the above stated I would say that we have good reason to reject the statement that the Law of Moses is eternal in nature. It had a beginning in 1446 B.C.E. at Mt. Sinai, and it had an end in 30 C.E. with the ministry of Yeshua. What’s the Biblical evidence?
Evidence from Language
Let us start with by examining two key Hebrew words: olam and ad. Olam and ad are words that you have to be very, very careful with and not assume simplistic definitions. Their meaning has to be determined from the context in which they are used (like most Hebrew words, for example-Torah). Let me begin by presenting some material from a well respected lexicon, The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, and from Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, the Director of Ariel Ministries. I realize this is a bit technical but it is necessary.
- Jenni holds that its basic meaning “most distant times” can refer to either the remote past or to the future or to both as due to the fact that it does not occur independently (as a subject or as an object) but only in connection with prepositions indicating direction (“since,” “until,” “up to”) or as an adverbial accusative of direction or finally as the modifying genitive in the construct relationship. In the latter instance olam can express by itself the whole range of meanings denoted by all the prepositions “since, until, to the most distant time”; i.e. it assumes the meaning “(unlimited, incalculable) continuance, eternity.” (THAT II, p. 230)
The LXX generally translates olam by aion which has essentially the same range of meaning. That neither the Hebrew nor the Greek word in itself contains the idea of endlessness is shown both by the fact that they sometimes refer to events or conditions that occurred at a definite point in the past, and also by the fact that sometimes it is thought desirable to repeat the word, not merely saying “forever,” but “forever and ever.”
Both words came to be used to refer to a long age or period-an idea that is sometimes expressed in English by “world.” Post biblical Jewish writings refer to the present world of toil as ha-olam hazzeh and to the world to come as ha-olam habba.
- ad (q.v.) has substantially the same range of meaning as olam (usually long continuance into the future, but cf. Job 20:4).
Dr. Fruchtenbaum covers the territory in his manuscript on the Sabbath as well (Ariel Ministries Manuscript 176). His material on the Sabbath is 100% applicable to our examination of the Law of Moses. In his manuscript he examines the perpetuity of the Sabbath. In Twenty-six Reasons the issue is the perpetuity of the Mosaic Law. The point I am stressing is point “c. The Concept of Eternity.” Just substitute “Mosaic Law” for Sabbath in most cases.
c. The Concept of Eternity.
The third key phrase is for ever. The simple, basic truth is that Classical Hebrew, the Hebrew of the Old Testament Scriptures, has no term that carries the concept of “eternity.” There are phrases that carry this concept, such as “without end,” but there is not a single word that carries the concept of eternity as there is in English.
To focus on the meaning of the term for ever, six things should be kept in mind. First, the Hebrew word is olam. The word itself simply means “long duration,” “antiquity,” “futurity,” “until the end of a period of time.” That period of time is determined by the context. Sometimes it is the length of a man’s life, sometimes it is an age, and sometimes it is a dispensation.
The second thing to keep in mind is that there are two Hebrew forms of olam. The first form is le-olam, which means “unto an age.” And the second form is ad-olam, which means “until an age.” However, neither of these forms carry the English meaning of “forever.” Although it has been translated that way in English, the Hebrew does not carry the concept of eternity as the English word “forever” does.
The third thing to keep in mind is that the word olam, le-olam, or ad-olam, sometimes means only up “to the end of a man’s life.” For example, it is used of someone’s lifetime (Ex. 14:13), of a slave’s life (Ex. 21:6; Lev. 25:46; Deut. 15:17), of Samuel’s life (I Sam. 1:22; 2:35), of the lifetimes of David and Jonathan (I Sam. 20:23), and of David’s lifetime (I Sam. 27:12; 28:2; I Chr. 28:4). While the English reads for ever, obviously from the context it does not mean “forever” in the sense of eternity, but only up to the end of the person’s life.
The fourth thing to keep in mind about the meaning of olam is that it sometimes means only “an age” or “dispensation.” For example, Deuteronomy 23:3 uses the term for ever but limits the term to only ten generations. Here it obviously carries the concept of an age. In II Chronicles 7:16, it is used only for the period of the First Temple. So, again, the word for ever in Hebrew does not mean “eternal” as it does in English; it means up to the end of a period of time, either a man’s life, or an age, or a dispensation.
The point of presenting this technical material is the fact that the Biblical Hebrew words used to describe the Law of Moses allows for the Law of Moses to be temporary rather than eternal. We are not contradicting the vocabulary or grammar when we say that the Law of Moses is temporary. When dealing with the Law of Moses a more correct translation would be that it is an “age long” covenant rather than an “eternal” covenant (and similar statements).
Evidence From Jeremiah 31:31-34
Our position that the Mosaic Law is a covenant that will last for an age or dispensation (the Dispensation of Law) is confirmed by the fact that Jeremiah states that the New Covenant replaces the Law of Moses. There are a number of key ideas to notice that support the temporary nature of the Law of Moses. Let’s take them sentence by sentence.
- Jer. 31:31
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,”
In verse 31 the term “New” means “brand new” as the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament explains.
(adaš). New, new thing, fresh. This adjective, usually attributive, describes, as in English, a variety of physical objects (e.g., house, wife, cords, sword, garment, cruse, meal offering, king, gate, etc.). It is also used for non-material things as name (Isa. 62:2), song (Ps. 149:1), covenant (Jer. 31:31), God’s mercies (Lam 3:23), heart, and spirit (Ezk. 36:26). While suffering, Job longed for the time when his glory was “fresh” in him (Job 29:20).
Some like to claim that the word means to renew or repair and is therefore describing a renewed Mosaic Law in Jeremiah 31:31. Their mistake is to miss the fact that the form of the word in Jeremiah is an adjective. It is true that the noun form of the word means renew or repair but the noun is not in the text, the adjective is.
Evidence From Rabbinic Literature
This would be a good place to share some Rabbinic Quotes that recognize that the New Covenant is brand new and not something renewed or repaired.
- The Jewish Messiahs, Harris Lenowitz, page 270ff (Harris Lenowitz, to the best of my knowledge is not a Jewish Christian)
- Lev. Rabbah 9:7
- Yalkut and Midrash Mishle on Prov. 9:2
- Midrash Tehillim in regard to Ps. 146:7
- Lev. Rabbah 13:3
- Yalkut in regard to Isa 26:2
- The Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai, pages 247-257 (Again, to the best of my knowledge Raphael Patai is not a Jewish Christian)
The notion that the days of the messiah, the messiah’s apocalyptic reign, will be served by a new law is a Jewish one. Paul is quite Jewish in seeking to extend his new, more accessible, religion to Gentiles in the interest of time as did some of his contemporaries among the rabbis. In his essay, “The Crisis of Tradition in Jewish Messianism,” G. Scholem reviews the most important rabbinic statements that look forward to a utopian messianic age governed by a new, relaxed law:
All sacrifices will be abolished except for the offer of thanksgiving
All festivals will be abolished except for Purim which will never be abolished (and the Day of Atonement will be like Purim)
The Lord allows the forbidden … and will one day allow the eating of all animals now forbidden to be eaten … In the time to come he will allow every thing that he has forbidden.
A new Torah shall go forth from me.
the messiah himself will teach it (the new Torah)
Eccl. Rabbah 11:1
R Hizqiya in the name of R. Simon bar Zibdi said: “The whole Tora which you learn in This World is vanity as against the Tora of the World to Come. For in This World a man learns Tora and forgets, but in the Future to Come (he will not forget) as it is written, I will put My Tora in their inward parts and in their heart will I write it (Jer. 31:33). (One of seventeen similar entries)
Return to Jeremiah 31:31-34
To say that the New Covenant is indeed something brand new is totally consistent with the Biblical text and the comments of the rabbis. Let’s go on to the next verse.
- Jer 31:32
“Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
The new Covenant is distinct from the Mosaic Covenant. Verse 32 is a reference to the Law of Moses given at Mt. Sinai 430 years after the Abrahamic Covenant (Gal. 3:17). Please notice that God states that the Law of Moses was broken by the Jewish people. The problem did not lie with God-He was a husband to us. The responsibility for breaking the Mosaic Covenant is ours-we became an adulterous wife (Jer. 5:7; 8; 7:9; 9:2. Ezk. 22:9-11; 23:9-12; Ho. 4:2, 3; etc.). Let’s move on to verse 33.
- Jer. 31:33
“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
God will put into place a brand new arrangement after Jeremiah’s time (circa 600-580 B.C.E). It cannot be the Law of Moses. That law was broken before Jeremiah’s time. What is the law he is referring to here if it is not the broken Law of Moses? A formal name is not given here, just a description regarding the nature of this brand new arrangement — it will be internal.
This is in contrast with the broken Law of Moses which was external in nature. Under the Mosaic Covenant it was incumbent upon man to place God’s word in his heart. A righteous man, like the psalmist, would do his best to accomplish that task through study, meditation, memorization, etc. (Psa. 119:11 says, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”) But it was up to the man and that means that his efforts, while admirable, would always fall short because of mankind’s limitations. However, in Jeremiah 31:33, placing the New Covenant in the heart of man would not face human limitations because God states that He will personally do it. This statement emphasizes why the New Covenant is so new and different from what came before. Under the New Covenant God Himself takes on the responsibility and task of placing His law within the core of a person’s being. Due to the perfect all-powerful nature of God, we can be sure that his workmanship is complete and perfect. It will not fall short due to human limitations as the Mosaic Law did. The Mosaic Law is holy and righteous and good, but God never endued it with the power to enter a man’s heart.
From our New Testament perspective we know what this law is. We can give it two names. It is the Law of the Messiah (Gal. 6:2) or The Law of the Spirit of Life (Rom. 8:2). The internal nature of the New Covenant is enabled because the New Covenant believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:17; Ro. 8:9-11; 1 Co. 3:16, 17; 6:19; 2 Co. 6:16; 1 Jo. 2:27). When the New Covenant Believer is indwelt by the Ruach HaQodesh then God’s law is truly in his heart. Finally, let’s look at the last verse.
- Jer. 31:34
“They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Two key features of the New Covenant is knowledge of God and forgiveness of sins which is the basis for the Spirit’s indwelling. Again, this is very different from the Mosaic Covenant. Under the Mosaic Covenant the tribe of Levi was assigned the job of teaching the his neighbor and brother (2 Ch. 17:8,9; 30:22; 35:3; Ne. 8:7.) When the New Covenant is finally fulfilled, when all Israel enters into the New Covenant (Rom. 11:25-27), this teaching ministry will not be necessary.
Asher Norman is confusing the reader when he states on page 16 that “the Torah will be in effect in the Messianic age.” That statement is vague and imprecise. That statement makes it appear that the Mosaic Law or the Mosaic Law plus the Talmud, that we know today, since it is “eternal,” will be in effect during the Messianic Kingdom. If that is what he means, he is incorrect. The Mosaic Law will not be in effect during the Messianic age.
Evidence From Zechariah 14:16-19
If the Mosaic Law is not in effect during the Messianic Kingdom, then what law will be in effect? The answer is that the New Covenant or Millennial Law will be in effect at that time, just as Jeremiah stated. Just one example (of many) of the difference between Mosaic Law and New Covenant or Millennial Law is found at the end of the book of Zechariah. Under the Mosaic Law the Feast of Tabernacles was mandatory for the Jewish people only. However, under Millennial Law/New Covenant the observance of Tabernacles will be mandatory for the entire world. Any nation that does not obey will be punished.
- Zechariah 14:16-19
Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the LORD smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.
This is one example of the fact that the Mosaic Law is not operating in the Kingdom. A new system is-Kingdom Law.
Evidence From The Soncino Books of the Bible
This factor is especially apparent in the concluding chapters of the book of Ezekiel. The rabbis tore their hair out trying to reconcile the statements in Ezekiel with the Mosaic Law. The classic Jewish commentary, the Soncino Books of the Bible, explains this phenomenon with these comments:
Page xi: The text of the concluding chapters, dealing with the Temple of the future, presents almost insurmountable difficulties. The types and number of sacrifices prescribed there differ from those mentioned in the Pentateuch; and there are many innovations which, according to the accepted law, are normally beyond the authority of a prophet to institute (Shab. 104a). With reference to these difficulties the Rabbis said that only Elijah, the prophet who is to herald the final redemption, will be able to explain the satisfactorily (men. 45a).
Page xiii: The Talmud reveals the fact that the Book of Ezekiel was at one time in danger of being suppressed and excluded from the Scriptural canon. In Shab. 13b the following passage occurs: ‘Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: In truth, that man is to be remembered for blessing; his name is Chananiah son of Hezekiah. Had it not been for him, the Book of Ezekiel would have been withdrawn, because its words seem to contradict the teachings of the Torah. What did he do? Three hundred barrels of oil were provided for him (for lighting and food) and he sat in an upper chamber where he reconciled all discrepancies.’
Page xiv: (In regard to Chananiah, above) Yet, despite this Rabbi’s efforts at harmonization, many divergences were detected between the Book and the Mosaic code which baffled all attempts at reconciliation…
Page 265: These closing chapters present almost insuperable difficulties. They contain discrepancies, contradictions with Pentateuchal laws, and terms which do not occur elsewhere.
All the “discrepancies” which “baffle” the rabbis unsuccessful attempts at harmonization would evaporate if they would concede that there is a new law, a new covenant, in operation during the Messianic Kingdom. Instead they stubbornly stick to the doctrine that the Mosaic Law is eternal. In truth, the Mosaic Law or Mosaic Covenant was never designed to be eternal in the first place. It was designed to be temporary in nature.
The Position of the New Testament
The New Testament is totally consistent with the data from the Hebrew Bible. This consistency is summed up in Galatians 3:19:
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.
Paul is talking about the Mosaic Law in verse 19. He notes that it had a beginning. It was “added.” Added to what? Added to the Abrahamic Covenant that preceded it by 430 years. When did the Mosaic Law begin? It began in 1446 B.C.E. at Mt. Sinai. It was added to the Abrahamic Covenant for a purpose; to deal with the sin issue (because of transgressions). It was added “until.” The little word “until” tells us that the Law of Moses had an end. The end of the Mosaic Law is tied into the coming of the seed. The seed is a reference to the Messiah. Yeshua came to as a Jew, living under the Law of Moses, in order to fulfill it (Gal. 4:4, Matt. 5:17). When Yeshua completed His mission the purpose for the Mosaic Law was fulfilled and it was rendered inoperative. It was replaced by the New Covenant and all the imperatives found in the New Testament that apply to Believers today. There are over 600 commands in the New Testament that we are supposed to obey today.
So what is the status of the Mosaic Law today? The Mosaic Law is still holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7:12) and relevant (2 Tim. 3:16-17) but it is not required. It is not the mandatory rule of life for the Believer living under the New Covenant. The Mosaic Law should be referred to for principles that will instruct us and give us wisdom. However, if a Believer today does not obey a precept of the Mosaic Law he will not find himself under the curse of the Law (Deut. 28, Lev. 26). In a similar manner, if a Believer obeys a precept in the Mosaic Law God is not obligated to bless him either (Deut. 28, Lev. 26). Remember the Mosaic Law requires God to bless or curse according to obedience or disobedience. We are not under that arrangement today. The Word of God abides forever (Psa. 119:89-91) but the Mosaic Law portion of God’s eternal revelation is not operating as the rule of life for the Believer any more. It was never intended to be eternal. Our rule of life today is the New Covenant (the New Testament).
Incidentally, if the Mosaic Law is operating today, then Yeshua cannot be our High Priest. Under the Mosaic Law the priest functioned under the order of Aaron. Under that order the priest had to be from the tribe of Levi and the King had to be from the tribe of Judah. Both offices could not be held by one man. If Yeshua is our Messiah/King and our High Priest He cannot function under the stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant. He has to function under a different system. That is the point of the book of Hebrews. Yeshua functions under the order of Melchizidek (Psa. 110). Under that order the High Priest can also be the King. A quick perusal of some of the key points of the book of Hebrews will verify that.
- Hebrews 5:10
- Hebrews 6:20
- Hebrews 7:12
- Hebrews 7:18
(Jesus) being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.
For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
This position found in the Book of Hebrews is simply the consistent message of Tanak. The Messiah was stated to be both Israel’s king and Israel’s priest. The kingship is promised in Psalm 2 and the priesthood is promised in Psalm 110. This arrangement that is counter to the Mosaic Law is also confirmed in Zechariah 6:11-13 where the Messianic “Branch” will be a priest on his throne.
Asher Norman stated that we cannot add to or subtract from the Law of Moses and we agree totally with that concept. However, the New Covenant is not a man-made addition to the Law of Moses. The New Covenant, as we have seen above, in Jeremiah 31:31-34, is totally independent and distinct from the Law of Moses. The New Covenant was predicted by the prophet Jeremiah some 800 years after the Mosaic Law was instituted.
Then the New Covenant came into operation, at the proper time (30 ce), as prophesied. This is completely consistent with the fact that God’s revelation is progressive in nature. It was not given all at one time. It was given to man over many centuries of time. The first five books are credited to Moses. However, after Moses died, circa 1406 bce, God’s revelation continued to be presented through Joshua, Samuel, the prophets etc. More information was added as time passed. The New Testament is simply the continuation of that process. It is with the completion of the New Testament that the clear cut end of the written revelation is reached (Rev. 22:18-19).
Ironically, Yeshua‘s evaluation of the situation is that the rabbis are the ones who have added to the Mosaic Law. Yeshua did not view the Oral Law (the Mishnah) as a valid part of the Mosaic Law. In fact He discerned that in many cases the Mishnah actually invalidated the Mosaic Law.
- Mark 7:8
- Mark 7:13
“Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
“…thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
Yeshua was not against tradition as such. However, when tradition was raised to the level of divine revelation and made mandatory He rejected it and its authority. Unfortunately, it is the rabbis who are actually guilty of what they wrongly accuse the Jewish Christians of doing. To cite but two examples, Rabbi Avigdor Miller in his book Rejoice O Youth makes this comment on page 193:
“… the truth is unknown to those who merely know the Scriptures. The only way to know the truth of the Scriptures is through the tradition.”
Then on page 195 we find this statement:
“…the most vital part of the Torah is the Oral Tradition.”
These comments make it self-evident that it is the rabbis who have added to the Law of Moses and the Bible in general.
Based on the perspective and evidence presented above, which Asher Norman does not refer to in his book, I feel I can state that the rabbinic concept of an eternal Law of Moses is incorrect. It is apparent that many ancient rabbis held to the position found in the New Testament that eventually God would bring a New Covenant into operation. The Law of Moses, the Mosaic Covenant, was designed from the beginning to be temporary in nature. It reached its goal and a brand new covenant replaced it.