The Disciple Newsletter
A Newsletter for the Serious Religious Christian
By H. Bruce Stokes, Ph.D.
Torah and Gospel – What is the Relationship?
The Torah and the Gospel, or more commonly in Christian terminology, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, have to be placed into proper relationship before several other issues can be resolved. For example, the relationships of Israel and the Church, of Jews and Gentiles in the Kingdom of God, and of Judaism and Christianity, cannot be determined without first addressing the relationship of the covenants.
Theologians who have struggled with these issues have tended to fall into two major theological systems. In one camp are those who see the relationship of the covenants as sequential. The Old Covenant is replaced with the New Covenant. These include Orthodox, Catholic, and Reformed theologians who posit a complete replacement theology where the church replaces Israel, Christianity replaces Judaism and the New Covenant or Gospel replaces the Old Covenant or Law. Among dispensational theologians, the replacement includes a setting aside of Israel, the Law, and certain prophecies until after a church age when they will return for a brief period. Then the final replacement of the Old Covenant will take place after the millennial Kingdom (1,000-year reign of Christ on the present earth) is completed.
The second approach separates the covenants with respect to whom they are directed, and for what distinct purpose they are to accomplish. This approach views the covenant with Israel to be distinct from the Covenant made with the nations. This is found in Jewish thinking related to the Laws of Noah which Judaism believes are God's requirements for non-Jews. Some evangelicals and liberal Christians are also advocating a type of dual covenant approach to assist in Jewish-Christian relations. In the midst of these two basic approaches are a number of emphases which add to the confusion. Often in discussion, terms such as Law and flesh, Gospel and grace, or Church, Israel, or Kingdom are used interchangeably or as synonyms, without clear theological agreement of definitions, by those in the conversation. The result is that too often we talk passed each other.
There are scriptural passages that seem to indicate an eternal covenant with Israel, or a least one that continues through this present age and ends with the creation. There are passages that appear to indicate a replacement of the old or former covenant by the new one. How do we put these into appropriate relationship? It is too easy to play proof text with such doctrine, but it is difficult to bring all of the related passages to the discussion without writing more pages than anyone will read. My attempt here is to suggest an answer, not exhaustively state and defend it. Because my audience includes Christians and Messianic Jews, terminology will sometimes be mixed. Old or former Testament may be exchanged for Hebrew Bible, and Mosaic Law with Torah.
We must consider the relationship of the Law, or Torah to the New Covenant. The term New Covenant is first found in the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible writings. In Jeremiah 31:31f we are told:
"Behold, days are coming", declares the Lord" when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the House of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day that I took them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them", declares the Lord.
"But this is the Covenant which I shall 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. And they will not teach again 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 remember their sin no more."
Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day, and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that the waves roar The Lord of Hosts is His Name. If this fixed order departs from before me," declares the Lord, "Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever."
In this passage we are given both a comparison of the former and new covenant, and also an explanation of what that covenant is. It is not like the one before, which was broken. And it involves God placing His laws in them (Israel and Jacob) so that they all know Him and are His people. These two points are critical. First, He does not say he will change His laws or commandments, or that He will replace it. He says he will place it in them. So the new covenant is different in content as much as in application. How then, is this new covenant unlike the former covenant? For that we must turn to Exodus chapters 19 through 24. This receiving of the covenant described in Exodus involves the tribes of Israel arriving at Mt. Sinai and being told to prepare to hear from God. When He spoke, they were afraid and asked Moses to hear from God on their behalf. Eventually some of the elders came before God but only Moses interacted directly with Him. Moses saw God as a consuming fire on the mountain. The difference between the covenants is not the Laws of God but the process of giving them. The Book of Hebrews contrasts this very point in addressing the two covenants.
For you have not come to a mountain that cannot be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to a blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them…. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking……from heaven….. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:18-29.
The laws and commands are not different. The access to God and final bringing of the promises is the focus. In the first covenant, God gave access to Himself through Moses and Aaron as the High Priest. His laws also came through Moses. Israel was to put God's law on their heart and mind and obey Him. In the New Covenant, access to God is through His Messiah and the laws of God are placed by Him on the heart and mind of those who are given that access. But the Laws and commands are not changed. I cannot murder now because Jesus has given me access to God. I can't steal, dishonor father and mother, lie, cheat and covet under the New Covenant. The Good News or Gospel is not that the Law has passed away, but that Jews and Gentiles now have direct access to God through the Great High Priest Yeshua (Jesus) who provided that access with His own blood. The commandments remain as the teaching and guidance of living as one who knows God.
Jesus makes no attempt to claim that he is replacing any part of the Law or Torah. He is fulfilling it. And until it is all fulfilled and heaven and earth pass away, and are replaced by the New heaven and earth, it remains in place.
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or strike shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever than annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19
The view that Jesus and the New Covenant replaced the Law is often argued based on the statement by Paul in Romans. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes Romans 10:4. The term "end" is a word that refers to the end , goal or final summation. This does not generally refer to something that is going away but is complete or fulfilled. The immediate context of this Romans passage is addressing two kinds of righteousness. One is a righteousness of works or doing, which Paul acknowledges that Moses writes about. The other is a righteousness based on faith about which Moses also writes. In other words, both a righteousness based on doing what is right and a righteousness based on faith is taught in the Law (Torah). Paul explains that his fellow Jews, at the time, had substituted their own righteousness based on their obedience to the command for the righteousness of faith. The righteousness of works, cannot bring salvation or justification. That is accomplished by faith. So access to God, according to the Torah, is by faith as found in the righteousness credited to Abraham. The commandments, which came 400 years later, establish a righteousness based on obedience. This righteousness doesn't save. It wasn't meant to save. It established a basis for God to bless or curse based on the behavior of the people. Paul simply argues that because of ignorance of the righteousness by faith, they had substituted the other righteousness, which can never save. But he does not teach a replacement of the obedience righteousness. He corrects its misuse. Christ (the messiah) is the summation of the Law for the righteousness related to salvation for everyone who believes (has faith). But the righteousness of obedience remains tied to the Law, which is still in effect until the completion of all things.
But there is a problem with this righteousness as well. Not a problem with the Law, but with the flesh. Paul addresses this aspect of the Law and this righteousness in Romans chapters 7 and 8. In these incredible chapters Paul addresses the problem of the flesh in trying to obey the Law of God. His argument is that while the Law is Good and Holy and the commandments were intended for our good. They actually do us harm because of the flesh. The flesh resists the commandments, is contrary to the Spirit, and ultimately makes it impossible to obey God even when we desire to be obedient. This is not a conflict between the Gospel and the Torah. It is a conflict with the Flesh and the Torah. Paul acknowledges that the Law (Torah) is good, but he is flesh and therefore cannot obey. The result is that the curse of the Law instead of the blessing of the Law is his reward. Paul goes so far as to point out that he has discovered a different law, this one in his flesh that prevents him from obedience. He calls it the law of sin.
But even in this righteousness based on obedience, God has provided a solution in Christ. What the Law (Torah) could not do (bring a blessing rather than a curse) God did in sending His Son and addressed the condemnation aspect of the Law, and he condemned it in the flesh so that the Spirit could make the intent of the Law available. To do that, we had to be freed from the law. But what law? The Torah? The commandments? No. The law of sin and death.
There is now therefore, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. For the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death….so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:2-4
Jesus didn't replace the Torah with the Gospel. He replaced the law of sin in the flesh with the law of the Spirit so that we could serve God, by obeying the commandments, not in the oldness of the letter, but with the newness of the Spirit. This is consistent with the prophesy of the New Covenant. They broke my covenant, God says. This time He will not work through the flesh, but will place His Spirit and His Law in their minds and heart. And, he will include the Gentiles in having access to Himself through the Gospel.
So the Gospel, which is to the Jew first, and also the Gentile is that God has made salvation and access to Himself available through the righteousness of faith. And Abraham who believed God, and it was accounted for righteousness while uncircumcised, and who received circumcision and the blessing of righteous obedience becomes the father of both Jews and Gentiles in this New, or rather renewed Covenant.
This idea that there is a righteousness by faith resulting in eternal life, and one by obedience resulting in reward is also seen in the final judgement. Revelation 20:12 explains that at the final judgement the books are opened and the dead are judged from the things based on their deeds. This set of books relate to the rewards and losses. Then they are judged out of the Book of life. This book related to the final outcome of the person whether in the New Jerusalem and Kingdom of Heaven or in the Lake of Fire. Those whose name is not found in the Book of Life receive the second death. The Book of life contains those who have the righteousness of faith. The other books judge all men by the commandments of God regarding reward and loss.
Immediately after this judgement scene, John writes that he saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first ones are no more. And a New Jerusalem is found. It is at this point that the New Covenant is fully in place and the Old Covenant is disappears.
To illustrate this, consider the following chart. It contrasts the traditional replacement view of the Torah Gospel relationship with my understanding of the relationship. As can be clearly seen, the present time is an overlap in which the New Covenant is emerging and the Old Covenant is in preparation for completion. The second coming and earthly reign of the Messiah will fulfill all things and then, according to Revelation 20, the heavens and earth will pass away and the new heaven, earth and Jerusalem will be put in effect. At this point the Torah will have accomplished all that it was intended to do and the need for obedient righteousness based on Law will be replaced with the perfection of all things being new.
The implications for this model of understanding the relationship of the Torah and Gospel are far reaching and cannot be fully discussed here. But some points can be made. The fact that the Gospel and the Torah overlap means that the Church has to rethink its relationship with Israel and with Judaism. Also, the issue of how the Torah is to be understood, obeyed, and incorporated into Christianity must be addressed. This will be the subject of the next Disciple Newsletter. The idea that a righteousness based on obedience to the commandments is compatible with, and not contrary to salvation by grace must be rethought so as to avoid the extremes of legalism and Judaizing of Gentiles as threatened in the early Christian community, and the opposite extremes of lawlessness, anti-Semitism, and assimilation of Jews into a Gentile Christianity as the distinct pattern of the Historical Church shows.
Rather than an immediate replacement, the New Covenant is a renewal and revival of the promises made by God to Israel and includes the believers from among the nations (Gentiles) as joint heirs of those promises to Abraham. Thus Jew and Gentile are all blessed in Abraham as God promised. Our inheritance as believers, whether Jew or Gentile is to be found divided and confused in our parent religions of Christianity and Judaism. As Children of that tragic divorce we must re-establish our identity with those parents to glean from them our heritage. And we must sort through the historic syncretism and walls of separation established by each of them to understand who we are as Jews and Gentiles united by One God, one faith, and one body.
Copyright HBStokes 2003 – All Rights Reserved