Christ and the Law: Based on a Chronic Assessment of the Gospels


Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,

At the very foundation of this topic, lies the heart of the Judeo-Christian narrative on the personhood of Christ and the religion of Christianity. For some almost 2000 years, there has always existed a disconnect between the validity of the application of the Torah’s laws and Christ’s ministry. Therefore to establish a basic understanding from which to work, let’s look at the Christian position on the Law as it stands today and then regress into the ministry of Christ and subsequently the period after his ministry. In doing so, we shall develop a holistic comprehension of how the law was used in Christ’s time and how it was observed directly after his time, then we shall contrast it with the modern Christian understanding. What, therefore, is the standard Christian position towards the relevance of  the law?  John Calvin in his, Harmony of the Law, Volume 1, succinctly addresses or rather summarizes and defines the Christian position during his time and that of which almost all Christians have adopted today as their standard position, he states:

“The Last Part shews the end and use of the Law; and thence its usefulness is very extensive. For how would it profit us to be instructed in righteousness of life, unless the perception of our guilt and iniquity induced us to seek after the remedy? But when God allures us so gently and kindly by his promises, and again pursues us with the thunders of his curse, it is partly to render us inexcusable, and partly to shut us up deprived of all confidence in our own righteousness, so that we may learn to embrace his Covenant of Grace, and flee to Christ, who is the end of the law. This is the intention of The Promises, in which he declares that he will be merciful, since there is forgiveness ready for the sinner, and when he offers the spirit of Regeneration. On this depends that sentence of St. Paul, that Christ is the end of the Law Still I do not so distinguish this class from the foregoing, as if it had nothing in common with them. For, before arriving at it, it will be often necessary to refer both to the terrible ruin of the human race, as well as to the peculiar blessing of Adoption, and to that increasing flow of fatherly love which God extends to his people. For all the expiations have no other meaning than that God will be always merciful, as often as the sinner shall flee to the refuge of his pardon. But how needful this division is will be best understood as we proceed.”

With having read this, we come to the understanding that Christians accept the following:

  • The Law (Mitzvot, Shari’ah) are from God.
  • They serve a divine purpose, that being of guidance to God.
  • The Law demonstrates our weakness.
  • It demonstrates our weakness to aid us in turning to Christ.
  • Christ is the end of the Law.

While I as a Muslim would agree with the first two points noted above, I do have to question the third notion which is commonly expressed and those of which are derived from it. If the purpose of the law is to solely demonstrate our weakness, then what happens when the law is put into practise? When obedience and application of the law is being done, does that then render the purpose of the law, invalid? Perhaps, out of God’s reason for giving the law? These questions must be asked, because if it is the Law is there to only demonstrate our weakness, what then occurs if it doesn’t? Using this line of reasoning, the Christian concept of the Law seems rather paradoxical if not, inane.

To circumvent this theological problem of the Christians, let’s examine what the Torah (LXX) actually states in Deuteronomy (Devarim) 4: 1-4 :

“Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. You saw with your own eyes what the LORD did at Baal Peor. The LORD your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the LORD your God are still alive today.”

Note, in these verses, the purpose of the Law, as explicitly stated isn’t to display man’s weakness (although the Law does that, it can, conversely demonstrate man’s faithfulness and piety as shown in the verses above), but to grant success, meaning then that the Law grants life. It grants life because obedience to God demonstrates piety (in Islam: taqwa) and by extension earns God’s pleasure with his obedient followers/ believers. The same can be seen in the Qur’an, see Surah 2:1-5.

If we were to also follow through on the logic that the Law is supposed to take us to Christ, in the understanding that salvation can only be sought through him, then we also have to question this track of reasoning. If for some 1,500 years before Christ the Law was supposed to lead people to him as their eternal saviour, then therein lies a problem. For 1,500 years no one was lead to the Christ, they followed a Law, which according to Christian reasoning was supposed to lead to someone who wasn’t their. Alas, early converts to Christianity did notice this exception, we find that an answer is given in Luke 16:19-21, wherein those who did good await for Jesus to take them to heaven, which Paul states in his epistle to the Ephesians, was fulfilled, see Chapter 4, Verses 8 – 10. However the problem still persists, if the Law is supposed to lead to Christ as a means of salvation, then law in itself cannot be a means of salvation. This may become confusing, so let’s break this down:

The law exists to lead to Christ.
You are only saved because of Christ.

If we accept that the law leads to Christ then can the law be held against us, i.e sinners aren’t led to Christ?

Or if the Law does lead us to Christ, are we saved because we practised the law or are we saved because of Christ? If we are saved because of Christ, then the law becomes irrelevant, if we are saved because we practised the law, then Christ didn’t actually save anyone.

Lastly, we read that Christ is the end of the Law (mitzvot, shari’ah). This statement leads us into our next section, where we examine this claim in detail. What exactly does this phrase mean? Of what consequence is it? What ideological and theological beliefs can be derived from such a position?

The Law Before Christ’s Mission:

Deuteronomy 4:1-4
“Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. You saw with your own eyes what the LORD did at Baal Peor. The LORD your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor, but all of you who held fast to the LORD your God are still alive today.”

Deuteronomy 13:4
It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.

Deuteronomy 28:15
However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:

Deuteronomy 29:31
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

Deuteronomy 30:10
if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 30:16
For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

From these references, we can see the importance of the Mosaic Law (Mitzvot), therefore we can safely assert that before Jesus’ time, the law was held in a high regard, a high esteem that guided the People of Israel and any Prophet that was to come had to preach a message that continued upon the same foundations of the Law, or that Prophet was therefore false and had to be purged from the lands of the believing peoples:

“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.  That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.” – Bible : Deuteronomy 13: 1-5.

This is also in accordance with Islamic belief of the risalat (message) which is God’s wahy (revelation). That we must believe in the revelation of God’s scriptures.

The Law During Christ’s Mission

From the very onset, the Judaic narrative is clear, the book of Matthew which is the opening for the New Testament, immediately announces Jesus as a descendant from a line of strict Torah observants, and therefore has the noble lineage from which the Messiah was prophesied to have come (Isaiah 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezekiel 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hosea 3:4-5). This narrative is consistently pursued in Matthew’s Gospel, almost every chapter links Jesus to some Judaic belief of the Messiah. We read in Chapter 2 he’s labelled the King of the Jews, Chapter 3 that he is announced by by a precursor to his arrival, Chapter 4 that he quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 and so on.

What then does Jesus actually say about the law?

 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Bible : Matthew 5 : 17 – 20.

μη νομισητε οτι ηλθον καταλυσαι τον νομον η τους προφητας ουκ ηλθον καταλυσαι αλλα πληρωσαι. – Bible : Matthew 5: 17.

This is where the first problem begins. What does Christ mean, assuming he spoke these words, that he came to “fulfill” the Law (mitzvot)? We shall answer this by first examining the standard Christian position, that is from the Geneva Study Bible, which states:

“Christ did not come to bring any new way of righteousness and salvation into the world, but indeed to fulfil that which was shadowed by the figures of the Law, by delivering men through grace from the curse of the Law: and moreover to teach the true use of obedience which the Law appointed, and to engrave in our hearts the power for obedience.”

Now, this presents a paradox, on one end it is stated that Christ did not come to bring a new way of salvation, but that his coming was to deliver men from the curse (punishment) of the Law. This statement is self contradicting, because by stating he is delivering men from punishment, this in itself is Salvation. Salvation’s definition as it is understood, means, “to be free from sin and the punishment of sin”. Therefore the Christian position seems to be a confused one. They state that Christ didn’t come to bring a new form of salvation, yet they say he did bring salvation.

This begs the question, is this form of salvation new? Yes, there is nowhere in the Old Testament which states that one man can account for the sins of all people or for that case, another person. However there is a passage which says the opposite:

 “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.” – Ezekiel 18:20.

Foregoing the confused position taken by the Christians, let’s proceed to defining what Christ meant by, “fulfilling” the Law. The word as used in Greek is:

πληρωσαι (pleroo – Strong’s Lexicon 4137)

However, Christian Exegete Adam Clarke, on explaining this verse, makes a rather interesting point:

“It is worthy of observation, that the word gamar, among the rabbins, signifies not only to fulfil, but also to teach; and, consequently, we may infer that our Lord intimated, that the law and the prophets were still to be taught or inculcated by him and his disciples; and this he and they have done in the most pointed manner. See the Gospels and epistles; and see especially this sermon on the mount, the Epistle of James, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. And this meaning of the word gives the clear sense of the apostle’s words, Colossians 1:25Whereof I am made a minister,ης εγενομην εγω διακονος κατα την οικονομιαν του θεου την δοθεισαν μοι εις υμας πληρωσαι τον λογον του θεου , tofulfil the word of God, i.e. to teach the doctrine of God.

With this in mind, we can note that one understanding of Matthew 5:17, is that Christ came to teach the Law (Torah). On further examination, if we compare the words used in Greek in Matthew and Colossions, we find that that are indeed the same term used:

Matthew:
μη νομισητε οτι ηλθον καταλυσαι τον νομον η τους προφητας ουκ ηλθον καταλυσαι αλλα πληρωσαι

Colossians:
ης εγενομην εγω διακονος κατα την οικονομιαν του θεου την δοθεισαν μοι εις υμας πληρωσαι τον λογον του θεου

What we come to see is that the most used translations of this term, are either “complete” or “fulfill”. Recall, we observed above that to fulfill according to the Geneva Study Bible, meant Christ came to bring Salvation from the curse of the Law, however, a more accurate reading from the Greek, demonstrates that Christ actually stated, that he came to proclaim or teach the law. The question begs itself, why then do Christians need to appeal to this word game? On one hand, they contradict themselves if they say fulfill means to bring salvation from the punishment of the Law, whereas if we don’t appeal to their word games, we see that Christ claimed to teach or proclaim the Law:

“Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” – Bible :  Matthew 8: 19.

“When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” – Bible : Matthew 9 : 11.

“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” – Bible : Matthew 12 : 38.

Continuing on the topic at hand, if we look at the meaning of the word  πληρωσαι from Strong’s Lexicon, we will never be able to derive the understanding that the term means to bring salvation or deliverance from sin. In fact, the New Testament’s claim that Christ claimed to proclaim or teach the Law can further be proven by first reading how salvation, from the curse (punishment) of the Law can be achieved:

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  – Bible : Isaiah 30: 15.

Something which the New Testament bears witness to Christ preaching:

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – Matthew 4:17.

“Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.” – Bible : Matthew 11: 20.

“They went out and preached that people should repent.” – Bible : Mark 6 : 12.

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” – Bible  : Luke 5: 32.

This therefore, soundly refutes, through proof by contradiction, that Christ himself did not lay to the claim that he will himself deliver salvation from the punishment of the Law, but that he kept with the teaching of Moses and the Prophets, such as Isaiah, that the Law must be kept and that deliverance from sin for the breaking the Laws was to repent. Nothing new from Jesus, he kept the belief as it always had been and this is what he preached.

In fact, as Rabbi Michael Skobac in his discussion on the early Jewish followers of Jesus has stated, we notice that Jesus did in fact keep the practise (Sunnah) of the observant Jewish followers at that time. It’s not noticeable at first, but when one goes to the Greek, the truth becomes quite enlightening or so to speak.

Luke 8:44
” She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.”

Quite an unassuming story, some woman touching Jesus’ cloak, how does this prove anything? Well let’s turn to the Greek:

προσελθουσα οπισθεν ηψατο του κρασπεδου του ιματιου αυτου και παραχρημα εστη η ρυσις του αιματος αυτης

What does this word: κρασπεδου, mean? From Strong’s Lexicon we read:

  • in the NT a little appendage hanging down from the edge of the mantle or cloak , made of twisted wool.
  • a tassel, tuft: the Jews had such appendages attached to their mantles to remind them of the Law.


A striking revelation, hidden beneath the deception of Christian translators. This is one reason both Muslims and Jews emphasize learning the original language of the Scriptures, so that one can fully understand God’s revelation. What is insightful of this verse, is that Jesus is wearing a cloak that had these tassels attached to them, which only Torah observant teachers wore. If that is the case, then clearly Jesus was practising the Law and not preaching away from it, or that it had come to an end.

The Law Practised in the Final Supper

It would be odd that if Christ did preach salvation through his crufixion, death and ressurection, that towards the end of his mission, he would still be practising the Law, as well as his disciples as Torah observant Jews, yet this is exactly the case we find during the famous, final supper:

“On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”…..”When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.” – Bible : Matthew 26 : 17, 20.

The Law Practised During Jesus’ Burial

For the sake of argument, let’s assume the Christian position, that Jesus’ death, signalled a new era of salvation. Believe in him having died for your sins and you would be saved. However, we run into another problem. The Disciples of Christ, even at his burial were still observing the Laws of the Torah (Mitzvot):

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.” – Bible : Mark 15 : 42-43.

Joseph does this to avoid breaking the Torah commandment of the prohibition of a criminal hanging on a tree until sunset:

“What we would call Friday evening. As the law of Moses had ordered that no criminal should continue hanging on a tree or gibbet till the setting of the sun, Joseph, fearing that the body of our Lord might be taken down, and thrown into the common grave with the two robbers, came and earnestly entreated Pilate to deliver it to him, that he might bury it in his own new tomb.” – Adam Clarke’s Commentary.

We even read in John’s Gospel, quite explicitly that his burial was done under Jewish law as well:

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.” – Bible : John 19 : 38 – 40.

Again, quite odd, we see the disciples, even after the death of Christ which modern day Christians hold to be the event which grants them salvation, the disciples themselves, are nevertheless still found to be practising the Law of the Torah. What’s also clear is that the place of Jesus’ tomb was decided in a rush as to avoid breaking another Torah commandment:

“Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” – Bible : John 19 : 42.

If we for a moment, return to Matthew’s Gospel, we see that they don’t check on Jesus’ tomb throughout the Sabbath as they were observing the Sabbath. After the Sabbath has passed, then they visited his tomb:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.” – Bible : Matthew 28 : 1.

A strange occurrence for a people who allegedly are supposed to have been granted salvation through faith and belief alone (John 3:16) to then be practising the Torah’s laws so stringently.

The Law Practised by the Disciples 14 Years After Jesus

At this point in time, for one to join the group of Messianic Jews of James the Just (the brother of Jesus), they were compelled to continue practising the act of circumcision, so that they could completely enter the faith from being a Gentile to a Jew (note: The disciples considered themselves Jews, they never considered themselves to be Christians, they were Jews who had accepted the coming of the Messiah, Jesus). Under Peter’s stewardship, those who joined their group, had to be circumcised, yet Paul makes the distinction that he himself accepted those who were uncircumcised, that is, in direct contrast to Peter’s criteria:

“On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised.” – Bible : Galatians 2 : 8.

The Law, Disciples and Paul

This is now the first incident we have, some 14 years after Jesus’ ascension, of the disciples being condemned for following the Torah laws, this by someone who never lived with the disciples during the time of Christ’s mission:

“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” – Bible : Galatians 2 : 11 – 14.

The Law and James’ Decision

Seeing opposition from someone claiming to have seen Christ and his group of gentile followers, James had a decision to make. Since himself and Peter in Galatians 2:8, were known to only preach this message to the Jews and accept only the Jews, but Paul had included Gentiles into their group, the question begged itself, were these uncircumcised followers of the Christ, valid believers? So for the first time in 14 years, the disciples had to consider whether Gentiles could belong to their faith or not, was Paul’s position invalid? Quite odd, if Christ died for the sins, once for all (John 3:16), then why are the disciples now considering this development some 14 years later? Something is amiss. Nevertheless, let’s examine what James decides in regards to Gentiles who were not circumcised under the law of the Torah being inclusive of their group:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” – Bible : Acts 15 : 1-2.

We see that while on their way to Jerusalem, they continued to meet persons who preached that they can only be saved through the practise of the law, something which Paul found abhorrent:

“Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” – Bible : Acts 15 : 5.

Finally, James the brother of Christ, met with them and spoke on his decision:

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” – Bible : Acts 15 : 19 – 21.

The final line is striking, that these instructions belong to the Law of Moses, and thus, this is what he commanded the converted gentiles to their Messianic Judaism to believe. In fact, here is Adam Clarke’s Exegesis on this verse:

“The sense of this verse seems to be this: As it was necessary to write to the Gentiles what was strictly necessary to be observed by them, relative to these points, it was not so to the converted Jews; for they had Moses, that is, the law, preached to themin the city, that is, Antioch; and, by the reading of the law in the synagogues every Sabbath day, they were kept in remembrance of those institutions which the Gentiles, who had not the law, could not know. Therefore, James thought that a letter to the converted Gentiles would be sufficient, as the converted Jews had already ample instruction on these points.”

James continues the practise of the law in his verdict and commands it, unlike Paul who says the law is worthless and preaches for the people to forego it, we read in Galatians 3:

“So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?”

“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.

Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.”

 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.”

Paul relegates the Law as something to be practised until Jesus came. Yet this was never a belief propagated by Jesus, nor the disciples, even after some 14 years after the ascension. Even James, whose counsel Paul sought, advises that the law of Moses be taught to the Gentiles, if they are converting to their group of Messianic Judaism, those laws being the Noahide laws.

Conclusion

In summation, the law is to be practised and that is the final verdict of James, the brother of Jesus. Paul who after receiving this judgement from James, continued to berate the law, contradicting James and Jesus and then condemning James, Barnabus and Peter as hypocrites. The question therefore begs itself, as a Christian who is more important, Jesus and the twelve disciples or the man who never met Christ, insults the disciples and throws away the law which Christ and the disciples kept?

wa Allaahu Alam.
[and God knows best,]

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