Many make long and eloquent arguements to prove that Luke 16:16 means God’s law has been done away.
“The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.”
Some say the “law and the prophets” is a clear reference to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and that the New Covenant is dramatically different from the ‘ministration written on stones. So here, critics of God’s law wish to separate the Ten Commandments from what they say is a new moral code of the heart. But this is not what Jesus meant at all.
What, then, did Jesus mean by the statement, “The law and the prophets were until John?” When Jesus spoke of the “law and the prophets,” He was referring to the Old Testament, and meant that, until the coming of John the Baptist, the Old Testament scriptures were all that was available. The New Testament had not yet been written. It says nowhere that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God does away with the law of God. In fact, Christ says in the very next verse:
“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail” (verse 17).
Have the starry heavens or the planet earth passed away? Jesus said it would be easier for them to perish or be destroyed than for even one tiny part of God’s law to pass away! THAT is the clear interpretation, and this is backed up by very clear scriptures throughout the New Testament – scriptures which are conveniently ignored by critics.
Christ is indeed talking about obedience to the law of God. Those who disagree say the Old Covenant is no longer in force, which of course by their interpretation nullifies God’s law through the New Testament covenant. No one can deny that the Old Covenant is dead, but that does not mean the law of God is dead. Let’s explain!
Which laws are in force today?
The Bible is a book about law, and even a cursory read of this book shows that Jesus Christ did not come to do away with His Father’s law! You can find many references in the Bible to the Ten Commandments, but you can also read a lot about the statutes and the judgments. Then there are the ceremonial rituals and offerings. But which laws are we supposed to observe today?
The mistake lies in assuming the Ten Commandments make up the Old Covenant and that when Christ came, the New Covenant did away with the Ten Commandments and established only grace and promises.
To begin to understand the truth about the laws discussed in the Old Testament, we must first establish the fact that God’s law existed long before Moses at Mount Sinai! In fact, God’s law existed long before Adam and Eve. Few people realize this fact.
Webster’s Dictionary defines statute as, “an established rule or law.” God’s statutes usually command or forbid certain things, in addition to the Ten Commandments. Gesenius’ Lexicon says this about statutes: “An appointed law, a statute, an ordinance…used of the laws of nature [as prescribed by God]…a custom observed as though it were a law.” God’s statutes are based upon the Ten Commandments.
God gave statutes and judgments for the general well-being of the people—for the protection of everyone’s legal rights. They are all based on the principle of love toward God and love toward your neighbor.
The difference between them is summed up in these terms: “In general, the Ten Commandments apply to individual conduct, the statutes to national or church affairs, and the judgments to decisions rendered according to the principle of the Ten Commandments and the statutes.”
Law in effect prior to Moses
God’s law was very much in effect prior to the establishment of His covenant with Israel. God revealed His commands and laws to Israel because during their captivity, Israel had lost much of the knowledge of God’s way. They were in bondage to an idol-worshipping nation (Exodus 16:28). This was said before the nation even reached Mount Sinai! God gave them His truth at Mount Sinai because they had lost it. God had to reveal His law to them again before entering into His covenant with them.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day” (Exod. 16:28-30). God had to remind them that this was holy time and they weren’t to violate it by looking for manna. They had lost the knowledge that it had been established long ago (Gen. 2:2-3). Again, this instruction occurred before the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai.
The commandments were NOT instituted at Mount Sinai and were NOT part of the Old Covenant. So once the New Covenant arrived, it cannot annul what was never ratified under the Old Testament. In other words, the dissolving of the Old Covenant could not destroy what it did not bring into existence! The Ten Commandments, which God gave in written form to Moses on Mount Sinai, were not new. Only the codified form in which God wrote them was new.
What is the law of Moses?
The Bible, on several occasions, refers to the law of Moses, but it never says the law of Moses is the Ten Commandments. The law of Moses comprises the statutes and judgments God gave to Moses to give to the Israelites. The difference between the law of Moses and the law of God is that God spoke the Ten Commandments. Moses delivered the statutes and judgments.
Yet we read in Luke 2:22, 39 that the “law of Moses” is called the “law of the Lord.” This is because all law comes from God. He is the lawgiver. Remember that these statutes and judgments had no sacrifices with them originally. The sacrifices were added later. The law of Moses then had two parts: civil and ritualistic. The part given before the sacrificial laws we are to keep and never forget (Mal. 4:4).
When Christ defined the two great commandments in the law in Matthew 22, He quoted out of the “book of the law” (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5), which we are told to remember. Christians are told to obey these two basic laws which God gave to Moses for the people. The civil law of Moses expounds how the Ten Commandments are to be applied. We are to keep this part, not in the letter only, but now in the spiritual intent, as brought out in Matthew 5-7.
Then why are we told in Acts 15 that the Gentile converts do not have to observe the law of Moses, except for four points? (Acts 15:5, 28-29). The answer is cleared up in Acts 21:21. The law called into question involved the customs, mainly circumcision, which were instituted long before the law of Moses. The spiritual intent is not done away today. Just like the Ten Commandments, they are still in force; but like the Passover, the manner of circumcision has been changed. It is now of the heart (Rom. 2:29).
This controversy did not involve the spiritual intent of the civil law of Moses, but the ceremonial additions to it. These scriptures are not saying that adultery or murder is okay now. The Ten Commandments are not being discussed or done away with here.
The four points mentioned here were originally part of the civil law; but they were also added to the ceremonial law to prevent these pagan customs from being practiced by Israel with their sacrifices. The Gentiles ate their sacrifices with the blood. They strangled their animals, presented them to their idols and committed fornication in their religious ceremonies. Because these four points were also included in the ritual laws, some new converts may have thought they were abolished along with the sacrifices when Christ fulfilled them. So the four points mentioned in Acts 15 had to be specifically declared to still be in effect. They remained binding after the abolition of the physical sacrifices and washings.
The civil laws regulating tithing, clean and unclean meats, sexual cleanliness and the annual Sabbaths, for example, are still in effect for the New Testament Church because they help explain what sin is.
God’s spiritual laws describe God’s character and enable us to know what God is like. Since the character of God is unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), God’s spiritual law is unchanging. God has lived by this way of love for all eternity.
The only laws that are no longer binding are the ceremonial laws, fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Today we offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1-2) in obedience to God’s eternal spiritual law.
We can’t ignore what Christ told a young man seeking the way to eternal life, “If thou wilt enter into life, KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS” (Matt. 19:17). How clear!