This is from an email exchange. I thought it would be helpful for many others besides the recipient. Here are the kind of issues that were asked:
- I will start with two simple laws that are referenced as far back as Genesis: these being the clean and unclean animals and Sabbath. When I look at these throughout all scripture I see continuity. I see them as simple acts of obedience, and I feel the spirit urging me in the observing of these things.
- I suppose my struggle is that I fit in no camps. I’m a legalist in the camp of grace and too tolerant in the camp of laws.
- My questioning is on a simple concept that I have seen presented often: Christians appear to make the law given by God to be a convention and culture of Jews. This does not make sense to me as I regard Him as the one true God who never changes.
- I see a great heart towards the love of Christ and the unity in the Spirit in your writings. I pose this dilemma I have to you in hopes you can show me where the thread runs true through the testaments.
Here was my answer:
In reading your email, I think that my article on the Law and the Commandments might help. It is at http://www.christian-history.org/law-of-moses.html. Please let me know if it doesn’t address the overall issue of your email.
Concerning the Letter to Diognetus: It’s a very interesting letter in that it quotes no Scripture at all. It is the only early Christian writing like that. What that tells me is that it is from a very early Christian, unfamiliar with Scripture (because few early Christians would have owned scrolls of Scripture), but familiar with the Christian teaching of his day. Thus, he calls sacrifices stupid, as though they were never commanded by God.
The early Christians did believe that sacrifices were stupid once Jesus came. The reason for that is not the Protestant reason. The reason the early Christians gave is that God never wanted or needed sacrifices. Sacrifices were instituted, like many other laws, to keep the eyes of carnal men on God.
God has a physical kingdom before Jesus. He gave them physical rules. They rested one day a week because you can’t rest every day physically or you will starve.
Now God has a spiritual kingdom with people who have the Spirit of God from small to great. Thus we rest continually because our rest is spiritual not physical. We don’t offer sacrifices because God doesn’t need them, and now, neither do we. Our minds our turned to God by the Spirit within us, and we continually set our minds on things of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5-13).
Thus, the early Christians are not making the laws “a convention and culture of Jews,” as though the Jews gave them. Instead, they are saying the laws, until they were brought to fullness by Jesus, were prepared by God for his physical kingdom on earth. That kingdom fought physical battles and sought physical riches.
Now Jesus has brought to fullness the laws, bringing them to their full and true meaning. He could do this because we are new wineskins, refreshed by the Spirit, that can hold the new wine, the expanded and expanding teachings of Jesus. His teachings are like taking the Law, on the surface written for physical Jews with a physical circumcision, and he blew them up like a ballon into their real and spiritual dimension.
Irenaeus spends a couple pages dealing with this subject in Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter XIII. You can find that here: http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book4.html. You’ll have to scroll down to Ch. XIII.
Note: Each time you read “fulfilled” in that chapter, Irenaeus wrote the Greek word πλεροω. The translators rendered that “fulfilled” like the KJV does with Matthew 5:17. That’s an error here, just as it is in Matthew 5:17. It’s clear from what Irenaeus says that he understood πλεροω to mean “bring to fullness” in the sense of “expand.” So don’t think “fulfilled” as in fulfilled prophecy or something that’s complete or finished. He meant “expanded into its full meaning.”
Let me know if that’s helpful.