A Question I Was Asked:

What is meant by 'the law of Moses' in Acts 13: 38-39?

What is meant by 'the law of Moses' in Acts 13: 38-39?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Well there are a few Bible legalists out there who will tell you that this expression only refers to the ritualistic part of the old covenant but to nothing else. That is, of course, somewhat nonsensical; the expression always refers to the entire Mosaic package as ratified at Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments right at the centre of it.

As Easton's Bible Dictionary points out:

The law of Moses is the whole body of the Mosaic legislation ( 1 Kings 2:3 ; 2 Kings 23:25 ; Ezra 3:2 ). It is called by way of eminence simply "the Law" (Heb. Torah, Deuteronomy 1:5 ; Deuteronomy 4:8 Deuteronomy 4:44 ; Deuteronomy 17:18 Deuteronomy 17:19 ; Deuteronomy 27:3 Deuteronomy 27:8 ). As a written code it is called the "book of the law of Moses" ( 2 Kings 14:6 ; Isaiah 8:20 ), the "book of the law of God" ( Joshua 24:26 ). The great leading principle of the Mosaic law is that it is essentially theocratic; i.e., it refers at once to the commandment of God as the foundation of all human duty.

Just consider for one moment: if the expression 'law of Moses' only referred to the ritualistic part of the old covenant would the New Testament comment in Acts 13 make any sense? Let us look at that:

"Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38-39).

Would anybody have ever seriously suggested that the purely ritualistic part of the old covenant could set people free from sin? Ridiculous - of course not! First of all, the old covenant is one law, to even establish and to extract the purely ritualitic part takes quite some research. However, the feeling did grow among Jewish religionists that the moral law part of the old covenant (substantially the Ten Commandments) was the path to salvation. The Pharisees certainly believed that (although they did actually acknowledge in their writings that justification was by faith).

Paul's point in Acts 13:38-39 was that salvation is in the person and work of Jesus Christ, not in any selection of laws. We must remember that the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' day already had the Ten Commandments which they mostly kept/observed in a scrupulous fashion (and added further laws and restrictions of their own), but Paul's point is that Salvation is in Jesus Christ alone. He alone died for our sins and provided for our entire justification before God! The law had only been our 'child tutor' to lead us to Christ. It was indeed excellent but it could not save. This was Paul's point.

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. Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:19-29).

Christians should now be Spirit-led, walking by the Law of Christ (Matthew 5-7), the Ten Commandments remain important, of course, but now as a general guide, not an end in itself.

Robin A. Brace. May 25th, 2014.