Apr 12 2008

4- Q. & A. ON EXODUS, THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS Part 2

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SHORT NOTES ON THE BIBLE (4)

Q. & A. ON EXODUS

Question:

Is there any relation between “The Law of Moses” and “The New Testament”? They seem to be quite different.

Answer:

For a complete answer to this question, please refer to the detailed writings of the fathers in this field which was an area of discussion and controversy in the church since its inception when the Gentiles (non Jewish) entered into faith in Jesus Christ. Are the gentiles required to fulfil the rites of the Jewish Torah (i.e. become Jews) besides their belief in Jesus Christ? For this reason the apostles held the first Church Counsel in Jerusalem in the year 49 AD (Acts chapter 15).

Very briefly (for details, see note at the end*), the relation between the Mosaic Law and the Faith of the New Testament may be summarized as follows: The human race passed through the following three steps of recognition of sin, judgment of sin and finally, salvation from sin:

1- Period of Conscience as a Natural Law:

St. Paul calls it also the law of the mind (Rom 7:23), and by this he means the living conscience, God’s voice in people, the voice that distinguishes sin and resists it, but in weakness and defeat (Rom 1:19, 20).

2- Period of the Mosaic Law:

When sin entered human nature, it corrupted the conscience (refer to “Q. & A.” in “Short Notes on the Bible”, No. 2). Therefore, there was a need for a law from God to distinguish between good and evil, this was the Mosaic Law. The main purpose of this Law is to declare to man that sin is extremely sinful, so that when he realizes the ugliness of sin, he will seek salvation and hope for redemption. The Law, therefore, has specifically revealed sin, with all of its varieties, and the punishment of the person who transgresses the commandments of the Law (Death by stoning). St. Paul summarized the role of the Law in this verse: “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). So, without the Law man would not know sin and subsequently, would not know the necessity of redemption and would not seek piety and righteousness.

“What then shall we say? That the law is sin. By no means! Yet, if it had been not for the Law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Rom 7:7). Thus, the Law awakened the human understanding regarding sin; and the Israelites were kept surrounded by this Law, isolated from the rest of the world for 1500 years to be disciplined by the Divine Law to become prepared to receive God in their midst (Emmanuel). And that is how God used the Law as a teacher and a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster (tutor or custodian) to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).

3- Jesus Christ, the End of the Law:

The Law has successfully demonstrated the impact of sin on man, but it could not liberate him form sin or give him eternal life that he lost because of sin. So there was need for a “Savior” to come and accomplish what the Law could not do for the people. By the arrival of the Savior (Jesus Christ) the covenant is no longer required: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian (the law); for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal 3:25-26).

The end (goal) of the Law is “Jesus”. All the didactic details and rituals of the Law were pointing in spirit, by words, symbols and actions, to Jesus, leading us step by step from sin to the way of salvation from sin (refer to the section on sacrifices and their relation to the cross in “Short Notes on the Bible”, # 3 – Leviticus).

“The Law entered that the offense might abound (in ugliness and danger). But where sin abounded (in danger), (conviction of the need for) grace abounded much more. So that as sin reigned in death (the judgement of the Law), even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5:20-21). The Law cannot work beyond the separation of sin from righteousness. It cannot justify the sinner or abolish his sin or its punishment. St. Paul, who was originally a Pharisee, the principal advocate of the Law and keeper of its commandments and rites, testified saying: “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal 2:16). This justification (i.e. consideration of a person as “just” or “righteous”, or investing him with righteousness) is what Jesus has accomplished by his crucifixion and the shedding of his blood: “But now the righteousness of God apart from Law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. Even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:21-24). “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” (Rom 3:28)

In brief, the Mosaic Law was not given to all the nations of the world (Gentiles), but it was given to the Israelites as a very special way to discipline them. The Israelites were selected by God as a step in preparation for the reconciliation and forgiveness of the whole world (Jews and Gentiles), not by Moses but by faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30), which means that the curse of the Law is finished, that is the curse which he carried in his flesh by dying on the cross.

* For details, the reader is referred to the book “The Story of Man Regarding Sin and Salvation”, by Fr. Matthew The Poor, published by the Monastery of St. Macarious, 1985, Egypt.

 

THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS

(continued)

2. Priesthood (Chapters 8-10).

After explaining the law of offering, we come to the laws of ordination of the priest who offers these offerings. The laws of ordaining the priest are based on two principles:

1. Sanctification by blood of the offering.

2. Sanctification means consecration i.e. dedicating the life for the work of God.

3. Legal Purity (Chapters 11-15).

God requests the total cleansing (purification) of his people with respect to food (what is clean may be eaten and what is unclean must not be eaten), clothing and the relation of the people to each other. The Lord ordained laws to cleanse the body by outward indications in order to make His people distinguished from other nations so that they do not become unclean (spiritually) by the unclean practices and worship of the gentile nations (see the Book of Daniel).

Since water is unable to clean mankind, when the Lord Jesus came, he changed the cleansing water to wine (which is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, this was in the wedding at Cana of Galilee, John 2). In this event, Jesus Christ was announcing the conclusion of the age of outward cleansing (of hands and others) and the beginning of the cleansing (of the heart) by the action of the Holy Spirit through the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus Christ.

4. The Great Atonement Day (Chapter 16).

In this day, the high priest enters the Holy Of Holies to offer a sacrifice for the atonement of his sins, the sins of the priests, the people and also for the tent and its contents, a collective atonement once a year. The high priest offers two goats for atonement, one goat is killed and its blood is brought to the Holy of Holies, and the other (scapegoat) is released alive to the wilderness, carrying the sins of the people. This is a clear representation of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross and of His resurrection from the dead:

“But Christ came as a High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11,12).

5. The law of Holiness (Sanctification) (Chapters 17-22).

To sanctify is to assign to God or consecrate. Sanctification comes after purification and justification. And because God is Holy, He requests sanctification in every one who approaches Him. Also, He requests the sanctification of worship and of every thing used in worship. The relation between the man and woman is also sanctified. The sanctification requested by God is not individual but it is collective sanctification of all the congregation as a unit because the people of the congregation are the sanctified church, the living body of Christ the Lord. Sanctification in the Old or New Testament is a Divine Action given through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in sanctified liturgical observances:

“Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.” (Lev. 20:7-8)

6,7. The Jewish feasts (Chapters 23-25), and The Law of Giving (Chapters 26-27).

Leviticus ends by mentioning the sanctified feasts in which the people can rejoice in celebrating the work of God with them. These chapters include the rituals (ordered practices) of feasts celebration and the consequent giving of donations as the thanksgiving part of worship which is offered by the people that have been cleansed and consecrated to worship in joy. Joy is the fruit of keeping the commandments of God, and of our communion with God in Christ, being justified and sanctified by His blood:

“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11.

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References:

1. “Al-Kanissah Al-Khalida (Arabic for The eternal Church)” by Father Matthew The Poor.

2. “Studies in the Holy Bible: Leviticus” by Hegomen Tadross Jacob Malaty.

3. “The Epistle to the Hebrews” by Father Matthew The Poor.

4. “The Daily Study Bible Series: Leviticus” by George A. F. Knight.

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Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make any copies from these notes and distribute them to your relatives and friends. The fellowship welcomes any questions, comments or additional references, whether for publication in these “Short Notes” or in private correspondence.

Write to us: PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045

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