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Quotes About the Law of Moses
These are general quotes about the Law of Moses. More specific issues are addressed at:
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Ignatius of Antioch, A.D. 110
Do not be deceived by strange teachings, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to Jewish Law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace. (Letter to the Magnesians 8)
It is absurd to profess Jesus Christ and to Judaize. For Christianity did not believe into Judaism, but Judaism into Christianity, so that in this way every tongue which believes might be gathered together to God. (Letter to the Magnesians 10)
Pseudo-Barnabas, A.D. 120-130
This also I further beg of you [Jewish Christians], being one of you and loving you both individually and collectively more than my own soul. Take heed now to yourselves. Do not be like some, who add largely to their sins, and say, "The covenant is both theirs [i.e., the Jews] and ours." But [the Jews] finally lost it, after Moses had already received it. … turning away to idols, they lost it. For the Lord speaks in this way to Moses, "Moses, go down quickly. For the people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have transgressed" [Ex. 32:7]. Moses understood and cast the two tablets out of his hands, and their covenant was broken, in order that the covenant of the beloved Jesus might be sealed upon our heart. (Letter of Barnabas 4)
Letter to Diognetus, A.D. 80 - 200
[God] therefore convinced us in the former time [i.e., under the Law] that our nature was unable to attain to life, and he has now revealed the Savior who is able to save even those things which it was impossible to save. By both these facts he wanted to lead us to trust in his kindness, and to regard him as our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counselor, and Healer; our Wisdom, Light, Honor, Glory, Power, and Life. (ch. 9)
Justin Martyr, c. A.D. 150
Is there any other matter, my friends, in which we [Christians] are blamed [by the Jews] than this: that we do not live according to the Law, are not circumcised in the flesh as your forefathers were, and do not observe Sabbaths as you do? (Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew 10)
[Trypho, the Jew, speaking] This is what are most at a loss about. You [Christians], professing yourselves to be godly and supposing yourselves better than others, are not separated from them. You do not alter your way of living from that of the nations in that you observe no festivals or Sabbaths and do not have the right of circumcision. (Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew 10)
We do not trust through Moses or through the Law, for then we would be the same as you. For now I have read that there shall be a final law, and a covenant, the chiefest of all, which is now incumbent on all men to observe, as many as are seeking after the inheritance of God. For the Law promulgated on Horeb is now old and belongs to yourselves alone, but this [new law (cf. Heb. 7:12)] is for all universally. …
An eternal and final law—namely Christ—has been given to us, and the covenant is trustworthy, after which there shall be no law, no commandment, no ordinance. …
By the works and by the attendant miracles it is possible for all to understand that he [Christ] is the new law, the new covenant, and the expectation of those who out of every people wait for the good things of God. For the true spiritual Israel and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham—who in uncircumcision was approved of and blessed by God on account of his faith and called the father of many nations—are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ. (Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew 11)
Melchizedek was described by Moses as the priest of the Most High, and he was a priest of those who were in uncircumcision … so God has shown that his everlasting Priest … would be Priest of those in uncircumcision. (Dialogue with Trypho 33)
[This is an admonishment spoken to a Jew by Justin.] For where it is said, "The Law of the Lord is perfect" [Ps. 19:7], you [Jews] do not understand it of the Law which was to be after Moses, but of the Law which was given by Moses, even though God declared that he would establish a new law and a new covenant. (Dialogue with Trypho 34)
Then [Trypho, the Jew] said, "Tell me then. Shall those who lived according to the law given by Moses, live
in the same manner with Jacob, Enoch, and Noah, in the resurrection of the dead, or not?"
I replied to him, "When I quoted, sir, the words spoken by Ezekiel, that 'even if Noah and Daniel and Jacob were to beg sons and daughters, the request would not be granted them' [Ezek. 14:20], but that each one ... shall be saved by his own righteousness, I said also that those who regulated their lives by the law of Moses would in like manner be saved. For what in the law of Moses is naturally good, pious, and righteous, and has been prescribed to be done by those who obey it. And what was appointed to be performed by reason of the hardness of the people's hearts was similarly recorded and done also by those who were under the law. Since those who did that which is universally, naturally, and eternally good are pleasing to God, they shall be saved through this Christ in the resurrection equally with those righteous men who were before them, namely Noah, and Enoch, and Jacob, and whoever else there be, along with those who have known this Christ, Son of God. (Dialogue with Trypho 45)
[Christ] exhorted his disciples to surpass the pharasaic way of living with the warning that if they did not, they may be sure they will not be saved. These words are recorded in the memoirs: "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" [Matt. 5:20]. (Dialogue with Trypho 105)
Irenaeus, A.D. 183 - 186
And the apostles who were with James allowed the Gentiles to act freely, yielding us up to the Spirit of God. But they themselves, while knowing the same God, continued in the ancient observances ... Thus did the apostles, whom the Lord made witnesses of every action and of every doctrine—for upon all occasions do we find Peter, and James, and John present with him—scrupulously act according to the dispensation of the Mosaic law, showing that it was from one and the same God. (Against Heresies III:12:15)
And that the Lord did not abrogate the natural [precepts] of the law, by which man is justified, which also those who were justified by faith, and who pleased God, did observe previous to the giving of the law, but that He extended and fulfilled them, is shown from His words. "For," He remarks, "it has been said to them of old time, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I say unto you that everyone who hath looked upon a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart [Matt. 5:27-28]." ... And other statements of a like nature. For all these do not contain or imply an opposition to and an overturning of the [precepts] of the past, as Marcion's followers do strenuously maintain; but [they exhibit] a fulfilling and an extension of them, as He does Himself declare: "Unless your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" [Matt. 5:20] ... Now He did not teach us these things as being opposed to the law, but as fulfilling the law, and implanting in us the varied righteousness of the law. That would have been contrary to the law, if He had commanded His disciples to do anything which the law had prohibited. But this which He did command--namely, not only to abstain from things forbidden by the law, but even from longing after them--is not contrary to [the law], as I have remarked, neither is it the utterance of one destroying the law, but of one fulfilling, extending, and affording greater scope to it. For the law, since it was laid down for those in bondage, used to instruct the soul by means of those corporeal objects which were of an external nature, drawing it, as by a bond, to obey its commandments, that man might learn to serve God. But the Word set free the soul, and taught that through it the body should be willingly purified. Which having been accomplished, it followed as of course, that the bonds of slavery should be removed, to which man had now become accustomed, and that he should follow God without fetters: moreover, that the laws of liberty should be extended, and subjection to the king increased. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. IV, ch. 13, par. 1-2)
For all the apostles taught that there were indeed two testaments among the two peoples; but … it was one and the same God who appointed both … the first testament was not given without reason, or to no purpose, or in an accidental sort of manner, but … it subdued those to whom it was given to the service of God for their benefit (for God needs no service from men). It exhibited a type of heavenly things, inasmuch as man was not yet able to see the things of God by way of immediate vision. It foreshadowed the images of those things which exist in the Church, in order that our faith might be firmly established. It contained a prophecy of things to come, in order that man might learn that God has foreknowledge of all things. (Against Heresies IV:32:2)
Clement of Alexandria, c. A.D. 190
If ... the Law of Moses had been sufficient to confer eternal life, then there would have been no purpose for the Savior himself to come and suffer for us and to live the whole course of human life from his birth to his cross. And it would have been to no purpose for him [the rich, young ruler; Mark 10:17-31] who had done all the commandments of the law from his youth to fall on his knees and beg for immortality from someone else. (Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? 8)
We must know then that Paul is young in respect to time—having flourished immediately after the Lord's ascension—yet his writings depend on the old covenant, breathing and speaking of them. For faith in Christ and the knowledge of the Gospel are the explanation and fulfillment of the Law. Therefore it was said to the Hebrews, "If you do not believe, neither will you understand" [Isa. 7:9]. That is, unless you believe what is prophesied in the Law ... you will not understand the old covenant, which he by his coming expounded. (Miscellanies IV:21)
Tertullian, c. A.D. 200
We understand that God's law was before even Moses … subsequently reformed for the patriarchs [i.e., Israel's twelve sons] and so again for the Jews at definite periods. So we are not to give heed to Moses' Law as though it were the primitive Law, but as to a later, which at a definite time God set forth to the Gentiles, too, and—after repeatedly promising to do so through the prophets—has reformed for the better. … Let us not annul the power God has to reform the Law's precepts in response to the circumstances of the time, with a view to men's salvation. To be specific, let him who contends that the Sabbath is still to be observed as a balm of salvation … teach us that in the past righteous men kept the Sabbath or practiced circumcision and were thus rendered friends of God. … Since God originated Adam uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, therefore his offspring, Abel, was commended by [God] when he offered sacrifices both uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath. … Noah also—uncircumcised and, yes, inobservant of the Sabbath—God freed from the deluge. Enoch, too, that most righteous man, while uncircumcised and inobservant of the Sabbath, [God] translated from this world. [Enoch] did not first taste death so that, being a candidate for eternal life, he might in our era show us that we may, without the burden of the Law of Moses, please God. (An Answer to the Jews 2)
After that, the Lord, amplifying the Law, openly adds the prohibition of anger against a brother to that of murder. Not even by an evil word does He permit it to be vented. (On Prayer, ch. 11)
Origen, A.D. 220 - 250
We do not regulate our lives like the Jews because we are of opinion that the literal acceptance of the laws is not what conveys the meaning of the legislation. And we maintain that, "When Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart" [2 Cor. 3:15]. The meaning of the law of Moses has been concealed from those who have not welcomed the way which is by Jesus Christ. But we know that if one turns to the Lord—for "the Lord is that Spirit" [2 Cor. 3:17]—the veil being taken away, "he beholds as in a mirror, with unveiled face, the glory of the Lord" [2 Cor. 3:18] in those thoughts which are concealed in their literal expression, and, to his own glory, becomes a participant in the divine glory. (Against Celsus V:60)
...the power of the gospel is found in the Law, and the Gospels are understood as being supported by the foundation of the law; nor do I even give the name "Old Testament" to the law, if I understand it spiritually. The law becomes an "Old Testament" only for those who want to understand it in a fleshly way; for for them it has necessarily become old and aged, because it cannot maintain its strength. But for us, who understand and explain it spiritually and according to the gospel-meaning, it is always new. Indeed, both are "New Testaments" for us, not by the age of time but by the newness of understanding. Or does not the apostle John perceive this very thing in his epistle when he says, "Little children, I give you a new commandment, that you love one another"? For he surely knew that the commandment of love was long ago given in the law. But because "love never fails", and the commandment of love never grows old, he pronounces what never grows old to be ever new; for the commandment of love continually renews in the Spirit those who observe and keep it. But for the sinner and the one who does not preserve the covenant of love, even the Gospels grow old. Nor can it be a "New Testament" for the one who does not "lay aside the old man and put on the new man and the one created according to God. (Homilies on Numbers 9. From Hall, C.A. Ed., Scheck, T.P., Trans., Bray, G.L., Oden, T.C., Glerup, M, & The Institute for Classical Christian Studies. 2009. Homilies on Numbers. Ancient Christian Writers. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press)
Didascalia Apostolorum, c. AD 250-300
This work is also known as "The Catholic Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," which is to be distinguished from "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," which is also known as "The Didache." The Didache is a century earlier than the Didascalia Apostolorum, and the latter is based on the former. The Didiascalia Apostolorum also forms a large part of the first five chapters of the "Constitutions of the Holy Apostles," which is cited below and is from the same period. (Re: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didascalia.html, intro)
The quotes from this work and the Apostolic Constitutions below are to show that the pre-Nicene Fathers regarded the Law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai prior to the making of the golden calf and the precepts added after the golden calf were two different laws. The precepts after the golden calf were given "because of transgressions" (Gal. 3:19). This helps explain the early Christian arguments (and God's statement in Jeremiah 7:22) that God never wanted sacrifices. They stopped not just because Jesus died, but also because God never wanted them. It is certain that they were not needed in order for God to show mercy for sin (Ps. 51:16-17, Ezek. 18:20-30, etc.).
Yet when thou readest the Law, beware of the Second Legislation, that thou do but read it merely; but the commands and warnings that are therein much avoid, lest thou lead thyself astray and bind thyself with the bonds which may not be loosed of heavy burdens. For this cause therefore, if thou read the Second Legislation, consider this alone, that thou know and glorify God who delivered us from all these bonds. And have this set before thine eyes, that thou discern (p. 5) and know what [in the Law] is the Law, and what are the bonds that are in the Second Legislation, which after the Law were given to those who, in the Law and in the Second Legislation, committed so many sins in the wilderness. For the first Law is that which the Lord God spoke before the people had made the calf and served idols, which consists of the Ten Words and the Judgements. But after they had served idols, He justly laid upon them the bonds, as they were worthy. But do not thou therefore lay them upon thee; for our Saviour came for no other cause but to fulfil the Law, and to set us loose from the bonds of the Second Legislation. For He set loose from those bonds and thus called those who believe in Him, and said: Come unto me, all ye that toil and are laden with heavy burdens, and I will give you rest [Mt 11.28]. Do thou therefore, without the weight of these burdens, read the simple Law, which is in accord with the Gospel; and moreover the Gospel itself, and the Prophets; and the Book of Kings likewise, that thou mayest know that as many kings as were righteous were both advanced by the Lord God in this world, and continued in God's promise of everlasting life; but those kings who turned aside from God and served idols did justly, by a summary judgement, perish miserably, and were deprived of the kingdom of God, and instead of (obtaining) rest are punished. When therefore thou readest these things, thou wilt grow the more in faith and be improved. (Didascalia Apostolorum, Ch. II, par. IV, italics, parentheses, and brackets from translator)
Apostolic Constitutions, c. AD 250-300
This is a long quote, but the last paragraph of the quote sums up the point. The meaning of this quote is that God originally gave Israel a law, especially the ten commandments, that was in line with the freedom that the patriarchs had. After they turned on him, though, by making the golden calf, he added a harsher law filled with "sacrificing, and resting, and purifying themselves, and ... similar observances." This was done to constrain them to hold to him. This quote is an excellent overview and explanation of the other early Christian quotes about the Law of Moses and sacrifices.
But, above all, let him carefully distinguish between the original law and the additional precepts, and show which are the laws for believers, and which the bonds for the unbelievers, lest any should fall under those bonds. Be careful, therefore, O bishop, to study the word, that thou mayest be able to explain everything exactly, and that thou mayest copiously nourish thy people with much doctrine, and enlighten them with the light of the law. (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Bk. II, Sec. II, par. 5)
Now the law is the decalogue, which the Lord promulgated to them with an audible voice, before the people made that calf which represented the Egyptian Apis. And the law is righteous, and therefore is it called the law, because judgments are thence made according to the law of nature ... This law is good, holy, and such as lays no compulsion in things positive. For He says: "If thou wilt make me an altar, thou shalt make it of earth." It does not say, "Make one," but, "If thou wilt make." It does not impose a necessity, but gives leave to their own free liberty.
For God does not stand in need of sacrifices, being by nature above all want. But knowing that, as of old, Abel, beloved of God, and Noah and Abraham, and those that succeeded, without being required, but only moved of themselves by the law of nature, did offer sacrifice to God out of a grateful mind; so He did now permit the Hebrews, not commanding, but, if they had a mind, permitting them; and if they offered from a right intention, showing Himself pleased with their sacrifices. Therefore He says: "If thou desirest to offer, do not offer to me as to one that stands in need of it, for I stand in need of nothing; for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof."
But when this people became forgetful of that, and called upon a calf as God, instead of the true God, and to him did ascribe the cause of their coming out of Egypt, saying, "These are thy gods, O Israel, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt;" and when these men had committed wickedness with the "similitude of a calf that eateth hay;" and denied God who had visited them by Moses in their afflictions ... whose voice He had vouchsafed to let them hear; Him did they deny, and said to Aaron, "Make us gods who shall go before us;" and they made a molten calf, and sacrificed to an idol;—then was God angry, as being ungratefully treated by them, and bound them with bonds which could not be loosed, with a mortifying burden and a hard collar, and no longer said, "If thou makest," but, "Make an altar," and sacrifice perpetually; for thou art forgetful and ungrateful. Offer burnt-offerings therefore continually, that thou mayest be mindful of me.
For since thou hast wickedly abused thy power, I lay a necessity upon thee for the time to come, and I command thee to abstain from certain meats; and I ordain thee the distinction of clean and unclean creatures, although every creature is good, as being made by me; and I appoint thee several separations, purgations, frequent washings and sprinklings, several purifications, and several times of rest; and if thou neglectest any of them, I determine that punishment which is proper to the disobedient, that being pressed and galled by thy collar, thou mayest depart from the error of polytheism, and laying aside that, "These are thy gods, O Israel," mayest be mindful of that, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord;" and mayest run back again to that law which is inserted by me in the nature of all men, that "there is only one God in heaven and on earth, and to love Him with all thy heart, and all thy might, and all thy mind," and to fear none but Him, nor to admit the names of other gods into thy mind, nor to let thy tongue utter them out of thy mouth.
He bound them for the hardness of their hearts, that by sacrificing, and resting, and purifying themselves, and by similar observances, they might come to the knowledge of God, who ordained these things for them. (Constitutions of the Holy Apostles. Bk. VI. Sec. IV. Par. 20.)
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