Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Psalm 119:97

Under Law ?


The objective of this page is to challenge commonly practiced ways of understanding New Testament scriptures. Whilst pointing out difficulties with translations that you may hold dear, the aim is not to undermine your faith or your desire to study the word of God. The aim is to encourage you to see beyond the prejudices of translators or expositors to what God is actually saying to us in the Spirit, as revealed through the writers of our Bible. (They did not write in English)

Whilst studying the New Testament letters with the aid of David Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible (or Jewish New Testament) and his Jewish New Testament Commentary, I have been struck by how he pinpoints so many unjustified assumptions commonly found in evangelical thinking and liturgy.

Some Christians assume that they can ignore all Jewish issues from the Old Testament when studying the New Testament. Some people read the Gospels almost as if it was the story of an Gentile Jesus and his conflict with the Jews, and the book of Acts through the epistles as entirely Gentile; excluding the Jews, since they excluded themselves by rejecting Jesus – (Replacement Theology).

The assumption that we are under Grace whilst the Jews are under Law, could be the error from which grows other views that denigrate the Jews and ultimately undermine the integrity of the whole Bible as God’s revelation to mankind.

To treat the New Testament in this manner is to wilfully distort and misunderstand God’s revelation.

Firstly - Jesus was and is Jewish, and taught in a Jewish manner, from the Jewish scriptures.

Jesus taught, at the end of the "Sermon on the mount", that the Torah ("LAW") was not being abolished by his coming. (See also Luke 16 v17)

Matthew 5:17 "Don't think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete.

18 Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud (the smallest Hebrew consonant) or a stroke will pass from the Torah - not until everything that must happen has happened.

19 So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

V17 "Complete" is the key word, although translations vary. In a study working through many ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, Keith Johnson and Nehemia Gordon concluded that "fulfil" is probably closest, but in the sense that Jesus came to uphold the Torah in his own actions.

V19 - The "least" in the Kingdom most likely comes from a root meaning "nothing".

Secondly - "Law" is used to translate and refer to the Hebrew "Torah", the first five books of both the Jewish and the Christian Bible. Torah does not mean "Law" but instruction or teaching!

Thirdly - the story of “the Acts of the Apostles”, as recorded by Luke, shows that Pentecost was a Holy Spirit revival among the Jews, and no Gentiles were involved until the Jewish Messianic Community started to welcome in the Gentiles who started to be won for the Kingdom.

Fourthly - the apostle Paul, who is often portrayed as turning his back on the Jews, was at pains to explain to the early church how God’s plan for Jews and Gentiles works.

Paul Explains salvation to the Churches

Romans comes to a climax with chapters 9 to 11, in which Paul points out to Gentiles that they are grafted into Israel – not the Jews grafted into a Gentile church. These chapters are widely ignored.

Corinthians (written to a mixed church?) Paul appears to take for granted that the church members are at least familiar with Jewish faith and practice, since he explains proper Christian worship in the context of the Jewish Passover (ch5 v6-12 ch 11 v23-33 and ch10 v14-22 concerning sacrifices) He is not suggesting that these things have been scrapped.

Galatians (written to a Gentile church) Paul explains that they do not have to become Jews (being circumcised and legalistically follow every Torah command) in order to be accepted in Jesus the Messiah. The comments about circumcision and observing special days were made in this context – not telling Jews that Torah was obsolete, since Jews were not being addressed. (JNTC p520-576)

Ephesians (Written to a Gentile Church) explains step by step in chapter 2, that they, as Gentiles, were estranged from Israel and without hope in the world (v 11 & 12) and that Jesus broke down the barrier that cut them off from being included in God’s people. (JNTC p577-592)

Hebrews (probably not by Paul – written to Jewish believers) discusses the post-Jesus role of the Law from a Jewish point of view. Well worth studying with the aid of Dr Stern in order not to miss the Jewish wisdom. Discusses the ways in which the Torah is changed / completed in Jesus the Messiah.

While arguing that the Torah / Law has not been done away with by Jesus, we must not loose sight of the fact that it changes. Studying the ministry and letters of Paul it is interesting to see his role in working through the way in which God’s salvation for Gentiles differed in detail from its outworking for the Jews. Paul appears to have been the leader in working through the implications of Gentiles being grafted in, but his work was acknowledged and confirmed by the Jerusalem Apostles (Acts 15) Much of this process concerns the fact that, while we are all one in Messiah, Jews and Gentiles retain a separate identity and Gentiles are not required to become Jews in order to come into the Kingdom (Galatians 5); any more than Jews are required to become Gentiles to join “the Church.”

For the Jewish side of this matter see David Stern’s “Messianic Jewish Manifesto.”

Under Law

The issue that comes up repeatedly concerns the translations of and the assumptions made about the Greek phrase upo nomon, literally, “under law”.

Take for example 1 Corinthians 9 v20

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.

(David Stern comments on p464)

Or Galatians 3 v23

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.

David Stern explains at length (p552-3) the technical significance of "upo nomon and why he translates it as, “In subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism.

Upo nomon” is used 10 times in the News Testament; every time by Paul. Paul appears to have coined the phrase in order to analyze one aspect of legalism, from the Greek phrase “erga nomou” – “works of law”.

Upo” can mean simply and neuturally “within”, but when Paul speaks of “within the framework of the Torah” he uses “en nomou” – “in law”, so Paul’s use of “upo” clearly has negative connotations of “in subjection to” or burdened by.” The point is that Jesus has not destroyed or done away with the Torah to deliver us, but he has delivered us from being enslaved to our attempts to be justified by legalistic observance of the details of the Torah.

Lest anyone thinks smugly that this is exclusively a Jewish problem, consider David Stern’s warning against Christian Legalism by perverting New Testament (JNTC p 465,)

“How many millions of Christians have mistakenly supposed they can guarantee themselves a niche in Heaven by forcing themselves to obey rules such as, Don’t swear”, “don’t drink”, “don’t’ go to movies,” “say your rosary every day” (for Catholics), “Read the Bible every day” (for Protestants”, “ Speak in tongues every day” (for Pentecostals) or even “Confess Jesus as your Saviour and Lord.” And how many others have been immunized against the true Gospel by exposure to this false one!

“Christ is the end of the Law”

Some argue that Christ had done away with the Law, the Jewish Torah, quoting Romans 10 v4 NIV

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.".

This argument comes close to being Anti-Semitic and demeans the first five books of our Bible – the writings Jesus referred to as the scriptures!

This misunderstanding is due to the rendering of the Greek word "Teleos" as "end", in the sense of termination. Teleos is used 42 times in the New Testament, and in the great majority of cases it means, "aim, purpose or goal to which a movement is directed" (Teleology is the branch of philosophy dealing with goals and purposes)

While the original readers of the KJV might have understood "end" in the sense of goal (as in "the end justifies the means"), “end” is understood by today's reader as termination. Unfortunately, all the major English translations follow the KJV while usage of the English language has moved on. David Stern translates teleos in this verse as "For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts.” See JNTC p 395

The problem with all these errors is not just that they might upset the Jews, but that they separate us from the true roots and origin of our faith. If we don’t understand the process by which God brought us into His community of holy people, how can we expect to understand the rest of our role.

Two extreme viewpoints

“I am in Christ – I am not under the Law” “I believe the whole Bible, therefore I must obey every command since not one jot will pass away.”
- So which laws are you planning to break to enjoy your freedom, Murder, Adultery, Stealing or what? Slavish attention to every detail is legalism – not trusting faith. Do you actually intend to not have any mixed fabrics in your clothing?

Clearly we can not throw off the whole “Law” any more than we, as Gentiles, should observe every detailed ordinance that instructs the Jew in walking in his Jewish identity before his God.

What the believer must do is to work out, with the aid of Rabbi Paul, how the Torah instructs our daily living.

The commandment to not mix fabrics was a command to refrain from emulating the styles of the surrounding pagans; whilst this is a good principle to follow, the specific has ceased to apply.

Gentile believers also need to discern which Torah commands apply to Jewish people and their Jewish identity, as Paul warns us against seeking to be saved by converting to become Jews.

Paul and the Gospel

Paul’s role in God’s salvation plan for the Gentiles was not just preaching the Gospel, but working through its application to Gentiles. He spent time with the Lord; see Galatians 1 v17, on which David Stern’s commentary quotes Phillip Goble, (JNTC p524)

“I believe that during this time in Arabia, away from the company of others and guided by the Holy Spirit, Shaul put together the outline of how the Gospel, hitherto confined within an ethnically Jewish framework, could be made independent of Jewish culture and thus fully available not only to Jews, but also to Gentiles without their having to convert to Judaism.”

After Paul completed this work he met with the Apostles in Jerusalem who affirmed his work (Acts 15) The Church fathers gave a very brief instruction for the Gentiles to observe.

( Acts 15 v 25 )

So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul-- men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

If you still have any doubts about “Law”, I would suggest you put “law” into a computer concordance, study each contentious verse in context and then check out what Dr Stern’s commentary says. That should make everything much clearer.

Finally . . .

If we are children of a Heavenly Father, how can we debate whether we live in subjection to Law or free to do as we please? Aren't we actually seeking to be obedient to our Father by learning to understand and follow his teaching / instruction?


CUpdated 16/05/22

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