In the debate over the Law, people get caught in a back-and-forth between Jesus and Paul. Jesus is quoted on behalf of the Law, and Paul on behalf of its cancellation. As the argument continues, various issues are brought up: the unity of Scripture, the superiority of Christ’s words over Paul’s, and a host of other Biblical and theological issues.
Until Everything is Accomplished
Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5, 17-18).
I believe that Jesus did fulfill the Law, in its entirety. Jesus said not one jot or tittle would disappear from the Law until everything was accomplished, and at a key moment in Jesus’ ministry, he announced that everything was finished — at that moment.
It is Finished!
“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished!‘ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
When we consider Christ’s death on the cross, we can talk about what it accomplished theologically, historically, personally, and probably many other ways. It is important to note that differing understandings are not necessarily mutually exclusively. One person’s understanding does not automatically cancel or negate someone else’s.
Now if this is all we had on the relationship between Christ’s death on the cross and the cancellation of the Law, there could be a protracted debate, including a discussion of the fact that two different words are used, τετέλεσται (tetelestai) from the cross (John 19:30) and γένηται (genētai) (Matt. 5:18) in his teaching. Fortunately this is not all we have.
He Canceled the Written Code, Nailing it to the Cross
According to Paul, the Law was also nailed to the cross, and was thereby cancelled. “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2: 13-14).
Yes, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He said that the law would not pass away until everything was accomplished.
And, true to his word, he did fulfill the law–perfectly. And the law did not pass away until everything was accomplished–the accomplishment of which he announced just as he died.
Please, don’t jump in with, “Oh yeah? So now we can do whatever we want? So incest is okay? Beastiality and murder are okay? We’re free to run wild and do whatever feels good?”
In Galatians and Romans Paul announced the cancellation of the Law in no uncertain terms. But he had been thinking about this for a long time. He didn’t leave us bereft of guidance. I’ll be getting to that soon.
[For a list of posts on the Cessation of the Law, go here.]