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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Law and Grace # 12

The Mosaic Law and Gentiles

The relation of the Mosaic law to Gentiles is important and there has been some sharp disagreement on the subject. Some assert that not only was the written Mosaic law given to Israel alone, but that it also has no relation whatsoever to Gentiles. Others argue that this law is for all men and is universal in its obligations. There is some truth on both sides.

1. The law of Moses, in a certain sense, made provision for Gentiles to enter into its benefits and restraints. This provision, under the historical theocratic kingdom, is a well-attested fact. Thus, in the law concerning the Passover, provision was made for "the stranger" who might sojourn with Israel; and there was to be one law for "homeborn" and "stranger" (Exodus 12:48-49). Also, in the case of freewill offerings unto the Lord for burnt offerings, the laws concerning perfect and imperfect animals applied to both Israel and the strangers in Israel alike (Lev. 22:18-22). Regulations dealing with the blood from animal sacrifices were imposed upon the stranger - "Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers which sojourn among you, that offereth a burnt-offering or sacrifice, ... that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will  cut him off from among his people" (Lev. 17:8, 10). Quite evidently the "stranger", under some circumstances, must have been permitted to join in the sacrificial rites.

Furthermore, from Deuteronomy 23:1-7 it appears that certain restrictions surrounded the reception of outsiders "into the congregation of the Lord," showing that such a reception was possible. The Prophet Isaiah seems to level whatever distinction there remained between the Israelite and the "son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord" (Isaiah 56:3). The latter is not to say, "The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people" (Isaiah 56:3). The chief point under consideration in the passage is the keeping of the legal sabbath (Isaiah 56:2).

With these many clear provisions for "the stranger" written in the Jewish scriptures, it is difficult to understand how such a violent antagonism against Gentiles could develop as appeared in the days of Christ.

(Note: Some interpreters have regarded the law as something which raised an insuperable barrier between Jew and Gentile on the basis of Ephesians 2:11-19. The misleading translation of verse 14 in the King James Version has doubtless contributed to this wrong idea. "For he [Christ] ... hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances" (Ephesians 2:14-15). The "middle wall of partition" is not "between us", that is, between Jew and Gentile, as the words suggest. This "middle wall" is certainly "the law of commandments" mentioned in verse 15, which was "abolished" by the death of Christ. But this "middle wall" of "law" did not merely separate one kind of sinners (Jews) from another kind of sinners (Gentiles). It was rather a barrier which separated all sinners, both Jew and Gentile, from a holy God. That is why the "Law of commandments" had to be abolished in order to "reconcile both [Jew and Gentile] unto God in one body" (Ephesians 2:16).

2. But even entirely apart from any provision made by the law for "strangers" to sojourn with Israel, the great underlying principles of the Mosaic written law were found reflected in some degree in Gentile morality and religion. The Mosaic law had three elements: the moral, ceremonial and civil. Discussing the case of the Gentiles, Paul declares that sometimes "the Gentiles, which have not the law [that is, the written law], do by nature the things contained in the law" (Romans 2:14). In so acting, Paul argues, the Gentiles "shew the work of the law written in their hearts" (Romans 2:15). Thus, Paul claims everything good that has ever appeared in the Gentile world as a reflection, however faint, of the one original divine law recorded in Scripture. Now it is a fact that among the pagan Gentile nations there is found occasionally a fairly high knowledge of morality - a reflection of the moral element which appears perfectly in the law written in Scripture. Also the urge to offer sacrifice is universal, found among all nations - a reflection of the ceremonial law in Scripture. Finally, in the civil codes of various nations reflections may be seen of the written law of God. All this points back to the unity of the divine law, both in its content and its original source. In the one case it is written perfectly in Scripture. In the other  it is written imperfectly in the hearts of men. There is one divine law, not two.

3. Therefore, we must conclude that even the Gentiles were and are "under law," but in a somewhat different sense from the Jews. At this point one should carefully study the material in Romans 2:11-15. Here both Jews and Gentiles are being considered as sinners apart from Christ. The Jews had the perfect divine law written in Scripture, and by that law they will be judged. The Gentiles did not have such a law, but they will perish for their sins nevertheless. Answering the objection that this does not seem fair to the Gentiles, Paul says that although they were without the written law of Scripture, they nonetheless had a law - a law written in their hearts, an inner law which reflected imperfectly the written law of God. And by this law they will be judged and condemned, because they violated the inner law of which the conscience within them bore witness. Thus there is no respect of persons with God. Judged by the light they had, all men must perish, whether Jew or Gentile. The only hope for sinners is not the law, but in the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ.

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 13 - "The Christian and the Law")

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