Does Matthew 23:23 teach we are supposed to follow the Mosaic Law?

There are some who believe that Matthew 23:23 we are supposed to follow the Law. Let us look at the text.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law : justice and mercy and faithfulness ; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

Remember, this text is before Christ fulfilled the Law, and the Jews were still under the Law. But we have been freed from the Law. Yes, the Scribes and Pharisees should have paid attention to the heart of the Law: love manifested through justice, mercy, and faith. These are the same spiritual ideas Christians are taught to follow. However, just as Christians do today, many of the Jews got hung up the letter of the Law, rather than having the attitude of love.

The scribes and Pharisees had the problem that they outwardly followed the Law, but inwardly were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness
Matthew 23:28

28 In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

So no, while the Pharisees and scribes taught one thing, and even followed the Law, this does not mean we are meant to follow the Law as Christians. What it means is that the Jews were under the Law and that people should not be hypocrites, but model love through justice, mercy, and faith. Christians are to have these same traits internally to a degree where their lives model them.

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6 Responses

  1. You use Matthew 5:17 as major support in your belief Christians no longer need to closely obey many Mosaic laws. You seem to define and apply “fulfill” according to the definition of the English word instead of the more accurate Greek pleroo, Strong’s number 4137. Doesn’t the first definition of pleroo overwhelmingly mean the following? “Make replete, level up, be full, perfect, fully preach, complete, or to fill.” Fulfill means to fill to the full in verse 17, to fill full, or fill fuller. Pleroo means basically “to add to.” Joseph H. Thayer, famous Bible word expert, includes the following words in his definition of pleroo: “to furnish or supply liberally,” “liberally supplied,” “to render full,” “to fill up to the top,” “so that nothing shall be wanting to full measure, fill to the brim,” “to make complete in every particular,” and “to render perfect.” Jesus added to and improved the law. For example, He added new divorce and remarriage laws. He also told us that merely looking at women adulterously is now a sin, another new law. The following reputable translations help show that Jesus did not “fulfill” the law in a way that clearly no longer required us to obey the law. He simply made the law better, adding to it, and refined it further. Matthew 5:17: “You folks should not infer from customary presumption or from established supposition that I came to loosen-down or demolish the Law (or: Torah) or the Prophets. I did not come to loosen-down or demolish, but to the contrary, to fulfill (or: fill up) and make full.” — Jonathon Mitchell New Testament. Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to set aside the law and the prophets; I have not come to set them aside, but to bring them to perfection.” — Knox New Testament. Matthew 5:17: “Do not for a moment suppose that I have come to abrogate the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abrogate them but to give them their completion.” — Weymouth New Testament. Isn’t the above pretty strong evidence that mainstream Christians misinterpret pleroo to mean that Jesus has discharged Christians from the obligation to continue closely obeying the Mosaic laws? If you will go to ucg.org/bsc/09/spiritoflaw.htm they seem to give a more accurate interpretation of Matthew 5:17.

    • Your experts are trying hard to take the text of Matthew 5:17 out of the Bible and make it stand alone – ignoring the scriptures which indicate we are released from the Law.

      There is text after text which shows we are no longer under the law. I have written many posts on it ( https://wbmoore.wordpress.com/grace-law-and-the-christian/ ). In particular, I have written on exactly what you bring up today, the meaning of the word fulfill and abolish: https://wbmoore.wordpress.com/2009/02/14/what-do-abolish-and-fulfill-mean-in-matthew-5-13-20/ .

      The word translated as fulfilled is overwhelmingly used to indicate something has come to pass or has been completed. In the case of Jesus, it has a double meaning: 1) Jesus brought what was written about Him in the Law and the Prophets to completion, and 2) Jesus paid the price for our sins, fulfilling the debt that sin (which was written of in the Law and the Prophets) incurs.

      We must realize abolish means cancel, destroy, or terminate (ie. I no longer have to pay a debt if the debt is abolished/cancelled). Fulfill means to bring about, to complete (ie. I no longer have to pay a debt once the debt has been completed/met). The effects are the same, but the reason is different – in my example, the debt no longer must be paid. If a debt is abolished, it no longer has to be paid because the debt was terminated; if a debt is fulfilled, it no longer has to be paid because the debt was completed. This is what Jesus did for us. Jesus paid the price for our sins.

      Jesus did not add to the Law – he expounded upon it. He taught what it really meant. It was not intended to merely be an external thing to be done (do not commit adultery) – it was intended to show the need for Christ, to show that internally we all sin even if externally we can meet the requirements of the Law (do not look on a woman with lust in your heart). This is what Jesus meant when He said the scribes and Pharisees were externally righteous, but internally were hypocrites (Matthew 23:28). By showing the Law’s requirements were not merely external, but internal, he revolutionized the way the Jews looked at Scripture.

      The Weymouth New Testament sounds like it might have the translation of Matthew 5:17 correct – Jesus brought the Law to completion.

      In living the physical life Jesus lived, He fulfilled scripture – He brought it to pass and paid the debt for our sins, releasing us from the Law.

  2. Do you interpret Hebrews 7:18 (…… an annulling of the former commandment ……) to specifically mean that Christians no longer need to strictly obey many Mosaic laws?

    • I hope this post will answer your question about Hebrews 7:18
      https://wbmoore.wordpress.com/2009/02/16/has-the-mosaic-law-been-abolished/

      But the short of it is that the law was set aside. Being set aside, it does not have to be followed. This verse is part of the passage which speaks of the priesthood and the law being changed.
      Hebrews 7:12-18

      12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. 13 For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. 15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of Him, “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.” 18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect ), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.

  3. I forgot to ask you something else in my last reply. If we no longer need to obey many Mosaic laws, why does Jesus insist that we repent before baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit, and what does Jesus expect us to repent of if we can now, for example, break the old dietary laws? Why do breaking the dietary laws sometimes still kill us physically if we keep breaking them (fatal ciguatera poisoning from eating forbidden eels, etc.)? I realize that law keeping no longer saves us spiritually since we are no longer “under the law,” but doesn’t strict Old Testament law keeping still continue to preserve our physical health and even prosper us financially? On the 700 Club TV program Pat Robertson almost daily presents a steady stream of different people almost swearing that tithing has really prospered them, literally almost saving their lives. If divine curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience are still at work concerning the Mosaic laws, isn’t that a strong hint that physical obedience to such laws is still mandatory even though Jesus’ death paid the spiritual price for our sins (disobedience)? Are those 700 Club tithers lying about the very positive feedback they get from tithing?

    • Hi,

      Repent means to change – one’s mind in particular. So the idea is that when Jesus said the Jews need to repent, he was saying they needed to change their minds about trying to get into heaven (by being good enough) on their own efforts and believe in what God had done – that which had been prophesied in the Law and Prophets (Matthew 5:17).
      Mark 1:15

      and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand ; repent and believe in the gospel.”

      Even pagans, who never received the Law, needed to repent and turn to God and have deeds appropriate to repentance.
      Acts 26:20

      but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.

      Of course, in turning to God and having deeds appropriate to repentance, they will walk away from being godless and lawless. But remember, we have the law of faith, the law of the spirit of Christ Jesus.
      Romans 8:2

      For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

      1 Corinthians 9:20-21

      20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews ; to thosewho are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I mightwin those who are under the Law ; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though notbeing without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.

      As for the dietary laws keeping people healthy, that was not the intent of the Mosaic Law. The intent was to point us to Christ.
      Galatians 3:19,24

      19What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.
      24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

      The Bible is not a manual of health. Yes, some things written in it are more healthy than others, but that is not its intent.

      There are plenty of people who follow the dietary laws who get sick from eating ritually clean food. People who eat clean meats also have health problems – elevated cholesterol levels from chicken eggs, salmonella poisoning from birds, mad cow’s disease, etc..

      This page looks at some of the issues: http://www.wordofhisgrace.org/uncleanmeats.htm

      As for being blessed because of the tithe, first we have to realize there are plenty of people who tithe who have not been blessed in this life time with prosperity. Blessings from God do not necessarily take the form of monetary riches. God wants our hearts. He wants us to be faithful. But this comes in many forms and so do God’s blessings.

      Remember, we are told in the New Testament to give sacrificially and willingly – not a specific amount and not begrudgingly. And the idea that God blessed according to what is given is repeated in the New Testament.

      2 Corinthians 9:6-13

      6 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may havean abundance for every good deed ; 9 as it is written, “HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.” 10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness ; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying theneeds of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. 13 Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of thegospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all,

      So again, no. we are not under the Mosaic Law. We are under the Law of Christ.

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