Anyone who has read the Bible has come across the phrase “the law” throughout the Old and New Testament, but what does this phrase actually mean and what is the difference between The Law and The Gospel?
In Hebrew, the word “Torah” essentially means “Law.” In the New Testament, the Greek word for “law” or “custom” is “nomos.” In the Old Testament, Torah is a word that is used for the teaching of and direction according to the laws and principles which Yahweh God gave to his people for their benefit and spiritual well-being.
In a biblical context, the Torah has a range of meanings. Foremost, it refers to the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch or five books of Moses, which are part of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. This whole body of law found in these five books was given the name Torah. More than just written laws, the Torah is a solemn covenant with God. If one breaks this covenant, they break their relationship with God.
In the Old Testament, when the relationship with God was broken, sacrifices were required and penalties were described, according to Biblica. Often, a sheep or goat was killed and burned on an altar, which is where we come up with the terms burnt offering and scapegoat. Within these laws, some offenses are deemed so horrendous by God that the law calls for the death penalty.
However, such sacrifices and punishments could never keep pace with the sin of mankind. The Old Testament looks forward to a coming Messiah, as told through the prophets, who would make the faithful and complete sacrifice, for all time, which would pay the price for mankind’s sins.
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
– 1 John 2:2
The first way the law is different than the gospel is explained by renowned theologian R. C. Sproul, who likens the law to a mirror, saying that it shows us our sin but it can do nothing to save us.
The gospel is about Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, who was born in the flesh with the goal of being perfect, and therefore not condemned by the law.
The purpose of the law was to restrain evil and show humans what was pleasing to God. It serves as a moral guide but it cannot save us.
As humans, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves from our sin. The sacrifices under the law could not redeem us.
Beautiful Christian Life says the gospel serves to “inaugurate the kingdom of God and the new creation.”
Because Christ himself is the only sinless Redeemer, in turn, we can only be redeemed through Christ.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
Christ is the only sinless one born in human flesh.
It follows, as Adam was the first human who sinned, under law, Adam condemned all to sin. Jesus, as the first born without sin and sacrificed blameless under the law, pays the penalty for all, removing sin for all.
The gospel is the coming of the prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would be the sacrifice under “the law” that would pay the final penalty.
Understanding how Christ sacrifice change is “the law”
The laws of the Old Testament confuse many people who read the Bible. They wrongly interpret that God still expects people to be stoned and put to death for certain types of sins. This reading misses the point of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ changing “the law.” The laws found in the first five books of the Old Testament are replaced by The Gospel.
Because Jesus Christ brought the gospel to the Gentiles and paid the price for the sin of mankind, people are no longer barred from eating certain types of food, nor must burnt offerings be made, or people stoned or put to death for certain offenses.
Here are three examples:
In the New Testament, in Matthew 5, Jesus gives new understandings to some of the Old Testament laws.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
– Matthew 5:43-44
Jesus also explained that the Gentiles were not required to adhere to the Jewish customs of eating kosher food.
“A man is not defiled by what enters his mouth, but by what comes out of it.”
– Matthew 15:11
Under Jesus Christ, sins have been atone for all, once and for all. The Bible tells us that Christ has been appointed to judge mankind for its sins.
“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,”
– John 5:22
“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.”
Luke 16:16 –
Jesus is pointing out that the prophets pointed toward the work of John the Baptist, which in turn was the preparation for the work of Christ.
The pulpit commentary at BibleHub writes: “With him began a new era; no longer were the old privileges to be confined to Israel exclusively; gradually the kingdom of God was to be enlarged, the old wall of separation was to be taken down.”
Essentially, the Kingdom of Heaven is expanding from that of his chosen people of Israel, to the entire world.