Appendix XIV. The Law in Messianic Times.

(Book III. ch. 3.)

The question as to the Rabbinic views in regard to the binding character of the Law, and its imposition on the Gentiles, in Messianic times, although, strictly speaking, not forming part of this history, is of such vital importance in connection with recent controversies as to demand special consideration. In the text to which this Appendix refers it has been indicated, that a new legislation was expected in Messianic days. The ultimate basis of this expectancy must be sought in the Old Testament itself – not merely in such allusions as to the intrinsic worthlessness of sacrifices, but in such passages as Deu_18:15; Deu_18:18, and its prophetic commentary in Jer_31:31, etc. It was with a view to this that the Jewish deputation inquired whether John the Baptist was ‘that Prophet.’ For, as has been shown, Rabbinism associated certain reformatory and legislative functions with the appearance of the Forerunner of the Messiah (Eduy. viii. 7).

There were, indeed, in this, as in most respects, diverging opinions according to the different standpoints of the Rabbis, and, as we infer, not without controversial bearing on the teaching of Christianity. The strictest tendency may be characterised as that which denied the possibility of any change in the ceremonial Law, as well as the abrogation of festivals in the future. Even the destruction of the Temple, and with it the necessary cessation of sacrifices – if, indeed, which is a moot question, all sacrifices did at once and absolutely cease – only caused a gap; just as exile from the land could only free from such laws as attached to the soil of Israel. The reading of the sacrificial sections in the Law (Meg. 31b; Ber. R. 44) – at any rate, in conjunction with prayers (Ber. 2b), but especially study of the Law (Men. 110a), took in the meantime the place of the sacrifices. And as regarded the most sacred of all sacrifices, that of the Day of Atonement, it was explained that the day rather than the sacrifices brought reconciliation (Sifra 100:8). This party held the principle that not only those Divine, but even those Rabbinic, ordinances, which apparently had been intended only for a certain time or for a certain purpose, were of eternal duration (Bezah 5b). ‘The law is never to cease; there are the commandments – since there is no prophet who may change a word in them.’

So far were these views carried, that it was asserted: ‘Israel needs not the teaching of the King Messiah,’ but that ‘He only comes to gather the dispersed, and to give to the Gentiles thirty commandments, as it is written (Zec_11:12), “they weighed me my price, thirty pieces of silver” (Ber. R. 98). But even these extreme statements seem to imply that keen controversy had raged on the subject. Besides, the most zealous defenders of the Law admitted that the Gentiles were to receive laws in Messianic times. The smallest and most extreme section held that, the laws, as Israel observed them, would be imposed on the Gentiles (Chull. 92a) others that only thirty commandments, the original Noachic ordinances, supposed to be enumerated in Lv xix., would become obligatory, while some held, that only three ordinances would be binding on the new converts: two connected with the Feast of Tabernacles, the third, that of the phylacteries (Midr. on Psa_31:1, ed. Warsh., p. 30b). On the other hand, we have the most clear testimony that the prevailing tendency of teaching was in a different direction. In a very curious passage (Yalkut ii. 296, p. 46a), in which the final restitution of ‘the sinners of Israel and of the righteous of the Gentiles’ who are all in Gehinnom, is taught in very figurative language, we are told of a ‘new Law which God will give by the Messiah’ in the age to come – thanksgiving for which calls forth that universal Amen, not only on earth but in Gehinnom, which leads to the deliverance of those who are in the latter. But as this may refer to the time of the final consummation, we turn to other passages. The Midrash on Song ii. 13, applying the passage in conjunction with Jer_31:31, expressly states that the Messiah would give Israel a new law, and the Targum, on Isa_12:3, although perhaps not quite so clearly, also speaks of a ‘new instruction.’ It is needless to multiply proofs (such as Vayyikra R. 13). But the Talmud goes even further, and lays down the two principles, that in the ‘age to come’ the whole ceremonial Law and all the feasts were to cease. And although this may be regarded as merely a general statement, it is definitely applied to the effect, that all sacrifices except the thank-offering, and all fasts and feasts except the Day of Atonement, or else the Feast of Esther, were to come to an end – nay (in the Midr. on the words ‘the Lord looseth the bound,’ Psa_146:7), that what had formerly been ‘bound’ or forbidden would be ‘loosed’ or allowed, notably that the distinctions between clean and unclean animals would be removed.

There is the less need of apology for any digression here, that, besides the intrinsic interest of the question, it casts light on two most important subjects. For, first, it illustrates the attempt of the narrowest Judaic party in the Church to force on Gentile believers the yoke of the whole Law; the bearing of Paul in this respect; his relation to Peter; the conduct of the latter; and the proceedings of the Apostolic Synod in Jerusalem (Ac 15). Paul, in his opposition to that party, stood even on Orthodox Jewish ground. But when he asserted, not only a new ‘law of liberty,’ but the typical and preparatory character of the whole Law, and its fulfilment in Christ, he went far beyond the Jewish standpoint. Further, the favourite modern theory as to fundamental opposition in principle between Pauline and Petrine theology in this respect, has, like many kindred theories, no support in the Jewish views on that subject, unless we suppose that Peter had belonged to the narrowest Jewish school, which his whole history seems to forbid. We can also understand, how the Divinely granted vision of the abrogation of the distinction between clean and unclean animals (Act_10:9-16) may, though coming as a surprise, have had a natural basis in Jewish expectancy, and it explains how the Apostolic Synod, when settling the questions, ultimately fell back on the so-called Noachic commandments, though with very wider-reaching principles underlying their decision (Act_15:13-21). Lastly, it seems to cast even some light on the authorship of the Fourth Gospel; for, the question about ‘that prophet’ evidently referring to the possible alteration of the Law in Messianic times, which is reported only in the Fourth Gospel, shows such close acquaintance with the details of Jewish ideas on this subject, as seems to us utterly incompatible with its supposed origination as ‘The Ephesian Gospel’ towards the end of the second century, the outcome of Ephesian Church-teaching-an ‘esoteric and eclectic’ book, designed to modify ‘the impressions produced by the tradition previously recorded by the Synoptists.’