By Angus Harley

Covenant Theology and  Progressive Covenantalism, and many others, insist on the teaching that Jesus came to earth to obey the Law of Moses perfectly and to die on the cross: active and passive obedience. It is all so obvious, we are informed, because if Jesus was a Jew, he was a Law keeper. Simple!


What is never considered by the doctrine of active obedience to the Law is the requirement that one who keeps the Law cannot teach its removal in part or whole. If I say that I keep the Constitution and the amendments of the US, but I then teach that a swathe of the amendments and Constitution is inapplicable, I destroy my claim that I am keeping the Constitution and its amendments. Imagine the reaction if a rabbi in Jesus’ day declared that Jews should hold the Day of Atonement festival every third year, or that there really was no need for a priest to offer up incense. Do you think his fellow Jews would say he was a good Law-keeping Jew? 

Priests and teaching/keeping the whole Law

Let’s take the OT’s attitude to priests who did not keep the Law. The priests were meant to be teachers of the Law (2 Chr.15:3; Neh.8:2, 9; Jer.2:8; 18:18). When they did not keep the Law, or teach it, they were violently sinning against God:

“Disaster will come upon disaster and rumor will be added to rumor; then they will seek a vision from a prophet, but the Law will be lost from the priest, and counsel from the elders.” (Eze.7:26); “Her priests have done violence to My Law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the common, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have closed their eyes from My Sabbaths, and I am defiled among them.” (Eze.22:6); “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Since you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the Law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hos.4:6); “Her prophets are insolent, treacherous men; Her priests have profaned the sanctuary. They have done violence to the Law.” (Zeph.3:4)

So, what would Yahweh think if a priest did not: 1) keep a law, or 2) teach a commandment concerning the holy things of the sanctuary, or 3) observe the distinction between holy and common, or 4) acknowledge the difference between unclean and the clean, or 5) honor the sabbath? Ezekiel 22:6 informs us:

Her priests have done violence to My Law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the common, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they have closed their eyes from My Sabbaths, and I am defiled among them. (Eze.22:6)

So, we have our answer, a Law-breaker of any kind entailed that God in their midst was defiled!

Did the priest have the liberty to interpret these laws however he wished?  The answer is no. The Law had to be kept to its finest details. That is why the OT specifies commandments as ‘laws’:

“This shall be the law of the person with leprosy on the day of his cleansing. Now he shall be brought to the priest” (Lev.14:2); “or when an attitude of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then have the woman stand before the Lord, and the priest shall apply all of this law to her” (Num.5:30).

Notice how the priest has to follow a specific order or law. He cannot decide to do things out of order, or leave parts out. He cannot reinterpret anything. It all must follow the exact ‘measurements’ and rules prescribed in the Law as a whole.

This holistic, inflexible nature of the Law is drawn out in these passages:

“So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, which, if a person follows them, then he will live by them; I am the Lord.” (Lev.18:5); “And admonished them in order to turn them back to Your Law. Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen to Your commandments but sinned against Your ordinances, Which, if a person follows them, then he will live by them. And they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck, and would not listen.” (Neh.9:29) “I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, which, if a person follows them, then he will live by them.” (Eze.20:11; see vv13, 21, 25).

The above is taken exclusively from the OT and the OC and its Mosaic Law in relation to priests. 

Jesus teaches the Law?

Why, then, did Jesus, during his ministry, teach that the clean-unclean food laws were redundant? He said in Mark 7:19:

“because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thereby He declared all foods clean.).”

Jesus declared these things during his ministry, not afterward. If he were a perfect Law-keeper, why was he not a perfect Law-teacher? Why was he saying that the clean-unclean food laws were redundant? Had he never read Ezekiel 22:6, “Her priests have…not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean“? 

CT and PC generally ignore Mark 7:19. Those who do tackle it say that Mark put these words in Jesus’ mouth after the resurrection, so that they were not applicable to Jesus’ day; or, that Jesus implied the teaching, but it was not to kick in officially until after his resurrection. Another favorite is to say that Jesus was removing the ceremonial parts of the Law.

Do NCTers now accept a ceremonial Law? Even if they did (and they don’t!) this view, along with the other two, simply ignore the plain teaching of the text. How much plainer could it be, “Thereby He declared all foods clean”? This declaration was made at the moment of his teaching his disciples long before the cross, and was, therefore, meant to be taken seriously as Messianic teaching right there, right then. Or should we ignore the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount for the early disciples before the cross? Whether the Jews agree with him or not is not at all relevant. Nor does it matter a whit whether his disciples cottoned on before or after his resurrection. The irrefutable fact is that the Christ did teach the ending of the clean-unclean food laws during his ministry, when he was supposed to be a perfect Law-keeper, and, by extension, a perfect Law-teacher! More pointedly, Jesus taught these things before the cross. 

Jesus was not the perfect Law-keeper, for he was not the perfect Law-teacher. He taught something vastly different, as we all know.