There are many within churches of Christ today who teach that Jesus taught only doctrines relating to the old covenant, the Law of Moses. They will assert that since the Kingdom of God was not established until Acts 2, and therefore the new covenant begins in Acts 2, that anything and everything said or taught before this moment in Scripture ought to be relegated to the Old Testament and be regarded as Old Testament doctrine. The motive for this teaching invariably rests in Jesus’ clear instructions regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and this doctrine is an attempt to invalidate Jesus’ teachings and to cause disharmony between the doctrines of Jesus and Paul. Is this what the Bible teaches? Let us examine the Scriptures and see what things are so.
We see that even from the beginning of His ministry Jesus points to the doctrines of the Kingdom of God. We read the following in Matthew 4:17, 23:
From that time began Jesus to preach, and to say, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…”
And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people.
We see, therefore, that from the beginning Jesus preaches the “Gospel of the Kingdom.” Is this not the Gospel seen throughout the rest of the New Testament? Or does Paul condemn Jesus in Galatians 1:6-9?
I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.
It would not be sufficient for us, however, to merely assert that Jesus is teaching the same Gospel as we see in the rest of the New Testament; we must see that the teachings of Jesus are in complete harmony with the rest of the New Testament but perhaps are different from what was taught under the Law of Moses. We see Jesus teaching such things in what is deemed the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7. Jesus says in Matthew 5:21-22 the following:
“Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment’:
but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of the hell of fire.
We certainly see in Exodus 20:13 the commandment that Jesus refers to, yet do we see anything like His own comment in the Law of Moses? I have not found any similar reference, yet I have seen the following in 1 John 3:15:
Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
We may see that Jesus’ comments regarding the commandment given to the Jews is more harmonious with the undeniably New Testament teachings of John than the laws of Moses. Further evidence may be found in Matthew 5:31-32:
“It was said also, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:’
but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.”
Matthew and Jesus says the following regarding this very issue in Matthew 19:3-9:
And there came unto him Pharisees, trying him, and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?”
And he answered and said, “Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh?’ So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
They say unto him, “Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement, and to put her away?”
He saith unto them, “Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it hath not been so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery.”
Jesus here explicitly speaks to the fact that Moses gave a concession to the Israelites and yet from Adam and Eve “it has not been so.” Many argue that Jesus is really attacking the Jewish religious establishment and not contradicting Moses, yet anyone who reads the text will see that this is patently false, since Jesus refers to Moses and Deuteronomy 24:1-4, a statement spoken by Moses. Many argue that since Moses’ desire was not for divorce, that Jesus agreed with Moses, and therefore, Jesus’ teaching is in harmony with Moses’ teaching. Again, this is evidently false, since the issue in Matthew 19 is not Moses’ desire or intentions but the Law that was established through Moses with the Israelites. Without any doubt, Jesus here establishes that Moses did concede to the Israelites their ability to divorce their wives per Deuteronomy 24:1-4, and that from the beginning this was not the desire of God and that under His Son divorce would condemn unless done for sexual immorality. The difference between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Moses are made clear with these two passages.
We see this further in Matthew 5:33-37:
“Again, ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:’
but I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by the heaven, for it is the throne of God; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your speech be, ‘Yea, yea; Nay, nay:’ and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one.”
Jesus again speaks regarding the commandments of God in Leviticus 19:12, Numbers 30:2, and Deuteronomy 23:21, 23, and demonstrates accurately that under the Law of Moses one could swear an oath as long as one fulfilled the oath. Jesus, however, establishes that oaths themselves ought not be taken; this prohibition is not seen at all in the Law of Moses, yet the following is written in James 5:12:
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by the heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath: but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay; that ye fall not under judgment.
Again, we see that Jesus’ words are in complete harmony with the teachings in the New Testament but provide a contrast with the Law of Moses. We see another example of this in the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5:38-41:
“Ye have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:’
but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two.”
Here again Jesus refers to the commandments seen in Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20, and Deuteronomy 19:21, commanding the Israelites to take an eye for an eye, etc., to render proper judgment. Jesus then takes another turn, however, and demonstrates that one ought not resist anyone who is evil or any such thing. While under the Law of Moses the scope of judgment was given to the offended party, no such commandment advocating nonresistance is to be found. We do read the following, however, in Romans 12:17-21:
Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men. Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, “Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord.”
But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
Yet again we see that the teachings of Jesus are in harmony with the New Testament writings more than the Law of Moses. We see, therefore, that many of the teachings of Jesus are consistent with New Testament teachings and not with the teachings of the Law of Moses, and thus it is proven that Jesus was assuredly preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
More strong evidence regarding the nature of Jesus’ teaching is found in John 14:26:
“But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.”
This promise was given to the disciples, and it was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. If Jesus’ teachings were to be made irrelevant by the covenant established on the day of Pentecost, why would the Holy Spirit give the Apostles the remembrance of what Jesus taught them? Assuredly the memory of Jesus’ teachings are preserved in the New Testament, and we can see without a doubt that many of Jesus’ teachings were designed not for the Law of Moses but for the new covenant in His blood.
To this many will object and say that Jesus asserted that He would not change the law until His death in Matthew 5:17-18:
“Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.”
To help us understand this text, let us also bring forth verse 19:
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
The Greek word here translated as “break” in the ASV is the word luo, defined literally as “loosen, dissolve.” Does Jesus, therefore, teach that nothing would be altered at all until His death? Does this contradict all of the material we have seen above?
There is no doubt that the Law did not pass away until the death of Christ; Jesus Himself speaks in many places of the Law of Moses and its true interpretations. Yet if we look deeply into Jesus’ teachings, we see that if someone obeys the teachings of Jesus during this period he would not violate the Law of Moses. Jesus condemns any who would “loosen–” violate through lack of fulfillment or direct violation of any law– and there is no condemnation for any who would live to a higher standard than the bare minimum requirement of the law. Would one be condemned by the Law if he did not divorce his wife? If one did not make an oath, but his yes was yes and no, no, would the Law condemn him? If someone would not strike back when offended or any such thing, does the Law condemn him? By no means! Does Jesus, therefore, violate any of the Law of Moses by His teachings regarding the Kingdom? By no means!
Therefore, a Jew who followed the teachings of Christ would not be found guilty of any violation of the law if he never repaid evil for evil, never divorced his wife, never hated his brother, or other such things. A Christian, however, who would hate his brother, repaid evil for evil, divorced his wife for improper reason, and other such things would be condemned since he is not following the teachings of his Master as revealed in the New Testament.
Did Jesus teach only Old Testament doctrine? We have seen that this is false. From the beginning of His ministry Jesus taught the “Gospel of the Kingdom,” that many of His teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and in other places fit not in the Old but in the New Testament, and that the Apostles beginning in Acts 2 taught the things they learned not only from the Holy Spirit but from Jesus Christ also. Any objections regarding Jesus and His teachings about the Law not passing away until His death have been shown lacking, since we have seen that one who would adhere himself to Jesus’ teachings would not be found guilty of violating the Law; a Christian, however, would be found guilty of sin if he hated his brother, swore oaths, or divorced his wife for reasons other than sexual immorality, actions not condemned by the Law.
Does this mean that everything Jesus taught fits into the new covenant? I am not arguing this, for many things Jesus taught were in regards to the Law of Moses and how many in the Jewish religious establishment were violating it. We must read the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament and we will clearly see when Jesus teaches the doctrines of the New Covenant in His blood versus when He expounds and clarifies for the Jews the Law given to them by Moses.
We may know assuredly that Jesus certainly taught many things that we need to obey and follow as His followers, and we shall not be confused or deceived by this smokescreen made by those who attempt to pervert God’s clear teachings regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 are just as much a part of the New Testament as 1 Corinthians 7; all are harmonious and God will judge those who would attempt to cause disharmony within His word to fulfill their own lusts and approve others who would do so. The truth of God’s Word is clear: the only appropriate reason for divorce is when one spouse is the victim of unfaithfulness, and any other divorce and subsequent remarriage is sinful and adulterous. The Lord has spoken; let us hear Him.