John Ritenbaugh posits that the term "done away" (implying, forever destroyed or abrogated) is not synonymous with the term "no longer required" (that is, placed aside temporarily). Indeed, decades after Christ instituted His Church, the Apostle Paul, having access in his day to a sanctified altar at Jerusalem, took part in Old Covenant rituals requiring animal sacrifice (Acts 21). While it is true that God no longer requires animal sacrifices (a basic part of the Old Covenant) on the part of those embracing the New Covenant, the Scriptures show that it is wrong to conclude He will not reinstitute animal sacrifices in the future. Chapters 34 through 48 of the Book of Ezekiel describe a time following Israel's near destruction at the hands of the Edomites, when Christ returns to restore physical Israel. During this time, He will re-establish the Old Covenant. He will build again the Temple, re-establish the Levitical priesthood, and reintroduce animal sacrifices so that restored Israel of the Millennium and resurrected Israel of the White Throne Period will witness the fulfillment of all righteousness. As God's called-out ones, we must not fall prey to the Catholic/Protestant heresy that the New Testament has replaced the Old, that grace has replaced Law, that faith has replaced works or that the Old Covenant has already vanished away, never to be revived. While, as signatories to the New Covenant, we keep the Law in its spirit, we do not deny the continued existence and force of its letter. God has a specific purpose for every syllable in His Holy Word.
John Ritenbaugh, in Number Eight of his series on the background of the Book of Hebrews, emphasizes that, although flesh withers like grass, the instruction (Torah) of God's Word is not "done away," but rather endures forever. Salvation comes through grace, but grace does not "do away" with the Law, as a careless interpretation of Acts 15 may lead those laboring under an antinomian agenda to think. Those who assume the Jerusalem Council did away with the Old Covenant forget that the elders were careful to instruct the gentiles to abstain from sexual immorality, idols, things strangled, and blood—all strictures squarely residing in the Law. The lesson we learn from the decision of the Council was that Christ's words trump everything; the Council sharpened (not nullified) the meaning of circumcision and animal sacrifices to focus on their spiritual intent. The Council established that Christ's words enjoy primacy over those of angels and prophets. The decision of the Council established the ground rules in the process of formulating the doctrines of the Israel of God, doctrines which the writer of the Epistle of Hebrews, later codified. The Epistle to the Hebrews emphasizes that spiritual growth and ultimate glorification depends on an individual's relationship with Christ. The centerpiece of the Book of Hebrews is Christ, the God-man, the Messiah, our Savior, our High Priest—our lifeline to sanctification and glorification.
John Ritenbaugh, re-iterating that internal evidence substantiates the high probability that the Apostle Paul authored the Book of Hebrews, stresses that Christ's ultimate goal is to bring the entire creation under the Father's subjection when God will be all in all. The recipients of the book of Hebrews consisted of converts from Judaism suffering estrangement from family and community, excommunicated from the temple. The etymology of Hebrew denotes someone who has "crossed over" a boundary (such as a river) and by extension connotes moving from one idea cluster to another (such as carnal to spiritual- requiring living tenaciously by faith), as demonstrated by our Patriarch Abraham. The intended audience of Hebrews was not exclusively descendants of Judah, but those who were called by God the Father into the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) which would include a large influx of gentiles. Because the Israel of God has departed from cultural expectations from both Jewish and Gentile communities, they suffer intense persecution. The Jerusalem Church, the headquarters congregation, had to meld the gentile and Hebrew elements together, deciding whether things like circumcision were still mandatory. The solution was to concentrate on the things Christ taught by example to the Apostles, granting the ability to apply God's law in gray areas as well as clear black and white distinctions. The New Covenant requirements outlined by Christ demanded that God's Called-out -ones must learn to worship in "spirit and truth" without the 'security' of a brick and mortar temple. The sacrificial system of the Old Covenant has not been done away but will re-instated during the Millennium for those who failed to learn its purpose the first time around. For God's called-out ones, the sacrificial system has certainly not been done away, but requires a living sacrifice of lifetime service, yielding to Christ's words and example.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God esteems certain spiritual qualities above other spiritual qualities. To elevate a minor regulation above a major regulation is to spiritually lose ones sense of proportion. The attribute of love (I Corinthians 13:13) supercedes (but not negates) all other spiritual gifts or qualities. There are degrees of missing the mark (sin) as well as priorities of spiritual importance. Love, justice, mercy, and fidelity (the weightier matters of the law) God desires more than meticulous, mechanical religiosity. The greatest or the first commandments (loving God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves) precedes all the other ordinances in importance (Matthew 22:37-40).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Old Covenant in no way annulled the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, but was added because of Israel's sins, with the intent of pointing to the need of a Savior. Because the primary focus of Galatians is justification rather than sanctification, the Protestant antinomian bias looks quite foolish and stupid. The New Covenant, grafting the Law into the recesses of the heart (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16) in no way does away with any aspect of the law. The deficit in the Old Covenant was in its lack of a means of justification (forgiveness of past sins). The New Covenant, having a means of justification, replaces the pre-figuring symbolic animal sacrifices with the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah. Circumcision of the heart and the receipt of God's Holy Spirit ratifies the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the way to be undefiled (to become sanctified, developing character) is to walk in the Law of the Lord (Psalm 119:1). We must do God's Word or it will never be a part of us. The Colossian Christians (Colossians 2:16-17) were criticized by Gnostic infiltrators for the way they were keeping the holy days. Paul admonishes the embattled Colossians not to let any man judge them for the way they were keeping the holy days. Contrary to some misguided Bible scholars, (1) keeping the Sabbath is not a doctrine of men; (2) what Paul condemns is a philosophy; God's word is not a philosophy. (Paul is concerned about the context in the way this philosophy was impacting on those keeping God's Word.) (3) Paul calls this Gnostic system (not God's holy days) empty, vain deceit, and (4) he names the authors of this Gnostic system and its recipients demons.
John Ritenbaugh, countering the naive assumption that the spirit of the law does away with the letter, insists that without the letter, there is no spirit because no foundations are possible. Writing the laws on our heart does not occur magically, but is a process (involving, prayer, meditation, learning and growing through life's experiences as our Elder Brother also grew in experience (Luke 2:40) We must walk as He walked (I John 2:6). The myriad examples given throughout the scriptures demonstrate for us (stretch out) the intent of the law. No scripture may say anything regarding a particular law, but examples (especially of Christ) will show God's will. The law appears in example form all over the scripture.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the entire Old Testament was written with the New Testament church in mind. Certain temporary ceremonial sacrifices, washings, and rituals were set aside when the spiritual reality—such as Christ's sacrifice replacing animal sacrifices and God's Holy Spirit and His Word replacing physical washings (Hebrews 9:18; Ephesians 5:26)—added a spiritual dimension. All biblical law, including the ceremonies, comes from God. Paul never taught any Jew to forsake the Law of Moses, the constitution and civil code, but he did rail against Pharisaical additions for the expressed purpose of attaining justification. Even though a change occurred in the administration of existing law, no laws were done away. Instead, they are written in the hearts of the converted (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
John Ritenbaugh answers the question "Is there a scripture that states such and such no longer needs to be done?" The Bible is an unfolding revelation, moving from the physical to the spiritual ramifications—revealing an ever-sharper focus on God's purpose. The Law (including the judgments, ordinances, and statutes), far from being done away, has the purpose of showing us our faults and outlining the way of mercy and love. The animal sacrifices and ceremonies were intended to foreshadow a more permanent spiritual reality—subsumed, but not done away. The Old Testament was written with the New Testament Church in mind, written in the context of an earlier culture. We need to see behind the law a presence of a Holy God with whom we seek to share a relationship.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God's grace gives us focus on what the Law's true purpose is — namely the basic guide as to what good works are — rules for the journey of life. God's Law outlines a way of life, defining sin, actually categorizing a descending level of gravity or seriousness (from sins which lead to death and those which do not; I John 5:16). Righteousness consists of applying the Law's letter and/or intent. Sin constitutes a failure of applying or living up to the standards of what God defines as proper or right. The conclusion of this sermon begins an exposition of four principles determining whether the law is binding.
Through Acts 1-15, God (primarily through the work of Peter, Paul and James) has removed His work out of the Judaistic mold, creating the Israel of God (the church) designed to spread to the Gentiles. Though certain ceremonial and civil aspects of the law were (for a time) suspended, the Law of God was never suspended, especially as it relates to defilement of conscience or disregarding of scruples that could cause permanent spiritual damage or unwittingly place one in communion with demons. We must always conduct ourselves with the long —term spiritual interests of others paramount on our minds, being sensitive to conscience and scruples of others as we exercise our 'rights.'
After explaining the context in which Paul advocated going from house to house, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul, who understands clearly that God alone calls (John 6:44), makes his initial contact with non-believers in public places (synagogue and forum), going later to private dwellings by invitation only. Chapter 15 focuses upon the Council of Jerusalem, discussing the controversial subject of circumcision and its relationship to salvation. Peter, speaking from his experience working among the Gentiles, realized that some aspects of the ceremonial laws (including circumcision) were not obligatory to Gentiles for salvation, but that the entire Law of God (given by Jesus Christ), far from done away, is to be kept in a more responsible spiritual sense (respecting the boundaries or constraints of conscience) by both Jews and Gentiles. It had become apparent to the apostles gathered at Jerusalem that God had made a parallel visitation and calling to the Gentiles as He had originally concluded with Israel. The new spiritual tabernacle (the Israel of God) would be composed of Gentiles as well as people of Israel.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the intent or purpose of the scripture in Deuteronomy 23:2 prohibiting offspring from illegitimate unions (often carrying psychological baggage and irreversible physical damage) from holding offices of responsibility in physical Israel for ten generations. Acts 14 begins with the people of the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe mistaking Paul for Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus. When Paul convinces the crowds that he and Barnabas were not gods, they were treated with contempt rather than adoration. The church, it seems, has always been forced to live in hostile environments. At the beginning of chapter 15, the question is posed whether a Gentile must undergo circumcision in order to be saved or keep the law in order to become justified. Lawkeeping in the present does not justify past sins, nor is it intended to be a vehicle for salvation. This understanding does not do away with God's law, which must be kept in the spirit. Following the Council of Jerusalem, God now begins His spiritual work through the church, taking His Word out to the nations.