Abolished or Fulfilled?
The Mosaic Law in Relation to the New Covenant of Christ According to the Fathers of the Church
(1) Much of the information of this historical section comes from Thomas
Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church (New York: Image Books,
(2) cf. Frances M. Young, The Use of Sacrificial Ideas in Greek Christian
Writers from the New Testament to John Chrysostom (Cambridge, MA: The Philadelphia
Patristic Foundation, Inc., 1979), 82-83.
(3) Ibid., 82.
(4) Robert Wilde, The Treatment of the Jews in the Greek Christian Writers of
the First Three Centuries (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press,
(5) Ignatius of Antioch, To the Magnesians, 8.1. [Cyril C. Richardson,
Th.D., D.D., trans. and ed. "Letter of Ignatius to the Magnesians", Early
Christian Fathers (New York: Collier Books, 1970), 96].
(6) Ibid., 10.3 .
(7) Epistle of Barnabas, Chp. 2-3; quoting Isa. 1:11-14; Jer. 7:22; Isa.
58:4-5. [Alexander Roberts D.D. and James Donaldson, LL.D, eds. "Epistle of
Barnabas", Anti-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers, Justin
Martyr, Irenaeus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1994) 138].
(8) Ibid., Chp. 10ff. [143ff.].
(9) Letter to Diognetius, 3.4. [Richardson, "The So-Called Letter to
(10) Ibid., 4.4 .
(11) Richard N. Longenecker, "Three Ways of Understanding Relations between
the Testaments: Historically and Today," Tradition and Interpretation in the New
Testament, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne with Otto Betz. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B.
Berdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 22-23; citing Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 5.3.1.
(11) Ibid., 23.
(12) Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Chp. 10 (emphasis added).
[Roberts, "Dialogue with Trypho, A Jew", 199].
(13) Philo, "Life of Moses", Book II, 188, translated by F.H. Colson,
M.A. The Loeb Classical Library, "Philo VI", T.E. Page and others, eds.
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 543: "Now I am fully aware that all
things written in the sacred books are oracles delivered through Moses; but I will confine
myself to those which are more especially his, with the following preliminary remarks. Of
the divine utterances, some are spoken by God in His own person with His prophet for
interpreter, in some the revelation comes through question and answer, and others are
spoken by Moses in his own person, when possessed by God and carried away out of himself."
(14) This division is first presented and explained by Theodore Stylianopoulos, Justin
Martyr and the Mosaic Law, (Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1975), 51-68.
(15) Justin, Chp. 44 .
(16) cf. Stylianopoulos, 59.
(17) cf. Longenecker, 26.
(18) Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 16.4-5 [Roberts, "Against
Heresies", 482]: "...the Lord Himself did speak in His own person to all alike
the words of the Decalogue; and therefore, in like manner, do they remain permanently
with us, receiving by means of His advent in the flesh, extension and increase, but
not abrogation. The laws of bondage, however, were one by one promulgated to the people by
Moses, suited for their instruction or for their punishment....These things, therefore,
which were given for bondage, and for a sign to them, He canceled by the new covenant
of liberty." (emphasis added)
(19) Tertullian, De Pud 6.3-5; cited in Longenecker, 32.
(20) Origen, Commentary on Romans 8:3 and 11:6; cited in Longenecker, 32..
(21) Apostolic Constitutions, 2.4; [Roberts, "Constitutions of the
Holy Apostles", Anti-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7 Lactantius, Venantius,
Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, 2 Clement, Early
Liturgies, 397]: "But, above all, let him [the bishop] carefully distinguish
between the original law and the additional precepts (deuterwsiV), and show which are the laws for believers, and which the bonds for the
unbelievers, lest any should fall under those bonds." This quote is taken from the
section of Constitutions that is basically a copy of the Didascalia Apostolorum,
a third century Syrian document claiming to be of apostolic origins; cf. R. Hugh Connolly,
ed, Didascalia Apostolorum, (Oxford, 1929).
(22) Longenecker, 27.
(23) John Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians (on Gal. 3:25-26). [Philip
Schaff, D.D., LL.D., ed. "Homilies on the Epistles of St. Paul the Apostle to the
Galatians and Ephesians", Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Vol. 13, Chrysostom:
Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus,
and Philemon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1994), 29].
(24) Longenecker, 27.
(25) An in-depth study of this topic is to be found in Stephen D. Benin, The
Footprints of God: Divine Accommodation in Jewish and Christian Thought, (Albany:
State University of New York Press, 1993), esp. Chps. 1-3.
(26) A comprehensive treatment of Justins interpretation of the Mosaic Law
can be found in Stylianopoulos, Justin Martyr and the Mosaic Law.
(27) Justin, Chp. 44 .
(28) Ibid., Chp. 18 (emphasis added) ; cf. Chps. 46 & 67.
(29) cf. Stylanopoulos, 132.
(30) cf. Justin, Chp. 19 [203-204].
(31) Ibid., Chp. 21 .
(32) Ibid., Chp. 19 .
(33) Ibid., Chp. 20 (emphasis added) .
(34) cf. Stylianopoulos, 148.
(35) cf. Justin, Chp. 22 [205-206]; also Chps. 19, 43, 67, 92
(36) Ibid., Chp. 19 .
(37) cf. Ibid., Chp. 23 . Justin discusses the original purpose of
circumcision in Chp. 19.
(38) cf. Ibid.
(39) cf. Ibid., Chp. 67 [231-232].
(40) Ibid., Chp. 67 .
(41) cf. Ibid., Chp. 67 [231-232].
(42) cf. Ibid., Chp. 11 [199-200].
(43) cf. Stylianopoulos, 81.
(44) cf. Justin, Chps. 11,12 [199-200].
(45) cf. Ibid., Chp. 11 [199-200].
(46) Benin, Footprints of God, 5.
(47) Irenaeus, Book 4, Chp. 15 .
(48) cf. Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, trans. and edited by W.J.
Ferrar (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981) 1.6.17.
(49) Eusebius, 1.6.8.
(50) Eusebius, 1.6.8.
(51) cf. Eusebius, 1.6.9: "The law and life of our Saviour Jesus Christ
shows itself to be such, being a renewal of the ancient pre-Mosaic religion, in which
Abraham, the friend of God, and his forefathers are shown to have lived."
(52) Eusebius, 1.6.18.
(53) Chrysostom, Against the Jews, Discourse 4, Chp. 6. [Paul W. Harkins,
trans., "Saint John Chrysostom: Discourses Against Judaizing Christians", The
Fathers of the Church, A New Translation, Vol. 68 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic
University Press, 1977), 89].
(54) Ibid., [89-90].
(55) cf. Chrysostom, Homilies on Colossians; cited in Stephin D. Benin,
"Sacrifice as Education in Augustine and Chrysostom," Church History, 52
(March 1983): 18.
(56) cf. Stephin D. Benin, "Sacrifice as Education", 18.
(57) Philo, "On The Special Laws", Book I, Chp. 2, translated by F.H.
Colson, M.A. The Loeb Classical Library, "Philo VII", T.E. Page and
others, eds. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 105: "...I consider
circumcision to be a symbol (sumbolon) of two things most necessary to our well-being. One is the excision of
pleasures which bewitch the mind...The other reason is that a man should know himself and
banish from the soul the grievous malady of conceit."
(58) During the patristic era, the "spiritual" sense of the Old
Testament could either mean the allegorical or the typological sense, or both. The later
division of the "four senses" of Scripture was not yet developed in the
(59) R.P.C. Hanson D.D., Allegory and Event: A Study of the Sources and
Significance of Origens Interpretation of Scripture, (Richmond, VA: John Knox
Press, 1959), 295.
(60) Clement of Alexandria, Paed, 1.2.96ff; cited from Hanson, 295.
(61) Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, 2.9.4. [John Ferguson, trans.,
"Clement of Alexandria: Stromateis Books One to Three", The Fathers of the
Church, A New Translation, Vol. 85 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of
America Press, 1991], 187.
(62) Origen, Contra Celsum, 4.44; cited from Longenecker, 31.
(63) Ibid., 7.20; cited from Hanson, 305.
(64) Origen, Commentary on Romans, 2.14; cited from Hanson, 305.
(65) Origens interpretation of these commands are as follows: (1) the
place mentioned in Exodus 16:29: "what is the place of the
spiritual soul? Its place is justice, truth, wisdom, sanctification; everything which
Christ is the place of the soul." (Homilies on Num. 23:4) and (2) the
burdens mentioned in Jeremiah 17:21: the burdens refer to sins (see Psalm 37:5
and fire (see Exodus 35:3). cf. N.R.M. De Lange, Origen and the Jews: Studies in
Jewish-Christian Relations in Third-Century Palestine, (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1979), 93.
(66) cf. De Lange, 92.
(67) Origen, Homilies on Leviticus, 10.1. [Gary Wayne Barkley, trans.,
"Origen: Homilies on Leviticus 1-16", The Fathers of the Church, A New
Translation, Vol. 83 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press,
(68) cf. Hanson, 302, citing Origen, Contra Celsum 2.3.
(69) Athanasius, Incarnation of the Word, Chp. 33. [Philip Schaff, D.D.,
LL.D. and Henry Wace, D.D., trans., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Vol.
4, Athanasius: Select Works and Letters (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers,
1994), 54]: "But Moses, the truly great, and whom they [the Jews] believe to speak
truth, with reference to the Saviours becoming man, having estimated what was said
as important, and assured of its truth, set down in these words: There shall rise a
star our of Jacob, and a man out of Israel, and he shall break in pieces the captains of
Moab. (Num. 24:5-17);
(70) Also, Incarnation, Chp. 35 [54-55]: "But, perhaps, having heard the
prophecy of His death, you ask to learn also what is set forth concerning the Cross. For
not even this is passed over: it is displayed by the holy men with great plainness. For
first Moses predicts it, and that with a loud voice, when he says Ye shall see you
Life hanging before your eyes, and shall not believe." (Deut. 28:66) and
(71) Athanasius, Festal Letters 19.3-4 [Schaff, 546].
(72) Basil, On the Holy Spirit, Chp. 14 (emphasis added) [Schaff and Wace,
"The De Spiritu Sancto", Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, Vol.
8, Basil: Letters and Select Works, 19].