Have We Misunderstood John 1:17?
Here is a helpful point, the Hebrew word for new carries connotations of being renewed. Our High Priest established a reNEWed covenant built on better promises (Heb 8:6). He has renewed his Torah by saving all who repent and believe, reconciling them to God, and filling them with the same Spirit by which he was faithful to the Father! And all this by his grace. In light of these things, what is our relationship now—this side of Jesus and the cross—as his kingdom people? What is our relationship to the stipulations of the Mosaic Covenant? - On the one hand, our relation to the Mosaic covenant is different from that of Jesus, John, and the Jewish people.
- On the other hand, our attitude toward the Torah should be exactly the same as Jesus. Remember, wisdom and balance are vitally important to this sensitive discussion. Let me say it again. Even though our relationship to the Mosaic covenant is different than it was to Jesus in the first century, our attitude should be the same as his. And what is that attitude? "Oh, how I love your Torah! It is my meditation all the day." (Psalm 119:97) The Torah is eternal. It endures because God endures and the Torah is His will. We should stand in awe and appreciation of the Torah, unlike some silly preaching that caricatures it and puts it down and ridicules it. I almost get the impression that some preachers think the devil gave the Torah to Israel. Of course, they do it for rhetorical effect, to create a contrast. But make no mistake about it, when you put down the Torah you are putting down the Torah’s Author. And who was that? Yahweh, himself. Our attitude towards the divinely inspired Torah should be the same as the Messiah, yet our relationship to it is different. Fortunately, we have clear guidance to help us navigate the difference. We do not have to speculate because this issue came to the surface and was dealt with by the council at Jerusalem in approximately 50 AD, recorded for us in Acts, chapter 15. You know the story so I will not retell it here. Though we are not obligated to keep all the covenantal stipulations as the Jewish people were—and this is crucial—that does not mean that we are exempt from moral conduct. It does not mean that we are free from all the commandments. Consider this for example, what was Jesus' answer when asked what is the greatest commandment? “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Where do these commandments come from? God's Torah. Do these commandments still apply to you? They do to me. Each of the ten commandments is stated in the New Testament except one. Do you know which one? The keeping of the Sabbath. From our new covenant point-of-view, we must recognize the ongoing moral imperative and duty to uphold the will of God as it relates to interpersonal relationships. It is not our duty to wear the tassels (tzitziot) on our garments. We can, but we do not have to. Do you understand the difference? We are not covenantally obligated to keep the Feasts but thank God we can. What are we commanded to do? To love the LORD our God and to love one another. This is our continuing covenant obligation. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Listen carefully, our Lord says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Does he mean what he says? Are these commandments binding or not? Indeed they are. And like his Father, these definitive moral obligations bring us into blessing, prosperity, and peace. They are teaching, direction, and wisdom given to us that we might live. You may say to him, "Lord, Lord, I’ve done miracles in your name. We had 3000 in attendance Sunday. We raised a man from the dead.” But Jesus says to you, “are you doing the will of my Father? Only then are you of my kingdom. I am not impressed with your great shows of power. What impresses me is keeping the commandments of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Only he who does the will of my Father is in my movement.” And what is the will of Yeshua's Father? It is his guidance, direction, and instruction embedded in the Torah and embodied in his Son. There is another statement found in John 1:17 that has been misunderstood because of centuries of antisemitism in the church. You see, we have a continuing prejudice toward the Jews because of our forefathers which has resulted in mistreatment of Jewish people. In turn, this has led to their understandable prejudice against the Gospel because of the way they have been treated historically. John writes, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."(KJV) Most older Bible translations, like the King James Version, say “but” grace and truth—placing the two in seeming opposition to each other. Modern translations are much more perceptive, "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (ESV) The "but" is not there in Greek. This is not actually a statement of opposition. What do we read in the previous verse? "For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace." In other words, we have received one blessing after another. The Torah (a blessing) came from Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus the Jewish Messiah (more blessing). These are both expressions of God’s will. John's declaration is not of disjunction but of conjunction. It is putting two things together, not separating them. Do you see the difference in the two readings? Do you understand the implications of each? I pray that you do, and that together we learn to discern "what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.
Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.
Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.