Why Do the Laws Exist?

The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”

And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”

Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

But He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?”

And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the –Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:18–27)

When Jesus told the Pharisees that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath he was trying to teach them an important principle that they had somehow missed in all their study of the scriptures.

The Pharisee’s concern for the Sabbath was genuine. But as well-intentioned as they might be, they had forgotten the reason that the Sabbath existed. Moses himself had written, “on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the foreigner among you as well, may be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12) The Sabbath existed because it was important for people to take time off. It was created in order to improve their lives. And such is the case with every law that God created. He didn’t come up with the rules arbitrarily. The rules exist to benefit us, as expressions of his love for us, so that we can live well and have the best lives possible. Understanding the purpose of the biblical laws may help us understand how to apply them today; circumstances may change, but the purposes behind the regulations remain. The central interpretive guideline is simple: it must be consistent with the concept of loving our neighbors as ourselves (see Matthew 22:34-40).

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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