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Martin Luther Sermon Excerpt

November 27, 2006

How Christians Should Regard Moses

Sermon by Martin Luther
August 27, 1525

We would rather not preach again for the rest of our life than to let Moses return and to let Christ be torn out of our hearts. We will not have Moses as ruler or lawgiver any longer. Indeed God himself will not have it either. Moses was an intermediary solely for the Jewish people. It was to them that he gave the law. We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, “Thus says Moses,” etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised, (3) wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff. So, then, we will neither observe nor accept Moses. Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service.

That Moses does not bind the Gentiles can be proved from Exodus 20:1, where God himself speaks, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This text makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments do not pertain to us. For God never led us out of Egypt, but only the Jews. The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will just skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver – unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law.

But our factious spirits go ahead and say of everything they find in Moses, “Here God is speaking, no one can deny it; therefore we must keep it.” So then the rabble go to it. Whew! If God has said it, who then will say anything against it? Then they are really pressed hard like pigs at a trough. Our dear prophets have chattered thus into the minds of the people, “Dear people, God has ordered his people to beat Amalek to death” [Exod. 17:8-16; Deut. 25:17-19]. (8)  Misery and tribulation have come out of this sort of thing. The peasants have arisen, not knowing the difference, and have been led into this error by those insane factious spirits. 

Had there been educated preachers around, they could have stood up to the false prophets and stopped them, and said this to them, “Dear factious spirits, it is true that God commanded this of Moses and spoke thus to the people; but we are not this people. Land, God spoke also to Adam; but that does not make me Adam, God commanded Abraham to put his son to death [Gen. 22:2]; but that does not make me Abraham and obligate me to put my son to death. God spoke also with David. It is all God’s word. But let God’s word be what it may, I must pay attention and know to whom God’s word is addressed. You are still a long way from being the people with whom God spoke.” The false prophets say, “You are that people, God is speaking to you.” You must prove that to me. With talk like that these factious spirits could have been refuted. But they wanted to be beaten, and so the rabble went to the devil. 

Here is an illustration. Suppose a housefather had a wife, a daughter, a son, a maid, and a hired man. Now he speaks to the hired man and orders him to hitch up the horses and bring in a load of wood, or drive over to the field, or do some other job. And suppose he tells the maid to milk the cows, churn some butter, and so on. And suppose he tells his wife to take care of the kitchen and his daughter to do some spinning and make the beds. All this would be the words of one master, one housefather. Suppose now the maid decided she wanted to drive the horses and fetch the wood, the hired man sat down and began milking the cows, the daughter wanted to drive the wagon or plow the field, the wife took a notion to make the beds or spin and so forgot all about the kitchen; and then they all said, “The master has commanded this, these are the housefather’s orders!” Then what? Then the housefather would grab a club and knock them all in a heap, and say, “Although it is my command, yet I have not commanded it of you; I gave each of you your instructions, you should have stuck to them.” 


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14 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2006 2:33 pm

    What confuses me about the not-Mosaic-but-Messianic-law argument is when we go back to the point in Romans that the law is meant to condemn us, but not be under the law, what happens to non-Jews and non-Christians? Under which law are they condemned? Is nullification of Mosaic law ubiquitous? The easy answer to the first question would be, “Regardless, they’re condemned because they broke the law in either case.” I realize that, but if we are under Messianic law because we are united with Christ. Can the non-united-with-Christ people be under Messianic law even though that is the only law valid? In other words, since Mosaic law is void and Messianic law replaced it, Messianic law applies to those who are united with Christ. What then to those who aren’t united; under what law are they condemened?

    Hopefully it’s clear what I’m trying to ask.

  2. November 28, 2006 6:22 pm

    From the larger sermon:

    “These are two kingdoms: the temporal, which governs with the sword and is visible; and the spiritual, which governs solely with grace and with the forgiveness of sins. Between these two kingdoms still another has been placed in the middle, half spiritual and half temporal. It is constituted by the Jews, with commandments and outward ceremonies which prescribe their conduct toward God and men.”

    Is this a common idea? I had not heard it put like this before. What happened to that middle kingdom when Christ appeared?

  3. November 29, 2006 7:41 am


    I think Romans 2:6-16 may answer your question:

    6He will render to each one according to his works: 7to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8but for those who are self-seeking[a] and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11For God shows no partiality.

    12For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (ESV, subtitle removed before vs. 12. Emphases mine.)

    So, I suppose we could say that Gentiles are under a natural law that God has revealed in creation and concience that has a fuller expression in the Mosiac law.

    Ellie, can the Kingdom question be answered (in part) in Matthew 21:33-44? Also, Mike is speaking on eschatology at Free Life tomorrow night, so this would be a good question to bring to that discussion methinks. :)

  4. November 29, 2006 8:40 am

    So if Temporal Kingdom=Earth and Spiritual Kingdom=Heaven, that means Middle Kingdom=Middle Earth? :D

    Sorry for the silliness (and the truly obviously wrong interpretations of all the kingdoms!), but it just begged me to make a Tolkien reference!

    I promise… no more silliness today!

    *puts on serious face and goes back to work*

  5. November 29, 2006 9:17 am


    Here’s how I’ve been thinking about it. We’re all condemned because of our sin. People died for their sins before the law was given. But the giving of the law brought sin into focus and exposed it as transgression. Those who never heard the law are still justly condemned because these laws are written on their hearts, as Mark pointed out from Romans 2 and I think this is what Luther meant by natural law.

  6. November 29, 2006 9:26 am


    I’d never heard it put quite that way, either. Augustine talked about the City of God and the City of Man, by which he more or less meant church and state. Israel was exceptional in that for a time these things came together (disastrously, due to sin). So this should encourage us not to try to wed these kingdoms again until the only One who can possibly handle the power returns.

    I didn’t read Luther on this point that closely, so he might mean something else.

  7. November 29, 2006 11:42 am

    Mark – Thanks for the pointer – but ouch! That’s harsh! Do you think Jesus meant that the kingdom of God would be taken away from the Jews as a people and given to gentiles, or that the kingdom would be taken away from the chief priests and pharisees that he was talking to, i.e. those people who were wrongly wielding authority for themselves and their own ends instead of using it to produce fruit for God, and given to true believers instead – like the disciples in Matthew 5.10, perhaps? What do you think?

    Beth – I almost made a reference to Tolkien too. :)

    Isaiah543 – Good conclusion. At least based on this sermon, that does seem to be what Luther is saying. Very interesting. Thank you.

  8. November 29, 2006 1:01 pm

    I was thinking that maybe natural law was either Mosaic or Messianic law, but it sounds like you (Mark/Mike) are saying that “natural law” is distinct from Mosaic and Messianic law.

    So here is what I understand. Prior to Mosaic law, there was natural law. Men were convicted by their consciences according to Rom 2:15. This law is “self-evident” and probably intertemporal since all men are convicted of at least this law. Even today since some have not heard the Gospel or the laws of Moses. Exodus to Malachi, Mosaic law convicted the Jews. Now it is void and Messianic law took over.

    “But the giving of the law brought sin into focus and exposed it as transgression. Those who never heard the law are still justly condemned because __these laws__ are written on their hearts…”-Pastor Mike

    So to somewhat restate my original question, what do you mean by “these laws”? Which laws? During the period of Mosaic law, was the Mosaic law written on the hearts? Is Messianic law now wrriten on everyone’s heart? If not, then is the ‘natural law’ just a universal set of laws which are present in both Mosaic and Messianic laws yet still exist on their own outside of these legal systems? If so, what unique importance does Mosaic law (in the past) and Messianic law presently have that “natural law” doesn’t in convicting us of sin?

  9. November 29, 2006 1:35 pm

    I can’t answer for Mike, but I think by “written on thier hearts” we can mean two things:

    1. universally applied moral law, on the hearts of all men because they were made by God (Rom. 2:15)
    2. the New Covenant promise of having the law written on our hearts – the “new hearts” that are Spirit filled and empowered. I would say the law of Christ is “written” on these hearts. Only believers are given these hearts in regeneration.

    I think that the “these laws” that you are asking about are the collective “natural law” that everybody gets because they are made by God.

    That’s my understanding at least.

  10. November 29, 2006 1:57 pm


    You see, I didn’t want to answer that question, which is why I said you should ask Mike at Free Life!! :) Thanks for holding me to it though.

    If you look at all three acounts of this parable (Matthew 21, Mark 12, and Luke 20) they all place Jesus in the/(a) temple just before he says it. All the stuff before this parable seems to be about the judging of Israel (withered fig tree, cleansing the temple, authority of Jesus challenged, parable of the sons.) After the parable was spoken the Pharisees got pretty ticked and tried to kill Jesus because they thought it was against them.

    So I think the answer is both. Jesus is speaking this to the nation and leaders specifically, but not just the leaders.

    I think this might be wrapped up in Romans 11. Although I’m not very comfortable writing much more on this at the moment! I think these would be good questions to ask Mike about at Free Life though, or wait till he preaches Romans 11 in 2007/2008. :)

    I hope these comments don’t alter my standing from toadie to troll.

  11. November 29, 2006 3:40 pm


    I’m not 100% sure what you mean by Messianic law. When Paul said he’s not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ, I don’t think we should think that the “law of Christ” is some new legal code replacing the law of Moses. I think Paul just meant that not being under the law of Moses isn’t a license for immorality because we still seek to be obedient to Jesus.

    And yes, there is a difference between the law in the hearts of all men through natural revelation, and the writing of the law on the heart by the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant. The Spirit now inclines us to walk in his ways and to bear the fruit of love which fulfills the law. If you ask “which law”? I say God’s law as revealed by Christ to the church in the New Covenant, not as administered by Moses to Israel. But I would also be wary of the question for we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

    It seems (relatively) clear how to apply this to our lives. We’re not under the law of Moses. But we still obey the law of Christ by the power of the Spirit.

    The issue is complicated by the question, “by what law are unbelievers judged?” But does it matter? They are judged by God for their sin of willfully suppressing his knowledge and worshipping created things rather than their Creator. Their condemnation is just even if they never heard of any law. Jews before Christ who heard the law of Moses and broke it increased their culpability. Jews and Gentiles after Christ who hear the gospel and refuse to obey it increase their culpability.

  12. November 29, 2006 4:38 pm

    Mark – Okay, okay, I won’t press you any further. :D I would like to go ask these questions at Free Life, but I have the kids, you know, and that just wouldn’t be a good place to bring them. :) Also I have to make a lemon meringue pie tonight (wish me luck) and theology will just have to take a back seat to pie making for the evening. Maybe YOU can go ask these questions and then tell me what the answer was?

  13. November 29, 2006 6:26 pm

    …When I said Messianic law, I meant Law of Christ…

    “It seems (relatively) clear how to apply this to our lives. We’re not under the law of Moses. But we still obey the law of Christ by the power of the Spirit.”

    Right, I understand the part about obedience through the Spirit. Which is why I was asking about those who don’t have the obedience of the Spirit, since the Law of Moses doesn’t apply to them. Nonetheless, my question was answered in a roundabout way. I appreciate the patience.

  14. Oddball permalink
    March 16, 2007 2:12 pm

    As for attempting to wed temporal and divine law, I’m wondering where natural law fits into this. I would agree that theonomists are very wrong in supposing that Christians should seek to legislate according to Mosaic law, but it seems to me that we should still speak prophetically when our governments violate basic laws of justice, as OT prophets often rebuked Gentile nations.


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