Douglas Moo acknowledges the importance of articulating our understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. Various theologians affirm different degrees of qualitative and quantitative continuity or discontinuity between the two. Articulating exactly how one understands how the two relate to one another is one of the major goals of both biblical and systematic theology.
How one understandings the continuity or lack thereof between the two covenants must be articulated within a multi-dimensional spectrum, rather than a purely linear one. There are clearly different respects in which continuity and discontinuity exists between the two, and it is on each theologian to articulate how they understand the relationship between the two. Douglas Moo tends to emphasize discontinuity at the expense of continuity. As he says:
“…we must be very careful about coming to simplistic solutions to what is a very complex question. The straightforward alternatives continutiy and discontinuity are much too boldly drawn. In reality, it is a matter of emphasis, with positions ranging along a wide spectrum of alternatives. While my view, then, tends toward the discontinuity end of the spectrum, I hope to be sufficiently nuanced in my treatment that the clear elements of continuity will not be ignored”(Moo).
Decisive for Douglas Moo is what Jesus means when he says that he came to “fulfill” the “Law and Prophets” in Matt. 5:17. For Matthew, as Moo notes, “”Law and Prohets”…focuses on the relationship between OT and Jesus’ teaching (5:21-48)…Jesus is speaking to the way in which his teaching relates to the demand of God in the OT law.”
Over and against those who see this passage as affirming continuity, rather than discontinuity between the two testaments, Moo notes that the anitheses of Matt. 5:21-48 do not function to affirm straightforward continuity between the testaments. Indeed, while the Old Testament allows for oaths within a specific context, Jesus absolutely forbids the use of oaths (5:33-37).
“To be sure, some of the requiremenets of Jesus seem to be directed against a perversion of the teaching of the law current among some Jews of his day; hatred of the enemy (5:43) is certainly not OT teaching. But the fact remains that Jesus’ own demands go considerably beyond any fair exegesis of at least most of the actual texts he quotes; nor do most of his demands find support anywhere in the OT. The “I say to you” emphasizes a new and startling focus on the authority of this Jesus of Nazareth, an authority that geos far beyond a restatement of the OT law”(Moo).
What is particularly striking is Jesus’ absolute prohibition of remarriage after divorce, unless the divorce came about as the result of adultery. This is quite opposed to what was allowed under the OT (Deut. 24:1-4). Jesus’ commands concerning marriage are in stark contrast to what Moses allows. For Moo, while the Greek word for “fulfill” may refer to something like a radicalization of OT teaching, it serves a unique and specific redemptive-historical meaning for Matthew, and functions as a technical theological terms. He notes that Mark uses it twice and Luke uses it nine times, but Matthew uses it an astonishing fifteen times, ten of which come from Matthew’s “formula quotations”(1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9). Two others, Moo notes, come from Jesus’ “fulfilling” of the Scriptures (26:54, 56) and one other for his baptism (3:15). Only two of Matthew’s usages, according to Moo, have no technicla theological significance (13:48; 23:32).
The verb for “to fulfill,” according to Moo, is used “more broadly t han as a way of designating the coming to pass of OT predictions” and refers, more broadly, to “depict the impact of Jesus’ coming on the OT”(Moo).
“The history of Israel reaches its “fulfillment” in Christ (cf. 2:15); and, in a striking and most suggestive statement, Matthew has Jesus declare that “all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until john”(11:13). In other words, Matthew presents a theology of salvation history which pictures the entire OT as anticipating and looking forward to Jesus”(Moo).
Therefore, the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets by Jesus referred to in Matthew 5:17, for Moo, means that “Jesus’ new, eschatological demands do not constitute an abandonment of the law but express that which the law was all along intended to anticipate. The continuity of the law with Jesus’ teaching is thereby clearly stressed, but it is a continuity on the plane of a salvation-historical scheme of “anticipation-realization”(Moo).
As Moo notes, if not a jot or a tittle of the Law passing away was used to emphasize the continuity of the letter of the Law, we would therefore have to continue animal sacrifices, which is obviously not compatible with orthodox Christianity, according to the epistle to the Hebrews. Moo notes that while it is New Covenant teaching that the Old Covenant is still to be taught, this does not mean Christians are to follow the Old Covenant according to the letter. Instead, Old Covenant teachings are to be reinterpreted and understood in terms of their pointing towards the coming of Christ, rather than as having ultimate authority in their own right.
Another exegetical crux with respect to one’s understanding of the meaning of the “Law” is Paul’s comment in Rom. 10:4 that “Christ is the telos of the Law.” Some exegetes, Moo notes, argue that “Law” in Paul refers to the misuse of the Mosaic Law as a tool of legalism rather than literally referring to the entirety of the Mosaic Covenant. He makes the particularly poignant point that if Paul meant this in Rom. 10:4, it would imply that obedience of the Mosaic Law was a legitimate means of salvation until Christ; a conclusion which is obviously absurd and contrary to what Paul teaches elsewhere. Instead, “Law” in Paul, for Moo, simply refers to the Mosaic Law.
Moo argues that when Paul says that Christ is the telos of the Law, he is referring to a redemptive-historical culmination point. The Law was never a means of salvation, but was intendd only to point towards the necessity of having a perfect righteousness by union with the person of Christ.
“Elements of both “end” and “goal,” along with nuances from other English words are involved…it is necessary to us several Enlgish words, or a phrase, to capture the meaning of this word in this kind of context…Against the background of Paul’s theology, then, we would argue that [the verse] means that he is the point of culmination for the Mosaic Law. He is its “goal,” in the sense that the law has always anticipated and looked forward to Christ. But he is also its “end” in that his fulfillment of the law brings to an end that period of time when it was a key element in the plan of God. Both ideas are clearly present in the context: Paul scolds the Jews for failing to see that the law had other purposes than a call to worksr (9:31-32) and for failing to recognize “God’s righteousness”(10:2-3), a righteousness that has come “apart from law”(Rom. 3:21)”(Moo).
Moo, Douglas. “The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ.” Retrieved from: http://djmoo.com/articles/lawofmoses.pdf