Old Testament Salvation
Could Old Testament Saints Keep the Law?

Timothy S. Morton

Saved by the Law?

A popular belief floating around today that is promoted in many commentaries and other "Christian literature" is it was impossible for Old Testament saints to keep the Law of Moses. For instance, concerning passages such as Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10; James 2:10; etc., one often hears something like, "It was impossible for anyone to keep the Old Testament Law, " The law could only point them to Christ, " "No Old Testament saint ever kept the law completely, " "No one could possibly keep the law of Moses so every one must be saved by faith in Christ." Although these words may sound appealing to modern, brainwashed ears, they can easily be disproved from Scripture.

This reasoning is linked to the common belief that "Old Testament saints were saved by looking forward to the cross while New Testament saints are saved by looking back to the cross." We dealt in considerable detail with this ignorant and unscriptural statement and flawed reasoning in our book, "The Difference Is In The Dispensations." This silly cliche can easily be dismissed as the ramblings of a "Bible ignoramus." The clear fact is, as any third-grader can prove with a Bible and concordance, the term "cross" is not found in the Old Testament. There is no cross in the Bible until Matt. 10:38! So this begs the question, how were the Old Testament believers to look ahead to something that had not been reveled and thus knew nothing about? They couldn't. It may come as a shock to many, but they were not saved as we are today; they were saved by obeying the law!

Failure to rightly divide the Scriptures will rob people of the vital truths of dispensational salvation. The simple fact is people in the Old Testament were not saved like believers are today in the present Church Age. Today one is saved only by faith in the work and shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Then, under the Dispensation of the Law, people were saved by keeping the law God gave them through Moses until Christ's death purchased their eternal redemption. In the following we will prove this to any unbiased reader who seeks the truth.

Commanded to Keep the Law

Even the most casual reader of the Bible should agree that God commanded Israel to keep the law He gave them. He did not require this obedience of any other nation or culture, but neither did he provide salvation to any other nation. Consider the plain words in the following passages,
  • Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he hath commanded thee. [Deut. 6:17]

  • And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: [Deut. 17:19]

  • But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. [Josh. 22:5]

  • Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left; [Josh. 23:6]

  • And keep the charge of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself: [1 Kings 2:3]
Want some more? Check these verses as well, Ex. 15:26, Deut. 4:1-2, Deut. 4:6, Deut. 4:9, Deut. 6:1-2, Deut. 6:17, Deut. 11:13, Deut. 11:22, Josh. 1:8, Psa. 119:4; 1Chron. 28:7-8, etc. It should be a "no-brainer" that God expected Israel to keep His law. One objection usually given is, "God gave them the law knowing they couldn't keep it to show them they were sinners and helpless to save themselves." Now, wait a minute. You are putting New Testament doctrine and thinking into an Old Testament environment. The Lord never once hinted that Israel couldn't obey His law. Furthermore, the Jews themselves did not think the law was unreasonable. Consider this,
  • And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD. [Ex. 19:8]

  • And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do. [Ex. 24:3]

  • And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD hath said will we do, and be obedient. [Ex. 24:7]

  • And the people said unto Joshua, The LORD our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey. [Josh. 24:24]
Israel did not deem any of God's commands and laws unreasonable. They did not believe they were impossible to keep or to follow. In most cases when a person violated a law there was a sacrifice available within the law to atone for the infraction. Thus when one broke a law but then offered the proper sacrifice he was keeping the overall law. Furthermore, to prove the law was not impossible to keep the Scriptures reveal that many did keep it,
  • And said unto them, Ye have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you: [Josh. 22:2]

  • And yet they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them: they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the LORD; but they did not so. [Judg. 2:17]

  • Howbeit I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand: but I will make him prince all the days of his life for David my servant's sake, whom I chose, because he kept my commandments and my statutes: [1 Kings 11:34]

  • For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses. [2 Kings 18:6]

  • I have remembered thy name, O LORD, in the night, and have kept thy law. [Psa. 119:55]
One matter that needs to be made clear is keeping the law in the Old Testament does not mean a person was sinless. It only means he followed the law. We know that no person other than Christ was sinless [2Cor. 5:21]. As mentioned above the law made provision for breaking it in most cases [Heb. 9:22] by prescribing a sacrifice the offender must offer at his own expense. When one followed this procedure, he was abiding by and keeping the law. Technically, the offender was guilty from the time of the offense until the time the sacrifice was offered, but after the sacrifice he was forgiven and again keeping the law. In short, keeping the law in the Old Testament was simply being obedient to the legal rules and regulations laid down by Moses.
  • And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD for his sin which he hath sinned, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his sin. [Lev. 5:5-6]

  • And he shall bring his trespass offering unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, even a ram for a trespass offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering before the LORD for his sin which he hath done: and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him. [Lev. 19:21-22]
If we consider an analogy of todays laws this may become plainer. Even though the law of Moses was extensive, it is not nearly as extensive in some regards as the secular laws of today. The Federal and State laws that apply to Americans are innumerable. The printed US tax code alone is several feet high. With all these laws they are not impossible to keep. You CAN keep them all if you choose to. In fact, those of you who strive to abide by the law have probably not broken any. You don't have to go over the speed limit, but if you do whether you are caught or not you are a law breaker. However, when you pay the fine specified by the law, you have paid your debt and are again abiding by the law. Even though you have broken the law, by paying the fine the law requires you have followed the law.

Apart from possibly speeding or other minor driving infractions, I doubt most of you reading this have broken any other of the thousands of laws and regulations we are under subjection since you got up this morning. And if you can not break them for one day, you don't have to break them on others. Since we can keep these laws, why would it be impossible for Israel to keep Moses' laws? It wasn't. The Ten Commandments are no more impossible to keep than ten random driving laws.

Did any Israelite [or person today] have to make a "graven image, " take the Lord's name in vain, steal, bear false witness, commit adultery, etc.? No. Even though they are sinners by nature and born in sin does that mean they were incapable of obeying these moral laws? No, again. The Law of Moses was the means God used in the Old Testament to separate the saved people from the lost. Those who obeyed were promised mercy, forgiveness and life [Ex. 20:6, Ex. 34:7; Lev. 18:5; Psa. 103:3, Psa. 130:4; Eze. 20:11; Dan. 9:9]; those who disobeyed; death, destruction and Hell [Ex. 32:32-33; Lev. 5:17; Deut. 29:20, Deut. 32:22].

One difference between the secular law and the law of Moses is if you drive over the speed limit and don't get caught, you are not likely to voluntarily pay the fine. You will just go on glad you didn't get caught. But if an Old Testament saint committed a sin in secret [Deut. 27:15] without getting caught, he still must offer the sacrifice to atone for it or likely loose his salvation! The Lord knows of his secret sin and has [in most cases] provided a means to atone for it. If the offender refuses, he will suffer eternal consequences [Eccl. 12:14].

Also, just an outward obedience to the law with the wrong heart or attitude was not accepted. One had to have a heart that longed for the Lord.
  • And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. [Deut. 6:5]

  • And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, [Deut. 10:12]

  • This day the LORD thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. [Deut. 26:16]
Scripture is clear, the Law of Moses COULD BE kept by fallen man and WAS kept by many at times. When an Israelite violated a law or statute, except for certain grave sins, the law provided instructions for the guilty to receive atonement through sacrifice and be forgiven and restored. By following the laws procedure the person was keeping the law and securing his personal salvation.

Unpardonable Sins?

There were certain sins one could commit in the Old Testament that could not be forgiven. There was no sacrifice given to atone for them and no recourse for the offender except to die and enter Hell. Some of these abominations were homosexuality [Lev. 18:22, Lev. 20:13], murder [Num. 35:30], adultery [Lev. 20:10], cursing or smiting one's parents [Ex. 21:15], kidnapping [Ex. 21:16], bestiality [Ex. 22:19], breaking the sabbath [Ex. 31:14], blasphemy [Lev. 24:16], etc. That is, essentially all crimes punishable by death were unforgivable.

There is one notable exception to this in the Bible, however. It is God's dealings with David. David was guilty of two unforgivable sins, adultery [2Sam. 11:4] and murder [2Sam. 11:15]. In spite of what the ACLU and Human Rights activists may think, the Lord did not sentence David to death [2Sam. 12:13] as he did others. He forgave him and let him live, but David had to pay for his sins fourfold in the flesh. David was blessed with what the Scriptures call "sure mercies" [Isa. 55:3, Acts 13:34] which is a picture of the salvation we enjoy today.

In this present dispensation there is no "unpardonable sin" other than rejecting the salvation in Jesus Christ. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit found in Matt. 12:31 is saying Jesus Christ cast out devils by the prince of devils; that is, Christ was possessed by Satan. Even this is not unpardonable now, however it will be in the future Millennium when Christ reigns from Jerusalem. [No the unpardonable sin is not saying Benny Hinn, Earnest Angley, or any other fake "healer" is a money-grubbing phony and liar regardless what the Charismatics may claim.]

New Testament Contradictions?

There are a few verses in the New Testament that at first glance seem to some to contradict the plain statements of the Old Testament concerning keeping the law, but a closer examination will reveal they actually support the Old Testament claim. One verse often quoted by the Bible neophytes is Rom. 3:20,
  • Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
This verse separated from its context omits one very pertainant fact, who it is addressed to. Who is Paul speaking to, Old Testament believers or New Testament saints? What is the title of the book? Romans. Romans are not Jews before the crucifixion. Paul is speaking to Gentile believers on Christ who were not and could not be justified by keeping the law. This was for two reasons; they were not Israelites and this was after the cross.

The law is the knowledge of sin to both Jew and Gentile. It reveals the sins in the lives of both. For Jews in the Old Testament the law made provisions by animal sacrifice for the sins to be covered and forgiven, but in the New Testament these provisions were superseded and completed by the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This redemption is now received by faith in Christ instead of animal sacrifice. Rom. 3:20 is of course correct, one cannot be justified by the deeds of the law today. But that does not mean persons in the Old Testament economy were not justified by the law,
  • And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. [Luke 1:6]
Later in Romans Paul speaks about the righteousness which the law could provide,
  • For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. [Rom. 10:5
Paul said even he was blameless concerning keeping the law,
  • Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless...And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: [Phil. 3:6-9]
Another verse often used to claim the law could not be kept is Gal. 3:10,
  • For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
What is the curse? It is not keeping the law. Look at the verse carefully. The curse is on people who do not continue to keep the law. That is, the law carries a built in curse for all those who don't keep it. It justifies those who keep it and curses those who don't. Paul is not saying anything new concerning the law carrying a curse because he is quoting Deut. 27:26. However, Paul is saying in the entire book of Galations that the law is no longer the means of removing the curse of breaking the law. It is now Jesus Christ [Gal. 3:13]. The differences here are in the dispensations. In the Old Testament the law provided a means of forgiveness, but since the cross it has become ineffectual; now only Christ can remove the law's curse.

Another verse often quoted is James 2:10,
  • For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
This verse is often used to support a statement like, "No one can keep the law because if he breaks the slightest point then he is guilty of breaking it all." The error is, as we saw above, the person can keep the law if he follows the law in dealing with the sin. The provisions in the law to deal with sin if followed would provide the obedient with a relative righteousness God would accept and a suitable forgiveness to cover his sin, but it could not clear the guilty,
  • Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; [Ex. 34:7]

  • The LORD is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, [Num. 14:18]
Only the redeeming work of Christ on the cross can purchase the eternal redemption of any saved person in any age. The Old Testament saints were in a sense saved on credit. When they offered a sacrifice for their sin according to the law, they were treated as righteous, forgiven, and saved, but technically their sin remained. It could not be dealt with until the sinless Christ died in their place.

Works in Salvation?

By far the most controversial issue dealing with Old Testament and Tribulation salvation is that works are required for an individual's salvation. Actually this is also true in the present "Church Age" or "Age of Grace" but the difference is the works are not ours, they are Jesus Christ's. Our Lord had to perform the greatest works this universe will ever see to redeem us, and we partake of His works by faith. Under the Dispensation of the Law, however, each individual had to perform the good works of keeping the law to secure his salvation. If he failed in an area and sinned, he had to work by offering the proper sacrifice to atone for his iniquity. This sound doctrine is heresy to the ears of the modern, brainwashed Christian who has only been exposed to the "milk of the word" and doesn't know the difference between a dispensation and a transmission.

We have dealt with these matters in our book "The Difference Is In The Dispensations, " but here we will examine one issue in more detail. The book of Romans is known as the "Constitution of the Christian Faith" because it clearly explains that justification today is only by faith apart from works of the law [Rom. 3:20-21, Rom. 4:5, Rom. 4:13, etc.]. As a contrast, though, Romans also proves that before the present dispensation salvation involved works and not faith only. Look at Romans 11:6 closely,
  • And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
In Romans 11 Paul is speaking about his people, Israel. In verse 4 he mentions 7000 men under the law who refused to worship Baal along with the rest of Israel [1Kings 19:10]. In verse 5 he states there is a "remnant according to the election of grace." That is, there is a group of Jews who have accepted Christ and received His grace of salvation. Verse 6 then makes some contrasts between works and grace. Lets break verse 6 down and see what we can find.

And if by grace [refers to the remnant saved at this "present time" in verse 5],
then is it no more of works: [They are no longer saved by works like the 7000 were who didn't bow to Baal in verse 4. They did not follow the rest of Israel and worship Baal, an evil work which would have doomed them to destruction]
otherwise grace is no more grace. [If you mix works with grace then salvation is not only by grace]
But if it be of works, [If salvation in this "present time" is of works, ]
then is it no more grace: [
then it can't be of only grace]
otherwise work is no more work. [If you mix grace with works then salvation is not only by works].

Paul is saying basically three things in this passage,
  1. Salvation at this "present time" is solely by grace apart from works.
  2. In the past salvation used to be of works but is now "no more of works."
  3. and in this "present time" grace and works are mutually exclusive of each other.
This does not mean there was no grace or faith in the Old Testament. It means there are no longer works required of an individual for salvation in this "present time." The emphasis of the passage is on Church Age salvation by grace not Old Testament salvation by works. There was an element of faith in Old Testament salvation, and grace is involved in all salvation, but Paul's point is there is no works involved in today's salvation. Paul even called this age "faith" [Gal. 3:23], but that doesn't mean faith was non existent before. It was just not the sole means of salvation. For more information check here.

For an interesting observation, look how the new "Bibles" translate verse 6,
  • But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. [NASV]
  • And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. [NIV]
  • And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. [NKJV]
  • But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. [RSV]
Only the NKJV translates the whole verse, but look how they all claim salvation "is no longer on the basis of works." This is plain and agrees with the King James Bible, but the translators of these corruptions don't even believe their own translations when they are correct.

Bragging in Heaven?

One final concern some of you may have is would the Old Testament saints have "bragging rights" in heaven since their works were involved in their salvation. Hardly. Consider this scenario,

Suppose you had fallen into a great pit with shear, smooth cliffs all around for walls making it impossible to climb out. You look around and see rotting corpses and skeletons of people who fell into the pit earlier and died from starvation and fear you will suffer the same fate. After a few hours you feel you are without hope until you hear a voice from above calling your name. You eagerly reply and the person throws a basket on a rope down so he can pull you out. After you climb in the person with great effort hoists you up from your certain doom.

Who gets the credit for the "salvation of your soul"? The man who was seeking you, provided the means of your salvation, and worked a great work to pull you out from the tentacles of death, or you for merely climbing into the basket? Rest assured, there will be no bragging in heaven.