Early Church View of Law given Moses
Proof of Paul's relative unimportance and lack of influence in the leading centers of the church is the early church's view of the Law given Moses, including whether to observe the Sabbath. (Paul in Galatians ch. 4 railed at the "foolish" Galatians for observing Jewish sabbaths, new moons, etc.) There was no Roman Catholic church until the 300s, so these early 'fathers' are simply the voices of orthodoxy in the earliest church.
Clement of Rome (70 AD). In his Letters to the Corinthians -- part of the early New Testament canon -- Clement's First Epistle affirms in 1:5 that the Christian community initially "walked according to the Laws of God," but recently "walked [not] according to the rule of God's commandments" (2:4). The same work references the sacrifices still ongoing at Jerusalem, and exhorts to continue the offerings and sacrifices required by the Law. (17: 14-22.) This places it as written no later than 70 AD when the Temple at Jerusalem was destroyed. See our article Clement's Letters to the Corinthians.
Justin Martyr (100-165 AD). Justin referenced Matthew 5:20 when Jesus says we must live a more righteous life than the Pharisees to "enter heaven." This followed Jesus teaching the Law would not pass away until heaven and earth would pass away, and that those who teach against the Law's continuity are "least," but those who teach its continuity are the "greatest." (Matt 5:17-19). Justin then comments what 5:20 means in that context. In the Dialogue of Justin, it says this meant Jesus intended our behavior must “surpass the Pharisees’ way of living,” and if we did not, we “might not be sure [we] could be saved.” In context, Jesus portrayed the Pharisees as lawless -- teaching tithing, but nothing else from the Law. (Matt 23:23). Hence, Justin was saying that Jesus in 5:20 said one had to live a better life than the generally lawless Pharisees.
Irenaeus (130-202 A.D.) of Lyon, France gave the early judgment on the Law's continuity among Christians at total odds with Paul: "The decalogue [Ten Commandments] however was not cancelled by Christ, but is always in force: men were never released from its commandments." ("Against Heresies," Ante-Nicene Fathers, Bk. IV, Ch. XVI, at 480 / also at this Catholic link) This was actually a heading. In the text, Irenaeus explains: "Preparing man for this life, the Lord Himself did speak in His own person to all alike the words of the Decalogue; and therefore, in like manner, do they remain permanently with us, receiving by means of His advent in the flesh, extension and increase, but not abrogation." (Book 4 Ch .16.4.)
Irenaeus similarly said in the same context: “The commands of the old covenant, as epitomized in the Decalogue, since they were functional before Moses (AH 4.15.1; 4.16.3), remain authoritative in the new covenant (AH 4.16.1). Christ does not contradict the Ten Words. He fulfills and expands them (AH 4.13.1).” See Ligon Duncan, “Irenaeus of Lyons - A True Radical Orthodox Theologian,” Reformation 21 (2006) at http://www.reformation21.com. In Irenaeus’ attack on the heretic Marcion, he cited Matthew 5:20 to prove Jesus had every intention the Law must continue. This passage proved that Marcion committed a heresy by teaching that the gospel was “in opposition to and overturning of the [Law] of the past.” (Irenaeus Against Heresies Bk. IV.) In other words, we must exceed the obedience to the Law which the Pharisees failed to follow -- as Jesus depicted them as largely lawless except for tithing. See the e-catena for Matthew 5:20 at www.earlychristianwritings.com.
Didascalia Apostolorum (early 200s). This work that reflected orthodoxy of that period says one of the four identifying marks of heretics is they taught against employing Torah and Prophets. One scholar, Oskar Skarsaune, in “Heresy and the Pastoral Epistles,” Themelios 20.1 (October 1994): 9-14 at 10 notes that
a passage in the Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum [from the 200s], defining heresy [states]:
"[The heretics] all had one law, that they
* should not employ the Torah and the Prophets,
* and that they should blaspheme God Almighty,
* and should not believe in the resurrection." (Citing 5 Didasc. 23 (VI:10), quoted according to R. Hugh Connolly, Didascalia Apostolorum (Oxford, 1929 (=1969)) at 202.)
Clement of Alexandria ca. 200s in Exortation to the Heathen taught as a principle they should listen to the Hebrew Prophets (of which he cited Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and Moses) as a means to know the road to salvation -- echoing Christ's words to the rich young ruler:
It is now time, as we have despatched in order the other points, to go to the prophetic Scriptures; for the oracles present us with the appliances necessary for the attainment of piety, and so establish the truth. The divine Scriptures and institutions of wisdom form the short road to salvation. Devoid of embellishment, of outward beauty of diction, of wordiness and seductiveness, they raise up humanity strangled by wickedness, teaching men to despise the casualties of life; and with one and the same voice remedying many evils, they at once dissuade us from pernicious deceit, and clearly exhort us to the attainment of the salvation set before us. (Clement of Alexandria, "The True Doctrine is to be Sought in the Prophets," ch. 8 at this link.)
Clement then goes into an extensive series of quotes from the Prophets, which includes Moses, and cites Paul as in support - as if Paul never said anything about the Law's abrogation, to prove the moral necessity to do away with idols:
Jeremiah the prophet, gifted with consummate wisdom,932 or rather the Holy Spirit in Jeremiah, exhibits God. “Am I a God at hand,” he says, “and not a God afar off? Shall a man do ought in secret, and I not see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth? Saith the Lord.”933
And again by Isaiah, “Who shall measure heaven with a span, and the whole earth with his hand?”934Behold God’s greatness, and be filled with amazement. Let us worship Him of whom the prophet says, “Before Thy face the hills shall melt, as wax melteth before the fire!”935 This, says he, is the God “whose throne is heaven, and His footstool the earth; and if He open heaven, quaking will seize thee.”936 Will you hear, too, what this prophet says of idols? “And they shall be made a spectacle of in the face of the sun, and their carcases shall be meat for the fowls of heaven and the wild beasts of the earth; and they shall putrefy before the sun and the moon, which they have loved and served; and their city shall be burned down.”937 He says, too, that the elements and the world shall be destroyed. “The earth,” he says, “shall grow old, and the heaven shall pass away; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” What, then, when again God wishes to show Himself by Moses: “Behold ye, behold ye, that I Am, and there is no other God beside Me. I will kill, and I will make to live; I will strike, and I will heal; and there is none who shall deliver out of My hands.”938 But do you wish to hear another seer? You have the whole prophetic choir, the associates of Moses. What the Holy Spirit says by Hosea, I will not shrink from quoting: “Lo, I am He that appointeth the thunder, and createth spirit; and His hands have established the host of heaven.”939 And once more by Isaiah. And this utterance I will repeat: “I am,” he says, “I am the Lord; I who speak righteousness, announce truth. Gather yourselves together, and come. Take counsel together, ye that are saved from the nations. They have not known, they who set up the block of wood, their carved work, and pray to gods who will not save them.”940 Then proceeding: “I am God, and there is not beside Me a just God, and a Saviour: there is none except Me. Turn to Me, and ye will be saved, ye that are from the end of the earth. I am God, and there is no other; by Myself I swear.”941 But against the worshippers of idols he is exasperated, saying, “To whom will ye liken the Lord, or to what likeness will ye compare Him? Has not the artificer made the image, or the goldsmith melted the gold and plated it with gold?”942—and so on. Be not therefore idolaters, but even now beware of the threatenings; “for the graven images and the works of men’s hands shall wail, or rather they that trust in them,”943 for matter is devoid of sensation. Once more he says, “The Lord will shake the cities that are inhabited, and grasp the world in His hand like a nest.”944 Why repeat to you the mysteries of wisdom, and sayings from the writings of the son of the Hebrews, the master of wisdom? “TheLord created me the beginning of His ways, in order to His works.”945 And, “The Lord giveth wisdom, and from His face proceed knowledge and understanding.”946 “How long wilt thou lie in bed, O sluggard; and when wilt thou be aroused from sleep?”947 “but if thou show thyself no 195sluggard, as a fountain thy harvest shall come,”948 the “Word of the Father, the benign light, the Lord that bringeth light, faith to all, and salvation.”949 For “the Lord who created the earth by His power,” as Jeremiah says, “has raised up the world by His wisdom;”950 for wisdom, which is His word, raises us up to the truth, who have fallen prostrate before idols, and is itself the first resurrection from our fall. Whence Moses, the man of God, dissuading from all idolatry, beautifully exclaims, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord; and thou shall worship the Lordthy God, and Him only shall thou serve.”951 “Now therefore be wise, O men,” according to that blessed psalmist David; “lay hold on instruction, lest the Lord be angry, and ye perish from the way of righteousness, when His wrath has quickly kindled. Blessed are all they who put their trust in Him.”952 But already the Lord, in His surpassing pity, has inspired the song of salvation, sounding like a battle march, “Sons of men, how long will ye be slow of heart? Why do you love vanity, and seek after a lie?”953 What, then, is the vanity, and what the lie? The holy apostle of the Lord, reprehending the Greeks, will show thee: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and changed the glory of God into the likeness of corruptible man, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.”954 [Romans 1:21,23,25] And verily this is the God who “in the beginning made the heaven and the earth.”955 But you do not know God, and worship the heaven, and how shall you escape the guilt of impiety? Hear again the prophet speaking: “The sun, shall suffer eclipse, and the heaven be darkened; but the Almighty shall shine for ever: while the powers of the heavens shall be shaken, and the heavens stretched out and drawn together shall be rolled as a parchment-skin (for these are the prophetic expressions), and the earth shall flee away from before the face of the Lord.”956
(See this link for original text.)
Tertullian in 207 A.D. was the voice of orthodoxy when he wrote Against Marcion.
Marcion advocated in 144 A.D. a Paulinist movement, claiming Paul alone was the apostle to the Gentiles, and the Jesus portrayed by the 12, including Matthew and John, was for a different dispensation. Marcion insisted the Law given Moses did not apply in the NT. Marcion relied upon a truncated version of what looks like Luke's gospel.
Tertullian blasted Marcion's claim the Law was abrogated in Tertullian's 207 A.D. classic entitled Against Marcion. Here are references to this discussion from Tertullian, The Five Books of Quintus Sept. Flor. Tertullianus Against Marcion (trans. Peter Holmes) (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1868).
First, Tertullian rebuts Marcion's claim that Christ did away with the Law by discussing Jesus' instruction to the leper to follow the Law's requirement for giving thanks for a healing. Tertullian writes:
The law about lepers had a profound meaning as respects* the forms of the disease itself, and of the inspection by the high priest. The interpretation of this sense it will be our task to ascertain. Marcion's labour, however, is to object to us the strictness of the law, with the view of maintaining that here also Christ is its enemy—forestalling its enactments even in His cure of the ten lepers. ....Id., at 326.
Forasmuch, then, as He was Himself the veritable High Priest of God the Father, He inspected them according to the hidden purport of the law, which signified that Christ was the true distinguisher and extinguisher of the defilements of mankind. However, what was obviously required by the law He commanded should be done : " Go," said He, " show yourselves to the priests." ' Yet why this, if He meant to cleanse them first 1 Was it as a despiser of the law, in order to prove to them that, having been cured already on the road, the law was now nothing to "them, nor even the priests ? Well, the matter must of course pass as it best may,6 if anybody supposes that Christ had such views as these !7 But there are certainly better interpretations to be found of the passage, and more deserving of belief: how that they were cleansed on this account, because they were obedient, and went as the law required, when they were commanded to go to the priests; and it is not to be believed that persons who observed the law could have found a cure from a god that was destroying the law. Id., at 327-28.
Second, Tertullian proves Jesus did not do away with the Law because He told the rich man that obeying the Law's precepts was the key to eternal life. Remember, here if Paul were a true authority in the church, Tertullian would have had to address Paul's opposing thesis upon which Marcion explicitly relied, but Tertullian ignores Paul and simply cites Jesus' words in rebuttal that the Law remains and Jesus simply supplemented but did not supplant them:
When afterwards " a certain man asked him, ' Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life ?'" [Jesus] inquired whether he knew (that is, in other words, whether he kept) the commandments of the Creator, in order to testify that it was by the Creator's precepts that eternal life is acquired. Then, when he affirmed that from his youth up he had kept all the principal commandments, [Jesus] said to him : " One thing thou yet lackest: sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."1 Well now, Marcion, and all ye who are companions in misery, and associates in hatred with that heretic, what will you dare say to this? Did Christ rescind the forementioned commandments: " Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother?" Or did He both keep them, and then add3 what was wanting to them ? This very precept, however, about giving to the poor, was very largely diffused through the pages of the law and the prophets. This vainglorious observer of the commandments was therefore convicted of holding money in much higher estimation [than charity]. This verity of the gospel then stands unimpaired : " I am not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but rather to fulfil them."6 He also dissipated other doubts, when He declared that the name of God and of the Good belonged to one and the same being, at whose disposal were also the everlasting life and the treasure in heaven and Himself too—whose commandments He both maintained and augmented with His own supplementary precepts. He may likewise be discovered in the following passage of Micah, saying : " He hath showed thee, O man, what is good ; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to be ready to follow the Lord thy God ?"7 Now Christ is the man who tells us what is good, even the knowledge of the law. " Thou knowest," says He, " the commandments." " To do justly"— "Sell all that thou hast;" "to love mercy"—"Give to the poor;" " and to be ready to walk with God"—" And come," says He, " follow me." Id., at 332-33.
Note here Tertullian also quoted from within the famous Matthew 5:17-19 -- that Jesus says He did not come to abrogate the Law but to fulfill it, and not one jot or tittle will be taken away until a new heavens and earth. For more on Tertullian's view of the Law, see True versus Spurious Tertullian.
Church Pre-205 AD Followed Law Given Moses
Tertullian was defending practices that were still ongoing in the 200 AD period -- observance of Sabbath, Passover, etc.
Historian W. D. Davies explained how Jewish Christianity still predominated by this juncture:
"Everywhere, especially in the East of the Roman Empire, there would be Jewish Christians whose outward way of life would not be markedly different from that of the Jews. They took for granted that the gospel was continuous with [the religion of Moses]; for them the New Covenant, which Jesus had set up at the Last Supper with His disciples… did not mean that the covenant made between God and Israel was no longer in force. They still observed the feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles; they also continued to be circumcised, to keep the weekly Sabbath and the Mosaic regulations concerning food. According to some scholars, they must have been so strong that right up to the fall of Jerusalem in ad70 they were the dominant element in the Christian movement" [W.D. Davies, "Paul and Jewish Christianity," Judeo-christianisme (1972) at 72, quoted in Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity (2000) at 151).
Origen's Homolies on Exodus Near 220 AD
Origen in about 220 AD reviews the Ten Commandments delivered by God to the Israelites who escaped Egypt. Origen clearly says Christians are bound to the Law because we escaped allegorically Egypt through Jesus. For example, in Homolies on Genesis and Exodus: Origen (ed. Heine)(2010), beginning with the First Commandment to 'have no other gods besides me,' Origen writes:
Therefore, to you also who went out of Egypt through Jesus Christ, and were "brought out of the house of bondage," it is said, "you shall have no other gods besides me." (Ed. Heine) at 320.
Origen does this with all the other of the ten commandments as he proceeds. Origen clearly believes they apply to Christians.
Origen equally does defend that disobedience can be cured by repentance, and thus the Law is not an invariable curse. (Origen contradicts Paul who depicted in Galatians 3:10-13 the uncurable negative curse we suffer if we thought the Law still applied.) Origen in the same homily later says:
But even if this unfortunately sometimes happens [i.e., fornication], he wishes, at least that the soul be converted [lit. turned around] and return and repent. For this is a new kind of goodness that even after adultery he nevertheless would receive the soul which returns and repents from the heart.... (Ed. Heine) at 327.
Origen defends that the Law given Moses still operates in the Gentile church by an analogy. He says the church takes up Moses just as Pharaoah's wife took Moses in the basket up from the river. Moses was filled with filth and pitch from being in the river. But when taken up, he was cleaned up and purified. So Origen explains that the church has the same Law but purified of the overlay that Jews put on the Law that made it difficult to discern:
But when Moses comes to the church, when he enters the house of the Church, he grows stronger and more robust. For when the veil of the letter is removed, "perfect and solid food" [Heb. 5:12-14] is found in the text....[L]et us take up the Law of God to ourselves when we come to the waters [of baptism] ... Let not its cheap and obscure cover of the letter be despised by us....Let us take up what is perfect and robust and let us set up these things within the royal dwellings of our hearts. Let us have Moses large and strong...And let us pray our Lord Jesus Christ ... reveal and show us in what manner Moses is great and elevated. (Ed. Heine) at 246.
Incidentally, Origen then uses Paul as his ally that the reproach from the Law is used by God that we might not be condemned with the world. For the reproach which the Law, and God's chastisement thereby brings, is that God might keep us from sinning and being condemned with the world, i.e., being lost forever. Origen writes:
I choose that while I am in the world that the Lord visit my sins and reform my transgressions....For this reason, when we are reproached, when we are chastised by the Lord, we ought not to be ungrateful. Let us understand in the present age so that we may attain rest in the future, as also the Apostle says, "When, however, we are chastised by the Lord, we are being reproached that we might not be condemned with the world." [1 Cor. 11:32.] [(Ed. Heine) at 332.
Hence, in context, Paul is enlisted in saying God's reproaching us and chastising us -- sometimes by means of His word - the Law - or by events, is so "we might not be condemned with the world." Origen is thus using Paul to say what the modern evangelical church by and large ignores Paul equally supports: a tenuous salvation that will be lost less we heed God's chastisements so we "might" not be lost with the world. Origen clearly thought sin against the Law, particularly the Ten Commandments, would lead to the loss of salvation. Origen used a passage in 1 Cor. 11:32 to prove that thesis. Origen goes on to quote from the Ten Commandments about its principle of mercy: "However, he also returns 'mercy on those thousands who love him.' " [Exodus 20:6.] Origen adroitly points to this principle in the Ten Commandments - that love brings mercy - because it is the proximate cause of not sinning: "For those who love do not need reproof for they do not sin, as the Lord says: 'He who loves me keeps my commandments. [John 14:21] And therefore perfect love casts out all fear. [1 John 4:18.] (Ed. Heine) at 332.
Post-220 AD Still Following The Law
By the time Chrysostom wrote in the late fourth century, he could berate Christians in Antioch who were still observing the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashana), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth) with the Jews. ("Pulpit of Preconceived Ideas," Vision (2011).)