The article below has been revised and revisited as the original quote said to have been from Constantine was actually a Profession of Faith from the Church of Constantinople (See B: PROFESSION OF FAITH, FROM THE CHURCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE.)
There is a misconception in the Christian church today that tells God’s people, if one keeps the commandments found in the “Old Testament” then that person is legalistic. I believe one of the greatest deceptions Satan ever came up with was to tell God’s people that they don’t have to keep His commandments to be in covenant with Him, that they can have all the rewards of the covenant–the blessings and inheritance–without any responsibility to keep the terms of the covenant, i.e. His commandments.
Many think that Constantine is responsible for the church as it is today since he made Christianity the religion of the Roman empire. In fact, I did, until I heard a message about anti-semitism and the church, and did a little more digging. Come to find out, this disdain for God’s Law and His people goes all the way back to the second century, and maybe farther.
What did Constantine say?
“It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast [Passover] we should follow the practice of the Jews… Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd“
Constantine’s Nicene Letter 325 C.E – “Life of Constantine,” Eusebius, v.3, c.18-19
Much of the modern Christian doctrine can be attributed to not one man, but many men–Marcion, Justin Martyr, Ignatius, Augustine–to name a few. These men were the early “church fathers” of Christianity. Not only did they teach others to NOT keep the commandments, but it usually went hand in hand with anti-semitic rhetoric. By the time Constantine came around to the religion of Christianity, the ideas and doctrines of men were widely accepted.
What did the early church fathers say?
Marcion of Sinope (ca. A.D. 85-160) believed that the God of the “Old Testament” was different from the God of the “New Testament”. He felt that the “Old Testament” was inferior to the “New Testament” and that because it was inferior, it had no place in the life of the Christian. He called the god of the “Old Testament” the Demiurge, a god of battles and bloody sacrifices. The god of the “New Testament”, however, was a god of love and compassion. Marcion held to the belief that the Heavenly Father (the father of Yeshua) was an alien god; he had no part in making the world, nor any connection with it. We can conclude that if he believed there were two different gods in the Bible and the “Old Testament” had no place in the Christian church, then he didn’t believe the Torah should be kept.
Justin Martyr (in a dialogue with a Jew in Ephesus named Trypho said,
“We too, would observe your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in a word all your festivals, if we were not aware of the reason why they were imposed upon you, namely, because of your sins and your hardness of heart…”
Dialogue 18, 2
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, and supposed student of John the Apostle, is attributed with first arguing for changing the Sabbath rest to Sunday or as He calls it the Lord’s Day.
Be not seduced by strange doctrines nor by antiquated fables, which are profitless. For if even unto this day we live after the manner of Judaism, we avow that we have not received grace…. If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny … how shall we be able to live apart from Him? … It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practise Judaism. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity — Ignatius to the Magnesians 8:1, 9:1-2, 10:3, Joseph Barber Lightfoot translation.
Augustine of Hippo, another “early church father” has this to say concerning the law of the Lord:
They who receive the wild doctrines of Valentinus and Marcion, and of all whose minds are similarly diseased, exclude the Law given by God to Moses from the catalogue of the Divine Scriptures. But Jews so revere the Law, that although the time has come which annuls it, they still contend for the observance of all its contents, contrary to the purpose of God. But the Church of God, avoiding either extreme, has trodden a middle path, and is neither induced on the one hand to place herself under its yoke, nor on the other does she tolerate its being slandered, but commends it, though its day is over, because of its profitableness while its season lasted.
Treatise on the Priesthood, Book 1, 4
I ask you, how and where does it say in Scripture that the observance of the Torah is contrary to the purpose of God? What is His purpose if not to love Him and keep His commandments? It does not, though some would argue Paul’s letters say this.
Jerome who lived at the same time as Augustine recognized that there were, in his own time, believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who also embraced the testimony of Yeshua:
“In our own day there exists a sect among the Jews throughout all the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minei, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in Christ the Son of God, ‘born of, the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe. But while they desire to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither the one nor the other….
If, however, there is for us no alternative but to receive the Jews into the Church, along with the usages prescribed by their law; if, in short, it shall be declared lawful for them to continue in the Churches of Christ what they have been accustomed to practise in the synagogues of Satan, I will tell you my opinion of the matter: they will not become Christians, but they will make us Jews.”
Jerome, in a letter to Augustine (AD 404)
Letters of St. Augustine, Second Division, Letter 75, Chapter 4
published in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 1, p.654
Additionally, in approximately 364 AD, the Council of Laodicea wrote, in one of their canons:
Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day. Rather, honoring the Lord’s Day. But if any shall be found to be Judaizers, let them be anathema (against) from Christ”.
Constantine, in effect, only popularized this new religion, adding to and taking away from the original faith of the Bible, the faith that Yeshua, Paul, and the apostles knew to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life to all who accept it. He made the law of God of none affect and upheld pagan traditions of men in higher esteem than the Holy Scriptures themselves.
So what does the Bible really say?
The argument of many in the church is that to keep the Sabbath, the feast days, and a kosher diet of the “Old Testament” is legalistic. In a way, this can be true. If we keep the commandments of God for any other reason than out of a great love for our Creator, then it is legalistic, but the Torah of God in itself is not legalistic. To the contrary, it creates law abiding citizens sanctified for the Kingdom of Heaven. The Torah shows us how to love God and how to love others.
Yeshua did not come to do away with the Torah; he came to fill up its meaning, to bring understanding, to expose the legalism of the Pharisees and scribes who held the “oral Torah” above the commandments of God that are found in the Torah (first five books of the Bible)1, and to defeat the power of sin that made it harder for us to keep His commandments.2 He says His yoke is easy and His burden is light.3
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Yeshua answered and said,
“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.’4 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’5 There is no other commandment greater than these.”
God is not a kill-joy, but a loving God, and Yeshua, as God’s ambassador to earth, came to explain the true nature of God and His commandments. God wants us to obey Him out of a heart that loves Him. And when we know how to love God, we know how to properly love others. God’s commandments are not burdensome, nor are they impossible to keep. All the Father asks is that we not add to or take away from His Words so that we can keep them.
”For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”
You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you…Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Deut. 4:2, 6-8
In closing, I will leave you with this:
Legalism suffocates the Spirit, and amputes God’s plans for us. Legalism doesn’t need God. A legalist says, “I can obey God in a different way than He asked me to; I can do it better.” Legalism adds to and takes away from God’s commandments found in His Torah, turning one man’s opinions into another man’s burden.
1 – Matthew 15:1-9
2 – Romans 8:1-4
3 – Matthew 11:28-30
4 – Deuteronomy 6:4,5
5 – Leviticus 19:18