What Does Lawlessness Mean in the New Testament?
Lawlessness Study, (Short Version)
This article is the short and “to the bare bones” version of the complete study, What Does Lawlessness Mean in the New Testament? If you want the bottom line, this one is for you. If you want it really proven from all of the New Testament references to this information, then follow the above link to the article covering the complete study. If you read this and still aren’t convinced, then please do us a favor and investigate ALL of the information in the other article before dismissing what is said here.
I was raised with the teaching that the Word of God is the foundation of my life and its principles are what I must live by. It is my desire to know what God wants of me and to live in accordance with His Word; a desire that has brought me to where I am today.
I do not want to follow the traditions of men just because that’s the way it’s always been done. I only want to obey the will of my heavenly Father, as did my Savior and Redeemer. If I find that something I’ve been taught doesn’t measure up to what I find written on the page of my Bible, then the foundation of my childhood requires me to let go of what men say and teach, and to follow what Yahweh (God’s name - יהוה) put right on the page in His divinely inspired, inerrant Word.
2 Timothy says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” I believe this. Therefore, we can see that Scripture is able to interpret itself and provide the truth and “instruction in righteousness” for us all, and keep us on the path God intended for us. That will be the criteria in this paper: Scripture will interpret Scripture. I have interjected a few footnotes from my Bible as well (and marked as so) since I found them thought provoking. [It might interest you to know that when the New Testament was being written, there was no formally compiled “Scripture” except the OLD Testament. Therefore, when New Testament writers refer to “Scripture(s)” or what was written as divinely inspired from Yahweh, they are referring to the OLD Testament! The individual letters and histories of the New Testament were not compiled into a formal collection until approximately 130 A.D., long after the New Testament books had been written.]
So for my own clarity and to be correct in my desire to walk in obedience to Yahweh, I wanted to study the subject of “lawlessness” for myself. There were several passages in Matthew, as we’ll see later, that have always troubled me, most especially those who said, “Lord, Lord, we did ___ in your name" and Y’shua replies, “Depart from me you wicked, you workers of lawlessness; I never knew you.” I do not want to find out – too late – that I’m a goat when, like the people in this passage, I think I’m a sheep. Therefore, it was important that I know what these passages meant. I wanted to truly convince myself whether or not the New Testament references to “lawlessness” truly meant something that applied to me, today. The only way I could prove or disprove this to myself was to study each entry myself.
For my study, I started with the New Testament definition of lawlessness, 1 John 3:4, because it defines “lawlessness” (what the KJV calls “iniquity”)
“Everyone doing sin also does lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.
From this I could see that sin IS lawlessness. So whatever it means, it is sin.
I continued reading through 1 John 3:6 which says:
“Everyone staying in Him does not sin. Everyone sinning has neither seen Him nor known Him.
So, whoever practices sin (lawlessness, since sin IS lawlessness) doesn’t know Him.
My Bible referred me from 1 John 3:6 to 1 John 2:3:
And by this we know that we know Him, if we guard His commands.
I wanted to know exactly what these highlighted words meant because I want to know that I know Him. So I looked them up.
know, 1097 gnosko – to know (absol) with great many applications, allow, be aware (of), feel, (have) know(ledge), perceive, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand
guard, (KJV=keep), 5083, tereo (tay-reh’-o), to guard (from loss or injury, prop. by keeping an eye upon; thus different from 5442, which prop. to prevent escaping; and from 2892 which implies a fortress or full military apparatus) i.e. to note (a prophecy; fig. to fulfill a command), by implication to detain (in custody, fig. to maintain), hold fast, keep, observe, preserve, watch. [I also found that EVERY time the KJV “keep” is used in 1 John, it is this word.]
commands, (KJV = commandments) 1785 entole (en-tol-ay’), injunction, i.e. prescription, commandment, precept. [Every time this word is used in 1 and 2 John, it is entole.]
So, this verse is saying that if we truly have knowledge of Him, we will watch, keep, observe, and preserve His commandments. Exactly what those commandments are is not clearly defined by Strong’s, so I had to dig further.
Understanding just what commandments John was talking about became imperative to me. If I am going to say that I know Him, I have to keep these commandments, according to 1 John 2:3. So, I decided to look up every New Testament reference to Strong’s number (1785) “commandment,” especially if Y’shua said this word, and see in what context He used it.
I found that EVERY time “commandment/commandments,” (Strong’s number 1785) is used, it is ALWAYS in context with the Torah, the first five books of the Bible authored by Moses. Both Y’shua and the disciples/apostles used this term and they ALWAYS upheld keeping the Torah! This is NOT what we’ve heard in church!
One of the verses I studied cross referenced to an amazing scripture, which I checked in three different versions.
John (John the Baptist is speaking)
He who believes in the Son possess everlasting life, but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
This was SO shocking to me that I checked it with the KJV, which says:
He that believeth¹ on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth² not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
Well, I just couldn’t believe that these two versions could be SO different! One of them had to be misleading. So I looked up the two “believeths” and found something very interesting. They are not the same word!!
Believeth¹ 4100, pisteuo (pist-yoo’o) to have faith (in, upon or with respect to a person or thing), i.e. credit, by implication to entrust (esp. one’s spiritual well-being to Christ); believe(r), commit (trust), put in trust with
Believeth² 544, apeitheo (ap-i-theh’o) to disbelieve (willfully and perversely) not believe, disobedient, obey not, unbelieving; [from 545 (apithes, ap-i-thace’) from 1 as a negative particle and 3982, unpersuadable, i.e. disobedient]
544 is a derivation of 545, meaning that the root of the word carries the meaning of the derivation. Therefore, both of these words (544 & 545) convey a strong meaning of disobedience, not simply unbelief as the KJV has it translated.
Actually, the Amplified version also has it correctly translated:
And he who believes in (has faith in, clings to, relies on) the Son has (now possesses) eternal life. But whoever disobeys (is unbelieving toward, refuses to trust in, disregards, is not subject to) the Son will never see (experience) life, but [instead] the wrath of God abides on him. [God’s displeasure remains on him; His indignation hangs on him continually.]
One verse actually made the hair stand out all over me and made me sit up straight in the chair when I was digging all this out. It is a pretty solemn warning to those who do not keep the Torah. Remember, the verse below is from the “NEW” Testament!
Blessed are those doing His commands (1785), so that the authority shall be theirs unto the tree of life, and to enter through the gates into the city.
I don’t want to be one of those not keeping the commands (the Torah) of God!! I want access to the tree of life and into the gates of God’s city!
After going through a minimum of sixty-three verses in the New Testament on “command/s” (1785) (in the longer study), all of which revolve around keeping the Torah, we are ready to look at the two verses that I most wanted to investigate on lawlessness. However, before going to them, let’s take a look at one interesting thought found in Matthew 23:23-39 and especially John 7:19. You can read these for yourself. Y’shua is rebuking the scribes and Pharisees. Notice what He says to them. I’ve always been told that these people kept the law (Torah), but according to Y’shua, they did not! He called the scribes and Pharisees “lawless”! They had broken the Torah by adding to it and subtracting from it. [Check this out in Matthew 5:17-19; 15:3-9; Mark 7:7-13; John 7:19; Acts 2:23-29 and Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7:53.]
Now, the passages I was most interested in:
Matthew 7:15, 21-23: (to the multitude)
15) But beware of the false prophets¹, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are savage wolves.
¹ Y’shua reveals unto us in v 23 that they are those who work lawlessness!
21) Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Master, Master,’ shall enter into the reign of the heavens, but he who is doing the desire of My Father in the heavens.
22) Many shall say to Me in that day, ‘Master, Master, have we not prophesied in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and done many mighty works in Your Name?
23) And then I shall declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me you who work lawlessness!
So, just what is this lawlessness? The Strong’s concordance clues us in:
Lawlessness = (iniquity, KJV) 458, anomia, from 459, illegality, violation of law, wickedness, transgression of law, unrighteous.
To what law is this referring? The root word tells us:
Root word: 459 anomos, lawless (i.e. negatively), not subject to the Jewish law, without law, lawless, transgressor, unlawful, wicked.
So, according to the root meaning, those who are asked to depart from Y’shua’s presence at judgment are lawless, they do not live in accordance with the Torah of Yahweh!! Even though they are doing mighty works in His Name!
Lawlessness is also found in 2 Thessalonians 2, but in verse 7. As I read through this passage I was intrigued with verse 15 and what I found there:
15) So, then, brothers, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by our letter.
¹ Some texts read sin instead of lawlessness. Note that the counterfeit one, and the counterfeit worship exposed in this chapter, centers around “lawlessness!” (Torahlessness) This prophetic passage clearly says that “lawlessness,” the tare which the devil sowed in the Messianic Belief would take over, and has taken over!
² Truth is contrasted with lawlessness, sin, falsehood, deceit, delusion, unrighteousness
I was intrigued by v. 15 because of the word “tradition.” If Paul instructed them to hold the traditions they’d been taught, then just what was that tradition?
tradition, 3862, paradosis (par-ad’-os-is), transmission, specifically the Jewish traditionary law; ordinance, tradition.
So, Paul is saying hold the Torah which you have been taught, consistently what has been said throughout the sixty-six books of the Bible. Neither did Y’shua live a Torahless life, nor (as we have seen) did He or any other New Testament writer tell us to do so.
who gave Himself for us, to redeem us from all lawlessness¹ (458) and to cleanse for Himself a people, His own possession, ardent for good works.
¹Lawlessness is a synonym for sin, according to 1 John 3:4. This is the main reason why Y’shua came to earth, to save sinners from sin: from being lawless; Torahless.
What??? You say. If we have to keep the Torah, then we’d have to be circumcised and Paul said we didn’t have to be circumcised!! Well guess what, you are half right and half wrong.
Paul did say men don’t have to be circumcised under the renewed covenant. Why not? He explains this in Romans 2:26-29 and in 1 Corinthians .
What was the mark of the covenant under Abraham?; circumcision, which spilled blood. What is the mark of the renewed (“new”) covenant through the death and spilt blood of Y’shua? Circumcision of the heart, making physical circumcision or uncircumcision no longer of primary importance, but not negating the keeping of Torah! (The mark of the renewed covenant is no longer in man’s flesh (circumcision). The mark(s) is now in Y’shua’s flesh!)
Doubt me? Read on.
1 Corinthians 7:19:
The circumcision is naught and the uncircumcision is naught, but the guarding of the commands (1785) of Elohim does matter!
THIS is what American Gentile Christians have missed! This circumcision of the heart was even prophesied repeatedly in the Old Testament. It is SO important to understand the Scriptures from the perspective of the ones who wrote it, and they wrote it as Jews. (except for Luke, though even he had to have some understanding of this since he was in constant fellowship with and surrounded by Jewish believers in the Messiah.)
26) Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
27) I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
Hebrews reiterates Ezekiel:
10) Because this is the covenant that I shall make with the house of
Why did God “put My Spirit within you”? The italicized part of the rest of the verse in Ezekiel 36, above, answers that question; to cause us to walk according to His statues and ordinances: according to the Torah. If this weren’t for “today” then it wouldn’t have been quoted in Hebrews, in the NEW Testament. This is the “better covenant;” one of the heart. It doesn’t say a different covenant! Both the original covenant and the one through Messiah’s death required a blood sacrifice. The “better” part is that we no longer have to slay animals to cover our sin, for Messiah did that once, for all. But, the sacrifice for sin was only one of many different kinds of sacrifices (sin, peace, guilt, grain, wave, etc.) Did you know that PAUL made a sacrifice after becoming a believer in Messiah? If all sacrifices were done away with, as we’ve been taught, then why did he do this?
This is talked about in Acts 21:17-26, please read it on your own. In this passage Paul made a sacrifice which included having the head shaved and which involved some expenses, probably for the sacrifices given. According to James’ instructions, he did this so all the Jews would be able to see that he was NOT forsaking the teachings of Moses; the Torah (“law”).
And Paul, having remained many days longer, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for
Why was his hair cut? Numbers 6 tells us. This is the only place in Scripture where a head is shaved to keep a vow unto the Lord. (Read Numbers 6:2-5, 18-19: [for all the details, read verses 2-21])
Paul was keeping a Nazirite vow along with four other believing Jews, all of whom went to the
The writing of the Torah on our hearts is what Paul was talking about in Romans 2:26-29, quoted above.
Paul clearly states that it takes acceptance of Messiah’s death as your atonement for you to be “declared right” before God, and that the Torah will not save anyone. But neither does Paul “trash” the Torah! On the contrary, he does quite the opposite!
20) Therefore by works of Torah no flesh shall be declared right before Him, for by the Torah is the knowledge of sin.
21) But now, apart from the Torah, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed by the Torah and the Prophets (my note: being Y’shua)
22) and the righteousness of God is through belief in Y’shua Messiah to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference,
23) for all have sinned and fall short of the esteem of God
24) being declared right, without paying, by His favor through the redemption which is in Messiah Y’shua
25) whom God set forth as an atonement, though belief in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His tolerance God has passed over the sins that had taken place before,
26) to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He is righteous and declares righteous the one who has belief in Y’shua.
27) Where, then, is the boasting? It is shut out. By what Torah? Of works? No, but by the Torah of belief.
28) For we reckon that a man is declared right by belief without works of Torah.
(Saved yes, but this is only talking about salvation; it isn’t talking about the obedience of our walking it out from there)
29) Or is He the God of the Jews only, and not also of the gentiles? Yes, of the gentiles also,
30) since it is one God who shall declare right the circumcised by belief and the uncircumcised through belief.
31) Do we then nullify the Torah through belief? Let it not be! On the contrary, we establish the Torah.
Paul is loudly and clearly stating that the Torah will not save anyone! ONLY accepting the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah will save. However, once you are saved, the Torah instructs us on how we are to live a life that is pleasing to God, a life like the one the Messiah lived before us as an example: a Torah observant and obedient life. (If He did it, we do it; if He didn’t, we don’t.)
From this study, you can see that the Torah IS for today, for if we don’t keep it, we lie if we say we know Him (1 John 2:3-4); without it we will not see eternal life with Him (John 3:36), nor will we even have access to the city of God and the tree of life (Rev 22:14), so just those few points tell us how very important the Torah is to God the Father, (הּוּהּיּ Elohim = Yahweh God) and to His Son (ﬠשּוּהּיּ) Y’shua Messiah. The picture gets even more serious when we include all the Scriptures we’ve covered.
We’ve also seen how we have misunderstood what Paul wrote. The Torah is not nullified by the New Testament; the mark of the covenant has now moved to the heart instead of the flesh, which was also prophesied in the Old Testament. Indeed, Y’shua came to show us how it was to be lived in full, instead of the perverted version the Pharisees and Sadducees had given the people with their additions and subtractions, thereby giving the people what Y’shua called “the traditions of men.”
Haven’t we, the New Testament believers done the same? Therefore, all the things we’ve “thrown out” because we aren’t “under the law” we have to now re-evaluate, because we now know they are not obsolete, but still “in force” today. For example, if the “law” is not for today, then we can murder, steal, lie and profane God’s name blamelessly, right? Most everyone would say, “NO!” Well, if ONLY the 10 Commandments are in force today then we can throw out any Torah commands outside of them, right? If this is true, then homosexuality, bestiality, necromancy (calling up the dead), witchcraft, etc., would now be acceptable to God. Is this true? NO! Therefore, the entire Torah is still in force today. Yahweh even tried to explain this to us in both parts of the Bible through His spokesmen, “I am the Lord, thy God. I change not” Malachi 3:6 and the writer to the Messianic Jews (the book of Hebrews) said, “Y’shua HaMashiach, the same yesterday, today and yes, forever.” (Paul’s letter to the Galatians covers that Torah will not SAVE anyone, but does not invalidate the truth of Torah for the way we walk out our salvation. This book is so misunderstood by those without a Hebraic mindset – those who forget or don’t seem to realize that “Jesus” was a Jew, as were His disciples).
Therefore, we have an important choice to make. Will we obey what Y’shua said and live as He lived, obeying the Scriptures to “walk as He did,” (1 John 2:6) or instead, will we hold fast to the traditions of men? Y’shua commented on this very question in Mark 7:
“…you hold fast the traditions of men…you set aside the commandments of God in order to guard your tradition. Thus you are nullifying and making void and of no effect the Word of God through your tradition, which you hand on.”
Will we justify our disobedience to what He has said in order to hold fast to what has been passed down to us? Will we “hand on” our “lawless” traditions to our families in disobedience to the commands of Yahweh and His Son, Y’shua? Do we love our traditions more than we love Him? Do we love them more than obeying Him? Please note that these are God’s COMMANDMENTS, not His suggestions.
If we continue on in these non-Scriptural ways then Y’shua, Himself, said:
Do not think that I have come to do abolish the Torah or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill them (to rightly interpret them). For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Torah until all is accomplished. Whoever then breaks or does away with or relaxes one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees (whom He called “Torahless”), you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
We MUST understand that the Messiah, Himself told us that the Torah will out-live heaven and earth: the Torah - the instructions and teachings of God - are ETERNAL! Therefore, how can we be “no longer under the ‘law’?” And, how can we say and believe that Paul and other New Testament writers wrote something contradictory to what “God in the flesh” said and it be accepted as “Divinely inspired Scripture?” If Y’shua lied, why are we putting our trust for eternity in Him if we cannot believe what He said while here on earth? If Paul and other New Testament writers contradicted the Messiah, how can we put any credence into what they have said as being from God?
We must remember that in God’s economy, to love Him is to obey Him. (John 14:15) Therefore, to know the truth, we must study the Word of God for what it actually says, not as our non-Hebraic traditions have taught us, not as we’ve been told that it says. My point is that instead of excusing ourselves from obedience to the principles of the Torah, excusing ourselves from studying and applying it to our lives because “that’s Old Testament,” we would be wise in light of what Y’shua said and what we have seen that the New Testament is really saying to know what is in the Torah and to decide to apply all that we can instead of as little as we can. Most believers do not know or understand that the New Testament writers were largely expounding upon the OLD Testament! They didn’t create a new belief system or religion; they were talking about living a “lawful” life in accordance to the way Y’shua - our example - lived.
If we will just let the Word of God interpret itself without trying to explain it away, if we will just search until we find the part that interprets what has us stumped, then we don’t come up with wrong doctrines and we can clearly know and then obey what God has said. Either we believe what He took the time to inspire men to write down for us, or we don’t. Don’t explain away the Word of God. Let it interpret itself so that we can be obedient in walking out our salvation and all find our way through the gates of the city and to the tree of life. This is even MORE interesting once you know that the tree of life is an Old Testament metaphor for the Torah!