I have seen some Protestants arguing that Christ's teachings in the Gospels don't apply to us; that they were applicable only to the Jews, the immediate audience, since the new covenant did not begin at that time; and that only the new covenant teachings apply to us. The same is said about the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Here is one example of this doctrine, in an excerpt from an article by Paul Ellis, a popular Protestant preacher:

.... Sadly, it didn’t happen. Since the law-teachers had been negligent, Jesus had to do their job before He could do His own. Before He could save the world from sin, He had to preach the law that made sin utterly sinful. Before He give Himself as the answer, He had to make sure we were asking the right question. Who will deliver us?

So Jesus became the greatest law preacher of all time. As the prophet Isaiah had foretold, He made the law magnificent. He lifted up what others had knocked down and raised the standard to glorious levels of perfection. Never again would mankind be without excuse. You want to know what God expects? Just read the Sermon on the Mount. In it Jesus says that God demands perfection and nothing less.

How did Jesus preach the law?

Preaching the red letters of Jesus is a bit like drinking whatever you find in the laundry. If you’re not paying attention – if you fail to distinguish His life-giving words of grace from His death-dealing words of law – then you could really do some damage. Don’t believe me? Then consider these red letters:

If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Mat 6:14-15)

This is one of the most-quoted passages in the Bible and it is vintage law. It is a killer scripture. It is not good news. This verse should make us shudder for it says that our forgiveness hinges on our ability to forgive others and we are poor forgivers indeed. Men sin against us repeatedly. Have we honestly forgiven them all? What if we miss one? And what do we say to those who have been raped and abused? What do you say to a young child who has been molested? “Sweetie, you need to forgive that evil man otherwise God won’t forgive you.” That’s not grace. That’s the condemning ministry of the law in full bloom. How do you forgive the unforgiveable? You can’t! Then you’re in trouble. The law condemns you as an unforgiver. Now you’re beginning to recognize your need for grace and this is a good thing.

Any time you read a conditional statement from Jesus, you should interpret it as law. “Do not judge and you will not be judged” (Lk 6:37). That’s good advice but it’s also law. To avoid something (judgment) you have to do something (don’t judge). It’s a blessing you have to pay for. And anytime Jesus makes a threat, you should interpret that as law as well. “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Mt 5:22). That’s bad news for anyone with a brother!

This quote is only to give an example and evidence of this doctrine. It may not be representative of the views of all others who hold a similar doctrine.

My question:

What exactly is this view, in what sense don't these teachings apply to us today, and what are the reasons or basis given to justify this view?

  • 1
    "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer touches on this question. Mar 11, 2019 at 16:46

3 Answers 3


The category of beliefs you are hearing about fall mainly under the heading of Dispensationalism. I'm not going to give you a detailed description, but now you have the name you can read up in it for yourself.

My experience is that practitioners of this often have very little direct Biblical basis for preaching it (ironically since it is largely preached by conservative evangelicals who claim to teach only what the Bible says) - rather it falls out because preachers decide that some teachings in the New Testament cannot be practiced literally, so decide they must be inapplicable.

I'm aware this is not strictly an answer to the question, but I will leave it unless someone actually comes up with a good Biblical basis for the belief.

  • Additionally, Dispensationalism teaches a strict and complete separation between Israel and the Church with two separate and distinct Divine plans for their salvation. At the extreme end of this theology is the notion that the New Covenant is not for the Church but for Israel. Mar 21, 2020 at 17:54

The rationale is that since Jesus preached while the Torah was in effect, His teachings were part of the Torah and were fulfilled by His sacrifice on the cross and are not binding on us.

The motivation is to get around something that is condemned by Jesus in His teachings but which is not condemned anywhere else.

  • Do you know how this rationale deals with Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus, after His sacrifice on the cross, nevertheless tells the apostles "Teach ye all nations ... to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you"? Mar 21, 2020 at 16:39
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    They probably ignore the verse. I'm sure that they have a rationalization for this, too.
    – EvilSnack
    Mar 21, 2020 at 19:46

One biblical basis for the belief that some of Jesus teachings were intended for the audiences of his day but not necessarily our own time are found in some of the stories about Jesus casting out demons. It is not my position that in none of the narratives of Jesus casting out demons did he actually do so, but in a significant number of these stories the symptoms of demon possession sound remarkably like what today are known to be mental illnesses.

For example, the narrative in Luke 9:37-43, and its parallel passages, where a man intercedes with Our Lord to heal his son, who Luke reports has been possessed by a spirit. Now, I am not a physician, and do not play one on Stackexhchange, but people I know who are have told me that the narrative in Luke looks very much like someone with mental illness (the translators who produced the RSV in Matthew describes the boy as an "epileptic"—cf. Matt. 17:15 ) rather than demon possession, but the audiences that Jesus was addressing would not known what mental illness was, since the concept of mental illness did not become part of the canon of medicine until at least the eighteenth century.

So I consider that in many of these cases Jesus was not so much casting out demons as he was healing people with mental illness, and that casting out demons was an explanation that would have made much more sense to the people Jesus was talking to in his sermons, than if Jesus had corrected the crowd that said that the man was possessed of a demon by stating that the man was suffering from bipolar disorder.

The fundamental truth here is, in my opinion anyway, that Jesus healed the person, and whether it was from demonic possession or from bipolar disorder, is an inconsequential detail.

  • I edited this to break up the wall of text into more visually digestible sections. (Is this basis that you present supported by any particular denomination?) Nov 7, 2016 at 18:07
  • @Kevin, "support" is probably not the right word to use. While there are denominations, like the ELCA in the US, which generally accept this line of thinking, I don't know of any denomination which forces all believers to accept this particular line of thought. In many cases. the highly educated theologians accept and teach these principles, and their students, many of whom become clergy, also accept these princi8ples, they are not as widely held among those members of the laity who have not had the same level of religious educaton.
    – brasshat
    Nov 7, 2016 at 22:11
  • OK, so not "dogma" as a Catholic would understand it. Thanks. Nov 7, 2016 at 22:29

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