Thursday, May 6, 2010

Old Testament Laws

My Article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Old Testament Law:

God’s Laws?

Q: The Bible has many long lists of laws that God gave in the Old Testament. Why don’t Christians still follow all of these rules today?

In the Old Testament, God gives hundreds of laws to the people of Israel after He frees them from slavery in Egypt and as they travel to the land He promised them. During Old Testament times, all of these laws were required to be followed by every Israelite. These Old Testament laws dealt with three areas of Israelite life: Worship, Government, and Morality.

Laws regarding worship, called the Ceremonial Law, include regulations for Israel’s worship of Yahweh. A great number of these laws regard the tabernacle and temple and the ceremonies and sacrifices carried out there. In addition, the Ceremonial Law specified other requirements for the people of Israel to maintain their ritual purity, by forbidding such things as the eating of certain foods such as pork and shellfish, wearing clothing of mixed fabric, trimming of the beard, or being tattooed.

Laws for government, called the Civil Law, include regulations that protect property and provide for the poor and homeless, as well as specifying certain punishments for crimes.

The primary example of the Old Testament’s laws regarding morality is the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20, Deut. 5). The Moral law also includes other laws which serve to clarify or further explain the Ten Commandments.

When considering these laws, it is important to remember that the Bible is not merely a rule-book like the Koran or a collection of wise sayings, such as found in Poor Richard’s Almanac. Instead, the Bible is the true story of God’s actions in history to forgive sins and save humans from eternal punishment by bringing about the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

As we read the Gospels, we find that Jesus endorses many of these laws, but he does not follow others, nor does He require His disciples to do so. In later New Testament books, Paul and the other apostles affirm many of these laws to be good but indicate that Christians need not observe others. Understanding how these Biblical laws from the Old Testament apply to Christians requires careful study and prayerful consideration. The most authoritative way to discern this is to pay attention to which laws the New Testament affirms and which it does not.

Because the laws regarding worship and sacrifice were intended to point forward to Jesus, as explained in the book of Hebrews, and signified by the tearing in half of the temple curtain at Jesus’ death (Mt. 27, Mk. 15, Lk. 23), they were only in force until Jesus had died, and do not apply to Christians today. Similarly, the laws forbidding work on the Sabbath day (Saturday) are specifically mentioned by Jesus (Mt. 12, Mk. 2, Lk. 6) and the New Testament authors (Heb. 4:8-12, Col. 2:16-17) as already fulfilled.

Likewise, the laws regarding government were only applicable to the people of Israel and only as long as that nation existed. This includes the punishments specified for certain moral offenses. Even though the Old Testament specified certain punishments, up to and including death, for certain crimes such as adultery, cursing one’s parents, murder, and idolatry, these punishments are not mandatory for people in New Testament times, even though the related moral laws still hold true. Jesus gives evidence of this when He persuades the Pharisees not to execute the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 8:1-11). He does not condone her action, but He does show forbearance in the carrying out of punishment.

While the laws regarding worship and government were for the people of Israel only, the laws governing morality reflect God’s expectations for all people in all times and places. This is evidenced in the fact that God never criticizes other nations in the Old Testament for what they eat or wear, but He does criticize them for immoral behaviors like adultery and idolatry.

Another test of whether an Old Testament law is still applicable for New Testament people is to consider whether it relates to the Ten Commandments. For example, laws regarding sexual ethics are still applicable because they explain the commandment against adultery, and laws regarding assault are still applicable because they explain the commandment against murder. Laws regarding mixed fabric clothing, pork, and shellfish do not relate to the Ten Commandments, and therefore are not applicable for people today.

Even if we understand these laws correctly, however, it is even more important that we understand that no one can be saved by obeying even these laws, but only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

Readers may submit questions to or to P.O. Box 195; Burt, IA 50522.

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