The Christian's Relationship to the Old Testament Law

Jesus Teaching

Those who are skeptical claim Christians are inconsistent with how they handle the Law.

  • Their question is, “Why do Christian’s prohibit homosexual behavior while neglecting restrictions regarding outfits, agricultural techniques and haircuts (Lev. 19:1-37)?”

They usually don’t understand that Christians believe in progressive revelation of some kind, meaning that ‘things change,’ especially when Jesus came. Tim Keller says,

“One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question, ‘Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?’ If you are asked, ‘Why do you say that?’ you could respond,

“If I believe Jesus is the the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so, those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”

Even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them (cf. 1 Samuel 15:21-22; Psalm 51:17; Hosea 6:6).

  • Paul teaches the whole OT law was directly canceled (Eph. 2:13-16). Yet Paul also writes, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (2 Tim. 3:16)
  • When Paul wrote this to Timothy, they essentially only had the Old Testament Scriptures; the OT Scriptures and Law are the primary meaning and NT Scriptures receive the same designation secondhand by extension.
  • Jesus does not set the Law aside, but actually magnifies it, making it qualitatively better (sometimes stricter, sometimes wider, but ultimately truer to the standards of true virtue), showing its spiritual intent, or the spirit of the law, demonstrating its true significance and value in the life of a Christian. (See Matt. 5:17-42).

In both major types of Christian theological frameworks, the Christian is free from following the Law directly as required of the ancient Jewish people, yet responsible for a wider and more comprehensive set of moral principles, though there are different understandings as to why.

Covenant Theology: Rules apply unless done away with in the next covenant

  • Each covenant is seen as part of a greater covenant that now has modifications where the rules are still in effect unless abrogated or modified ultimately by the New Testament by God.
  • Assumes there is continuity with the Old Testament first, and then discontinuity.

‣ (They see the context of the Old Testament as similar before dissimilar)

Dispensational Theology: Previous rules tend to be done away with in the New Covenant unless reiterated in that covenant.

  • The new dispensation essentially frees one from obligation from previous Mosaic rules because those rules were given to a specific group of people, and new rules need to be stated.
  • Assumes there is discontinuity with the Old Testament first, and then continuity.

‣ (They see the context of the Old Testament as dissimilar before similar)

The New Testament claims the Law is both abolished and fulfilled. Functionally, these terms are the same, but the emphasis behind each is different. These are just quotes; so don’t interpret them absolutely, but according to the situation each speaker was trying to address: these are instances of Jesus using ‘fulfillment’ terms while Paul uses ‘abolish’ terms.

  • “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17).
  • For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinance. (Eph. 2:14-15).

All Old Testament laws and patterns ultimately point to their fulfillment at Christ’s death, resurrection, and the results of life that occur thereafter (Luke 24:24-27).

  • If a softball game was abolished (cancelled), the game is over prior to its natural end.
  • If a softball game was fulfilled (completed), the game is over, completed at its natural end.

What does the word ‘law’ even mean? Like all other words, it varies a little based on context.

  • It means ‘entire Old Testament’ in Romans 3:19, Matt. 5:7, Luke 24:44
  • It means ‘improper use of the Old Testament’ in Romans 6:14
  • Or, it means ‘a summary of God’s 613 instructions, or the 10 Commandments’ (Eph.2:15)

Paul says, ‘the Law is good’ in Romans 7:12, and is good so long as used properly (1 Tim. 1:8)

  • Sadly, some people have tended to think it is a means of salvation, which it doesn’tprovide (Ro. 3:20 Gal. 2:16, Acts 15:1) or impose the restrictions of the law on others.
  • Also sadly, some people reject the principles of the law entirely as an overreaction to the above, ignoring it in their life and study of the Scriptures, further removing themselves from the foundation of Christ’s teaching and principles of Christian living.

Purpose of the law:

  • To mark Israel as distinct from the nations around her (Lev. 20:26) [It is a guide]
  • To restrain evil to some degree [It is a guardrail]
  • To diagnose sin (Ro. 3:20, 5:20, 7:7 & Galatians 3:19) [It is a mirror]
  • To provide a basis for God’s judgment [It is is a measure]
  • To tutor future generations about an ethical lifestyle and decisions (Gal. 3:24) as a shadow of Christian life (Col. 2:17) [It is a shadow]

So, this is why we can say, though we have lost the cultural key, the basic principle to understanding why, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Deuteronomy 14:21), we can still with firmness say, “homosexuality, more properly defined philosophically as ‘homoeroticism’…

[Technically it has to be ‘eros’ because we all know how sex works…the definition of the process and word literally needs two unequal parts],

…is wrong based on the Levitical law (20:13) and not to mention the corresponding New Testament Passages (Jude, Romans 1, etc.)

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