Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do we know which Old Testament Laws should be acknowledged and which ones can be ignored? My pastor says that some laws were cultural (like eating shellfish and wearing mixed cloth) while others were spiritual (like adultery and witchcraft), and that we can discard the cultural ones while still following the spiritual ones. That doesn't make any sense to me though, since laws about touching dead bodies (Numbers 19:11) or dealing with rape (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) were probably considered spiritual. Your thoughts? – Karen
Your pastor is on the right track. Let me flesh out the three types of Old Testament Laws. He mentioned two. Israel really had three.
First, The Ceremonial Laws Governed Israel’s Worship.
The sacrificial system was the heart of all Old Testament worship. The wages of sin is death. Either we die for our sin, or God will allow an animal to be sacrificed in our behalf. Once per year the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies and brought the blood of the bulls and goats as a sin offering to the Lord (Leviticus 16:18-19).
All of the ceremonial and sacrificial laws pointed to and were fulfilled by Christ on the cross (Hebrews 9:11-14).
At the moment when Jesus cried, “It is finished,” all of the ceremonial laws were rendered null and void. The curtain of the temple in Jerusalem which divided the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51).
At that moment you could say every priest in Jerusalem was out of a job. No longer is God approached through a curtain, by a priest, with animal blood in his hands.
The verses about the Sabbath are no longer valid. The Sabbath is not an eternal day of worship. All of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the Old Testament except one: "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy." The Sabbath is no longer to be obeyed. Paul says no day has precedence over any other day.
In 70 A.D. the Temple was destroyed by the Romans and there has been not one single sacrifice since. We don't follow the ceremonial laws because Jesus followed and fulfilled all of them for us. Anybody, any time, any place can come to God through Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
We can ignore all of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament.
Second, The Governmental Laws Brought Order To The National Life Of Israel.
These laws provided a unique identity for Israel as a nation that belonged to God. The laws relating to agriculture, settlement of disputes, diet, cleanliness, dress, and such things were special standards by which His chosen people were to live as distinct and apart from the world.
One of the reasons that the Jews have existed for over 2,000 years is because of the existence of the governmental laws. The Talmud, for example, and all of its prescribed rituals gave foundation to a world-wide movement of Jews. After all, when is the last time you saw a Babylonian or Hittite walking down the sidewalk? The Jews exist today because of a common set of rules which govern them wherever they live.
The United States will not last forever. At one time we had a common set of rules known as the Judeo-Christian Ethic. They glued our nation together. When the Supreme Court ordered the Judeo-Christian Ethic out or our schools (and essentially our society), they failed to replace them with another set of common values. Thus, our nation is in the throes of negative cultural change with more stealing and swindling and violence than ever before. The people known as "Jews" will be in existence long after the people known as Americans will have slid out of existence.
Once again, these laws were fulfilled and superseded when Israel rejected the Messiah (Matthew 21:43).
We can ignore all of the governmental laws.
Third, The Moral Law Transcends Time And Behavior.
Like many of the Ten Commandments, prohibitions against stealing and adultery and coveting transcend time and space.
Jesus fulfilled the moral law by His perfect righteousness. Every commandment He obeyed. Every requirement He met. He lived up to every standard. He died for it on the cross.
Notice that there is some crossover among the three types of Laws. For example, "You shall not commit adultery” is both a governmental as well as a moral law.
In considering which parts of the Old Testament we can ignore and which we keep, we must delve into the concept of cultural differences. Many of the Laws are not applicable for us. We must compare their culture to ours in order to have good application.
Let me illustrate with the Old Testament teachings regarding tattoos. Tattoos are mentioned specifically by name in Leviticus 19:28: "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.
Some, often parents of teenagers, read this verse and say, “The Bible says that getting a tattoo is wrong.” As far as many are concerned, the issue is settled. Tattoos are expressly forbidden by the Word of God.
Before we delve more deeply into a proper Biblical interpretation of this verse, let me give you my conclusions regarding the Biblical teaching regarding tattoos.
First, some people decorate themselves with body marks which purposely magnify things that are not of God like Satan, evil, false religions, killing, neo-Nazi symbols and such. These are an affront to the Lord Jesus and have no part in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5-7). Therefore, tattoos like those mentioned above are sinful to adorn our bodies.
Second, some people decorate themselves with distinctly Christian markings like crosses, Bible verses, Holy Spirit doves and other Christian symbols. Many glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, propagate evangelism, focus on the love of Christ and so forth. I see no harm in these types of tattoos. In fact, I think God relishes the advertisement.
Finally, some people have tattoos that are clearly neutral. One friend of mine is an airplane pilot and has a small airplane tattooed on her right ankle. One of my neighbors is a Dallas Cowboys football team fanatic. If having a Cowboy tattoo on his arm brings him joy, then rejoice with him. Sports, girlfriends, wives, butterflies, hobbies, etc. all fit into the neutral category.
Now, let’s see how I reached my conclusions.
While the passage in Leviticus says, “no tattoos,” it also says in Leviticus 19:27: “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” It declares in Leviticus 19:26: “Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.” Of course, very few of us today believe that getting a haircut or enjoying a steak cooked rare is inherently evil. In the same way, tattoos are not inherently evil. However, tattoos that glorify Satan or evil are inherently wrong.
The prohibition against touching dead bodies was a worship issue for the Jews having to do with purity (cleanliness).
Refraining from touching dead bodies is irrelevant in our culture. My fireman/paramedic son-in-law has to do this all too often. But, no one would ever consider his work to be a sin.
Israeli worship included drums and guitars of every kind imaginable. Dancing proliferated. Culturally, today, we are free to follow that model or not.
Well, Karen, I hope that knowing these three types of Israeli laws can help as you decide which teachings of the Old Testament follow and which can be ignored.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.