Reading through the Old Testament can be a jarring experience, even for Christians. The early Bible is practically brimming with commands and laws which sound contrary to Christ’s message today. Do you enjoy eating shrimp? Sorry, that’s against the rules (Leviticus 11:10). Not a fan of beards? Well that’s just too bad (Leviticus 19:27). Showing off your new tattoo? You ought to be ashamed (Leviticus 19:28)!
To someone outside the Church, it looks as though Christians are cherry-picking which verses they want to follow. That’s why author and theologian J.D. Greer believes it’s necessary for Christians to educate themselves on the three categories of Old-Testament law. In a recent blog post he writes,
“One of the most helpful ways to think about this is to look at the types of laws there are in the Old Testament. The 16th-century Reformer John Calvin saw that the NT seemed to treat the OT laws in three ways. There were Civil Laws, which governed the nation of Israel, encompassing not only behaviors, but also punishments for crimes. There were Ceremonial Laws about ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ things, about various kinds of sacrifices, and other temple practices. And then there were the Moral Laws, which declared what God deemed right and wrong—the 10 Commandments, for instance.”
“For OT Israel, all three types of laws blended together. Breaking a civil or a ceremonial law was a moral problem; conversely, breaking a moral law had a civil (and often ceremonial) consequence. But they only went hand-in-hand because Israel was in a unique place historically, as both a nation and a worshiping community. ‘Separation of church and state’ wasn’t one of their core tenets. That’s not the case for the Church today, so the way we view the Law would have to look different.”
Greer goes on to argue that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the law (Matthew 5:17). By this, he means that the original laws pointed toward God and his design for humanity. Jesus now serves as a living embodiment of both law and grace, allowing us to put aside the Civil and Ceremonial laws of Israel. This traditional approach is shared by the majority of Biblical scholars, including men such as Dr. Roger Barrier, who writes,
“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...”
“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.”
Instead of avoiding the complex subject of Old Testament laws, Christians should embrace the chance to study their faith. The world expects us to have answers when they start probing our beliefs, and it’s vital that believers be ready to speak the word of God with conviction. So don’t be afraid to read books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy, they’re just the beginning of God’s great story.
What about you? What are your thoughts on Old Testament law? Be sure to leave a comment in the space below!
**Ryan Duncan is the Entertainment Editor for Crosswalk.com