Have you ever read the Old Testament, especially the Laws of Moses, and thought, “I love bacon, wear mixed fabrics, really like shellfish and got that tattoo of a butterfly on my ankle when I was 18 — am I a hypocrite because I choose not to follow those Old Testament laws?” Well, have no fear. You’re not alone in your bewilderment. Old Testament laws are frequent points of confusion inside and outside Christian circles. This topic contains several small nuances, but for the sake of brevity, here are some points to consider from a 30,000 foot view:
What are the Covenants between God and Man?
There are five covenants between God and Man: Edenic, Noahic, Mosaic, New Covenant in Christ, and Heaven. Answers in Genesis has a great chart explaining the differences with each covenant.
Why Did God Make Covenants with Man? Does God Change?
God makes covenants with man for specific seasons and purposes in time. God never changes; however, since the Fall, man’s evolving relationship with God has changed as He restores our broken relationship with Him (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). Although Christians may disagree with how/which laws still apply in a post-Resurrection world, most Christians agree Old Testament laws were changed, modified or affirmed by Jesus. Verses supporting this stance include, but are not limited to: Jeremiah 31:31-33; Matthew 22:37-39; Ephesians 2:15-16; Galatians 2:16; 3:8, 13, 19, 23-25; Romans 3:21-24; 10:4; Luke 24:44; Hebrews 7:12; 8:6, 13.
“Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” – Galatians 2:16 (NLT)
What are the Divisions of Old Testament Law and to Whom Do They Apply?
There are three main divisions of Old Testament laws found in the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) — civil, ceremonial and moral laws:
Civil/Judicial Laws – Civil laws provided instruction for the Hebrew people’s daily life and culture. These laws were written for the nation of Israel not Christians, and they dissolved when Jewish civil government ended. These laws instructed the ancient Hebrews about the proper way to handle disputes, appropriate dress, how to resolve and determine penalties for various crimes, debts, children rearing, etc. These laws were also designed to set apart the nation of Israel as God’s people because the way they conducted themselves as a society was starkly different from their foreign neighbors.
There’s a fantastic list of different types of civil/judicial laws on Carm.org’s website if you’re interested in doing more research on your own.
Ceremonial Laws – Ceremonial laws instructed Hebrew priesthood practices and rituals and gave detailed directions about how to perform various sacrifices to cleanse the nation of Israel of sins. The sacrifices offered by priests did not provide final atonement of sins and required ritual sacrifices to remain pure and holy before God.
Christians believe Christ, our High Priest, permanently fulfilled sin offering requirements with His death on the cross. The sacrificial processes outlined in the Old Testament are direct parallels and prophecies to Jesus’s death on the cross as the final payment for sins.
Moral Laws – Moral laws include the Ten Commandments, and they are based on the God’s character. Unlike civil and ceremonial laws that culturally based and intended only for the nation of Israel (although, Christians are certainly allowed to practice civil and ceremonial laws), moral laws are universally binding to all humanity. For example, in most cultures around the world (whether they know God or not), it is a terrible crime to torture and murder another human being. Moral laws are generally easy to differentiate from the civil and ceremonial laws because the behaviors of people who don’t follow these laws are referred to as “abominations” that “defile” the land and the nations and are “detested” by the Lord (Leviticus 18:24-30).
There is some disagreement about moral laws and whether or not they still apply. Some Christians follow the belief that Christ was referring to the moral law in Matthew 5:18 which states that the Law is in place until the earth passes away. Other Christians believe that Jesus fulfilled this requirement and Matthew 5:18 refers to the new commandments to love God and others (Matthew 5:17). I personally believe that God’s love for us is more than enough to provide grace for Christians who share either view (Colossians 2:16-17).
- “Are Old Testament Laws Still Binding on Christians?”, Grace Communion International, https://www.gci.org/law/otlaws
- “Do Christians Have to Obey the Old Testament Law?”, Got Questions?, http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-law.html
- Hodge, Bodie, “Why Don’t Christians Follow All the Old Testament Laws?”, Answers in Genesis, https://answersingenesis.org/christianity/christian-life/why-dont-christians-follow-all-the-old-testament-laws/
- McLatchie, Jonathan, “Cherry Picking the Bible? Are Christians Expected to Follow the Levitical Laws?”, Crossexamined, http://crossexamined.org/cherry-picking-the-bible-are-christians-expected-to-follow-the-levitical-laws/
- Meyer, Jason, The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology, http://www.christianbook.com/the-law-mosaic-covenant-pauline-theology/jason-meyer/9780805448429/pd/448429?event=AFF&p=1011693&