I’ve had questions recently about the laws of the Old Testament and how do we know what remains binding for us now. If you’ve kept up with Year in the Bible then you have come across dietary restrictions or requirements for personal hygiene that do not sound like something the church currently upholds. Do we just pick and choose which laws we follow? Do we select some of the Ten Commandments, then neglect ritual cleansing and stoning, then find some other codes that help us to judge others by some moral standard and keep those?
I’ll provide a quick answer, then point you in the direction of a couple of resources I’ve found helpful. To (perhaps over) simplify, there are different sorts of laws in the Old Testament, laws that had different purposes and held different roles. There were laws that dealt with the rituals of Israel, that made the people ceremonially clean or symbolized forgiveness of sin. There were laws that helped to divide and set apart Israel as a people unlike the pagan nations that were a people of God’s own choosing. There were civil laws, since Israel was a political group as well as a religious one. Then there were also moral laws that guided the people on how to live the way that God intends.
What we see in Jesus Christ, who says it in his own words and whose actions are described elsewhere in the New Testament, is a fulfillment of Old Testament law. He came to be our sacrifice, once for all, so why would we need to continue making sacrifices for our sin? By his death, a death that cleanses us of our sin, we are given access to God. Why then would we need to follow ritual laws that enable entrance into the tabernacle? Christ did not cast aside or overthrow the law, rather he fulfills it. And this was all God’s plan for us.
It still isn’t always to clear to the reader what is to be followed and what no longer applies for Christians today. So ask the questions, what sort of law was it? Was its purpose fulfilled in Jesus Christ? What does the New Testament have to say about it? Read through books like Acts and Hebrews to see the way in which early Christians struggled with these very same questions. What Jewish customs do we carry with us, what laws have had their time but are no longer of value? If the book of Acts instructs us about dietary laws, then we can confidently follow its interpretation on how Old Testament laws relate to us now.
One more point before I link to two articles. If looking at the Old Testament laws lead you to think that some part is no longer binding because it was part of the ritual laws, make sure to look at the entire witness of Scripture. If it is a part of God’s Word for his people throughout the Old and is found as well into the New, do not be quick to think we are in a different time and different place and different culture, therefore we can ignore that law. If Scripture is consistent from start to finish, I’d be inclined to say that law is still given for the church today.*
For further reading:
*And of course, remember that these laws are given as a way to live in response to God’s grace, not as something to merit it. Obedience is our gratitude to God’s grace.