10 Commandments

Christians and the Old Testament Law pt. 2

Don’t eat eagles or geckos (Lev 11:13,30) If you marry a foreign slave woman, shave her head and wait a month to consummate the marriage (Deut 21:10-14)

Don’t cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk.  (Ex. 23:19) (That one is there 3 times.)

Build a fence around your roof (Deut 22:8)

These are just a few of the 613 laws of the Pentateuch.  New Testament believers have always had a precarious relationship with the law of the Old Testament.  There are many we keep and many more that we do not.  However for the vast majority of Christians, there is no reason why we keep some laws and not others.  They seem to us either random or culturally-driven.  Today I will attempt to show how Christians throughout the ages have viewed the Old Testament laws throughout time?

Most views of the law fall into these three categories:

1.         The Law-Gospel divide – This view says that the law of the OT is useful, (because it is scripture after all) but it does not help Christians make moral decisions.  NT believers live by the law of Christ not the law of Moses.  In other words, Christians are not bound at all by the law of the Old Testament.

What are some problems with this view?  Most significantly, it reduces the OT to a mere book of history.  If the law does not apply, how do we know the narrative passages are relevant to New Testament believers.   Secondly, Christ quoted much of the OT law. The majority of 10 commandments are explicitly repeated in NT.  If this is the case and Jesus thought it was important enough to reference, then maybe it should speak to His followers

2.         Theonomy – This view says that OT law is binding on the lives of Christians.  Ceremonial law (festivals, temple rules) was fulfilled in Christ so we are off the hook for that.  But the moral and civil law applies unless nullified by architecture or sanitation.    In other words, Christians need to keep as much of the Old Testament law as possible.  Most who hold this view would also say that it is the job of government to bring about adherence to this law as much as possible.

This view has a host of problems as well.  Most significantly, there is no longer a theocracy to implement these laws.  Also, the New Testament seems to clearly do away with OT civil law.

3.         Principlism – Among people who have thought about this question and know what view they hold, this view is the most common.  It divides the OT law into moral, civil, and ceremonial and says that Christians are only responsible for keeping the moral laws.  What exactly are these categories?

  • Ceremonial law, which was given to make the temple/sacrificial system function, was fulfilled in Christ. (Matt 5:17-18)  This was illustrated perfectly when the veil of the temple was torn. (Matt 27:51)
  • Civil law was given to order the Hebrew theocracy and it passed away with the theocracy.
  • Moral law is best summarized in the Ten Commandments is based on the character of God.  These laws are timeless.

These categories are generally pretty to see as we look at the law.  This view helps reconcile the reasons why we keep some but feel no need to keep others.

Tomorrow -  How these views function in real life situations.