Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Search Of Truth, Old Testament Law and Modern Christians, Part 2

In part 1 I made the case that the nation of Israel was the intended recipient of Old testament Law, and then presented an argument against dividing the law into "moral" and "ceremonial" categories. Then we saw that the "old covenant", which includes the Old Testament Law, has become obsolete, replaced by Christ with something better.


We might ask, when did this shift in the intended application of the law take place? Jesus is the first to gives us an indication.

(Matthew 5:17-18) "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

There continues to be debate over the interpretation of these verses in Matthew. Does Christ "fulfilling" the law mean he fulfilled prophecy about himself? Or that he perfectly obeyed the law? Or that he brought additional teaching which completed the intent of the law?

The most logically consistent interpretation, to my mind, is assuming that Christ fulfilled the law in several senses, not just one. His death and resurrection fulfilled the need for justice and redemption implied by the imperfect sacrificial system. (Shown to be imperfect in Psalm 51:16-17 and Isaiah 1:11-17) His teaching cut through the exteriors of the law and brought the heart of the law to the surface. (For example, Mark 12:28-34) Jesus was also the promised Messiah foretold and foreshadowed throughout Old Testament scripture.

At this point you might say, "Okay, Jesus fulfilled the law. But he also obeyed the Old Testament Law. Shouldn't we do the same thing? WWJD, right?"

Well, I think we need to be careful how broadly we apply the "what would Jesus do" motto. (Which isn't scripture, by the way.) Jesus was born in a specific time in God's plan and served a specific role. He was born "under the law", and so lived his life in perfect obedience to it.

(Galatians 4:4) But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,

But this doesn't mean we are meant to mimic this aspect of his behavior, since he made the Old Testament law obsolete when he died to pay the penalty for all sin.

(Ephesians 1:11-16)  Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Jesus has done away with the law through his suffering and death (v.13) in part to provide unity between Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) believers. Not even modern Jews are meant to obey the commands of the Tanakh(Old Testament).

So the authority of the Old Testament doesn't change with the coming of Christ. It is still the word of God and "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". (2 Timothy 3:16-17) But the application of the Old Testament to human lives does change.


So if the law was not meant to be applied for all of human history, what was the point? Paul anticipated and answered this question.

(Galatians 3:19) Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

(Galatians 3:24-25) So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,

In summary, the law was put in place to prepare and direct humanity to Christ.


Although the Old Testament Law is no longer binding, it is still scripture. And we know that all scripture is  "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". (2 Timothy 3:16-17) So I've concluded that the Old Testament is still useful in that it reveals the human need for a savior and showcases God's desire to both fix our broken state and have a relationship with us. The Old Testament Law, through its standards and symbols, also reveals much about who God is and who we are.

So while there is a sense in which the Old Testament is obsolete, it is far from irrelevent, and shouldn't be ignored by Christians. It may seem strange, boring or intimidating at times, but it makes up the great majority of God's written word to humanity and so I believe it should be made an object of pursuit for truth-seeking Christians.

Next time we'll attempt to solidify the case against obligating ourselves to OT law and then determine where it is that we SHOULD look for moral standards and guidance.

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