This article is sort of a continuation/addendum to a previous article which was itself derived from comments left on an even different article. The conversation has spawned several tangents that sort of reinforce my point of view, but also allow us the chance to delve into certain topics a little bit deeper. Not everyone will agree with me and that’s okay. I’m perfectly happy to have intelligent discussion and debate on pretty much any topic including religion and politics.
In the comments of the article that started this topic, a couple of people referred to the apparent contradictions between things that are said in the Old Testament and things that are said in the New Testament. These contradictions were singled out as a reason as to why at least one person doesn’t believe the Bible can be considered the actual word of God.
So how does Old Testament law apply to Christians today?
It must seem to many non-Christians (and probably many Christians too) that Christians today simply pick and choose which of the Old Testament (Mosaic) laws they want to follow and which they want to ignore. After all, there are many Old Testament laws that seem completely incomprehensible to us today (“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk,” Exod 34:26; “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material,” Lev. 19:19) which we obviously completely ignore while embracing other Old Testament laws such as the Ten Commandments which are included right in the middle of many of the laws that are being ignored.
So why do Christians adhere to some laws and ignore others?
Which ones are valid and which are not?
To fully understand this subject would require nothing short of a full educational course which I am far from qualified to teach. I will, however, do my best to outline the basics of it in a way that is easy to understand.
In its simplest terms the Mosaic (Old Testament) Law defined the covenant relationship between God and the nation of Israel. When God lead the nation of Israel out of bondage from Egypt he made a covenant with them. This covenant describes how God will protect the Israelites and lead them to the Promised Land and also describes what the nation of Israel must do in order to keep their end of the covenant with God.
God introduced the Law with the covenant saying, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession (Exod. 19:5). The people of Israel agreed to this covenant (24:3) and then Moses sealed the agreement in blood (24:8). A big part of this covenant was God’s promise to dwell in Israel’s midst. God gave them the instructions to build the ark and the tabernacle where he would dwell and He outlined what was necessary for the people to communicate with him and what they would have to do (make sacrifices) in order to be forgiven for breaking various sins (or laws).
That first generation of Israel, however, didn’t obey God and refused to enter the Promised Land so God led them around the wilderness for 40 years until the entire generation had died off. He then led the people back to Canaan (the Promised Land) and Deuteronomy describes the renewal of the covenant that God made with Israel. Deuteronomy describes in detail the terms of the covenant and what Israel would have to do in order to live in the Promised Land successfully and be blessed by God.
This covenant is the law that all of the followers of God (the Jews of Israel) lived by until Jesus arrived. Hebrews 8-9 (New Testament) makes it clear that Jesus came as God’s mediator to establish a new covenant that would replace the old covenant and would apply to ALL of mankind. “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete” (Heb. 8:13)
Paul, one of the greatest authors of the New Testament and one of the major founders of the Christian church, was adamantly opposed to the early Christians returning to life under the Old Testament Law.
For example, in Galatians 2:16 Paul wrote, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the (Old Testament) 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.”
Of course, it gets slightly more complicated because the Old Testament Law wasn’t actually completely done away with when Jesus came. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (the Old Testament); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” What Jesus was saying was that He wasn’t coming to completely do away with the Law. He came to fulfill the righteous demands of the Law. Specifically, Jesus came as a sacrifice for all of mankind so that His followers (those who accept Him as the son of God – Christians) would not have to make animal sacrifices as demanded by the Law – Jesus would be the ultimate sacrifice. Christians would also no longer need a priest to be an intercessor with God for them because Jesus would act as that intercessor.
So Jesus’ coming fulfilled the Law but did not completely do away with it. What it did was replace the rigid demands of the Law with the grace of God. Furthermore, it established Jesus as the final interpreter of and authority over the Law and its meaning. In the New Testament Jesus quotes from the Old Testament scriptures and clearly shows that they are still valid. However, in Matthew, Jesus also restated some of the Old Testament laws (19:18-19), modified some of them (5:31-32), intensified some of them (5:21-22, 27-28), changed some of them significantly (5:33-37, 38-42, 43-47), and even abrogated some laws entirely (Mark 7:15-19).
Jesus wasn’t advocating the continuation of the traditional Jewish adherence to the Law, but He wasn’t dismissing it altogether either. What He was doing was declaring that the meaning of the Law must now be interpreted in light of His coming and in light of the major changes introduced by the New Covenant.
When the New Covenant (New Testament) replaced the Old Covenant (Old Testament), the Old Testament Law ceased to be a law for Christians. However, many of the Old Testament laws are restated in the New Testament as commandments for New Testament believers (for example, all of the Ten Commandments except for the one that says to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” are repeated in some form in the New Testament). When the New Testament repeats an Old Testament Law it therefore becomes a commandment for Christian believers that must be obeyed as a commandment of Christ.
Applying New Testament Teachings To Old Testament Law
The principles that I’ve just described can be better understood by considering an example of Old Testament Law that has been changed by New Testament teachings.
In Leviticus we read:
“Or if anyone unwittingly touches anything ceremonially unclean—whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground—and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt;” (5:2)
“when anyone realizes their guilt in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned and, as a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the LORD a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” (5:5-6)
That scripture seems pretty straightforward and can be easily understood. Of course, if we were still under that Law today without consideration of the changes made by Jesus and the New Covenant, few of us would be following God’s law at all.
However, we can and should apply the things we learn from the New Testament to these verses to understand how they apply to us today.
Under the Old Covenant the Israelites became defiled ceremonially if they touched any unclean thing (dead animals or unclean animals), even if the touch was accidental. An unclean Israelite was not able to approach God and worship Him. In order to be purified (made clean again) they were required to confess their sin and bring to the priest a lamb or a goat for sacrifice. The priest would then sacrifice the animal on their behalf thus making them clean again and able to approach and worship God.
The New Covenant, however, changed the way God’s people are to deal with sin and uncleanliness. Instead of having to bring an animal to be sacrificed by a priest, a Christian’s sins are covered by the Blood of Jesus – by the sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross. Jesus took all sin upon Himself and His death washed away all sin and changed the believer’s status from unclean to clean. Christians must still confess their sins (1 John 1:9), but believers now have direct access to God through Jesus Christ so human priests are no longer needed as mediators.
Furthermore, the New Testament redefined the definition of what can make a believer unclean. In Mark we learn that under the New Covenant believers are not made unclean by touching dead animals. Instead, we become unclean by impure thoughts or sinful actions.
“Nothing outside you can defile you by going into you. Rather, it is what comes out of you that defiles you.” (Mark 7:15-16)
“He went on: ‘What comes out of you is what defiles you. For from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile you.‘” (Mark 7:20-23)
In similar fashion we are able to compare Old Testament Law with New Testament teachings to gain an understanding of which of the Laws apply to us today as well as how they apply to us. As I’ve already noted, some Old Testament Laws certainly do still apply to us. In fact, Jesus made some of them even more strict than they already were.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
In this scripture Jesus redefined the act of adultery to include not only the physical act of cheating on your spouse, but also the mental act of lusting after another person.
So by comparing the Old with the New we are able to discern what is and what is not a Law that we are required to keep and act upon. It is for this reason that I can confidently say that there are no contradictions in the Bible. Where Old Testament scripture sometimes seems to contradict New Testament scripture we need only look to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament to determine whether or not that scripture is still a law that should be kept or if it was modified or rendered obsolete by the New Covenant of the New Testament.
I hope that I have managed to give an easy to understand explanation that will help you have a better understanding of the Bible as well as the Christian religion.