How Does the Christian Relate to the Old Testament?

Many people like to point out that Christians are inconsistent by picking and choosing what verses in the Bible to believe and what not to believe; what rule to follow and what rule not to follow. For example, we do not follow OT commands to stone people who commit certain sins (Lev. 24:16), nor do we follow the dietary laws or laws about marriage (giving a woman to the brother of her dead husband, for example [Deut. 25:5]). So people like to verse-mine the Bible looking for ridiculous-sounding commands that we do not follow and tell us we are hypocritical, inconsistent, and we just pick-and-choose. Unfortunately for those people, it is all based on a misunderstanding.

Christians are actually being consistent by not following certain OT laws. The reason we do not, for example, avoid touching pig skin is because of good theology, not because we pick and choose what to follow and what not to follow. Let me explain why:

The laws in the OT often take on these three forms:

  1. Ceremonial Laws. These include sacrifices, ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness, dietary laws, the temple, etc. God only gave these laws to Israel, not to the whole world
  2. Civil Laws. Israel was a theocracy, so there were punishments for breaking certain religious laws. Again, these laws were given just to Israel, not the world.
  3. Moral Laws. These laws are universal moral laws that everyone is expected to follow. For example, do not steal and do not commit adultery.

The laws do not necessarily fit neatly into these three categories, and each law can have an aspect of all three in them, but this list of law types is helpful for understanding how Christians know what laws they do not need to follow.

These laws are part of God’s covenant with Israel. God said that a new covenant would come to replace the covenant with Israel.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Jesus came on earth and fulfilled the covenant (Matt. 5:17) so that we can be brought into a new covenant that is under grace, not under the law. Paul said that the law was our guardian, but now that Christ has come we are no longer under a guardian (Gal. 3:24-25). Jesus’ sacrifice was the final sacrifice for sins and no more needs to be offered. Plus, his body is the true temple and his death, love, and forgiveness is what makes us clean. Therefore, the ceremonial laws of the OT do not apply to Christians. Jesus fulfilled all of that. Christians do not need to follow civil laws because God’s new covenant is not with a specific nation set up as a theocracy, but is with the church, which is a chosen people within nations. So judgment does not take the form of executions or infringements on the law. That is the job of the State.

The universal moral laws that God expects of everyone, such as do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, etc., still apply though. When a ruler makes a new covenant he can make it different from the old covenant however he likes, but there are some things that will be universal in both of them.

It is because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection here on earth that Christians are not under the OT law. This does not render the OT useless, since there are still lessons to be drawn from it and truths about God that can be revealed through it, but Christians can hardly be accused of inconsistenty by not following certain laws.

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