Why should we read Old Testament law? The Law lost its obligation with the old covenant, no longer needed as a nationalistic distinction. Under the new covenant, we are not obligated to the Law’s demands but instead to a deeper commitment and submission of our whole lives to the control of the Holy Spirit. So why read Old Testament Law?
Many theologians say that some of the laws are God’s unchanging will and are still in effect today. The coming of Jesus changes how we worship, but it doesn’t necessarily change the way we should live. We still sin, but the method God wants us to handle our repentance has changed. The laws are useful for finding God’s will and living wisely. The trick is determining which laws apply today and which ones no longer apply. The Law consists of three parts:
1) Ceremonial laws that enabled believers to maintain a proper relationship with God. These laws foreshadow Christ and were fulfilled by Christ. These were not abolished, but rather, completed in the death of Christ, the ultimate and final sacrifice.
2) Judicial/moral laws that determine right from wrong. These are meant for all God’s people in every era, as shown by the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.
3) Civil laws for governing the nation of Israel and separating them from others. These are no longer in effect because of Christ, who brings all nations together.
For some laws, the category is obvious, while for others, they are debatable. But I don’t think we have to sit around and debate categories, such as whether the forbidding of tattoos was moral or ceremonial. Let’s focus on the big picture.
Jesus says the whole law is summed up in a single command – to love God and to love your neighbor. Any of the laws that line up with this summary in our culture today would still apply. Any laws that are supported in the New Testament, we clearly should submit to their authority. And laws clearly fulfilled should not be observed. For example, the book of Hebrews makes it clear that we would violate the Gospel if we continue to practice the ceremonial laws.
Ultimately, the Law IS the content of the gospel. It foreshadows the coming of the ultimate Gospel in Jesus Christ. The Law and the Gospel are parts of one continuum, not contrasting items. It is through the cross that we are released from the obligation of the Law, yet also have the power to be enabled and compelled to love God and love our neighbor, the sum of the whole Law in a single command.
So why read Old Testament Law? In summary:
- To learn the meaning and significance of the work of Jesus on the cross
- For greater understanding of God’s character and how He works in the world
- To know how to live wisely and how to love.