Monday, February 14, 2011

Position Statement on the Use of the Old Testament Law by Christians

Study By: William Luck

How should the New Testament believer relate to the Old Testament law? I was brought up in the tradition of Biblical interpretation called Dispensationalism. Under that interpretative structure the Old Testament law was considered useful for history of creation and of Israel, and prophecies of Christ. I do not recall hearing a single sermon on any commandments of the law as a source for direction to Christians for our behavior. Louis Chafer, in his book He that is Spiritual, stated that though the Old Testament had many things in common with the New Testament, it was actually the Acts, the epistles, and half of the Gospels (presumably the events recorded after Matthew 13) which were the marching orders for the New Testament believer.

While I was attending Trinity Divinity School and studying the Older Testament under Walter Kaiser, I began to think through the issues more carefully for myself. After reading Luther and Calvin, and others, I developed my own ideas which I have used in the writing of this book. The starting point of my thinking was to take seriously the writings of St. Paul when he said:

2 Timothy 3:16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 3:17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work. (NET Bible)

It is highly unlikely that Paul is using the word “Scripture” any differently than does his Master, Jesus, and Jesus specifically speaks of Moses as being included under that term:

Luke 24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures. (NET Bible)

For His part, Jesus said of the Law…

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. 5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.5:19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (NET Bible)

We have also noted that in the Sermon, Jesus comments on each of the commandments from 6-10 and backwards from 5-1. In doing so, He implies that the Commandments are relevant to His disciples—insofar as He commissions them at the end of that Gospel to use all His teachings to disciple the nations. Paul could arguably be said to have employed the structure of the Ten in outlining his only ethical treatise: 1 Corinthians. That letter is, of course, directed to the Church.

But Paul also clearly rejects putting the Christian “under the Law” (Galatians 3). Jesus is also said to have removed the kosher laws by declaring all foods clean.

Mark 7:18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 7:19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 7:20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 7:21 For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 7:22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 7:23 All these evils come from within and defile a person.” (NET Bible)

How then do we harmonize these texts? Some suggest that all in the Old Testament law is assumed to be applicable to the Christian unless it is specifically disallowed by a statement of the New. The early Church seems not to accept that approach. In Acts, the Church is concerned that Gentiles understand that they need not become Jews in order to become Christians.


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