Counting on two hands wouldn’t give me enough digits to tell you how many times in the last year I’ve tried to write about the “Old Testament vs New Testament” debate. I should call it confusion really because many, if not most Christians do not really know the answer to the question of which one do we obey?
Please note that for the sake of space, in this article when you see “NT” that means New Testament and “OT” is Old Testament.
Do we follow what the OT says or are we strictly bound to the NT only? If we are to follow the NT then do we ignore all of the OT laws and regulations, and if not, then aren’t all the accusations about Christians being cherry pickers, true?
Some things to consider before I start quoting Scripture, the OT laws, also known as Mosaic law were never meant for Christians….. stay with me, the law was handed down to Moses to be read aloud to the Israelites. It was through this chosen people that God would complete His plan of bringing about a Messiah to save the world.
Before we can answer the question about whether or not the OT law applys to us today, we should understand the original purpose for the law. The Bible is separated into the Old and New Covenants, though we may call them Testaments, Covenant is the word used by Moses and God to describe the deal God made with the Israelites. I call it a “deal” because the Covenant bound both parties (God and the Israelites) to be responsible in keeping the Covenant. The Israelites would obey and follow the laws handed down to Moses, and God would bless them accodingly.
The purpose of the OT law as I understand it is to set Israel apart from all other nations as Gods chosen people (Exodus 19:5), it would also reveal the sinfulness of mankind (Galatians 3:19) which would in turn reveal to them that they still need a way to salvation which the law, although holy (Romans 7:12), does not provide.
Now that we know our hearts are filled with sin and that we have a propensity to commit sin after sin after sin. Now that we are aware that obeying the law is good but that it still does not get us into heaven, we look to the New Covenant in hopes that in it, we will find the salvation we so desperately need.
In the OT, sin needed to be atoned for with a sacrifice, in the NT the sacrifice atoned for all sins, for all peoples, at all times (Hebrews 10:10). This sacrifice did away with the sacrificial system rendering it useless for the blood that was spilled at the cross was sufficient for all. The Old Covenant was for the nation of Israel (Exodus 19:5-8), the New Covenant is for everyone (Romans 1:16-17).
Now that we know the Old Covenant was for Israel and the New Covenant is for everyone, we can proceed to answer the question of whether or not we should follow the Old Covenant laws or not. Who better to ask than Jesus Himself?
“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!
True to His style Jesus answers the question and then throws a wrench into what we want Him to say. Notice though, that He refers to God’s law and does not mention Mosaic, Ceremonial, or Levitical law? Meaning (at least to me) that God’s law transcends all other laws, God’s law was there before Moses, and still stands after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. God’s law, according to Jeremiah will be written on our hearts meaning that we will intrinsically know it, not because it was taught to us but because we just know what is right and what is wrong, and we will just know.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord . “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord .’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord . “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”
As far as I can tell and I will give you more verses to support my stance in a moment, the Old Covenant is fulfilled and we need only obey what Jesus taught in regards to how we are to treat others and how to worship our God.
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Every single law that was ever introduced to the Israelites was based on the law of love, loving God and loving your neighbor. As long as everything we do is filtered throught the lens of love, we’re obeying the law.
As promised here are the verses that make me believe that the Old is gone, and the New is here.
When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.
Hebrews 8:13 NLT
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Hebrews 4:15 NIV
Yes, the old requirement about the priesthood was set aside because it was weak and useless. For the law never made anything perfect. But now we have confidence in a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:18-19 NLT
He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.
Ephesians 2:15 NLT
But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God. Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.
Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT
That said, there is still a difference between the Old and the New Covenants, and we cannot obey them both. The purpose of the Old has been accomplished by none other that Jesus Himself, the New Covenant calls all people to love God and their neighbors and in some ways the New Covenant’s laws of love are harder to follow than the Old.
Matthew chapter 5 starting in verse 21 Jesus presents a series of paralells that suggest His law is even more strict than that of Moses’ law. Being angry with someone is the same as murder, lusting after someone is the same as adultery, and divorcing someone (save for sexual immorality) is the same as making your spouse an adulterer. He goes on to give other examples of what the law says versus what He says and then He finishes it off with this, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In closing, are we supposed to follow the OT laws? And my answer is yes, but not all of them, there is no need to make sacrifices, there is no need to be ceremonially clean anymore. The parts that we are to follow are the parts that are also reiterated in the NT, all of which talk specifically about morality, murder, jealousy, theft, sexual immorality and the like.
Though that may make us look like cherry pickers of the OT, one must truly understand that we follow these laws from the OT only because they are also in the NT. We obey certain laws not because we have cherry picked, but because those laws were something to be followed before they were ever spoken and made into law. Take murder for example, murder was a sin before it was inscribed on the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and will still be a sin after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
It’s not cherry picking if Jesus also made mention of it, it’s not cherry picking if it’s a universal truth, that is, a truth that everyone knows to be true whether they have read the OT or not.
I’ll just say this and then leave you to it, I don’t care if you cherry pick the Bible, in order to cherry pick it you have to be reading it, and if you’re reading it, it will convict you where you need to be convicted and show you the love of Jesus. Cherry picking is part of the learning process for every time you cherry pick you will have to back up what you say with more verses and that my friends is one of my goals; get you to read your Bibles.
Thanks so much for reading all the way to the very end, I know it was a long one. One more favor to ask, please like and share and get others to read their Bibles as well.