The Old Testament law often sounds a bit strange to us today. Commands like not mixing fabrics, numerous dietary restrictions, ceremonial cleansings, and many more are often ignored. It can often seem like Christians pick and choose which Old Testament laws to follow, based on whatever is convenient. This accusation has been used both within the church and by skeptics. Is that a bad thing, or is there a reason behind it?
The Old and New Covenants
The Old Testament law is part of the old Mosaic covenant. God gave the law to the people of Israel. It was meant to be temporary, that Jesus might come and fulfill it for Jews and gentiles alike. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). When Jesus came, he started a new covenant no longer based upon the Old Testament law.
While there are still laws that are good, right, or helpful, they are not necessarily requirements for the modern Christian. If they are requirements, it is not simply because it was in the law. Instead, we need to ask a few different questions about any given passage to determine if it still applies today.
Is It Reinforced in the New Testament?
Was a given law reinforced later by someone like Jesus or Paul? That is often a good sign that it matters to Christians. For example, Christians have come under scrutiny for not supporting homosexuality while ignoring other laws in Leviticus. But that explicitly comes up multiple times in the New Testament as well. On the other hand, we see some issues, like the dietary restrictions, specifically changed in the new covenant (Acts 10).
Moral, Cultural, or Ceremonial?
The law could be separated into specific categories. Some of them, like the Ten Commandments, for example, provide basic moral teachings. Most of these kinds of laws were reinforced later. However, most of the cultural or ceremonial laws were not. Legal practices or judicial punishments generally do not need to be followed since we are no longer part of the nation of Israel at that time. The ceremonial rules and restrictions do not need to apply anymore for a few reasons. For one, the New Testament never reinforced them, and in some cases, like eating unclean foods, specifically changed them.
The other reason is that often they were tied to a specific cultural issue that no longer applies. Many of the laws symbolically represented not mixing with other nations, since God set apart Israel. As a gentile, I’m already mixed and am commanded to mix even more to make disciples of all nations.
Yes, Christians pick and choose which Old Testament laws to follow. However, there is a good reason for it, as not every law still applies. The law was meant to be temporary and eventually pass away. Many of them are still good practices. Good sanitation and dietary restrictions are still beneficial. But we as Christians have a new covenant characterized by the grace of Jesus through his sacrifice.