Over the last few weeks I have followed the discussion in the blogosphere concerning the role of the Old Testament law. The question centers on a variation of Moses’ statement made in the above “Speed Bump” cartoon: “What part of the law is meant for us?”
People answer that question in one of three ways:
1. All of it. 2. Some of it. 3. None of it.
Let’s look a bit more closely at the three options:
1. Think hard about this before you say, “Of course all of it is meant for us! God said it so I’ll do it!” Placing yourself in that group means that you’ve cleaned all of the cotton-polyester clothes out of your closet – Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11; that you order your steak “well-done,” Leviticus 19:26; that you never cut your hair, Leviticus 19:27 (If only I would have used that verse during the great hair-debates of the 60s); and other behaviors that just don’t make much sense to us today.
2. The “some of it” group is huge. This view breaks the law into three categories:
a. The moral law – declares how man should live.
b. The civil law – describes the legal structures for the ancient nation of Israel.
c. The ceremonial law – declares how Israel was to worship.
The “some of it” group says that only the moral law is “meant for us.” The ceremonial and civil laws were meant only for ancient Israel. So, “Don’t murder” still applies but not the “no haircut” rule. This view is the one held by most Christians today.
3. The “none of it” answer is the one that I believe is the right one. To explain why will take a lot longer than one post! Let’s jump in.
*The Bible gives no hint of different “kinds” of law. It’s all one. Joshua speaks of the Law as one unit when he writes in Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; mediate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
It sounds like Paul does the same thing in Galatians 5:3, “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”
No division by either Joshua or Paul.
*How do you pick and choose? It gets confusing. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is followed in the very next verse by the law “do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” Should verse 18 be seen as “meant for us” while verse 19 is dismissed as nonapplicable? The text gives no indication that any kind of hermeneutical shift has taken place between the two verses.
One of the clearest examples of the confusion in picking which law to keep and which to dismiss is the 4th commandment out of the Big 10 – Exodus 31:14-15 – the one about keeping the Sabbath. The “some of it” group says that the 10 Commandments are part of the Moral Law, and thus, meant for us today. Wouldn’t most people believe that we are to keep the 10 Commandments? Yes, but do we really keep the Sabbath?
“Sure. I go to church on Sunday.”
That’s great. But that’s not keeping the Sabbath. If we’re going to keep the law, we can’t alter it or adjust it. The Sabbath is the seventh day which is Saturday. Keeping the Sabbath didn’t have anything to do with going to church. It was having a day of total rest. No work, no chores, no cooking, no traveling.
“But aren’t there passages that say we don’t need to observe the Sabbath anymore?” Yep. Take a look at Romans 14:5, “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.” Want another? “So, don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.” Colossians 2:16-17
So are we required to keep the Sabbath? It doesn’t sound like it. So I guess that means we are to obey the Nine Commandments…right? Confusing.
Paul may clear it up a bit.
“Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.” Galatians 3:19
So, Phillip, what do we do with the 10 Commandments? We follow many of these same commands like “no adultery”, “no murder”, etc. But we don’t follow them because they are the 10 Commandments. We follow them because we follow the way of love – the way of Christ who is the Seed who has come.
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’… But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Galatians 5:14,18
Love, as experienced and expressed in Jesus is what is meant for us.