This question is being asked more often. I was asked this just the other day by a group of 20- and 30-somethings whether or not we, as Christians, need to follow Old Testament regulations. When we talk about a theological position several considerations must be made. Proper biblical interpretation must find a balance among the scriptures as a whole. We believe scripture does not contradict scripture. With that said, let's examine this issue together.
The question was sparked from the very words of Jesus when he said He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. We also understand the Ten Commandments and Mosaic Law were established as a covenant between God and His people. Later, we find that Paul says we are not under Mosaic Law, but the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). Yet Jesus said that we show we love Him by obeying the commands (John 14:15).
Which is it? Do we or don't we need to follow Old Testament regulations? The answer is yes and no.
The Law and Jesus
Jesus came to fulfill the law. To what degree is Jesus and the Law related? When it comes to this relationship we find 4 views:
- Law alone without Jesus. The law as the pathway to salvation is no different than our Jewish brothers who are still waiting for the Messiah. The Old Testament is the completed scriptures in their viewpoint. Jesus of Nazareth was just a good man. With the majority of our world today not following Jesus the law alone concept is quite prevalent. Islam rejects Jesus and holds to a law alone perspective, albeit their version.
- Jesus + Law. Faith in Jesus and obedience to the law is required for salvation. Paul and John had to deal with those who believed faith in Jesus was not enough. To be a true follower of Jesus one had to also add the covenantal responsibilities of circumcision and law obedience. One sect of Messianic Jews adhere to this. When a "Jesus +" form is applied to this viewpoint there are many protestant faiths who follow this also. Examples would include Jesus + Baptism, Jesus + no sin, Jesus + Dietary laws, Jesus + no tattoos, Jesus + no drinking, Jesus + no dancing and on and on it goes.
- Jesus and respect of the Law. Faith is Jesus is required for salvation. Obedience to the Old Testament regulations aids in sanctification. Grace alone by faith alone for salvation. Adherents to this view understand the Old Testament as more than moral stories or morale boosters. The Old Testament provides context for the New Testament. Followers of Jesus are not required to keep the Old Testament regulations, specifically the sacrificial laws. Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial requirements. Jesus' righteousness is what clothes us, not ours.
- Law of Christ alone. The Law of Christ obliterates the Law of Moses and should be ripped out. Teachers in this view do not regard the Old Testament as anything more than an unnecessary introduction to get to Jesus. Often, those who preach and teach in this view will never leave the New Testament.
The Value and Purpose of the Old Testament
The Old Testament has value and should not be ripped out, or disregarded for that matter. The OT reveals the nature and character of God that we also find in Jesus Christ. We find this is one long story not two; old and new. God did not quit and start over. Jesus is a continuation of the story. How can we truly respect what Jesus did without understanding the OT? The Old Testament reveals our brokenness. The Old Testament reveals my insufficiency. The Old Testament drives us to Jesus. Here is one way to view these things in both Exodus and Leviticus:
God was creating for Himself a people set apart from the rest of the world in order to provide a pathway through them to Himself. He was calling the people to be different than the culture and norms of the day. It takes no faith to disregard these. It takes great faith to follow because of the culture's view.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was He replied:
- Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
He went on to add that all of the law and prophets hinge on these two statements. Therefore, if we pool scripture together to see a larger understanding, we see that the Old Testament Law does provide guidelines for living the Christian life. The "moral" laws given to the Israelites describe practical ways to love God and others. It is as if the Israelites were given the rules for soccer and Jesus changed the game to a team marathon. Both sports require similar basics (moral laws), including good health and the ability to run. And both require devotion to the Coach and the team. But the rules (civil laws) are different—soccer having ten times as many—and the scoring (ceremonial laws) is changed. Instead of continually trying to rack up enough points to win, we runners simply run for the joy of it, knowing Jesus already won and His victory is credited to our team (
I challenge you to read the Old Testament in light of the Gospel. You will appreciate Jesus, grace, faith and your salvation immeasurably more.
Summers is the lead pastor at Coulter Road Baptist Church in Amarillo, TX. He and his wife, Dulcie, have two children: Samuel and Isabella. To read more from Summers, please visit his personal blog, The Intersect, or follow him on Twitter @aaronwsummers.