Understanding  OT Law
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Understanding and Interpreting Old Testament Laws and Regulations          in the Redemptive Light of New Testament Love and Grace


Understanding the Bible is a function of the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, the sound application of exegetical tools, and the principle of interpreting Scripture with Scripture.

The Holy Spirit leads us both in understanding and applying God’s Word to our lives. Exegetical tools are of value in helping us understand the intended meaning of a passage through grammar and word studies, cultural/historical awareness, and contextual criticism. While most believers would agree to these statements, disagreement in the body of Christ often comes over “properly” interpreting and applying passages  . . . especially, it seems, Old Testament laws and regulations.

This is unfortunate because I believe the New Testament is quite clear in addressing the relationship of New Testament believers to the Old Testament laws and regulations. In terms of how we are to live, the Old Testament laws and regulations have little – if any – value. (Hebrews 7-9 but especially 7:18,19; 8:7,13; and 9:15)

Jesus Response to the Question

When Jesus was asked to address the issue of keeping the Old Testament law, he said it could be summed up in two commandments: “Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (New International Version)37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Jesus illustrated the latter part of this dual command by reminding the crowd that our “neighbor” includes those we are least inclined to love.

The Apostle Paul repeated this emphasis on love as summing up the “entire law” (Galatians 5:14). These words were directed against those who were trying to keep applying (especially to others) some of the Old Testament laws and regulations. Paul reminded them that they have been called to freedom from the law and to life in the Spirit. Those being led by the Spirit are not under the law (5:18) . . . any of the law. Christ’s sacrifice was not provided that we might try to be obediently righteous. It made us righteous and freed us from the law (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

This change in “rules for living” is a direct result of the redemptive work of Christ (Galatians 3:13). In his body on the cross, the law “with its commands and regulations” was abolished (Ephesians 2:15). It is not the beginning of an antinomian lifestyle, but a reminder that the believer lives, not by law, but by the Spirit (Galatians 6:18 and context). The sanctifying work of the Spirit is not a result of observing the law, but comes from our belief in the Gospel message (Galatians 3:5). It is a life based on love for God and love for others (1 Timothy 1:5-11).

Does the law have any value for the New Testament believer? Certainly. On the one hand the law reminds us of our sin, inability to keep the law, and absolute necessity for grace to free us from the law. The law was a temporary covenant until Jesus came (Galatians 3:19). It held us prisoners to the law until Jesus came and made us “no longer under the supervision of the law” (Galatians 3:23-29). This passage is especially relevant as it relates to gender laws and regulations as Paul immediately goes on to say that the distinctions that the law used to make (Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female) are no longer significant because we belong to Christ by the grace of the new covenant and not law-keeping.

Paul also reminds us that the law was not made for the redeemed but for rebels against God(1 Timothy 1:9), serving the purpose of helping the lost see the great need for grace (the whole argument of Romans 7:4 – 8:2). In Christ, we are “released from the law” (Romans 7:6).

While Paul, repeatedly says that law keeping is of no value in seeking to live separated lives (Colossians 2:13-23 for instance) and that those that try to get others to keep the law are foolish (i.e., 1 Timothy 1:7), Paul does recognize, though, that some will try to use the law to bring discipline to their lives. The whole argument of Romans 14 is that these areas (many of which are based on Old Testament laws and regulations) are personal (open to varying interpretation and/or application) disputable (in terms of their value for believers) and that believers will need to accept each other without condemnation. Brothers and sisters in Christ are to not flaunt their freedom in a way which hurts others, but they are also not to let what they know to be good to be spoken of as evil. Paul says that these are matters of individual conscience where each person should be convinced in his/her own mind, not judge others and, as much as possible, live in peace with others by keeping the differences to one ’s self.

Julie Marie

Last modified: 12/24/13