The Old Testament is an integral part of Christian beliefs and practices, providing a historical and spiritual foundation for the faith, as well as guidance for moral behavior and a deeper understanding of God's nature and character. Nevertheless, many Christians have great difficulties reconciling the Old and the New Testaments' beliefs and practices.
Often one hears questions such as: Are Christians bound to follow the Old Testament laws? What is the relationship between the Old Testament laws and the New Testament? Why do Christians follow some Old Testament laws and not others? How should Christians interpret the Old Testament laws? Did Jesus abolish the Old Testament laws?
Other questions are: Do Christians need to keep the Sabbath as the Old Testament commands? How should Christians view dietary laws in the Old Testament? What is the role of circumcision in Christianity, considering the Old Testament laws? How do Christians reconcile the harsh punishments in some Old Testament laws with a loving God? Can Christians cherry-pick which Old Testament laws to follow?
Christians are responsible for defending the Christian faith by combining explanation and argumentation in dialogue. Our role is to provide Biblical and theological support for Christianity and answer objections from skeptics and fellow Christians alike. It behooves us to engage with believers and skeptics, presenting reasoned arguments for the truth of Christianity and addressing common objections raised against the faith. It is, therefore, our responsibility to offer cogent Biblical responses to these questions that come up anytime the Old Testament Law and Christian beliefs and practices collide:
The Old Testament and the New Testament present different approaches to interpreting and applying the laws contained in the Old Testament. There are some key differences between how the Old Testament laws work in the Old and New Testaments.
First, in the Old Testament, there is a strong emphasis on ritual practices and ceremonies, such as animal sacrifices, circumcision, and observance of holy days. In the New Testament, the focus shifts from external rituals to internal morality, emphasizing principles like love, forgiveness, and compassion.
Second, in the Old Testament, the laws were seen as strict and binding, with strict punishments for those who violated them. In the New Testament, the emphasis shifts to personal responsibility, where individuals are called upon to follow the laws out of love and respect for God rather than fear of punishment.
Third, in the Old Testament, the laws were often interpreted literally, with strict adherence to the letter of the law. In the New Testament, the emphasis is more on spiritual interpretation, with Jesus often interpreting the laws metaphorically and symbolically.
Fourth, in the Old Testament, the laws were primarily seen as applicable to the nation of Israel and its people, with a focus on maintaining their identity as a chosen people. In the New Testament, the emphasis shifts to the universal application of the laws, with Jesus calling on all people to follow God's commandments.
Fifth, in the Old Testament, many of the laws were seen as temporary, meant to be observed only until the coming of the Messiah. In the New Testament, the emphasis is on the permanent nature of God's laws, with Jesus often affirming the importance of the Old Testament laws while offering new insights and interpretations.
Overall, the Old Testament laws provide a foundation for understanding God's expectations for his people, while the New Testament offers new insights and interpretations for how those laws should be applied in our lives today.
In Christian theology, the Old Testament laws are often divided into civil, ceremonial, and moral. This categorization helps to understand the purpose and relevance of each type of law. While some of these laws were explicitly meant for the Israelites as the chosen people then, others have universal applications and apply to both the Old and the New Testaments adherents.
First, there are Civil laws that governed the civil life of ancient Israel. They dealt with issues such as property rights, criminal justice, and government organization. Many of these laws were specific to the Israelites' historical and cultural context and were not intended to be universally applicable. Examples of civil law are Exodus 21:22-25: A law dealing with compensation for causing a woman to miscarry. Deuteronomy 22:8: A law requiring Israelites to build a parapet around the roof of their house to prevent someone from falling off.
Second, there are ceremonial laws: These are the laws that regulated the worship practices of ancient Israel. They included instructions for sacrifices, temple rituals, and other religious ceremonies. These laws were intended to symbolize the Israelites' relationship with God and foreshadow the coming of Jesus Christ. Leviticus 23:4-8: outlined the feast of Passover, including instructions for the preparation and consumption of the Passover lamb. Leviticus 16:29-31 detailed the Day of Atonement, a solemn day of repentance and sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
Third, are the moral laws: These are the laws that express God's moral standards and are intended to be universal. They deal with issues such as the sanctity of human life, sexual morality, honesty, and respect for authority. These laws are based on God's character and are grounded in the belief that humans are created in His image.
They are meant to guide people in living a life that is pleasing to God. Examples of moral laws are Exodus 20:13: A law prohibiting murder. Leviticus 19:18: A law commanding Israelites to love their neighbor as themselves. Exodus 20:14 prohibits adultery. Exodus 20:16 prohibits bearing false witness. These examples demonstrate the diversity of the Old Testament laws, with some laws specific to the Israelites' historical and cultural context (civil and ceremonial), while others express God's universal moral standards (moral).
It is important to note that while the civil and ceremonial laws no longer apply to Christians, the moral laws are still relevant today. Jesus affirmed the moral laws when he said, "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). Christians are called to follow these moral laws not to earn salvation, but as a response to God's grace and in gratitude for His love.
Touching on the moral law and its universal application, Thomas Aquinas, a medieval Christian philosopher, and theologian, believed that there is a close relationship between the Ten Commandments and the concept of natural law.
According to Aquinas, natural law is a set of moral principles innate in human beings and can be discerned through reason. These principles are universal and applicable to all people, regardless of their culture or religion. Aquinas believed that the Ten Commandments are a fundamental expression of natural law, as they reflect the moral principles inherent in human nature.
In particular, Aquinas saw the Ten Commandments as expressing the moral principles governing our relationships with God and others. The first three commandments relate to our relationship with God, while the remaining seven relate to our relationships with others. These commandments, according to Aquinas, reflect the natural law principles of justice, charity, and prudence.
Christians do not have to keep the Sabbath, circumcision, and dietary laws because they believe in the teachings of the New Testament. The Sabbath was a day of rest that God commanded in the Old Testament, but Jesus' death and resurrection fulfilled the Sabbath's purpose, and Christians observe Sunday as the Lord's Day.
Circumcision was a physical sign of the covenant between God and the Israelites, but in the New Testament, baptism replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant. Lastly, the dietary laws were given to the Israelites to distinguish them from other nations, but Jesus declared all foods clean, indicating that the dietary laws were no longer necessary for Christians. Therefore, Christians follow the teachings of the New Testament and do not observe these Old Testament laws.
The beliefs and practices of the Old and New Testaments can be reconciled by understanding the continuity between the two and how Jesus Christ fulfills the purpose of the law and brings salvation to all who believe in him.