Do Christians Have to Obey the Old Testament Laws?
Updated Feb 12, 2024

(Transcript of the video above, edited for readability)

The first thing you've got to do when Old Testament law arises is ask, what laws are you talking about? You have to look at Old Testament law and divide it up, because some of the laws are abiding and remaining, still relevant. Others have passed away. The traditional way that it's been done is you divide it into three—and this isn't just something men and women have invented. I believe the New Testament guides us to do this.

So you've got ceremonial law (ritual law, the sacrifices, the feasts, the tabernacle, the temple). Jesus says, "I am. All of that, it's done away with. I'm the fulfillment of all that, that picture. I'm the sacrifice. I'm the priest. I'm the tabernacle. I'm the temple. I'm the Passover. I'm the feast of first fruits. It's gone. Ceremonial law finished because I am the Christ of the ceremonies." We don't need the pictures anymore. The reality's here.

Then you've got what's usually called judicial law or civil law laws that were given for Israel: a unique nation in a unique place at a unique time. And God gave them special laws to preserve them, to maintain them as a nation, to separate them from other nations to make sure they wouldn't just be amalgamated until the purpose of that nation was fulfilled—which was to be the nation from which the Messiah, the Christ, would come. And once he has come, the need for all these laws that separated Israel, preserved Israel, gave them that unique status, were really no longer relevant. Apart from, there are moral principles, there's wisdom in these laws that we can look at and say, "Hey, that's useful, that's helpful." But we don't need, for example, the penalties, the extreme penalties that were used to really make sure this nation would be preserved until Christ came. 

So ceremonial law, fulfilled. Judicial law, no longer necessary apart from what's wise in it. And then you have the moral law of God summarized in the 10 Commandments. And I think that's usually what people are asking about when they say, do I need to obey Old Testament law? And I think you have to take people to how that law was revealed. People of the law, legalism. But it was revealed in the context of grace. The whole 10 Commandments begin with, "I am the Lord your God"—so there's relationship—"who brought you out of the land of Egypt"—so, there's redemption—"Therefore, you shall have no other gods before me." So he's saying, "look, there's relationship already. Redemption's been accomplished. Now here are some rules to help you show your gratitude and your obedience, your gratitude and your thankfulness for this relationship and this redemption." And that's how Jesus puts it as well. He says, "If you love me"—there's relationship—"Keep my commandments."

So yes, the moral law is still relevant. We are to obey it, but why is the question. It's not to get redemption or get relationship. There's no way we can do that. But it's to show our gratitude for that redemption and that relationship. "If you love me, keep my commandments."

(First published as "Do Christians Have to Obey the Old Testament Laws?" on on October 24, 2011)


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