Old Testament Law

Critics of Christians will often quote the Old Testament as the current law. I would like to be able to direct people to verses or chapters in the Bible that let everyone know this is no longer correct. Where can I start?

Others have shared your experience:  you post a comment on Facebook or another kind of discussion forum on what the Bible says about marriage or homosexuality, and someone else replies:  “Why don’t you stone adulterers while you’re at it?  And why are you wearing clothes made out of two different kinds of material?”  Those questions are usually followed by references to Leviticus or Deuteronomy.

Where do you start with a response?  To begin with, we recognize that while the Bible does not use the terms “civil,” “ceremonial” and “moral” to categorize God’s laws in the Old Testament, there are different kinds of laws in the Old Testament and those terms are helpful in distinguishing the differences among them.

“Civil” laws regulated the nation of Israel.  While the theocracy of Israel was in place, the civil laws were in force.  When God’s Old Testament people ceased being a nation, the civil laws became obsolete.  God’s directive to people in New Testament times is to render obedience to governments, without relaying specific mandates (Romans 13; 1 Peter 2).

“Ceremonial” laws regulated the worship life—and related items—of the people of Israel.   Those laws dealt with, among other things, sacrifices, festivals, the priesthood, diet and (un)cleanness.  It is clear from Scripture that these laws have been abolished.  They had their purpose:  pointing to the promised Messiah.  But once the Messiah came in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the ceremonial laws were no longer in effect (cf. Galatians; Colossians 2; Hebrews 4-10).  Jesus rendered perfect obedience to the law of God; he was our perfect substitute in life (Romans 10:4).

That leaves us with the “moral” law.  That is often defined as God’s will for all people of all time.  The moral law is every command of God that applies to every person, no matter when or where he or she may live.  People naturally have knowledge of the moral law because God’s law is written in their hearts (Romans 2:14-15).  The Ten Commandments serve as a good summary of the moral law (even though there are references to civil law and ceremonial law in them).

While it would be nice if Old Testament laws were packaged and labeled “civil law” and “ceremonial law,” that is not the case.  Still, we can identify laws that were binding only on Old Testament Israel (the civil and ceremonial laws), and we can identify laws that reflect the moral law in that they direct all people of all time to love God and their neighbor.  God grant you patience and wisdom as you witness to others through social media.