Applying the Old Testament Law Today -- By: J. Daniel Hays

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 158:629 (Jan 2001)
Article: Applying the Old Testament Law Today
Author: J. Daniel Hays


Applying the Old Testament Law Today

J. Daniel Haysa

How should Christians apply the Old Testament Law? Obviously commands in the Mosaic Law are important, for they make up a substantial portion of God’s written revelation. Yet the Old Testament contains many laws that seem strange to modern readers (e.g., “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk,” Exod. 34:26; “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material,” Lev. 19:19; “Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear,” Deut. 22:12).1

Christians violate a number of Old Testament laws with some regularity (e.g., “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing,” Deut. 22:5; “Rise in the presence of the aged,” Lev. 19:32; “The pig is also unclean; although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses,” Deut. 14:8).

Furthermore, while believers tend to ignore many Old Testament laws, they embrace others, especially the Ten Commandments, as the moral underpinnings of Christian behavior (e.g., “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Lev. 19:18; “You shall not commit murder,” Exod. 20:13; “You shall not commit adultery,” Deut. 5:18).

Why do Christians adhere to some laws and ignore others? Which ones are valid and which are not? Many Christians today make this decision based merely on whether a law seems to be relevant. Surely this haphazard and existential approach to interpreting the Old Testament Law is inadequate. How then should Christians interpret the Law?

Traditional Approach

Many evangelical scholars interpret the Mosaic Law by emphasizing the distinction between moral, civil, and ceremonial laws. They define moral laws as those that deal with timeless truths regarding God’s intention for human ethical behavior. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a good example of a moral law. Civil laws are those that deal with Israel’s legal system, including the issues of land, economics, and criminal justice. An example of a civil law is Deuteronomy 15:1, “At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts....

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