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Storkersen: Do the Old Testament laws apply to us today?

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A year ago, President Obama gave a speech in which he responded to those who believe the United States must embrace the Bible as the guide to government, and at one point he asked a simple question that angered millions of religious people in America. While many people believed Obama was mocking the Bible, he was actually proposing a very intelligent and reasonable question. Here is what President Obama said:

Braeden Storkersen

Braeden Storkersen

 “Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus which suggests that slavery is okay, and that eating shellfish is an abomination? Or we could go with Deuteronomy that suggests stoning people if they stray from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount; a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful our own defense apartment would survive its application.”

            President Barack Obama

I remember the outburst from the religious community when Obama raised these questions. Many people furiously declared that he was mocking the Bible and that he was trying to raise his own authority above the authority of God.

On the other-hand, as I listened to Obama’s speech, I completely understood what he was saying. By no means was he trying to argue that the Bible was absolutely invalid for morality. Obama was simply trying to bring to light that many of the teachings of the Bible do not coincide with our culture. Even more than that, many people find the teachings of the Old Testament completely preposterous!

Every church today submits to the authority of the New Testament of the Bible, which is the portion of scripture detailing Jesus’ coming to Earth as well as the time thereafter, but churches today rarely submit to the laws prior to Jesus’ coming, the Old Testament. Why is that?

The question that people need to take from this and ask themselves is “do the teachings of the Old Testament apply to us at all today?”

The answer is simple, but at the same time takes some time to elaborate on. After all, the laws of the Old Testament, which specifically come from the book of Leviticus, range from commanding people to not lie all the way to condemning homosexuals to be put to death.

While everyone would agree that it is morally wrong to lie, everyone, including the Christian community, shivers when they read the Bible commanding people to be put to death. So the question is similar to what Obama asked, “What passages of scripture should guide us?”

The majority of Biblical scholars, when dealing with this issue, will divide the laws of Leviticus into four categories:

The first category is ceremonial law. Ceremonial law referred to laws about the priesthood and the temple.

The second is civil law. Civil laws were those laws pertaining to the governing of Israel as a nation ruled by God. Israel was a theocracy; therefore, the Bible included what God commanded in regards to how they should function as a society.

The third is moral law. Moral law forbids horrendous acts such as rape, theft, and murder.

The last category is  wisdom-based law. These are not so much intended to be absolute laws, but instead, commandments to be followed simply because they were wise and would be beneficial to follow.

So are we to follow all four categories of the Old Testament laws or just some? Let’s consider why it is that when Jesus came, and the New Testament was written, a large group of religious people ceased to follow vast portions of the Old Testament law.

When Jesus came, the Bible states that he was our new high priest. Therefore, we don’t need to submit to earthly priests, or go to them to ask for forgiveness, because Jesus broke the wall down between man and God. Since Jesus died for our sins, all we need to do is ask him for forgiveness. Jesus replaced the entire system of the priesthood, and as a result, eliminated the need to follow ceremonial laws.

While Jesus was in ministry, a large amount of his teachings were to obey the authorities that have been put above us. The one exception was if the government commanded a Christian to do something that was absolutely contrary to their lives as believers. In which case, they were to obey God rather than man. While God was still the ultimate authority, Jesus taught that God allowed everything for a reason, including governments, and therefore, we are to obey our government. By including this in his teachings, Jesus declared that governments other than theocracies were still watched over by God. Therefore, civil laws were not necessary to follow.

As Jesus preached the message that He is Lord and Savior of all, He still included moral teachings. Ultimately, he recognized that humanity was imperfect and could not perfectly follow morality; that’s why He came to save us by taking the punishment for our sins. On the other hand, morality was still an implication of following Jesus as our Lord and Savior. So Jesus did not eliminate moral laws.

In addition, Jesus never did away with wisdom-based commandments. Why is that? Well, because they are simply that, commandments based on wise principles! Even though all the commandments were not mandatory for salvation under Jesus, wisdom still stands as timeless principles to apply in our lives.

With all of this in mind, the final answer to the question regarding Old Testament laws is that, because of Jesus, moral laws as well the principles of the wisdom-based commandments apply to us today..

After all, Christians do not merely follow a set of laws; Christians follow Jesus.

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