Which of the moral rules in the Old Testament are still binding on Christians?

Jonathan M. writes an analysis of the applicability of Old Testament laws that’s a must-read for Christians.

First, the summary:

I recently posted an article on this blog wherein I outlined my viewpoint with regards same sex marriage and some of my reasons for holding to that position. Now, my views on this issue fall into two categories — theological and sociological. While I think that there are good sociological arguments against the institution of same sex marriage (the focus of my previous post), I also hold that homosexual behaviour is immoral for theological reasons. The Biblical basis for this view comes from a number of Scriptural passages. Among them, is Leviticus 18, a chapter concerned exclusively with sexual sin. Verse 22 commands, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” Mention of this passage routinely raises the objection, “But aren’t you cherry picking the Bible? After all, you don’t follow all those laws in Leviticus either. Do you refrain from wearing clothing woven from two kinds of material as prohibited in Leviticus 19:19? And do you obey the dietary laws outlined in Leviticus 11?” I get this objection put to me so often that I felt compelled to write a blog post addressing it. I trust that those who make this kind of objection will find this post informative.

Here’s his argument:

In his Summa Theologica, the theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) writes,

“We must therefore distinguish three kinds of precept in the Old Law; viz. ‘moral’ precepts, which are dictated by the natural law; ‘ceremonial’ precepts, which are determinations of the Divine worship; and ‘judicial’ precepts, which are determinations of the justice to be maintained among men.”

[…]Only God’s moral law is applicable to us today. The ceremonial and judicial laws of ancient Israel are not. Galatians 2:1-3; 5:1-11; 6:11-16; 1 Corinthians 7:17-20; Colossians 2:8-12; Phillipians 3:1-3 all indicate that the covenant of circumcision has now been done away with. What counts now is, in a manner of speaking, a circumcision of heart — which takes the form of faith in Christ and repentance from our sin.

I think his argument squares with Jesus’ constant dismissing of ceremonial laws and customs, and his focus instead on moral obligations.

Here’s an example from Matthew 15:10-20:

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.

11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.

14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.

17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?

18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.

19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

It’s important for Christians to be familiar with these categories, because we get challenged on this all the time by people who reject the idea that God has any say about what is right and wrong for us. The challenge is meant to shut down discussion of objective morality by citing a hard case, and we should be ready to respond.

5 thoughts on “Which of the moral rules in the Old Testament are still binding on Christians?”

  1. Jesus also upheld the God-ordained standard for marriage, namely a man and a woman. I use this when people claim that Jesus never spoke against homosexuality. The fact is that Jesus endorsed God’s plan for marriage, and he did not endorse homosexual relations or same-sex “marriage”.

  2. People who throw the “cherry picking verses” spear at Christians clearly do not know the structure of the bible or much else about Christianity.

    The OT: literature on God’s first people. Israel was a theocracy, so they had a much different society than we do today and even a much different society than first century Jews. The OT is literature on Israel as a theocracy. I think God issued a theocracy to contrast His people from surrounding people. Also, just because a verse is in the bible doesn’t mean it was a divine command from God or that it was even condone by God. The OT documents are historical documents and thus are accounts of a real people living in a real theocratic government.

    The following are six things to remember when reading the OT (this is an excerpt from the Apologetics Study Bible.)

    * Narratives describe what happened, not what was necessarily approved.

    * We assume wrongly that if a story is in scripture, it must be “what God wanted.”

    * Biblical narrators dealt with the real world, with all its corrupt and fallen ambiguity.

    * Shouldn’t mistake realism for ethical approval.

    * OT stories challenge us to wonder at God’s amazing grace and to patience in continually working out His purposes through such morally compromised people.

    * OT stories challenge us to be discerning in evaluating their conduct according to standards the OT itself provides

  3. Evidence is uncovered daily revealing the advanced state of ancient civilizations and technology not only in Bible lands but around the world. The OT is a historical narrative. The miracles in the OT are part of recorded history. A bias against miracles is NOT a sign of intellect or intelligence, but rather a presupposition against God. If God exists, then miracles are not only possible, they are probable. Jesus accepted the OT as authentic in John 10:35, Luke 16:17, Luke 24:27, John 5: 46-47, Matthew 13:14, 24:15, 19: 4,5, 23:35, Luke 17:26-28, John 8:56-58, Mark 10:6-9, Matt 24: 37-39. It is a serious thing to challenge the authority of the OT when Jesus accepted it so fully and consistently. G.M.

    1. And the existence of God is supported by the Big Bang cosmology and the fine-tuning and the moral argument, etc. So there is no reason to deny that someone capable of doing the miracles exists, otherwise we would not even be here.

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