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.

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

  1. My take on the sexuality is as follows:

    When we look at the argument over whether which parts of the Law (if any) still apply, the Bible itself addresses with specificity this issue with regard to sexuality. Specifically, the council at Jerusalem, in which James and Peter take up this question and all of the apostles write to the Gentile church saying that, amongst other things, they are to avoid sexual immorality. So sexual sins have never been accepted by any Church that maintains the teachings of Christ. Sexual immorality is anything outside of one man and one woman for life. Christ Himself makes a statement to this effect.

    Therefore you cannot make any legitimate argument based on Scripture that any form of sexual activity outside of this arrangement is okay. God has never given his stamp of approval to any sexual activity outside of marriage, and nowhere does God ever say that marriage is anything other than between a woman and a man.

    More to the point, it has never been okay in God’s eyes for man to decide what is right based on mere feeling.

      1. I don’t think Water Rat was saying that *you* are saying sex outside of marriage is OK. He/she is simply giving their view and how they don’t agree with people’s attempts to make arguments that God is okay with sex outside of marriage.

      2. I’ve never said you thought so. If you thought so from what I wrote, my apologies. Just writing out my thought process. I wasn’t completely familiar with the way this guy broke up the laws, and while they make sense, you can get to the truth regarding sexuality a little more simply, at least in my opinion, that’s all.

    1. So, all of the old testament laws that touch on sexuality are binding? There’s a lot more than homosexuality I’m thinking about.

  2. Most excellent article !!! Can I throw in my two cents as the token Jew ?

    The early church was a wild scene – It was the coming together of Jews & Gentiles (really think about this – for centuries Jews didn’t touch or associate with Gentiles with the exception of proselytes). Can you imagine converted Levitical Jewish priests and newly converted Gentiles who allowed immoral marriage interacting ???

    There are 660 laws under Torah and 1053 commandments from Yahshua and the apostles. They contain the core elements of the Torah (social, moral, civil) and are greatly amplified.
    The “amplification” of the OT Torah and practices are seen with the circumcision of the heart, eternal sabbath. Yahshua in you (Feast of Booths), outpouring of the Ruach haKadosh in Acts 2 mirror the law given to the Jews in the wilderness on the day of Pentecost). Everything in the Torah mirrors / symbolic and sheds light into G_DS eternal plan/purposes.

    Much of Pauls writings confirm this transcendence from the Law of Moses to the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ.

    When one studies the Levitical law and compares it to the NT.
    Paul and other writers literally wrote “New Rules and New Torah for the early assemblies” that are based on century OLD Torah Jewish synagogue practices, family practices, courting, family life in the epistles. The Law of Moses is never done away with – it is built on – this is symbolically seen in the New Jerusalem :
    -The crystal foundation of the New Jerusalem has 12 foundations from the 12 tribes (crystal is formed by heat & pressure)
    -The pearl gates are the 12 apostles (pearl is formed by irritation)

  3. Should anyone claim that the ceremonial/moral distinction is an a priori invention, then Deuteronomy 14:21 should be helpful. In it, God approves of the giving of non-kosher food to gentiles.

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