Monday, 11 February 2013

Reforming the Old Testament Laws

What I am about to argue for goes against Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Article 7 of the 39 Articles and what lots of other (well respected) reformed folk hold to. I point this out so that in the future, if I am moving in liberal circles, people will be able to point back to this blog post and say "See! This is where it all started!". Maybe they could point back even further...

When dealing with all the laws in the Old Testament (about 613 of them) the reformed folk have generally put them into three categories: the ceremonial, the civil and the moral. They then go on to sate that the ceremonial and the civil laws do no apply today.

The ceremonial law do not apply as Jesus was the one true sacrifice that replaces all other sacrifice. The Holy Spirit now dwells in His people and not in the temple any more (and also the temple got destroyed in 70 AD, so it a bit hard for all that to work, especially since the Dome of the Rock is on there now). The food laws got changed in Acts when Peter had a vision of all the animals he could eat before he went to a Gentiles place to tell him about Jesus. The Sabbath laws in Jesus' day were pretty strict to which Jesus reminded the people that the laws were made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Paul also said that we shouldn't cause fellow believers to stumble, even if one does esteem one day above the rest (Rom 14:5-6), perhaps meaning that all days are actually equal now and that now, after Today, there will be a Sabbath rest because of Jesus (Heb 4).

The civil laws do not apply now as Christianity has spread beyond the Jewish culture. The civil laws that set up in Leviticus was for the Jewish people (and mainly for the Levite, hence the name of the book) after they had been slaves and theses were instructions how they are to live as a nation. In Deuteronomy, a generation after Leviticus, the law was laid down again (reapplied for their day) in the context of how they are now going to live in a fixed location in the Promise Land, as the last generation were moving around for 40 years. Today Gentiles are included in Christianity and they do no live in the Promised Land. They now live under different governments, or which we are instructed to obey. Never in the New Testament are Christians encouraged to overthrow the Emperor or the government and re-introduce Jewish law. Instead they are told to honor the Emperor (1 Peter 2:17) even in the face of persecution.

On the above two categories I agree. Both the ceremonial and the civil laws do not apply for the Christian today, but I go a step further and say that also the moral laws of the Old Testament do not apply. And generally when people talk about the moral law of the Old Testament, they point to the 10 commandments. So yes I am saying that the ten commandments do not apply for Christians today. You can take that out of context here, or read on to see that I agree with Jesus on the sermon on the mount (and other places) who sets the standard higher than the big 10. Christians are to obey Jesus and what he said on the 10 commandments, not the 10 commandments per se. This is where I move away from those confessions and articles. Please correct me in the comments where I have over stepped my mark, but first hear me out.

The main issue I have with this three phase break up of the Old Testament law is that it is a bit artificial and subjective. Aren't all laws moral, since they declare what is right and wrong? Back then there was no separation of church and state and so they had no concept of a divide between what was a "civil" or a "moral" or a "religious" law. They were all just laws for the Jewish nation, who was to live under God.

Is working on the Sabbath a moral law as God said you shouldn't? The reason they shouldn't is because God rested on the Sabbath giving it a religious aspect. Also working on the Sabbath would affect your local family, the family of those employed by you and the community around you (do others now compete with you work ethic?). This gives it a civil aspect as well. Killing a person is a morally wrong civil law based on religious reasons (people are created in the image of God). Who decides what laws we keep as "moral" and what do not apply because they were "civil"?

Another issue I have is that even in the Old Testament there is talk of, perhaps a new, law that is going to be placed on the hearts of God's people (Jer 31:31-34). This is newness talk sounds a bit like in Ezekiel where God's people will get a new heart and a new spirit (Eze 11:19, 36:26). This new covenant will have God putting it on His people's new heart with a new Spirit. Why when Christians talk about the new covenant do they still cling to parts of the old? I wonder what Jesus meant when he was talking about old cloth and old wine skins not working on new cloth and new wine skins (Mark 2:21-22)...

For anyone who has read Graham Goldsworthy's Gospel and Kingdom and agree with his framework of looking at different points in salvation history through the grid of God's people, in God's place under God's rule should hopefully agree with me. In the Garden God's people (Adam and Eve) were in God's place (the Garden) and were meant to obey God's rule (don't eat that one fruit). The Jews in the Promise Land were God's people in God's land who were meant to obey God's rule (the stuff in the Pentateuch). Christians are now God's people in God's place (the Kingdom of God), under God's rule (the new covenant in the New Testament - that is why it is New after all).

Again I don't see why Christians still talk about keeping the moral law of the Old Testament. Besides, Jesus made at leas two of the top 10 even stricter by saying that if you are angry or lust in your heat you have pretty much committed murder or adultery. We should remember that Jesus set out to fulfill the Old Testament law (Mat 5:17). Jesus even encourages His followers to keep His commandments, in the same way He has kept the Fathers (John 15:10, 14:15). Christians are Jesus' (possessive plural), they are to obey Jesus' commands.

So am I saying that we should disregard the Old Testament and not even read it? Of cause I am not arguing for that. Besides these law bits I am talking about do not even make up half of the Old Testament, nor does it even make up all of the Pentateuch. So what value is there in these un-applicable law bits that I am arguing for? It's the same reason the reformed folks argue about the value of the "ceremonial" and the "civil" laws even thought they don't apply to us: it is because it teaches us about God Himself.

The law that Adam and Eve got does not apply to us today, but it does show God gave His people a choice to obey Him or not. The law (and I mean all of the law) given to Israel before entering the Promised Land does not apply to us today, but it does (at very least) show us that God is holy and hates sin; the need for law and order in society; God's heart for justice and hatred towards injustice; different crimes have different punishment and how hard it is for us to live up to the standards put before us. There are probably a lot more things, if only we took the time to study them.


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