What Commands In The Old Testament Am I Supposed To Obey?

On my last post regarding the issue of homosexuality, my friend Jeff asked a very good question. He said:

…why do we ignore many of the rules and commands of the Old Testament on many issues, yet when it comes to homosexuality the Church tend to hold onto them? I have heard many explanations on this, but most of them seem very hollow.

This is a very important question in determining how we interpret the Old Testament, and how we deal with the issue of homosexuality in particular. As Christians, we don’t have the option of picking and choosing which scriptures we want to obey.

In general there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the Old Testament. Most of us who are Christians know that, in some way, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. But what exactly does that mean? And what commands are we supposed to obey from the Old Testament. We’re not supposed to commit adultery, right? I mean, that’s right in the Ten Commandments. But why do we not obey the command about wearing mixed fibers, or eating shrimp, or building a parapet on our house? Something doesn’t add up.

The big question is, are Christians under the law in any way (by “law” I am referring to the Mosaic law)? The answer clearly given by the New Testament is: no. Romans 6:14 says, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (see also Romans 7:4-6, Romans 10:4)

All the commands of the Mosaic law, including all the moral commands, civil commands, and ceremonial commands have been fulfilled by Christ and we are not obligated to obey them. The law was given to Israel for the purpose of helping them be the people of God in their particular culture. Many of the commands are tied very closely to the cultural, civil, and geographical issues that Israel faced, and are difficult, if not impossible to apply to our current circumstances. The law was a covenant between God and the people of Israel, and when Jesus died and rose again, that covenant was replaced by a new one. Now the people of Christ are the true Israel.

So does that mean that the laws of the Old Testament are of no use to us? No, not at all. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” All of the Old Testament is to be used for teaching and training in righteousness. Every single command, whether moral, civil, or ceremonial is useful to us and gives us insight into the mind and heart of God.

Okay, so if we’re not bound by the law, how should we interpret it? Here are a few helpful questions to ask when evaluating questions regarding the Mosaic law:

Does the New Testament speak to this issue at all? At least nine out of the ten commandments (with the possible exception of the Sabbath) are carried forward and even expanded in the New Testament. Adultery can happen with the body and the heart (Matt. 5:27). Murder can be done with a knife or with angry words (Matt. 5:21). So when dealing with the issue of homosexuality, I don’t think we can form our opinion solely from the purity instructions in Leviticus 18-20. Those passages are helpful, but we also need to look at what the New Testament says about the issue. The New Testament is God’s own interpretation of Old Testament commands and events.

What was the original purpose of this law? It’s very helpful to try to determine why God gave specific commands to Israel. For example, why did God command them not to wear mixed fibers? It was probably because God wanted to constantly remind Israel of their need for purity and their need to avoid mixing with the surrounding inhabitants. Great, but how does that apply to me? Well, the Bible tells Christians that we are to be pure as well!

What was the theological significance of this law? In other words, what does this law reveal about God and his ways? The laws of God are insights into the mind of God. We shouldn’t build a case against homosexuality solely based on the verses in Leviticus 18-20, but we can’t just dismiss those verses either. God gave those commands to Israel for a reason. Why did God say that it was wrong for a man to lay with another man? What about that particular action was detestable to him?

What are the practical implications from this law for my life as a NT Christian? God’s laws in the Old Testament are meant for my instruction. What can I learn from these laws?

If we run the laws of the Old Testament through these questions, things begin to make more sense. They were meant for the people of Israel, but they are still God’s words to us as well.

NOTE: The last three questions were taken from David A. Dorsey’s helpful article “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise“. David also has another helpful article here.