In part one of our look at the OT (Old Testament) law and its application in our lives today we ended by proposing a look at some common objections to what we had laid out. So, let’s see what the skeptics have cooked up….
To summarize our previous stance on the law we broke it up into three separate categories. These were Universal Morals, Cultural Universals, and Ceremonial Laws. We argued that it was possible to abide by the laws of the new covenant while still obeying certain commands of the old. With this in mind let’s look at some common objections.
1. Jesus never said the old covenant was abolished, in fact in Matthew 5:17-18 He says that He hasn’t come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Why shouldn’t we be still obeying it today?
To answer this we must clarify that the old covenant hasn’t been abolished. What I mean by that is one can still sign onto the old covenant today and obey its laws. However, without a temple, it would be difficult to fulfill all of its requirements.
Even so, there is a good reason to not sign onto the old covenant today. Internet apologist J.P. Holding in his youtube series on the Old Testament law points out a command in Deuteronomy 18:15 that says,
“The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.“
This states a requirement of the old covenant was to look out for a prophet like Moses. Moses’s job was to broker the old covenant to Israel and, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, Jesus’s job was to broker the new covenant. So this was a command to sign onto the new covenant through the covenant broker when it became available.
But what about Jesus’s claim to fulfill the law? This one is simple. The word used for “fulfill” in Matthew 5:18 means to confirm it through obedience. This was something Jesus had to insist upon due to claims accusing Him of breaking it (i.e Luke 6:1-2). As we pointed out in part one, the old covenant contains universal morals that transcend both covenants, so this is hardly evidence for continual obedience to the old covenant only.
2. Paul says in Galatians 2:16 that a man is not justified by the law but through faith in Christ. Also in Romans 7:4 Paul says that we have become dead to the law by the body of Christ. If this is so, why do Jesus and Paul himself insist strongly on obeying the law elsewhere (i.e. Romans 3:31)?
The answer to this requires some study on ancient culture but the overall concept is simple to grasp. To critics living in modern times, these verses may seem to present a blatant contradiction, but ancient cultures held to a concept called Semitic Totality. This means one’s thoughts and ideologies are linked to one’s actions, so when Paul says we “establish” the law through faith in Romans 3:31, he is saying our faith in the atonement and finished work of Christ will fulfil the law in us. The love of Christ consumes us and establishes the law in our hearts. Thus Paul’s words in Romans 6:15-16,
“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?”
So what about verses that say the law is of no use, like Galatians 2:16? What Paul is referring to in these passages is not the goodness of the law itself, rather he is showing our ability to obey it as ineffectual for salvation and justification. This is why Paul calls the law a “curse” in Galatians 3:13 and why we need to be dead to it and no longer conscious of it. We’ve all sinned and fallen short which is why Jesus had to become a curse for us so we wouldn’t have to rely on the works of the law for salvation and sanctification.
3. The Bible continually says the law is to be obeyed forever in verses such as Genesis 17:19. Isn’t this contradicting Paul?
This is a simple limitation in regards to the English translation. The word used for forever in these verses is ‘olam. Its definition sits more along the lines of “in perpetuity” rather than the literal eternal definition critics assume. Instead, these verses indicate that as long as Israel is signed onto the old covenant they need to obey it. This hardly means God can’t set up a new covenant with others.
There’s one last objection we need to cover before we close this series and it’s one I’ve dealt with many times before. If the Bible contains laws that aren’t relevant to us today, isn’t that a sign it isn’t the inspired word of God? We’ll answer this next time…..