It happened again just a few weeks ago.
While talking with someone about a culturally moral issue, I referred to a statement made in Scripture to back up my opinion. At that point, the other person laughed and said, “Yeah, well the Bible also says not to wear clothing made of two different materials.”
Ever had that happen to you? If so, how did you respond?
Too many believers reply by dismissing the Old Testament and saying we now only follow the New. Saying that won’t get you far for two reasons.
First, you won’t really defuse the primary objection of Christians indiscriminately picking and choosing what commands in the Bible to follow. Second, labeling 39 out of 66 books from God’s Word as now irrelevant is the living-breathing definition of theological error.
Let me admit that I was once in the dis-the-Old-Testament camp, so much so that when I entered seminary, I dreaded the Old Testament classes that I was required to take. I had no idea about the surprise awaiting me.
Today, I can tell you my Old Testament education literally awed my socks off. And years later, I still encounter new truths from those ancient books almost weekly that deeply enrich my Christian life and knowledge of God.
Let me give you a few reasons why we shouldn’t pooh-pooh the Old Testament and how it continues to speak to us in the New Testament Church.
We interrupt this broadcast…
I’m betting someone is already cracking their knuckles and getting ready to comment how we New Testament believers are no longer under the Old Testament salvific traditions as prescribed to Israel, etc. No need to do that because I agree.
The entire chapter of Acts 15 makes that clear as does Colossians 2:16-23, parts of Romans 14, the entire book of Galatians, much of Hebrews (esp. chapter 8), and quite a bit more of the New Testament.
That being true, what I am saying is that the New Testament is a continuation of what we find in the Old and therefore it remains a guide to salvation and godly life in general.
Just as we’re saved by faith today, so were the Old Testament saints: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the persons of old gained approval” (Heb. 11:1-12, my emphasis).
Just as God gave His moral law for people to obey back in Old Testament times, it still speaks to how we should live today. And just as God gave patterns and practical reminders for godly living to people back then, that same general wisdom benefits us today.
The moral law
When anyone objects to biblical morality by ticking off ceremonial or civil law commands in the Old Testament, it’s because they’re in the dark about the distinction between God’s universally binding moral law and the Israel-only regulations God gave the people under His theocratic rule. The good news is, there’s a biblical way to distinguish between the two.
At the highest level, few dismiss the idea that there are objective moral laws that apply to everyone, everywhere, for all time. For example, rare is it to find a person that thinks gratuitously torturing babies for fun or raping another person is morally OK. That being the case, it’s not unreasonable to believe that universally binding moral laws would be given to Israel in Old Testament times that naturally carry forward to us today.
God distinguishes His moral laws from other commands in the Old Testament in two ways: (1) through examples of punishment being delivered to both Jewish and Gentile nations that broke His moral laws; (2) reiterating those laws in the New Testament.
For example, Leviticus 18 supplies numerous moral law commands and then ends with statements such as: “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have brought its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants…For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people.” (Lev. 18:24–30, my emphasis; cf. Deut. 9:5).
In contrast, you will search the Old Testament in vain for examples of God bringing judgment upon non-Israelites for not following the Jewish ceremonial, dietary, or other non-moral regulations. When God’s wrath came down on Gentile peoples (e.g., Sodom and Gomorrah), it wasn’t for wearing a shirt made with two fabrics, but because the people were violating God’s moral laws.
Further, keep in mind the important distinction made between the moral law and the various penalties prescribed to Israel in the Old Testament for breaking those laws. Sin is still sin, but the penalties God handed down to Israel in His theocratic state were for them and them alone.
Patterns and reminders for godly living
Beyond the moral law, the Old Testament contains patterns and practical reminders about God’s nature that still serve as practical helps for godly living today.
For example, what’s the deal about not wearing a garment of two different materials (Lev. 19:19)? It was a physical reminder to Israel that there is only one true God. Because of the false teachings of the polytheistic religions around them, God was keeping the concept of “one” in front of Israel: one set of cattle, one type of field, one fabric. We may not adhere to the “one fabric” principle today, but the spiritual tenet of not mixing Christianity with other religions is a good one to remember.
The Old Testament also speaks against tattoos (Lev. 19:28). Is there something innately wrong with putting a mark on your body? Not at all.
One of the physical characteristics of the pagan communities around Israel was that they engaged in physical, religiously-motivated superstitious practices that included the tattooing and disfigurement of their bodies. For example, when Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, they “cut themselves according to their custom” when their false god didn’t respond to their requests (1 Kings 18:28).
In forbidding tattoos to Israel, God’s principle was: don’t resemble the world (Rom. 12:2) and/or possess any ‘marks’ (physical or otherwise) that link you to an ungodly culture and its false religions. Not a bad general reminder for us today.
One last Old Testament pattern/example: how often do you hear politically-left people say today that socialism is advocated in the Bible? A quick look at the governmental, hard-work-reward, welfare, and tax structures prescribed by God in the Old Testament to the only theocratic nation in history quickly puts that false claim to bed (see Lev. 27:30-33, Deut. 12:6-17, Deut. 14:22-29, Lev. 19).
Jesus – the fulfillment of the Old Testament
Jesus said He came to fulfill the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17-18), not to dismiss it. There are so many examples of this, but let me comment on just one.
The practice of circumcision seems inordinately crude, yet it spiritually represents God cutting out a people for Himself and, in return, His people making the commitment that if they didn’t fully obey, they would be cut off from Him. Of course, no one keeps God’s law completely (Rom. 3:9-18), so what hope is there for us?
Flash forward to the New Testament where the cross becomes the ultimate circumcision when Jesus is “cut off” from God for us and takes all the punishment we deserve. He is both the lamb of God and the scapegoat described in the Old Testament who carries away the sins of the people and is cast out into the darkness (Lev. 16).
All of the above only accomplishes the proverbial scratching-of-the-surface where the Old Testament’s place in our life today is concerned. But I hope it will cause you to reconsider where you stand with those 39 books of the Bible and have you seeking after God in their pages like I was wisely taught to do years ago.
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.