21st Century Law

One of the questions facing every believer is the use they will make or otherwise of the Old Testament in general and the Pentateuch in particular. For many it remains much like the Africa; whilst we know it exists and accept that some gems are mined from it occasionally it is not a place we have any serious intention of visiting. Conversely we sometimes find that when dealing with New Testament subjects a verse is dredged up from the Old Testament and applied as scripture in exactly the same way that it would have been had it been culled from the book of Romans. This latter behavior can be as dangerous if not more so than the former.

This paper is essentially going to be an apologetic for the study of the Pentateuch. The thesis is that the first five books of the Bible are the Word of God for us even when it is not the commandment of God to us. It will argue that a key to understanding the Law is that it is the basis of the Old Covenant and yet that we must remember we are under the New covenant. Finally it will suggest that the books are a beautiful illustration of the justice, love and standards of God and that we must remember that the apparent severity of the Old Testament is matched to God's mercy[1].

The first question one needs to ask oneself is: "Is the Pentateuch a part of God's inspired revelation to us?" In answering the question one needs to take into account that the Lord does treat the Pentateuch as scripture. He considered Noah to be real[2] and affirmed the historicity of the flood[3]. When teaching after the resurrection He started with Moses[4] and proceeded to state that the whole Law of Moses had to be fulfilled[5]. It should be noted too that this was not something that changed with the advent of the church in Acts. Hebrews 11 the great chapter on men of faith spends 31 of its 40 verses dealing with characters appearing in the first five books. Even heading to Revelation we find certain elements of Genesis being reaffirmed[6]. One must conclude therefore that the testimony of scripture is that the Law is an integral part of it.

Having established that the Law is the revealed word of God to us the next step is to fully comprehend that it no longer applies to us. This is not a contradiction. If we see a signpost outside of a private club that states "Non-members may not pass this point" then we can easily believe that the message is genuine and enforced and yet we would expect there to be some people that are able to pass the point. Any set of laws is subject to a jurisdiction; that is to a geographic location or set of people to whom the laws apply. In the case of the Pentateuch it is only applicable as long as men live[7] and as believers have died in Christ we are now outside of the Laws jurisdiction[8].

It is actually an interesting question, although largely outside the scope of this paper, as to whether or not unbelievers are still under the law. It should be noted that the exclusion clause of Romans 7 does not apply to those that have not died in Jesus. Gal 3:23 also appears to state that we are under law until faith comes. It goes on to suggest that the law is a schoolmaster that is designed to bring us to Christ. It is perhaps true even today that the righteous demands of the law are still the basis of judgment for those that have not trusted[9]. Note that I am not suggesting that the Law is a means of salvation today. I am suggesting that the Law may be an evangelistic tool that can convict the heart of sin[10] that we are erroneously ignoring.

One of the key differences between the old and new covenants is that the former was a conditional contract between God and man; the new covenant is based purely upon the grace of God. The old covenant therefore contains promises of bounty as well as threats of punishment that is determined by the behavior of both the individual and the nation. In the same way that we have seen that we are dead to the law we must also realize that neither the blessings nor the curses still apply to us. In the new covenant our righteousness comes from Christ and therefore there is no condemnation for us[11]. We are also told that we are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ[12].

We must notice however that whilst our blessings are ours we may no appropriate the blessings of the old covenant for ourselves. This is particularly important as the nature of the blessings between the old and new covenants differ markedly. As Eph 1:3 tells us we have all blessings in the heavenly places. Our hope is heavenly and our home is heavenly. Our time down here will be marked by trial and tribulation[13] we are not promised earthly blessing. This differs markedly from the old covenant where earthly blessing was promised in return for obedience.

Whilst we perhaps consider the health, wealth and happiness gospel to be primarily the offspring of the TV evangelist the fact is that many commentators, even the most conservative ones are prone to appropriating promises that were made to the Jews. This is often done without the corresponding appropriation of either the law or curses with which the promises were entwined. There are even 'promise a day' books that seek to give the believer a fresh promise to hold on to; many of these sourced from the Old Testament. Whilst this may seem harmless that fact remains that we cannot hold God to a promise that He didn't make to us. Then when the promise is 'broken' we either lose faith completely or presume that there is some fault in our own life that has provoked God's failure to deliver. The reality is that God had no intention or reason to deliver in the first place.

The final point I wish to make is that the relative barbarity of much of the Old Testament should serve as a warning to us of the true condition of man and seriousness of sin but also should drive us to our knees to thank God for the grace and mercy we have been shown. Today in the Western world we typically live in a sanitized environment. I am well over half way through my threescore years and ten and yet I have never personally witnessed the violent death of anything larger than a mouse. Even the notions of crime and punishment I have only experienced second or third hand. The thought of having to take an animal, lay my hand upon it's' head and slit its throat to atone for my own sin is entirely repulsive. Yet perhaps if I allowed myself to feel that revulsion a little more I would be less inclined to treat sin lightly in the first place.

Of course we should not leave our studies of the law with a fear of the retribution we are due. As we have already seen the purpose of the law today is to drive us to Christ. Having been driven to Christ and having accepted Him in faith and having therefore been freed from the grip of the law then the severity of the law should drive us to praise and thankfulness. We have not been saved from a speeding ticket or from a slap on the wrist. We have been saved from a severe and inescapable punishment merited by personal abominable behavior. Further we have not just been saved but have been made partakers of the new covenant that is not based upon our ability to keep the law but purely upon the grace of God and once and for all sacrifice of Christ.

This paper started with a question and has not furnished a complete answer; it is really up to the individual to make their own decision. I do believe I have shown that the law is a deliberate part of the canon and that it is necessary to understand our own sinful natures and the amazing deal that has been offered to us as part of the dispensation of grace. However I have also suggested that the occasional, sporadic, 'hit and run' approach to the Old Testament is potentially dangerous; the verses in there have a completely different application to the verses in our New Testament. If we wish to use them at all then we need to understand them sufficiently that we can utilize them in a manner which is appropriate to us. Let us each have the diligence and determination to do so.


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