New Testament Believers and the Law

From the days of Acts 15 to now, the issue of what from the Old Testament is immediately applicable to New Testament believers has been a subject of great discussion and sometimes heated disagreement. I don’t think for a moment I’m going to resolve all of that in a blog post.

I receive lots of questions about this issue. Interestingly enough, most of them have to do with Tithing. I get very few questions about the application of Kosher food laws. Tithing, though certainly included within the Law of Moses, is a practice that preceded the Law, and therefore succeeds the fulfillment of the Law in Christ and is in no way made obsolete. Similarly, the Law of Moses had much to say about marriage. But, because marriage as a God instituted practice preceded the Law, it also succeeds the Law and remains relevant within the NT community.

Part of the issue from my view is that the term “Law” is not used monolithically within scripture. Broadly “Law” might refer to the first 5 books of the canon, much of which isn’t “legal” in nature at all, but rather narrative. In this sense the term “Teaching” might be closer to my understanding of the Hebraic idea of this use. Tithing, like marriage, is woven into the fabric of this narrative from the very beginning. In fact the first word of scripture – “In the beginning…” (Gen 1:1) is re’shyth, frequently translated “first fruits”.

Regarding specific criteria for the implementation of regulations from the Law of Moses, I see these ordinances as existing in three primary and very broad categories: moral law, civil law, and laws related specifically to the Temple/Priesthood and sacrificial cult.

Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 5 that he came to fulfill the Law applies to each of these, I believe, in a manner unique to each category. He fulfilled the moral law by living by it perfectly, and enabling this reality to be imputed to us by faith. He fulfilled the sacrificial law by being, embodying, and enacting the reality to which those practices were an advance signpost. He fulfilled the civil law by inaugurating a new people made up of Jew and Gentile who worship as one new man and exist in a manner indefinable by national or ethnic boundary markers and therefore exist within and underneath the rule of a broad range of human governments that are not in any way theocratic while maintaining a different citizenship altogether.

It seems very relevant to me, that the requirements placed upon gentile believers in Acts 15 for keeping the law tie much more closely to God’s covenant with Noah than they do to Moses’ law. This again at least possibly pointing toward the concept that those practices and requirements that precede Moses’ law might also be expected to succeed it.

So, what of Moses’ Law? Though fulfilled in Christ, it is not irrelevant. A parent’s role changes as a son moves from childhood into adulthood. The nature of the relationship between parent and child certainly changes too. Some might say it changes for the better. My mom doesn’t tell me when to go to bed anymore, though she once did. But, I nevertheless have much to learn from her, love about her, and appreciate about the rich heritage I have in her. My present, though not governed by her requirements, is still largely explained within the context of the foundation laid while under her tutelage. The same is true for believers in the New Testament. Though we are no longer under the governance of the Law, we still have much to learn from and appreciate from that rich heritage. In fact, the present reality of our relationship with Christ through faith is really only understood within the broader context of understanding the Jewish foundation of our faith.


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