How Should We Interpret the Law?

In the opening books in the Bible, God establishes the Law upon which the Israelites were expected to live. As New Testament disciples, we must use careful interpretative guidelines as we study and apply this portion of Scripture.

Summary of the Law

  • The Old Testament contains 613 commandments.
  • All of these commandments are found in 4 of the 39 books – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
  • Within the sections of the Old Testament:
    • The Law provided the Law,
    • The History reported how well Israel kept the Law,
    • The Writings revealed wisdom for keeping the Law, and
    • The Prophets warned the people to keep the Law.
  • The most repeated commandments are referred to as the 10 Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17).
  • Even within the 10, God reveals vertical and horizontal commandments which provides a framework for the other 603.

Sections of the Law

Moral

  • Some of the laws were created because God had entered into a covenant with the people and demanded they stay loyal to him.
    • You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:5).
  • Some of the laws that seem trivial actually have a deeper purpose rooted in the sin of worshiping other gods.
    • You shall not boil a young goat in his mother’s milk (Ex. 34:26).

Civil

  • Much of the Law encompasses the civil expectations for the Israelites to behave together as citizens of that particular nation.
  • Many civil laws contain the punishment for civil disagreements and the expectations for guilty restitution (E.g., Ex. 21:12-36).
    • Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death (Ex. 21:16).

Ceremonial

  • Ceremonial laws are those often translated as “statutes.”
  • They include instructions on sacrifices and festivals that maintain the distinct nature of being an Israelite.
  • Some of the laws were actually given for practical health reasons:
    • To protect the Israelites’ diets
      • And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable…the bat (Lev. 11:13, 19)
    • To keep sickness at bay by quarantining the diseased
      • But if the spot is white in the skin of his body and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall shut up the diseased person for seven days (Lev. 13:4, cf. 46; 14:8)
    • To protect from the spreading of germs by strict rules on washing 
      • And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean (Lev. 17:15). 
  • All of these practices were far ahead of the science of the time revealing the existence of a wise and caring Creator God.

Support of the Law

  • The Law is God’s inspired word for you but not all are God’s direct command for you.
  • Don’t see the Law as binding on Christians in the New Covenant era except where it is specifically renewed.
  • God doesn’t alter his perspective on holiness or mercy between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
  • Never forget that God provided deliverance BEFORE he gave commandments.
  • The Law provided the greatest guide to recreate Eden for a fallen Mankind.
  • Jesus perfectly summed up the entire Law in the command to love God and to love others (Matt. 22:34-40).
  • The ultimate point of the Law was to show that it was impossible for us to keep perfectly.
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