Saturday, November 6, 2010

Should Believers in Christ Follow and Hold to Old Testament Law?

Apart from writing here for Follow in His Steps, the Lord often gives opportunities to correspond with others regarding different scriptural topics, whether it be in answer to questions that someone may have about a particular area, or if questions are asked about our family’s faith practice. A number of times these letters have later been shared here on this blog (such as the ones on modesty, headcoverings, and trusting the Lord.)

As I haven’t had a great deal of time lately to write specifically for this blog, I thought that I would share a few more of these letters that have been written. This particular one has been ‘reworked’ since the original writing of it to a young lady, to take out the personal references as much as was able yet while still giving clarity to the writing. 

It is shared here with the hope that it will provoke thought and stir each one of us to search the Scriptures and to seek to learn more and more about our Lord and His Word . . .


Thank you for your gracious response, for sharing what you did, and for sharing your all’s website address. I visited the site, and found that, yes, we do believe differently in regards to the Law, the Old and New Covenants, etc. While we both have the same evidence (i.e. Scripture), our interpretations of that evidence are contrary to one another.

The interpretations of evidence that we arrive at are often based upon our presuppositions, or preconceived ideas, which can either arise from previous teachings that we have heard, commentaries, our own minds, etc. Presuppositions are those things that are already assumed and taken for granted before a thorough investigation of the evidence has taken place. 

These presuppositions are often influenced by, or arise from, the worldview that we have whether it be atheism, Catholicism, Judaism, etc., or any belief that we may already hold to (such as believing that baptism is necessary in order to attain salvation, etc.)—these types of previously held beliefs will very likely influence our interpretation of Scripture. 

Because of this, often as we read, instead of gleaning the pure meaning of the text, we read into God’s word these presuppositions, these previously held beliefs, that we already have. And as a result, they influence our interpretation of the evidence. Thus why it is so very important that when we read and study Scripture, that we let Scripture define and show what the true interpretation of it is. 
As Peter stated by inspiration of God “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation . . .” (2 Peter 1:20.) We must let Scripture interpret Scripture.

Having this as the basis for any discussion that one may have regarding God’s Word will help greatly as we study and examine Scripture together. And with that in mind, I have some thoughts that I would like to share. Please take to heart what is shared, prayerfully examine it in the light of Scripture, and set aside any presuppositions that you may have so that you may be able to understand the pure meaning of the Word. Whether it be in favor of your interpretation, or mine.

In a previous correspondence, one of the verses shared was Galatians 3:17-19:

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.”

For a brief timeline, first came the promise that was to Abraham which was “by faith,” and then “four hundred and thirty years later,” was the establishment of the Old Covenant. And as the above verses show, the Law did not nullify the previously made promise to Abraham, the promise of Christ. 

We see that the Law was added “because of transgressions,” and it was to be in place “until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.” That seed being Christ; and the promise being that which was made to Abraham.

To further support this, we find in Hebrews that “. . . on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment [the Old Covenant] because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:18-19.)

From these verses, it is shown that there are two separate ‘sides’ if you will, two contrasts, Scripture calls them ‘hands.’ On one side is the Law, which Scripture says was weak and useless (it made nothing “perfect”—it did not bring salvation), on the other side is the “better hope” which is Christ. Here is a ‘picture’ of both the Old and the New Covenants. And as God says in His Word, it is through the New Covenant that we draw near to Him, not the Old.

Scripture is replete with distinctions between the Old and New Covenants (as well as how the Old prepares the way for the New), and a key, and very foundational verse, is found just a bit further in the book of Hebrews . . .

When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13)

The Greek word that was used in this verse and from which the word “obsolete” was translated is palaioo which means “to make obsolete; to wear out, become obsolete, become old” (definition taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.) According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, it means “to declare a thing to be old and so about to be abrogated.” 

So here in this passage, God is saying that He has made (past tense) the first covenant obsolete and abrogated! Obsolete means “gone into disuse; disused; neglected,” and abrogated is to be “repealed; annulled by an act of authority” (definitions taken from Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.)

Again, a clear and contextual distinction between the Old and New Covenants—the Old was made obsolete by God, to make way for the New which was established by Christ.

Christ Himself uses even more strong and clear language in Matthew to support this:

But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:16-17.)

This is a word picture given by Christ of the New and Old Covenants. As He states, the unshrunk cloth (New Covenant) is not compatible with an old garment (Old Covenant); and again, new wine (New Covenant) is not compatible with old wineskins (Old Covenant.) The two are incompatible. The purpose of the Old Covenant was to reveal man’s sinfulness, his inability to save himself, and to point to the Savior, which would be the induction of the New Covenant . . . 

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.” (Galatians 3:19.)

Elsewhere in Scripture it is also shared that the Law was a tutor to lead us to Christ, but now that there is faith, we are no longer under a tutor (Galatians 3:24-25); that the Old Covenant was but a “mere shadow” of the substance which was Christ (Colossians 2:16-17); and that the Law was only “a shadow” of what was to come, that being Christ and the New Covenant that He established (Hebrews 10:1a.)

Scripture instructs repeatedly that the Law was a precursor to the New Covenant; that it pointed to Christ, but was only a shadow. And again, as Christ presented so distinctly, the New Covenant and the Old Covenant are not compatible with one another. The Old instead prepared the way and led to the establishment of the New.

Which leads to a verse which is often quoted when this topic is discussed . . . but again, we have the same evidence, yet different interpretations . . .

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19.)

Words have tremendous meaning, and it is important that we have an accurate understanding of those words to fully and accurately understand what is being communicated. If we use our own interpretation of those words, we can, and likely will, run into error. In this particular passage, there are two very important and key words that we must know the proper defining of; those words being “abolish” and “fulfill” . . .

“Abolish” – kataluo - “to destroy, to overthrow” (according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance)

“Fulfill” – pleroo “to make full, to complete” (according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance)

Let us look at ‘abolish’ which is “to destroy, to overthrow” . . . first we must recognize that God's Word is always true and always good. Every part of it has a purpose, whether it be instruction to follow, things to watch for, historical accounts, prophecy, things to look forward to, etc. There are also different purposes in the different types of law given (mosaic law, ceremonial law, etc.) 

By using Scripture to interpret Scripture, we can discover what the purpose of each passage is. Knowing all of this, we can know for certain that the Old Covenant should never be destroyed as it is God’s word and it has a specific purpose, that being to not only give a history of what God has done and what foreshadowed and led to the New Covenant, but as mentioned earlier, it is to reveal man’s sinfulness, our inability to save ourselves, and to point to the Savior, Jesus Christ. 

As we can see by the definition, there is a significant difference between ‘abolishing’ something and ‘not observing and/or following’ it any longer; or as Christ makes so plain, between ‘abolishing’ and ‘fulfilling.’

Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines 'fulfill' as “to accomplish; to perform; to complete; to answer in execution or event what has been foretold or promised; as to fulfill a prophecy or prediction; to fulfill a promise” and “to accomplish what was intended.”

With those definitions in mind, let us look at this passage of Scripture in context. The verses that follow it contrast the Old Covenant (what had previously been held to and followed) to the New Covenant (what Christ was beginning) . . .

“You have heard that the ancients were told ‘You shall not commit murder’ (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:21 and 22)

You have heard that it was said ‘You shall not commit adultery’ (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:27-28)

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you, make no oath at all (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:21 and 22)

You have heard that it was said ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’ (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you, do not resist an evil person (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:21 and 22)

You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ (Old Covenant) . . . but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (New Covenant) . . .” (Matthew 5:21 and 22)

From these passages of Scripture, we are told and instructed that the old was fulfilled in Christ and the new was established. Christ was establishing a New Covenant that was different than the Old.

Going back to what was shared earlier about the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the new (“You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you . . . .”) leads to a very applicable passage . . .

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:1-6.)

We are to die to the Law . . . if one is dead to something, do they still take part in it? Do they continue to follow it? Do they hold it as a part of who they are? No, for just as new wine cannot go into old wineskins, we cannot hold to both the New Covenant (Christ) and the Old Covenant (Law.) We are to die to the Law and live to Christ, we cannot live both.

The question has also been asked “we are all saved by faith...the question is, ‘What does your faith cause you to do?’” As Scripture says, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15.) If we love the Lord, we will strive to keep and follow His commandments; and that encompasses all of God’s Word (in keeping with the context that He has given.)

There is much, much more that could be said on this topic and a great many more verses that could be shared, but as this has already become fairly long, I will bring it to a close for now. Please, examine the Scriptures. Set aside any presuppositions that you may have, any man’s interpretation and commentaries that you have read or that you follow; go to Scripture and Scripture alone and find out what God says in His Word. Examine the passages shared . . . examine the words shared here, as a Berean, to “see if these things are so."

-Posted by Sarah

*Here are a few other verses that relate to this topic as well:

Galatians 3:24-25 – Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Galatians 4:9-10 – But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

Galatians 5:1-4 – It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

Galatians 5:16-18 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not be carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

Colossians 2:16-17 – Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.


  1. This is very well-written, Sarah! I agree with your conclusions, as well. May the Lord bless you!

  2. Dear Miss Sarah,
    I had just sat down with a cup of tea, in between hanging clothes on the line, when I noticed that you had a new post. First, I would like to commend you on a wonderfully thorough job in such a short writing! I would also like to ask your permission to copy this. I would like to share it with my family this evening. Each day, after dinner, my husband and oldest sons (Joshua and Daniel are 24) lead our family in Bible Study and worship. You post would be a wonderful addition to our present study in the New Testament. We have been taking a very careful look at the New Testament "church" and the roles that each of us, as followers of Christ, are commanded to play in this. This has been an exciting study for us, and I could write about it forever, but I sense from what I've read about your family's walk that we are very like-minded. It has been such a pleasure to read through your all of your blogs...I only wish that we lived closer so that perhaps we might have the opportunity to worship together! But,alas, I am very grateful for the internet, which helps to bring the family of God closer matter where we are located.

    Again, thank you so much for sharing your love for Christ with all of your readers.
    May God continue to richly bless you and your wonderful family,
    Mrs. Laura

  3. Thank you, Joy, for your kind comment! It is always encouraging to hear of like-mindedness of fellow believers in areas such as this. :) May the Lord richly bless you and your family as well!

  4. Thank you so much for your encouraging comment, Mrs. Laura! I’ll reply to your comment in more detail as soon as I can, but I just wanted to say that, yes, please feel free to copy/use whatever you would like from our sites! :)

  5. Thank you so much, Miss Sarah. I just copied it and we plan to take a look at it after dinner!

    P.S. Preston and Samuel were out all day...not a deer in sight! Hope your brother is more successful!

  6. Thank you again for your encouraging comments, Mrs. Laura, and I am glad that you were able to make use of this post! And now to reply to the other things that you had shared in your comment. :) It is so wonderful and encouraging to hear from other fellow believers who also have a hunger and thirst after the Lord and His word, and have the desire to learn about and follow the teachings in Scripture regarding how His church should be and function. And what a great blessing it must be for your family to gather together each evening and study Scripture together!

    Like what you all are doing now, before we began home churching about ten years ago, we did an intensive and very fascinating study on the church in Scripture. The Lord taught us so much through it and He continues to teach us more and more through His word as we continue to read and study! And likewise, we could write for about forever on this topic as well. :) It would indeed be a blessing to live closer, but as you shared, it is so nice to have the internet! Even across the miles believers in Christ can still encourage one another and fellowship together. What a blessing that is!

    Sorry to hear that you all haven’t seen any deer yet! Hopefully that will change soon. :) Our rifle season opens this Saturday, and while I don’t believe my brother will be doing any hunting this year, my Dad plans to. We’re hoping he’ll be successful! :)

    Once again, thank you for your sweet note! And may the Lord greatly bless you and your family as you continue to seek to serve and follow Him!

  7. Dear Miss Sarah,
    It's late, and I really need to head off to bed, but I wanted to let you know that we so enjoyed looking at this post together as a family. I have much more to share...hopefully tomorrow...but I just wanted to thank you again for sharing some wonderful thoughts.

    Sweet blessings to you and your family,
    Mrs. Laura

  8. You're welcome, Mrs. Laura, in regards to sharing this post, and thank you for your kind comment! I am glad that what was shared was a blessing. I am looking forward to hearing what all you have to share! :)

    Blessings to you!

  9. Dear Miss Sarah,

    I've been meaning to get back to you sooner...but alas, sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day! My family really enjoyed this post when I shared it with them as we studied the scriptures a few evenings ago. You comments about bringing presuppositions to our studying are so true...and something we have been earnestly trying to avoid since God has led us on this new journey of "home" churching. It sparked the greatest conversation...I hope that I can adequately explain where we went with this. When the Lord first led our family to move in this direction it was both very difficult and very exciting at the same I am certain you and your family have already experienced. One of the things that we noted, and that your post so adequately attests to, is that so often, we believe that we know the correct way something should be done…just because it has been done that way for so long, perhaps generations even. Take most present day church services, for example. There are many traditions and rituals found in the present day “church” services that one would never find any reference to in the New Testament. Even with “home churches” … we found that they are often simply a somewhat carbon copy of the traditional “church”…without a pastor. So, we have been very careful to try and not bring anything with us from past experiences…but to simply study His word and act on what He has called us to do. We also found this true with homeschooling. Many of our friends, who made the decision to homeschool, simply try to do at home what was being done in the public school…with the exception of perhaps throwing Bible study in there as well. Why is it that we try to “fix” something that God never intended for us in the first place? Instead, we need to search the scriptures, and, using only the scriptures, do as we are directed.

    Anyway, we took a close look at the scriptures you had posted, and I wanted to share with you how very pleased my family was with how well you covered the subject. We have had this same discussion with friends as well…some who still follow many of the Old Testament laws. After sharing this with them, my son Joshua became interested in looking at your home ministry site…and read several of the articles that your father had written. (By the way, please share with you dad that we love reading Tozer! I think we have nearly all of his writings.) I know that Josh is planning to e-mail you father because he was quite taken with several of the writings. We are praising God and thanking Him for connecting us with your family.

    There is so much more to share…for another time perhaps. Thank you again for your posts and your ministry and for sharing them with your readers. Please give our best to your family and may the Lord continue to richly bless you all.
    Mrs. Laura

  10. What an encouragement your comment was, Mrs. Laura! (And I shared it with my family as well. :) Thank you for taking the time to share all of this! It is always a blessing to see how the Lord has worked and is working in other’s lives. And yes, I can relate to what you shared about the transition to home churching being both very difficult and very exciting as well. It was much the same with us!

    As I read through what you wrote, there were so many of the things that you touched on that are the same things that we have thought and/or seen. Particularly with many home churches becoming pretty much carbon copies of the institutional church. This seems to be becoming more and more common, making it even more important for us to keep our focus upon Christ and to not be caught up in the ‘trends’ of the day. Not following after the traditions of men, but truly seeking to see what God would have us do as given in His Word. And if one examines the practice and function of the “church” as it known is today, one finds that much of it is indeed derived from tradition and not from the word of God. I like the point that you made: “Why is it that we try to 'fix' something that God never intended for us in the first place? Instead, we need to search the scriptures, and, using only the scriptures, do as we are directed.” How true this is!

    Once again, I am glad that what was written in this post was a blessing to you and your family, and also that you all have found encouragement through our family ministry website. My Dad very much enjoys researching and studying Scripture as well as being able to share and discuss it with others, and it is so nice that there is such a thing as the internet to make it possible for this type of fellowship and encouragement to be able to take place between ‘long-distance’ believers as we share and grow together.

    We, too, are thankful to have ‘met’ you as it is always such an encouragement to meet and be encouraged by fellow like-minded believers. Thank you again for writing, and may the Lord continue to bless and guide you and your family!