In this article you will learn which laws in the Old Testament were changed or abolished and which we are commanded to observe today! Most people would like to know the difference between the added ceremonial laws and the spiritual laws which are to be observed today.
We all need to understand in detail the answer to this question. Our Christian growth, our very character depends on our knowledge of this question. The entire Bible was written to illustrate the lives of individuals who have kept the spiritual laws of God set in motion. We need to study their example.
Notice, first of all, the New Testament teaching. Jesus Christ, the living Head of the Church told the disciples: “Whoso therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoso shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).
Just how important is it that we, the disciples of Christ today, become familiar with the least commandments, that we live by every word of God?
God’s true Church differs from all others in that it takes the Bible as absolute and final authority. No one can gain entrance into God’s Kingdom unless that individual first recognizes the authority and rule of God.
We are not to argue with God or use human reason to evade the plain com-mands of Scripture. God is the Supreme Lawgiver. He knows what is best for us. He has perfect wisdom and understanding. We can place our confidence in Him and rely on His judgment which He committed to writing, for us, in the Bible. The tendency is to use human reason to side-step what seems to be of lesser importance to us. It is so very easy for us to say: “I don’t see why God would want us to keep this. It seems so impractical in this modern age. Now here is the way I see it.”
This attitude is exactly what makes other churches carnal and worldly and of the devil. They use their human reason instead of accepting the Bible as final AUTHORITY.
Is it possible that some of God’s people have been negligent in the study of God’s laws? Have you forgotten the admonition: “Lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul. And you shall teach them to your children, talking of them, when you sittest in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you liest down, and when you get up” (Deut. 11:18-19)?
This is for us today! God’s Church recognizes the eternal binding authority of the Ten Commandments. David was inspired to write: “All His com-mandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness” (Ps. 111:7-8). We must come to understand that Jesus Christ did not abolish the Ten Commandments. “Think not,” He said, “that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I cam not to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17).
We must follow His example today and fulfill the law. We must believe the prophets too and obey God as He commanded us. The Ten Commandments constitute the basic spiritual law which regulates human life. It is “holy, and good,” said the apostle Paul (Rom. 7:12-14).
First, remember that God’s basic spiritual laws existed from the beginning. When speaking of divorce, Christ said that “from the beginning it was not so” (Matt. 19:8). It was a sin at the beginning of creation to commit adultery!
This world has strayed so far from the truth that, by the days of Moses, God had to reveal His law anew to the Israelites. Israel had lost knowledge of God’s ways while in Egyptian bondage. Let us notice, however, that God was merely revealing the laws which were already in force. The old cove-nant did not establish the spiritual laws.
In the Book of Exodus chapter 16:28 we read that the Eternal, when speaking about Israel to Moses, said: “How long do you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?” How could the House of Israel refuse what did not exist? Now turn to Ex. 18:16. Moses told his father-in-law that when the people have a dispute, “I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.”
Did you catch it? Here are the statutes and laws of God existing before the old covenant. If they existed before the old covenant, they could not be abolished when it ceased to exist. The old covenant could not destroy what it did not bring into force. The old covenant was merely an agreement to keep these laws which were already in force.
Notice how the statutes and laws of God magnify the Ten Commandments. God forbids us to eat unclean meats. To lust after what He forbids is to covet. One of the Ten Commandments says: “Thou shalt covet.”
Now, notice that God’s law made provision for judgment to be established over the centuries, Numbers 27:11 “And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the Lord commanded Moses.” The judgments are binding decisions based on God’s previously revealed law.
When did the carnal ceremonies and sacrifices of the Levitical priesthood begin? How can we distinguish them from the statutes and laws that existed prior to the old covenant?
When God brought Israel to the foot of Mt. Sinai, He gave the Ten Com-mandments to them. He allowed Moses to declare all the statutes and judg-ments to Israel (Exodus, chapters 20-24). These statutes and judgments magnify the Ten Commandments.
Notice carefully, there is only one sacrifice mentioned in the book of the law, the Passover sacrifice (Ex. 23:18). God called it “My sacrifice.” Next, turn to Jeremiah 7:22-23. Listen to what the Eternal inspired Jeremiah to write: “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice and walk in all the way that I command you that it may be well with you.”
God did not command these sacrifices to be offered originally. This explains why none of those temporary sacrifices where perpetuated by different symbols in the New Testament Church. Only the Passover is preserved by different symbols today, because it began before the old covenant was made.
(See its institution in Ex. 12 before the Israelites left Egypt.)
The very fact that Jesus Christ substituted unleavened bread and wine for the Passover lamb only, and not for the temporary offerings, is absolute proof that the ceremonial Old Testament offerings are not binding today! But that the Passover is binding!
Paul says (Gal. 3:19) these temporary rituals and sacrifices were “added be-cause of transgression,” because God’s spiritual law was being broken, until Christ should come. They foreshadowed the sacrifices of Christ and were a “reminder of sin” to teach the people the need of the Messiah who would pay the penalty of human transgression (Heb. 10:3).
Notice that these temporary laws did not define sin. They were reminders of sin. God’s spiritual laws define sin. The laws which define sin, which explain what sin is, are the laws we are to keep today.
Consider for a moment the New Testament instructions about sacrifices. Today we have spiritual offerings and sacrifices: “You are being built unto a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” (I Peter 2:5, 9) We are to “present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, well-pleasing to God, your spiritual service” (Rom. 12:1). It is a spiritual principle to offer oneself in living obedience, to sacrifice the self, to God. God Almighty is worthy to receive such service from us.
The principle of offering sacrifices existed before Moses. Jesus Christ vol-unteered to offer Himself from the beginning to pay for the sins of mankind. In the period from Moses to Christ the practice of giving offerings was re-duced to a physical plane. The children of Israel were a physical, carnal people without the promise of the Holy Spirit. They could not offer them-selves in spiritual obedience to God (Deut. 29:4), so they performed ritual-istic washings and offered animals and other physical types instead.
They also needed to be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice, so God gave them physical types in the “law of Moses,” “until the seed should come.” But remember, the spiritual sacrifices, of which those in the Law of Moses were merely temporary types, are still to be offered up by us today!
But, many will ask, weren’t the Levitical sacrifices ordained forever? Yes, the Bible does say that the Levitical priesthood and its sacrifices were to be perpetual or forever. But let us understand the real significance of the Hebrew word translated “forever.” It means continuous, so long as the factors involved exist.
Notice three scriptures where this meaning is made plain. Men could be the slaves of a master forever, meaning till the death of one of the parties. (See Exodus 21:6; Lev. 25:46 and Deut. 15:17).
What are the factors which may limit the offering of sacrifices? One, the need of a physical, human priesthood. Two, the need for sacrifices. Now consider the following: What is the purpose of a priesthood? To offer sacrifices and to act on behalf of men in relation to God (Heb. 5:1 and 8:3). But how long do offerings as reminders of sin need to be made? Paul tells us: “Now where remission of (sins) is, there is no more offering for sin” (Heb. 10:18).
To offer sacrifices as reminders of sins already paid for by Jesus Christ, who gave His life in full payment for all sins, is needless.
Moreover, since the Holy Spirit has also been made available, physical offerings and various washings which are types of the Holy Spirit are no longer needed. Hence the physical Levitical Priesthood is no longer needed; the Old Testament washings and offerings are no longer binding. The factors involved in the Law of Moses ceased to exist.
Perhaps we have failed to realize that God alone has the right to add and change or alter carnal or fleshly laws. The carnal laws were subject to change because they were only types of the promised seed, Christ, who should take upon Himself the sins of the world. When the circumstances were altered, the obligation to practice the carnal laws ceased.
But, what about the spiritual laws? God will not alter His spiritual laws. The spiritual laws describe the very character of God. They enable us to know what God is like. Since the character of God remains unchanging, “I change not, saith the Lord” (Mal. 3:6) and “Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), the spiritual laws could not change.
Now let us notice where we can find exactly what constituted the temporary laws. Turn with me to Hebrews 9:9-10. “Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience: Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.”
In these two verses we read of the material gifts and sacrifices which included “only meats and drinks and diverse washings, carnal ordinances, imposed until the time of reformation.”
Notice that the temporary laws did not pertain to murder or theft or Sabbath-breaking, but were only those ordinances regulating meat and drink offerings and different washings or ablution of the unclean. These external washings were a type of the Holy Spirit cleaning us up within.
And other laws not included in Heb. 9:10 were not part of the rituals added because of sin! Remember this point! It will help you to know which rites in the Old Testament were added to the statutes and judgments already in ex-istence.
Some people are easily confused by the trick statement that the Ten Com-mandments are the Law of Moses. They turn to Luke 2:22-24 in which the ceremonies of the “laws of Moses” are also called part of the “law of the Lord.” Why is the “law of Moses” also called the “law of the Lord”?
Because all law comes from God! Moses is not the lawmaker! He merely told the people the laws that God set in motion John 1:17. The Law of Moses is never called the Ten Commandments. It comprises only statutes and judgments which God gave him to communicate to the people. The dif-ference between the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments is that God spoke the ten words, but Moses delivered the statutes and judgments.
Let us recall that when Moses first delivered the statutes and judgments, the Law of Moses had no sacrifices connected with it. Jeremiah said so! (Jere. 7:22) The Law of Moses was originally the civil law, based on the principles of the Ten Commandments. These civil statutes and judgments are right and good (Ps. 119:7-8).
But after the close of the old covenant (Ex. 24), the Levitical priesthood was established and the laws regulating offerings were added (Ex. 28:1). Prior to this time offerings were voluntary and young men were priests (Ex. 24:5.) Therefore, the law of Moses has more than one part!
Notice God’s definition of the original part of that law in Mal. 4:4: “Re-member the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and judgments that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.” This law we are not to forget. We are to keep it!
But added to this law later were other statutes regulating material rituals, such as sacrifices, lighting of candles, burning incense, and various washings for the unclean. This almost unnoticed fact is what causes so much dif-ficulty in understanding that the Law of Moses was composed of two distinct parts: THE CIVIL AND THE RITUALISTIC!
Christ said the two great commandments were love to God and love to neighbor. Do you know from where He quoted these laws? Out of the book of the law! The law that Moses spoke to the people. Read it in Leviticus 19:18 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Deut. 6:4: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
In II John 5 & 6, God commands Christians to obey these two basic laws which He commanded to the people by Moses! In II Kings 23:25, Josiah is praised because he “turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to the law of Moses!”
Notice how plain it is. The civil law of Moses expounds the Ten Command-ments by revealing how the ten basic principles are to be applied. We are to keep this part of the law, not in the strictness of the letter, but according to its spirit and intent.
Why is it then that we read in the book of Acts that Gentile converts do not have to observe the Law of Moses, except for four points? (Acts 15) The answer is made plain in Acts 21:21. The laws of Moses called in question involved “customs.” Read it for yourself. The Jews were falsely accusing Paul, saying that he taught Jews living abroad “not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.”
The controversy in the early Church did not involve the civil law of Moses. It involved only the ceremonial additions to the original civil law of Moses, only customs -- added ceremonies or rituals. This is further proven by noticing the four points included in the law added by Moses, which are bind-ing on all Christians everywhere. We are not to eat blood, animals which are strangled, meats offered to idols or to practice fornication. These four points were originally part of the civil law of Moses.
They were also included later with the added ceremonies to regulate the typical sacrifices. The Gentiles ate their sacrifices with the blood, often strangled their animals, and presented them to idols. They also committed fornication in their religious ceremonies. To prevent these pagan customs from being practiced by Israel God included the four civil laws along with the rituals (Read Lev. 17:7 & 10 and Numbers 25:1-3).
When the ceremonies were declared no longer binding, these four points had to be declared binding because some would have thought they were abolished along with the temporary rituals. But since these four points were part of the civil law before the addition of the rituals, they remained binding after the abolition of the physical sacrifices and washings!
How plain! Only the ceremonial customs of the Law of Moses have passed away. The civil law of Moses which defined sin was not called in question, was not involved.
The many civil laws regulating tithing, clean and unclean meats, the annual Sabbaths, and many others are still for the New Testament Church because they explain what sin is. They were not part of the ceremonial Law of Moses mentioned in Hebrews 9:10 and abolished in Acts 15. The civil principles of the Law of Moses were a separate law and not part of the added “law of Moses” which is no longer in force.
Now let us consider the use of the death penalty in Old Testament times. A common question often asked is this: “Why do we not enforce the death penalty for Sabbath-breakers or for any other violation of the Ten Commandments?”
The answer to this question is found in Matt. 5. Christ was anticipating doubts in the minds of the disciples. He commences by saying, He came to keep the law, not to destroy it. Then He proceeds to change the applications of the civil laws as they were given to the ancient House of Israel. He magnifies them and makes them honorable. He raises them from narrow, national laws, given to a carnal nation to be administered according to the strict letter, to a spiritual plane regulating the whole of human society. Six times Christ says: “You have heard it said in olden times……” “But I say to you…” and He then proceeds to expound the spiritual principles underlying the civil laws of Moses.
In particular, notice Matt. 5:38: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Christ restored these spiritual laws as they were from the beginning. But why was Moses commanded to give them only in the letter to ancient Israel? Remember, the Ancient House of Israel was not like the Church of God today. It was a national church, a carnal nation organized into the con-gregation of Israel. They did not have the promise of the Holy Spirit; they were a nation of this world. Moses said that they did not even have the power or strength of will to keep what little he commanded them (Deut. 5:29). And neither do human beings today!
People don’t want to obey the commandments. “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God” Rom. 8:7. Israel needed punishments for lawbreakers to keep peace and security in the land. Therefore God allowed human judges to take His divine prerogatives and to execute punishments on their fellow men.
Jesus Christ (the God of the Old Testament) gave the civil law to Moses in the strict letter at Mt. Sinai for a physical church. Fifteen centuries later Christ restored the spirit of the law for the spiritual Church of God. Jesus Christ came to make it possible for us to be forgiven and to have the very nature of God acting in us. Therefore He restored the civil law to its original spiritual perfection. Remember Christ’s admonishment, “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Mat. 19:17)