If the laws of the OT have been superceded in Jesus Christ, does it follow that God changed His mind about which laws should be followed? How we do reconcile the changing of the law if God is the same yesterday, today, and forever?
If you’ve read a sizable portion of the Old Testament you would be at least a little familiar with the types of laws God placed upon His people during those times. The Israelites had to obey many laws we might find quite ridiculous and/or unnecessary today. However, their significance and meaning to the Israelites are not to be ignored (see link one below), so why do we not follow them? Many believers today read about those laws and boldly claim that “they are not for us today,” but do we really understand why?
The laws prescribed in the OT aren’t quite as simple as we make them out to be. Somewhat unrelated to our discussion are laws that we might find to be overly harsh or even barbaric (such as Deut. 13:6-10 or Exodus 25:15). If we attempt to understand how the law system worked in ancient Israel we’ll see how these laws weren’t intended to be a literal, face-value prescription of punishment. Instead, these laws were meant to be didactic and were written to reflect the severity of the crime and to aid in memorization. They were not to be followed immediately by the letter as ours are today. The sentence was to be decided by the court (see more in link two below).
I mention this because it’s vitally important to understand what lies behind the laws themselves. We shouldn’t aim to stop at what the law says at face value. If we were to look beyond the law we would find that it can be broken up into three separate categories.
- Some laws are known as universal morals. These are laws such as “do not murder,” “do not steal,” etc.
- Some laws are known as Cultural Universals. These are laws specific to Israel’s culture with a universal moral behind them.
- The final category of law is Ceremonial laws or Ritual laws. This is where sacrificial laws and dietary laws fit in. They were meant to set Israel apart from other nations as God’s holy people. Under the new covenant, the old ritual laws were superseded in Jesus and replaced with baptism and communion.
If God never changes should we expect to never see the law change? In category two we have laws that are specifically geared towards Israel’s culture, in other words, they are universal morals with a subjective application. Let’s use an example of a road under construction to understand these laws work and how these laws can change without having God change also.
Let’s say we have a single stretch of road that is under construction. Let’s say this road will be closed on Tuesday from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. because it’s scheduled to be resurfaced during this time. Because of this, any drivers wanting to take that route will have to take a detour instead. Now let’s say this road will be open on Thursday from 10 A.M. to 5 P. M., but this time the road workers will be fixing up the powerlines on the side so drivers will be allowed to pass through at a slow pace. If we were to look at this example as our objectors look at the OT laws we would have to conclude that the road workers had had a change of mind somewhere on Wednesday because the law on Thursday is completely different. The drivers had to take a detour before but now they’re free to drive through as long as they are responsible.
No one looks at a road construction this way. If we see that the road is open a few days later we come to the conclusion that they had finished their prior job and were now working on the next thing. However, even though the law has changed the moral behind them has not. When the road workers decided to close the road they did so because it was the safest option. And when they opened it it was because they believed it was safe enough to do so. Although the law is different the moral behind them has not changed. Safety is always the number one priority, therefore, they do not contradict in any way.
This is how we can see a difference between the OT and NT laws and not have to conclude that God had changed His mind on the matter. Jesus came to fulfil the OT law and introduce a new covenant, so the resurfacing is finished and now Jesus is working on fixing the power lines in our hearts. That’s an admittedly forced analogy but hey, it works!