Old Testament Commands Today? A Response to Dr. Fullilove

Detail from Rembrandt's Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law

Reposted from The Cripplegate.

Last week Tim Challies linked to a video by Dr. William Fullilove of Reformed Theological Seminary, called “Do Old Testament commands apply today?” His main points, in summary, are that…

1. theologians have divided the Old Testament laws into moral, ceremonial, and civil law,

2. we are bound by some commands because they are moral principles,

3. we do not follow civil and ceremonial laws, rather we have to recognize that “God had a moral principle that he was applying to a specific society” and then in order to apply those laws to ourselves we have to “stop and ask what is the moral principle that God was applying into that world, and then figure out how do I apply that moral principle into my world today” and 4) figuring out the moral principle for today is a “harrowing and messy process” because “there is nothing in the Bible that marks the law as moral or ceremonial or civil, we just have to figure it out” and by studying the Bible we can understand what “would God have us do with this particular command.”

I would like to suggest today that there is a process for figuring out what God wants us to do in obedience to him that is neither messy nor harrowing—rather it is clear and fully revealed.

First, we need to understand what a law code is, then we need to know what law Christ fulfilled and then we need to know what law code we are under today.

1. What is law code?

A biblical law code is a set of rules issued by God to a specific group of people, for a specific time. It is binding on that specified group; they are aware that it is binding. The law codes are based on the character of God. To violate the law code that is currently in effect is to commit a sin but it is important to note that it is not sin to violate a law in a previous (or future) law code.

So for example, Adam was not required to circumcise his sons, nor celebrate communion. Adam could wear mixed fabrics if he so chose (supposing the antediluvian fashion industry supplied such a thing). Abraham did need to circumcise his sons but could eat shrimp to his heart’s content. Moses did circumcise his sons, could not wear mixed fabrics, nor eat shellfish, but he could eat any fruit he wanted to, unlike Adam. Cain was not executed for murdering his brother (Gen 4). Peter was allowed to “kill and eat” any formerly unclean animal (Acts 10).

Why? Because they were all under different codes.

Each new law code replaces the past one completely. There will naturally be some similarities and overlapping because each code is still based on God’s character. But the reason you obey a law is because it is part of the code to which you are subject, not because it was part of a previous code.

So, for example, Noah and Adam both had a command to go forth and multiply.
Abraham and Moses both had a law to circumcise males. But when Christians have big families to obey the command to Adam and to Noah, they are making an error in applying a command directly to themselves. Just like Christians who outlaw eating pork or getting tattoos.

2. What law did Christ fulfill?

The short answer is that Christ fulfilled the whole Law of Moses. But many believe, that Christ fulfilled some of the Law of Moses but not all. They say the Law can be divided into three parts: moral, ceremonial, and civil, and that Christ fulfilled the ceremonial parts (sacrifices, feasts, dietary laws) and he fulfilled the civil parts (tithing, stoning your kids, eye for an eye). But they say the moral parts (like laws against murder, adultery, and homosexuality) are still binding.

You can see why this solution is so handy. It explains neatly why we can’t murder but can eat bacon. That’s a helpful division to have. The problem is that the Bible doesn’t say that. Christ is not said to have fulfilled some of the Law and not all of it, and nowhere does the Bile make a distinction between types of laws. The laws are listed together and they were all binding on Israel and considered to be sin if violated. And since the Bible doesn’t make the distinction between moral and ceremonial, we are left having to arbitrarily decide which category tattoos, Sabbath, and tithing fall into. Or in the words of Dr. Fullilove: “there is nothing in the Bible that marks the law as moral or ceremonial or civil, we just have to figure it out.”

But if some of the Law is binding and some of it is not—surely it is very important that we know how to make this distinction? Further, he goes on to say that the moral principles of law that is civil or ceremonial is binding—although admits that ascertaining this is a “messy and harrowing process.”

The New Testament is clear Jesus fulfilled the whole Law.

Galatians 3: 23-26 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian [tutor] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

The book of Hebrews is quite clear about the fact that Jesus did away with the old covenant and its laws and introduced a new covenant.

Hebrews 7:12 - For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.

Hebrews 7:18-22 - For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God… .This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

Hebrews 8:13 - In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Hebrews 9:15 - Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

It makes no sense to say that Jesus fulfilled some parts of the Law but not other parts. He either fulfilled it all, or we are still accountable to keep it all.

Thanks be to God that Jesus fulfilled it all, so we don’t have to keep any of it.

So is lobster back on the menu? Yes.
Is circumcision a thing of the past? Yes.
Can I get a tattoo? Yes!

Can I make my daughter a prostitute, can I commit adultery, can I murder? Nooooo.

But wait!? Aren’t we then arbitrarily selecting which laws to keep?

I never said we’re not under any law. I said we are not under the Law of Moses. Jesus gave us a new law code.

3. What law are we under today?

No part of the Law of Moses is binding on New Testament believers. But… Christians are under a new law code, called the Law of Christ, (also termed the Law of Love).

1 Corinthians 9: 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.

Galatians 6: 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

There are naturally a number of similarities between Moses’ Law and the Law of Christ. There are laws that overlap.

In fact nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated as binding on Christians in the New Testament. But the reason we don’t murder and don’t steal, and yet we can lawfully enjoy playing basketball on a Saturday, is because the New Testament is binding on us as our law code, not because of the Ten Commandments.

So homosexual practices are considered sinful today, not because Leviticus tell us that, but because 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 tells us that. And that shouldn’t surprise us because both the laws in Leviticus and in Paul’s epistles are based on God’s character. God was offended by sexual sin in the Old Testament and is still offended by it now. Adultery is still wrong, not because of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, but because of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19. Again, this overlap shouldn’t surprise us.

And when in doubt the guiding law is “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Conclusion

So there we go—no mess and no harrowing process to try and work out what laws you need to obey in order to show your love for God. The Old Testament laws teach us about God, and they inform us about a future Messiah, about the character of God, and the ways God worked in history—but they are not binding on us. They are part of a law code that was binding on Israel and that has been fulfilled by Christ. The laws that are binding on us now—those God expects us to obey—are all found in the New Testament. Some overlap with the Old Testament laws and some are new (like baptism and communion). But nothing has been left up to us to “figure out” for ourselves.

All Scripture is profitable to teach us something about God, ourselves, sin, righteousness, etc. (2 Tim 3:16-17). And no part of the Law will be done away with or should be ignored (Matt 5:18—the verse that Dr. Fullilove references at the beginning of the video). So the Law of Moses is important for us to study. But we don’t need to figure out which part is binding on us. All of it is profitable, but none of it is binding.

Our new law, the Law of Love, governs our behavior and attitudes. Much of that will overlap with that of the children of God under previous law codes.

If your head is swimming, then at least take this away: Praise God that you are forgiven and get to go to heaven because of what Jesus did for you from start to finish. But now that we are saved, we are not lawless, but still obey God, by loving him and loving our neighbor. And in that, we fulfill the law code we are under until glory.

Clint Archer bio


Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.

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There are 18 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

This is essentially my view. Where I would differ: there are lots of other commands in the NT other than love God and love your neighbor. They're all the law of Christ/law of love in the sense that they are to be obeyed. They're also law in the sense that show us what righteousness looks like and what sin is. In these two ways, they're just like the Mosaic law... and derive from the same principles. (Which pretty much = "the moral law," though I'm not a big fan of the term or of trying to subdivide the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant.)

... oh, and no, you can't get a tattoo.

Andrew K's picture

 But many believe, that Christ fulfilled some of the Law of Moses but not all. They say the Law can be divided into three parts: moral, ceremonial, and civil, and that Christ fulfilled the ceremonial parts (sacrifices, feasts, dietary laws) and he fulfilled the civil parts (tithing, stoning your kids, eye for an eye). But they say the moral parts (like laws against murder, adultery, and homosexuality) are still binding.

Not clear who says this, but this is not the classic Reformed position (which is what, from context, he seemed to be addressing). 

"'To fulfill' is not to dissolve the authority and application of the old covenant revelation; rather, 'to fulfill' means to fill up the Law’s intent and show the goal to which it leads" (Ligonier... "The Fulfillment of the Law" https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/fulfillment-law/).

So yes, Christ most definitely fulfilled the whole law.

As for "artificial distinctions" in the Law, the irony is that by pulling out a certain number (adultery, etc) and affirming that they are "based on God's character," that is precisely what the author is doing. That is, unless he is suggesting that all of God's laws are based on His character, which introduces a whole host of problems (e.g., is avoiding pork really based on God's character? How? And if so, what does it say that we do it now with impunity? Even worse, might there be the suggestion that God's character changes?).

Granting the threefold distinction of the law is not in Scripture it does a) have a pre-Christian pedigree in rabbinical traditions, I understand, and b) at least attempts to make sense of the fact that distinctions within the law seem to be assumed within Scripture.

Examples of the same include Jesus's reference to "weightier matters of the law," David and the prophets' ostensible denigration of the sacrificial system in deference to principles of "mercy" and repentance, the fact that the Decalogue--not the whole Law--was carved on tablets of stone, suggesting a place of special significance, the affirmation of Scripture that the Law would be "written on the hearts" of the New Covenant believers (and if you don't believe this to be Christians, is then the Mosaic Law returning and replacing the Law of Christ?), etc.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Yes, the old "law of Christ" argument. See Ryrie's Basic Theology for more. Too bad nobody actually knows what the "law of Christ" contains! In fact ... yes ... now that I think on it, I seem to remember Paul specifically mentioning the "law of Christ" when he told the Corinthians to purge the evil man from their midst! It wasn't that this was an Old Covenant command at all; it was because it accorded with this Jello-like, shapeless and contentless "law of Christ!"

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's one of those things in theology where the end point is very similar but how you say is important.

  • God has requirements, based on His character, that do not change
  • Parts of the Mosaic law are still binding on NT believers

The difference matters because the latter really misses the point and breeds confusion about covenants work, how to interpret and apply Moses, how to understand Galatians and Hebrews, etc.

TylerR's picture

Editor

It does indeed matter how you say it. Both, "forget the OC, we have the law of Christ!" and "the OC is still our rule of law" are bad framing devices.

I think dispensationalists should read, ACTUALLY READ, Calvin on the three uses of the law. Forget McClain and Houghton and other polemical secondary literature, and the strawmen so common in less careful circles - just read Calvin's discussion!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Darrell Post's picture

This topic is one that does press us to study. Sure, it would be nice if there was a neat and clean bullet point list of NT "law of Christ" items. But we don't exactly have that, and instead we need to study and draw conclusions based on what the Scriptures teach. The easy results of such study is we can deduce that murder is a weightier matter than someone who boils a young goat in the milk of its mother. That latter one there is my favorite OT law, because I have kept that one my whole life. I don't even own a goat! But it must have been important in the life of Israel, because it was a command repeated three times. But other items are more challenging.

But whatever position anyone takes, there is no free pass or easy way to get around diligent Bible study. 

G. N. Barkman's picture

So now we have Dispensationalists saying that the New Testament supercedes the Old Testament when it comes to understanding what laws apply to men today.  But Dispensationalists have previously argued on SI that we cannot not in any way consider the NT superior to the OT when interpreting OT scriptures relating to eschatology. 

Hmmm.  Which is it?

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

I don't have a super firm answer, but one objection to the notion that the law has been superceded is the question of "if it's superceded, why does God keep it in His Word for us?"  Another question is what portion of references to the "Law", especially in the NT, are to the Oral Torah (commentary on the books of Moses, etc..) that Jews, especially Pharisees, saw as equal in authority to the books of Moses.

One thought regarding the preservation of the fulfilled Mosaic law is that it does give us a way of addressing the process of figuring out moral issues.  For example, we might look at the law against tattoos, or against boiling a kid in its mother's milk, and ask ourselves what was actually going on.  It could be a pagan practice that God decided to ban, or there could be some other excellent reasons to avoid doing these things that we might heed.   For tattoos, for example, I'm just not good with the artist having that long of sustained contact with whatever region of my body is being decorated (or vandalized, as I might joke).  For the goat, I'd wonder "how long does that poor little guy gotta starve while we get the milk to cook him in?".  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Andrew R.'s picture

The NT contains no direct command against bestiality. Granted, it's covered under the blanket term "fornication." But how do we know it is covered under fornication? Typically by looking to the OT. So you still have to do careful Bible study either way, and at some level that involves at least a functional understanding that certain OT laws are moral, certain ceremonial, etc. I see no way around it.

Larry's picture

Moderator

So now we have Dispensationalists saying that the New Testament supercedes the Old Testament when it comes to understanding what laws apply to men today.  But Dispensationalists have previously argued on SI that we cannot not in any way consider the NT superior to the OT when interpreting OT scriptures relating to eschatology. 

Hmmm.  Which is it?

It's neither. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

First, it's a real thing. The phrase "Law of Christ" exists in the NT, and must mean something. It's clearly distinct from the law of Moses.

Second, I'm sure there are multiple views on what it means, but I'm not aware any compelling reason not to take it to mean "everything Christ commands either directly or through His apostles in the Scriptures."

Third, it's a logical error to conclude that everything that is not specifically forbidden in a law code is OK. We know that what God has forbidden in various covenant contexts is forbidden to those are in the covenant relationship. We also know that there are principles that steer us clear of lots of other things. There is no need for a NT command prohibiting bestiality because the NT clearly reveals God's intentions for sexual relationships.

Fourth, the old question of do you interpret OT in light of NT or NT in light of OT... I think someone has made this point already, but you can't really boil it down either of those. You interpret all of it in light of all of it, but I agree strongly with Henebury and others who have made the case that you can do this in a way that doesn't result in God making promises to people that meant something completely different from what they would have understood in their context.

So... is there really any reason to think that the covenant God established with Israel through Moses includes present-day believers? Is there biblical evidence (as well as logical evidence) that it does not? I know the answers to these questions are controversial, but I honestly can't understand why. It seems very plain to me.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Yes, actually there is abundant evidence to tell us the Mosaic Covenant was meant to include present day believers.  It is scattered throughout the New Testament, and is particular abundant in Hebrews.  But if you rule out the New Testament because it cannot be allowed it to shape the way you have previously interpreted the Old Testament, you are left with an incomplete picture of scriptural teaching.  By giving the OT priority over the NT on issues of eschatology, you have only partial evidence with which to formulate your understanding.

You readily understand that initial impressions of Mosaic Law cannot override NT teaching.  Without allowing the NT to inform your understanding of Mosaic Law, you miss-interpret scripture.  I'm suggesting that the same principle  applies to eschatology.  That seems clear enough to me.

G. N. Barkman

pvawter's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

You readily understand that initial impressions of Mosaic Law cannot override NT teaching.  Without allowing the NT to inform your understanding of Mosaic Law, you miss-interpret scripture.  I'm suggesting that the same principle  applies to eschatology.  That seems clear enough to me.

This statement, it seems to me, assumes that the NT offers a different understanding of the Mosaic Law and eschatology, among other things. I do not believe this to be true. The NT adds to prior revelation, but what is clearly understood by what you call "initial impressions" of the OT is not inaccurate or in need of reinterpretation through a NT lens. It is not the limitations of the Biblical writers' understanding but our own that makes us imagine that the NT authors were reinterpreting the Old.

I really appreciate Abner Chou's Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers for demonstrating the consistency of interpretation between the OT and NT authors. I just wish it included a Scripture index. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

For a much better discussion of the "law of Christ" approach than this article offers, please see Ryrie's discussion in his Basic Theology. I get what he's saying, and some of it is very good.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

MissionaryA.Berry's picture

The intriguing part; most of this sounds like you are trying to persuade a Seventh Day Adventist about the proper way to interpret scripture.  They divide the law into three parts. Not once does the NT divide the law in such a manner.

I take exception to the part: Last sentence of part 1; “Just like Christians who outlaw eating pork or getting tattoos.”

New Testament is very clear.  In Jude there are four types of beings mentioned at the beginning: ungodly men (verse 4 - …ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness…), unbelievers, fallen angels, and homosexuals. In summary It says in verse eight: these (classify yourself as to which group you belong) Jud 1:8  "Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities."

That word DEFILE the flesh according to Strong’s definition, is to stain the skin with ink, tattoo.

Therefore: part two he says: "Can I get a tattoo? Yes!"  - I would say, NO!! Unless you want to be classified as one of the four groups of people at the beginning of the book.

Romaklok

T Howard's picture

MissionaryA.Berry wrote:
I take exception to the part: Last sentence of part 1; “Just like Christians who outlaw eating pork or getting tattoos.”

...That word DEFILE the flesh according to Strong’s definition, is to stain the skin with ink, tattoo.

Therefore: part two he says: "Can I get a tattoo? Yes!"  - I would say, NO!! Unless you want to be classified as one of the four groups of people at the beginning of the book.

Please stop using Strong's if that's what you conclude from this passage in Jude.

Bert Perry's picture

Yes, it can mean to stain, as with tattoo ink, but as any good Greek dictionary will tell you, the ancients had other uses for the word, and exegetically, even the non-Greek speaker who doesn't even recognize a capital "alpha" would tell you that the context simply doesn't work for that interpretation.  

I have some reasons I don't get tattoos--the risk of infection and not wanting the tattoo artist to handle my skin for a prolonged period of time work with my general feeling that most tattoos amount to vandalism on God's artwork--but Jude 8 is not among them. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ed Vasicek's picture

This is a very complex subject, partly because the Law serves many purposes.  House and Ice say the only way you can know FOR SURE which parts of the Law apply to the church is because they are repeated in the New Testament.  They have a point. But that doesn't mean other aspects of the Torah (not repeated in the New Testament) do not apply; it is, rather, a matter of certainty.. A lot of merit to this way of thinking, IMO.

I am not a Messianic Jew, but I am sympathetic toward the better versions of that movement.  David Stern is their leading commentator/theologian, and his view is interesting.  He views Christianity as Trans-cultural Messianic Judaism.  In other words, the commands/practices that are uniquely for the Jews are for that culture/nation.  Christianity is therefore an ADAPTED Messianic Judaism, at least when it comes to gentiles.  Believeing Jews often continued being Torah observant, as church history tells us the apostles were, and as Acts 21:21-26 imply. I concur with this view.

When it comes to the relationship to the Law, this is not a whole lot different than saying we are under the moral but not ritualistic or civic aspects of the Torah.  The problem with this view, however, is in making the judgment call. For example, are tattoos a moral issue, a  ritualistic issue, or a civic issue?

Whatever our viewpoint,  we cannot have the neat package that everyone wants, IMO.

"The Midrash Detective"

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