Which Old Testament laws apply?

Why do most Christians wear clothing made of mixed fabrics? Doesn’t the Bible prohibit that? Leviticus 19:19 says, “Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”

One of the most common theological questions is “How do we know which Mosaic laws apply to us today and which no longer do?” Why do we embrace the Ten Commandments yet ignore other Old Testament rules?

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) Also, “in the same way, after the supper he [Jesus] took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) How does Jesus instituting the New Covenant affect the Old Covenant?

In a traditional approach there is an emphasis on the distinction between three categories of Mosaic Laws. There are civil laws, ritual or ceremonial laws and moral laws. The civil laws of Israel have passed away since the church is not a nation. The ritual laws of sacrifice, the priesthood and the temple have been fulfilled in Jesus and no longer apply to the modern church. The moral laws deal with timeless truths regarding God’s intention for ethical human behavior. These are clearly reflected in New Testament guidelines for living a holy life and still apply today.

Certain scholars find these three traditional distinctions to be somewhat arbitrary and imposed on the text from outside of the text. Some recommend an approach called “principlism” and Biblical Studies professor J. Daniel Hays outlines steps for determining which Old Testament laws still apply to us. First we must identify what the law meant to the initial audience and secondly, discern the difference between that audience and the believer today. Thirdly, we develop universal principles from the text and then correlate the principles with New Testament teaching. Finally we apply a modified universal principle to life today.

Going back to the commands in Leviticus 19:19 we are reminded of a pervasive Old Testament theme that God wanted holy things to be kept separate from profane things. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, authors of How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth  write, “These and other prohibitions were designed to forbid the Israelites to engage in fertility cult practices of the Canaanites. The Canaanites believed in sympathetic magic, the idea that symbolic actions can influence the gods of nature… Mixing animal breeds, seeds, or materials was thought to ‘marry’ them so as magically to produce ‘offspring,’ that is, agricultural bounty in the future.” Although there are different interpretations regarding the command not to mix fabrics, all of them are based on the understanding of the holiness of God.

Finally, Tom Gilson in his blog “Thinking Christian” has a few good words regarding this subject. “Now, there are some biblical commands that aren’t so culture- and context-dependent. We can recognize them by how frequently and in how many different contexts they are presented, and by the strength of their connection to identifiable culture-transcending principles. By those tests, Leviticus 19:19 is clearly tied to one time and one place, unlike commands relating to (for example) love for God and neighbor, honesty, integrity, and sexual behavior.”

 

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