Christians are often attacked by the secular left and atheists for being arbitrary, especially when applying God’s laws. For example, God told the Israelites to follow certain dietary laws that we, today, say are no longer in effect. So, the question is, who decides what Old Testament rules and laws are still in effect and which are no longer relevant?
The answer is, as it is to every question: Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament is full of laws. Dietary, clothing, behavior, religious observances, rituals. Some, in light of today’s science, make good sense. For example, don’t eat pork. Why? The Israelites might not have known about trichinosis, but God did. So, there were strict dietary laws about what they could eat and what they couldn’t. It was for their own healthy well-being. The problem is the Pharisees began adding additional rules and laws — in fact, 613 laws called mitzvoth — that it became impossible to follow them all.
Rabbis in the early Christian era made distinctions between “light” and “heavy” commandments and differentiated between “moral” and “ceremonial” law. Jesus, too, made distinctions between the lesser and more important aspects of the law (see Matthew 23:23-24).
The problem was the Pharisees and other religious authorities focused on the minutiae of the laws and forgot about the more important issues of mercy, justice, and faith. They focused on the incidentals and externals and lost sight of the moral principles underlying the laws.
What changed and what do Christians believe today about the role of law?
It’s easy to say the Old Testament laws are trumped by Jesus Christ. In John 1:17, it’s written “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” So are we to totally ignore the law? No. Many OT laws are reaffirmed in the NT, especially the Ten Commandments. Jesus assumed everyone should follow the 10 Commandments. And it’s clear throughout the NT that the law was given to make it clear what sin is and that no one is able to follow all the laws and live a sinless life.
All those dietary laws? No longer in effect. Peter had a vision while visiting Joppa. God showed him that, from now on, all animals, birds, and fish are clean and good for man to eat. Likewise, Jesus says in Matthew 15:11 “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
In a nutshell, it’s clear that many, but not all, of the OT laws were superseded by Jesus and His teachings. Salvation, in other words, does not come by following laws but by following Jesus Christ who summarized all the laws when He said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Words to live by. Amen.