How to Apply the Old Testament Today

Uncategorized Oct 25, 2017

Recently I’ve had multiple conversations with people about how to apply the Old Testament today. At times it seems like we pick and choose which parts, and which laws we should still observe. Some will interpret the Old Testament literally while others will write it off and say, “that’s in the Old Testament so that doesn’t apply to us today.” The Old Testament is more than 3 times as long as the New Testament and there is a reason God left it in the Bible and Jesus Himself put His stamp of approval on it. So how exactly does the OT apply to the NT Christian? How can we see the practical benefit from studying it? How do we interpret it correctly? This article will seek to provide 3 questions you should ask yourself that will serve as what I believe are the best principles for how we should approach the OT to extract the most value out of it. As an aside I STRONGLY encourage you to read through and study the book of Hebrews. It will clear much of this confusion up in no time.

 

PRINCIPLE #1 – WHAT DOES THE NEW TESTAMENT SAY ABOUT THE OLD TESTAMENT?

First, let’s start with 2 Timothy 3:16 which says,

EVERY scripture is inspired by God and is USEFUL for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

Notice two things here. Every Scripture is both inspired by God and USEFUL. This clearly indicates that even the NT writers placed much value on the OT. Jesus even said,

For I did not come to abolish (do away with) the law but to fulfill it.

In other words He was saying, “I came to fulfill what was previously written about Me and to explain the true meaning of the Law.” Finally Jesus said the entire OT law can be summed up into two commandments. He said in Mt. 22:37-40,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart…and…love your neighbor as yourself.

If what’s in question about the OT is consistent with these two commandments then do it. If not, then don’t do it.

 

PRINCIPLE #2 – IS THIS PART OF THE CEREMONIAL OR MORAL LAW?

Okay that’s a bunch of theological jargon so let me explain the difference between the two. When Moses communicated God’s laws to His people there were both ceremonial laws and moral laws. We must understand that the covenant God made in the OT was with the Jews, not the Gentiles. So the laws then don’t and never did apply to us today. Think of it like a state law. They were in Florida. We are in Texas. Are we obligated to obey specific laws that are unique to Florida? No. Not unless the laws are common to both states. The OT law was written for several reasons.

  • To reveal the utter sinfulness of mankind and our desperate need for a Savior – Rom. 7:7-9; Gal. 3:24
  • To set Israel apart from other nations
  • To train them in the ways of holiness having come out of Egyptian slavery.
  • To provide a “type” or “foreshadowing” of Jesus – Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 10:1 – In other words, they were symbolic of what Jesus Christ would one day come to the earth to do.

Several NT scriptures indicate that we are no longer under these laws but instead, we exist under a New Covenant (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:24-26; Eph. 2:15; Heb. 8:10-13). Below are some examples of ceremonial OT laws no longer valid today.

  • Dietary Restrictions – Jesus said,

It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.

  • Animal Sacrifices – Hebrews 10 teaches us that there is no longer a need for animal sacrifices because Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice.
  • Uncleanness – There were a list of things that made an Israelite “unclean” (leprosy, blood, male discharge, mildew, etc.). In other words, if they had these conditions they were to be set apart from others until they offered a sacrifice and got cleansed again. One such question that comes up frequently is, “is it prohibited for a husband and wife to have sexual intercourse during a woman’s menstrual cycle?” Once again this was part of the ceremonial law which we are not under. The NT also sheds light on this when it says a husband and wife should not deprive one another except by mutual consent for a season. In other words, each couple may choose not to for whatever reason but it is not a sin to do so (see also Heb. 13:4).
  • Circumcision – Paul explains that physical circumcision is of no value if your heart is not first circumcised (Rom. 2:25-29). In other words, the hardness of your heart must be removed.
  • Sabbath Day – This is the only one of the Ten Commandments that is not explicitly repeated in the NT. On the contrary it teaches that we should treat every day the same (Col. 2:16-17; Rom. 15:4). In other words, like many things under grace, it is a matter of personal choice and conviction.
    As you can see the OT ceremonial laws are discussed in the NT and it is clear that we are not under any obligation to fulfill them. However, the moral laws of the OT are still binding because they are either repeated, further explained (Matt. 5-7) or fall under the “love your neighbor as yourself” or “love God with all your heart” commandments.

 

#3 – IS THERE A PRINCIPLE THAT REVEALS THE HEART AND/OR CHARACTER OF GOD?

Theologians refer to these as timeless truths. These are truths about God that never change. The greatest value in the OT is that it clearly reveals the very heart and character of God much more than the NT. Allow me to provide several examples of what I mean.

 

EXAMPLE #1

In Deut. 22:13-21 it teaches that a woman who is not a virgin on her wedding day should be stoned. Should we stone such people today? NO. Even Jesus didn’t stone the sexually immoral woman (John 8). But this law teaches us how God feels about premarital sex.

 

EXAMPLE #2

When David sinned with Bathsheba the child they had together died as punishment for their sin. Should we abort children conceived out of an adulterous affair? NO. But God’s punishment on this couple teaches us how God feels about adultery. It teaches us that no sin goes unnoticed before God. It teaches us the lesson,

WE CAN PICK OUR SIN BUT WE CANNOT PICK OUR CONSEQUENCES.
 

 

EXAMPLE #3

When you study the lives of Abraham, Joseph and David one thing becomes clear. All of them had a promise from God but had to wait upwards of 25 years after the promise before they received it. Will we have to wait 25 years for our promise from God? Maybe, maybe NOT. But it does teach us that God generally takes His time in developing our character as He prepares us to walk in our calling.

 

EXAMPLE #4

The Israelites sinned for hundreds of years and God was merciful until eventually He disciplined them. Should we sin assuming God won’t punish us? NO. But we can rest assure that this teaches us that God is a patient God who is also just and holy.

 

EXAMPLE #5

Here’s another example. When a man named Uzzah reached out and touched the sacred ark of God, God struck him dead. Does this mean that God will strike us dead when we do something wrong? Obviously not. But it does tell us that God is a God of details and when he gives us strict instructions he wants us to follow it to the T.

 

SUMMARY

I encourage you to ask yourself these three questions as you attempt to figure out what parts of the OT we should or should not apply. I certainly encourage you to look for principles throughout the OT as they will most certainly teach you what is near and dear to the heart of God. My prayer is that the OT will provide lifelong lessons resulting in transformation.

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