Here are 10 quick tips on how to apply and understand the Old Testament Law as Christians.
- The Law isn't just commandments. The Jewish word usually translated "law" - Torah - actually refers to the first 5 books of the Bible. What we read as commandments are set within the context of story, and are inseparable from it.
- The Law was always about how to respond to salvation. Just before the 10 Commandments are given comes the wonderful Exodus 19. The Law, for the people of Israel, was about how to respond to the fact that God had already saved them, and how to continue as God's saved people.
- The Law was given to the nation of Israel - it was given in a specific time and context to a specific group of people to show them how to respond to God saving them from slavery in Egypt. It wasn't given to 21st century Gentile Christians living in the UK (or anywhere else). So it doesn't apply directly to us.
- The Law was given in the knowledge it wouldn't be kept. Just after the commandments finish, in Deuteronomy 32, comes a wonderful song from Moses responding to the law. And in it, he recognises that the people won't keep the law and will need saving again. Jesus isn't therefore a Plan B, he is part 2 (or 3, or whatever) of Plan A. The Law shows us that we are incapable of keeping it, despite the best possible carrots and the worst possible sticks. The problem is the human heart.
- Jesus is the perfect Law-keeper. But Jesus kept the Law perfectly. He did what we could not do.
- Jesus embodies the character of God as revealed in the Law. He doesn't just fulfil the Law by not breaking it - he shows us more clearly the God who gave the Law.
- Jesus is the answer to the problem posed by the Law. The problem the Law shows is that even if God rescues us, we still can't live up to it. Jesus solves that by rescuing us from our own inadequacy, from God's right anger against that inadequacy, and by giving us his Spirit to live in us and transform us.
- The Law reveals the character of God our Father, especially in the importance of love - loving God and those around us, as well as showing us worked examples of what that love looks like in the culture of the time. We can therefore apply it to how we should respond to God's greater salvation in Jesus, but to do that takes work. There's a great outline of how to go about it in CJH Wright's book Old Testament Ethics for the People of God.
- The Law leads us to God the Son, and shows us our need of his sin-bearing sacrifice.
- The Law shows us our need for transformation by God the Holy Spirit. In New Testament thought, the Spirit replaces the Law. That is why there are so many parallels between Pentecost and Sinai.
What have I missed off? Anything important?