Definition and Preview of The Law

This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series The Law and The Believer

Definition:  The Law

“The Law” and “the Law of Moses” are common phrases throughout the Bible.  The Law is referenced well over one hundred times in both testaments, and is actually referenced more in the New Testament by one of these titles than in the Old.  As such, clearly the Law is a continual reality throughout biblical testimony.  It is not a theme that withers and goes away.

The phrase “the Law of Moses” gives insight into its definition.  The Law does refer to that which Moses penned at God’s direction to be the Law for his people.  While it is convenient to relegate the Law to Israel, and there are some levels at which this assignment is valid, the Law was for everyone who would receive it.  God did not limit the following of the Law and the adoption into his program to only Israel. 

Categorically, the Law refers to the commands of Moses.  Jesus and the apostles defined the Law in that very same manner:

John 7:23 (NIV)
23 Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?

Luke 24:44 (NIV)
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

1 Corinthians 9:9 (NIV)
9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned?

Mark 10:2-3 (NIV)
2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

The commands of Moses most commonly known to the church age are those original ten given on Mount Sinai, “The Ten Commandments.”  Other laws were given to Moses, however, and documented in the scriptures for God’s people to follow.  In fact, there were, by Jewish traditional calculations, 603 additional commands given by Moses for a total of 613 commands of Moses.

This set of laws ranged a truly impressive array of human conditioning on virtually every subject.  For this reason many in Jewish tradition spent the duration of their lives attempting to interpret and study it.

A Preview of The Law

Rather than to list the entire 603 commands in this work, a composite of only a few dozen will be demonstrated for a fuller understanding of the fullness of the Law.  But, this short study of the diversity of the law is necessary to the student of this work in order to understand the dilemma which awaits.

Much of the Law is very pragmatic in keeping with Christian tradition and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles.  It is the stuff Christian t-shirts were made for:

Deuteronomy 6:16 (NIV)
16 Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah.

Leviticus 19:32 (NIV)
32 “‘Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.

Exodus 23:25 (NIV)
25 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you,

Deuteronomy 8:10 (NIV)
10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Leviticus 19:18 (NIV)
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Parts of the Law deal uniquely with the human conditions of hygiene, diet and food preparation:

Leviticus 11:4 (NIV)
4 “‘There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split hoof, but you must not eat them. The camel, though it chews the cud, does not have a split hoof; it is ceremonially unclean for you.

Leviticus 11:29 (NIV)
29 “‘Of the animals that move about on the ground, these are unclean for you: the weasel, the rat, any kind of great lizard,

Leviticus 11:41 (NIV)
41 “‘Every creature that moves about on the ground is detestable; it is not to be eaten.

Leviticus 12:2 (NIV)
2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period.

Leviticus 11:39 (NIV)
39 “‘If an animal that you are allowed to eat dies, anyone who touches the carcass will be unclean till evening.

Other commands deal with the treatment of others,

Leviticus 25:17 (NIV)
17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:16 (NIV)
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:18 (NIV)
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

spiritual practice,

Exodus 23:24 (NIV)
24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.

Exodus 23:15 (NIV)
15 “Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. “No one is to appear before me empty-handed.

Exodus 20:8 (NIV)
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (NIV)
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.


sexual propriety,

Leviticus 18:6 (NIV)
6 “‘No one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 18:9 (NIV)
9 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere.

Leviticus 18:12 (NIV)
12 “‘Do not have sexual relations with your father’s sister; she is your father’s close relative.

Leviticus 18:23 (NIV)
23 “‘Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.

civic responsibilities,

Exodus 22:21 (NIV)
21 “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.

Leviticus 19:9-10 (NIV)
9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:11 (NIV)
11 “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another.

Leviticus 19:14 (NIV)
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 19:15 (NIV)
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

marriage and family,

Exodus 20:12 (NIV)
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Leviticus 19:29 (NIV)
29 “‘Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness.

Deuteronomy 24:5 (NIV)
5 If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.

business practices,

Leviticus 25:14 (NIV)
14 “‘If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other.

Exodus 22:25 (NIV)
25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.

Leviticus 19:35 (NIV)
35 “‘Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity.

Leviticus 19:13 (NIV)
13 “‘Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.

and civil makeup and restitutional law for the nation:

Deuteronomy 16:18 (NIV)
18 Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly.

Exodus 22:28 (NIV)
28 “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.

Exodus 20:16 (NIV)
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

Exodus 23:7 (NIV)
7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NIV)
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Deuteronomy 24:16 (NIV)
16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.

So far so good.  The shallow end of the pool is still safe.  Truly, much of the Law is completely consistent with the theological understandings of the average Christian, other than certain foods we enjoy at our church socials; okay, most of the foods. 

But, there are parts of the Law which would give the average Christian a nervous breakdown.  They do not fit the profile of our understanding of the grace of Christ.  At times, it is not even possible for modern believers to obey, such as laws concerning punitive  damages which would have been carried out by judges and kings:

Exodus 21:15 (NIV)
15 “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.

Exodus 21:17 (NIV)
17 “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

Exodus 21:14 (NIV)
14 But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.

Clearly, parts of the law cannot be applicable to each individual Christian, because the infer penalties which individual Christians are not able to enforce.  These laws, obviously are laws for the nation of Israel and are intended to be carried out.  Even so, if the individual Christian felt a necessity to obey the law, would that demand that believers create a nation which would enforce these laws?

Can we live in a nation where Lorena Bobbit has two hands and the kings do nothing?

Deuteronomy 25:11-12 (NIV)
11 If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, 12 you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.

Moreover, some laws are not legal in modern communities, which create a conflict between the Old Testament and the New Testament command of Romans 13:

            Romans 13:1 (NIV)
1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

For example,

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 (NIV)
24 If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. 25 If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain.

Since this law conflicts with the laws of most nations today (I can’t wander into someone’s garden & begin to graze), which should the Christian obey; Romans 13 or Deuteronomy 13?

Obviously my tongue is firmly planted in cheek, yet this practice is necessary to demonstrate that it is simply not possible for a Christian to obey some of the law of Moses.  Yet, the impossibility of obeying certain laws is only the tip of the iceberg.  Other issues arise as well.

Some laws were repealed by the New Testament:

Acts 10:9-16 (NIV)
9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

This makes it acceptable for modern believers to eat crawfish and pork (thank you, Lord!) in most cases, though some still argue that Peter’s vision was concerned with his call to evangelize Cornelius, a Gentile (which it clearly was), and had no bearing on the dietary laws of the Old Testament.  Yet, for most Christians, this law is understood as “repealed” because of Peter’s vision.

But, even if that is the case, who repealed the laws of the Sabbath?

Exodus 20:10 (NIV)
10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.

And who repealed the laws of celebrating the Holy Festivals, which even Jesus celebrated?

Deuteronomy 16:13 (NIV)
13 Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress.

Leviticus 23:34-36 (NIV)
34 “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. 35 The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. 36 For seven days present offerings made to the Lord by fire, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present an offering made to the Lord by fire. It is the closing assembly; do no regular work.

Leviticus 23:26-27 (NIV)
26 The Lord said to Moses, 27 “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the Lord by fire.

Who decided it was ok to cross breed cattle and to plant gardens of variety?

Leviticus 19:19 (NIV)
19 “‘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.

Or to wear mixed garments?

Deuteronomy 22:11 (NIV)
11 Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.

Tassels, anyone?

Deuteronomy 22:12 (NIV)
12 Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear.

We could go on all day, but the point should be well established by now that anyone making claims that the Law of Moses is still applicable in the lives of Christians simply cannot be making the case that Christians are to obey the entire law.

It is at this point that the process gets messy.  Here is where the ants begin their one hundred journeys seeking a dividing line by which they can break the law apart into that which should be obeyed by believers today and that part which is cleanly omitted.

So, just where is that line to be drawn?  Or is it to be drawn at all?

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