Category Archives: God’s Law

God’s Law: Case Laws

Some of God’s laws are given as general principles such as, “You shall not steal.  You shall not murder.”  And then we can apply these general principles in specific situations.  We know that it is wrong to steal a particular thing from a specific person because in general it is wrong to steal.  However, some of God’s laws are just the opposite.  They give a specific example, from which we are supposed to derive the general principle.  These are called “case laws.”  Let’s look at some examples.

God’s Law: Established in Christ

Jesus did many things in His earthly ministry.  But one thing He did not do was set aside the moral law of God.  The Pharisees and scribes had set aside God’s law (in favor of their own traditions), thereby “emptying” the law of any value (Matthew 15:3–6).  And Jesus rebuked them for it (Matthew 15:7–9).  It is ironic that some Christians think that Jesus came to abolish (abrogate, set aside, or do away with) the law, when Jesus specifically said that He did not come to abolish the law.  This statement is given in reference to God’s law, in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-8:29), where Christ described the standards for appropriate behavior and attitude of the heart (i.e. morality).  In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

God’s Law: and Human Tradition

What is the alternative to God’s law?  When people reject God’s standard for behavior, what do they put in its place?  Since human beings first fell into sin, it has been our tendency to want to replace God’s law with our own opinions: whether they stem from cultural tradition, majority opinion, or subjective feelings.  But God alone as our Creator and Judge has the right to make the rules which govern our behavior, and He will hold us accountable to His standard and none other.  It is arrogant, sinful, and foolish to disregard God’s law in favor of our own opinions of morality (Proverbs 12:15).

God’s Law: the Ceremonial Laws

We saw previously that we may not add to or subtract from God’s law (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32).  But God (as the Law-Giver) can and has.  There are Old Testament laws which the New Testament tells us are no longer binding on us.  These are sometimes called the “ceremonial laws.”  The Bible recognizes two aspects of God’s law: moral laws (which define universal justice for all people), and ceremonial laws (which are binding only on God’s people as a symbol of separation and of the coming Savior).  Moral laws stem from the nature of God.  Since God does not change, neither do moral principles (though God may modify specific laws to deal with changing conditions).

God’s Law: its Place in the New Testament

To what extent and in what ways are we to keep Old Testament laws?  It’s a complex issue and it will take more than one entry to deal with the nuances of the question.  We have already seen that we cannot simply disregard Old Testament laws on the grounds that we are “not under the law but under grace.”  The New Testament teaches that the breaking of God’s law is sin (1 John 3:4) and we are not to continue in sin (Romans 6:15).  Nor can we argue that God’s law only applies to national Israel; it is an example for all nations (Deuteronomy 4:5–8).  God does not show partiality (Romans 2:11).  Therefore, His law defines justice for everyone.  He is the judge of all the earth—not just Israel (Genesis 18:25, Romans 3:29).

God’s Law: Liberty and Justice for All

It has been suggested that the law of God as it was given in the Old Testament applied only to Israel: that God held Israel to a different standard than the other nations.  After all, God gave the law to Israel through Moses.  Some people have supposed that since the other nations were not given a written revelation of God’s law, that God had different standards for them.  I am convinced that the Bible specifically refutes this claim in a number of ways.  But before we turn to some specific verses, let’s consider the general philosophical implications of the notion that God holds different people in different locations or nations to different standards.

God’s Law: our Obligation

Are Christians under any obligation to obey God’s law?  There are a number of places where the New Testament indicates that we are not “under the law” (Galatians 5:18, 1 Corinthians 9:20).  Rather we are “under grace” (Romans 6:14).  Some people take this to mean that we are no longer under any obligation to obey the laws of God—a position called “licentious antinomianism.”  Such people might say, “Oh we don’t have to be concerned about obedience to the law—Christ paid for all our sins.”

God’s Law: too Harsh—by what Standard?

We have been considering the claim that God’s law is too harsh.  Such an opinion may stem from a misunderstanding of the law.  We have seen that some of the apparent “harshness” of some Old Testament laws disappears when the laws are studied in their biblical context.  But what are we to make of those people who do understand the law, but are still uncomfortable with it?  For example, consider the person who says, “Yes I understand that law.  But it still seems wrong to me.  Some Old Testament laws are just too harsh.”  For this person, I have only one question: “too harsh by what standard?”

God’s Law: too Harsh?

Critics of the Bible sometimes argue that at least some of God’s commandments are very harsh and unloving.  In particular, they often cite examples of Old Testament laws pertaining to penalties for certain crimes.  Adulterers could receive capital punishment (Leviticus 20:10).  Doesn’t that seem harsh by today’s mentality?  Or consider the stoning of rebellious sons (Deuteronomy 21:18–21).  Doesn’t that seem just a bit extreme?  Moreover, the Bible seems to endorse slavery in a number of places (Exodus 21:2).  “How archaic!” says the critic.  “We all know that slavery is morally wrong!”  How are we to make sense of those aspects of God’s law that seem very harsh?

God’s Law: its Purpose

Obedience to God’s law is not an attempt to earn salvation (Romans 3:20, 28).  That’s not the purpose of the law.  But that doesn’t mean that we are free to ignore the law of God either.  The law is for our benefit, and we would be wise to study and obey it.  The law shows us what God’s will is.  Sin is the breaking of God’s law (1 John 3:4).  How would we know that we are breaking God’s law unless He had revealed His law to us?  The law is not the problem.  Sin is the problem.  If God had not given us the law (either written literally or “written” in our conscience) we would still sin but we would not have knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20, 5:13).