The Law, the OT, and Christians

Over the past couple of weeks we have been poking around various issues of the relationship of Christians with the scriptures of Israel.

It all started with some musings on why Christians don’t keep Sabbath, and that expanded into the question of Law more generally: [in what sense] do Christians keep the Law? But each of these is, in turn, a smaller portion of the larger question of the Christian’s relationship to the Old Testament.

In all of its profundity, here is the thesis I have been implicitly arguing over the past couple of weeks (stolen, no doubt, from Steve Taylor):

Cross Image: luigi diamanti /

This image means a few things:

  1. Everything that comes to us, on this side of the cross, from the OT comes to us only and always through Christ.
  2. This means we do not do anything or adopt anything simply because it is in the Bible, but always as the people whose OT Bible story has found a surprising climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  3. We depend on the NT to set the trajectories for understanding where this unexpected, “apocalyptic” action of Christ cements OT ideas, where it transforms them, and where it insists that we leave them behind.

The question for us is never simply, “What does the OT say?” But always, “How must we read the OT in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ?”

For the Law this means a few things.

First, the Decalogue is insufficient to guide us in the way of godliness.

We have already been talking about the implications connected with Sabbath keeping. Paul repeatedly avers that keeping a day holy is not required now that Christ has come. In Colossians this is put in terms of “shadow” versus the “body” that casts the shadow. No longer must we submit to commandments about festivals (annual holy days), new moons (monthly holy days), or sabbaths (weekly holy days) (Col 2:16).

Similar specifications are drawn out in Galatians–Paul fears for the churches because they are observing days, months, seasons, and years (Gal 4:10).

Christ transforms the idea of “holy time.” We are no longer bound by calendars of holy days. That includes weekly Sabbath observance.

But what about the “second table” of the Law, the commandments concerning loving neighbor?

These, too, have not been untouched by the advent of Christ, but there is more continuity here than in the commandments concerning God.

In Matthew, the commandments are transformed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. No, keeping them is not bad or left behind in the same way that the Sabbath commandment is elsewhere. However, they are shown to be insufficient. From “you shall not commit adultery” to “you shall not look at a woman lustfully.”

This is not “what the commandment intended all along,” it is what Jesus says (“But I say to you”) that stands in deepening contrast to what was already there.

Of course, then there’s “eye for an eye,” which Jesus overturns. No, eye for an eye was not cruel, but a reining in of revenge. But Jesus says even this is insufficient.

Greater righteousness is now required–a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees: because the righteousness they had on offer is merely the righteousness of the Law.

The stuff Paul had (Phil 3) but realized, in the face of the crucified Christ, to be insufficient.

Similarly, in Mark 10, there is the rich man. He asks about which commandments he must keep to inherit eternal life. The second table of the Decalogue is rattled off to him. He does these. What more is needed?

“Follow me.”

Jesus places himself–as, in fact, he is en route to Jerusalem to die–in the middle of the equation about eternal life in the Kingdom of God. There is a way to love God, and neighbor, that cannot be known our lived into by keeping the Ten Words. This episode shows they are requisite, but insufficient.

If we want to know what we should do, we can do no better than the rich man and ask Jesus what we must do. Jesus, specifically the Jesus stories in the NT, tell us: we must heed the commands of Jesus, follow Jesus along the way of the cross, and accept this transformed vision of what it means to love our neighbor as ourself.

The Second Table will not be broken or violated, but it will be kept in a manner befitting a specifically Christian story.

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