Not having a basic understanding of how to read the law in the Old Testament can cause somebody to get very confused. In Lev 19 we are told not to cut our beards or get tattoos. Neither of these laws are obeyed today, so why would we obey the rest?
Scholars give us an easy tool for understanding how to interpret Old Testament laws. They say review the passage and ask three questions:
Is it a ritualistic or ceremonial law? In other words if it deals with how to sacrifice animals or to correctly atone for sin, we are no longer bound to these laws because of Jesus Christ and the cross.
Is it a civil law? The civil laws are numerous in the scripture and cover all sorts of topics, from how you treat your parents to disputes between neighbours. Interestingly much of this law, has actually made its way into our present legal system today. So again, you can move them aside… if your neighbour kills your bull accidently, you are not going to be able use Leviticus to deal with it, because it was part of the civil code for the people of that day.
Is it a moral law? If it is a moral law, for example ‘Do not commit adultery…’ it continues through the cross and is still relevant today.
However, while we are no longer under the law (Rom 6:14), what is important to note (as Jesus himself points out – Matt 5:18-19) is the law is not done away with. What we know is that we can learn from the principles behind all of the law in scripture.
When you read the law looking for the principle you get all sorts of great insights; the treatment of the poor and the rights of the unborn are all examples of principles which can be extracted from the law for the Christian. May I add even the obscure hard to understand laws have principles behind them that are of value if you take the time to understand them.
Maybe the best example of getting the gist, mabo, the vibe, the principle is Jesus himself in the great commandment. In Matthew 22 verses 36 – 40 we see Jesus summarize all the law and the prophets in the summary of loving God and loving others. That is the principle behind all of the laws.