Interpreting the Legal Sections Part 8

Posted By Thomas Perez. December 16, 2010 at 7:34pm.

I. Introduction to the Legal Sections (Exodus 20–Deuteronomy 33)

A. Legal sections The Old Testament contains 613 commandments. Of these, 248 are positive laws and 365 are negative laws. All 613 commands are found in the section of Exodus 20–Deuteronomy 33. Thus the four legal books are Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

NOTE: Genesis–Deuteronomy is often referred to as the “Book of the Law.” Genesis, though, does not contain explicit commands for God’s people as found in the other four books of the Law and thus is more aptly considered narrative literature.

B. What was the Mosaic Law? “The law of Moses was a divinely instituted rule of life mediated through Moses to govern God’s covenant people, Israel in Canaan. It regulated their common everyday conduct. . . . The Mosaic code of laws included the commandments (Ex. 20:1-17), the ordinances stipulating the Israelite’s social life (21:1–23:33), and those directing Israel’s worship (25:1–31:18)” (Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, 760).

The Law is a unit and cannot rightly be divided into sections. Yet we can note that there are three major classifications within this one Law:

1. Civil – how Israel should live as a society on a day-to-day basis.

2. Ceremonial—how Israel should worship God (including sacrifices)

3. Moral—ethical rules for living.

Examples of Mosaic Law commands include instructions for the tabernacle (Exod. 40); burnt offerings (Lev. 1); harvesting (Lev. 19:9-10); cleanness for priests (Lev. 22); rules for the firstborn (Num. 3); restitution for adultery (Num. 5); and the death penalty for false prophets (Deut. 13).

C. The function of the Mosaic Law

1. The Mosaic Law was a covenant given to Israel alone. “It was to Israel that the Decalogue [Ten Commandments] was primarily addressed, and not to all mankind” (John R. Sampey, “The Ten Commandments,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 5, 2944B) (see Exod. 19:3; 34:27).

2. The Mosaic Law signified Israel’s special relationship to God. “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:5-6).

3. The Law specified how Israel could live acceptably before God. It was their rule of life by which they abided.

4. The Mosaic Law included penalties for covenant violation.

5. The Mosaic Law revealed and exposed sin.

a. “For through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).

b. “And the Law came in that the transgression might increase” (Rom.


c. Rom. 3:19

d. Rom. 7:7-13

6. The Mosaic Law acted as a temporary guardian for Israel until Christ came. “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:23-25).

7. The Mosaic Law was never intended to save anyone. It showed Israel what was required of them and how they should live, but it could not save.

a. “By the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16).

b. “By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20.

D. The Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic Law The relationship of the Christian to the Law is a heavily debated and disputed issue. Below are some guidelines we believe are correct for understanding how the Law relates to the Christian.

1. The New Testament explicitly says that Christians are not under the Law. Thus, the Mosaic Law as a unit is not binding on Christians today and we should not look to specifically apply the commands and regulations of the Mosaic Law.

a. “For you are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

b. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal. 5:18).

c. “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another” (Rom. 7:4).

d. “But now we have been released from the Law” (Rom. 7:6).

e. “For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God” (Gal. 2:19).

f. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).

2. Christians today are under the “Law of Christ” which includes the teachings of the New Testament and Old Testament commands that are picked up and reapplied in the New Testament. For example, nine of the ten commandments of the Mosaic Law have been reapplied to the New Testament era. (The one exception is the Sabbath command.)

“And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:20-21) (see also Gal. 6:2).

NOTE: Since the Law has been said to be done away with for the Christian, it is best to assume that specific commands of the Mosaic Law are not in effect for today unless the New Testament explicitly says so.

“The Old Testament represents an old covenant, which is one we are no longer obligated to keep. Therefore we can hardly begin by assuming that the Old Covenant should automatically be binding upon us. We have to assume, in fact, that none of its stipulations (laws) are binding upon us unless they are renewed in the New Covenant. That is, unless an Old Testament law is somehow restated or reinforced in the New Testament, it is no longer directly binding on God’s people” (Stuart and Fee, 151–52).

3. Although not binding on the Christian, the Legal sections are the inspired Word of God that are profitable and teach many truths.

1. The Mosaic Law gives us examples we can learn from.

a. “Now these things happened as examples for us . . . . Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:1-11).

b. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).

2. The Mosaic Law teaches us important theological truths.

a. The character of God, especially His holiness.

b. The seriousness of sin.

c. Sacrifice is needed as a remedy for sin.

II. Principles for Interpreting the Legal Sections of Scripture (Exodus 20–Deuteronomy 33)

A. View the legal sections as God’s inspired Word that is profitable to you, but do not view the specific commands as being directly applicable to you unless the New Testament says so.

B. Keep in mind that the legal sections were given to the nation Israel alone and, thus, address how the nation Israel was to act.

C. Remember that the Mosaic Law points to fulfillment in Jesus Christ who gives us a better law and covenant (see Hebrews 8:13).

D. Pay attention to the great theological truths that are seen in the Law.

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