As I have been writing on Sharia law and the contrasts between Islam and Christianity, critics inevitably throw out the objection: “Why are you pointing out all the harsh sayings of the Quran and Sharia Law? The Bible has just as many ‘barbaric’ commands! If you really believe the Bible, why don’t you obey all the 600 plus statutes and commandments of the Law of Moses in the Old Testament?” And then they go right on listing a multitude of laws that seem very harsh or intolerant or just downright weird (especially by our 21st century standards).
Although I have addressed a few of the problem passages and issues in previous articles, space and time prevent me from explaining each and every rule and ritual in Moses’ Law. However, if you are interested in a good readable study of the Old Testament, I highly recommend Paul Copan’s book, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God.
Each of the book’s chapters addresses some of the critics’ sharpest attacks: “Barbarisms, Crude Laws, and Other Imaginary Crimes? Punishments and Other Harsh Realities in Perspective” and “Misogynistic? Women in Israel.” He also spends several chapters on the issue of slavery in the Old Testament and the “genocide” against the Canaanites.
What is his overall take on the Law of Moses? Here’s a sample (from page 59):
God raised up a covenant nation for them. In doing so, he adapted his ideals to a people whose attitudes and actions were influenced by deeply flawed structures. As we’ll see with regard to servitude, punishments, and other structures, a range of regulations and statutes in Israel reveals a God who accommodates. Yet contrary to the common Neo-atheists’ caricatures, these laws weren’t the permanent, divine ideal for all persons everywhere. God informed his people that a new, enduring covenant would be necessary (Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 36). By the Old Testament’s own admission, the Mosaic law was inferior and future looking.
Get Copan’s book. Many of your questions will be answered.
But what is the main reason that Christians no longer sacrifice animals, or keep a kosher kitchen, or wear a border of blue around their garments (all commanded in the Law)? The New Testament teaches that the Law (which was temporary and only for Israel) culminated in the death of Christ. To culminate means to reach the climax, to reach the final result, the fulfillment.
The Bible says that “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). The Law reached its complete fulfillment, its terminal point, in the sacrifice of Jesus. It is now inoperative and has no more authority over believers today (Romans 7:1-6). Please note verse 6 which says, “But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that in which we were held; so that we serve in the newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter.”
The author of Hebrews tells us that the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood which operated the rituals and sacrifices of Tabernacle and Temple worship has been eradicated (Hebrews 7:11-12, 18). “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law” (Hebrews 7:12). And the Levitical priesthood has been replaced entirely with a new priest, Jesus the great High Priest.
Next Page: What does it mean for Jesus to fulfill the law? Why do Christians still believe in and follow the Ten Commandments?
Jesus’ priesthood is after a new order, the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:20-28). He is the only one with this priesthood: But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable (“aparabatos” in the Greek, meaning “untransferable”) priesthood. And Jesus’ once and for all sacrifice completely fulfills everything the Old Testament sacrifices anticipated and annuls all future sacrifices for sin (Hebrews 10:11-17).
The Apostle Paul tells us that the Law was a schoolmaster (Galatians 3:19-25). It was a teacher to drive people to an awareness of their own sinfulness and God’s holiness. The Law achieved its purpose in the death of Christ, Paul says. It taught what it was supposed to teach, and now believers are no longer under the tutelage of a schoolmaster.
The Law was the Old Covenant which Israel entered voluntarily (Hebrews 8:9). And it was in force throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus. In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18: “Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away; not one jot or one tittle shall pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.”
All things necessary for our salvation were accomplished in the death and resurrection of Christ, and so the Law (which had been pointing to the ultimate sacrifice in Christ) was fulfilled. Everything Moses wrote is still the Word of God, just like the rest of the Bible, but it is no longer the “operating system” for God’s people today. The New Testament epistles are quite clear that the Mosaic sacrificial system, feast days, priesthood, temple worship, and even its civil/penal code have all been swept away by the “new and living way” of the New Covenant (Hebrews 10:1-20).
But what about the moral law of God such as “do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, honor your mother and father,” and the like? In fact, these commands are repeated in the epistles! What gives?
These commands are the eternal moral laws of God. They did not terminate at Calvary. They were true before the Law was given at Sinai, they were true when they were incorporated into the Law (see Galatians 3:19– they were “added”), and they are still true long after the Law reached its conclusion. The Law embodied the moral law, but it did not originate it.
Today, God has revealed in the letters of the apostles that we live under a new law. Not the Law of Moses, but the Law of the Messiah: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, see also 1 Corinthians 9:21). Paul also calls this the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ (Romans 8:2). What is this new law? It’s really one that has been around since the beginning (1 John 2:7), and one we should have learned a long time ago. The epistles spell it out, but I think 1 John 4:7,8 summarizes it nicely for us–
“Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and anyone who loves, is born of God, and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”