What the Law is:The Old Testament contains over six hundred commandments, all of which are contained within four books; Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. While Genesis does not contain any of these commandments it is also considered to be part of the law. The largest problem for most Christians in reading and studying this portion of the bible is the hermeneutical question. The following guidelines should help in the understanding of the Old Testament Laws and covenant.

1.    The Old Testament Law is a covenant. A covenant is a binding contract between two parties, both of whom have obligations specified in the covenant. The covenant format of the Old Testament Laws had six parts to it: preamble, prologue, stipulations, witnesses, sanctions, and document clause. The preamble identified the parties of the agreement. The prologue gave a brief history of how the parties became connected to one another. The stipulations are the individual laws themselves. The witnesses are those who will enforce the covenant. The sanctions are the blessings and curses that function as incentives for keeping the covenant. The document clause is the provision for regular review of the covenant so that it will not be forgotten.

2.    The Old Testament is not our testament (at least not apart from the New Covenant). The Old Testament represents an old covenant, which is no longer binding to us. We have to assume that none of its stipulations are binding unless otherwise noted in the New Testament or New Covenant. God expects something different from us than he did those in the Old Covenant or Old Testament.

3.    Some stipulations of the Old Testament have clearly not been renewed in the New Covenant. You can make two groups within the Pentateuchal laws that no longer apply to Christians of today. (1) The Israelite civil laws and (2) the Israelite ritual laws. The civil laws specify what penalties existed for various crimes. The ritual laws dealt with the specifics about worshipping God and the atonement of sin. Both of these groups of Laws only applied to the people of ancient Israel.

4.    Part of the Old Covenant is renewed in the New Covenant. Some aspects of the old ethical laws are actually restated in the New Testament as applicable to Christians. Such laws derive their continued applicability from the fact that they serve to support the two chief laws of the New Covenant; love the Lord your God with all of your hear, your soul, and your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

5.    All of the Old Testament law is still the Word of God for us even though it is not still the command of God to us. God wants us to know about all commands even if they are not directed at us personally. Care needs to be taken though that we understand that the Law can be used in both a good way and a negative way in the life of the Christian and this is often determined by how the Law is mediated (through Christ or through Moses).

6.    Only that which is explicitly renewed from the Old Testament law can be considered part of the New Testament “law of Christ.” The Ten Commandments as well as the two laws mentioned earlier; loving your God with heart, soul, and mind; and loving your neighbor as yourself.

The Old Testament Laws: The following definitions of the categories of Laws will help in defining what God was trying to instruct, therefore, allowing better understanding of how this portion of Scripture can apply to your lives.

Apodictic Law: Usually begins with do or do not. They are commands, telling the Israelites what they need to do to fulfill their part of the covenant with God. Throughout the study of these Laws one can begin to see how impossible it is to please God on our own. This also helps to show us that when reading the Old Testament we ought to be humble and appreciate how unworthy we are to belong to God.

Casuistic Law: These laws are case-by-case. These sorts of laws constitute a large portion of the more than six hundred commandments found in the Old Testament Pentateuchal law. None of these laws appear in the New Covenant. What we can gain from studying this kind of law is the demonstration of God’s fairness and redemption that he granted. In these laws we often get a glimpse of the character of God.

The Food Laws: The majority of these laws have to do with God’s protection of the Israelites. Most of the foods prohibited were more likely to carry disease, or were uneconomical to raise.

Laws about the shedding of blood: Sin always deserves punishment. God revealed to his people that one who sins against him does not deserve to live. But he provided a procedure by which a sinner could make atonement for his or her sins; a substitute of blood could be shed for redemption.

Unusual Prohibitions: These refer to laws such as “ do not mate different animals,” or “ do not plant your field with two kind of seeds.” The inspiration of these laws came from a desire of God to set his people apart from the Canaanites. The Canaanites believed in what is called “sympathetic magic,” the idea that symbolic actions can influence the gods of nature. God could not bless his people if they practiced this kind of nonsense. These laws helped lead the Israelites away from a religion with no salvation, ultimately demonstrating Gods love and plan for us.

Laws giving blessings to those who keep them: Such a law is neither punitive or restrictive. These laws give instructions for the benefit of keeping God’s commandments.

Some Do’s and Don’ts

1. Do see the Old Testament law as God’s fully inspired word for you, but don’t always see it as God’s direct command to you. Ultimately see God’s law as a guardian that leads you to Jesus (see Galatians 3.19-24).

2. Do see the Old Testament law as the basis for the Old Covenant, and therefore Israel’s history. However, don’t see the law as binding on Christians in the New Covenant except where specifically renewed and mediated through Jesus.

3. See God’s justice, love, and high standards revealed in the Old Testament law, but don’t forget to see that God’s mercy is made equal to the severity of the standards.

4. Don’t see the Old Testament law as complete. It is not technically comprehensive. Do see the Old Testament law as a paradigm—providing examples for the full range of expected behavior.

5. Don’t expect the Old Testament law to be cited frequently by the prophets or the New Testament. Remember that the essence of the law (Ten Commandments, and the two chief laws) is repeated in the prophets and the New Testament.

6. Do see the Old Testament laws as a generous gift from God to the Israelites, and don’t see them as an annoying group of arbitrary regulations limiting people’s freedom.

(This post is a summary and partial abridgement of Fee And Stuart’s book “How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth.” It is based solely on Fee And Stuart’s work and any help that this content gives should be credited to God’s grace through their effort. In other words, give God glory, thank Fee and Stuart and buy the book.)