The traditional approach to the Law partitions the Law into:
- Moral Laws
- Civil Laws
- Ceremonial Laws
I must tell you that I am very uncomfortable with the traditional approach because the distinctions between moral, civil, and ceremonial law appear to be arbitrary. Even if one could infer this distinction upon the text, it is often difficult to determine whether a law falls into the moral category or into one of the others.
I believe that a better way to interpret the Law is through its narrative and covenant context. The Law is given in the story of Israel’s theological history of how God delivered Israel from Egypt and established them in the Promised Land. The Law is firmly embedded in the story of Israel’s exodus, wanderings, and conquest. The Mosaic covenant is associated with the conquest and occupation of the land. This concept is stressed over and over in Deuteronomy.
I must also tell you that I do not believe that the Mosaic covenant is a functional covenant anymore because there is a new covenant in Christ Jesus. Hebrews 8-9 makes this clear. Therefore, the Old Testament-Law as part of the Mosaic covenant is no longer binding as law for the Christian. Paul makes it clear that the Christian is not under the Old Testament-Law, nor is the Christian without law, but under the law of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:21)
What about Matthew 5:17?
Jesus said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
Note that the phrase, “the Law or the Prophets” is a reference to the entire Old Testament. Note that the antithesis is between abolish and fulfill. The Greek word translated as “fulfill” normally means “to bring to its intended meaning.”
Jesus is not saying that the law is eternally binding on the New Testament believer. If that were the case, we would be required to keep the so-called sacrificial and ceremonial laws as well as the moral ones.
Jesus came to fulfill the righteous demands of the law and Jesus has become the final interpreter of the law.
- Some laws Jesus restates (Matthew 19:18-19)
- Some laws Jesus modifies (Matthew 5:31-32)
- Some laws Jesus intensifies (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28)
- Some laws Jesus significantly changes (Matthew 5:33-37, 38-42)
- Some laws Jesus abrogates entirely (Mark 7:15-19)
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus is proclaiming that we must interpret the law in the light of His coming and in the light of the profound changes that the new covenant has brought. Therefore, we must interpret the law through the grid of the New Testament. All of the Old Testament-law contains rich theological principles and lessons that are profitable in the Christian life.
Your Servant for Jesus’ Sake