Law of God
“To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.” 1 Corinthians 9:21
How does the New Testament believer relate to the Mosaic Law? As we are beginning Leviticus this is one of many questions that needs to be wrestled through. It is also one of those questions that has stirred much discussion and debate amongst people much more learned than myself. My aim then is not to give a definitive answer, but to offer a few thoughts to guide us through this discussion,
1) It is more nuanced than simply “I’m not under the law but under grace” [Romans 6:14] — Yes, that is basically a direct quote from Paul, but as we often mention context is critical AND check again the verse at the top. Paul says he is not “outside the law of God”. These two verses are not contradictory, but are a helpful starting point to see how the same word “law” has a lot of nuance in the New Testament.
2) Law as “whole package” or “tripartite division” — One way some (especially since Thomas Aquinas ca. 1225-1274) have approached the Law for believers is by dividing it into 3-parts (tripartite): Moral, Ceremonial and Civil. Moral would be the 10 Commandments—an expansion of the 2 greatest commandments Love God, Love Neighbor—which are unchanging and eternal, so are then “copied and pasted” as binding for the NT believer. Ceremonial are those laws associated with the Temple and rituals and are fulfilled in Christ no longer applicable to the NT believer. Civil relates to Israel as a theocratic nation-state with its punishments for specific crimes and are no longer binding because we are not in a theocratic nation. The “whole package” approach acknowledges some merit in the “tripartite approach”, but argues that the Scriptures speak of the Law as—you guessed it—a whole package. This means that the whole law was fulfilled in Christ and is no longer binding on the NT believer as a covenant. The whole law-covenant has been fulfilled in Christ and replaced with the New Covenant that has a new Priesthood and Law. However, we do not throw out the Mosaic Law, but we apply it through the “lens of Christ”. A lot more could be said, but that will have to suffice for now
3) 1st century Christians and 2 Timothy 3:16 — This last point is twofold: 1) The first century Christians did not have the New Testament. They had to know how to read and determine Christian doctrine from the Old Testament in light of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. Which leads to 2) that 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul is saying from the Law and Prophets we can establish doctrine, reproof, correct and train in righteousness.
Ultimately, our aim needs to be to “rightly handle the word of truth” [2 Timothy 2:15] and “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name” [Romans 1:5]