Most Christians live everyday disobeying the Laws clearly commanded in the Books of Moses (especially, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). This confounds most unbelievers, especially Atheists. If you are a Christian you might hear, “Why don’t you obey all the laws in the Old Testament?” while the person is looking at the Ten Commandments posted in your yard. Truly this person could be curious or trying to trap you, but regardless, we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is found within us (1 Pt. 3:15).
The short answer is Hebrews 7:12, “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” Jesus became a priest in the order of Melchizedek even though he was from the tribe of Judah, not of Levi. Therefore, by necessity, when this Levitical Priesthood was changed, the Mosaic law (which upheld a Levitical Priesthood) had to be changed as well. If that is satisfying enough for you, go ahead and stop reading, but I also want to go further and give a more detailed answer.
What Do We Follow?
If we affirm, with the author of Hebrews, that the law truly has changed for us who follow the high priest of another order (“taxis”, v. 11), what laws do we follow? The classic answer to this question is the Tripartite view of the law. This view separates the laws into three categories: civil, moral, and cermonial. This view requires Christians to uphold the moral aspects of the law, but not the civil or ceremonial.
There are a few problems of this view, however. First of all, some laws are difficult to fit into these categories. For example, Deut. 14:22ff commands tithing. Does this fit under moral, civil, or ceremonial? God does not tithe, it is not an immutable moral goodness flowing from God. It can benefit the society as a whole and be civil in nature. But it could also show honor to the priests and be ceremonial giving to the holy priesthood. Second, they can lead to the conclusion that the non-moral laws are simply irrelevant and should not even be read or considered. Finally, this view does not take into account that there is a change in the entirity of the Mosaic Law (see below) not just parts of it.
A better way to determine what laws to follow is to interpret the Law through a New Testament grid. We affirm what is commanded in the law if it is also commanded in the law of Christ. When looking at any Mosaic law or command of the Old Testament (including the 10 Commandments) we want to see what the New Testament has to say in regard to that command. That is why, for example, we can worship on Sunday rather than on Saturday. We follow Christ’s ordinances, not creation ordinances, or Mosaic ones.
Did God Make a Mistake in Giving the Law?
Now some may conclude that if the law God made is mutable, then (1) God himself by extension must be mutable. Or, perhaps, (2) God made the law as plan A, but it didn’t work so he had to send Jesus as plan B (open theism). The scripture clearly dissafirms both of these positions.
(1) God is immutable but that does not mean his creation is. God certainly could have chosen to create things that could never change. In fact, mankind is made in the very image of God, but he also can change (from death to life!). By extension, God can also create a law that is suspect to change. This is the positive aspect of the tripartite view of the law: the moral laws. Obviously all morality flows from who God is. The moral dictations interwoven into the Mosaic law will never change because they flow from God’s essence. But that does not deny that this law can be changed and we now follow a more strict law.
(2) Jesus’s death and victory over satan was never plan B (Genesis 3:15, Acts 4:27, 28). So why create and change the law? “Not because there was anything intrinsically wrong with it, but becasue in the divine arrangement it was designed as a shadow anticipating the substance. The substance, therefore, far from opposing the shadow, is its fulfillment – this is perfection.” (Silva, WTJ 39 , 68).
Thereby, we follow Christ’s law as the substance, not the shadow. And his law, mind you, is more strict than the Mosaic Law. Hebrews 10 reads, “28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” If the Law of Moses worked to reveal sin and convict, how much more does the Law of Christ?
The Greek Exegesis and Syntax
This section you are more than welcome to skip over if it doesn’t concern (or perhaps interest) you, but I want to include it for the few who may try to use the Greek to argue for using the same exact law today.
μετατιθεμένης γὰρ τῆς ἱερωσύνης ἐξ ἀνάγκης καὶ νόμου μετάθεσις γίνεται. Hb. 7:12
μετατιθεμένης Present Middle/Passive Participle Genitive Feminine Singular
γίνεται Present Middle/Passive Indicitive 3rd Person Singular
LEXICAL AND SYNTACTIC NOTES
-Post positive γὰρ connects ὁ λαὸς of v. 11 (Ellingworth, NIGTC, 374)
-μετατιθεμένης refers to the nuetral “change” rather than “removal” (ibid. cf. BDAG); also this genitive absolute can be taken circumstantially (whenever) or conditionally (if; A.T. Robertson, Grammar, 1022-23).
-νόμου here the author of Hebrew implies not only change in particular laws, but in the entire Mosaic legal system (Ellingworth, NIGTC, 374).