WHICH OLD TESTAMENT LAWS ARE IN FORCE TODAY?
Here is how you can know which laws in the Old Testament were
changed, or are no longer necessary, and which we are commanded
to observe today!
by Herman L. Hoeh
PEOPLE OFTEN ask, "When I read the Old Testament, how can 1
know the difference between the ceremonial laws no longer binding
on the Church, and those laws which we are to observe today?"
The question is absolutely BASIC. Christian growth depends
in no small measure on understanding the answer to this question.
Ten Commandments Binding at Creation
The patriarch Abraham kept the Commandments. "...Abraham
obeyed my VOICE," said God, "and kept my CHARGE, my COMMANDMENTS,
my STATUTES, and my LAWS" (Gen.26:5).
God's basic spiritual Law which regulates human life existed
from creation. It is "holy, just and good," said Paul in Romans
7:12-14. This Law is summed up in the Ten Commandments God gave
to Moses on Mr.Sinai. The Ten Commandments were not new - only
the written, codified form in which God spoke and wrote them was
new. (See the study, "Were the Ten Commandments in Force Before
Moses?" if you haven't read it, it is on this Website - Keith
The entire Bible was written to illustrate the lives of
individuals who repented of sin and kept the spiritual laws God
set in motion from creation.
David was inspired to write: "All his commandments are sure.
They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and
Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or
the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matt.
God's Church believes David. It also believes Jesus. It does
what He commands. He is, after all, the Head of the Church of
Other Laws Based on Ten Commandments
Abraham kept the Ten Commandments. He also kept God's
STATUTES and LAWS. What were these statutes and laws?
Statutes are expressions of a law maker, usually commanding
or forbidding that certain things be done. In addition to the
broad principles of the Ten Commandments, God gave to the
patriarchs STATUTES for the general well-being of the people -
together with JUDGMENTS for the protection of everyone's legal
rights. Judgments are binding decisions of judges based on God's
previously revealed Law. These decisions are used to settle
similar future disputes and to render a sentence or verdict.
In general the Ten Commandments apply to individual conduct,
the statutes to national or church affairs, and the judgments to
decisions rendered according to the principles of the Ten
Commandments and the statutes.
The world had strayed so far from the truth by the days of
Moses, that God had to reveal His laws and statutes anew to the
Israelites. Ancient Israel had lost much of the knowledge of
God's ways while in Egyptian bondage. Notice, however, that God
was revealing laws which were already in force.
In Exodus 16:28 God challenged Israel: "How long refuse ye
to keep my commandments and my laws?"
Israel could not refuse what did not exist!
In Exodus 18:16 we read that Moses explained to his
father-in-law what he did when the people had a dispute: "I do
make them know the statutes of God, and His laws."
Both these instances occurred before the nation reached
Sinai - before the Old Covenant was made.
As these statutes and laws existed before the Old Covenant,
they were not thereby abolished in A.D.31 (Actually 30 is when
Christ died on the cross - Keith Hunt) when the Old Covenant
marriage agreement ceased at the death of Christ. The Old
Covenant could not destroy what it did not bring into force. The
Old Covenant, remember, was a MARRIAGE AGREEMENT in which Israel
promised to obey the Eternal (Christ) who was the Husband, and
He, in turn, promised to provide for the nation. To obey the
Husband meant to keep God's laws which were already in force!
Magnifying the Law
The statutes and lesser laws of God magnify the Ten
Commandments. The First Commandment says, for example, "Those
shalt have no other gods before me." The statutes regarding
annual festivals magnify this principle - explain how, in a
positive way, to ensure that one worships the one true God:
"Three times [in the year] thou shalt keep a feast UNTO ME..."
(Ex.23:14). Those who obey keep in special contact with the
Many additional laws - such as Exodus 22:16,19 for example -
specify in great detail how the Seventh Commandment "Thou shalt
not commit adultery [or moral uncleanness]," is to be applied.
Notice also that God made provision for additional judgments
to be established over the centuries (see Numbers 27:611 for
example). The judgments are binding decisions based on God's
previously revealed law.
But when did the carnal ceremonies and sacrifices of the
Levitical priesthood begin? When did they cease to have force and
effect? And how can we distinguish them from the statutes and
laws that existed prior to the Old Covenant?
When Did Sacrificial Laws Begin?
When God brought Israel to the foot of Mt.Sinai, He gave the
Ten Commandments to them. He allowed Moses to declare to Israel
the statutes and judgments which the people didn't want to hear
(Exodus, chapter 20-24). These statutes and judgments MAGNIFY the
Now notice carefully. There is only one sacrifice mentioned
thus far in the book of the law - the Passover sacrifice (Ex.
23:15). God called it "MY sacrifice." The Passover was instituted
in Egypt, weeks before Sinai. It had to be included in the Old
Covenant, but it was not instituted by the Old Covenant.
Next, turn to Jeremiah 7:22-23. Listen to what the Eternal
inspired Jeremiah to write: "For in the day that I brought them
out of the land of Egypt, I DID NOT SPEAK ... OR COMMAND them
concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this COMMAND I
GAVE THEM: OBEY my voice ... and walk in ALL THE WAY THAT I
COMMAND YOU, that it may be well with you" (Revised Standard
God did not command these sacrifices to be offered
originally, This explains why none of those temporary sacrifices
were perpetuated by different symbols in the New Testament ,
Church. Only the Passover is continued - with the different New
Testament SYMBOLS of unleavened bread and wine. Why is the
Passover continued today? - because it began before the Old
Covenant was made! (See its institution in Exodus 12 before the
Israelites left Egypt.)
The very fact that Jesus substituted unleavened bread and
wine for the Passover lamb only, and not for the temporary
Levitical offerings, is proof that the ceremonial Old Testament
offerings are not binding today! - but that the Passover, in its
New Testament form, it binding!
Paul explains that the temporary rituals and sacrifices were
afterward "added because of transgressions" (Gal.3:19) - because
God's spiritual Law was being broken - to last UNTIL Christ
should come. They foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ and were a
"reminder of sin" to teach the people the need of the Messiah -
the true Passover Lamb - who would pay the penalty of human
Notice that these temporary rituals did not define sin. They
were reminders of sin, God's spiritual laws define sin. The laws
which define sin - which explain what sin is - these laws we are
to keep today.
The principle of voluntary offering of sacrifices existed
before Moses. Christ volunteered to offer Himself from the
beginning to pay for the sins of mankind. Cain and Abel made
offerings to God (Gen.4:3-4). But in the period from Moses to
Christ the practice of giving offerings was reduced to a
ritualistic plane and regulated in great detail. Why? Because the
children of Israel were a physical, carnal people without the
promise of the Holy Spirit. They could not offer themselves in
spiritual obedience to God (Deut.29:4), so they performed
ritualistic washings and offered animals and other physical types
instead - as a type of the true spiritual worship to come (John
They needed to be reminded of Jesus' then future sacrifice,
so God gave them physical types in the "law of Moses," "until the
seed should come" (Gal.3:19).
Today, however, we offer SPIRITUAL offerings and sacrifices:
we are being "built into. .. a holy priesthood, to offer
spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I
Peter 2:5,9 RSV). We are to present our bodies a living
sacrifice, holy, well-pleasing to God, our spiritual service
It is a spiritual principle to offer one's self in living
obedience - to sacrifice the self - to God. God Almighty is
worthy to receive such service.
"But," some have asked, "weren't the Levitical sacrifices
ordained forever?" Let us look at what the Bible really says. We
may find some surprises.
Yes, the Bible does say that the sacrificial rites and other
ritualistic functions belong to the Levitical priesthood forever.
But NOWHERE are the people commanded to offer bloody sacrifices
forever. Let us understand the real significance of the Hebrew
word "olam" translated "forever." It means continuous, so long
as the factors involved exist.
Take for example the three statements found in Exodus 21:6,
Leviticus 25:46 and Deuteronomy 15:17. All three speak of men
being the slaves of a master forever - which obviously can only
mean continuous until the death of one of the parties.
Now what factors may limit the duration of the offering of
sacrifices? One, the need of a physical, human priesthood. Two,
the need for sacrifices. And three, the existence of a temple or
In other words, as long as sacrifices are offered, the
functions of the physical priesthood will never be transferred
from the family of Levi. It is theirs forever. "For if he
(Christ) were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that
there are priests that offer gifts according to the law" (Heb.
8:4). The physical priesthood is Aaron's, of the tribe of Levi.
The spiritual priesthood is Jesus,' who is of the order of
Melchizedek, not Aaron.
What is the purpose of a priesthood? To offer sacrifices and
to act on behalf of men in relation to God (Heb.5:1 and 8:3). But
how long do physical offerings as reminders of sin need to be
made? Paul tells us: "Now where remission of these [sins] is,
there it no more offering for sin" (Heb.10:18).
To offer sacrifices today as reminders of sins already paid
for by Jesus, who gave His life in full payment for all sins, is
needless after A.D.31 (A.D.30 actually = Keith Hunt) when Jesus
died to pay for the sins of the world. God signalled this fact to
the Jews in A.D.70 by allowing the destruction of the temple.
Moreover, since the Holy Spirit was made available to
mankind beginning Pentecost ... physical offerings and various
washings which are types of the Holy Spirit are no
longer needed and hence no longer binding. The factors involved
ceased to exist.
The ritual laws were subject to change because they were
only types of the promised seed, Christ (who was to take upon
Himself the sins of the world) and of the Holy Spirit which would
regenerate men spiritually. When the circumstances were altered
in A.D.31 (A.D.30 - Keith Hunt) at the crucifixion, and on
Pentecost, the obligation to practice the ritualistic laws
ceased. These rituals had no further use when the Lamb of God
died for our sins and when the Holy Spirit became available for
men in general. But note that they did not cease because they
were part of the Old Covenant. They were added after the Old
Covenant or marriage agreement was ratified (Exodus 24). The
rituals ceased to be needed because the true sacrifice for sin
had been offered
But what about God's spiritual laws?
God ALONE Changes Laws
Perhaps some have failed to realize that God ALONE has the
right to add to or alter His laws, and that HE WILL NOT ALTER His
SPIRITUAL LAWS. The spiritual laws describe the very character of
God. They enable us to know what God is like. Since the character
of God remains unchanging - "I change not," says the Eternal
(Mal.3:6) and "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and
for ever" (Heb.13:8) - God's spiritual laws cannot change.
Ritual Laws Distinguished from Others
In Hebrews 9:9-to we read of the material gifts and
sacrifices which included "ONLY meats and drinks and diverse
washings and carnal ordinances, imposed until the time of
Notice that these temporary laws did not pertain to murder
or theft or sabbath breaking, but were ONLY those ordinances
regulating meat and drink offerings and different washings or
ablutions of the unclean. (These external washings were a type of
the Holy Spirit cleaning us up from within).
Any other laws not included in Hebrews 9:10 were not part of
the rituals added because of sin!
Remember this point!
It will help you to know which rites in the Old Testament
were added to the statutes and judgments already in existence.
What Is the Law of Moses?
Some people are easily confused by the trick argument of
some that the Ten Commandments are the law of Moses. They read in
Luke 2:22-24 that the ordinances of the "law of Moses" are also
called part of the "law of the Lord."
Why is the "law of Moses" also called the "law of the Lord"?
Because all law comes from God! Moses was not the lawmaker! He
merely told the people the laws that God set in motion (John
However, the Bible NEVER calls the law of Moses the Ten
Commandments. The law of Moses comprises statutes and judgments
which God gave him to communicate to the people. The difference
between the law of Moses and the Ten Commandments is that God
spoke the Ten Commandments, but Motes delivered the statutes and
Now, let us recall that when Moses first delivered the
statutes and judgments, the law of Moses had no sacrifices
connected with it. Jeremiah said so! (Jer.7:22.) The law of Moses
was originally the civil law, based on the principles of the Ten
Commandments. These civil statutes and judgments are also right
and good (Ps.119:7,8).
Some of these civil laws were included in the Old Covenant
(Ex.21:24) and others were promulgated at later times (Deut.
12:1, and following chapters for example).
After the ratification of the Old Covenant (Ex.24), the
Levitical priesthood was established and the laws regulating
offerings were added to the law of Moses (Ex.28:1). (Prior to
this time offerings were voluntary and young men were priests -
Therefore the law of Moses has more than one part!
Notice God's definition of the original part of that law in
Malachi 4:4 (RSV): "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the
statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all
This law we are not to forget. We are to keep it! But added
later to this law were other statutes regulating material
rituals, such as sacrifices, lighting of candles, burning incense
and various washings for the unclean.
This almost unnoticed fact that the law of Mouse was
composed of TWO distinct parts - the civil and the ritualistic -
is what causes so much difficulty in understanding.
Parts of Law of Moses Still in Force!
Jesus said the two great commandments were love to God and
love to neighbor. Do you know from where He quoted these laws?
Out of the book of the law! - the laws that Moses spoke to the
people. Read it in Leviticus 19:18 (RSV): "You shall love your
neighbor as yourself." And Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the
Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and
with all your might."
In 2 John 5 and 6, God commands Christians to obey these two
basic laws which He communicated to the people by Moses! In 2
Kings 23:25, Josiah is praised because he did so. He "turned to
the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all
his might, ACCORDING TO ALL THE LAW OF MOSES"!
Notice how plain it is. The civil law of Moses expounds the
Ten Commandments by revealing how the ten basic principles are to
be applied. We are to keep this part of the law, not in the old
strictness of the letter, but according to its full spirit and
Ceremonial Part NO LONGER in Force
Then why do we read in Acts 15 that Gentile converts do not
have to observe the "law of Moses," except for four points? The
answer is made plain in Acts 21:21.
The laws of Moses, here called in question, involved
"customs." Read it for yourself. The Jews were mistakenly
accusing Paul, saying that he taught Jews living abroad "not to
circumcise their children or observe the CUSTOMS"! (Acts 21:21.)
The controversy in the early Church did not involve the
spiritual intent of the Civil law of Moses. It involved the
ceremonial additions to the original civil law of Moses - customs
- ADDED ceremonies or rituals.
Why Four Points Specified in Acts 15
This fact is further proven by noticing the four points,
included in the law of Moses, which are binding on all Christians
everywhere. We are not to eat blood, animals which have been
strangled, meats offered to idols (when another's conscience
could be defiled), or to commit fornication (Acts 15:20).
These four points were originally part of the civil law of
Moses. But these points were also included later within the added
ceremonies because Gentiles ate their sacrifices with the blood,
often strangled their animals, presented then to idols and
commonly committed fornication in their religious ceremonies. To
prevent these pagan customs being practiced by Israel, God
included the four civil points of the law along with the rituals
Because some would have thought, therefore, that they were
abolished along with the temporary rituals when those ceremonies
were declared no longer binding (in Acts 15), these four points
had to be specifically declared still in effect. Since these four
points were part of the civil law before the addition of the
rituals, they remained binding after the abolition of the
physical sacrifices and washings!
How plain! Only the ceremonial customs of the law of Moses
have passed away.
The civil law of Moses which defined sin was not called in
question in Acts 15 - it was not involved. (Paul, of course,
explains elsewhere that the civil law, once administered in the
letter, is now to be observed in the spirit and full intent of
its meaning - 2 Cor.3).
The many civil laws regulating tithing, clean and unclean
meats, the annual Sabbaths, and many others are still for the New
Testament Church because they help explain what sin is. They
were not part of the ceremonial law of Moses mentioned in Hebrews
9:10 and in Acts 15.
One other point must be Clarified. Certain Jews accused Paul
of teaching against physical circumcision, which was instituted
long before the law of Moses and therefore was not really a part
Circumcision, in its spiritual intent, is not done away -
like the Ten Commandments it is still in force. But, like the
Passover, the manner of circumcision has been changed.
Circumcision is now of the heart, not of the male foreskin
(Rom.2:28-29; Col.2:11; Deut.10:16; 30:6).
A Different Administration
Now let us consider the use of the death penalty in Old
Testament times, A question sometimes asked is this: Why do we
not enforce the death penalty for Sabbath breakers or for any
other violation of the Ten Commandments?
The answer to this question is found in Matthew 5, where
Jesus gave instructions, not for a civil government as in the Old
Testament, but for a spiritual CHURCH,
In Matthew 5:38-42, Christ revealed that a true Christian
should be willing to suffer wrong done to him, if necessary (see
also I Peter 2:19-20; Rom.13:3-7). Jesus said, "Ye have heard it
said an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto
you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on
shy right cheek, turn to him the other cheek also."
He commenced by saying He came to fulfil the law, not to
destroy it. He then proceeded to MAGNIFY the APPLICATION of the
civil laws as they were given to ancient Israel - not abolishing
them, but magnifying them and making them more honorable (Isa.
He raised them from narrow, national laws - given to a
carnal nation to be administered according to the strict letter -
to a spiritual plane regulating the whole of human society. Six
times Jesus said: "You have heard it said in olden times.... But
I say to you...." And He then proceeded to expound the spiritual
principles underlying the civil laws of Moses.
An Eye for an Eye?
The intent and underlying principle of the law of God is
love of God and neighbor (Matt.22:36-40). For a spirit-begotten
New Testament Church, Christ showed how to love our fellow men
better. But the instructions given to Moses about "an eye for an
eye" were not intended as some people take them. They were laws
set up to regulate a human society, with all its faults, in a
fair and just manner. And these principles are still in effect
Many have read the command in Exodus 21:24-25 with shocked
amazement at the assumed "cruelty" of the God of the Old
Testament. They suppose anyone causing a person accidentally to
lose sight of an eye would immediately be seized, held down, and
have his eye gouged out in just retribution!
But is this a right understanding of the verse?
The context in which we find this command of "eye for eye,
tooth for tooth" is explaining the principle of just recompense
for any wrong done. The very next verse shows that if a person
causes his slave to lose his eye or tooth, the slave must be
freed as a PAYMENT for the injury - workmen's compensation.
Verses 18 and 19 of the same chapter discuss the matter of one
person injuring another. What is the punishment? "... he shall
pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be
thoroughly healed." It was a matter of payment or recompense -
not revenge by inflicting the same injury.
Then verse 22 shows that a person should be punished if he
causes a pregnant woman to have a miscarriage. What is the
punishment in this case? Again it is "... and he shall pay as the
judges determine," The whole context of the "eye for eye, tooth
for tooth" command is concerned with the matter of just
recompense or payment for the injury caused - an "eye-value" for
an eye, a "tooth-value" for a tooth.
The principle of a "life for a life" definitely applied in
extreme cases, where no other penalty would be just and adequate
(The recorded history of the Jews shows that Israel ALWAYS
understood "the eye for an eye" teachings as "just recompense in
money etc. and NEVER the literal letter. Israel was NEVER a
country with one eyed, one armed, one legged, one handed, people
all over the place. Just as we today in our Western nations give
as recompense not the literal eye, or hand, or leg, but a fair
and just monetary sum, so it was always that way in ancient
Israel - Keith Hunt).
Why the "Letter of the Law'"?
Why did Moses give the spiritual principles only in the
letter to ancient Israel?
Ancient Israel was a national church - a physical nation
organized into the congregation of Israel. The people did not
have the promise of the Holy Spirit; they were a nation of this
world. Moses said they did not even have the power of strength of
will to keep what little he commanded them (Deut.5:29).
And neither do most human beings today! people don't want to
obey the commandments. "The carnal mind is enmity against God:
for it is not subject to the law of God..." (Rom.8:7). For that
reason Israel needed punishments for lawbreakers to keep peace
and security and ensure obedience in the land. So God ordained
that human judges exercise certain of His divine prerogatives and
execute punishments on their fellowmen.
Jesus - who was the LORD who spoke to Moses - gave the civil
law to Moses in the strict letter at Mount Sinai for a physical
Fifteen centuries later that same Jesus emphasized the
SPIRITUAL intent of the law. He also made it possible for the
members of His spiritual Church - the New Testament Church of God
- to keep all His binding laws by sending God's Holy Spirit!
Written originally in 1954