Application of Old Testament Law in Today’s Society
OBST 591 – Old Testament Orientation 1
Professor Keith Lester
Christians today are divided along the lines of the Old Law recorded in the Old Testament, and the New Law recorded in the New Testament. The majority of lay persons regard the Ten Commandments with reverence, as do the majority of Churches. How does today’s Church decide whether to follow the law or to trust in the saving Faith of God’s Grace as presented in the New Testament? J. Daniel Hays provides a framework in his essay “Applying the Old Testament Law Today”. Hays’ Essay
Daniel Hays discusses two approaches to applying Old Testament Law. The first approach is the Traditional Approach. Essentially the traditional approach divides the old law into three separate types of instructions: moral, civil, and ceremonial laws. While the laws that fall into one of these three categories sometimes can be clearly defined, Hays points out that the classification of certain laws into one of these three categories is quite arbitrary.
Several deficiencies are pointed out in the essay: distinctions between types of laws are arbitrary, Legal Material is embedded in the text and should be interpreted accordingly, and the traditional approach does not consider the Law’s theological context. These deficiencies point to one fact; that the traditional approach allows the believer to choose which laws God wants them to observe and which laws the believer need not be concerned with. The problem with this is that according to the Old Law itself any law that was not observed constituted sin, the Apostle Paul wrote extensively about this in his Epistles. Hays’ article points out another approach to understanding Old Testament Law, the principlism approach. Principlism
Principlism is an approach to understanding Old Testament Law that best fits the criteria given by Hays as one that: treats all Old Testament Scripture as God’s Word, does not arbitrarily categorize tenets of Old Testament Law, reflects literary and historical context, reflects theological context, and corresponds to New Testament teaching.1 According to Hays Principlism involves five steps: Identify what the particular law meant to the initial audience, determine the difference between the initial audience and believers today, develop universal principles from the text, correlate the principle with the New Testament teaching, and apply the modified universal teaching today. While these stages seem self-explanatory, the strength behind them is that they allow Bible students to be consistent in application of Old Testament principles. The device of Principlism has the strength of being consistent and simple while the weakness is that it tends to oversimplify complex issues. Contributions to My understanding of the Issue
Hays article has really helped to bolster some of the thoughts that I have had about Old Testament scripture. While many churches tend to emphasize the Ten Commandments, and downplay the concepts of the New Testament; there are others that believe the New Testament is what the Church should be governed by and not of less importance is the life of the believer that should represent the New Testament teachings. I have always wandered just why it is that many people choose certain Old Testament Laws to live by, yet disregard others and with no Biblical authority to do so. Hays essay has introduced the concept of Principlism, that many of the more remote congregations already engages in without knowing what it is called. I did not realize all the issues surrounding the interpretation of Old Testament Law, nor those surrounding the application of those laws Hays essay has really informed me about these. Reconciling The Role of the Law in The Life of The Believer Today
A contradiction then would seem to suggest itself: did Paul contradict Jesus when Jesus stated in Matthew 5:17...
Bibliography: Hays, J. Daniels, “Applying the Old Testament Law Today”, Bibliotheca Sacra 158: 629 (2001):
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