Do Christians have to obey the Old Testament Law?

by Matt Slick

On the one hand, Christians should obey the Old Testament law, but on the other hand, they should not.  The reason for the ambiguity is because there are certain laws that were meant only for Israel and not for Christians today.  But, there are Old Testament laws we should obey, like not lying, not stealing, which are acknowledged in the New Testament.

Some of the Laws we do not have to obey are such things as sacrificing turtledoves (Lev. 1:14; 5:7; 12:6, etc.), bulls (Exodus 29:10-14; Lev. 1:5), goats (Lev. 4:23-26), etc. to be cleansed from various sins. These laws were designed for the covenant nation of Israel that was operating under a sacrificial system.  In addition, there were laws that dealt with such things as the poor (Leviticus 19:15) and laws dealing with robbery, extortion, false witness, and restitution (Leviticus 6:1-7). These laws and the way they were administered are not for Christians today because we are not under a governmental system in Israel.

Furthermore, we find in the New Testament the teaching that the Old Testament covenantal system is made obsolete with the death of Christ.

  • Hebrews 8:13, "When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear."
  • Hebrews 9:15-16, "For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it."

So, Christians are not obligated to keep the Old Testament law because were under a new covenant.

On the other hand, Christians should obey the 10 Commandments because they are carried over into the New Testament, except the Sabbath.1 Six of the Commandments are listed in Matthew 19:18, murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, honor parents, and worshiping God.  Romans 13:9 mentions no coveting. Worshiping God properly (Matt. 22:37; John 4:24) covers the first three commandments. These morals are based on the character of God, and so they are included in the New Testament. Furthermore, Jesus said in Matthew 22:37, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind."  He was quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. In addition, in Matthew 22:39 he said: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." He was quoting Leviticus 19:18. So, since he was telling us to love God and love our neighbor and he was quoting the Old Testament, then we are obligated to keep those Old Testament laws. Think of it this way.  When we love God and our neighbor, then we will "accidentally" keep the moral law and treat others well.

Furthermore, Jesus also said in John 13:34, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another."  So, we are clearly commanded to love God, love our neighbor, and love one another.

Salvation is not by the Law

A very important point that we need to make is that Christians are not to keep the law in order to be saved from God's righteous judgment. Christians are not under the law.

  • Rom. 6:14, "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace."
  • Gal. 5:18, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law."

The gospel message is that we can receive forgiveness of sins through faith in the sacrifice of Christ. It was Jesus who kept of the law perfectly and never sinned (1 Peter 2:22). Because Christians have "died with Christ" (Romans 6:8), it means that they have also died to the law (Romans 7:4). Therefore, Christians are not obligated to keep the law in order to be saved. But, as I said above, we keep the law accidentally when we love God, love our neighbor, and love one another. Love is the fulfillment of the law.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.