This is part of a series that began here.
In my last post I wrote about an article I read earlier this week about the transforming power the book of Leviticus has on our hearts and worship. The article led me to a short series of Leviticus Q&A videos the author had also done. I really enjoyed the first four videos, but I was disappointed by the answers presented in the fifth.
The fifth question was: Are Christians inconsistent with their use and application of Old Testament law today?
Dr. Jay Sklar, professor of Old Testament and dean of faculty at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, gives his perspective on this question below.
I was sad that the unity of heart I was experiencing with Dr. Sklar up to this point regarding Leviticus was dashed by what I felt was such a scripturally weak response.
Here are four issues I had with it:
1) Pitting the Old Covenant against the New Covenant
Around 1:50, Dr. Sklar points out that the covenant God made with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai was the Old Covenant and that Jesus came to establish a New Covenant. He says that the laws of the Old do not necessarily apply in the New.
But this is in direct opposition to what the LORD Himself says will happen in the New Covenant. He says with the New Covenant, “I will put my laws within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
God gives no indication that certain chunks of His law will suddenly vanish in this New Covenant. In fact, the major differentiation between the two covenants seems to be that in the old the laws were external to the people whereas in the new the laws would be internal – in their hearts. So, it’s not a removal of the law, but an internalization of it that seems to differentiate the two covenants.
Our Savior also gives no indication that certain chunks of the law would vanish after He ushered in the New Covenant. To the contrary, He said that He didn’t come to abolish the law or the prophets and that not an iota or a dot would pass from the law until heaven and earth pass away. He went on to say that whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. (Mathew 5:17-19)
Paul, the one most credited for leading us out of the “bondage” of the Mosaic law, said that we should by no means overthrow the law by our faith in the Messiah. On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)
And the saints of the last days are called to endurance. Who are those saints? Those who “keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” (Revelation 14:12)
2) Only the Laws Repeated in the New Testament are in Effect
Around 2:20, Dr. Sklar takes the angle that only laws that are repeated in the New Testament are binding on believers today.
But, again, there is no scriptural basis for making such a claim.
Our Savior said that those whose will is to do God’s will, would know whether the things he taught were from God not. Those who had it in their hearts to obey the commandments of God would know that Jesus’ teachings always matched up with God’s. He never spoke on His own authority. (John 7:17)
If He had come to change God’s laws or to revise which ones were applicable, He would have been a false prophet. The Father clearly warned His people that only false prophets would speak against His commandments (Deut 13:1-5, especially note verse 4).
So, to say that Jesus or any other New Testament writer had the authority to revise the application of God’s law is completely contrary to scripture. This is a big deal!
3) Values Stand but Ritual Laws Are Unimportant
Around 2:45, Dr. Sklar says that the values we see through the Old Testament laws are ongoing and are still able to teach us about life today. He points out that the laws about clean and unclean animals given in Leviticus 11 were meant to teach us something on a moral level.
While I wholeheartedly agree with this principle of things in the physical teaching us things in the spiritual, I cannot agree that once we get the spiritual meaning we can then choose to disregard the physical command.
Just because I understand that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride doesn’t mean that I can then disregard my physical marriage.
Just because I understand that baptism is a picture of my death and resurrection in Christ doesn’t mean that I can disregard the physical practice of baptism.
And just because I understand that clean and unclean animals are pictures of clean and unclean things I must distinguish between morally doesn’t mean that I can disregard the physical practice of abstaining from eating unclean animals.
We are both physical and spiritual beings, and our heavenly Father asks for our obedience in both the physical and spiritual realms.
(Here is a great video that highlights the physical and spiritual truths in God’s clean and unclean animal laws.)
4) Jesus Declared All Foods Clean in Mark Chapter Seven
Around 4:06, Dr. Sklar uses Mark 7 to prove the point that the physical law was no longer important; only the moral law still stood. In fact, Dr. Sklar goes so far as to say,
“Jesus says, Mark chapter 7, ‘Look, in the New Covenant you no longer need to make those distinctions ritually between clean and unclean animals.'”
Is this really what Jesus said?
I did a study on Mark 7, because this section of scripture does seem to seal the deal on the clean/unclean issue. It was one of the big ones I needed to wrestle through. Here’s a condensed version of what I found:
The sentence, “Thus He declared all food clean” is NOT in the original text! (Check it out for yourself.)
In fact, the context had nothing to do with what could be eaten as food. The beginning of chapter seven shows us that the context was all about hand-washing.
Some Pharisees, who adhered to a very strict, totally man-made system of hand-washing, saw that Jesus’ disciples ate without washing their hands at all. This made them indignant.
It’s important to note that God never outlined any method of cleansing hands before eating. Our Savior and His disciples were not breaking any God-given instruction. But the Pharisees were professional extra-Biblical rule-makers. And they were furious when anyone refused to follow them.
The definition of what counted as food was never in question. God only created certain animals to be eaten. Everyone involved in this conversation was on the same page on that issue.
So, in Mark chapter 7, the Savior did not challenge Mosaic law by changing the definition of food. He merely challenged the man-made notion that eating with dirty hands would defile you.
(Here is a study looking into the top five New Testament verses used to discount the dietary laws.)
I still have a great deal of respect for Dr. Sklar based on the other things I’ve read and heard from him. I love that he finds treasures (applicable to his life today) in Leviticus and that he’s helping others to find those same treasures for themselves.
Where I diverge in understanding from Dr. Sklar is in how to respond to those commands we, as a people of God, haven’t followed for millenia. I think we need to dig even deeper and question more fully the commandments from which we’ve allowed ourselves to stray.