How do we know what is abolished from the old covenant?

How do we know what is abolished from the old covenant? Is Leviticus 19:19 still binding?  

We should recognize a basic tension in the New Testament.

On one side, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable . . . for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). And Jesus says, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). Verses like these provide a high view of the authority of Scripture, Torah included.

On the other side, the New Testament is clear that the old covenant has been replaced by a new one in Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20). Hebrews puts it plainly, commenting on the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-33: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete” (8:13).

This requires a “change of the law” (7:12). We see from Jeremiah that “My law” is part of both covenants, but the change impacts how we read and appropriate them as new covenant Christians. We’re no longer under a yoke to do the whole law of Moses (Acts 15:5, 10; Galatians 5:1-3).

One change is in the prophecy itself: “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10). The external code on “tablets of stone” becomes an internal, new nature by the Spirit (Exodus 24:12; 2 Corinthians 3:3). Jesus and Paul call this fulfilling the law (Matthew 5:17; Romans 13:8), and the love commandment summarizes it all (Leviticus 19:18; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Verses like these teach us that moral laws, like the Ten Commandments, are “righteous requirements of the law” still binding on Christians, but from the inside out (Romans 2:26; 8:1-4; 13:8-10).

The New Testament gives tools and examples to help us rightly divide the Word by the Spirit. We can see what the Word reaffirms and what it doesn’t, and why. For instance, purity and blood laws of the temple priesthood are changed and fulfilled in Christ and are no longer necessary to perform literally. This accounts for the vast majority of the 613 laws of the Torah. Still, the language of priesthood and temple is retained and spiritually applied to the work of Christ and the church in many New Testament passages (Romans 12:1; 1 Peter 2:5; Ephesians 2:21; 5:1; Philippians 2:17).

Other examples show Paul appropriating obscure laws in such a way that gives the old a fresh meaning in the Spirit.

For instance, drawing on an agricultural law (“You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together”), he instructs Christians not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14; Deuteronomy 22:10).

In another place, Paul writes that those who minister the gospel are worthy of their pay. He supports this by another agricultural law: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” (1 Corinthians 9:9; Deuteronomy 25:4). In these places, Paul argues from a lesser to a higher principle of the law.

With these examples in mind, let’s turn to Leviticus 19:19. If “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” in verse 18 is for Christians, why not 19? That verse begins “You shall keep My statutes” and follows with instruction on three areas of life: not “mixing” different kinds of fabric in clothes, different kinds of seeds in crops, and different kinds of livestock in breeding.

The theological logic of these statutes that seek to preserve distinction of “kind” is rooted in the creation story. Here God creates and orders the universe by dividing reality, like plants and animals, “according to its kind” (Genesis 1:4, 6, 12, 24).

We must view these laws of Leviticus, first of all, as drawing from the natural order to teach Israel something important about the moral order (or disorder) that she finds herself in as a chosen nation among many others (Exodus 19:5).

Back in Leviticus, the immediate context of these three statutes is that Israel is to be holy as God is holy (19:2; 20:26). Morally, this means that she is to love her neighbor (19:18) and avoid the wickedness of the nations surrounding her (18:3). Ritually, these anti-mixing rules use habits from ordinary rural life to remind Israel of her unique status as chosen and separate (holy) from these nations.

These commandments are similar to the fringes that male Israelites were to wear to remind them to keep God’s commands (Numbers 15:38-40). Sadly, these habits did not prevent Israel from mixing with the heathen and learning their ways (Psalm 106:35).

This is why a new covenant was needed. The old failed to establish the righteousness God wanted.

These laws are not binding on Christians, but there is an important principle for us.

These three statutes warn us not to mingle with wickedness. God is still concerned that we are holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16), that we keep His commandments and not mix with unbelievers to the extent that we are corrupted by them (1 Corinthians 7:19; 2 Corinthians 6:17).

But in the new covenant, external rituals are not required to accomplish this holy separation; we rely on the sanctifying work of the Spirit as we are transformed by faith in Christ. His work in us accomplishes His will for us in ways that the old covenant could not (1 Thessalonians 4:1-9; Galatians 2:19-21).

This illustrates an important difference between the old and new covenants. While we must not walk after the unclean manner of the nations (Ephesians 4:17-19), we don’t separate ourselves from the nations either. Rather, from our holy standing in Christ, He sends us to them: Go and make disciples of all nations.

— Jason Overman

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Learning to Love the Church A Call to Obedience

Written By

Jason Overman is Editor of Publications of the Bible Advocate Press. After 24 years in the publishing industry (in sales and management) with the Harrison Daily Times, Jason left his general manager’s position to join the BAP family in 2015. He has served in ministry for 30 years and currently pastors the Church of God (Seventh Day) in Jasper, Arkansas, with his wife, Stephanie, and two children, Tabitha and Isaac. Jason enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, reading theology, playing his guitar, and taking in the beautiful Ozark Mountains he calls home.

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