Do the laws of the Old Testament apply to Christians?

In another thread, Tom Tildrum made the oft offered assertion that the rules and laws of the Old Testament do not apply to Christianity…and claimed there is scriptural evidence for this.

I suggested this is not so…and that the only thing that changed (in order to get gentiles to adopt the faith) were two items; namely, circumcision was not required of gentiles converting…and some dietary restrictions were not to apply to gentile conversts (although some were.)

Essentially all of the material is covered in two areas…in Acts and in Galatians.

The facts are these:

Acts 15 deals with a meeting that took place in Jerusalem between the presbyters of the community church, Peter, Paul, Barnabas, possibly other unnamed apostles, and possibly lay members of the community. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a controversy that had arisen among the converted Pharisees of Antioch—who were of the opinion that Christianity was a religion that should be open only to Jews. They were openly distrustful of Paul, who was intent on converting gentiles as well.

In any case, the subject controversy was that the Pharisees were especially troubled by the fact that Paul allowed gentile converts to come into the new religion without being circumcised—a compromise they thought would lead to greater and more troubling (for them) concessions to the law. In fact, the specific item on the agenda appears to have been the non-circumcision of Titus (later, St. Titus)—a Greek gentile convert who was a frequently companion to Paul on his travels among the gentiles.

The meeting, an important early Christian meeting, is not only mentioned by Luke in Acts 15, but also by Paul in his letter to the Galatians, Chapter 2 (particularly verses 1-10.)

Both Acts and Galatians indicate that the main instigation for the meeting was the question of whether or not the act of circumcision was a necessary requirement for gentile converts to the newly formed religion. The question of whether dietary restrictions should be imposed was quickly included…and while there are some differences of opinions as to how that last part was resolved, the “minutes” of the meeting (actually a letter to the Christian community in Antioch) indicate that some dietary obligations remained in effect.

In the letter, the group invokes the agreement of The Holy Spirit in the decision. Circumcision, it was decided, was definitely NOT a requirement for membership. The dietary resolution has some minor ambivalence. Galatians seems to indicate that no dietary restrictions were required of the new gentile converts, or at least, none are specifically mentioned. Acts 15: 23-29 specifically states that the letter which outlined the results of the deliberations included the following, “…it is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too, that we will not lay upon you (gentile converts) any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from illicit sexual union. You will be well advised to avoid these things.”

In any case, anyone who reads the material in Galatians or Acts as justification for divorcing Christianity from the Old Testament law really is stretching things a great deal. The deliberations seem to have been almost exclusively confined to considerations of circumcision and dietary laws.

But even if that stretch is deemed proper and reasonable (which intelligent, well-intentioned people can do), there is absolutely no logical way to suppose any perceived divorce from Old Testament law includes the right to suppose that the things that pleased or offended the god of the Bible as indicated in the Old Testament…no longer applied. If an orthodox Jew was obliged to accept that murder, stealing, fornicating and lusting offended the god of the Bible—Christians were also. If an orthodox Jew was obliged to accept that homosexuality offended the god—Christians are also.

NOTE: My personal opinion is that the best guess that can be made about the Bible is that it is a self-serving history of the early Hebrew people interspersed with a fanciful religious mythology. My opinion is that the best guess that can be made about the religious aspects of the Bible is that the people writing the material—the people inventing the god—put their prejudices into the mouth of the god they invented.

I think it is a bit more sweeping than that.

Are you talking about applying the ritual/ceremonial parts of Mosaic law to Gentile Christians? Because if you are, then that was the decision of the council you mention - that part of the Law did not apply to Gentile Christians. If you mean the moral part of the Law, then it is still considered to apply to Christians.

Keeping in mind, first of all, that later they dropped even the rudimentary part of keeping kosher after a while. Paul writes about eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. Second, the moral part of the Law is summed up in Jesus’ command to love the Lord with all your heart, etc., and to love your neighbor as yourself.

So the moral part certainly applies. The ritual part, especially the sacrifices, are dropped based on the understanding that Jesus’ death is the final sacrifice.

The civic part of the law - things like the Jubilee year and so forth - essentially ended when Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, and was never thought to apply to Gentiles living outside Israel even before that.

So, if I understand you correctly, you are right - only the ritual and civic parts of the Law don’t apply to Gentiles. The moral part does, as long as it is understood in the light of what Jesus taught.

If that is what you mean.


Shodan…without going into any detail at all (because I really want reaction before I offer any further comments than I’ve already laid out)…

…this is mostly an agument against the proposal as often offered by Christians that the “laws” of the Old Testament no longer apply.

I say they do…and I say no scripture can be offered in support of the “they do not apply.”

Further…even if the “laws” do not apply, one certainly cannot say the items the god of the Old Testament indicate as being offensive to it…can be disregarded. If the OT says that homosexual conduct, for instance, is an abomination in the eyes of the god and that people engaging in acts of that sort should be immediately put to death…

…and argument could be made (not a terribly compelling one) that requiring the death sentence need not be imposed on Christians…but to suggest that Christians do not have to agree that the acts are an abomination to the god Jesus worshipped makes no sense at all.

We’ll talk more after a few more opinions are offered.

Fine but if you’re going with that then you’re also forbidden to wear mixed fabrics, not eat shellfish, abhor adulterers and never masturbate too. If you’re going to follow OT law then at least be consistent, don’t just focus on the ones that don’t apply to you.

I guess I’m not clear precisely what you’re asking.

Just so I’m clear, you’re not asking, “Do Christians believe that they must follow Mosaic Law?” In practice, Christian churches are essentially unanimous that they do not. Are we agreed on this empirical point? If you’re aware of any Christian church that follows Mosaic Law, I’d be interested to hear about it.

And you’re not asking which view of the applicability of OT law is “correct,” in some absolute sense? That’s a religious question, and I don’t see what proof can be offered either way.

Are you just asking “Is there an argument that can be constructed that Christians are obliged to follow Mosaic law other than circumcision or dietary restrictions?” I suppose it could, but I guess I would have some more questions. Galatians is written very broadly on this point. For instance:

2:16) "Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”

3:2) “Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.”

3:24-25) "Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

Are you saying that Paul was using the term “law” to mean only circumcision and dietary requirements, or are you saying that Paul was wrong?

Frank, I’m surprised you are not agnostic on the issue. You can’t know for sure.

Well…some people seem to think that if a person is agnostic on one thing…in other words, says he does not know the answer to a specific question…he must, in order to be consistent, say that he does not know the answer to any questions.

Most people are intelligent enough to see how stupid that is.

I am agnostic as to whether you see it to be stupid!

Well, let’s see what Jesus says on this issue…so we can see if it would make a difference. All I can find that Jesus contributed on the matter is:

  • “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Of this much I assure you; UNTIL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY, not the smallest letter of the law, not the smallest part of a letter shall be done away with until it all comes true.” Matthew 5:17ff*

Now I acknowledge that the wording is convoluted…but it seems the message Jesus was trying to convey is that he was not here to change the law.

And once again…although Paul is referring to “the law”…it is obvious he is limiting himself only to the questions of circumcision and dietary law.

If he had dared to say none of the law applies anymore while in Jerewsalem he probably would have been stoned to death by Peter and the other apostles.

Did you understand the distinction between ceremonial, civic, and moral law? Because the council you mentioned deals with exactly that issue. So you have (if I understand you) already quoted Scripture that supports the idea, Acts and Galatians.

There are other passages that deal with the topic as well - it is mentioned in the Gospel of Mark (thought to be the earliest Gospel written) -


The writer of the Gospel is pretty explicit that Jesus taught that the laws of keeping kosher have been superseded by the idea that moral transgressions are what are important, not ritual ones.

Sure, you can argue that, as long as you keep the ritual vs. civic vs. moral distinction in mind. The basis for the modern liberal argument that homosexuality is not forbidden is that the prohibitions on it are actually ritual and ceremonial and civic rather than moral. Whether you buy the argument or not, grant the premise and it follows pretty clearly - if it is not a sin to eat with unwashed hands because the transgression is against kosher law, and if homosexuality is purely a ceremonial offense, then homosexuality would be OK as well.

It depends on what kind of abomination we are talking abuot moral abomination, like murder? Sure. Eating pork? No problem.


The GNT has καταλῦσαι for “abolish”, a word that literally means “loosen downward” and often implies a forceful end–“demolish” or “destroy” would be close. “Fulfill” is πληρῶσαι, a word that implies completion, perfection–and ending which is expected or natural.

The point of this passage is the contrast between these two words; it’s taken as a given that the period of the law is coming to an end, Jesus is only clarifying the the type of ending.

For another perspective, according to the OT itself, non-Jews need only follow the Noahide laws. Someone who does is considered just as “righteous” as any Jew, no matter what their religion is. Specifically, non-Jews are not bound by the many and various ritual commandments incumbent on Jews (at least, according to Jews).

Shodan…I have already conceded that the scriptures do indeed suggest that the early gentile conversion to Christianity are exempt from the dietary restrictions placed on Jews. (With some exceptions…which I noted in my initial text.)

Circumcision was also exempted…but that hat does not mean that they were exempt from the other laws. There is absolutely nothing in scripture to suggest that they were exempt from all the other laws.

You can leave the dietary stuff out…because exemption from them is a given.

So what is your point.

Address that.

As for the ceremonial issue…are you saying there is anything in scripture that suggests that the god of the Bible…the god Jesus worshipped…does not consider homosexual conduct to be an abomination?

Well…that sounds like a great rationalization…but the emphasis of Jesus on NOT CHANGING THE LAWS…not a word, not a letter, not even a stroke of a letter…really belies any attempt to make this passage be anything other than what it obviously is. Jesus assures the people to whom he is speaking that he is not here to change the law.

Now he may have been lying.

Fact is, I would guess that he was not telling the unvarnished truth…because if he did, he would have ended up being charged with blasphemy.

But only contortions get that passage from “I am not here to change things” to “ I am here to change things.”

Whatever his motives…Jesus was saying that he was not here to change the law.

Oddly, the OT god was okay with lesbianism.

Frank, as most things go in the Bible, it often gives you plenty of scripture support for either position. Also, you can use Romans 3:31 to support what Jesus was saying here too. In the NRS it reads: Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. Paul says elsewhere though in Romans 10:4 that For Christ is the end of the Law so that there might be righteouness for everyone that believes. These are also open to many interpretations, and Christians sects often don’t agree on exactly what they mean.

Some Christian sects feel like they are under Mosaic law with the exception of the animal sacrifices. Some still like the 10 commandments, wanting them on the courtyards and all, while skipping the other 603 laws, and I’m not sure they realize just how many petty things carried the death penalty. When they quote the 10 commandments, it’s always the edited Hollywood version; they always leave out the parts about slaves, and a few other tidbits such as the punishment phase for breaking them. There are over 35,000 different Protestant sects of Christianity alone, with each putting their own spin on it, and once they get done with it, I doubt anyone is any the wiser on whether or not it is civil, criminal, royal, absolute, ceremonial, moral law, etc. This is probably the tip of the iceberg and they can probably name 10 more variations of law to obfuscate the matter even more if your head isn’t already spinning.

Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels, and not sure why Christians tend to give more support to his letters than Jesus’. But let’s not forget that the writers writing on Jesus’ behalf are famous for him often being on both sides of the fence too, such as when he saves the adulteress instead of under Mosaic law she would have been stoned.

Fixin’ to head out of town, but when I get back this weekend, I might try to find the time to get more of these scriptures which support both positions if others don’t already have them here by then. If one can truly reconcile it all, it would indeed be the first miracle I have ever witnessed.

Good points throughout, Razncain…and I especially loved the sign-off. But I expect no miracles…just some good conversation and speculation on a difficult subject.

Have fun getting out of town. We are now getting snow up the kazoo here in New Jersey…and I would love to be on a beach in Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, or Aruba than here.

The discussion mentioned in Acts was not limited only to circumcision and dietary laws. Read Acts 15:4-6 -

See what was the topic of discussion? Circumcision and observing the Law of Moses. And the upshot of the discussion was No, Gentiles do not have to be circumcised nor to keep any of the Law besides the bits mentioned (eating animals sacrificed to other gods and sexual immorality).

That’s how liberal Christians interpret the passages forbidding homosexuality. They claim that it is like the prohibition against “boiling a kid in its mother’s milk” (Ex 34:26 and Deut. 14:21) , which was a fertility rite in the region, and forbidden to the ancient Jews for that reason.


I did forget to address Matthew 5:17-19. (Luke 16:18 also contains similar language).

Christians generally focus on “fulfill” and interpret that passage to mean that Christ is transcending Mosaic Law. When he speaks of the law not being done away with, the interpretation is that he’s speaking of a Divine law that transcends Mosaic law. It’s similar to what Shodan mentioned about the moral law being retained and not the ritual. Here are a couple of articles discussing the topic from a Christian perspective.

Can this interpretation be characterized as results-driven? Sure. And you’re right, you can argue based on Matthew 5:17 that Mosaic law remains in force. You then have to interpret Galatians harmoniously, and I do think your position that Paul’s remarks were intended to refer only to diet and circumcision is probably the best way to do so. Personally, I still don’t see evidence for that position in the text, but this is a question of religious interpretation with no right answer, and I can’t say that you’re wrong.

Shodan…first of all, thank you for continuing the discussion on these topics. I am truly interested in what you and the others have to say…even though, as you will see, I disagree with much of what you say.

To the point: The only two items specifically mentioned at this meeting are “circumcision” and “certain dietary laws.” The “Law of Moses” reference almost certainly applies only to those two items; otherwise some of the other things would have been mentioned. The gentile converts are exempt from the part of the Law of Moses that deal with those two items; to suggest that they are exempt from the entirely of the Law of Moses is almost an absurdity.

Consider: Are you, for instance, suggesting that the gentile converts could ignore the Mosaic Law injunctions: “You shall have no other gods before me” “You shall not lie” “you shall not steal” “you shall not murder”, “you shall not covet.” or any of the other stuff.

The only reasonable interpretation is that the gentile converts were obliged to follow the law except for the parts from which they were specifically granted exemption.

Okay…and there has been rationalization done in the name of Christianity by both gentiles and Jews. But the bottom line is that anyone suggesting that the god of the Bible feels anything less than abomination for homosexual conduct has gone past any chance to discuss the topic with reason.

The god cannot be more specific than in the Leviticus passage!

Thank you, Tom…it is a tough nut.

Greater minds than those here have tackled it and come up short.

Interesting discussion in any case.

I’m getting a lot out of it…and I hope all the other participants are also.