This article is part of a sub-series: Should We Obey The Entire Law Of Moses? - What The Old And New Testaments Say, which is about Old Testament laws on morality and tithing, customs like animal sacrifice and the celebration of the Passover Festival, and what the New Testament says about them.
This is Part 10 (of 13) in Section 5: "Should We Obey The Entire Law Of Moses? - What The Old And New Testaments Say".
To read an overview of the way Christians should regard the Law of Moses, visit: Bible Quotations on Whether Christians Should Obey the Law of Moses.
Some parts of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation are very unpleasant. If you become offended by anything, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.
The purpose of the Old Testament seems to have been mainly to try to scare lawless societies into behaving decently, giving up the cruel ways the Bible says they were guilty of. Hence much of the gruesomeness, which is at least in part meant to warn people committing cruel and hurtful actions to change.
2 Timothy chapter 3 (TEV)
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, 17 so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.
These articles on holiness show how the Old Testament Law was full of picture language, external ways of illustrating how God wanted his people to live pure lives. It was symbolism, expressing in external ways what the New Testament expresses as inner truths, meaning guidelines on living.
For instance, the Old Testament ordered that all Jewish males must be circumcised as a sign that they were God's people. The New Testament teaches that the physical act of circumcision is actually worthless as regards turning someone into a person of God, because it's a mere outward thing. The real circumcision is a spiritual thing- a cutting away of old bad behaviours, a change of lifestyle and attitudes so behaviour becomes more pure.
Some of the picture language in the Law of Moses is quite nice. Some, on the other hand, involves commands that seem barbaric. Having strict laws about what was acceptable to do and what was holy and forbidden was apparently a way in which ancient cultures sought to control their communities, at a time when lawlessness was more of a present threat, and when disobedience could have much more drastic effects on people's survival chances. For instance, disobedience to commands related to sexual abstinence before marriage could lead to many babies being born out of wedlock in an age where there was no welfare state to support them, and an inability to support oneself could mean starvation.
There are commands which impose a penalty of death for what would seem trivial offences, like going up to God's altar without washing first. It was harshly symbolic of how important it is to be pure from sin, so far as possible. Disrespect for God's commands on the way to live could have led to anarchy, in an age where means of social control were so much less sophisticated. The harsh punishments in the Law of Moses were to some extent illustrations and warnings for the people of the importance of staying within the law.
Rather than imposing symbolic and sometimes harsh external purity rules, the New Testament, written for people who actually wanted to obey it rather than for a whole society, many of whom would probably have preferred not to, focuses on purity of thought and action, rather than on the picture language of symbolic holiness. This article shows how much of the external ceremony of the Old Testament has its reflection in guidelines about attitudes and behaviour in the New Testament.
Exodus chapter 25 (TEV)
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 "Tell the Israelites to make an offering to me. Receive whatever offerings anyone wishes to give. 3 These offerings are to be: gold, silver, and bronze; 4 fine linen; blue, purple, and red wool; cloth made of goats' hair; 5 rams' skin dyed red; fine leather; acacia wood; 6 oil for the lamps; spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet-smelling incense; 7 carnelians and other jewels to be set in the ephod of the High Priest and in his breastpiece. 8 The people must make a sacred Tent for me, so that I may live among them.
1 Corinthians chapter 3 (NLT)
16 Don't you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will bring ruin upon anyone who ruins this temple. For God's temple is holy, and you Christians are that temple.
Hebrews chapter 3 (NLT)
1 And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are bound for heaven, think about this Jesus whom we declare to be God's Messenger and High Priest. 2 For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully and was entrusted with God's entire house. 5 Moses was certainly faithful in God's house, but only as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. 6 But Christ, the faithful Son, was in charge of the entire household. And we are God's household, if we keep up our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.
Ephesians chapter 2 (NLT)
11 ... you Gentiles used to be outsiders by birth. You were called "the uncircumcised ones" by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from God's people, Israel, and you did not know the promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you belong to Christ Jesus. Though you once were far away from God, now you have been brought near to him because of the blood of Christ.
14 For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. 15 By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. 18 Now all of us, both Jews and Gentiles, may come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. 19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family. 20 We are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also joined together as part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
1 Corinthians chapter 3 (NLT)
21 So don't take pride in following a particular leader.
4 When one of you says, "I am a follower of Paul," and another says, "I prefer Apollos," aren't you acting like those who are not Christians? 5 Who is Apollos, and who is Paul, that we should be the cause of such quarrels? Why, we're only servants. Through us God caused you to believe. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 9 We work together as partners who belong to God. You are God's field, God's building - not ours. 10 Because of God's special favor to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful.
11 For no one can lay any other foundation than the one we already have - Jesus Christ. 12 Now anyone who builds on that foundation may use gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But there is going to come a time of testing at the judgment day to see what kind of work each builder has done. Everyone's work will be put through the fire to see whether or not it keeps its value. 14 If the work survives the fire, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builders themselves will be saved, but like someone escaping through a wall of flames.
Exodus chapter 40 (TEV)
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 "On the first day of the first month set up the Tent of the Lord's presence. 3 Place in it the Covenant Box containing the Ten Commandments and put the curtain in front of it. 4 Bring in the table and place the equipment on it. Also bring in the lampstand and set up the lamps on it. 5 Put the gold altar for burning incense in front of the Covenant Box and hang the curtain at the entrance of the Tent. 6 Put in front of the Tent the altar for burning offerings. 7 Put the washbasin between the Tent and the altar and fill it with water. 8 Put up the surrounding enclosure and hang the curtain at its entrance.
9 "Then dedicate the Tent and all its equipment by anointing it with the sacred oil, and it will be holy. 10 Next, dedicate the altar and all its equipment by anointing it, and it will be completely holy. 11 Also dedicate the washbasin and its base in the same way.
2 Thessalonians chapter 2 (TEV)
13 We must thank God at all times for you, friends, you whom the Lord loves. For God chose you as the first to be saved by the Spirit's power to make you his holy people and by your faith in the truth.
1 Thessalonians chapter 3 (TEV)
6 Timothy has ... brought us the welcome news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always think well of us and that you want to see us just as much as we want to see you.
12 May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more and more and become as great as our love for you. 13 In this way he will strengthen you, and you will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all who belong to him.
Exodus chapter 40 (TEV)
1 The Lord said to Moses,
12 "Bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the Tent, and have them take a ritual bath. 13 Dress Aaron in the priestly garments, anoint him, and in this way consecrate him, so that he can serve me as priest. 14 Bring his sons and put the shirts on them. 15 Then anoint them, just as you anointed their father, so that they can serve me as priests. This anointing will make them priests for all time to come."
Leviticus chapter 24 (NLT)
1 The LORD said to Moses,
5 "You must bake twelve loaves of bread from choice flour, using three quarts of flour for each loaf. 6 Place the bread in the LORD's presence on the pure gold table, and arrange the loaves in two rows, with six in each row. 7 Sprinkle some pure frankincense near each row. It will serve as a token offering, to be burned in place of the bread as an offering given to the LORD by fire. 8 Every Sabbath day this bread must be laid out before the LORD on behalf of the Israelites as a continual part of the covenant. 9 The loaves of bread belong to Aaron and his male descendants, who must eat them in a sacred place, for they represent a most holy portion of the offerings given to the LORD by fire."
Leviticus chapter 22 (NLT)
15 No one may defile the sacred offerings brought to the LORD by the Israelites 16 by allowing unauthorized people to eat them. The negligent priest would bring guilt upon the people and require them to pay compensation. I am the LORD, who makes them holy."
Revelation chapter 1 (TEV)
4 From John to the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace be yours from God, who is, who was, and who is to come, ... 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first to be raised from death and who is also the ruler of the kings of the world.
He loves us, and by his sacrificial death he has freed us from our sins 6 and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father. To Jesus Christ be the glory and power forever and ever! Amen.
Colossians chapter 2 (NIV)
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Exodus chapter 30 (TEV)
17 The Lord said to Moses, 18 "Make a bronze basin with a bronze base. Place it between the Tent and the altar, and put water in it. 19 Aaron and his sons are to use the water to wash their hands and feet 20 before they go into the Tent or approach the altar to offer the food offering. Then they will not be killed. 21 They must wash their hands and feet, so that they will not die. This is a rule which they and their descendants are to observe forever."
1 Timothy chapter 5 (TEV)
22 Take no part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.
Numbers chapter 1 (TEV)
1 On the first day of the second month in the second year after the people of Israel left Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses there in the Tent of his presence in the Sinai Desert. He said,
2 "You and Aaron are to take a census of the people of Israel by clans and families. List the names of all the men 3 twenty years old or older who are fit for military service.
47 The Levites were not registered with the other tribes, 48 because the Lord had said to Moses, 49 "When you take a census of the men fit for military service, do not include the tribe of Levi. 50 Instead, put the Levites in charge of the Tent of my presence and all its equipment. They shall carry it and its equipment, serve in it, and set up their camp around it. 51 Whenever you move your camp, the Levites shall take the Tent down and set it up again at each new campsite. Anyone else who comes near the Tent shall be put to death. 52 The rest of the Israelites shall set up camp, company by company, each man with his own group and under his own banner. 53 But the Levites shall camp around the Tent to guard it, so that no one may come near and cause my anger to strike the community of Israel."
54 So the people of Israel did everything that the Lord had commanded Moses.
Numbers chapter 3 (TEV)
5 The Lord said to Moses, 6 "Bring forward the tribe of Levi and appoint them as servants of Aaron the priest. 7 They shall do the work required for the Tent of my presence and perform duties for the priests and for the whole community. 8 They shall take charge of all the equipment of the Tent and perform the duties for the rest of the Israelites. 9 The only responsibility the Levites have is to serve Aaron and his sons. 10 You shall appoint Aaron and his sons to carry out the duties of the priesthood; anyone else who tries to do so shall be put to death."
38 Moses and Aaron and his sons were to camp in front of the Tent on the east. They were responsible for carrying out the services performed in the Holy Place for the people of Israel. Anyone else who tried to do so was to be put to death.
Numbers chapter 4 (TEV)
1 The Lord told Moses 2 to take a census of the Levite clan of Kohath by subclans and families, 3 and to register all the men between the ages of thirty and fifty who were qualified to work in the Tent of the Lord's presence. 4 Their service involves the most holy things. 5 The Lord gave Moses the following instructions.
When it is time to break camp, Aaron and his sons shall enter the Tent, take down the curtain in front of the Covenant Box, and cover the Box with it. 6 They shall put a fine leather cover over it, spread a cloth of solid blue on top, and then insert the carrying poles. 11 They shall spread a blue cloth over the gold altar, put a fine leather cover over it, and then insert the carrying poles. 12 They shall take all the utensils used in the Holy Place, wrap them in a blue cloth, put a fine leather cover over them, and place them on a carrying frame. 13 They shall remove the greasy ashes from the altar and spread a purple cloth over it. 14 They shall put on it all the equipment used in the service at the altar: fire pans, hooks, shovels, and basins. Then they shall put a fine leather cover over it and insert the carrying poles. 15 When it is time to break camp, the clan of Kohath shall come to carry the sacred objects only after Aaron and his sons have finished covering them and all their equipment. The Kohath clan must not touch the sacred objects, or they will die.
These are the responsibilities of the Kohath clan whenever the Tent is moved. 16 Eleazar son of Aaron the priest shall be responsible for the whole Tent and for the oil for the lamps, the incense, the grain offerings, the anointing oil, and everything else in the Tent that has been consecrated to the Lord.
17 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 18 "Do not let the clan of Kohath 19 be killed by coming near these most sacred objects. To prevent this from happening, Aaron and his sons shall go in and assign each man his task and tell him what to carry. 20 But if the Kohathites enter the Tent and see the priests preparing the sacred objects for moving, they will die."
Numbers chapter 18 (TEV)
1 The Lord said to Aaron, "You, your sons, and the Levites must suffer the consequences of any guilt connected with serving in the Tent of my presence; but only you and your sons will suffer the consequences of service in the priesthood. 2 Bring in your relatives, the tribe of Levi, to work with you and help you while you and your sons are serving at the Tent. 3 They are to fulfill their duties to you and their responsibilities for the Tent, but they must not have any contact with sacred objects in the Holy Place or with the altar. If they do, both they and you will be put to death. 4 They are to work with you and fulfill their responsibilities for all the service in the Tent, but no unqualified person may work with you. 5 You and your sons alone must fulfill the responsibilities for the Holy Place and the altar, so that my anger will not again break out against the people of Israel. 6 I am the one who has chosen your relatives the Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you. They are dedicated to me, so that they can carry out their duties in the Tent. 7 But you and your sons alone shall fulfill all the responsibilities of the priesthood that concern the altar and what is in the Most Holy Place. These things are your responsibility, because I have given you the gift of the priesthood. Any unqualified person who comes near the sacred objects shall be put to death."
Hebrews chapter 7 (TEV)
11 It was on the basis of the levitical priesthood that the Law was given to the people of Israel. Now, if the work of the levitical priests had been perfect, there would have been no need for a different kind of priest to appear, ... 21 But Jesus became a priest by means of a vow when God said to him, "The Lord has made a solemn promise and will not take it back: "You will be a priest forever.' " 24 ... Jesus lives on forever, and his work as priest does not pass on to someone else. 25 And so he is able, now and always, to save those who come to God through him, because he lives forever to plead with God for them. 26 Jesus, then, is the High Priest that meets our needs. He is holy; he has no fault or sin in him; he has been set apart from sinners and raised above the heavens.
Romans chapter 8 (NLT)
29 God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And he gave them right standing with himself, and he promised them his glory.
Philippians chapter 3 (NLT)
17 Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their future is eternal destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and all they think about is this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take these weak mortal bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same mighty power that he will use to conquer everything, everywhere.
2 Corinthians chapter 1 (TEV)
21 It is God himself who makes us, together with you, sure of our life in union with Christ; it is God himself who has set us apart, 22 who has placed his mark of ownership upon us, and who has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us.
Ephesians chapter 1 (TEV)
4 Even before the world was made, God had already chosen us to be his through our union with Christ, so that we would be holy and without fault before him.
Because of his love 5 God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his children-this was his pleasure and purpose. 6 Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son! 7 For by the blood of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God, 8 which he gave to us in such large measure!
13 And you also became God's people when you heard the true message, the Good News that brought you salvation. You believed in Christ, and God put his stamp of ownership on you by giving you the Holy Spirit he had promised. 14 The Spirit is the guarantee that we shall receive what God has promised his people,
Psalm 50 (NLT)
16 But God says to the wicked:
"Recite my laws no longer, and don't pretend that you obey me.
17 For you refuse my discipline and treat my laws like trash.
18 When you see a thief, you help him, and you spend your time with adulterers.
19 Your mouths are filled with wickedness, and your tongues are full of lies.
20 You sit around and slander a brother - your own mother's son.
21 While you did all this, I remained silent, and you thought I didn't care.
But now I will rebuke you, listing all my charges against you.
22 Repent, all of you who ignore me, or I will tear you apart, and no one will help you.
23 But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.
If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God."
Luke chapter 14 (TEV)
25 Once when large crowds of people were going along with Jesus, he turned and said to them, 26 "Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well. 27 Those who do not carry their own cross and come after me cannot be my disciples. 28 If one of you is planning to build a tower, you sit down first and figure out what it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job. 29 If you don't, you will not be able to finish the tower after laying the foundation; and all who see what happened will make fun of you. 30 "You began to build but can't finish the job!' they will say. 31 If a king goes out with ten thousand men to fight another king who comes against him with twenty thousand men, he will sit down first and decide if he is strong enough to face that other king. 32 If he isn't, he will send messengers to meet the other king to ask for terms of peace while he is still a long way off. 33 In the same way," concluded Jesus, "none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have. 34
"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. 35 It is no good for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown away. Listen, then, if you have ears!"
Hebrews chapter 10 (TEV)
26 For there is no longer any sacrifice that will take away sins if we purposely go on sinning after the truth has been made known to us. 27 Instead, all that is left is to wait in fear for the coming Judgment and the fierce fire which will destroy those who oppose God! 28 Anyone who disobeys the Law of Moses is put to death without any mercy when judged guilty from the evidence of two or more witnesses. 29 What, then, of those who despise the Son of God? who treat as a cheap thing the blood of God's covenant which purified them from sin? who insult the Spirit of grace? Just think how much worse is the punishment they will deserve! 30 For we know who said, "I will take revenge, I will repay"; and who also said, "The Lord will judge his people." 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!
Leviticus chapter 17 (TEV)
1 The Lord commanded Moses 2 to give Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel the following regulations.
3 Any Israelites who kill a cow or a sheep or a goat as an offering to the Lord anywhere except at the entrance of the Tent of the Lord's presence have broken the Law. They have shed blood and shall no longer be considered God's people. 5 The meaning of this command is that the people of Israel shall now bring to the Lord the animals which they used to kill in the open country. They shall now bring them to the priest at the entrance of the Tent and kill them as fellowship offerings. 7 The people of Israel must no longer be unfaithful to the Lord by killing their animals in the fields as sacrifices to the goat demons. The people of Israel must keep this regulation for all time to come. 8 Any Israelites or any foreigners living in the community who offer a burnt offering or any other sacrifice 9 as an offering to the Lord anywhere except at the entrance of the Tent shall no longer be considered God's people.
Hebrews chapter 9 (NLT)
23 ... the earthly tent and everything in it - which were copies of things in heaven - had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. 24 For Christ has entered into heaven itself to appear now before God as our Advocate. He did not go into the earthly place of worship, for that was merely a copy of the real Temple in heaven.
Hebrews chapter 10 (TEV)
1 The Jewish Law is not a full and faithful model of the real things; it is only a faint outline of the good things to come.
Hebrews chapter 9 (NLT)
10 For that old system deals only with food and drink and ritual washing - external regulations that are in effect only until their limitations can be corrected. 11 So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that great, perfect sanctuary in heaven, not made by human hands and not part of this created world. 12 Once for all time he took blood into that Most Holy Place, but not the blood of goats and calves. He took his own blood, and with it he secured our salvation forever. 13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people's bodies from ritual defilement. 14 Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our hearts from deeds that lead to death so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
1 Thessalonians chapter 5 (TEV)
23 May the God who gives us peace make you holy in every way and keep your whole being-spirit, soul, and body-free from every fault at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you will do it, because he is faithful.
The harsh punishments decreed in the Old Testament are an indication of the difficulty of disciplining a wayward theocracy. The differences between the approaches of the Old and New Testaments are a reflection of the different audiences they were written for. The Old Testament was written for a society who needed strict discipline and a sense of the awesomeness of God in order that they remain obedient, and thus that society didn't degenerate into corruption, crime and chaos. The New Testament was written to people who actually wanted to obey God. Thus, the emphasis could be on encouragement and on the beauty of following God rather than on judgment. For more on this, see: Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development.
The next file in this section (Part 11), is entitled: "What The Bible Says About God's Standard Of Purity".
If you have found parts of the Old Testament or the Book of Revelation offensive, please read An Attempt to Explain Gruesome Bible Passages.
The selections of Bible quotations have been put together by Diana Holbourn.
Throughout this series, wherever the initials TEV appear, they stand for Today's English Version (The Good News Bible).Other initials: