One of the Old Testament laws that unbelievers like to laugh at, is that God commanded the Israelites to stone a Sabbath breaker. For example: I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
# The Sabbath was a brilliant design of God.
We read of only one example in the Bible where a Sabbath breaker was actually stoned.1 The Israelites understood why the Sabbath was important:
- It allowed them a weekly day of rest after their ordeal as slaves for 400 years in Egypt. 2
- It reminded them to give glory to Almighty God who created in six days and rested on the seventh. 3
# The Israelites lived in close knit communities under God’s laws.
- The Israelites, as a nation, settled in various towns in Canaan, after 40 years in the desert. Wherever they were, they lived in close knit communities.
- They accepted the Law given by God through Moses. God told them what the punishment would be if they harm themselves or others. There were laws against theft, murder, Sabbath breaking, immorality and adultery, idolatry, wrong relationships, et cetera.
- If they disregarded the laws, the community would have become lawless and a dangerous place to live, as often happens in lawless societies.
# Some of the laws for the Israelites are irrelevant in our societies.
- Today there are no homogeneous communities of people who follow Jesus. God’s elect are scattered all over the earth, where they have to obey the laws of their countries. Those laws would not include stoning a Sabbath breaker.
- Jesus signified with the Gospel of the Kingdom that the Old Covenant (a unified nation who had God as their King) is finished. Now God gathers citizens for His Kingdom individually. They sign up person for person from any nation.
- Jesus warned that even families are no longer united under God. Some members of a family follow Jesus, and others don’t. ‘…I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 4
- Disciples of Jesus might meet in churches, but they live as strangers in the world. 5
Societies no longer stone Sabbath breakers, because the Old Covenant was abolished by Jesus. The Old Covenant was meant for a very specific group of people, as is the New Covenant. To suggest that any person can go and stone a Sabbath breaker is a display of complete ignorance about the Bible.
- Numbers 15:32-36
- Deuteronomy 5:12-15
- Exodus 20:8-11
- Matthew 10:35
- 1 Peter 1:1
There is a lot of confusion about the Old Testament Law (for example, Exodus 20-23) and how to apply it today. Atheists love to poke fun at it. One mockingly asked, ‘How much should I charge for my daughter if I want to sell her into slavery?’ How does one answer that?
The Old Testament Law was a special ‘deal,’ or covenant, that God made with the Israelites, to which they agreed. So the question is, why are these ‘obsolete’ laws in the Bible if they don’t apply to us? The reasons are:
- The history of the Israelites in the Old Testament shows that they couldn’t keep God’s covenant. God proved that people are unable to please Him with laws. Scripture says, ‘Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law…’ 1 [this is very important – see the following point].
- People could not keep the Law, so God gave His ‘solution,’ namely His Son. Jesus changes people’s hearts, and the Holy Spirit gives the power to live in a relationship with God. 2
- Thus the function of the Old Testament Law is to show how important Jesus is, ’…No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ 3
Despite that, the Old Testament Law remains controversial. How do we answer the criticisms of God’s enemies, like the stoning of a Sabbath breaker? 4 The answer is to look at the New Testament. If a law is found in both Testaments, we can regard it as binding on Christians today. For example:
- We are told to love God in Deuteronomy 6:4. Jesus repeats it: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 5 So Christians are to keep that law today.
- The Old Testament forbids eating pork.6 The New Testament declares all food clean in the vision that Peter saw.7 To make the message clear, it is repeated three times. So pork is not forbidden today.
- Both the Old and New Testaments forbid adultery.8 The Old Testament command remains binding.
- The Old Testament forbids working on the Sabbath.9 In Colossians 2:16-17 the Sabbath is seen as a shadow of the things to come. The reality is found in Jesus. In addition, the Jerusalem Council did not impose Sabbath keeping on the Gentiles.10 Today we will not kill a person who works on the Sabbath (Saturday).
- Slavery is a special case. Both Testaments have instructions about it, but common sense will help. Contrary to the times when the Bible was written, slavery has largely disappeared. The commands about slaves are not applicable.11
When you investigate both Testaments, it is clear which laws still stand. That might help to answer atheists and skeptics who claim every Old Testament law is binding today.
- Romans 3:20a
- Jeremiah 31:31
- John 14:6b
- Numbers 15:32-36
- Mark 12:30
- Leviticus 11:7
- Acts 10:10-16
- Exodus 20:14: Galatians 5:19
- Exodus 20:8-11
- Acts 15:19-20; see also Romans 14:5
- Colossians 3:22-25; 4:1