The Christian and the Old Testament Law

By: Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr.; ©1991
Is the Mosaic Law still valid and binding for New Testament Christians? What was the purpose of the Law? Did Christ end the law? Is the Mosaic Law still important for today’s Christians as a guide to godly living?


The information in this program was taped live at the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute Apologetics Conference in Orlando, Florida.

[Ed. note: This biographical information was valid as of the time this program was taped.] Our instructor for this session is Dr. Walter Kaiser. Dr. Kaiser is Academic Dean and Professor of Semitic Languages and Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Dr. Kaiser received his Ph.D. from Brandeis University in Mediterranean Studies. He is the author of numerous books including The Old Testament in Contemporary Preaching, Toward an Exegetical Theology, Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching, A Biblical Approach to Suffering, which is a commentary on the book of Lamentations, Toward Old Testament Ethics, The Uses of the Old Testament in the New, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, Back Toward the Future: Hints for Interpreting Biblical Prophecy and “Exodus: A Commentary” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

In addition, he’s written a number of other titles for both popular and scholarly audiences. What’s more Dr. Kaiser has contributed articles to a number of periodicals including Moody Monthly, The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and Evangelical Quarterly. Dr. Kaiser is a widely respected conference speaker and an enthusiastic and skilled teacher. Dr. Kaiser’s topic for this session is: “What Is the Relationship of the Christian to Old Testament Law?” As you listen to this information, it would be my prayer that God will increase your faith and draw you closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the Relationship of the Christian to Old Testament Law?
Are Christians Bound By the Mosaic Law?

Dr. Walter Kaiser: Thank you and welcome to this session, which I look forward to because it does get to one of the hard problems in discussions of the Old Testament, the Old Testament law. One of the songs that we sometimes sing in Christian circles is on this— different version, you understand—“Free from the law, O happy condition. Now I can sin and there is no perdition.” But that’s not the way it goes. That is a perversion of that particular hymn.

Let me introduce a series of questions here for you today, and therefore each of my main points will be a question; and hopefully it’s one of your questions. If we don’t have one of your questions, then I’m going to try to conclude here quickly enough so we can take some. So you can be working on that, or you probably already brought several. I’m dying to hear what I have to say to you. But for the moment let’s sort of get into it.

First question is, “Are believing Christians free from all obligation to the law of Moses and Old Testament law?” And I think there are two answers to that one, asked in that way. Yes, we are free from all obligation to Old Testament law, if by law we mean that it is a means of getting into heaven, a means of getting favor with God. But I must tell you that there never, never, never, but never, was anyone who ever even came close to getting into heaven that way. Not Adam, not Eve, not Noah, not Moses; because “it’s not of works lest any man,” lest any woman, “should boast,” you remember in Ephesians. There’s no one going to be in heaven and have a badge on the back of their lapel that said, “I earned it. I did it the old fashioned way. You came by grace as a freebie, but I earned it.” No one is going to be there by works.

You say, but there was a hypothetical offer, wasn’t there? And couldn’t it have been that someone sort of theoretically kept the whole law? Couldn’t they have gotten in?

Now Paul denies that in Galatians 3:21. He says, “Verily, if righteousness could have been by the law, then indeed or if there were law, then righteousness could have been by the law.” But he says there wasn’t a law even. You can’t even think of it hypothetically. So I take it here then that we are free from the law if by keeping the law we mean that that’s the way we gain favor with God or gain entrance into His heaven.

But you say, what about Paul’s derogatory words about the law? Didn’t Paul have some bad things to say about the law? Oh, yes. Paul had some good things, too. You’ve got to balance them out. And you must understand the context of what Paul was dealing with. For example, Romans 6, some of these texts you might want to follow. In Romans 6:14-15, there Paul will say, “For sin shall not be your master because you are not under law but under grace.” You are not under law but under grace.

Some people say, “There’s my verse. That’s my verse. That’s why I have a hard time with the Old Testament, because I’m not under law but I’m under grace.

And then Paul asks in verse 15 of Romans 6, “What then, shall we sin because we’re not under law but under grace?” And he says there with the strongest no. “Nein, nix, no, no, no,” he says a thousand times. “You’ve got the wrong idea. Don’t sin in order to prove that you are under grace.”

So what is his point here? It seems to me that we are not under law with regard to the ceremonial offenses. We’re not under the law with regard to that part of the law which we are going to see was actually for a period of time. What then about 2 Corinthians 3, another text which seems to have a derogatory note from the apostle Paul on the law? Again, not rightly understood even to the present moment in the household of faith. Because I take it that in 2 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul says, “God has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant….”He says, “who’s competent for these things?” Well, he says, “Thanks be to God, He’s competent even though we’re not.” So He is our competency as ministers of the new covenant.

Now, listen. This section is talking about ministers. We’re going to talk about the ministry of Moses, vis-à-vis the ministry of Christ; the ministry not only of Christ, but the ministry of Christ’s ministers. So, we’ve got ministry of pastors and of lay persons for the Lord vis-à-vis, or over against, ministry of Moses. And he says, “No comparison.” The ministries are vastly different. But if you take all verses as gospel, you’ve missed it a billion miles. I can’t tell you how deeply in trouble you are with this text. This text does not say anything. It’s ministry. For he says, verse 7, “Now, if the ministry that brought death….” See, what is it that brought death? The law. Read the text. “If the ministry that brought death which was engraved in letters on stone came with glory so the Israelites could not look steadily into the face of Moses because of His glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be the more glorious?” If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness?

Now, didn’t I tell you it was ministry? Over and over. Sometimes in reading the Bible the most important thing is where you put the em-PHA-sis. You must hit the right syl-LA-ble. If you don’t,… I’m deliberately doing that and some of you are looking at me. Come on. I know the difference. He says in verse 11, “and if what was fading away came with glory,…” What was fading away? Some people say the law. Uh, uh, wrong antecedent. “If the ministry that was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts?” What lasts? The ministry that lasts. Now, in this particular text, and he doesn’t use it in an absolute sense, he said that “the law engraven in letters on stone.” Sure, the Ten Commandments, if you please, and more; but he’s not using that ministry or ministration of death in an absolute sense, because if you want me to—alright then, I’ll do what you want me. Let’s go back to 2 Corinthians 2:16, for there he says, “I’ll tell you about the gospel. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.”

In other words, the gospel itself, with respect to human abuse and corruption, is subject to death. You can give the same good news: one person will hear and have life, and another person, it will turn them cold. Turn them cold forever. So it can be a smell of life for one, Chanel No. 5, and to the other it could just be like garbage, and they won’t listen to it at all. The same gospel. Why? Different heart. God sends the same sunshine, but it depends upon the material on which it comes. If it’s just sort of hard clay, it will turn it to stone. But if the sunshine comes to wax, it will melt it. Same way with human hearts. There’s no difference in the source here. So I take it here that, “Are believing Christians free from all obligation?” Yes, if it’s the do-it-yourself plan for salvation, “I’m going to earn it.” But no one, but no one, but no one ever did that. No one. And it wasn’t even hypothetically possible, Galatians 2:20.

Well, then, what about the other part? Are believing Christians free from all obligations? Let’s answer the other way, too. No. No. Not if we use the law rightfully.

Turn to 1 Timothy 1:8-9. I didn’t say this. Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, said, “We know that the law is good.” Ah, no, Paul, that will kill you. Get away from that. “We know that the law is good.” He didn’t say that we know that the law is bad. He said, “We know that the law is good if a man uses it properly.” If a person uses it properly.

In other words, there’s an improper use of the law. And I’m deeply concerned for Christ’s church. She languishes because while she says we believe in the whole Bible, its inerrancy, “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” When it comes time to ask about the law, oh, they say, “Except that.” But Paul didn’t say that in Timothy. He said, “ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” Not all profitable for the same thing, but there still is profit there.

I remember in the late ‘60s when I was trying to talk about the issues of abortion, and the majority of the evangelical church was turned against me. I thought 30% of the evangelicals would be against abortion in those days, judging from the cinders in my stomach as I spoke. And I spoke to an awful lot of groups up and down the land almost every weekend. You know what I was told? That the New Testament doesn’t say anything about it. You know what, they’re right. But on the other hand, the Old Testament did. Yeah, but they said, “That’s in the ceremonial law; that’s in the civil law; you’ll find that in the covenant code in Exodus 21. And sure enough you will. Sure enough you will.

But how wrong we were. And it took Wade vs. Roe in 1973, and it has taken us 4,000 children per day, at the present time, being dropped in a bucket before we began to understand that we have now bested Hitler’s record by four times. Six million people went up the chimney during the Third Reich. We have dropped almost 24 million since 1973 in a bucket.[1]

I’d like to ask a question: If God judged Germany in part because of their poor treatment and savage treatment of the Jews there, now I’m asking who’s holding the insurance policy on good ole USA? And why is it that God hasn’t dealt with us? I know we differ even in the evangelical community. There still is not solid agreement on it, but I sense that we need to understand, how then shall we live. As a matter fact, that sounds like that should be a title of a book, How Shall We Then Live?[2]

And there is the need for understanding how we should live. You say, yes, I know, love. Love is not a “what” word. It won’t tell us what it is we’re to do. It tells us rather how, whatever it is we’re doing, we should do it. Do it with love. But it doesn’t give us the substance; it doesn’t give us the essence. It won’t give us direction. For, you see, in the Old Testament the word “law” doesn’t mean confined, caged in. It comes from yarah, which means to point. The law is direction; it’s a path, says the book of Proverbs. And there he speaks out as to direct, to point; it’s a path. So what we’re getting out of the law are principles, directions; we’re getting guidance. And how to do that, of course, is the important thing.

Romans 7:12, 14 and 16. There are three important verses again in the seventh chapter of Romans where Paul states also the other side of the issue while he says be careful. The works of the law, yet he also turns around in Romans 7:12 and says, “So then it’s not the law, it’s me. The law is holy and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.”

So ask Paul, “Paul step forward. Be a witness. What do you think about Old Testament law?”

“Well, I think it’s good. I think it’s righteous. I think it’s just. I think it’s holy.”

“Paul, you said that stuff will kill us.”

“I said if you use it wrongfully it will, use it wrongfully, it will.”

And again, in verse 14, the law is spiritual. We know, we know, that the law is spiritual. Now, if you ask what law he’s talking about, it’s the same one that’s talked about in Jeremiah 31:31 in the new covenant. We are participating in a new covenant when we come to the Lord’s Table and celebrate there communion, or the Lord’s supper. In the Eucharist we are confessing together; we are participating in the bread and in the blood of the new covenant. Where does that come from? Jeremiah 31. “I’ll make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt which covenant they, they, they, broke.” What was the problem? Them. Hebrews 8, quoting that he says, “finding fault with them.” Not it, them, them. Honest, the text says that. I poured my life into this question. I know where the trouble spots are, and the trouble spot is with us. We’re the one standing in need, not the law, not God. And so I think he makes that point very, very plain. The law is spiritual. So it’s spiritual and it’s good.

Let’s go to a second question then. Our first question: Are we free? Yes, with regard to earning our salvation—you can’t; no, with regard to using it rightfully. I must say that to the church. I must say that to a believing body: that we believe the whole Bible from cover to cover, especially the last 27 books. But what about the whole 66? What about the whole thing?

What’s the second question? Did the New Testament era, and did Christ, end the law?

Let’s turn to Romans 9 and 10. Doesn’t Romans 10:4 say very clearly here that indeed Christ is the end of the law? I mean, what clearer evidence could you get than that? That’s “my verse for today.” “So Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Now what do we mean by the end of the law? It could mean that Christ is the caboose of the law. That would be the end which they don’t even put on trains anymore. So that could be the termination of the law. It also could mean Christ is the goalpost of the law, the teleo, the purpose for which the whole thing was going.

I think it is the second here. Why? Because in this passage here—look at Romans 9:30. Let’s sort of trace this out with a series of questions then, about whether Christ was the conclusion or was He the goal of the law? Was he the goalpost or was He the conclusion? Look first at Romans 9:30 where he introduces the topic, “What then?” When Paul says, “What then,” he’s transferring to a new topic. “What shall we say, how about the Gentiles? Why did the Gentiles get righteousness and the Jews miss it?” That’s Paul’s dilemma. How come they found their way home to Christ and got righteousness and the Jews didn’t? And he says, “I’ll tell you why.” Here’s the answer. Verse 31, Israel made a law out of righteousness. That phrase there “who pursued a law of righteousness.” Literally, because Paul turns the phrase around, “they made out of righteousness a law.” And he says they shouldn’t have done that.

The whole Judaism is different from Old Testament religion. Judaism has the synagogue as the center; the Old Testament had the temple. Judaism has the scribe and the rabbi as the center; the Old Testament had the priest and it had sacrifices as the center. Judaism has the study of the word; the Old Testament had the sacrifice and the atonement as the center. You’re in two different pivots here. Two different ones. And I don’t think you can bring them across very easily.

And second, not only did they make a law out of righteousness, but Israel tried to work for their righteousness. He said in verse 31, Israel made a law out it, they did not pursue it, why? Because, verse 32, “they pursued it not by faith but as if it were possible by works.” He uses a little phrase there, “as if possible.” Paul won’t even say there was a theoretical possibility. He says it wasn’t even possible, but they tried to do it as if it were possible. So they made a law. They didn’t believe by faith and they tried to earn it. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, says Paul. I’m not the teacher here. Hold your finger on verse 32: and worst of all, they stumbled at the block, the stumbling block that God has set right there in the middle of history, which was the Messiah. Israel could and should have known that God was laying in Zion a stone; and that stone, is if anyone believes in Him, they would not be put to shame.

So how was it that the Gentiles came and got righteousness and Israel worked their souls out and came up with zilch, goose egg, zero? I’ll tell you why. Number one, they made a law out of God’s righteousness. Isn’t that funny? Made a law out of it. Secondly, they tried to earn it. Thirdly, they didn’t believe. Fourthly, they didn’t see the Messiah, missed Him clear, clean. No wonder Jesus said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Oh fools and slow of heart. You ought to have seen it. Come on, men; I taught you! Don’t you know any better than the culture? But you said no one else did either?”

Oh, yes, yes, yes, I know. And Simeon, Luke 2, they were among those waiting for the consolation of Israel. He picked up a baby. How much did our Lord weigh in diapers? The God of the universe is now nine pounds. He picks him up and says, “Look, the Messiah. Now let your servant depart in peace. I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it. Here is the whole schmear; this is the whole nine yards. This is it. This is it.” He’s holding a baby. And he said this is it. He said, “Yes, but he did that by the Holy Spirit.” True. The text says he recognized it by the Holy Spirit; but it said he was among those who were waiting for the consolation of Israel. There was a remnant. There were a few. There were a few. So they were there. They could have known. And anyway our Lord said they should have known. He said, “Oh fools and slow of heart.” So it is possible.

But then we ask, still following this up, then weren’t the Jews zealous enough? Chapter 10 of Romans. Well, “Brethren, sistern, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they might be saved. For I bear them witness—I can testify about them—they are zealous for God.” You want to know zeal? Boy, you ought to see the Jewish community—A+ for zeal. You say, yes, but how could we ever get into heaven if they work so hard and they can’t get in? That’s the point. They’re working hard, but they’re working on the wrong problem. Working on the wrong problem. So, he says, weren’t the Jews zealous enough? Oh, if zeal would do it, A+. They were extremely zealous. But their zeal was not based on knowledge. He says at the end of verse 2, “but their zeal was not based on knowledge.” He says, where do you get better knowledge? In the Old Testament? That wasn’t based on knowledge. That’s not what I revealed, I gave a different revelation. And then it seems to me they sought to establish their own righteousness, verse 3, since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God.

Where do you get the righteousness that comes from God? B I B L E. But they didn’t get it from there. They sought to establish sedaqah as the Greek, homemade righteousness. This is homemade righteousness. Wrong, wrong, wrong. You can’t substitute homemade righteousness for God’s righteousness. And so he said they didn’t submit to God’s righteousness. They failed to submit to God’s righteousness. Well, I ask you again, were the Jews zealous enough? Oh, yes, from some points extremely zealous; but their zeal was not based on knowledge, and they sought to establish their own righteousness, homemade righteousness, and they failed to grasp God’s gift of righteousness.

Now, that was all being taught them in the law, mind you. I can’t get over this. Even in the new covenant, guess what God’s going to take and write on our hearts? “My law.” Honest, it’s plain Torah. That will fry the socks off of some evangelicals. That God’s going to take torah ti—My law, my Torah. He says, I’m going to put it on your heart. Isn’t that an interesting thing? We’re trying to get away from it. So it will be very, very interesting.

Well, third question. Where could the Jews have found this righteousness? Okay, I give up, I give up. You’re going to give us the problem, where could we have found this stuff? That comes here in verse 5. Moses describes it. Moses describes the righteousness that is by the law, and then quotes from Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:12-14. That’s the amazing thing. So he has here Moses describing it in Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30. Yes, but it says here, you say, look at that first one, verse 5, “the man who does these things will live by them.” That sounds like the do-it-yourself plan. The man or the woman who does these things shall live by them. But the word en here in Greek could be instrumental, translated by, or could be “likened to,” Galatians 3:12, where this verse is also quoted, the man, the woman who does these things shall live in the sphere of them. And what things are they?

Go back to the context. Leviticus 18:1, “I am the Lord your God.” Last verse, “I am the Lord your God.” So the passage is framed by an inclusio, an inclusion kind of bracketing. For those who have the Lord as their God, I have something to say to you believers. So I know it’s not about how to become part, “I am the Lord your God.” Only those who have God as their Lord are now being addressed. So now, what’s the content? “Be careful. Don’t get into idolatry like the Egyptians and the Canaanites. But, rather, believe me; for the man who does these things shall live in the sphere of them.” It’s talking about life and the promise of life with the living God.

I don’t think we’ve understood Leviticus. That’s why we’ve problems. We thought “the man who does.” We put the emphasis on doing these things. “The man who does these things shall live.” And we thought live meant eternal life. But wrong, wrong, wrong again. It just is missing the point thousands of times over. Now, I’ve heard my brethren and sistern teach on this. I’m just afraid there’s going to be a long line in the final day, that we’re just going to have to review all these messages. Don’t look at me so harshly.

But he says here, “Moses describes,” and he uses an expression; Greek kind of construction, “both/and.” And they go together. It’s just not Moses wrote Leviticus 18:5, but the word in verse 6 should be introduced “And,” not “But.” Come on, guys, get the translators on track here. “Moses describes the righteousness that is by the law, the man who does these things shall live in the sphere of them and the righteousness that is of faith says….” What do you mean “but”? There’s no “but” about it. But rather it is, “And the righteousness that is of faith says, ‘Do not say in your heart who is going to ascend up into heaven (that is to bring Christ down) or who is going to descend into the deep? (that is to bring Christ up from the dead.) But what does it say?” still quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 30, “The word is near you, it’s in your mouth and it’s in your heart and that is the word of faith.” [Rom. 10:5-8] Says Paul, “The same thing Moses was proclaiming, I am proclaiming.” Do you hear him? I don’t know if you can or not. It’s hard because we’ve all been taught the reverse. But any rate, it’s a very, very clear text here and an important one.

What about a third question then, is the law an indivisible unity? We generally teach the law is one. Now, since we are no longer under the ceremony of the law—for example, you go to church probably and you don’t take sheep and goats. I’m proud of you; you probably shouldn’t. But you take money and that’s good, good thinking. Why? Because Hebrews says Christ has once for all died and has done it. Yes, but you said you needed the New Testament. Uh-uh, there was a hint already in the Old Testament.

From Exodus 25:8 and 40, there it’s said that indeed when God gave to Moses the draft for the tabernacle and its services, He said this is according to a model, a copy of what He gave to me on the Mount. What does he mean by a copy, a model here? He meant that it in this tabernacle and in these services there was a built in obsolescence. They were going to go out of vogue as soon as the real came. Have you ever seen a model of a church before you get the real church building, they build this model? But whoever hung onto the model after the real building was built? Who needs it? Usually it got, I don’t know, it got lost; it went into the church furnace or some place. But it was gone. It was gone. You don’t need the model when the real comes.

That’s the argument of Hebrews. Shadows. These were shadows; and so he says, “Look this is just a shadow of the real which is to come.” And so there was a built-in warning that that part from Exodus 25 through Leviticus really dealt with the ceremonial part, and that when there was the reality, then they no longer needed the shadow. The form that was to come.

But what about three texts. There are three texts that generally come up here. James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles in just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” So some have said, “See, if you miss one part, you miss the whole thing.” And that’s true, because to sin is to have sin. And so that point is made. But does it mean that you either keep the whole thing or not?

And then a second verse which comes from Galatians 5:3, “Again, I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”

And one more point. Matthew 5:19: “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Oh, by the way, that ought to be a warning. Anyone who teaches anyone to break the least of these commandments and does so and says others should do the same, the same is going to be called least in the kingdom of heaven. That was Jesus’ teaching. What in the world did He have in mind? He was teaching about not one jot or one tittle. He said, I don’t only mean the small “iota,” the smallest letter, or that little flourish on the end of the “t.” Of course, he uses a hyperbole here. It’s a conscious exaggeration; but the conscious exaggeration was that the minutest part was trustworthy until all be fulfilled. Until all be fulfilled.

Well, then what shall we say about these three texts? I think that we need to listen to Jesus in Matthew 23:23. In Matthew 23:23 they came to Jesus asking Him should they tithe mint and dill and anise? Jesus said, “These ought you to have done and not to have neglected the weightier matters of the law.” In other words, our Lord is teaching us that some things are more difficult, some things have greater priority, are of greater weight, than the law. Now, I didn’t say this, Jesus did. Some things are heavier, weightier. Matthew 23:23. And therefore there are priorities. But the prophets and the law stated the same thing, too.

Over and over again you get this, “To obey is better than to sacrifice,” 1 Samuel 15. You get it in Psalm 51, “Sacrifice and offerings wouldst thou not but a broken and a contrite heart, oh Lord, thou wilt not despise. Then will you be pleased with sacrifices?”

Isaiah 1, “I’m fed up to here” says the Lord, “With your new moons, your feasts, your Sabbaths, your calling of assembly. Come wash you, make you clean. Come, let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they can be white as snow.

And Jeremiah 7:21, he goes on with the same thing, “I didn’t speak to you for the sake of sacrifices, but this I said to you and it goes on to speak of the heart relationship and belief.”

Amos 6:6, “the knowledge of God more than sacrifice.”

Micah 6:6, “What does God want of me?” He goes on with all these things, the thousands of rivers of oil with the thousands of sacrifices, maybe I should even offer my oldest child to Molech. “He has showed thee, O man, what does God want but justice and mercy and walking humbly with our God?” Bingo.

That’s the verse Jesus used in Matthew 23:23. He said, “Do you understand that?” He said, “Go home and think about this; this is weightier, heavier.” So if the law is one, how come it’s got weightier matters in it? If it’s one in the sense that having fulfilled one aspect—the ceremonial—the moral and civil, and all other aspects are gone, if that’s so, then why is Jesus saying some things are weightier, weightier, heavier than others? Well, I think these texts are important.

Fourth question. Do the penalties of the law continue to this day? Well, no. There are 20 penalties which require the death penalty. I wouldn’t urge that. Now, you know, there are certain movements today that are saying, “Yeah, that’s what we need. Bring the whole thing back.” You can’t distinguish, you’ve got to have that. So if you’ve got kidnapping, alright, it’s a capital crime; capital punishment. Some states still have that. But what about an incorrigible child? Well, take him to the elders, take him to the body of believers. If he won’t listen, then stone the kid. Wow! There’s something that’s not right about that. How do you put that together?

You say, there you go, you’re picking and choosing. Now, wait. I have an illustration. First Corinthians 5:1, there is a boy and his mother involved in incest. And they come to the church, and it’s found out that the facts prove the case. So then, what do they recommend? Well, it’s clear that the Old Testament says stone him, but Paul recommends church discipline. The principle is the same; the sanction, that is the penalty, is different. Principle number one.

But then, secondly, and look at this text, it’s an important one. Numbers 35:31 I think says this too, very clearly: “Do not accept a ransom.” The word ransom is here kpr, Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement. And it doesn’t mean to cover, that our sins in the Old Testament were covered by the blood of the animal until Christ came. We taught that because there are four basic kpr roots in the Old Testament. One is a village Capernaum; you hear it there, only we see it in English it’s cpr, kpr, the village of Nahum (the prophet Nahum) so they claim. Then there is the young lion, kpr. We don’t have any English analogous with that. Then there is, in Genesis 6-8, they caulked the boat. They smeared it with pitch and the ark in order that it wouldn’t leak. That’s kpr. We said, “Ah, that’s the word picture,” but it isn’t. There’s another root used a hundred times which means to ransom or to deliver by a substitute. You have ransom money, kpr money. You have in the noun form illustration after illustration where there is a substitute, a vicarious substitute, for the individual which let them off.

God was teaching that indeed we had to give a substitute. This is on the Day of Atonement itself. He brought two goats and they confessed the sin of all of Israel, of all that had afflicted, so it was genuinely inner repentance. They confessed that sin, and then the priest killed that goat and took the blood into the holy of holies, the inner, inner sanctum, just one time a year and there applied it to the place of at-one-ment. We didn’t invent the word of atonement, kpr. And it still is one sin offering, not two, one sin offering, confess the sin of all Israel and that goat they led away. It was called the escape goat. We used to say in English they created the scapegoat, but that’s the one that always gets left, that’s the one that has to do the dishes, that’s the scapegoat. So the scapegoat was the first one, that’s the one who got stuck. But this was the escape goat, aza’zel, the goat of leading away. So what’s the point? Sin is forgiven on the basis of a substitute, sins forgotten and removed as far as the east is from the west because they took that goat and got it lost. Can you imagine the goat coming back about July, all last year’s sins walking into town again? Wow, and everyone running out and said, “Keep that crud away from us,” and they would just,… well I have a graphic mind.

But any rate, what’s the point here in Numbers 35:31? “Do not accept a ransom, a substitute, for the life of a murderer.” You say, what’s your point? Of the 20 forms of capital punishment, it says one must be retained. That is murder, first degree murder. By the way, our first, second, third degree, come from the Bible too. Manslaughter is put into a different situation, but involuntary manslaughter. But what about this? Someone consciously, deliberately, laid in wait for someone else. He said no substitute. But to say no substitute in this case implied that there was a substitute in all other areas. In other words, the other 19 crimes for demanding capital punishment, all had with them a capital offense to show the seriousness of the crime, but only in one case was it demanded that it be carried out. In this case, no substitute, no ransom because Genesis 9.

You say, I don’t know whether I’m for or against capital punishment. I have a recommendation for you if you’re a believer—Genesis 9. I would think you should be for capital punishment. Meaning you individually, me individually, not the state. Why? Because men and women are made in the image of God. That’s the reason given in Genesis 9. If you don’t have capital punishment and have the state take it, as right now it does not, my government doesn’t believe in it, but it’s anti-biblical. And in so doing therefore the blood of all those people gets tracked into hotels and into churches because the guilt falls on the whole community. Because there is no reckoning with the value, the dignity, the worth of life. So how can you argue for women’s rights and civil rights and other kinds of rights? All the rights in town just got cheaper. I promise you, they go together. You can’t argue for one kind of right and down it when it comes to a man made in the image of God, because the theological grounding is the same. Don’t say the constitution about the inalienable rights of man, there are no such things. There is, though, men and women made in the image of God. And that will give you grounding.

So, at any rate, it seems to me that the penalties of the law do not continue in the same form; that there is a modification of them except in one case, and that is with capital punishment.

Well, then fifthly, did the law ever offer hypothetically eternal life? What about Exodus 19? Isn’t there ifiness there? I thought that there was in that particular text, in Exodus 19. And there it seems that he has a kind of ifiness to it. Look at verses 5 and 6 where he speaks of, “Now, if you will obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my movable treasure.” My, there’s real estate which is linked and you can’t pick it up and move it; and then there’s jewels and everything else which is movable treasure. God calls His believing community segullah, movable treasure, movable treasure.

But it says if; and most people have put an awful lot of weight on that “if.” Matter of fact, one study Bible at the beginning of this century singled this out and said, “Now God gave this if, but Israel should have never gone for it. It was a bum deal. He hoped they wouldn’t go for it but they did. And they should have never done it.”

But that doesn’t pan out, because Deuteronomy 5 also has a repeat of this same legislation at Mount Sinai. And God said when the people said “We will do all that the Lord said,” just like they respond here in verse 8 of chapter 19, the Lord said “Oh, that there was always a heart like this in my people.” He approves of their response; He is not disappointed with their response, He approves of it. So what is this “if”? This “if” is no more iffy, nor does it imply conditional plan of hypothetical working for one’s salvation, any more than the “if” of John 15 does. “If you are my disciples, then listen to what I say. Keep my commandments.” Keep my commandments. Now is that “if” a works salvation? A thousand times no. A thousand times no. No more than in 1 John either. So in all of these cases, and again in Exodus 24:3, 7, there is a similar situation there too where it seems that, again, there is this kind of thing, “We will do all that the Lord said. We will obey,” verse 7. But I don’t think it’s a hypothetical offer.

As a matter of fact, again come back to that verse I mentioned several times. It is the verse that is in Galatians 3, and I think it is a very important verse, where He makes the point over and over again, “had there been a law,” he says, then verily, verse 21. And he says, to that same extent, “for if the law had been given that could impart life then verily righteousness would certainly have come from the law. But Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin so that what was promised being given through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Now again, can you hear there in chapter 3, verse 21, had there been a law, had there been a law, then verily righteousness could have come that way. But sadly, unfortunately, there is no such thing ever. I think it is a clear, clear kind of indication here of that particular theme. And so I think that, again, we need to come to reckon with it.

Well, then.,how then shall we work with this? What is a practical approach to the law? I think the answer to this question, which must be about the sixth question, how shall we as believers use the law rightfully, then? And, first of all, I would say we need to come to terms to distinguish between positive law, ceremonial law, civil law and moral law. Positive, civil, ceremonial and moral law. What is it that God is asking us to use for direction and for guidance? Moral law. Why moral law? Moral law is based on the character of God. Those portions which are based upon His character, His nature, give us the Bureau of Weights and Measures where He will say, “Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.” And the holiness law of Leviticus 18, 19 and 20, over and over again it is repeated there; it’s not going to go out of vogue. You won’t have God grading on the curve and say, “Well, this is the 21st century, you know, it is a lot different than Moses’ era. You’ve got to give and take, let’s take an average.” But God doesn’t average. He says this is it; holiness, my nature, is it.

And truth telling. Well, “I am the way the truth and the life.” He is truth. So if you want to know, what’s the truth, it’s what He is. And the same thing for each of the Ten Commandments and the holiness law, I would say, are your main statements of moral law in the Bible. Ten Commandments you say? Uh-uh. Why? Because of the sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage, sanctity of truth, sanctity of property. Every one of these relate back to the character of God.

And you say, yes, but what about positive law? What’s positive law? Positive laws are some things that are true because God said it, but they are true to whom He said it and for the time He said it.

For example, He said, “Get in the boat,” to His disciples. But I don’t think you need to do that. I don’t think you need to say, you know there’s a leak. I’ve never fulfilled that commandment. My verse for today is, “Get in the boat.” And therefore you get in the boat.

Or driving through the countryside you remember you had devotions that morning, out of Matthew 21, “Loose the colt.” It says “Loose the colt.” They loosed the colt to bring it to Jesus for the triumphal entry. You say, now there’s one I never kept. “Loose the colt.” And so you go across the fence, “Here, little horsey,” and you untie him, you know, and you say there’s another one.

I hope you don’t have problems with these. I’m teasing you and they seem so ridiculous but you must state the obvious sometime. Those are called positive laws. They are positively directly said by our Lord for particular situations, particular people. And, therefore, I think that that needs to be distinguished.

But it seems to me that the text also, even in the civil and those portions that seem like they are away from us such as for example, “Don’t muzzle an ox.” You say, I don’t own one. Why would I want to muzzle an ox? You know, that’s not my thing. Exodus 21, I thank God I’ve never muzzled an ox. And therefore that’s one law I’ve kept. But Paul picked it up and brought it over to the Corinthian correspondence, and he’ll say, “Do you understand what that means?” And we’re not prepared for it. He says it means pay your preacher. You say, “Now, how is that? I didn’t quite get that out of it? I would have thought another verse would have been better: that the worker is worthy of his hire. Give him his wages.” That’s in the next chapter after Deuteronomy chapter 24, 25. What are all these rinky dink things here? When you see a little birdie to pick it up and put it back into its nest again. Yes, this is trite, this is trite. Not so, not so. There are principles behind it. Think of it as two ladders of abstraction in which the Old Testament generally deals with the concrete, not the abstract, but goes to the illustration of it and behind which lies an abstract principle to which you come up to get the overall principle and then move down through the New Testament institution down to the practical nitty-gritty, real, concrete application in our day. That’s the job of the interpreter moving up the one ladder and down the other ladder. But they are very important procedures.

So what was the point of Deuteronomy 25? It was, I think, God was trying to inculcate a spirit of graciousness and kindness in His men and women. Put the little birdie back. You see, that thing going around treading out the grain, round and round on that harness, on that bar, I mean the thing is looking at Wheaties, going crazy. Take off the muzzle, that thing’s frothing at the mouth and wants some oats. Let him have some. You say why? Because this is “Be kind to animal week”? No. It’s not be kind to animal week; there’s something more. What about the farmer? That farmer needs to grow too and so in the same way Paul comes over and asked in Corinthians 9, is God concerned mainly for oxen? No, he says, not mainly, but for us. Us? It’s a surprising thing. You mean he’s allegorizing, is he spiritualizing, is he moralizing, psychologizing? No. Nein, nix, none of those things. It just isn’t true. Well, then what is he doing?

He is trying to say that God wants to change something in the giver as well as the gift. I’m not asking for a gift for my work, says Paul, alone, but I want something to happen to you the giver. Do you know something happens to you when you give? And that’s why I use this text rather than using the text that the worker is worthy of his hire.

Well, at any rate, that type of thing is going on in the biblical text. I am deeply concerned about a generation in which we have seen more come to Christ than at any other time in our history. There are more Americans that claim they have had a born again experience numbering into something like, I don’t know, out of 200 and some million population in United States, you hear various figures between 65 and 75 million believers in the USA. But I have a question. So why are we going backwards in ethics and morals? There’s got to be a reason, and I think it is because there’s not been enough teaching in the household of God. And we have left a portion of God’s word.

That’s why we need seminars. That’s why we have had seminars in the United States where thousands of people have come—10, 20, 25 thousand people together, and have paid tuition, because they wanted to hear from the book of Proverbs, How Then Shall We Live. How do we resolve basic conflicts? How do we resolve them?

And do you know what Proverbs is? It’s a re-publication of the law of God put in practical proverbial terms. So there is a hiatus, I tell you. People are asking how then shall we live? And we’ve needed direction. Are we going to wait again for another Wade vs. Roe and then scream bloody murder after it’s happened? Is that how we deal with issues? Or will we deal with them up front? We need God’s people to take all Scripture seriously and use it to His honor and glory.

Well, we have a few minutes left, what about your questions now and try to be succinct and I’ll try to be as straightforward. Go ahead.

Question: How would you differ from the reconstructionists?

Kaiser: How would I differ from the reconstructionists? I differ from reconstruction theology or theonomy, as it’s sometimes called out of Tyler, Texas, is one in which they’re trying to bring in the kingdom of God and replicate a whole political, a whole educational system with the law being the form of government. And it is post-millennial in its point of view, that is, that God’s kingdom comes here on earth through His church, working through the advances in science. It is also one in which they take all of the penalties of the law as well as the injunctions of the law, whereas I said they should only take one penalty, the death penalty. So there are a number of places where we are differing. I think they’re brothers and sisters in Christ, but on the other hand, I really wish I could have the ministry with them and redirect at least those basic areas. Okay, other question or comment that you have?

Question: Borrowing in the Old Testament was forbidden for Israel. What about the church? Should we borrow nowadays as Christians?

Kaiser: Yes, the question of borrowing was forbidden in the Old Testament. Can we borrow today? Under the Old Testament law, they talked about usury. Usury. That was the word used there. And it occurs in the law as well as in the Psalms. For example, Psalm 50. A righteous man is described in Ezekiel 18 as one who doesn’t lend his money out to usury. Usury or the borrowing in the Bible is at exorbitant rates. We’re talking 25, 30, 35 percent. And it is a bite; the word is a serpent’s bite. And it is an enormous bite of money. And the injunctions in the Bible against lending were against those Israelites who should have been sharing their wealth with the poor, but were using their inopportunity or their misfortune as an opportunity to make it rich or go big time. And the Lord was against that. But He did allow them to borrow, to lend money to the foreigner, to the stranger. And I take it by implication since they weren’t in a commercial culture that indeed it does not apply to the same thing today. I’ve tried to deal with this at length in my book called Toward Old Testament Ethics. I’ve a long section on borrowing and interest. So I think that what He’s against is high interest and usury. But that is not to say that you shouldn’t lend your money out in the present day at fair rates and in legitimate concerns and in areas where you’re not trying to get around what you should also be doing by way of sharing your wealth with those who are poor and unfortunate.

Well, many thanks to you and thanks for attending this seminar. I trust that it will be very helpful to you in days to come. I’m afraid for many of you I’ve just opened up a can of worms. But again, what you do is go back to the testaments, back to the books, study it, and if it’s not, if what I’ve said isn’t there, don’t trust it. Toss it. Stick with the Bible. But if it is there, then trust it and use it to the glory of God. Thanks much.


  1. This program was taped in 1993. As of 2010, the estimated number of abortions since 1973 was estimated to be in excess of 53 million.
  2. A likely reference to Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should we Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Crossway Books, 1983).

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