Laws in Effect Today

Laws in Effect Today

Question

What laws are in effect for today from the Bible? Is Deuteronomy 22:5 still the law?

Answer

Which laws are still applicable today is a debated issue. In my tradition (Reformed), it is common to say that laws pertaining to the civil organization of Israel's theocracy are no longer broadly applicable because Israel's theocracy no longer exists, nor does any other civil theocracy. It is also common to argue that the laws pertaining to the Old Testament sacrificial system are no longer applicable. Generally, these positions are explained in a context which indicates that there are abiding principles behind these laws that still apply. Those laws which primarily regulate moral conduct are said to remain intact.

Another position common in Christendom is that of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism generally holds that Old Testament laws which are not repeated in the New Testament are no longer binding. In my opinion, there is no sound scriptural basis for this position.

Personally, I prefer to say that the entire law is still applicable because the entire law reflects God's unchanging character (compare Matt. 22:37-40). Nevertheless, the way in which we are to obey the law has changed signficantly due to the coming of Christ and changes in other historical circumstances. For example, the sacrificial laws still apply because God still demands an adequate sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 9:26; 10:12,26; 1 John 2:1-2). Nevertheless, we observe those laws today not by offering animals according to the Mosaic system, but by trusting Christ as our sufficient sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 9:26; 10:12; 1 John 2:1-2) -- Christ's one sacrifice for all time continues to satisfy the requirements of actual sacrifice. Similarly, just as Israel was to render civil obedience to laws pertaining to Israel's theocracy, we are now to render obedience to Jesus the king, the ruler of our Christian theocracy. The principles of God's character that the Old Testament laws reflected have not changed, but the ways in which we are to act in accordance with his character have changed. We must interpret all the Old Testament laws in light of changes that have taken place in the history of redemption (Christ has come), differences between our culture/society and that of the original audience, and personal differences between each of us as individuals. This is not to say that truth is relative, but rather that application of truth must take into account many things which are not made explicit in the law itself.

In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus indicated that the law had abiding validity "until all is accomplished." Now, it is possible to argue that all was accomplished with Jesus' life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. However, I would suggest that this is not the best interpretation of this phrase. First and most simply, it does not appear that all has been accomplished. We still await the final defeat of Christ's enemies, the last judgment, the final resurrection, and the new heavens and new earth (e.g. Acts 1:6-8; 1 Cor. 15:21-28; 1 Thess. 5:14-17). The kingdom of God has been inaugurated, but we still await its consummation.

Second, Matthew's gospel was written after Jesus had ascended. I would argue that Matthew did not record the information in these verses simply for the sake of history (which would be the case if all had been accomplished with Jesus life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension). Rather, he recorded this information because he believed it to be relevant and important to his first-century audience. These verses were relevant to them (and they are relevant to us) because they were (and we are) in the kingdom of God/heaven (e.g. Matt 12:28; 1 Cor. 15:25; Rev. 1:9). Matthew alone used the phrase "kingdom of heaven," and used it synonymously with "kingdom of God" (compare for example Matt. 11:11 and Luke 7:28). Thus, Matthew intended that his original audience (and we by extension) obey and apply even the smallest letter and stroke of the law (Matt. 5:18). James reinforced this idea (Jas. 2:9-11). Even Paul, who is often quoted as advocating rejection of the law, affirmed its ongoing validity (e.g. Rom. 3:27-31; 5:20-6:2; 7:12,16; Gal. 5:22-23). Paul simply rejected the law as the basis for justification (Rom. 3:20,28).

I think Dispensationalism errs by not recognizing that the New Testament authors restated/affirmed the whole the law even though they did not explicitly restate each of its statutes one by one. I think the language used by my own (Reformed) tradition regarding this issue needs to be updated. It is very easy to misconstrue the current language to mean that there are no abiding truths which the ceremonial and theocratic laws manifested.

As far as Deuteronomy 22:5 is concerned, I would argue that it continues to apply. In order to apply properly it, however, we should first determine the significance of the law (the aspect of God's character which the law manifested). It would seem that the law had to do with sexuality or sexual roles, but exactly how it pertained to sexuality or sexual roles is unclear. Unfortunately, there do not appear to be any biblical examples of specific applications of this law to help us, and the context of this verse does not offer us tremendous insight into its meaning. The rest of the Bible makes it clear that God wants men to be men and women to be women. For example, he does not approve of effeminacy (1 Cor. 6:9) or homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10). Deuteronomy 22:5 may simply be another example of this. It is also possible that cross-dressing had idolatrous connotations.

On the other hand, the command may be somewhat more narrow than that -- the word for "man" is geber, which generally indicates a warrior. This is the only time geber appears in the entire Pentateuch -- the usual word for "man" in Deuteronomy is ish. Further, the word for a man's clothing is actually less precise than "clothing." It may also refer to "articles" or "implements." In other words, the verse may be telling women not to be warriors (wearing armor, carrying weapons, etc.), and may be telling warriors not to shirk their responsibilities in war. For a New Testament parallel to this idea, see 1 Corinthians 16:13 where andrizomai means "be/act like a man" (the root andr- comes from the Greek word aner which means "man" or "husband").

So, while I believe that the commandment still applies, I also believe that it is difficult in this case to know exactly what it originally meant, and therefore it is also difficult to know how to apply it today. I do think it is probably safe to say, however, that other more explicit commands probably cover most of the potential meanings of this verse.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.