Cherry-Picking the Old Testament

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This is my second post in a three-part series about the Bible. The first post was shared tips to help Christians understand Scripture better. This week, I’m going to expand on #6 and talk a little about the Old Testament.

One of the common attacks against Christians that I hear is that we are hypocrites who cherry-pick Bible verses. Critics claim that we only follow some things from the Old Testament and ignore others. To be honest, it’s true that Christians only adhere to certain principles in the Old Testament, but that doesn’t make them hypocrites; it makes them Christians who understand the Bible in its entirety.

We need to understand that the Old Testament is the Old Covenant (fun fact: the Greek word used, diatheke, can mean “covenant” or “testament”). It describes God’s relationship with His people before Christ the Messiah came.

We can place the laws we see in the Old Testament into three general categories: civil, ceremonial, and moral.

Civil describes the laws of the land. These laws are shared to show what God’s people faced at the time and provides some historical context. Some examples are inheritance laws, divorce laws, and punishments for violations of moral laws. These are not laws we need to follow because they are not laws seen in our society.

Ceremonial laws are the laws that prepared the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah. These include things like avoiding unclean animals and performing sacrifices. These laws no longer need to be followed because the Messiah, our Lord Jesus, has come.

Moral laws are what we need must do to be holy. These laws never change because what is right doesn’t change. Examples include avoiding idolatry, being obedient to God, and avoiding sexual sins.

All these laws are useful for informing us, and they are included in the Bible because they are a truth that God desires to be revealed to us, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we are held to them.

These laws are useful for informing us... but it doesn’t necessarily mean we are held to them. Click To Tweet

Some people question if we are still held to moral laws if Jesus didn’t say anything specifically about it. I will address this in the final post of this series but simply put, Jesus explains that he came to fulfill the law in Matthew 5:17.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.

As Christians, we are bound to follow moral law both because it is unchanging and because Christ commands it. We are not bound to ceremonial law because Jesus established the New Covenant with us as expressed in the New Testament; obeying these laws simply because the Bible says so ignores the context of overall Scripture, specifically, Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are not bound to civil law because they are not the laws of the land we live in (keeping in mind that God’s law always supersedes the law of the land).

It can be challenging to determine where the commands of the Old Testament fit, but we can come to understand these truths through prayer, guidance by the Holy Spirit, and guidance from someone with the appropriate authority (the Church).

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My third and final post will be responding to people who say that Jesus never talked about a specific moral teaching so we aren’t held to it. Check in next week Thursday to read it.

If you’d like to read more about cherry-picking Scripture, I wrote a post about how to respond to non-Christians who cherry-pick what Biblical morality Christians should adhere to and what they should avoid.

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Comments 14

  • […] especially when looking at the Old Testament.  I will explain this in more detail in my post next week based on the different covenants, but a simple answer, for now, is that some things in the Bible […]

  • This was excellent! I love the Old Testament and believe the church often minimizes the importance of reading it and studying it. This is great insight into how to do that properly! Thanks so much!

  • Yes, definitely! It’s like the prequel in your favorite book series. The story worked without it, but having it gives you such a better understanding of the main characters. Not to mention a better idea of how the story got from there to here. There is SO MUCH that we learn about God through the Old Testament that we wouldn’t see otherwise.

  • So important to understand these differences in the laws! Interested to read your third post. It’s probably one that I hear the most from the marginally catechized.

  • I think the most difficult one for all of us to recognize is the moral law… the one that never changes. In today’s society, it’s all fine and dandy to overlook that, or say that things need to be “updated to fit society,” but you are correct – those don’t change, no matter what we’d “like”!

    Thank you for this great insight. Very informative! I look forward to the next post in this series.

    • I agree! That’s one of the reasons I’m grateful for the guidance of the Church.

      Thank you for your kind words. The next post is actually already up. 🙂

  • Never thought of it this way. What we learn from others, amazing. When we went to visit EWTN and we went to see the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, there is Pope John Paul II enter activity place and the Brothers take you around as you see how the Old testament points to the New testament in the Holy Eucharist. It was amazing, it was eye opener!

  • There’s so many passages in the Bible that baffle me, but I have to keep in mind – I’m no Bible scholar, so I don’t know the context. And without that, it’s going to be hard to glean meaning out of it. Always a good opportunity for research!

    • Agreed. I do so much Googling when I find something that I don’t get. I have Trent Horn’s book Hard Sayings​, but haven’t read it yet. I think that will help me a lot.

  • This was such an important read and you explained these three laws so well. I’ve always found the old testament so difficult to understand in so many ways, and I really appreciate people like you, who can offer insight and wisdom. Thank you Kate!

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