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Doctrinal Matters: Bible Interpretation

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All Law, No Love?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

When contrasting the Old Testament with the New Testament, we often hear those in the religious world make statements such as: “The old law was concerned only about man’s actions, whereas the new law emphasizes the heart of man,” or “The Old Testament stressed rules and regulations; the New Testament is all about love,” or “The old law emphasized being pure on the outside; the new law is concerned about the inside.” Statements like these have caused many people to view the Old Testament, and perhaps even the “God of the Old Testament,” as cold, cruel, and unmerciful. But is that really how we should view the first 39 books of the Bible? Was the old law concerned only about the actions of man? Was it oblivious to such concepts as love, mercy, and kindness? Just how are we to understand the Old Testament?

The Old Testament contains numerous laws, and story after story of people breaking these laws and suffering the consequences (e.g., the book of Judges). However, the Bible declares that the Old Testament (and the “God of the Old Testament”) also placed great emphasis on the “heart” of man. Even before the Law of Moses ever was given, we learn that God judged both man’s thoughts and actions. Prior to the Flood He “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, emp. added). It was not only their actions that were evil, but also their thoughts. Once the Law of Moses was given, God revealed to the Israelites that He was still concerned with man’s inner self. Moses commanded them to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6). A few hundred years later when David was about to be anointed King of Israel, the Lord told Samuel that He “does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, emp. added). Then, approximately 700 years before the new law was given, the prophet Isaiah taught that actions apart from a sincere heart are worthless: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men” (Isaiah 29:13).

As one can see, the old law was not as cold and heartless as some theologians would have us believe. In fact, the apostle Paul summed up the Law of Moses with these words:

[L]ove one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law [the law of Moses—EL]. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10, emp. added).

And as if Paul’s summary were not enough, Jesus summed up the old law thusly: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the prophets” (v.12, emp. added). Jesus explained that doing “to others what you would have them do to you” is a summary expression of all that the Old Testament required. The Master Teacher Himself let us know that the Old Law, although unable to take away the sins of man and make him perfect (i.e., Hebrews 10:1,11), was not the cold, cruel law that so many make it out to be. Rather, it was intended to prick both the heart and actions of man.




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