Post Author: Bill Pratt
No, it wasn’t. Not only does the New Testament book of Hebrews make clear that it was temporary, but the Old Testament itself promises a new covenant in Jer. 31 and Ezek. 36. Should we completely ignore the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament where the Law is found, as hopelessly irrelevant for Christians today?
Not exactly. The Torah does contain timeless commands that reflect God’s nature, but it also contains temporary laws that are directed at a deeply sinful people living in a flawed culture during a specific period of time in history.
Philosopher Paul Copan describes the situation in his book Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God:
When we journey back over the millennia into the ancient Near East, we enter a world that is foreign to us in many ways. Life in the ancient Near East wouldn’t just be alien to us – with all of its strange ways and assumptions. We would see a culture whose social structures were badly damaged by the fall. Within this context, God raised up a covenant nation and gave the people laws to live by; he helped to create a culture for them. In doing so, he adapted his ideals to a people whose attitudes and actions were influenced by deeply flawed structures.
At the beginning of the Torah, God lays down the ideals for mankind in Gen. 1 and 2. According to Copan, those first two chapters “make clear that all humans are God’s image-bearers; they have dignity, worth, and moral responsibility. And God’s ideal for marriage is a one-flesh monogamous union between husband and wife.” But the subsequent historical narrative, as recorded in the remainder of Genesis, and then Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, is characterized by humanity’s precipitous fall into moral degeneracy.
How did God choose to move Abraham and his flawed descendants in the right direction? After all, they had moved far away from the ideals laid down by God in the Garden. We find in the Torah that God decided to meet them where they were, to accommodate imperfect, human-created social structures in order to move his people in the right moral direction. Thus, the Mosaic Law (starting in Ex. 20) ends up being focused on a specific people living at a specific time.
Copan elaborates on God’s plans:
We know that many products on the market have a built-in, planned obsolescence. They’re designed for the short-term; they’re not intended to be long-lasting and permanent. The same goes for the the law of Moses: it was never intended to be enduring. It looked forward to a new covenant (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36).
Copan quotes biblical scholar N. T. Wright: “The Torah is given for a specific period of time, and is then set aside – not because it was a bad thing now happily abolished, but because it was a good thing whose purpose had now been accomplished.”