OBST591-D17 Old Testament Orientation I
Dr. Doug Wilson
November 14, 2010
J. Daniel Hays is the Dean of the Pruet School of Christian Studies and professor of Old
Testament at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He is the author of nine
books including From Every People and Nation and others on Old Testament theology and
history. His article “Applying the Old Testament Law Today” appeared in Bibliotheca Sacra
158 in 2001. He started his professional life as an engineer and worked as a water expert and
missionary to Ethiopia. He is a graduate of both the Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwest
Theological Seminary. He has been on the staff of OBU since 1992.1
How Christians Should Use Old Testament Law
Hays clearly summarizes the traditional approach to Old Testament Law used by most
Christians and evangelical scholars. His separations of the law into moral, civil and ceremonial
categories is not a summary I have seen before but is easy to understand and captures what I
have observed and read of how to apply Old Testament Law to current life. He rejects this
approach because the distinctions are arbitrary and fail to take into account the narrative of the
Old Testament in which the law was presented. He also makes a strong case that this traditional
approach fails to take into account the theological context of the Old Testament.
He suggests the use of Principlism, an approach that applies Old Testament Law to
everyday, modern life using what he presents as a sound hermeneutical method that overcomes
the weaknesses of the traditional approach. He presents five criteria for this approach then breaks
the approach into five steps. Within the five steps of the approach are considerations for making
a connection between the initial audience and the historical and literary context that existed at the
1Ouachita Baptist University Website <http://www.obu.edu/christianstudies/hays.asp (accessed November 10, 2010)
original time to the audience of believers today. His approach also allows for the development
of universal principles from the original text that have application to today’s believers. His
approach requires that the principles developed be consistent with New Testament teachings.
In his connections of original audiences to current audiences is the strength of his
approach. The deeper our understanding of the historical and literary context that existed at the
time of the Old Testament writing, the better our understanding of how to apply it to todays
world. It is very easy to just apply the Ten Commandments as they are presented. In reality,
under the New Covenant of Christ, we are not bound to them literally but to the intention they
presented in the original context. Under the New Covenant, we are actually obligated to more
than the straight forward meaning of the original ten! Just thinking about adultery is the same as
committing it under New Testament/New Covenant Law! Christ challenged and charged us all
to take obedience to God a step further.
This is also the foundation for the weakness of his approach. There is great comfort and
stability in the Ten Commandments taught in Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools
around the world. An attempt to develop more fully the connection between them and the
teaching of Jesus in the New Testament runs the risk of seeming to under-value the original.
That is certainly not the writer’s intent, but could be an outcome of his approach. The traditional
approach is just that, traditional. There is great strength in the foundations laid for us in this
traditional approach. Attempting to alter modern Christian’s perceptions of these laws is well
intentioned but should be very carefully approached outside of a theological setting. Keeping the
Old Testament in mind as the heartbeat of God is vital to our understanding of how he wants us
to live today. Interpretation of Old Testament Law into modern application must respect the
This article greatly expanded my thinking on this subject. I had not before categorized
Old Testament Law into the traditional method presented. I accept that the traditional method
may not be the best while at the same time remain unconvinced that Principlism is the best
approach. While Hays makes a strong case that the traditional approach can be arbitrary and
disconnected from the original narrative, an equal number of judgments must be made within the
steps of Principlism. It may be that the best approach is dependent on the maturity of the
believer. While the traditional approach is not theologically correct in the ways described,
Principlism requires a different level of spiritual maturity to truly grasp and apply the New
Reconciling New Testament Teachings of Old Testament Law
How do we reconcile the idea that Christians today are not obligated to Old Testament
Law because of Jesus’s creation of the New Covenant? That question brings the Hays article to
life for me! From Matthew 5:17, Jesus, in his own words, came to fulfill the law, not abolish it,2
and he did! Fulfill is used in the Bible 42 times in the form Jesus used.3 It is always used to
support the meaning of rendering something full and complete. Jesus’s New Covenant did just
that. He took the Law to a new level. The commandment on adultery went from action to
intention. The commandment on the Sabbath went from a list of legalistic actions to the intent of
the heart. Old Testament Law is direct to action. The New Testament Law expands from
actions as observed by others to also the heart known only to each person. This parallels the
expansion of God on Earth in the form of Jesus.
2New American Standard Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 1368.
Strongs=G4137&t=NASB>, (accessed November 10, 2010)
The Old Testament Law was to govern action to help live a life that would fulfill the
purpose of the Law as outlined in this week’s video presentations. It allowed Israel to express
their salvation from God in their actions, living as examples to others among them and other
peoples of how to live with and please a holy God. It allowed their missionary presence to other
peoples they encountered as well as to each other.
Jesus took the Old Testament law to the next level. The components and purpose of the
law are still the same, but now are alive in our faith and the “newness of the spirit and not in
(the) oldness of the law”4. I see no real conflict between old and new. They complete each
Using Principlism in My Life
Let’s apply Principlism to Leviticus 26:1-11. In this passage, the blessings of obedience
are spelled out to Israel. If they obey God as described, God will honor Mosaic covenant with
them and bless their lives, from insuring they have successful crops and enough to eat to helping
them defeat their enemies. They were at the foot of Mt. Sinai as Moses delivered the messages
of Leviticus to them.5 This would have been one of the messages outlining their path to the
blessings they sought by escaping from Egypt.
The difference between the initial audience and today’s believers is that this message is
not new to us as it was to many of them. We have heard the message of Jesus’s blessings if we
have faith and believe. To the initial audience, their blessings would have appeared more
immediate and tangible. Today’s believer, while desiring the life blessings of a faith based walk
with Jesus is focused as well on the eternal rewards. The children of Israel were focused on
4New American Standard Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 1672.
5New American Standard Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 152.
more immediate physical needs that we are today.
The universal message of the text is that a life following God’s life will be one filled with
God’s blessings. This message follows the overall theme of Leviticus and the theology of the
Pentateuch as well as being timeless. It is not culturally bound to any one group of people but
applicable to all that hear it. While Israel had been brought out of Egypt, we’ve been brought out
of a life with a nature of sin. The broad principle of following God and being blessed is needed
by everyone who can hear it.
This application of “obey and receive” ties to many teachings of Christ in the New
Testament. In the Beatitudes, the list of “blessed”6 actions and attitudes are plainly presented
and taught by Jesus himself to his disciples on the side of a mountain. If you are gentle, you will
inherit the Earth. If you are pure in heart, you will see God. In Leviticus, if you follow God’s
statutes, he will give you rain for your crops.7 Some would say that the Old Testament version is
literal and the New Testament version is figurative, but I see no evidence that Jesus was not
The application of this Old Testament scripture is plain. Obey God’s laws and he will
give you his blessings. It relates seamlessly to many New Testament passages. I believe it can
be taken literally as can the teaching of Jesus. The difference is that now our sins are covered by
Christ’s blood and we are under his New Covenant, fulfilling but not replacing the Mosaic
Covenant and Old Testament Law.
6New American Standard Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 1367.
7New American Standard Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 190.
This article is insightful and puts into perspective the current/traditional thinking about
Old Testament Law. Most Christians embrace the outline of his traditional concept without
realizing it. Hays also plainly shows a path to correctly applying the old law to the current
world. Our challenge is doing so in a way that respects, honors and fears the Old Testament Law
as applied to New Testament/New Covenant Christianity. Jesus came not to abolish the old law
but to bring it to life in a new and deeper way. He built upon the foundation laid by Moses and
Israel’s experiences. This article is a great example of why I am in this class, to stretch and
strengthen my Old Testament understanding.
BlueLetterBible Internet Lexicon, <http:www.blueletterbible.ort>
Hayes, J. Daniel, “Applying the Old Testament Law Today”, Bibliotheca Sacra, 2000
New American Standard Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006
Ouchita Baptist University Website, <http:www.obu.edu>