Here’s a small essay written in response to a question in my seminary class on the Old Testament.
Christianity stands in direct connection with the covenants between God and humanity. Accordingly, Christians must study the history of God’s relationship with man and the principles He has communicated.
The Abrahamic Covenant became an unconditional promise of God’s ultimate fulfillment of His promises to Abraham and his descendents. The Mosaic Law was a complement to the Abrahamic Covenant in that while the Abrahamic Covenant ensured a relationship between God and the Israelites, the Mosaic Law provided the route to the present enjoyment of that relationship. The Law was not a route to salvation, which instead was strictly based on faith, but was a grant of access to the immediate provision of God’s grace and blessings. The Law provided the specific details of how the Covenant would best operate amongst the Israelites, and it was specific to their particular covenant with God. The Law also served as the most efficient tool by which the Israelites would serve as a missionary presence amongst humanity by calling the Israelites to adhere to a very different set of life functions and principles.
The law displayed God meeting the Israelites at their level and raising them up to a reasonably higher degree. The law gave their relationship with God a depth and substance. They could learn through the implementation of the law to recognize and fear God’s holiness and moral perfection. The law demanded of them that their relationship with God be exclusive. They had to meet God on His terms and worship Him properly without engaging in the degradation present in pagan forms of worship. The law demanded that they live in sexual and moral purity. Through the law God taught them elements of true justice which could be implemented in practical ways, and similarly God taught them practical methods and sound principles for caring for the poor and the needy. The Mosaic Law was specific both in its provision of practical details and in its application within the context of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Christians do not operate under the Abrahamic Covenant, although it holds profound impact in our understanding of God. Our relationship with God is made in new terms through His provision of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, we are not under the Mosaic law. Romans 6:14 makes this clear in that we “are not under law but under grace” (NKJV) and Hebrews 7:12 refers to a “change of the law”. The law remains relevant for us, however. In Christ we are given a “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25) and we are to “establish the law” of Christ (Romans 3:31). Rather than pulling a detailed set of casuistic laws from the Mosaic Covenant, we are to implemant Godly behavior in our lives through principles of His morality.
The gleaning of principles from the Mosaic Law which can and should then be applied to modern life can best be accomplished through the methodology of principalism. This methodology is consistent in its consideration of the Bible, does not depend on arbitrary extra-biblical determinations, reflects the literary and historical contexts of the Bible, is highly conscious of the theological context of the Bible, and corresponds with New Testament teachings.
Principalism consists of five key steps. The meaning of the Old Testament law must be identified as understood by the initial audience. The initial audience must be differentiated from modern believers. Universal principles should be drawn from the text. Universal principles are understood to be reflected directly in the text, timeless in their nature, systematically compatible with biblical theology, not culturally based, and relevant to both Old Testament and New Testament readers. Those universal principles should then be correlated with New Testament teaching. The universal principles are thus modified in such a manner that they can be applied to modern life.