Title: On Beard Trimming, Cattle Breeding, and Bloody Meat: An Evangelical Approach to Preaching Old Testament Law
Abstract: Few passages puzzle Christian interpreters and preachers more than legal texts in the Old Testament. As Allen Ross noted, “One of the most difficult problems of biblical interpretation is knowing how to interpret and apply the law in the church. No one has it all figured out because the debates continue, as they have since the early church” (Ross, Holiness to the Lord, 58). While some laws seem relevant at first glance, others seem completely foreign to contemporary preachers. Leviticus 19, for example, contains laws which regulate cattle breeding, forbid the consumption of bloody meat, and govern the practice of beard trimming. What should the preacher make of these commands? One temptation is to write off the laws as antiquated and non-binding for Christians today. Yet the chapter also includes a charge to be holy, which is cited by Peter in 1 Peter 1:16, and a command to love one’s neighbor, which is cited by Jesus in Matthew 22:39. Clearly some of the commands in Leviticus 19 are relevant for Christians today. So how does the modern preacher proclaim truths derived from Old Testament law when many of the laws seem to address specific cultural issues and could be considered temporary given their location in redemptive history? Building on Ross’ distinction between the regulatory and revelatory aspects of the law and Christ’s fulfillment of the law, this paper will attempt to provide a model for preaching Old Testament law in Christian worship today.
The first section introduces the difficulty of preaching Old Testament law. David Dorsey claimed, “One of the most controversial theological issues among Christian scholars, and one that has troubled the Church throughout its history, is the question of the applicability of the OT law to the NT Christian” (Dorsey, “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise,” 321). The reasons for this controversy and difficulty will be outlined in this section. The second section summarizes the various approaches to interpreting Old Testament law. Various interpretive solutions have been proposed to resolve the difficulty of understanding the various legal texts in the Old Testament. This section will identify the proposed solutions and provide a brief description of each one. The third section argues for the abiding value of the Old Testament law in Christian worship. While some laws seem bizarre to modern readers, the revelatory nature of Old Testament laws, the Christological fulfillment of Old Testament laws, and the moral instruction in Old Testament laws renders these laws spiritually beneficial for contemporary Christians. The final section provides a homiletical model for preaching Old Testament law and includes a sample sermon brief from Leviticus 19 demonstrating how preachers might utilize the model to develop faithful Christian sermons from legal passages in the Old Testament.