First Corinthians and the use of the Law in the NT Church

A few weeks ago a person at church asked how we as Christians should treat the Law. One extreme is to ignore it. The other is to try to put Christians under it.

The third option is to see it in light of the New Covenant.

Consider this: we learn about the God we serve through the Law. For instance, nearly half (48%) of occurrences of the Hebrew word for holy, qodesh, occurs in the first five books of the Bible—the Law. Since the primary revealed attribute (not to be confused with saying that He has "greater" or "lesser" attributes) is His holiness, it's instructive that the concentration of OT teaching on holiness comes in the Law.

Further, the command in Leviticus to "be holy" comes on the basis that God is holy (19:2; 20:7). The command is even repeated for NT believers in 1 Peter 1:16.

If holiness is revealed in the Law, then we can discover invaluable truths about holy living in the Law.

The problem is that we are not under the Law (for instance, Rom 6:14; 7:6; Gal 5:18). We are beneficiaries of the New Covenant, the Old having passed away (see Heb 9:15). We have to surmise, at least from this brief evidence, that we do not live holy as believers by placing ourselves under the Old Covenant.

This is true of Gentiles, who were never under the Old Covenant to begin with, and for Jews who lived past the first century and thus past the end of God's honoring of the old system.

This leads to the temptation of some to ignore the Law. We must remember that the books of Moses are inspired Scripture, and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 still exists: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

The purpose for us as NT believers, then, is to see what messages God intended to send through the Law, so that we are obeying the Spirit of the Law rather than placing ourselves under the strict letter of it (see Rom 2:29; 2 Cor 2:6-8).

Someone once explained it to me like this: we look for the eternal principles of the Law so that we can apply to them to our lives.

For instance, in our culture, we don't normally spend time on the roofs of our homes. As such, we don't need to worry with protective walls to ensure personal safety, as Moses commanded (Deut 22:8). Yet, we might see this verse as communicating the need to have a fence around a back-yard swimming pool. Part of holiness is protecting our loved ones and guests within our homes from danger.

~I say all of that so I can share this illustration from the NT~

I was thinking about this issue again because of a verse I found while studying for a recent speaking engagement.

1 Corinthians 5 speaks about the need for the Corinthians to excommunicate a church member who refused to repent of his sin. Paul is not speaking of judging those in the outside world, but a guilty someone within the church who "who bears the name of brother" (v. 11). Paul wraps up the chapter by saying "Purge the evil person from among you" (v. 13).

That last verse is actually a quotation consistent with the Law (Deut. 13:5; 17:7, 12; 21:21; 22:21). Let's look at these verses:
  • 13:5: "[He] shall be put to death... So you shall purge the evil from your midst."
  • 17:7: "...put him to death... So you shall purge the evil from your midst."
  • 17:12: "...that man shall die. So you shall purge the evil from Israel."
  • 21:21: "...stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst..."
Despite these commands, the Corinthians were not under the Mosaic Covenant. This is why Paul never instructs them to follow the Law and stone the adulterous brother, (though that would have been his lot under the Old Covenant—see also Lev. 18:7, 8, 29).

He does instruct them to follow the principle of the Law, however, which is to not allow him to continue in the congregation of believers. Indeed, if there is to be a destruction of the man's flesh, let Satan do it that the man may come to salvation (1 Cor 5:5).

Paul, then, did not instruct them to follow the letter of the Law, but the Spirit of it.

I hope this example helps those wondering about this issue.

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