Troublesome Topic: What Carries Over to the New Covenant and What Doesn’t?

Lesson 1 of 7

Today there are several common responses among Christians to what the Hebrews called the Torah. If any of those responses ignores the concept of covenant, it is sure to take us in a direction that is neither helpful nor biblical.

Here are the responses that I consider to be the most common:

1. Some people ignore it, drawing only from the stories of the Old Testament. For them the part of the Bible called the Law has no value except a few stories we can tell our children.

2.  Many people have the idea that we need to obey only the Ten Commandments but not anything else in the Torah. I ask, “Do we even follow the Ten Commandments?” We follow the commandments we like, but ignore the rest. That is why I call them “the Seven Suggestions.”

But what about tithing? Isn’t tithing important? Yes. But it’s not in the ten commandments. So do we need to tithe or don’t we? And what about the things Jesus said about loving our neighbor? The Ten commandments include the part about not killing anyone, but nothing about loving others. Yet Jesus said loving God and loving one another were the most important commandments? If they are so important then why are they not in the Ten Commandments? And If we only follow the Ten Commandments, what do we do with those words of Jesus? Just following the Ten Commandments and ignoring the rest is not a good plan.

3.  Still others treat the books of the Law like a smorgasbord, they choose what they want and leave out what they don’t want. I have heard people say, “we should not eat pork,” but they do eat shrimp. Others tell us we must follow all the rules of what to eat and what not to eat (usually for health reasons), but they ignore other regulations about unclean things. Some teach we need to follow all the stipulations regarding the Sabbath day (applied now to Sunday), but they do not observe the other holy days commanded. I have heard some say that any electronic device with a screen is evil, that could be a camera, a GPS, an ultrasound machine, etc. Some say that men and women alike should never wear any short sleeve shirts, only long sleeve shirts.

These are all examples of people within Christendom. When we pick and choose according to what we think should be carried over from the Old Testament, or start making things up in our heads, we always become very legalistic about things and in so doing we lose sight of the most important truths: Righteousness is of the heart, and God wants close relationships.

If we are to take some of those covenant conditions and apply them literally, then we need to take all of them and apply them uniformly. However, returning to that system of life is not the answer. Under the New Covenant we are simply to apply the same life principles taught by the Former Covenant, without the trappings of stiff regulations.

The Same Principles

In reality both covenants emphasized the same basic principles for living and for drawing closer to God. What we need to do is learn to see the spiritual nuggets of truth that God wanted His people of that day to learn, and apply those nuggets of truth to their lives, not the packaging. The New Covenant keeps the principles taught by the Law but does not keep the teaching method. Sometimes the two cannot possibly be separated and both must be kept. For example, “do not murder” teaches us to respect and value life; it is impossible to respect life and commit murder. Therefore, in this case both the principle (“respect/value life”) and the teaching method (“do not murder”) must be kept. But the laws that make us shake our heads are usually the ones where only the principle carries over to the New Covenant.

Jesus showed us the key principles of the Former Covenant when He said,

Matthew 23:23


Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! For you pay tithe on mint and dill and cumin, yet you have neglected the weightier matters of the law – justice, compassion and faith.

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These it behooved you to do, without neglecting those.


Oh religious leaders who pretend to have it all together, you are in danger of severe judgment! For you have made up ways to look more righteous than everyone else, but meanwhile you have neglected to live out the most important aspects of God’s law – holiness, compassion and faith.

It is necessary for you to do these important things without neglecting the small details.

The Former Covenant was intended to teach faith, holiness and compassion; the New Covenant is intended to impart faith, holiness and compassion.

 Examples of These Key Principles

We are often foggy about what to keep from the Former Covenant and what to let go of. So allow me to spell it out for your with some examples:

Can we dress in clothes that are made of mixed threads? Sure we can. Can we mix the world’s attitudes and way of doing things into our new life in Christ? Absolutely not.

Can we paint the walls of our house with a sealant to cover up a fungal growth that keeps coming back? Yes, we can. Can we try to cover up and hide sin in our lives that will not go away? Obviously not; that is no solution at all.

Can the farmer harvest the corners of his field? Yes, he can. Can that same farmer ignore the struggles of the needy around him? No, he should not.

Do we need to draw close to God by means of sacrifices and the help of a priest? No, that has all been changed. Do we need to deal with the sin issue before proceeding to get closer to God? Absolutely. There remains a proper order of how to draw close to God.

Does a man make a baby with his widowed sister-in-law so his deceased brother’s name will not be lost? No. Is that brother-in-law held responsible before God in some ways for the care of his Sister-in-law? It would appear that God does hold the family responsible; don’t just leave her to make it on her own. Help her in whatever ways you can.

Can you eat shrimp, lobster and pork? Yes, you can. Can you make what is normal for the world the norm for your life as well? No! God makes it clear with numerous, strong admonitions not to live like the sinful world around us, because we now belong to a different kingdom, His kingdom. Jesus did not do away with the principles taught by the dietary laws, but He did set aside the teaching method – the food regulations.

Do we need to perform certain rituals to cleanse ourselves if we touch blood? No we don’t. Do we need to respect all forms of life? Absolutely! God values life and He sees death as something abnormal and unnatural. He expects that we likewise value all life.

Do we need to offer sacrifices for contamination from unclean things? No. Do we need keep in mind the spiritual status of everything around us? Absolutely! Do we need to stay clear of seemingly innocuous things that lead us in small steps away from God? Certainly!

Can we choose to get involved in something that is not sin but takes us one small step in the wrong direction, i.e. away from God? No! This is dangerous and we should avoid it like the plague because it is a plague.

Many other examples could be given.

If I do not cover your specific question in this mobile website, read through the passage yourself and see if you can discern the spiritual principle behind the regulation. That principle will be what you need to apply in your life.

The next lesson in the Full Series on Covenants is: Things the New Covenant Assumes but Does Not State Clearly

The next lesson in the Midsize and Short series on Covenants is: Jesus on Clean and Unclean Foods



Both “faith” and “faithfulness” are possible translations due to the case the Greek noun is found in. However, I strongly prefer to render it here as “faith” because Jesus is laying out those categories which are the “important matters of the law.” Justice and Mercy are distinguishable categories, as is faith, i.e. those things related to our trust in God. But if we translate it “faithfulness” it seems to overlap with the issues of justice as those things we need to be faithful in fulfilling. For the purpose of this study I will continue to cite the three “important matters of the law” as “justice, mercy and faith.”