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Christian ethics do not ignore Old Testament ethics. Within the Old Testament are found the foundation stones of Christian ethics. It needs to be remembered that there is both continuity and discontinuity between what we find in the OT and the NT. Some principles of behaviour from the OT persist while others do not. The basic matters regarding relationships between man and God and man and man do not change.

The Decalogue (Ten Commandments, cf. Exodus 20) lays down basic rules which are meant to deal with both attitudes and conduct. It is only in the NT that these are developed further in terms of motivation and the basic thoughts behind outward acts (cf. The Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5- 7).

We should see the OT teaching on behaviour as introductory and as establishing lasting principles. In order not to get confused, any study of the Old Testament should recognise the difference between ritual, ceremonial and absolute unchanging principles. In other words, rules about ritual washings, planting of various kinds of plants in the same field, etc., should never be considered on the same level as rules regarding man's obligations to his God and man's obligations to his fellow man. (Exodus 20:3, 13-16)

The difficult sayings of the OT which have to do with the command to destroy rebellious peoples should be seen in the light of God' s purity and his willingness to take what we perceive as extreme measures to keep his 'chosen people' from being compromised by their association with evil (Deut 7:2-6). Intermarriage and agreements with the godless nations would have resulted in the loss of a national identity as 'the people of God' (Exodus 23: 32,33). There are lessons to be learned here for the Christian. Often he has become so identified with the world in which he lives that he is swallowed up by its way of thinking and its behaviour, to the extent that there is no longer any apparent difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.

Much of what we understand (or misunderstand) as sanctification/separation should be viewed in the light of the calls upon Israel to be different. Not just for the sake of being different, but so that it would not be confused with the ways of the ungodly who did not know Jehovah (Yahweh).

This is at the heart of what we should understand by holiness (Lev 19: 2, 20-26) Separation in the OT ethic is separation from a whole way of life, but at the same time separation to God and his service of God. Yet it is also separation to the service of mankind. Judaism insists on the vital link between religion and ethical conduct. It was not possible to be a good Jew unless you were a good person. This meant loving God and being good to your fellow man.

Index to the topic

Christian Ethics are Revelational
Biblical Ethics
Old Testament Ethics
New Testament Ethics
   A Trinitarian Ethic
   A Christ-centred Ethic
   An Ethic of freedom
   An Ethic of love
   An Ethic of the Holy Spirit
   An Ethic of expectation

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