I am having trouble understanding how the Old Testament Law coexists with the New Testament. For example, did Jesus believe it was wrong to eat pork (and other foods), and did He support the idea of capital punishment? It seems that Jesus' message is about not getting hung up on what you eat and that we should forgive versus capital punishment. I realize that in regards to the food issues, He was implying that other things are more important. But isn't the old law about food still valid and would not Jesus have given the okay for someone to be killed for their sins as written in the Old Testament?
Your question is a very important one. But before we look at the answer, we need to ask, “When can we ignore a command from God?” The answer is, “When He changes the command.” He is the only One who can change the command. When we come to the New Testament, we find that God has replaced most but not all of the Old Testament laws.
What Laws Changed?
The Mosaic Law, also called the Old Covenant, was replaced by Jesus Christ with the New Covenant. The Mosaic Law includes all of the rules about the sacrifices, priests, temple, tabernacle, food, capital punishment, and how to handle disease. Then after Jesus died, God replaced the Old Covenant with a new one called the New Covenant. He eliminated all of the old rules. In Hebrews 8, God says that the Old Covenant or Mosaic Law was going to be replaced. The Old Covenant was going away or growing old and it was ready to vanish.
. . . there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But now [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant . . .” says the LORD. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people . . . In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (NKJV) Hebrews 8:4-13
The Old Covenant was all of the rules and ordinances of sacrifice, priests, and many other things.
Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. (NKJV) Hebrews 9:1
But after Jesus’ death and return to life, a new covenant replaced the old one and those old laws disappeared.
Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the law) . . . He takes away the first that He may establish the second . . . we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God . . . (NKJV) Hebrews 10:8-12
. . . to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant . . . (NKJV) Hebrews 12:24
But God “brought back” some of those rules from the Old Covenant. Both the Old and New Covenants told us that we should love God with all our hearts (Deut. 6:5 and Matt. 22:37). Both covenants repeat the Ten Commandments except for keeping the Sabbath.
The Old Testament dietary laws were given by God to the nation of Israel for two reasons. Those who are interested the Mosaic dietary laws are listed in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. The only reason given in the Old Testament for the dietary laws was to separate the Israelites from the nations around them.
You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; and you shall not make yourselves detestable by animal or by bird or by anything that creeps on the ground, which I have separated for you as unclean. Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine. (NASB) Leviticus 20:25-26
But there is also another important reason. The laws helped to minimize the spread of disease. There is a fascinating book written about the benefits of these dietary laws entitled “None of These Diseases.” Here is a quote from this book.
When God led the Israelites out of afflicted Egypt, He promised them that if they would obey His statues, He would put “None of these diseases” upon them. God guaranteed a freedom from disease . . .
McMillen, S. I. M.D., None of These Diseases. Spire Books. 1973.
The Mosaic dietary laws provided that great freedom. The Israelites did not see the level of disease the Egyptians had experienced. After Jesus death, return to physical life, and return to heaven the Mosaic dietary laws were revoked. They were no longer needed because 1) God was putting both Jews and Gentiles together into something we call the church, and 2) the sanitary practices were now personal choice.
But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. (NASB) 1 Corinthians 8:8
If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” . . . These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (NASB) Colossians 2:20-23
Notice that there are no longer any rules against what we can eat. Earlier, the apostle Peter had been told that he could eat anything. There is a previous question which discusses Peter’s experience. However, we should add that this does not mean we can drink poison nor can we be gluttons. The dietary laws were made obsolete by the New Covenant, but God had to speak to Peter in a dream before he would accept the fact that there was a change.
Capital punishment is God’s rule. It has never been replaced and it is still in force today. Yes, the Old Covenant was replaced. but God restated it in the New Testament. Therefore, capital punishment is in effect today. Capital punishment for murder is still in effect today, but capital punishment for adultery is not (John 8:1-11). Capital punishment is the responsibility of the government according to Romans 13:1-4. Capital punishment only reduces criminal behavior when it is enforced, it reduces crime by removing criminals from this present life and by serving as a strong warning to others. The present practice in many countries is to tolerate crime and criminals. This was not God’s design. Evil is being tolerated.
Only some of the Old Testament laws apply today. Many have been canceled, but some have been retained. Most of those which were canceled deal with the Mosaic Law such as the dietary laws, the sacrificial system, keeping of the Sabbath on Saturday, and the priesthood. God has established some new ones while keeping some of the old ones. Saturday worship has been replaced with worship on Sunday. The priesthood has been replaced with elders in the church. The greatest change is Jesus, the perfect, sinless sacrifice who abolished the animal sacrifices which never took away our sins. Salvation comes only by faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing else is important for our salvation.
By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time . . . For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified . . . Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. (NASB) Hebrews 10:10-14, 18