COMMENTS ABOUT THE OLD
TESTAMENT CEREMONIAL LAW
With a Focus
on the Issue of...
Things that are "Common"
Things that are "Set apart as special"
The Bible uses the idea of "common" in two ways. In a
"positive" sense, the Bible describes the early Christians as having
many things in common. They also shared things, as the need
arose. They were all part of a common bond, since they had all followed the way
The Bible also uses this concept in a "negative" sense, often (not
always) implying something undesirable. For instance, even though God's people
have much in common among themselves, they are not to have
anything in common with the ways of the Devil. Instead, they are to be the
opposite, that is, set apart to God, and to doing what is good. In
other words, they are to be holy.
The need to be holy ("set apart") is taught, symbolically, by many
of the Jewish ceremonial regulations, found in the Old Testament Law.
Unfortunately, the Jewish people often reduced holiness to the following of a
list of man-made (not God-made) regulations, which they
followed instead of God's Law. In both of these situations, whether following
God's Law or man-made rules, the word "common" would carry the
connotation of being unholy, unclean, or impure. But it would be an illegitimate
concept, when it involved the man-made regulations. (Jesus himself strongly
opposed the religious leaders' attempts to judge spirituality based on their
own man-made rules. This is one of the reasons they wanted to kill him.)
This study focuses on the "negative" uses of the word
"common," and is based on two related New Testament Greek words (koinos
- adjective, and koinoo - verb). The places where these words occur in
the outline will be in italics.
The "positive" uses of the word "common" can be found in
a different study entitled, "Fellowship
& Sharing in the Community of Believers."
"COMMON" WITH THE CONNOTATION OF: UNCLEAN, UNHOLY
Used in this sense, being "common" is something to be undesired.
This section of the outline focuses on the use of the word in a way that is
essentially the opposite of "special." It includes ideas
- not cleaned-up (= dirty);
- not prepared for, or devoted
to, a special purpose (= crude, vulgar);
- unclean, unholy, not special.
Within such a context, it would be desirable for a person to be "set
apart (as special)." He would want to be "holy," rather than
"common" (unclean, unholy, etc.).
A. The issue of God's rules vs. man-made rules
- The Jewish ceremonial
regulations (from the Law given to Moses, by God)
In contrast... man-made
- These regulations were
intended to be "examples" or "pictures" to teach
people about holiness and other spiritual matters. The principles which
were being illustrated would be applicable to all of life.
- The Jews were required
to follow these regulations because of the covenant (agreement) they had
made with God, to do so. Under the New Covenant, which Jesus established
by his death and resurrection (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 8:6-13, etc.),
observance of these regulations is no longer necessary (though not
- These regulations were
never intended to be a way of gaining or earning salvation. Nor
were these ceremonial regulations ever intended to replace the spiritual
realities they symbolically taught.
- These regulations go
beyond what God has said. They are additions to God's word - and often
stand in opposition to it. God, however, forbids us to add to, or
subtract from, his Word.
- The Jewish leaders
came-up with their own rules and considered them to be equal to (or
greater than) the ones that came from God. At times, they may have been
invented with good intentions. But in the end, they actually resulted in
nullifying (going against) God's requirements for the people. See Matthew
15:3 and Mark 7:6-8, which mention this.
- As far as the word
"common" is concerned, if the issue involves man-made rules -
human attempts to define or regulate spirituality - there is no
genuine obligation to follow them. In these instances, the supposed
"need" to be set apart (for obeying the rule) is a
false perception, a mere human invention. [If a person wanted (by his own
personal choice) to do what the rule said, and if the rule did not
contradict Scripture, and if the person knew that doing it did not
"enhance" his spiritual condition - then it might be
OK for him to do it.]
B. In reference to "common" food ("ceremonially
unclean" or "not Kosher")
- Romans 14:14 - No food is
inherently (in itself) ceremonially unclean [common]. It is ceremonially
unclean only to those who view it as being unclean. [In
other words, it is not necessarily wrong to eat it. But if you yourself
have chosen - or agreed - to view it as such (as the Jews had, under the
Old Covenant), then it is wrong for you.]
- Acts 10:14, 15; repeated in
Acts 11:8, 9 - Peter: "I have never eaten anything that is unholy
/ impure [common] or not (ceremonially) cleaned." // God:
"What I have made clean, don't call it unholy / impure [common]!"
[In Christ, we are under a new covenant. These regulations are
not a part of that covenant.]
Note that the very same food
could be either forbidden or permissible, depending on the circumstances
surrounding it's use.
- Additional comments:
This event had a significance that went beyond the issue of food.
Under the New Covenant, Peter needed to learn that non-Jews were
no longer to be considered "unclean." [This issue is mentioned
in greater detail, below.]
Note concerning the
- It would be a sin to
eat it under either of these conditions:
- If the person is
under an agreement to not eat it (as were those living under
the Old Covenant ceremonial regulations).
- If eating it would
cause someone else to sin (such as a "weak" person who was in
your presence, and who might be tempted to eat it, even though he considered
it wrong to do so - see: 1 Corinthians 8:13 and its context).
- It would be completely
acceptable for a person to eat it, if both of the following
conditions were true:
- If the person is not
under any such agreement to not eat it (such as non-Jews, and Jews
under the New Covenant), AND if the person is filled with gratitude to
God for it (1 Timothy 4:3-4).
- If both of these
conditions are true, the food would be considered "clean" (in
the sense of Acts 10:15). A person could still choose to not eat
it (such as Jews under the New Covenant - Christian Jews - might choose
to do), but this would be a voluntary decision. Such a person would not
be sinning if he did eat it - as long as doing so did not cause
anyone to sin (as mentioned above).
- Israel's agreement to not eat
"common" (ceremonially unclean) food was made at Mt. Sinai, at the time that God gave
Moses the Law.
- The Law contained
great blessings, which the Jews were eager to have. Yet they often
ignored the fact that with these blessings came responsibilities. Even
when they did fulfill their responsibilities, they tended to do it
superficially, at best, and often for the wrong reasons.
- The people had a
constant tendency to forget the two greatest commands that were given to
- Love for God. (The
Jews often turned to false gods, or distorted the truth about the true
- Love for their
neighbors... which includes those who were often their enemies - the
non-Jews. (The Jews frequently hated the non-Jews, and considered
themselves superior to them.)
- These commands are
more important than all the ceremonial obligations, combined.
(This is the reason for such verses as: 1 Samuel 15:22 and Psalm
51:16-17.) In fact, these two commands are obligations that belong to
every person, whether Jew or non-Jew.
C. In reference to "common" hands (not ceremonially
- Mark 7:2, 5 - The disciples
were eating food with unclean [common] hands - that is, not
ceremonially washed. // They were condemned by the religious leaders
because they were eating food with unclean [common] hands.
- Additional comments:
This involved one of the religions leaders' man-made rules, rather than
the commands of God. Jesus condemned the religious leaders for their
hypocrisy, for they condemned the disciples for not following man-made
regulations, while they themselves were violating God-made regulations.
See the context that follows these verses, in Mark 7.
D. In reference to "common" people (those who were not
"set apart" to God)
- Used to describe
non-Jews, a view based on the Old Testament ceremonial law. (The
following verse stresses the fact that, under the New Covenant, this
distinction would no longer be important.)
Used to describe people
who are not qualified to enter God's presence. They are
"common" (unholy) rather than "set apart" for God.
- Acts 10:28 -
[Referring to non-Jews] God says we are not to treat non-Jews as
unholy / impure [common] or not clean. [Application of what God
told Peter in v. 15. We are now under the New Covenant. Our lives are no
longer regulated by the ceremonial regulations of the Old Covenant. We
have a different focus, for in Christ, these distinctions (Jew vs.
non-Jew) have no spiritual value.]
- Additional Comments:
- The Jews were
"set apart" from other nations, because the true God had
revealed himself to them. (This was not because of their own
righteousness - which rarely existed - but because of promises God had
made to their ancestors, who had trusted him.) The people of other
nations - who, for the most part, worshiped false gods - would be
described as "common" or "not set apart."
- The Jews were to
maintain a distinction between what was holy and what was
"common" (not "set apart"). They were to make sure
that they did not follow the ways of the pagan nations that surrounded
them. They failed to do this, however, and were led into many horrible
idolatrous practices. In the end, God had to replace their blessings
- All the
"external" rituals - and even the activities of their daily
lives - were intended to symbolically represent "internal"
spiritual realities. But the Jews (as a group - there were individual
exceptions) reduced these actions to mere rituals, and ignored their
spiritual significance. In their hearts, they were no better than their
godless (idolatrous) neighbors - though often they acted as though they
were superior to them. They rejected the ways of God... and God has
rejected them - at least for the present time (Romans 11).
- Through Christ, the
spiritual realities, which the majority of the Jews rejected, are now
freely available to non-Jews. And so, those who were once
"common" (not set apart to God) can now become
"clean" and holy. Through Christ, the symbolic rituals, which
belonged to the Jews, are no longer the focus. Rather, the spiritual
realities become the focus, and the distinctions based on the symbols
are done away with. In Christ, we are all one - all of us in which the
spiritual reality has taken effect.
- THE SYMBOL: With
reference to ceremonial "uncleanness" (part of the
Jewish ceremonial law).
- Hebrews 9:13 - The
blood/ashes sprinkled on those who were ceremonially unclean [common]...
made them ceremonially clean.
- THE REALITY: With
reference to spiritual "uncleanness" (and its absence
from the "Heavenly Jerusalem," from God's presence.)
- Revelation 21:27 -
Nothing (no person) impure/unclean [common] will enter the
E. In reference to "common" blood (= profane/unclean/of
no value): Jesus' blood (= the blood which made the New Covenant a reality) was
wrongly considered, by some, as being of no value.
- Hebrews 10:29 - The person
who treats it as unholy [as common, of no special significance]
will be severely punished by God.
F. THE SPIRITUAL REALITY: Jesus focuses on the real source of
"uncleanness" (etc.) - it does not revolve around physical rituals,
but is related to the nature of the heart.
- Matthew 15:11, 18, 20; Mark
7:15, 18, 20, 23 - All these verses have a similar focus: It's not what
enters a person's mouth (food) that makes him unclean/defiled. Rather,
it is what comes out of the mouth - the expressions of the heart - that
make him unclean/defiled. [See the context of these verses, for a
listing of some of the sins that come from the heart.]
- Additional Comments:
The religious leaders were focused on the issue of being ceremonially
clean. Yet they themselves had distorted this concept and had replaced
God's requirements with those of their own invention. They also focused
on "external" actions, while ignoring "internal"
spiritual realities. (See Mark 7:2, 5 - verses mentioned above, in
Section C.) The verses in this section show the real reasons
that people should be condemned as sinners: it involves matters of the
heart, not of the stomach!
Hinks © 1987, 2000