A friend told me that if I keep the Sabbath then I must also keep all 613 laws of the Old Testament. Is this true? I didn’t know there were that many.
The Talmud lists the number of laws at 613, although that total is disputed. The laws of the Old Testament were the constitution of Israel as a theocracy or nation under a religious government headed by Yahweh. We today are under a nonreligious Roman system and therefore many of the Old Testament governmental laws are impossible to keep today. Many laws are also to regulate a worship system centered in the Temple, which doesn’t exist today and therefore we are unable to perform them. But the majority of those “613” laws are moral/spiritual in nature and are incumbent on us, such as: not to bear a grudge (Lev. 19:18); not to wrong any one in speech (Lev. 25:17); not to curse a father or mother (Ex. 21:17); and to carry out whatever one has said one would do (Deut. 23:23). And of course there are the Ten Commandments. These kinds of ordinances apply to everyone’s personal behavior and are meant to mold us into the image of Jesus the Messiah (Deut. 28:9).
Many laws were given to Israel for their particular place and time and which have been usurped by the governments in power today. These include: to appoint judges and officers in every community of Israel (Deut. 16:18); not to execute one guilty of a capital offense before he has stood his trial (Num. 35:12); not to sell a field in the land of Israel in perpetuity (Lev. 25:23); never to settle in the land of Egypt (Deut. 17:16); not to allow a witch to live, Exodus 22:18. These kinds of laws are governmental or judicial and are out of the personal jurisdiction of today’s believer.
Then there are laws specific to men and women that are not intended for the other gender.
We find laws regarding the priesthood and temple worship, which are impossible to observe today or that were changed with Jesus’s sacrifice and role as our High Priest. Such laws include: not to tear the High Priest’s robe (Ex. 28:32); a person with a physical blemish shall not serve in the Sanctuary (Lev. 21:23); to carry out the ordinance of the red heifer so that its ashes will always be available (Num. 19:9); and all the laws regulating animal sacrifice.
Certain laws are for health and cleanliness, such as: the leper shall shave all his hair (Lev. 14:9); a woman’s running issue of blood defiles (Lev. 15:25-27); to have a place outside the camp for sanitary purposes (Deut. 23:13).
Other laws are for safety and are specific to a historical time, like to make a parapet (perimeter fence) on your roof because a person’s roof was a living space in Israel (Deut. 22:8);
A general guideline is, if the laws deal with our worship as defined in the New Testament, and if they are moral/spiritual laws of behavior and decency, they must be observed just as Jesus and His followers observed them in the New Covenant.
However the bottom line is that keeping the law does not equal Salvation. Salvation is by faith alone. But obedience to God necessitates a person follow the laws as best they can. The Grace that is taught is not a license to sin.