This important question gets to the heart of the relationship between law and covenant. Many Christians dislike (what they consider to be) the "harshness" and detailed nature of YHWH's judicial law revealed to Moses. These Christians adopt a theological position which essentially conflates the concepts of law and covenant. They will assert either:
- that the concepts "law" and "covenant" are identical, or
- that they are ontologically inseparable
By adopting this conceptual conflation, these Christians believe they have an argument that denies the binding nature of YHWH's judicial laws in the New Covenant. They reason: if all of these laws were covenantally-bound, then -- unless the laws/penalties were explicitly restated in the New Covenant -- they have been abolished along with the defunct Sinai Covenant.
However, this argument based upon conflation fails, because it leads to a contradiction with Jesus' own words. Here's why.
- Some of God's laws can exist ontologically separately from (meaning that their existence is not bound to) a covenant, or
- None of God's laws can exist ontologically separately from a covenant.
If you assert #2 above (thus conflating law and covenant), then you are going to have trouble explaining why Jesus said "Do not think that I came to abolish the law ... I did not come to abolish [the Law]" (Matt. 5:17)
Jesus was talking about "the Law" of God in place at the time. Any theology which asserts that Jesus abolished the Law that he himself was living under, and obedient to, is going to contradict Jesus on this point.
Yet we know that Jesus abolished the Sinai Covenant. That is evident from Hebrews 8:13, combined with the historical fact of the God-ordained destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.
If Jesus abolished the Sinai Covenant, and no part of God's law (the law Jesus was talking about in Matt. 5:17) could exist apart from a covenant (the assertion in #2 above), then Jesus must have abolished the whole law along with the Sinai Covenant.
But Jesus explicitly said that he didn't come to abolish the law.
Therefore, it must be within God's power and authority both to create and enforce laws apart from a covenant. The moral laws (including many of the judicial laws) are exactly these laws. They are not covenantally-bound.
YHWH enforced his law against all the wicked men at the time of Noah. YHWH enforced his law against Sodom and Gomorrah. He enforced his law against the Amorites and Canaanites. He was about to enforce his law against the Ninevites when he sent Jonah to them.
If you hold to a theology that claims YHWH is not allowed to enforce his laws apart from a covenant, then please answer these questions and provide the scripture reference showing the covenant:
- What covenant was being enforced against the wicked men destroyed in the Flood?
- What covenant was being enforced against the Ninevites when Jonah was sent to them?
- What covenant was being enforced against Sodom and Gomorrah when YHWH brought destruction upon them?
- What covenant was being enforced against the Amorites and Canaanites (Lev. 18, Lev. 20)?