How do we handle the law today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
This is not an easy topic as thousands of pages have been written on the topic of the role of the law in the life of the Christian. Much of the epistles in the New Testament is all about this problem really as Paul and others have to quote the Old Testament often to establish their points. Jesus Himself in the Gospels had to explain how the Old Testament was being misunderstood so it is not a shock that we today can struggle with it at times.
For instance, we have all these rules on sexuality, but then we have rules on not eating shrimp. What’s going on with that? Shrimp is an abomination and so are two men sleeping together. Why do we forbid the latter and yet happily go to a place like Red Lobster and dine our hearts out?
As I’ve said, I should not be expected to be the final word and answer all questions, but I do want to give some general guidelines.
First, we must always remember that the Law was given to Jews in a specific time and a specific place. The Law was never given to the church in the sense that God directly covenanted with the church through the Law. The covenant with the church is done through Jesus.
However, this does not mean that we dispense with the Law entirely. Paul tells us in the New Testament that everything that was written was written for our benefit. Even if we are not bound by it, we can still learn from it.
Second, the Law often had meanings behind the surface level. Paul uses this in 1 Cor. 9 where he quotes about not muzzling an ox while it’s treading the grain. God’s principle concern is not with the ox, but with the idea that one who works should get to partake in some fruit of the work.
Let’s consider another idea. What about building something on the roof of your house to serve as a barrier? In this case, this was done because the roof was often treated as a separate room and people would regularly go up there. You build a barrier to make sure no one falls off and suffers injury or death. We don’t do this today because we don’t use our roofs this way, but if you have an apartment complex with a balcony of some sort, there will be a barrier to prevent falling.
So what about mixed fabrics and clean and unclean animals? The animals could be because some of them contained a mixture of different locales in that they were creatures of earth and water or water and air or air and earth. We might not know the reason entirely, but they did. Mixed fabrics were to avoid a similar mixture and remind the Israelites of purity. We are to take this as having moral purity.
Third, most all of us follow the Law to some extent. Last I saw, many atheists are not going out and championing murder since the Bible says “Do not murder.”You can be an atheist and think the idea of “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a beautiful command and should be followed, but it comes right between Leviticus 18 and 20 with its sexual rules. Atheists accusing Christians of picking and choosing can be just as guilty. Both sides can easily use prooftexts for their own benefit.
Fourth, we can see how the New Testament handles this. While John 8 with the woman caught in adultery was not likely written by the author of John, I do think it shows a real event in the life of Jesus. In it, Jesus never questions the statement of the law that an adulterous woman should be stoned, but he does say that if you want to play that game, how many of you deserve a punishment as well?
In 1 Cor. 5, we have a man sleeping with his stepmother. The couple could have had a similar punishment, but this time Paul says to remove the man from the church. It’s worth noting in that day the man could not just go down the block to another church. The exclusion was to make him come to his senses.
Paul as a good Pharisee knows the law, but while he still upholds that sleeping with your stepmther is wrong, he doesn’t uphold the punishment of the Old Testament. It’s not because he’s opposed to the Old Testament. It’s because he sees things through the lens of Christ now instead.
Several times in the epistles, homosexual practice and sex outside of marriage is condemned. There’s no hint that these have changed. Yes. I have read some of the revisionists trying to say otherwise and I just find their cases extremely weak.
Let’s also return to Leviticus 18. In the final section, God tells the people that for these kinds of practices, the people are being driven out. This means that they should have known better.
In the same way, in Romans 1, Paul speaks about general revelation and says “Because of that, people should have known idolatry was wrong.” Why? Looking at the universe, you should be able to tell that it was made by something greater than something like an animal.
After a vertical error, he then moves to a horizontal one. Just like people got the nature of God wrong, they got the nature of God wrong and same-sex relations were his prime example. We should be able to look and tell that male and female go together and no other combination does.
These are just some general guidelines. Does this answer everything? Of course not. There are many books on these subjects. For homosexuality in particular, I recommend Robert Gagnon and books where he does take part in a counterpoint discussion are some of the best.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)