I had a short discussion with another blogger here on WordPress about keeping the OT law. In her post called Tough Questions, she was struggling with what aspects of the law to keep, and what to not take literally:
However, to take the bible at face value is something I think we can all agree isn’t possible. We aren’t going to stone each other and we don’t sacrifice animals and take eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth. …Facts are, we’ve relaxed the bulk of the mandates found in both the old and the new testaments.
As I contemplated this paragraph, instantly I knew that it is not only possible but necessary to take the bible at face value, but only in light of the whole of scripture. One of my former pastors loved to say in his bible classes: “A text without a context is a pretext.” How shall I take the bible at face value? From my growth in Christ as a saint of God, I believe that “hermeneutics” (the theory of text interpretation) is the key to the answer. Jesus did it, the apostolic fathers did it, and so must I.
Sure enough, God decided by divine appointment for me to read Exodus 35 this morning, where it says in the first couple of verses:
Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: 2 “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3 You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.”
So… any Christian who works on Sunday gets stoned by their congregation? No. Struck by lightning? Umm…maybe? *ducking under my desk*
Just where do I draw the line? Well one hermeneutic principle I remember hearing about says that scripture interprets scripture. Just as we use the OT to understand the NT, we can also use the NT to interpret the OT. It works backward and forward, because “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (That’s from 2nd Timothy 3:16-17).”
In the gospel of Mark 2:23-28, Jesus seems to be openly defying God and committing a sin punishable by death according to Ex. 35:2:
23 And it happened that He was passing through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; 26 how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
So Jesus is not only excusing himself of the 3rd commandment as the Son of Man, but also excusing his disciples. Again, what is the line? What laws do I keep, and what can I discard? Verse 27 does give us a clue: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” So God gave me the Sabbath for my benefit, to rest, refocus, praise Him, and give Him thanks.
What about some other examples? We’re not supposed to cook a young goat in its mother’s milk because of the same Canaanite cult sacrifice rituals that were taking place at that time. For most of us today that would have no idolatrous symbolism but it might be beneficial to avoid voodoo. All sorts of laws were in place because witchdoctors (of sorts) were ascribing magic to what today seem to be frivolous prohibitions. What about our diet? A thorough understanding and application of food safety, for example, has made pork safe to eat and free of pathogens.
So yes, we Christians have relaxed the law, but what shall be held inviolate and what could be disregarded? Part of the answer is addressed in Romans 14, particularly about the dietary laws:
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
According to this passage, I should keep a law when love dictates it… e.g. don’t drink in front of a recovering alcoholic… but beyond that, to love my neighbor I should also be self-controlled: “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.” The body makes a great servant, but a poor master.
In the 15th chapter of Acts, the elders of the early church met and prayed to address the broader issue of following OT laws. Should gentiles keep the law and (for example) have themselves circumcised? The decision they reached and sent to the gentile church in Antioch:
24 “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 “Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” 30 So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.
Why these four essentials? They all have to do with idolatry. God is particularly concerned with blood “for the life is in the blood,” and concerned with fornication (ANY perversion outside of the ordinance of holy matrimony) because the incarnation of souls is intimately intertwined with procreation. Looking at the ten commandments, I think they can all be easily summarized as a prohibition of idolatry. Therefore my answer concerning keeping the law is the same as Jesus’ answer in Mark 12:29-31:
29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Now, 1 John chapter 4 tells us to test the spirits that speak within us, to make sure they are from God and not from false prophets. By comparing them to the Word of God, I can assuredly discern the spirit of truth from the spirit of error. We must resist the popular teaching today of “trust and follow your heart,” because God tells us in Jeremiah 17:
5 Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord… 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord… 9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it? 10 “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.
As a Christian, I am commanded to keep away from idolatry by trusting in the Lord with all my heart and not leaning on my own understanding (that’s Proverbs 3:5). Is it possible to take the bible, in context, at face value? I answer with a resounding YES! Praise be unto the only Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen! Praise Him and sing glory to His Name! Soli Deo Gloria─to God alone be the glory!