Eeny Meeny Miny Moe

Image via Worldmag.com

There are two sides to the “Do you take the Bible literally?” challenge.  The first, addressed in Speak Your Mind, Literally, addresses the issue of differentiating between literal and non-literal Bible passages and identifying figures of speech apart from a historical or biographical narrative.  The other side of that coin is application (or non-application) of Old Testament Laws, such as found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  It is charged by the skeptic that unless the Christian is supportive of capital punishment for adulterers, practicing homosexuals, or disobedient children etc. that he is not taking the Bible literally.  The Christian is accused of ‘picking and choosing’ which parts of the Bible they adhere to and which they reject as matters of convenience.  Is this a fair and accurate charge?  Do Christians really turn a blind eye to the distasteful commands of the Bible?

The most difficult aspect of the explanation is that it is theological in nature.  Since skeptics (broadly speaking) will generally reject religious theology, the answer will typically not be satisfactory.

First we need to recognize that there is a difference between the Old (OT) and New Testaments (NT), and what that difference is.  The Old Testament or Covenant, was God’s Covenant establishing, separating, and procuring means of salvation for a people He chose, Israel.

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the discussion by skeptics is they do not understand the relationship the OT has with the NT.  The OT is basically a contract with the nation of Israel.  This contract like any other contract is valid and applicable only to the parties to whom the contract is given.  The OT was part of the Nation of Israel’s theocratic government.  To gain a full understanding of the relationship between OT Israel and NT believers please read: Laying Down The Law which explains the difference between OT Israel, and NT Christianity.  Laying Down The Law details why no longer observing certain OT laws is not arbitrary; and I urge the reader to also read the comment section.

So what we have by the skeptic is a category mistake.  Equating OT Israel with NT Christians and expecting a New Covenant people to abide by Old Covenant judicial laws used to govern and keep separate a particular people group is a misunderstanding of Biblical theology.  While the sin aspect of such things as adultery, homosexual behavior, and disobedience to parents has not been done away with, the judicial enforcement of punishments by the government associated with them has.

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Related Articles: Laying Down The Law, Speak Your Mind, Literally

Comments

  1. Having read the “Laying down the law”, it seems obvious, that if there is a biblical god, he did not make anything especially easy or simple to comprehend. If the sceptiks get his intentions sometimes wrong, so do most of the christians. John Barron jr would propably claim that the sceptiks do this intentionally, which really would lead to nowhere, if there was a god and his existance and will were obvious. Though then there would not be sceptiks, now would there? Maybe he is hiding out there somewhere. Or maybe the god is a she, but has lied to us about it…

    Most christians are people who want to be saved and want to understand how to live their lives according to gods degree, but they just do not get it, do they? It seems to me a bit unfair, that only few can have the understanding of the gods will our host John Barron jr has. Though I have to add he is a charitable fellow, since he is trying to pass his knowledge on to both believers and us nonbelievers.

    Would it not have been terribly clever of god to make his messages to mankind a bit more comprehendable and plausible. It is all there in the bible, right? But to most christians and non christians it is like reading a how-to-build-a-fusion-reactor guide. Luckily we have these engineers to explain it all in plain text. What a pity there are so many engineers who do not agree on so many matters. We commoners will just simply have to choose wich engineer to trust. But remember, the power plant will selfdestruct if we choose the wrong engineer, though his followers will be wearing radiation protective suits by then and all you other guys will notice that the radiation protective gear you have, does not work. Sorry I am being sarcastic again. Maybe I should just stop.

    • I don’t think theology is all that difficult to understand. I think skeptics don’t understand it because they choose not to. I think there is a general practice of assuming their perception of it is correct, or relying on another skeptic’s perception is correct. After all if a skeptic doesn’t particularly care for theology they are not likely to spend the time to research it. After all, you have admitted to not being able to understand Christianity, but you continue to argue against it from your misperceptions.

      I think the confusion comes from not having a desire to understand it as it was intended to be understood.

      • Intended by whom? Most christians are not interrested in theology. Most christians rely on a nother christians perception, if not all. Even you. For was not the bible written by christians? Well, the NT anyway. Religions are inward groups with a predecided truth. Theology is not by any means coherent. Many muslim theologists would argue that christianity is not a monotheistic religion because there are so many divine characters in it, but they too have Satan, so what does this obviously divine character do in a monoteistic religion? My point is not that I do not understand christianity. Do not worry, I do not expect to understand it. I sometimes try to understand any religious people, but most often fail. I meant that organised religions seem all so complex, that they seem like they were not meant to be understood by the common man. What are then the priests, but pharisees, who know the books from cover to cover, but fail to explain the gods complex intentions to most people, wether they want or do not want to understand. If there was one truth and it was actually indisputable, why would there be so many religions and so many sects among them? Are not all religions seeking the truth about the divine? Why has god not revealed himself to the other sects of christianity clearly, not to speak about other religions? There are members in every cult, religion and sect just as religious as you are.

        Most sceptics I know are like you John Barron jr, in that they would want to understand and try to look for answers. That search for knowledge has made them sceptiks. I however was born a grandson of one. So I am not a sceptic in the literal meaning of the word. You may call me pagan, for that is what seems most appropriate. The only difference between you and the sckeptiks is that you find “truth” where the sceptiks have failed. That however does not mean your answers were true. You are propably right that the sceptic does not seek hard enough, but there is a danger for a seeker, that if he/she is too keen on looking for something it might be found only in his/her heart. Why would a god want other people to look for so hard, if he would also be ready to let other people get away by simple childish belief in magical fairytale and most to fall into a eternal damnation just for quite similar simple childish beliefs? I think, if there is a allpowerfull god, everyone who thinks he/she knows even a hint about what that entity wants is somehow betraying themselves. This aplies to us modern people and to those jews of antiquity who wrote the bible.

        The real question is not wether or not there is a god, or several for that matter. They do not seem to be too keen to interfere in our world. It is left to us humans. The real question is how we define our morals. Shall our desicions be based on the rewards or punishments that god or gods will endorse in afterlife, or do we go for what seem right, wether “the book” or its interpretors tell us to do something else or not. Do we let our morals be limited by one book, or shall we broaden our perspective. We do have a wider understanding of the world today then the writers of any ancient religious book. If the one book is too complex to understand for most of us, how can we make anything from all the thousands of written sources of wisdom? With good will I hope a better world, not a better afterlife. The world is something we can influence, the afterworld will remain unknown to us if it even exists.

  2. This was an issue that did really perplex me as a believer. I understood and still understand the difference between the Old Covenant and the New. I understand that the two are interconnected yet independent of one another. What to make, then, of Jesus’ words in Matt. 5vs17-19? Did the Law change or is it the same, with additions?
    I wonder, too, if you consider this quote from Jesus to contradict Paul in his letter to the Galatians 3vs23-25?

    • I address the Matthew passage in the referenced article: Laying Down The Law, so check that out for my explanation. Galatains just reaffirms what the purpose of the law was intended to be in the first place. Maybe I’m missing the point you are making? Is it a stretch to assume you are attempting to expose an aparent contradiction? I only ask because of the site associated with your name and its most recent post.

      What I like to ask skeptics is, when discussing “contradictions” with Christian apologists, do explanations suffice, or is any attempt to reconcile the conflict suspect? I tend to find (based on my experience) skeptics scoff at attempts at reconciliation, for some reason they believe we aren’t allowed to offer possible reconciliations. It’s almost as if, unless the Christian admits there are legitimate contradictions, they are being blind to the issue since everyone knows the Bible has them. Where are you on this issue?

  3. To be clear, I was responding directly to this post, not trying to get in an argument about biblical contradictions. I am sensitive to the fact that it could be construed as such; especially given the recent post on my blog. I don’t even know if those two passages are cited as contradictions in my recent post, on close inspection I can’t find them. I’ll gladly cop to being an atheist if that is what you are implying, though my wording in my original comment says as much already.
    I’m not trying to expose a contradiction, I just asked for your opinion on whether you thought the two comments contradict one another. I brought up the Gal. quote before you did, knowing that any protestations that Jesus did not change the Law would be met with a strong case that He did. I wanted to make you aware that I am not ignorant to the other side of the argument, I thought this was apropos to your post.

    I don’t want to discuss contradictions. I want to understand why you think Matt. 5vs17-19 is not saying that the Law (as part of the covenant) is still in effect. I read your exegesis in the other post and find some trouble with it. I get that Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, but I question what he meant by “until everything is accomplished”. His use of the rhetoric “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law…” implies that the Law will be in effect forever. If He meant to say that it should only stand until the New Covenant, why put such a long expiry date on the Law? Doesn’t that imply that Jesus didn’t believe His time on earth before the crucifixion was “everything accomplished”? I’m trying to give a plain reading to this passage and I see difficulty with your interpretation. I’m not saying you are wrong, just that I ‘m not sure if your interpretation is consistent with a plain reading.

    As to whether I will “scoff” at explanations, would it be fair to leave that on a case-by-case basis? I respect people’s opinions if they are properly backed up by facts and well defended. That applies to any subject, religious or otherwise.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read the other post, did you get a chance to read through the comments? There was a rather lengthy discussion between myself and another Christian who believed Christians are obligated to the Law. I think it would answer your question of where I stand, but I’ll try to nutshell it here. Forgive me if in my brevity I leave something out or unexplained fully.

      I know this will sound as if I am playing word games or trying to talk outside both sides of my mouth, I’m not trying to. The Law itself does not pass away as a standard. But its application and enforcement has changed. Understanding there were laws (most of them) which were specifically written for Jews, and there are others which were based on the character of God that would apply to everyone. Do not murder for example, would be a universal prohibition, but mixing fabrics would be Israel-specific as the symbolic reminder to stay separate from surrounding nations and not inter-marry to keep the Nation purely Israel. So the standard of moral perfection (stealing is still sin) will stand until the the end of time, even if the theocratic enforcement of it has changed. Rather than making sacrifice of goats and bulls, the Messiah has made the sacrifice once and for all, that now believers can rely on the totality of that sacrifice.

      I ask about your approach to explanations because based on my experience internet atheists (as opposed to those I meet in person) tend to reject any defense of theism in any aspect as being excuses or what have you. There is one in particular who was a regular commenter who with every answer I gave to his objections dismissed them saying they didn’t count, the claimed I offered no answers. I just wanted to know where you stood before investing time and energy into someone who didn’t want to hear it anyway.

  4. I’m not your average atheist. I actually love Jesus. I respect your arguments if they are reasoned and defensible. When I question your reading of the bible, I’ll gladly accept a bible based answer. Novel approach, I know.
    I’m just curious on this point because I am familiar with the debate from my church days and I never got a good answer. Yours is better, but you didn’t really address why Jesus uses such eternal sounding rhetoric.
    Also, other then the Ten Commandments, how would one differentiate between a universal and a Jewish law without assuming which are which?

    • I don’t really have another explanation of strength of Jesus words other than what I have already opined.

      There were different types of laws. Moral, Priestly/cerimonial-religious/sacrificial, judicial, and for lack of a better term–symbolic. I don’t mean symbolic as in–not literal, but rather laws which were arbitrarily set for Israel to keep in their mind they were meant to stay separate from the surrounding nations. Laws like not mixing fabrics, or mixed plantings, the different hygine and food laws.

      Jesus fulfilled the priestly laws by serving as our eternal high priest, which also fulfills the cerimonial laws associated with them. Jesus was also the sacrifice offered up once and for all, so the sacrificial laws are no longer needed so to speak. We are not the theocracy of ancient Israel so the judicial laws do not apply, and never did for Gentiles. What is left is the moral law. Laws based on the character of God. Laws which basically touched on how we treat and interact with others, how we treat ourselves, how we revere God. Laws governing moral behaviors.

  5. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    I would argue that many atheists simply find the idea of a God that vengeful to be, simply, too horrible to believe. It may have been a contract with Israel, but indeed, it was a contract from the same God we Christians believe in now.

    I would like to hear your thoughts on that.

    I don’t believe the OT is the exact word of God, because I recognize, or perhaps find it more convenient to believe, that the Bible was authored by man with the guidance of God. It was still authored, however, by man, with all his prejudice and bigotry well in mind.

  6. If you don’t mind, I am wondering about a couple statements you made.

    In the original post:
    “While the sin aspect of such things as adultery, homosexual behavior, and disobedience to parents has not been done away with, the judicial enforcement of punishments by the government associated with them has.”

    Now, I am a very busy college student, and I don’t have time at this exact moment to read “Laying Down the Law,” so perhaps I will understand better once I get a chance to read it. I would like to point out that you mentioned that many OT laws are no longer required, for a multitude of reasons, be it the covenantal laws that have never applied to us in particular, or the sacrificial laws that were no longer required after Jesus’ sacrifice.

    In a response to George W:
    “We are not the theocracy of ancient Israel so the judicial laws do not apply, and never did for Gentiles. What is left is the moral law. Laws based on the character of God. Laws which basically touched on how we treat and interact with others, how we treat ourselves, how we revere God. Laws governing moral behaviors.”

    So what you’re saying is that we must follow the Ten Commandments and the laws governing moral behaviors. If that is correct, what defines a moral behavior? Adultery and disobedience to parents, as mentioned in the first reference, are in the Ten Commandments. Homosexual behavior is not a commandment, so it must be a moral behavior guideline. I am no theologian, I admit. My father is a pastor, I have taken a course in the Old Testament, and I have done a lot of research on the topic of homosexuality, so I have a decent background in knowledge, so I would like to present this question:

    How do we know that homosexual behavior is immoral?

    • Just quickly, if you will concede adultery and sex with animals is immoral behavior, you will have a difficult time absolving homosexual behaviors. The passage in Leviticus 18 dealing with homosexual behavior is placed between condemnations of adultery and beastiality, and is also called an abomination. And the passage in Leviticus calls it a detestable act. Paul in Romans calls homosexual desires “degrading passions”. It is awfully difficult to ignore and interpret these passages to mean the opposite of what they actually say.

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