Tag Archive: Old Testament

Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Law?

keep-gods-commandmentsWarning, snark ahead!

I have long argued — even from my Christian days — that Christians are obligated to keep Old Testament law. Christian apologists and theologians use all sorts of hocus pocus and hermenuetical wrangling to make such a demand go away, but the Bible is clear: the Old Testament law is valid, in force, and binding on all Christians today. Jesus is quoted as saying in Matthew 5:17-18:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

See Bruce, Jesus came to fulfill the law. Now that Jesus has died and resurrected from the dead, the Old Testament law is no longer in force. Not the Ten Commandments? Not the prohibitions against homosexuality? Well, uh, you see, well, uh, anyway, how about them Cowboys? 

Notice what Jesus said: Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Go outside, stand in your yard, and look up to the sky. Are heaven and earth still standing? Yep, so that means that Old Testament law is still in force. Remember, when Jesus spoke these words, his “Bible” was the Old Testament. There was no New Testament, no gospels, no writings of Paul. Jesus, the good Baptist that he was, carried with him and read a leather-bound Oxford King James Old Testament.  Which is odd when you consider that Jesus was God and he, through his spirit sidekick the Holy Ghost, spoke the words of the Bible into existence. (2 Peter 1:21 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17) Or so Evangelicals say, anyway.

Oh, Bruce, you are nuts. Christians are saved by grace and live under the New Covenant. Hmm, are you saying, then, that the people in the Old Testament were saved differently; that they were saved by works; by keeping the Law of God? Well, uh, you see, well, uh, anyway, how about them Raptors? Bruce, surely you know that God’s law is broken up into three categories; Moral, Civil, and Ceremonial. Really? Where can I find such divisions in the Bible? I’ll wait. Go look. Keep looking. Can’t find anything? Come on, how hard can it be? Don’t quote John Calvin or Rousas Rushdoony. I want it straight from the inerrant Word of God. No luck?  How about admitting you are just making shit up to distance yourself from the clear implication of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: that all Christians are under and obligated to practice Old Testament Law; and that failing to do so is a sure sign that someone is not a follower of Jesus.

Evangelicals, in particular, love to call themselves “people of the Book.” Supposedly, the Bible, from Table of Contents to Concordance, is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. If this is so, why don’t Evangelicals keep the Old Testament law? Why do Evangelicals, in fact, pick and choose what they want to believe from the Old Testament? Why do Evangelicals clamor for the posting of the Ten Commandments on public classroom walls, yet don’t actually believe all ten commandments are binding and in force today? When’s the last time you’ve seen an Evangelical “remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy? Going to church for an hour or two on Sundays AIN’T keeping the Sabbath holy. Sorry Baptists, no NFL on Sundays for Sabbath keepers. Well, wait a minute, isn’t the Sabbath from Friday to Saturday?  So, NFL football is okay, but not college football. No Ohio State, Alabama, Texas or USC. Man, talk about suffering for Jesus.

Centuries ago, Christians had the opportunity to distance themselves from the Jewish Old Testament. Instead, they appropriated it for their own, and it hangs around their necks like a millstone to this day. I bet they wish they had a do-over on that one.

Bruce, you are certifiably crazy. Yes, but that’s beside the point. I am sure you are wondering if I have any proof for the assertions made in this post. Quote one theologian who believes this, you say, thinking you got me right where you want me. Well, get ready to have your hemorrhoids massaged, Buddy.

Eminent New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman recently wrote a post titled, Should the Old Testament Even be in the Bible? Here’s an excerpt:

First I must deal with the all-important prior question I have already alluded to. If, very early in their history, Christians chose to bypass precisely the laws and instructions the Bible enjoins on the people of God, why did they see any utility of having the Old Testament at all? If it was outdated, why not simply jettison it altogether?

Early Christians took a number of different approaches to that question. One view can be assigned to the historical Jesus himself and his very earliest followers – the disciples and their converts.

These were Jews dedicated to following the will of God as expressed in the Law of Moses.  The Hebrew Bible was their one and only Scripture.   It was to be kept.   Yes, it had to be interpreted – every legal code has to be.  But it was absolutely, and literally, to be followed.  All of it: circumcision; Sabbath observance; kosher food laws; festivals.

This view never completely died out.  We know of Christian groups who adhered to it for centuries.  Some still do today.  It is a view placed on Jesus’ lips in Matthew, the very first book of the New Testament, in passages typically overlooked by Christians both ancient and modern who don’t believe that Jesus could possibly urge his followers to keep the Jewish law.  But in fact he does, in no uncertain terms – nowhere more clearly than in the famous Sermon on the Mount (ironically, perhaps, revered throughout history by even the most virulent Christian opponents of Judaism):

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill…..   Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-20)

How many of the commandments found in the Jewish Scriptures need to be followed?  All of them.  Even the least of them.  No exceptions.   In fact, Jesus’ followers have to follow these commandments more scrupulously than the famously scrupulous scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus continues in the sermon to explain just how his followers are to be more righteous than the Jewish religious leaders of their day.   Needless to say, it will take special effort.   The law says not to murder?  You need to go a step farther: you shouldn’t even get angry with someone.  It says not to steal your neighbor’s spouse?  You shouldn’t even want to.  It says to be just in your judgment, and make the penalty fit the crime (“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”)?  You should instead show mercy (“turn the other cheek”).

Christians have tended to read these “Antitheses” as Jesus’ abrogation of the law, but that is precisely wrong.  He does not get rid of the law or absolve his followers of the responsibility of keeping it.   He does not say: “The law says you shall not murder, but I say you should.”  Instead he accepts the literal interpretation of the law and then makes it both more difficult and not simply a matter of external observation.  Literal adherence is not enough: doing the will of God as found in the law requires a heartfelt commitment that affects even attitudes, emotions, and desires.  But one still has to follow the literal law.

….

Snap, Skippy! Best be reading the Old Testament Law and putting it into practice! Your eternal destiny depends on you keeping every jot and tittle of the Law. I didn’t say this, Jesus did. To quote the plethora of apologists who have dumped loads of raw sewage on this blog, your problem is not with me, it’s with God. I’m only God’s mouthpiece.

Thus saith Bruce Almighty.

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About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Recommended Reading: The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman

the bible unearthed

Several commenters have been discussing the historicity of Old Testament events such as the Exodus. You can read their comments here.  A good book on this subject is The Bible Unearthed: Archeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman. 383 pages long, The Bible Unearthed is an excellent primer on current scholarship (as of 2001) as it relates to the historical events recorded in the Old Testament.  Much like Bart Ehrman’s books, The Bible Unearthed is written to appeal to non-scholars; people interested in the historicity of the events and people found in the Bible,

About Israel Finkelstein:

Israel Finkelstein is an Israeli archaeologist and academic. He is the Jacob M. Alkow Professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages at Tel Aviv University. Finkelstein is widely regarded as a leading scholar in the archaeology of the Levant and a foremost applicant of archaeological data in reconstructing biblical history

About Neil Asher Silberman

Neil Asher Silberman (born June 19, 1950 in Boston, Massachusetts) is an archaeologist and historian with a special interest in history, archaeology, public interpretation and heritage policy. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he studied Near Eastern archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Awarded a 1991 Guggenheim Fellowship, he is a contributing editor to Archaeology.

You can purchase The Bible Unearthed here.

Finkelstein and Silberman also wrote a book titled, David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition. You can purchase the book here. I have not personally read this book.

Quote of the Day: If the Bible Were Law

the old testament

Thirty-six different offenses in the Bible qualified for capital punishment. How many of these apply to you?

Cursing Parents
For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. Leviticus 20:9
Working on the Sabbath Whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Exodus 31:15

Premarital Sex (girls only)
. . .If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, Deuteronomy 22:20

Disobedience (boys only)
If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. Deuteronomy 21:18

Worshiping any god but Yahweh
If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that . . . hath gone and served other gods, and worshiped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; . . .Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die. Deuteronomy 17:2-5

Witches
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Exodus 22: 18

Wizards (epileptics? migraine sufferers? schizophrenics?)
A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:27

Loose Daughters of Clergy

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire. Leviticus 21:9

Girls who are Raped within the City Limits
If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city . . . But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. Deuteronomy 22:23-25

Blasphemers
And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. Leviticus 24:16

Anyone Who Tries to Deconvert Yahweh Worshipers
If anyone secretly entices you–even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend–saying, “Let us go worship other gods,” . . . you shall surely kill them; your own hand shall be first against them to execute them. Deuteronomy 12:6

Men who Lie With Men
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13

Adulterers

And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20: 10-12

Men who Lie with Beasts and Beasts who Lie with Men
And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. Leviticus 20:15

— Valerie Tarico, If the Bible Were Law, Would You Qualify for the Death Penalty?

Books by Valerie Tarico

Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light

The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth

For more excellent reading material, please check out Bruce’s Little Bookstore of Atheism and Humanism