Christians have long divided the Old Testament Law into parts that carry forward and those we were relieved of at the time of and because of Jesus.
The reason this has remained unclear to me is that the list of things we do not have to pay attention to has changed over time (at least to most Christians in America).
The primary thing I have in mind is keeping the Sabbath Day Holy. I remember blue laws, when all stores in many states were closed on Sunday and that if you were travelling on Sunday in certain areas, you had to have bought gas for the car the night before, when no one went to a restaurant on Sunday, first of all, because most were closed, but also because it was a sin. I even remember preachers saying not to watch the NFL because that was not keeping the Sabbath Holy.
Now, we are a secular nation—the first ever—and it is a good thing that those laws have faded from the civil law books, but there are many things not illegal in the law of the state that many Christians think to be wrong: prostitution (in parts of Nevada), gambling, drinking, dancing, and the list goes on.
Most American Christians today violate the heck out of the law demanding the Sabbath be set apart without even a causal though about it. And many of these say that the Bible is the absolute Word of God and without error or contradiction, which seems, at the very least, inconsistent.
If this law—one of the BIG 10—could be basically ignored and passed over, what does it say about the rest? It always seemed so arbitrary to me. But now, I see more, and maybe this was always obvious to others or maybe it just didn’t matter to others, but I like consistency.
Jesus violated the prohibitions of working on the Sabbath: he gleaned and he healed and when questioned about his actions said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, which seemed a little brazen, since he was, in fact, breaking Talmudic law.
The key was opened to me this week when looking again at the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Ruler who was looking for advice on how to achieve the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said to him: You know the commandments,
Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother (Mark 10:19)
And Paul, talking about the Law:
Galatians 5:14—For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Romans 13:9—The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
James 2:8 —If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
I had always been told there were two sets of laws: ethical laws and ritual laws, but this never seemed to fit. Now I see the division as this:
- Laws affecting other people (or harming them)—murder, lying, rape, theft, etc.
- Laws dealing with our relationship with God—the ritual cleanliness and food laws, the first four of the 10 Commandments.
It seems that it is this understanding that ties together James and Paul and Jesus and even begins to make sense out of the confusion that is Romans 1:18-3:20, where, on one hand, Paul says that “only the doers of the law will be vindicated by God,” and , on the other hand, that “by the works of the law no one will be vindicated. The first is the commandment to love our neighbor, the second is keeping all the other laws. (This is speculation and I will need to research this more).
This is consistent with the view Jesus had of the Pharisees, who would rather not break the Sabbath than to provide healing to a sick man. Examples:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. (vs 2 – 3)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.(vs 13 – 14)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.(vs 23 – 24)
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (vs 27 – 28)
That is more than enough.
So, what laws matter anymore and which don’t? Ask if it violates the command to love your neighbor. If it does, then it still matters.
Some are easy: murder, stealing, rape, and so on—most of our civil code covers these.
Others, well, it depends. Is consuming alcohol a sin? Having a drink, nope. Driving drunk, yes. Alcoholism, yes.
Watching a movie on Sunday? Nope. Working on Sunday? Nope.
Is going to church required? No.
Spanking a child for disciple and within tight controls? Probably not. Beating a child? Absolute violation. Emotionally abusing children—by now, this should be an obvious yes.
Now some tricky ones:
Having other gods or graven images or taking the name of the Lord in vain?
Prostitution/use of prostitutes?
Passing by a broken down car on the road with people asking for help?
Homosexuality? Between consenting adults? Where is the violation of the command to love our neighbors? Yes, I know what Paul said, but I also know that the word “homosexuality” was not in the language until the late 1800’s (I do know that the concept existed before the word),and I also know that there is much to be learned by studying the Greek in use at the time of Paul. So, without regard to my previously and strongly stated positions regarding LGBT in other posts, I will get into Paul and Homosexuality soon.
How we treat each other is how we treat God (the sheep and goats). Love of neighbor is love of God; lack of love of neighbor is lack of love of God no matter how many rituals we keep. If we praise God on Sunday and cheat the general public all week long, we are not in God’s will, no matter what prayers we say. Now, I am not saying we can always do what is expected of us, nor am I saying we cannot be saved if we stumble, but, as James said, we show our faith through our works for the good of other (ok, a paraphrase).
picture of the Good Samaratin is from here