Tough Questions Answered

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#3 Post of 2014 – Why Don’t Christians Stone People to Death?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

If you are a Christian, how many times have you heard a skeptic say, “If you believe that the Bible is really the Word of God, then why don’t you [fill in the blank with a divine command from Leviticus]?”

Since the first five books of the Bible (aka the Pentateuch, Torah, or Law) contain hundreds of commands that deal with all aspects of human life, there is plenty of material for the skeptic to choose from. The purpose of this “gotcha” tactic is to take a verse from the Law that offends 21st century ears and challenge the Christian’s lack of consistency.

After all, skeptics think, if Christians truly believed that the entire Bible was the Word of God, then we  would follow every command given in the Bible, right? Isn’t that just obvious? Since Christians don’t obey every command, then they are inconsistent and must not really believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

The skeptic argues that we actually get our moral values from the surrounding culture, just like everyone else. But if we get our moral values from the surrounding culture, then why don’t we jettison the Bible altogether? We obviously don’t need it.

What is wrong with this approach by the skeptics? The skeptic who quotes from the Law and asks Christians why we are not following the commands found in the Law has failed to read and/or understand the New Testament. How do I know that?

The NT clearly states in several places that the Law was fulfilled by Jesus and no longer applies to Christians. Here are a few passages proving the point:

“By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one [the Law] obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Heb 8:13)

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal 2:15-16)

“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.  So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [the Law].” (Gal 3:23-25)

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code [the Law].” (Rom 7:6)

These verses and others clearly state that Christians are not under any obligation to follow the divine commands given to the Israelites as they left Egyptian slavery and journeyed toward the Promised Land. As my seminary professor used to tell us, the Old Testament was written for us, but not to us. It was written to ancient Israel.

Now, does this mean that Christians should completely ignore the divine commands given to the Israelites? No, it doesn’t. But the question as to how we should apply God’s words to the Israelites to our lives today is an altogether different subject.

The bottom line for this blog post is that every time a skeptic throws a command from the Law at me and accuses me of being inconsistent, of not obeying one of God’s commands, I know that he hasn’t read the New Testament and understood one of its major themes – Christians are not under the Law!


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Comments

  • nfq

    Or maybe we have read the New Testament and we think it made no sense.

    Why wouldn’t an all-knowing god mention that, when he said “forever,” he really meant “until I decide it no longer applies”? Why does “forever” in the Old Testament no longer mean forever? If people could have been released from having to obey the Old Testament laws, why even make them in the first place? Why not just skip right ahead to the final, apparently correct set of rules?

    Also, what does it mean for a law to be “fulfilled”? That’s not a term anyone else besides Christians uses in reference to laws. Could a secular government’s laws be “fulfilled” and therefore no longer binding? What kind of event is required to “fulfill” a law? This is such a strange construct, it just comes across as special pleading.

    It would also help if Christians didn’t keep referring to Leviticus whenever it happens to condemn something they do feel squicky about, like homosexuality. That’s the real hypocrisy that’s often being pointed out.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    “Or maybe we have read the New Testament and we think it made no sense.”

    This is a serious problem you have. How can you critique the Christian understanding of the Bible if you do not understand the Christian understanding of the Bible?

    It’s as if you’re saying, “Christians are hypocrites because they interpret the Bible a certain way.” Then I say, “But that’s not how Christians interpret the Bible.” And you respond, “The Bible doesn’t make sense anyway.”

    If the Bible doesn’t make sense to you, then maybe you should either stop criticizing it, or make a real effort to understand how Christians interpret the Bible. Otherwise, you are a committing a textbook example of the straw man fallacy.

  • nfq

    It’s as if you’re saying, “Christians are hypocrites because they interpret the Bible a certain way.” Then I say, “But that’s not how Christians interpret the Bible.” And you respond, “The Bible doesn’t make sense anyway.”

    I am not calling Christians hypocrites — except, as I mentioned above, the ones who cite one verse of Leviticus to condemn (for example) homosexuality and ignore the adjacent verses which condemn poly-cotton blends or tattoos. Rather, I think Christians have not thought through the full implications of their beliefs and would reject those beliefs if they did.

    When I ask Christians the sort of question you opened your post with, I am not trying to “catch” them having not followed every one of the 613 mitzvot. I know they don’t follow the OT, and I know they believe Jesus “fulfilled” the law (which is apparently something you can do to a law that makes it not apply anymore).

    But if you really believe that the Bible is God’s word, and you really believe that God said the OT laws were supposed to last forever, and you believe that God is omnipotent and omniscient and perfectly good … it should seem a little strange that God would say the OT laws are supposed to last forever and then change his mind, or that he would know he would retract/”fulfill” the OT laws later and deliberately lie to people about it, or that he would have a way to bestow his grace on people but deliberately wait thousands of years to actually offer it.

    (Slightly edited for formatting.)

  • sean

    It’s my understanding that Jesus’ fulfilling the law applied specifically to the sacrificial law, and is the reason that you don’t sacrifice animals. If you’re going to claim that we are under a new law, it would seem the trite quote thrown about by non-Christians about Jesus never mentioning homosexuals suddenly carries a lot more weight.

  • nfq

    I think that latter bit also hinges upon how you conceive of the trinity — are Jesus and God (and the Holy Spirit) parts of the same being (i.e., is Christianity in fact monotheist)? If so, then “Jesus” (in the form of God the father) had plenty to say about homosexuals, but chose to say all/most of it in the Old Testament.

  • sean

    Yeah that 1 vs 3 bit of Christianity is something that’s never made much sense to me, or I think any non-Christian. I hear a lot of Muslims commenting on that aspect of Christianity. As best I understand, they are basically two people, and the Christians get to invoke whichever Jesus they want when it suits them.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    There are plenty of indications in the OT that a new covenant was coming that would replace the Law. God did not change his mind about the Law, but only intended it to apply to Israel at that time in history.

    I can’t fully develop this idea here, but clearly Jesus and his apostles read the OT in that manner. They were able to convince quite a few Jews, including Pharisees and priests, that their interpretation was correct.

    It doesn’t really matter how a 21st century person reads the Law. What matters is how the original recipients understood the Law, and how Jesus and his students understood the Law.

    Anyway, because of your question about how the Law is applied by Christians today, I have a four-part series coming soon that explains just that.

  • nfq

    God did not change his mind about the Law, but only intended it to apply to Israel at that time in history.

    I think that interpretation requires a radical redefinition of some common and clear words such as “forever” and “everlasting”. I look forward to your upcoming series, to see how you justify this. You might also be interested in this post of mine laying out the case I am making with plenty of specific Bible citations.

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  • Greddae

    I too am very confused by the notion of God stating that certain laws shall be followed “for all time” or “eternity”, only to abolish them later. I think the only way this can be reconciled (in my mind, anyway) is by looking at how the hebrew texts were translated. In doing a little research, it seems that “eternity” or “forever” may be poor English translations of the original hebrew words (as seems to be the case for many words or phrases in the old testament). See below

    Ancient Hebrew Word Meanings
    Eternity ~ olam

    In the ancient Hebrew words that are used to described distance and direction are also used to describe time. The Hebrew word for east is qedem and literally means “the direction of the rising sun”. We use north as our major orientation such as in maps which are always oriented to the north. While we use the north as our major direction the Hebrews used the east and all directions are oriented to this direction. For example one of the words for south is teyman from the root yaman meaning “to the right”. The word qedem is also the word for the past. In the ancient Hebrew mind the past is in front of you while the future is behind you, the opposite way we think of the past and future. The Hebrew word olam means in the far distance. When looking off in the far distance it is difficult to make out any details and what is beyond that horizon cannot be seen. This concept is the olam. The word olam is also used for time for the distant past or the distant future as a time that is difficult to know or perceive. This word is frequently translated as eternity or forever but in the English language it is misunderstood to mean a continual span of time that never ends. In the Hebrew mind it is simply what is at or beyond the horizon, a very distant time. A common phrase in the Hebrew is “l’olam va’ed” and is usually translated as “forever and ever” but in the Hebrew it means “to the distant horizon and again” meaning “a very distant time and even further” and is used to express the idea of a very ancient or future time.

    However, I still do not understand the concept of a law being “fulfilled.” I thought only a prophecy could be fulfilled.. not a law. Someone is going to have to explain that one to me.

    – G

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    When Jesus fulfilled the Law, what that means is that he was the first and only person to ever perfectly follow all the rules captured in the Law. That is why Christians say he fulfilled the Law.

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  • disqus_mmZU8TPsvi

    Um, except that christ said that the old testament wasn’t to be thrown away, that the old laws were still to be obeyed.

    Matt:5-17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

    Followed by

    Matt5-18 “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

    Note he said quite clearly that he said it wasn’t to abolish the old laws. That they were to be obeyed until all is accomplished. And since the second coming of christ is that accomplishment (and hasn’t happened yet) the laws are supposed to be followed.

    You christians keep cherry-picking what you like out of the bible to suit your purposes.
    Skip Moreland

  • Tristan Fermin

    From my understanding of the book of Hebrews, the New Covenant is that Christ Himself is the mediator in the Heavenly sanctuary as opposed to a mortal serving in a “copy/shadow” of the true Heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 8:5). He IS the New Covenant and gives meaning to the whole system.

    The reason for many of the old laws was to elaborate on how to keep the moral law (10 commandments), especially considering their societal and historical contexts. For example, how often must we explain to a child what being nice entails? The entire Bible is very clear about the importance of keeping God’s law as evidence that we love Him (John 14:15) and that we are His children.

    I agree that Christianity by and large has a schizophrenic relationship with God’s law and hasn’t adequately addressed the seeming discrepancies between the moral law in relation to the health law, civil laws and any other ones I may be missing.There must be more consistency and clarity if we hope to be instrumental in soul-winning.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Law, and so it no longer applies. That is the point. What good would it do for Jesus to fulfill the Law if we were still expected to fulfill it ourselves?

  • disqus_mmZU8TPsvi

    Which ignores the rest of the quote which says that one is still supposed to obey the laws. HE tells the crowd that the laws are not to be thrown away. He says it is not fulfilled until he returns (the 2nd coming).
    Cherry picking part doesn’t help your argument. But then again if christians are going to throw away all those laws as being not pertinent any more, than the laws against gays are invalid. But instead christians try to have it both ways by saying they don’t have to obey all those laws, but since god gave them a law against gays they must follow it. So they are either all gone or none of them. Christians try to have it both ways.
    Skip Moreland.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Where does he say that the Law is not fulfilled until his second coming in Matt 5? I don’t see that. Tell me where that is.

  • disqus_mmZU8TPsvi

    It is in the context of the whole passage. Which is where your cherry-picking comes in. The whole context is that christ is asked if his arrival fulfills the law by the crowd. He states no, that he is fulfilling prophecy. The prophecy was that god would send someone to save the jewish people. The prophecy had nothing to do with law at all. In fact there is no mention of the law ever being set aside in either new or old. Now there is never any mention of the law in heaven and since all will be judged at the 2nd coming, it would seem that the laws are finally put to rest at that time.
    But the one thing Matt does say is that the laws are to be followed. That was the whole gist of his talking with the crowd. That was the whole question put before him, does your coming do away with the old laws? His answer was NO.
    Skip Moreland

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Again, in Matt 5:17-20, there is nothing about the second coming. I don’t understand why you keep saying that the passage is all about the second coming when it doesn’t say that anywhere. Please point to the specific verses that connect Matt 5:17-20 with Jesus’ second coming.

  • disqus_mmZU8TPsvi

    Please read. What I said that Matt in the full context says that christ came to fulfill prophecy. I never said that Matt talked about the 2nd coming. I only mentioned the 2nd coming as being the only possibility of the old laws being overthrown. Because Matt in no way ever says that the old laws are toast, not to be followed, they are gone. Christ answers the question in Matt, does your coming now mean that the old laws do not apply? He answers straight forward NO I came to fulfill prophecy. FULFILL PROPHECY, NOT DO AWAY WITH THE OLD LAWS.
    Does that make it clear?
    Skip Moreland

  • disqus_mmZU8TPsvi

    Do you suffer from a reading comprehension?
    Skip Moreland

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Matt 5:17 – “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

    This verse, taken in context with the surrounding verses, and taken in context with the rest of the New Testament writings, indicates that Jesus came to fulfill the Law by his perfect obedience to God, which he accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection.

    Jesus has already fulfilled the Law, and this fulfillment applies to all those who believe in Him. By trusting in him, we also fulfill the Law.

  • disqus_mmZU8TPsvi

    What is your definition of destroy mean? Because in a dictionary, it means to get rid of. So christ is saying by your own quote, I did not come to destroy the law. Also you say that is in context, but you forget Matt 18
    “For truly I say to you, until the heaven and earth shall pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law until everything has been fulfilled.”

    Notice the “until heaven and earth shall pass away”
    Now I have seen some convoluted explanations twisting the words until abolish or whatever the translation is to something else. But as a writer, words do retain their meaning.
    Unfortunately I do not read ancient hebrew or greek to get a translation on my own. But I have seen many translations and they all use words like abolish, destroy, do away with, etc. And no twisting renders them into some opposite meaning like some have tried. Whatever word is used, destroy works here, it means to completely do away with something. And christ definitively says that he is not doing away with it.
    Now the 2nd coming is suppose to be the fulfillment of all of the promises that god and christ made. Which is why I mentioned it before. Which does seem to mention the 2nd coming in Matt-18. I had only read up to Matt-17.
    But Matt-18 seems to put the icing on the cake.
    Skip Moreland

    For truly I say to you, until
    the heaven and the earth shall pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the
    Law until everything has been fulfilled”

    For truly I say to you, until
    the heaven and the earth shall pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the
    Law until everything has been fulfilled”

  • chris

    Hi Bill. I know we are under the new covenant, and I know we don’t sacrifice sheep, stone people, etc. But besides the fact that it is morally correct to support our church, are the rules of tithing still in place? I will support my church always, but I like to know the mechanics of the old testament change, to modern day church support. Now I’m a Berean so lay it on me! Thanks.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Hey Chris,
    Nowhere in the NT does it day we should tithe, so the rules of tithing do not apply. However, the NT writers talk about giving sacrificially (in proportion to what you have), which could mean giving more than a tenth, or less than a tenth, depending on your situation.

    I recall that Rick Warren, for example, gives away 90% of his money and only keeps 10%.

    Check out this article for more information:

    http://www.gotquestions.org/tithing-Christian.html

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