Two of the main and clear biblical prohibitions of homosexuality occur in the Old Testament. But this raises the question, “Is the OT law binding on Christians today?”
- How Does the Old Testament Law Apply to Christians Today?
- Are the Sabbath laws binding on Christians today?
Is the Old Testament law binding on Christians today? If not, what do we make of Old Testament prohibitions against homosexuality? Stay tuned and find out on Unapologetic.
Matthew Vines is the leader of the Reformation Project. This is a group of homosexuals and LGBT persons who claim to be Christians, who are trying to lobby for legitimacy of homosexuality in the church. Now, generally, this is couched in terms of long-term monogamist, loving homosexual relationships. In general, they are just also trying to get homosexuality be accepted. Now, Matthew Vines has written a book God and the Gay Christian and he’s also put out a short promo video for this book a year or so ago. He goes through the six Bible passages that are traditionally used to talk about homosexuality. He even is forthright in saying that the Bible doesn’t seem to portray homosexuality in a good light. He goes through each of these passages and shows how they’ve been misinterpreted.
One of the passages is from the Levitical Law — the Old Testament law. Now, there were 613 laws in the Torah, which is in the first five books of the Old Testament, and the Jews were supposed obey all of them. Here are two such laws. “You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman. It is a detestable act.” This is in Leviticus 18:22. In Leviticus 20:13, “it says if a man has sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with the woman, the two have committed an abomination. They must be put to death. Their blood guilt is on themselves.”
Here’s another law from Leviticus. “You must not allow two different kinds of your animals to breed. You must not sow your field with two different kinds of seed and you must wear a garment made of different kinds of fabric.” I think, my shirt’s made of cotton and polyester. I’ll be right back… No. Here’s the problem is that we want to say that, no, we can wear shirts that are made out of different kinds of fabric and I can plant two crops from different types of seed in the same field and all of that. But, No, that homosexuality thing, that’s wrong. People view this as a contradiction, as an inconsistency in the Christian position.
We’re left with the question as Christians, how do we answer this? How do we deal with this claim of inconsistency? “You want to claim that Levitical Law code is right when it comes to homosexuality being a wrong but the Levitical law code no longer applies when it comes to tattoos or when it comes to shirts and multiple clothing or eating shellfish or eating pork.” How do we deal with that as Christians?
This might take some of you aback but the answer is that the Levitical Law code doesn’t apply to the New Testament Christian at all. The Levitical Law code was with Israel. It was a covenant made with Israel. We are not Israel, therefore, we are not under that covenant that was made with the Jew, the nation of Israel.
Deuteronomy was the second time the law was given, actually. It was first given in Exodus when Moses was at Mt. Sinai, and then the Jews wandered in the desert. One of the last things that Moses does is give the law again as he’s handing off the reins, handing over leadership. It’s important to understand, this was a covenant made with the nation of Israel, and we are not Israel as New Testament Christians. Now, does this mean everything in the law no longer is wrong if it was said to be wrong? No, that’s not true. Things can be wrong, but not because they are in the Old Testament Law code. They may be in the Old Testament Law code because they are wrong, however. Does that make sense?
It’s in the law because it’s wrong but it’s not necessarily wrong because it’s in the law. Let me explain what I mean by that. There are actually three types of laws in the Levitical Law code. There is ceremonial law. This dealt with keeping Israel clean and separate as a nation. So those would be the: don’t plant multiple types of seeds in one field, don’t wear shirts with mixed fabrics, different purity laws dealing with handling blood in dead animals and menstrual cycles and all of these things.
They fall under the ceremonial law which was meant to keep Israel weird, actually, and separate. Everything in their culture was supposed to remind them that they had a God and they were a chosen and a set-apart people. Part of that had to deal with don’t wear mixed fabrics. You need to be a contiguous, a set-apart, a consistent grouping of people. Don’t intermingle with other cultures and other religions. Many of the laws and regulations under society were to reinforce this idea of them being set apart and separate, a called-out people, a holy people. Now, that’s the ceremonial law.
You also have judicial law. This is how you deal with issues of what happens when someone steals from you. What’s the punishment for that? That’s a judicial matter. There’s civil laws too; how were estates passed on and property and inheritances and all of that. Then there are moral laws that express a moral code. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t covet. Don’t lie with a man as one lies with the woman. These would be examples of moral laws. Now, looking back studying these things, scholars are able to come up with these three categories but to be honest, it’s not like they’re listed this way. It’s not where Moses says, “okay, here’s the civil law, here’s the moral law, here’s the ceremonial law.” It’s not that clear cut.
Here is a lens we can use to help interpret the Old Testament law and see what applies to us today. The first starting place is to say that the law doesn’t apply at all to us today because we’re not ancient Israel. Now, you can’t stand in that position because there are things that are expressed in the law that do apply to us today. They apply to us today because, under the new covenant, they are part of the “law” or regulations or moral code that apply to Christians. If it’s important for Christians to obey, it’s repeated in the New Testament. When people want to say, you can’t say homosexuality is wrong based on the law because the law doesn’t apply anymore. That’s not totally true as we’ll continue to get into but homosexuality is prohibited in the New Testament.
In Romans 1, it’s the example given of ungodliness, of suppression of truth, of unrighteousness. In 1 Corinthian 6, it’s also listed and prohibited as it is in 1 Timothy 1. We don’t have to apply the Old Testament law to a situation that it’s not meant to apply to — a New Testament Christian or just a Gentile today, anyone who’s not ancient Israel — because we can apply the New Testament which is for people in a situation such as ours. Now, what do we do with the other things in the old covenant and the Old Testament law? Do those apply today? No. Prohibitions against shirts with mixed fabrics, that doesn’t apply today. Not getting a tattoo, that’s not a moral deed. That is part of the ceremonial law meant to keep Israel separate and pure and not marked up with the images of idols or anything like that.
Now, some people want to say the Old Testament law didn’t go away. It applies today. I would ask why and then I would ask if they realized they’re wearing pants that are made from multiple fabrics and if they have a home garden at home, if they’re growing both jalapeños and carrots in the same bed — we actually are at my home — and those different types of things. Because in some ways, it’s true that when Jesus came he upped the ante. When you looked at the Sermon on the Mount, he says it’s not just adultery, that’s wrong. It’s looking at a woman to lust after. That’s adultery in your heart.
It’s not just murdering your brother that’s wrong, it’s hating your brother. He takes the level they were accustomed to and moves it up. But he does that on moral actions not on ceremonial actions. He doesn’t say, “I said don’t wear a shirt with mixed fabrics. Don’t even wear a shirt with the same fabric that came from different fields.” He doesn’t say that type of thing. It’s all about morality. The morality applies to the New Testament Christian because it’s part of the new covenant.
Another example of the Old Testament law not applying today, in fact, even one of the Ten Commandments, is “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” No one does that today. Now, just because no one does it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply but what it does mean is that the New Testament church has correctly understood that keeping the Sabbath holy — in the way that Old Testament Israel was supposed to — is not binding on us today as New Testament Christians. We don’t meet on the Sabbath. In fact, one of the distinctives of the New Testament church in Acts was they started meeting on the first day of the week on Sunday, not on Saturday. They gave up meeting on the Sabbath because they realized they weren’t under the old covenant.
Now, they may have gone to the synagogue then and then on Sunday too but they didn’t keep the Sabbath in the same way that they were supposed to before, where they didn’t walk a certain distance or they didn’t do a certain number of chores or something like that. The Christians, the New Testament Christians, correctly understood that they were no longer under the Old Testament Levitical Law.
How should we use the Old Testament law code when dealing with homosexuality? We can say that God has had an extremely consistent track record. From the very beginning, he created the male and female, the man and the woman are respectively supposed to leave their parents and join together. Then in the law, we see homosexuality is wrong. Then in the new covenant, we see that it’s still wrong. We cannot just rely on the Old Testament. We can use that as a piece of the greater biblical account and fabric and storyline to show that God has been consistent on that area.
That’s how we can use that. There are other issues of how does the law apply to Christians today and does it. I think, one of the best examples of that is the whole letter of Galatians which is about we are not under the law, we are under grace. It’s not legalism, it’s grace. In a way, what Matthew Vines has said is true. Jesus came to fulfill the law. In doing so, what that means is, he kept all of its demands, its moral demands, its ceremonial demands and he was pure and blameless. He died on the cross to accomplish something the law could never do in and of itself which was provide for the once and for all atonement for all sin which the law could never do. Paul says the law was instituted to show us our sin, to make it known, and it certainly has done that. But everything the law describes and prohibits is not sin for the New Testament Christian. That’s important to understand.
The last example I’ll give you is when you’re in California, California law applies to you. If you were to murder someone, the state of California would say that’s wrong. That’s a crime. Now, when you come to Florida, if you were to murder someone, is California law going to apply to you? No, you’re not going to be guilty of murder in the state of California. That’s a different law or if we’re using our biblical example, you’re under a different covenant. You’re still guilty of murder in Florida because murder is a law that should be a part of every covenant, of every legal system. Indeed, it’s an expression of an absolute moral wrong, which is grounded in God’s character.
Just because the Old Testament law doesn’t apply, that doesn’t mean that it’s free game and everything’s up for doing. That’s not true. We need to see which moral prohibitions are exhibited and expressed in the New Testament. Study the Old Testament a lot closer to understand which Old Testament laws are an expression of absolute morality or which ones are an expression of ceremonial law that was only binding for Old Testament Israel and is not an example of an absolute transcendent, moral system.
Now, this, obviously, hasn’t answered all the questions that are outstanding about the Old Testament law, but I hope you’ve seen that the Old Testament law isn’t binding on the Christian today. But in some areas, specifically, the moral areas, it does express God’s character towards certain behaviors and actions. It also firmly demonstrates that from the very beginning, from thousands of years ago, through the New Testament, God has had an extremely clear track record on the issue of homosexuality. More importantly, what marriage is. That it’s one man, one woman in a monogamous, long-term committed relationship.
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