Before I start, I want to say that this post is intended to be about how we handle Scripture and in particular how we handle the Old Testament laws we find in the Pentateuch. It is NOT politically motivated, though it is about politics, and I am making NO comment about what I think of Donald Trump or his actions over the last few days. Living in the UK, it is interesting to see the reaction of people and the media to the appointment of Donald Trump, and in the last 24 hours or so it seems as if the whole world is up in arms and demonstrating, including some pretty vile posts which I have seen on social media. I have lost count of the number of posts I have deleted and hidden from my Facebook timeline.
One such post which I saw this morning says this: if you claim to be a Christian and you’re not outraged over America’s treatment of immigrants you’re a hypocrite. Source: UH, THE BIBLE “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:33,34).
Interestingly, some of the people sharing this post and liking it are Christians who participate in or approve of other conduct which is forbidden in that same law, and they criticise those who look to the Levitical laws as a baseline for Christian behaviour. They rightly cite many passages in the New Testament to point out that we live under the new covenant of grace and not law. Sometimes very forcibly, they accuse those who look at the Levitical laws favourably, as hypocrites, pharisaical and bound by legalism. In addition they would say that if we call on the Levitical law, then we should actually ensure we obey ALL of the law (is wearing a polycotton shirt disobeying “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material” found in Leviticus 19:19 for example).
The Old Testament laws, which are detailed throughout the Pentateuch give all sorts of commands … some of which seem really obscure and arbitrary, such as: when you enter the land, the fruit of any fruit tree you plant there is to be considered unclean for three years, or we are not to cut the hair at the side of our heads or clip our beards (the men, presumably). Some of them seem to run contrary to the Christian faith such as: “do not show partiality to the poor” (Leviticus 19:15). We are commanded amongst other things not to mark our bodies with tattoos, eat meat with blood still in it, turn to mediums or sell our daughters as prostitutes! Then there are the laws which in our current age are more controversial, such as forbidding homosexuality and instating the tithe. There are positive “you must do this” types of law, for example “Stand up in the presence of the aged”, “observe the sabbath” or “honour your mother and father” there are “you must not do this” laws “you shall not commit murder” “you shall not commit adultery” and so on. The list goes on and on …
The New Testament says a lot about the law (Galatians especially), and Jesus, of course in Matthew 5:17 declares he didn’t come to abolish it but to fulfil it. James writes that if we try to be justified by the law and fail at just one point, we have failed at all of it (did you stand up last time an old person entered the room?!)
Clearly, citing the levitical laws for ANY reason and claiming the authority of just one of them to make a point or prove a particular stance is at best inconsistent if we don’t keep all of the law, it is hypocritical if we deliberately ignore those laws which don’t suit our purpose. If we cite a Levitical law (even if it is one we agree with such as Leviticus 19:33,34) while simultaneously ignoring those we find less palatable or which don’t fit into the modern fashion of the time (such as Leviticus 20:13 and parallels) we are, ourselves hypocrites. Please note I am NOT suggesting that the author of the above statement has done this, I am attempting to point out how careful we must be in this area.
No Christian I have ever met would say we must completely abolish all the laws and disregard them in their entirety, similarly neither have I met a Christian who insists that we should obey every law to the letter (how could they in the face of the book of Galatians?!!). All Christians I have encountered have in place a mechanism for deciding which of these laws they obey and which they disregard. How we dialogue healthily with one another, especially with those other Christians who handle the law differently is of profound importance. We are, like it or not, part of the same body, and Christ calls that body to work in unity for the gospel.