Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Charge of Inconsistency

"Simply stated, the 'homosexuality and shellfish' argument falls apart when read as the Scriptures are meant to be read—with a redemptive-historical approach in view." ~ Matthew Everhard

You often hear stated today, "Christians love to quote the Bible and pick and choose whatever rules they want us to obey and what rules they want to ignore. I can quote the Bible too, and Lv. 11:9-11 says that you should not eat shellfish. You eat shrimp, so why should we believe what you say about homosexuality?" This is the "shrimp argument" and it sounds like a good one on the surface, but it actually comes from a complete lack of understanding of Scripture and Christianity as a whole. It is leveled by those who want to charge Christians with inconsistency if they do not agree with homosexuality. Yet, as we will see, citing a random verse from Scripture does not prove Christians inconsistent at all. It in fact opens up the door to show how Christ has changed everything.

First of all, let's be clear about what the Bible says. People who use the shrimp argument generally quote from Lv. 18:22 or Lv. 20:13 as if they are the only thing the Bible has to say about homosexuality. That is simply not the case. The New Testament (NT) is not silent on the issue but is quite clear (cf. Ro. 1:26-27; 1 Co. 6:91 Ti. 1:8-11). So, if we are going to throw around the charge of "picking and choosing," let's not pick and choose what prohibitions we mention or what Testament we go to for those prohibitions. (It is often argued that Jesus did not say anything about homosexuality. Stand to Reason has a good article answering that charge.)

So, is it inconsistent for Christians say homosexuality is sinful but eat shrimp? No, because with His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus changed the Biblical landscape and now proper interpretation of the Old Testament (OT) law must take Christ's work into account (the redemptive-historical view mentioned in the quote by Everhard).

The OT, especially Leviticus, commits a large amount of space to what is called the "ceremonial law." This law told Israel how it could approach and worship God. Because Christ had not yet come, man could not just approach God in his any state. For God's people to be in right relationship to a holy God and to rightly worship that God, there had to be sacrifices to deal with sin and rules to deal with the purity of the Israelite people. You could not approach God if you had eaten certain foods that were declared unclean (like shrimp), if you had touched an unclean object, or if you did not wear the right clothing. Through the ceremonial law, God made it clear that He is holy and people are not, therefore they cannot just approach Him and worship Him in whatever fashion they pleased. They had to be pure. When Jesus came on the scene, however, He fulfilled the ceremonial law. The book of Hebrews argues this point at length, showing that with Christ's death and resurrection approaching God has changed and people cannot go back to the ceremonial law. Christ's is one-for-all sacrifice (He. 10:12), His righteousness is now our purity before God (Ro. 5:12-18; He. 10:19-23), and now all foods are clean (Mk. 7:19). When Jesus died on the cross the veil of the Temple was ripped and replaced with Jesus Himself (He. 10:20), which shows that the ceremonial law, with its sacrifices and cleanliness laws, has been fulfilled and can no longer be observed by Christians. Jesus makes us clean now, not what we eat, wear, touch, or what sacrifices we make.

That, however, is not the only type of law in the OT. Another type is the "judicial law" that governed the nation of Israel. In it there are a lot of laws that seem odd to us and there are some that seem extreme, like the stoning of blasphemers (cf. Lv. 24:16). What about those laws? How do those work? Blaspheming is obviously still a sin but should we stone those who do it? No, because with the coming of Christ, God's people are not longer a physical nation but a spiritual one. In the OT, God's people were a physical nation so sins had civil punishments. However, now that Christ has come, God's people are a spiritual people living in governments throughout the world. The Church is not the civil government, so the Church no longer deals with sin through civil punishments but through exhortation, censoring, and, as a last resort, exclusion from fellowship (cf. Mt. 18:15-201 Co. 51 Ti. 1:19-20).

But, the third type of law--the moral law, which, for example, tells us about sexuality--is still in place. Why? Because it is not a consequence of how we can approach/worship God (ceremonial law) or the political organization of God's people (judicial law) but an extension of God's very character and created order, which can never change or be done away with. Even the coming of Christ does not change the requirements of the moral law (but He does secure forgiveness and eternal life for those who put their faith in Him). What the OT has to say about generosity, loving our neighbor, families, relationships, and even sex continues into the NT (cf. e.g. Mt. 5:27-30; 1 Co. 6:9-20).

So, how we look at the OT and its regulations depends not on "picking and choosing" but on Jesus Christ Himself. Now, one might reject the Christian premise that Jesus is God and that His death and resurrection changed the biblical landscape. But, even if one does reject that premise, one cannot fairly say that Christians are inconsistent if they accept the moral statements of the OT and do not practice the ceremonial or judicial aspects. From the premises of Christianity this is completely consistent. One can say they disagree, one can reject the conclusion, one can say Christianity is wrong, and one can even say it is "hateful" (those are different arguments), but the charge of inconsistency fails when looked at the data seriously from a biblical, Christian standpoint.

By His Grace,

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