I’ve had the privilege of speaking with a lot of people regarding Christianity. By far, one of the most frequent objections I hear is the alleged double-standard when it comes to following rules from the Bible. The typical argument goes something like this: “The Old Testament says we should be stoning homosexuals, yet you, Christian, don’t believe in that. Why do you pick and choose different parts of the Bible to follow? Why the inconsistency?” It’s never an honest question, usually just an argument they don’t expect you to answer.
Is this what is really we do, however? Do Christians only selectively grant authority to whatever meets their fancy – ignoring commands they find barbarous or offensive, yet embracing ones they like? The answer, boiled down to a mere generality, is no. Valid theological reasons exist to explain why some of God’s ordinances are observed, but others are not.
In the Old Testament, there were essentially three different types of laws, if you will, delivered by God to the people of ancient Israel. While very much intertwined, the laws transcribed into the first five books of the Bible can be thought as being divided into three categories. Together, they governed the totality of ancient Jewish life.
The first of these categories would be the realm of Jewish Ceremonial Law. These ordinances dictated how, when, and where the tenets of Judaism were to be practiced. Take for example Numbers 5:4-5:
He who brings his offering shall offer to the LORD a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil; and you shall offer with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for the drink offering for each lamb. (ESV)
This passage told the Jews how to properly execute one of the types of sacrificial offerings. This passage is one of dozens just like it that govern ritual cleanliness, purity, diet, and the behavior of both laymen and priests.
So why don’t Christians make such sacrifices today? Why do Christians disregard laws that tell us not to eat shellfish because they are considered unclean? The simple reason behind this is that by default, Christians are not held liable by the Law. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus was meant to be the ultimate fulfillment of the Jewish ceremonial system. He was the lamb that was slain, once and for all – the Ultimate Sacrifice. With this, the need for rituals and sacrifices has been abolished, making it so Jewish Ceremonial laws do not apply to Christians today.
In addition to ceremonial laws that outlined religious rituals and practices, Jewish Civil law governed society and regulated legal aspects of Jewish life. These laws, for example, described how to divide land, what to do with captured enemy soldiers, how to punish a thief, among others. Any kind of legal or criminal dispute would be examined in light of Jewish Civil laws.
Many like to point out the civil laws that demand the stoning of adulterers. I will further expound on these in a moment. First, however, I would like to explain why Christians are not obligated to follow the Jewish Civil laws. Christians do not adhere to these laws because God only meant them to be applied to a specific people in a specific time: the Israelites of Ancient Israel. Since the Ancient Kingdom of Israel is not a country anymore, these dictates are obsolete and no longer applicable.
What about the seemingly harsh laws against homosexuality? Let me first pretext this question with the observation that the prescribed OT punishment against homosexuality also applied to every other type of sexual sin – be that adultery, incest, sex before marriage, or bestiality. Homosexuals were in no way singled out, with other sexual sins being given a pass. It wasn’t that way at all.
Regardless, these punishments do seem unabashedly strict to the modern mind. A crucial piece of information is missing though – the fact that we all deserve the punishment of death for our sins. God told the prophet Ezekiel that the “soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV). Because of the sins that we have committed against a most High and Holy God, He should have us executed. Did you know that even one lie is enough to warrant the death penalty from God? Or one lustful thought? Or one time of taking the Lord’s name in vain? You see, according to the Bible, even the smallest sin is an infinite offense against an infinite God. With this in mind, the fact God allows human beings to live at all – that He doesn’t crush us this very moment and deliver the justice He is rightfully entitled to – is a testament to His lovingkindness.
Besides the two types of Old Testament Law that Christians are not obligated to follow today, there is a third that Christians still observe. That category is the set of laws in the Old Testament that are collectively thought of as moral laws. These are the commands against lying, blaspheming, greed, adultery, idolatry, theivery, and so on. They can be summed up quite effectively in the Ten Commandments, given in Exodus 20.
While Christians have been freed from the curse of the Law (Galations 3:13), a truly born-again believer will endeavor to follow these commands out of love and gratitude. Jesus said that those who love Him will keep his commandments (John 14:15). Christians will strive to do exactly this.
Additionally, none of the Ceremonial or Civil laws are reiterated in the New Testament, but the Moral laws are. With the exception of the directive to observe the Sabbath, all of the Ten Commandments are repeated. It would therefore be fair to assume that God expects Christians to keep His Moral Law, but not necessarily the other Old Testament laws.
The fact is, Christians don’t merely pick and choose which parts of the Bible to believe. We believe in all of it. While we are not bound by the 600-plus laws given in the Old Testament, we gladly adhere to some of them.