100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Answering the Letter to Dr Laura, Part 2

In this post we’ll start looking at the specific Laws criticized in the Letter to Dr Laura. There are ten bullet points, but hopefully we won’t need another ten posts to answer them all! The first bullet point in the Letter reads...

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I’m not blind to the sarcasm here. This refers to an offering made at the temple (or the tabernacle at this point in history), so the neighbours wouldn’t really be complaining about that. And there’s no Law which says that one should smite their neighbour for complaining about sacrifices to God. But that’s all beside the point. This is simply mocking the sacrificial system, Biblical language and the practice of capital punishment in the Mosaic Law for things which seemed unworthy of such measures.

There are three categories in which theologians group the Mosaic Laws. There is the Moral Law, the Ceremonial Law, and the Judicial Law. Of course, theologians often still discuss the categorization for specific Laws today. After all, the Bible doesn’t categorize the Law this way, and we often find that Laws from different categories are mixed together in the same context. Nevertheless, the distinction between these categories is most certainly there, even if the lines are occasionally blurred. Offering animals as a sacrifice is undoubtedly a Ceremonial Law. But the Ceremonial Laws were designed for people who lived before Christ. Animal sacrifices point to the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Worship in the temple having priests as mediators between God and man illustrates a present reality in which Christ Himself is our priest (and now able to be one since the incarnation), and the temple with the Holy of Holies is representative of heaven where God is on His throne.

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24)

All of these ceremonies are done away with since Christ has come (“For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” Hebrews 7:12). They illustrated what He would do, but now we no longer need the illustration.

So this Letter insinuates that Christians pick and choose which Laws to obey, but a proper reading of the whole Bible shows that we ought to at least cease following the Ceremonial commandments. Further study shows that we ought to cease following the Judicial as well since they apply to God’s people as a nation, but now God’s people consist of citizens from all nations. This is why the Laws regarding capital punishment no longer apply either. Which government is supposed to enforce them? We no longer have a theocratic government, and we’re not necessarily supposed to.

Generally speaking just about all the laws cited in this Letter fall into the category of Ceremonial or Judicial laws, which is why we no longer observe them. But one might say, “That’s fine; I’m not bothered that Jesus told you not to observe those Laws anymore. I’m more concerned that they weren’t moral, which suggests that God (the Law-giver) is not moral.” This is probably the chief concern in the Letter writer’s next bullet point...

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

Selling one's daughter into slavery sounds like a fairly immoral thing to do because slavery is oppressive. When we consider the way that black slaves were treated once upon a time; they were more or less treated like animals. But it is certain that God opposes this kind of slavery. We read in Exodus 3...

Then the LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land... (Exodus 3:7-8)

God had compassion upon the Israelites because of their slavery. God, consistent with this character, tells Israel not to be like their Egyptian slavemasters. For example, He said “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21). But when the Old Testament speaks of slavery it doesn’t always necessarily imply an oppressive kind of slavery. It is actually out of concern for the poor that such laws are declared, so that the poor who would otherwise be homeless might find food and shelter and protection under their master, who is commanded by these laws to treat their slaves with kindness. Relating this to the modern day, the best analogy I can think of is the bank and the mortgagee. We all find ourselves in a kind of slavery when we take out a mortgage to buy a home. A large proportion of our income is for the bank. But there must also be laws in place to ensure that banks treat their clients well and don’t take advantage of them. Here a daughter is essentially going to work to support the family. This may, in this culture be "whether the daughter likes it or not", but this isn't immoral in the same way that a father might tell his daughter in this day and age to go to school and forbids her to drop out "whether she likes it or not." Many parents these days don't exercise enough authority over their children, but this may actually be a problem with modern parents rather than an improvement over this ancient culture.

Part 1 <- -> Part 3

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