100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

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

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Answering the Letter to Dr Laura, Part 4

Continuing right along with the bullet points of the Letter, the next one reads:

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

Dealing with the minor issue first... no, it would not be the moral obligation of an individual to put someone to death for violating the Sabbath. This would have been the duty of the government through the proper legal proceedings. But more than that, I don’t think the issue of morality comes into Sabbath breaking. The Sabbath has moral implications; you cannot have your employees work and work without ever giving them a break. But whether that break is on the seventh day of the week or on some other day is not a moral issue. The Sabbath appears to have been one of the Ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. These are not laws to teach us moral correctness, necessarily, but laws to teach us about God and His plan for mankind. The Sabbath, above all, is really all about the age of rest to come which God promises His people... those who trust in God so as to lay aside their own work and rely on Him. A reference to the Sabbath law in the context of this letter to Dr Laura is inappropriate, since the whole point being made by the letter to Dr Laura is that the morality of the Bible is not the morality that anybody lives by today. It should therefore only cite examples of such moral standards which we no longer follow, if the writer can find any.

Moving to the next point of the letter, then...

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an Abomination (Lev 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

Here we face the same issue. The food laws were not against something immoral. If it were immoral to eat certain foods, Christ could not have declared all foods clean in the New Testament. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is considered an immoral act by the Biblical authors (eg 1 Corinthians 6:9). But here we’re faced with a problem... that word “abomination”. Both the eating of shellfish and homosexuality are called an “abomination”. When applied to both of these things, it surely makes them comparable. How should we understand the word “abomination”? The definition of the word “abomination” is “something detestable”. The ESV happens to use the word “detestable” in Leviticus 11:10, in fact. I think that the word “abomination” has come to have that strong connotation of something morally abhorrent. But actually, something may be detestable because it’s morally abhorrent. And something can be detestable because we just don’t like it. In the case of the food laws the Jews are being taught to detest certain foods. It doesn’t mean that they should detest them because eating them is morally wrong. So again, the writer of this letter is comparing a Ceremonial law which is not a moral issue, to a law which does refer to a moral issue. The letter is trying to suggest that we “pick and choose” arbitrarily which laws to uphold today and which to disregard, but the choice is not arbitrary at all: Ceremonial laws are abrogated, but the Moral laws are not.

In the interests of time I won’t spend long on the next point of the letter; it is the same issue again where the writer is using a Ceremonial law as an example. The following point reads:

Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Actually, this verse is referring to the priests specifically; and it is certain that the writer of this letter is not a priest of Israel. But we may, of course, wonder why such a Ceremonial law existed. And of course, it is there to teach us that God’s standards are high. When we read of laws like this, it should be all the more incredible to us that God became a man and mingled amongst the poor and lame, desiring to be with them; and that through Christ we may all, now, be made perfect and come into His presence. Whereas we are unworthy to approach God, God has made it possible for us to approach Him though His own condescension and grace toward us.

Well, hopefully you’re becoming aware that the writer is really trying to pull a fast one on you. The point that the writer is trying to make is that the prohibition on homosexuality should be invalid today as all these other laws are. But to make this point at all, the writer simply must demonstrate that there are other moral laws which we disregard. Instead, possibly out of ignorance, the writer has referred to laws of a different class altogether: Ceremonial laws which are not prohibitions against immoral acts. According to Christian theology, the Judicial and Ceremonial laws no longer apply for good reasons. The Moral law, however, must always apply.

Part 3 <- -> Part 5

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