Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Bible Says

I live in "The Bible Says" land.  In the South, I see more cars with Bible verse bumper stickers than I've seen anywhere else. I had never seen the Ten Commandments posted in any one's front yard but down here it's almost common. Saying, "The Bible Says', puts an end to many an argument. Jacksonville, Fl has been debating a Human Rights Ordinance with protections for the LBGT community and many Christians have said, "The Bible Says" in opposition. Folks here generally assume they are living life according to what the Bible says.

The latest Barna poll on Bible reading I saw said that 59% of Protestants surveyed had read the Bible in the past week. A Gallup poll in 2004 said 34% of the people they asked believed the "Bible was the actual word of God". Yet, polls and anecdotal evidence show how little Christians really know about the Bible. Few know all ten of the Ten Commandments, the names of the apostles, the books of the Bible - not to mention - the life and teaching of Jesus or the theology of Paul.

Take for instance, the book of Leviticus. It has one of best known verses in the whole Bible (18:22) due to the ongoing controversies over homosexuality and the churches. Most of the other verses in the book are not as well known. Lev. 19:19, says do not let your animals breed with a different kind, and do not sow your fields with two different kinds of seeds, and don't put on a garment made of two different kinds of material. Verse 26 says not to eat any meat with it's blood still in it. No more steak cooked raw or medium rare! The laws found in Leviticus 17: 10-15 raise questions about hunting and the inhumane treatment of animals but any Christians raising those questions are hardly taken seriously.

What I'm saying is that most of our treatment of the laws in the Old Testament is pretty haphazard. Some we like, some we don't even know! How do we know which is which. The Bible says, but what do we do with what it says.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that he did not come to abolish the law but he came to fulfill it. He did not come pointing out certain laws Christians are to follow and other ones we can ignore. He said he fulfilled all of them because we can't. There was only one law he told his followers to keep, the law of love. Love your neighbors as yourselves, love your enemies, love the Lord, your God. When the rich, young man came to Jesus and told him he had kept all the commandments, Jesus said to him, if you want to be perfect, sell all you have, give your money to the poor, and come and follow me. That commandment is, not so strangely, not a matter of much discussion today.

Christians make a distinction between the ceremonial laws in the Old Testament and the moral law. The ceremonial laws are not meant for Christians to keep today but the moral law (i.e., the Ten Commandments) is. This distinction sounds neat but doesn't work so well in practice. How do we know the difference? The Bible does not use that distinction. No where does the Bible spell out what laws Christians should keep and what laws are unimportant.

Leviticus takes the view that all the laws have something to teach us and there is not a one that is unimportant. It is all God's word (19:1-2). We don't have to come to Jesus as the rich, young man did and ask, Jesus what good deed must I do to inherit eternal life? The good deeds are enumerated in the Old Testament. Why, ask me, Jesus asked him, there is only one who is good, so go and keep the commandments. Which ones, he asked, (for there were very, very many). Jesus began naming a few and the young man nodded his head and said, I'm on top of those. But, Jesus said, there is one more thing. There is always one more thing. Unless, Jesus fulfilled the law, all of it. And we are following him living the one law that is necessary, the law of love.

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