Note: I fully affirm the divine inspiration of the Bible, but realize it is an ancient book whose authors saw the world much differently than I do. When their world and mine intersect, tension naturally arises. This series explores how to live within this tension. Read Part 1 Here: The Bible is Always True, Except When it Isn’t, Then it is
Note two: I’m really sorry for how you are going to feel about the banner image in a few minutes.
“If you don’t want homosexuals to get married because of some old book, then shouldn’t you also be punishing people for wearing clothing with two kinds of fabric or letting your cows graze with other cows? You can’t just pick and choose which parts of the Bible you follow.” I’ve heard a lot of statements over the years that sound like this one. Leviticus has become quite the popular book for wannabe theologians on both sides of the issue. The problem with the argument comes down to this: not only can you pick and choose which parts of the Bible you follow, but you actually must pick and you must choose.
You just have to have a consistent method for how you do it. It might seem unfair to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to follow. It might even seem like rejecting God’s divine inspiration. We do it all the time, though, and we run into all sorts of problems if we don’t.
I Really Need You to Hear Me On This Goat Milk Thing
The Torah is full of laws. There are 613 of them, to be exact. On one end, we find the clear and easy to follow admonition, “Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute.” On the other, we find the downright weird. “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk,” which appears three times —more times than any other command in the Torah. God is really serious about this boiling baby goats thing.
My guess is, you aren’t boiling small goats in their mother’s milk, which is good, because it’s weird. If you are, though, you aren’t necessarily violating God’s law because we don’t follow the Levitical laws. Well, we don’t follow most of them.
Many of the laws in the Torah are intended for a specific group of people in a specific time in history. The Levitical laws, in particular, are about how to approach God in the tabernacle. The tabernacle has been done away with, and Jesus has replaced the former sacrificial system once used as our way to approach God. So we don’t need to follow those same rules anymore. In fact, if we followed them as is, we would be rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. So you can go ahead and boil baby goats in their mother’s milk if you feel so inclined (you probably shouldn’t though).
While we don’t have to follow the Levitical laws, there are many of them we probably should follow. There are laws about not sleeping with animals (people had to be told this?), and there are laws about not sleeping with your grandkids (again, people had to be told this?). Go ahead and please keep following those laws.
When deciding what portions of the Bible to follow and what parts not to follow, we have to take into mind historical and cultural factors, which parts are specific instruction and which parts are universal instruction. We use our minds and our experiences to work our way through this, but most importantly we need to rely on the Holy Spirit.
It Seemed Good to the Holy Spirit and to Us
The story of Acts 15 is a pivotal moment in human history. As the disciples of Jesus began to make disciples of all nations, they ran into a tricky situation. As they invited men to follow Jesus and this new way of life, they were also inviting them to cut off part of their penises. Not a great way to gain converts. Naturally, there was some resistance to this evangelism strategy. So the church convened to discuss this issue and settled on a compromise of sorts. The Jewish people decided to continue many of their traditions (like circumcision), and they also decided the gentiles don’t need to do everything they do. To be a Christ follower, they just need to do some of the big things, like abstaining from sexual immorality and food sacrificed to idols.
When they announced this decision, they presented a rock solid, logical case with countless scriptural examples carefully studied and presented by a leading team of scholars, and passed through multiple committees. Just kidding. They said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” And they shared what they’d decided.
There are so many layers to what’s happening here, but let’s focus on one major truth: The Church makes a monumental decision to ignore thousands of years of tradition and hundreds of passages of scripture regarding circumcision. Their reason for doing this? It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to them.
The Law of Love
This realization can be frightening. The church just changing the way things have been done? Can we do that? Should we? This story raises lots of challenging questions. Before we rewrite the Bible, however, let’s slow down and work through some key truths of scripture:
God’s word should be taken seriously. He is our Creator and our Lord.God is progressively bringing us to new truths. In addition to individuals growing, humanity is growing.The church is the most powerful force for good or evil that humanity possesses.The source behind all this growth and power for good is the Holy Spirit.
The early church made some important decisions and some major changes. They didn’t do it carelessly but with earnest prayer, study, and fellowship. They relied heavily on the power of God’s Spirit to lead them into a newer and better understanding of God’s law.
Before, people followed the law to avoid sin and death, but Jesus called them to follow the law so they could best love God and their neighbor. Before, circumcision was a sign of obedience and loyalty to God. The gentiles didn’t see it the same way. Circumcision was an obstacle to their acceptance of Jesus. If the law is about loving God and your neighbor, putting a stumbling block between God and your neighbor was not lawful. So the church changed it. They didn’t follow the letter of the law, but they followed the spirit of the law (pun intended). In a way—by not following the Bible—they were following the Bible.
I don’t want you to disregard the Bible, but I do want you to move forward in life led by the Spirit of God who is calling humanity to something better and better. There is a new creation springing forth all around us. Will you be part of it?