Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reading our Bible with Jesus

Two weeks ago, in a Christianity Today interview, Jennifer Knapp announced that she was a homosexual. Commenting on the Scriptural arguments, she repeated a common fallacy concerning the Old Testament with the relationship between the food laws and the moral prohibitions concerning homosexual. Here is the relevant excerpt:

What about what Scripture says on the topic?

Knapp: The Bible has literally saved my life. I find myself between a rock and a hard place—between the conservative evangelical who uses what most people refer to as the "clobber verses" to refer to this loving relationship as an abomination, while they're eating shellfish and wearing clothes of five different fabrics, and various other Scriptures we could argue about. I'm not capable of getting into the theological argument as to whether or not we should or shouldn't allow homosexuals within our church. There's a spirit that overrides that for me, and what I've been gravitating to in Christ and why I became a Christian in the first place.

The basic point is that since you eat shellfish and dismiss those verses which prohibit such behavior, therefore do not use other verses to assert moral authority over me. This argument fails on a number of points:

(1) It ignores the Biblical arguments. It is not as if these Old Testament verses are the sum total of the Bible's argument. It ignores key passages like Romans 1 among others such as 1 Tim. 1:10 and 1 Cor. 6:9-10. (Consider some of these Biblical points).

(2) It fails to provide a sufficient basis for "throwing out" part of God's Word and seemingly undercuts the actual authority of God's Word. It is no argument to say "you throw some out, so I'll throw others out." In these case you are not asserting the rightness of one's own position but potentially impugning the behavior of both. In other words, this does not liberate one's own position any more than my daughter when caught pointing to her siblings and saying "but they were breaking those other rules of yours, dad."

(3) The argument fails to note the redemptive historical nature of the commandments themselves. The New Testament explicit brings certain ceremonial aspects of the Law to fulfillment in the work of Christ. Where fulfillment is brought by Christ the nature of the believers relationship to the commands changes yet certain ethical commands are not revoked--particularly ones that are rooted in the created nature of things.

So Knapp and other are right to point to such Biblical commands regarding shellfish and clothing. They are indeed in Scripture itself.
Leviticus 11:12 'Whatever in the water does not have fins and scales is abhorrent to you.
Deuteronomy 14:3 "You shall not eat any abomination.

Leviticus 19:19 'You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.

Deuteronomy 22:11 "You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.
Yet the nature of Scripture itself, and even more Jesus' hermeneutic tells us that how to handle these passages in light of the unfolding redemption where the ceremonial serves as a shadow until the fulfillment comes.

Jesus himself declares all food clean:
Mark 7:19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
Acts 10--
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour [2] to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
The unfolding of redemption brings certain aspects of the Law to fulfillment in Christ. They were set up with a sort of time delay whereby when the fulfillment comes in Christ these aspects are no longer necessary just as a shadow passes away in the presence of the real.

If we fail to understand that the forms of obedience change, we haven’t put Jesus at the center of our Bible. When someone mandates that we must obey the Old Testament Sabbath, Jewish feasts, circumcision, the Jewish Calendar, food laws, and clothing Laws—they are denying that Christ is the fulfillment. Jesus as the fulfillment changes the nature of our relationship to the Old Testament. It does not throw the Old Testament out. BUT if you want to use the Old Testament without understanding Jesus climaxes it—you deny Jesus is the fulfillment. If you do not see a distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant you miss that Jesus is the fulfillment. But if you fail to see continuity of commands rooted in the holiness of God and humanity's bearing the image of God, we fail to do justice to how God binds us. The new creation Christ inaugurates as the firstfruits of the eschaton brings to fulfillment and accomplishment things created for and held out to the first Adam. In Christ then numerous ethics are still in force as something we fulfill the new humanity in--sacrificial love, sexual fidelity, creational distinctions with salvific equality in heirship, etc. The believer must walk as the new man, having put to death the deeds of the flesh.

Scripture is clear that certain aspects of the Law are not morally binding as then have been fulfilled in the inauguration.
Acts 10 & 11—all food is clean.
Romans 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Gal. 4:10 and Col. 2:16-17—we do not have to celebrate feasts.
Colossians 2:16-17 16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
Sabbath is no more holy than any other day:
Romans 14:5-6 5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
Sacrifices that were once a year—are not fulfilled by the “once for all time” of Jesus’ death. In the same way ceremonial principles laid out in the OT commands are fulfilled in Christ. If the fulfillment has come we are not under the same obligation to practice them—but we do not merely throw them out. It is not just that the Christian chooses what to throw out “eeni, meeni, miney, mow”. We are not “abolishing” what was laid down… rather we are saying that Christ has ushered it to fulfillment.

While Jesus points to the fulfillment of these aspects of the Law, there are other aspects of God's Law that are repeated in the New Testament with the same moral force that they have in the Old Testament. This is particularly true when it comes to sexual and marital fidelity, issues which are rooted not in the Mosaic Law, certainly not the ceremonial aspect, but distinction and covenant unions which are grounded in creation itself. It is the rebellion against creation that leads a perversion of this standards imbedded in the very fabric of our being as those made in the image of God.

While Jennifer Knapp is only repeated what is in the cultural air, the fact remains that such common argument pay little or no attention to the actual wording and structure of Scripture itself. Scripture has an eschatological and redemptive historical structure to it. The covenants given in Scripture are part of the unfolding of God's revelation and redemption.

Some other posts debunking some of the common fallacies and false arguments favoring homosexuality against the clarity of Scripture:
Here, here, and here.

Want to learn more about putting Jesus at the center of your Bible? Listen to this sermon:

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