I thought I would start with the purpose of doing such a study. Let's begin with a familiar if unpleasant verse:
If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (Lev 20:13)So, are you a hypocrite, or do you advocate the death penalty for practicing homosexuals?
This is the false dilemma that many atheists present to believers. If the atheist is loathsomely troll-like, he may even say something like this:
If you really want to see the most honest adapation (sic) of what the bible and Christianity really stands far if you follow the most literal interpretation of the bible, go to [Fred] Phelps.The motivation of this line of, um, reasoning is not honest intellectual debate—the motivation is to portray Christianity in the worst possible light using the least possible effort. The atheist-troll's utter transparency defangs what he considers a killer argument. Nevertheless there are sincere versions of the question that must be addressed, for example: why do Christians keep the Ten Commandments yet wear blended cloth? (Lev 19:19)
It doesn't help that Christians have both unsatisfying responses to this question and inconsistent practices—or at least large loopholes.
An example of the former is the oft-repeated claim: The Old Testament has three types of laws: ceremonial, civil, and moral. The first two are null and void, but the third type remains in force. This sounds sublime (well, maybe) but suffers from at least two major flaws:
- There is no such teaching in the bible—that there are three types of laws and two and only two are nullified.
- It is arguable some laws that are readily jettisoned by most Christians, like the call for execution of homosexuals, are in fact moral in nature—the very type of law that is supposedly preserved from the Old Testament. So, again, are we hypocrites for ignoring them?
Not to mention the number of times I have heard someone rationalize: but I like mowing the lawn, it's relaxing, so it's not really work, is it?
The purpose of this study is twofold. The first is to argue that the atheist does indeed present a false dilemma. That our choices are not limited to: executing homosexuals or being hypocrites. We have, it will be argued, a third option: to comprehend the fuller revelation of the law as presented not by God through Moses, but by God through his Son. As a metaphor (Apropos? You tell me. I think so) for the argument we will use the Transfiguration:
1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Math 17:1-5)Here we have personifications (not the right word—but you know what I mean) of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) and the New Testament/New Covenant (Jesus.) God makes it clear which one is supreme: Listen to Him!
When it comes to the law we have much to learn from Moses and Elijah. But ultimately, we listen to Him.
We will look for a solution to this dilemma by these very means: the superiority of the law as revealed by Jesus over that of Moses. Not as a denigration of Moses—but as an acknowledgment that God's revelation has always been progressive. The gospel first appears as the protogospel in Genesis 3:15. Throughout the Old Testament more is revealed—including the motif of the suffering servant. But the full revelation—the supreme revelation—required the incarnation of the Son of God. We acknowledge the supremacy of the fully revealed version of the gospel over the protogospel of Genesis and prophetic gospel of the bulk of the Old Testament. We evangelize with the gospel as revealed in the ministry of Jesus, not with Genesis 3:15.
The second purpose of this study is to show that Christians do not need inconsistent practices or loopholes. Spoiler: I will argue that it is perfectly fine to go to a restaurant on Sunday—or to mow the lawn.