I’ve seen a clip from West Wing going around on Facebook with the headline “How to Silence Kim Davis Supporters”. In the clip the president lays out a litany of questions to someone who is representative of the Christian right. I don’t know the plot – haven’t seen the show. The questions are how to to apply Ex 21:7 (selling his daughter into slavery), Ex 35:2 (death penalty for breaking the Sabbath), Lev 11:7 (pigs are unclean), and other laws against mixing crops and fabrics etc…
Let me be emphatic: this is not a defense of Kim Davis. This is a comment on the accusation that Christian’s cherry pick which verses of the Bible they want to follow. When you write the lines and pick the actors you can make it look like Christian’s are stumped. But in truth questions of how Christians should relate to the Old Testament laws isn’t a recent question. In fact it’s one of the earliest things the Church dealt with, so early it’s actually included in the New Testament (Acts 15). The Apostles gathered to ask essentially whether someone who believed in Jesus had to become Jewish and obey all of the Old Covenant laws. They decided, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you [the Gentiles] no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28-29). In other words the New Testament explicitly says Christians are not bound by Jewish civil and worship regulations. We are still obligated to keep God’s moral law.
I wish I could summarize this on handwritten sign and I would just hold it with an earnest expression for a picture on twitter – but this actually requires some thought and following a line of reasoning. Some of the Old Testament laws dealt with religious worship and regulations that were sort of social markers that separated the Jewish people from other nations. These were rules about how animals were sacrificed and dietary restrictions. The Acts passage explicitly says these aren’t to be applied to Gentile Christians. (Also see the book of Hebrews in the New Testament and Jesus’ own teachings about food laws in Mark 7:19).
Other laws dealt with how Israel would operate as a political state, these are the civil laws. On one hand, they dealt with things similar to our inheritance laws and health codes. On the other, they provided penalties for breaking criminal laws based on the moral law. This for example would be how to deal with someone who murdered, or committed adultery, or stole something. One very important difference between the Biblical nation of Israel and the Church is that the Church is not and never will be a nation or a political state. So rather than trying to implement the laws of Israel, we are called to be obedient to whatever civic authorities we are under (Romans 13:1-7.) This means we pay taxes and obey zoning laws. It also means that we recognize the state’s right to enforce punishments on those who break the moral law. Civil authorities, not the Church, regulate against theft, fraud, and murder. The moral law is unchanging. Although it is to be enforced by civil authority, the state doesn’t define it. It is given by God and is part of the very fabric of creation, and we are called to obey it. This is why the letters of the New Testament continue to call Christians to integrity, obedience, sexual purity and generosity – but not to refrain from bacon and shell fish or from wearing clothes of mixed fabrics.
If you aren’t a Christian you obviously disagree with this view of law, but I hope you would agree that to accuse Christians of only cherry picking Bible verses without ever referencing Jesus or any of the New Testament is an awfully selective use of scripture.