There are different categories of the Old Testament Law. Each category should be understood and applied in different ways today.
None of the Old Testament Law is binding on Christians today.
Only commands given in the New Testament, under the New Covenant are binding today.
We cannot use Leviticus 18 and 20 to inform our present day discussions about LGBT issues.
Before we move on to look at the two verses in Leviticus that talk of male same-gender sexual acts, we need to look again at how we deal with the Bible, especially the Old Testament Law. Many of these laws are still in place today, but many are not. We need to know what principles are used to determine which laws apply and which do not. We need to look at three specific issues: consistency, punishments and the New Covenant.
Being Consistent with the Old Testament Law
In his book, “A Year of Living Biblically”, Esquire magazine writer, AJ Jacobs, attempted to follow every law laid out in the Old Testament for a full year. Similarly, Christian author, Rachel Held Evans chronicles her attempts to live out the laws and commands for women in the Bible in “A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master'”. Neither succeeded in their quests – often hilariously so – because the lists of laws in the Bible (not forgetting that Jewish and Christian traditions add hundreds more) are literally impossible to follow in their entirety. This should give us a clue as to their nature and purpose.
It is fairly simple to see that some of the laws of the Old Testament have fallen away. The most obvious are the dietary and food laws, and the system of sacrifices and offerings. The reason these no longer apply is because they were pointing to what Jesus would do. They showed us that God was holy and that we were not, and they showed us our need for God. When Jesus came, He became the ultimate expression of these truths. We do not need these laws anymore, and we can safely leave them as a historical record that is no longer binding on us. There are also laws related to Israel as a nation. These too have fallen away, as the New Covenant is no longer for a specific nation-state.
But there are some laws that feel universal and eternal. Like “do not kill” and “do not lie”. These are often referred to as the “moral laws” and it is claimed that we can ignore all other laws, but not these.
In theory this sounds good and reasonable. In reality, it’s not as easy to work out which laws are the laws that are strictly moral, and therefore still applicable, and which were only meant for Israel and for a time. Add to this the fact that “The Law” is usually spoken about in the singular. It was a unit, and meant to be treated as such, as James 2:10, for example, tells us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” This is how Jesus referenced it too (e.g. Matthew 22:40) – it is meant to be taken as a whole.
So, how do we as Christians deal with a set of instructions that include prohibitions against things that are considered completely acceptable today? Do we abandon it all? Or embrace it all? Or are there some principles we can use to distinguish which we abandon and which we apply? The biggest issue we have in determining which parts of the Old Testament Law we should apply today is consistency.
The only possible way to do this is by creating categories of laws, claiming that some categories are still in force while others have fallen away or been superseded. This has been the approach of traditional interpreters of the Law. And they claim that the two laws against homosexual behaviour fall into the the “moral” category, which is universal and eternal.
Continue reading The Bible and Same Sex Relationships, Part 5: Consistency, Punishments and the New Covenant