How we relate to the Old Testament is more than an interesting question for the Church today. We spend so much time arguing about the nature of the New Testament tradition (communion, baptism, and speaking in tongues) that most churches won't go near the Old Testament other than to read the praise sections from the Psalms, the prophecy section of Isaiah, and the Wisdom literature of Proverbs.
The normal reason for the mainstream Church to ignore the Old Testament is to call out the "Old." To many there is another revelation in the New Testament. I have heard this in many ways. For instance, the Sabbath was something given only to the Jews. For instance, tithing was something given to the Jews.
Yet if I asked you who said, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you might be surprised that this comes from Leviticus 19:18. The section of the scripture that is known as "The Law." When you understand this, you begin to understand why Christ was trying to teach them about the concept of "who was your neighbor?" Rather than trying to talk them into loving their neighbor. The Law teaches the loving your neighbor part very clearly. Christ helped us understand the whole of this commandment.
Because we throw away the Old Testament,we hurt ourselves almost beyond repair. We are a church of weakness and not of power. In the canon of the scripture,we must view the entire Bible as a seamless whole. We do need to read the law in a different light because our Lord came to die for us, but we need to recognize his death now allows us to read the law. We have now the ability to read the Old Testament with the correct reading.
The Law is no longer an instrument to condemn us. It is no longer only suited to lead to our death.
The Law goes from being a" Law of Sin" to becoming a "Law of Advice." The Law goes from being a horrible jailer carrying us to death, to becoming a coach that helps us think about the choices that we should make.
For example, there are three ways in which some have looked at the Sabbath:
1. As the day that is known as Saturday that we must observe as a rest and worship day. If you use Sunday as the Sabbath, then you are breaking a law which cannot be broken without causing real harm.
2. As a day of the Law that should be forgotten since it is a remnant of the Law that only serves to remind us of how far we are away from forgiveness. It is believes that the Law was only given to show sin. Therefore, the Law can be ignored for the most part, and various churches can take and leave parts of the law they don't like. Some will say that the prohibitions against missing the Sabbath is like the prohibition against homosexuality. They were for a different time and a different people.
3. The Sabbath was a principle of good health. The key behind this is not a mechanistic reading of Saturday, but an understanding that God wishes us to leave behind the world for one day a week, and concentrate on resting in him. Do not ignore this principle, be it Saturday or Sunday.
If it is not obvious, I clearly believe the later. For the most part I try and follow the Law not as a guide to sin, but as a guide to health. Think of the relief that you have because there is a break in the week. This is not tied to one day, but a principle.
I think it simply is wrong to do as the Seventh Day Adventist do and declare "God called out the Shabbat (or Sabbath) as Saturday, therefore, we are sinners if we celebrate Sunday as a day of rest."
The Seventh Day Adventist are doing exactly wrong. They are taking the principle and turning it into sin. The Law goes back to bringing death rather than life.
The Sabbath is something that was given to us for health. It was a principle that man must have a day of rest in his weekly cycle. However, more than this, he must allow others to rest. This principle means that men must cease from not only striving, but from harm.
In "The Slavery Reader," a collection of stories about slavery (Heuman and Walvin, 2002), McDonald reports that many slaves did get no or light work on Sunday. Even the people that we think of cruel saw the goodness in the scripture dictates. I am sure that this one day was a relief to an otherwise intolerable existence. The principle is obvious and good. It has nothing to do with a particular day, but a principle of renewal.
It is difficult to understand, however, where the principle starts and the law starts. So, it has happened that sometimes we stop doing the Law because we think that it is tied to an old system that is no longer to be followed due to our freedom in Jesus Christ.
For example, the Law says that human waste should be left outside of the camp and buried. It says that hands should be washed before eating. Why was this done? Was it because of a meaningless ritual that could be ignored?
Those in the middle ages thought such. Raw sewerage was dumped in the middle of the street to be washed down the curb side drain. This filth fell into the water supply of many cities, and wide spread disease was the result.
Things that we consider so obvious now, are only obvious over the last 200 years as we begun to understand the ideas of microbes.
There is little doubt that the act of circumcision helps prevents both cancer and disease, and yet it is not required for salvation. However, by hanging onto this "outdated" regulation from the law, much suffering can be prevented. The research is showing that this outdated idea of circumcision helps make people healthier. Now, it does NOT guaranty that we are saved. It is not a ritual that gives us salvation. To this, Paul rightly declares that by marking it as such, we sin, but it is correlated with better health.
Even today, the question may be "well what about things like pigs? I can understand that pigs were more parasite susceptible, but with our farming habits today, I think they are fine."
Indeed, we may argue that pig farming is fine today for an individual. However, the biological similarities between pigs and humans are very close. We are familiar with the bird flu, since it was recent. However, the older people may remember the "swine flu." The receptors on the lungs of pigs are very similar to humans, and birds are not. The thought process in most epidemiology is that flu is a result of a mutation in either bird populations or swine populations. The flu can be generated from either group, and is often from both groups. But in the back of my mind, I am worried that the ultimate pandemic will be caused by a virus that jumps from bird to swine to human. I wonder that by not eating swine, if the human race can take out a serious threat to our existence. There are some that think that the pandemic of 1918 may have been due to the missing link of swine making it the crossing path for humans. What is clear, is that the amount of pigs we have and the way that they are farmed worldwide is opening us up for disease.
People also reject the proscription against adultery, fornication, and homosexuality. Sometimes we only attack the Law for its law against homosexuality, but in reality, the Bible calls out for sexual purity on all fronts. Now, if for some reason we could follow the dictates of The Law on Sexual Purity, we would have no problems with sexually transmitted diseases. Period.
Sexual disease only spreads when we have non-monogamous relationships.
For instance, through 2005, here was the USA cumulated HIV cases from Cases of HIV infection and AIDS in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2005. The first column is the age of the person. The second column is the number of cases in 2005. The third is the cumulative cases, with a final sum number at the bottom.
|Ages 65 or older:||801||14,503|
By 2008, we will be over 1M cases of HIV. I have read that that the average direct cost of treating HIV is $100,000. Thus, we will spend $100B dollars as a nation because we don't value the law. The USA is lucky, because we can afford this bill. (Or even bills like the Iraq war which is 5 times higher.) However, other parts of the world have been set back decades. And there are many other sexually transmitted diseases to run up this bill.
Now, some will say that "we can educate our way out of STD problem."
The challenges are very, very great here simply because there are only two ways to avoid STDs. One is sexual abstinence and the other is condoms. However, the invention of latex and condoms is new. There was no other way to stem the tide of sexual disease other than living a pure life before latex.
The pain of STD is tremendous indeed in many ways. While STDs can impact individuals, it also impacts people groups as a whole
For instance, gonorrhea is directly related to sterility rates. a 20% rate of gonorrhea drops fetility by 50%. It is not hard, and it has been seen, that high gonorrhea rates will cause populations to drop (Brunham, Garnett, Swinton, and Anderson 1992; Swinton, Garnett, Brunham, and Anderson 1992). This literary places a people group at risk. The engine of growth and prosperity in ancient times was the health of its people.
This is not to ignore individual suffering from STDs. Certain diseases like Syphilis, as appeared with a mutated strain in the late 1400's that plague us today, are so unbelievably gross and painful with modern medicines that it is beyond belief.
So for the thousands of people groups before this, the Law was the only way to stop needless suffering. You may ask, "Why were people stoning each other over martial infidelity and homosexuality?" I don't think that there would be any argumentation that by curtailing this activity, you create strong people groups and better societies.
What happens in the Old Testament is that it takes a serious step away from "only" a Code of Hammurabi clone or follow-on. While there is little in the Hammurabic code on sexual purity, there is a lot in the Mosaic code. The core of the Hammurabic code is "an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth." You get to exact revenge as pain was given. However, in the Levitical code, it goes much further by saying, "You will be killed for supporting a social atmosphere that will cause others to die."
This is the only way that I've found to reconcile the idea of brutally killing people for sexual deviation as laid out in the Bible. I am not saying that these are easy words to hear, but I do think that it is logical.
Perhaps, we can look at a new issue in our society today to layout how this would work.
Drunk driving kills 50,000 people a year. Now, we did not have the advent of drunk driving in the Old Testament. However, if we did, we would executed drunk drivers even through that had killed no one. Hang onto this bizarre idea for a second. If a driver was found drunk, given a breathalizer, and then killed for driving drunk, I am sure we would be offended.
However, I have no doubt that the overall death rates for the entire people group would drop. This sounds very harsh, but it is logical in its standpoint. There are 50,000 people killed. How many execution would need to take place? 10,000? 5,000? In reality, a very few would be killed then we would see a massive change in our society.
If we actually killed people for the potential of drinking and driving, very, very quickly people would simply not drink and drive. They would give their keys away. They would sell their cars. They would change their life styles.
Mind you, I am not saying that this is an easy thing. Normally, we take a person's life for taking another person's life. ("An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.") In this case, we are killing a few to save many.
It is because many of us have driven drunk before, and the thought of being execute "for only drinking and driving" simply seems like an extremely harsh sentence. And more than this, we are killing somebody not for his sin, but for the chance of sinning. However, even this all of this strangeness, it would be a more healthy society.
However, we are not thinking about drunk driving. We are thinking about sexual purity. We have developed something can restrain this, as we talked about earlier. The device is called a condom. Some have suggested that more condoms and more education will take care of the issue.
Now as a user of such devices, I think I can speak authoritatively:
1. They aren't very pleasurable
2. They aren't perfectly reliable
If you add 1 and 2 together, you will quickly realize that no amount of education will cause all people to use the condom, and even if people do, it may well not be reliable. How many people have you heard of that "have unprotected sex?" Educated people. People how can afford to have plenty of condoms.
In reality, the infection rates of HIV has been pretty much flat for the last 10 years or so.
So what would have been the impact of the Law? The Hebrews, in as much as they followed the law, were a freaking terror of good health. They ate food which was good for them. They had an amazing lack of STDs because of these laws. Their children grew up in disease free atmospheres. They were strong in battle.
This is why it is good to consider the Law, and how marvelous it is. We may not sin when we ignore it, however, we may find out that our health is better. Even if you are shocked and dismayed by the idea that some sexual actions are punishable by death, I hope at least you can see some logic in it.
As for the culture today, should we still be placing the homosexual to death? Should we kill those we find in adultery? I will confess that I would not. I understand the Law, and I marvel at its ramifications. However, an adherence to the Law is beyond our society. However, it was not always in the Americas. For example John Winthrop describes at least one case of executions do to adultery and a young girl named Mary Latham and one of her lovers. I find it interesting that this young woman confessed her sin, and she was willing to die. It is said that she told the other women at her hanging that they should be obedient to their parents and pure. She was confident that she had sinned, but that she would be accepted among the saints. Strange? Yes. Illogical? Not if you believe in the reality of an after life.
Now, I have only touched on the physical part of the law. The question now becomes "fine, but we have health clinics today, what can the law do for me spiritually?"
I would argue our health clinics aren't perfect, but even if we ignore the Law as physical advice, we can also see the spiritual help it gives.
We'll talk about the spirit in another post.
While recently listening to Elizabeth Pisani, the epidemiologist that wrote "The Wisdom of Whores," she pointed out that due to antiretroviral drugs many patients are living longer and almost healthy lives. She credits that the Bush's administration of these drugs to Africa has eliminated an unbelievable amount of suffering. However, she is bitter that the Bush led initiatives on prevention is dedicated mainly to promoting abstinence. She flatly says that this is not working in the US, where over 70% of children that take a abstinence vow do not follow through on this. Thus, she wants to institute a program of condom use.
Elizabeth is very bright, and a good lecturer. I agree with her. The abstinence programs that are in place today are highly ineffective. However, this actually points to why the Law ultimately makes sense. Saying that you are going to get a disease that "may kill you" is clearly not a big enough threat to make the population to change their habits. The violent act of simply putting people to death is, regardless if it is not accepted by Western Culture.
If you examine the Muslim countries in Africa, you will find out AIDS is at an extremely low level. While some researchers say this is due to under reporting, I personally believe it is a much more simple explanation. By-in-large, Muslim countries will do violent acts to their people for moral reinforcement. The execution rate for the sexually promiscuous is far higher, and thus has a higher impact.
On the other front, Elizabeth reports that the overall effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs may well be driving lower rates of condoms use, thus opening up the population to a greater spread of AIDS. She finds this trend disturbing.