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30 October 2018

Ditching the Old Testament?

Yep, you should memorize certain verses.

NEW TESTAMENT CHRISTIAN /'nu tɛs.tə.mənt 'krɪs.tʃən/ n. One who professes to live by the teachings of the New Testament [instead of the Old].
2. One who holds to the invalidity of the Old Testament, and the validity of the New.

Whenever I talk about what we Christians think, believe, and behave, I quote bible. I’m trying to show how these views are based on, or at least jibe with, the scriptures. ’Cause Evangelicals uphold the bible (or at least claim to), so they wanna know there’s a valid proof text for what I’m talking about.

And every so often, one of ’em will say, “I don’t think that’s what that verse means.” Which is fair; let’s take a closer look at it. I’ve been wrong before, so there’s nothing wrong with wanting to double-check a proof text. Really, Christians oughta do it more often, because you simply can’t trust popular Christian culture’s interpretations of the scriptures. Too much bias; not enough bible.

When the scriptures agree with me to their satisfaction, so will they. Sometimes grudgingly, but still. Frequently they’ll relapse to their old beliefs, because the Holy Spirit has to further convict them; I can’t give their consciences a squeeze like he can.

But every so often not even the bible works on ’em. Because they don’t respect the bible.

No, I’m not talking about hypocrites who pretend to respect the bible but don’t really. They’re a whole other problem. I’m talking about Christians who believe huge portions of the bible don’t apply to them. Some of ’em believe the entirety of the Old Testament no longer has any bearing on Christians. Some believe certain sections of the New Testament are only for Jews or Jewish Christians, and since they’re gentiles, these instructions don’t apply to them. Cessationists claim the teachings on miracles are no longer relevant ’cause God stopped doing miracles.

It gets scary when these folks include Jesus’s teachings among the parts of the bible they consider void. How do they claim such things? Simple: They figure since we’re saved by grace, we needn’t follow commands. Including Jesus’s. So they don’t. Which is really gonna bite ’em in the behind on Judgment Day, but try telling them that: Jesus’s Sheep and Goats story Mt 25.31-46 is one of the teachings they consider void, y’know.

It’s a little hard to consider them Christian when they can’t be bothered to follow Christ. It’s why those who nullify bible tend to be called heretics by the rest of us. Well, depending on how much we nullify bible.

Everybody picks and chooses.

First of all lemme get our own hypocrisy out of the way: Every single Christian on the planet has parts of the bible we follow, and parts we don’t.

Sometimes it’s because we have our favorites. A Christian who loves Paul’s teachings is gonna be big on his doctrines; a Christian who loves James is gonna quote him frequently; a Christian who loves Proverbs is gonna try to live by every last one of them; a Christian who loves the gospels is gonna re-highlight all the red-letter passages. It’s not that these Christians don’t consider the other parts of the bible to be valid; it’s that our favorites take priority. We’ll try really hard to obey the Ten Commandments… but in so doing we might fumble what Jesus has to say about forgiving those who don’t.

Frequently it’s because we permit Christian popular culture to set the standard for which commands to follow. If nobody in our church bothers to respect Sabbath, neither will we: “Nobody else does it, so it must not matter.” If one Christian interprets a command slightly tighter than the crowd, the rest of the crowd condemns them as overly strict, as a legalist, as someone who believes in works righteousness, as a latter-day Pharisee.

And sometimes it’s because—and let’s be brutally honest—we don’t wanna follow those commands. We don’t wanna forgive certain sinners, particularly for sins we consider offensive or icky. We only wanna love worthy neighbors. We’re happy to love our LORD God with all our emotions, but doing it with all our minds is too hard, and doing it with all our souls means we don’t get anything in our lives that’s just for us alone. So, like the Pharisees, we look for loopholes: “Valid” reasons we needn’t. Valid to us anyway; we don’t think about whether Jesus approves of any such loopholes. We assume his grace has us covered.

There’s a common cultural myth that it’s impossibly hard to follow all 613 commands of the Law—plus Jesus’s new commands, plus his interpretations on the old commands. It’s actually not. Religious Jews follow the 613 commands, plus all the rabbinic interpretations attached to them, regularly. Certain Christians (who realize we’re not bound by the rabbinic restrictions, needn’t worry about ritual sacrifice, and needn’t follow commands which specifically apply to the land of Israel), likewise try to abide by ’em and succeed. “Impossible” comes from a misinterpretation of Simon Peter’s statement,

Acts 15.10 KWL
“So now: Why test God’s patience by imposing a yoke on the students’ neck
which neither our ancestors nor we have the power to carry?”

Christians regularly presume and teach the yoke is the Law. No it’s not. The yoke is the idea Pharisee Christians had that God won’t save people unless we do the Law. Ac 15.5 Nobody’s saved by the Law; nobody ever was. We’re saved by grace. Ac 15.11 But once we’re saved by grace, and given the power to follow God, we can follow him. Unless we don’t wanna, and are looking for ways to weasel out of obedience.

So before we condemn others for voiding bible, let’s follow Jesus’s teaching about double standards: Are we voiding bible for the same reasons as they? Does it turn out we’re voiding more bible than they? Hope not… but honestly, sometimes we are.

Old Testament, old dispensation?

Most of the folks who void bible, tend to believe in one form or another of dispensationalism: The heretic idea (no, seriously, it’s heretic!) that God has multiple plans of salvation, called dispensations. Usually they presume God had two plans: In Old Testament times he saved those who had good karma. People followed his Law, or otherwise met his approval by being good enough. But since karma didn’t work so well (’cause too many people suck at karma, and hey, God’s figuring it out as he goes), he sent us Jesus, so in the Christian Era he now saves people by grace.

Sometimes they embrace John Nelson Darby’s idea of seven dispensations. Sometimes they claim Jews still live under a dispensation of good karma—if they follow the Law, and are otherwise earnest Jews, God’ll still save them, even if they utterly reject Jesus as Lord. Yep, that’s an obvious heresy. But you’d be horrified to discover how many Christians earnestly insist it’s so.

Anyway, if the Old Testament’s purpose is to teach and reinforce an old system which we no longer live under, “New Testament Christians” figure it’s redundant. It’s like the United States’ first constitution, the Articles of Confederation: We replaced it with the Constitution, so it no longer counts. But it’s good to know about the Articles, ’cause it explains why all those Revolutionary War veterans who used to be totally against a strong national government, changed their minds after experiencing how a weak government sucks. Dispensationalists think the very same way about the Law: We should know about the old system, because it didn’t work, and we don’t want to revert to its legalism. Jesus inaugurated grace. Stick to grace.

But don’t chuck the Old Testament entirely. It’s the history of Jesus’s culture. It’s chock full of prophecies about a savior, good advice in the Proverbs, good poetry in the Psalms, and Darbyists love to mine the Prophets for possible End Times prophecies. Plus fun Sunday school stories about the judges slaughtering Canaanites. And Jesus liked the Ten Commandments, so maybe we oughta like them too. But the Law? Meh.

Dispensationalists have plenty of bible verses (not always accurately quoted) they can use as proof texts for their worldview. Like how the Law doesn’t save, never really could, He 10.1 and its only function is to define sin. Ro 3.20 If you expect it to save you, you’re cursed. Ga 3.10 But God ended its system of commands and rules, Ep 2.15 and we live under it no longer, Ro 6.14 for we died to the Law once we died with Christ. Ro 7.4 Jesus’s law is greater, 1Co 9.21 so quit wasting your time with the old Law. Tt 3.9

Dispensationalists won’t go as far as Marcion of Sinope (roughly 85–160), though. Marcion didn’t care to merely void books of the bible; he wanted them removed altogether. He believed the LORD isn’t the same God as ours; he insisted the Father of Jesus is a wholly different being. And if passages of the New Testament said otherwise (and they do), he wanted those books gone too. Dispensationalists will easily recognize Marcion as heretic, same as the rest of Christendom. But they treat plenty of passages the same way Marcion did. Functionally they’re the same.

Grace and the Law.

“New Testament Christians” regularly repeat the Old Testament doesn’t apply because it’s all about Law, and the Law doesn’t save. Thing is, they really need to read those parts of the New Testament which they claim they revere. The central premise of New Testament thinking is how the Law didn’t save Abraham. Both Paul Ro 4.3, Ga 3.6 and James 2.23 quote Genesis

Genesis 15.6 KWL
Avram believed in the LORD, and to the LORD this was considered rightness.

—not because Abraham followed the Law, for there was no Law yet. So how was Abraham saved? In the very same way we’re saved. In the very same way everybody’s been saved, all throughout human history: When we trust God, he considers us right with him, and graciously saves us.

“New Testament Christians” might read these verses, and even quote ’em! But they clearly don’t understand them. It’s a massive blind spot.

Yet since grace was how Abraham was saved, grace is how everyone is saved. Abraham was saved by grace. As was Moses. And Joshua. And Samson. And David. And Elijah. And Jonah. And Isaiah. And Daniel. And Ezra. Every last person in the Old Testament was saved by God’s grace, and nothing else. They may have followed the Law, closely and carefully, and wrote giant psalms in its praises. Ps 119 But they weren’t saved by it. Nobody ever was. They were all saved by grace.

So why the Law? Simple: Once we’re saved, how are we to live? We wanna follow God’s will… so what is it? And like I (and the scriptures) said, the Law defines sin. You wanna stop sinning, you pay attention to the Law and stop sinning. Those with an authentic relationship with God make the effort; 1Jn 1.6-7 those who make no effort, and claim God erases our sins instead of paying for them, are only lying to themselves. 1Jn 1.8 Assuming they even get into God’s kingdom, they’re gonna be the lowest people in it. Mt 5.19

For “New Testament Christians,” Christianity is about godless behavior and cheap grace. It’s about claiming blessings and victory—even claiming, “It’s a relationship, not a religion!”—but really having no relationship whatsoever. Because those of us in a relationship with God actually wanna follow him and produce good fruit. And those who don’t… wanna bounce on the trampoline of cheap grace and imagine they’re flying.

The bad fruit of a heavily edited bible.

When “New Testament Christians” bother to read the Old Testament, they don’t really read it to learn about God. Not his character, certainly: They figure he hasn’t discovered grace yet, so they don’t read his love, patience, kindness, or any of his traits into his actions in the Old Testament. Instead they believe as pagans do: They see an angry, vengeful, wrathful God, who smites Egyptians and Amorites and Philistines, and eventually turns on the Israelis too. And would turn on them too, if not for Jesus.

In some cases they’re huge fans of this picture of God. Usually these same folks are also huge fans of all the death and mayhem of Revelation, ’cause they imagine it’s another dispensation where God’s turned the rage back on. Considering how much of these attitudes are projected upon God, they say all sorts of disturbing things about them. (It’s why Marcion also decided Revelation wasn’t in the bible either.)

Ignoring God’s character, as demonstrated by Jesus, of course gives a really distorted picture of who he is. So of course the Law’s gonna come across as harsh, and the Prophets too, when we imagine God’s granting it out of harshness, not compassion. Try reading some of that attitude into Jesus’s teachings, and they’ll sound like his students and Pharisees constantly made him furious. But it’s not valid for Jesus, and it’s just as invalid for the LORDbecause Jesus is the LORD. It’s Jesus’s Law, which he handed down at Sinai. Out of his great love for his wayward people, whom he saved from Egypt.

So yeah, when we get Christians who try to teach us we need to disconnect ourselves from the Old Testament and its commands—even if they’re really popular preachers like Andy Stanley—we need to realize they’ve seriously misunderstood God, his nature, his character, his plan, and his bible. And seriously misunderstood Jesus, who did after all teach this:

Matthew 5.17-20 KWL
17 “Don’t assume I came to dissolve the Law or the Prophets.
I didn’t come to dissolve but complete:
18 Amen! I promise you, the heavens and earth may pass away,
but one yodh, one penstroke of the Law, will never pass away; not till everything’s done.
19 So whoever relaxes one of these commands—the smallest—and thus teaches people,
they’ll be called smallest in the heavenly kingdom.
Whoever does and teaches them,
they’ll be called great in the heavenly kingdom:
20 I tell you, unless morality abounds in you, more than in scribes and Pharisees,
you may never enter the heavenly kingdom.”

The Old Testament is Jesus’s Old Testament. Ignore it at your peril.