This is a question I get pretty often, in different forms. Sometimes it’s an atheist who thinks they’ve found a grave inconsistency in Christianity. They also seem to assume that it’s never occurred to Christians as they read the Bible, for the last two thousand years.
But it does occur to Christians, and so I sometimes get it in a more thoughtful form. They ask about Matthew 5:17-19:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
They show me this passage, then ask why Christians today agree with the parts of the OT about not murdering, not committing adultery, and so on. But they seem to have heavily relaxed some of the other restrictions – like not eating shellfish, not eating pork, growing two types of plants in one field, blending fabrics, etc. It’s like they’ve divided up the OT law into parts that were just for then and parts that still apply.
The answer is actually a lot simpler than theologians sometimes make it. The answer is that Jesus applied different parts of the law differently. That man-who-is-God that we worship, it’s his fault. Take for example, Mark 7:18-23
Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Verse 18 is pretty inescapable, even for the atheist-theologian wannabes – he declared all foods clean. The question is, how can Jesus say on the one hand that we should not relax a single commandment from the OT, but also say that all foods are now clean? Isn’t Jesus himself “relaxing” the commandment? Not exactly. He’s pointing to the fact that some parts of the law do apply for all time, but other parts were meant to be “accomplished” permanently by him. Jesus lived as the perfect Israelite, completely fulfilling the ceremonial obligations of the Old Testament law on our behalf, so that they are now finished:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross… Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
Historically, Christians have seen the OT law broken into three parts: moral, ceremonial and civil. For an example, you can see the relevant section in the London Baptist Confession (http://www.arbca.com/1689-chapter19). The moral part is for all people at all points in history (it contains things like “you shall not murder”). The civil part was specifically for running the ancient nation of Israel (it contains things like tribal borders, tax laws, etc). The ceremonial part was a set of ordinances and traditions that pointed to Christ – but now that Christ has come and fulfilled their true meaning, these signs are no longer needed (this is why we don’t sacrifice sheep any more, because Christ gave himself as the final sacrifice on the cross). So , only the first part (the moral law) is for the present day.
The confusion comes in because the Bible doesn’t spell out in detail which parts of the OT belong in which category. For that reason, Christians have had some disagreements about it over the centuries. They have also disagreed about the theological details of what it means for Christ to “fulfill” the law. But that’s an in-house debate. But it’s important to understand that some cases are clearly spelled out. We’ve already seen that Jesus himself declared all foods clean in Mark 7. We also see in another part of the New Testament that Paul (an apostle of Jesus) clearly confirms that homosexuality is still a sin.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Strong words, and you might not like them, but they’re there. Whichever way you slice it, the New Testament does explicitly say that homosexuality is a sin, while eating prawns is not. Happy BBQing 🙂