Can Jim West pull off his trick?

Jim West has a post which he seems to think defuses one common argument used in debates about issues like gay marriage. He wrote:

If you apply the OT legislation concerning homosexual behavior – that is, a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman, than you have to stop eating shrimp and you have to stop wearing garments of mixed fabrics’.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to distinguish moral law from ritual law.  As such, and as a failure to understand genre, category, and purpose, these arguments are flawed and inappropriate.

Sounds good. Sounds scholarly… But will it work?

To be fair to Jim this is a longstanding and very convenient Christian approach to eating their cake and having it around still too. The problem, gay marriage apart, is that there are a ton of Old Testament laws Christians (even those who claim to be faithful Bible-believers) don’t want to follow. But even more they don’t want to be accused of cherry-picking the Bible – a horrible sin.

Along comes a fine upstanding, grey-bearded biblical scholar (or in view of recent discussion in various places, rabid scholarship hating religious person who happens to spend their life studying and teaching the Bible) and waves a magic wand and the nasty problem goes away. “You no longer have to obey ritual law because it has been anulled by the superior sacrifice of Christ on the cross.” They intone, “But you should still, of course, obey all the moral laws.”

Sounds good, but does it work?

Take Ex 21:22-25 :

22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.
23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Sounds like Christians for the death penalty are onto a good thing? “Oh, no!” interrupts the grey-bearded scholar (or possibly religious bigot in disguise) “That does not apply any more either, civil law is also abolished in Christ.”

Hmm. So, what makes the treatment of disorderly conduct, or slaves civil law and something else moral law? It’s quite simple really. Moral law is about sex and civil law isn’t.

 

7 comments on “Can Jim West pull off his trick?

  1. rey

    By moral laws we mean the moral precepts not the prescribed punishments. So thou shalt not commit adultery, you gotta still keep that. Thou shalt stone the adulterers, that you don’t havta.

    1. tim

      Replying to Rey who wrote:

      By moral laws we mean the moral precepts not the prescribed punishments. So thou shalt not commit adultery, you gotta still keep that. Thou shalt stone the adulterers, that you don’t havta.

      What makes one a rule that should be kept and the other one that should not? Some standard outside both? Where does it come from?

      Also:

      civil law = civil punishments
      moral law = don’t do this immoral thing
      ritual law = sacrifice this, offer that, don’t eat this kind of meat

      Yes, but in any particular passage how do you distinguish them, some laws they cover two to the three and each little block mixes them…

  2. rey

    civil law = civil punishments
    moral law = don’t do this immoral thing
    ritual law = sacrifice this, offer that, don’t eat this kind of meat

  3. rey

    And I really hate blogs that don’t have a email on response thing because I’ll forget I posted this comment and when anyone responds I’ll never see it. :(

    I sent you an email to tell you I was replying here, but I don’t need any more email conversations that should be public ones
    Tim

  4. rey

    “in any particular passage how do you distinguish them, some laws they cover two to the three and each little block mixes them…”

    Just ignore the punishment part and the ceremony part.

    So for example the passage that says the daughter of a priest is to be burned to death if she commits whoredom. Its wrong to commit whoredom but we don’t have to burn nobody at the stake for it.

    “in any particular passage how do you distinguish them, some laws they cover two to the three and each little block mixes them…”

    The Jews would say the civil punishments only apply in Eretz Yisrael. In other words, only in Israel and only under the theocracy which of course no longer exists.

    A more Christian answer would be that when the woman caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus, he didn’t let them stone her, but he did tell her “go and sin no more.” So he acknowledged the moral law but not the civil law.

  5. rey

    Ok, but what about this example.

    22 When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.
    23 If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,
    24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
    25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

    Obviously even though our civil law will be different from the Israelite law we ought to have a law to deal with this kind of situation.

  6. tim

    Yes, my problem with the traditional approach is that it leaves us doing what you seem to be keeping what “obviously” we want to keep and rejecting what “obviously” we want to reject. In other words accepting that Scripture is no sort of authority, but our (culturally conditioned?) intuitions rule.

    I think that the approach I’ve outlined:
    – work out what the text was about in its own time and place
    – ask what principle was being expressed
    – consider how that applies today
    Enables me to both be faithful to Scripture and also relevant to today.