Here’s a wonderful article from Peter Saunders.
An argument frequently advanced by those attempting to defend homosexual practice is that Christians ‘cherry pick’ the commands in the Bible – that is, they chose to emphasise some commands while ignoring others.
The Old Testament may forbid homosexual acts (Leviticus 18:2; 20:13) but it also forbids eating seafood without fins and scales (Leviticus 11:9-12; Deuteronomy 14:9, 10).
So how can Christians then justify upholding laws on sexual morality whilst at the same time ignoring the food laws from the very same books of the Bible? Why may they eat shellfish but not be allowed to have sex outside marriage? Isn’t this inconsistent and hypocritical?
The solution is that God enters into “covenants” with his people, and the terms of those covenants change.
Especially dietary laws:
The answer to this question lies in an understanding of biblical covenants.
A covenant is a binding solemn agreement made between two parties. It generally leaves each with obligations. But it holds only between the parties involved.
There are a number of biblical covenants: Noahic, Abrahamic, Sinaitic (Old), Davidic and New.
Under the Noahic covenant, which God made with all living human beings (Genesis 9:8-17), people were able to eat anything:
‘Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything’ (Genesis 9:3).
But under the Sinaitic (Old) Covenant, which God made with the nation of Israel, people were able to eat certain foods, but not others.
Jesus clearly created a new covenant with his followers, where the dietary laws are lifted:
Jesus said that he had come to fulfil the ‘Law and the Prophets’ (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44). He would establish this new covenant with new laws, with himself as high priest based on his own sacrificial death on the cross.
This new covenant would completely deal with sin (Hebrews 10:1-18) and protect all those who put their faith in him from God’s wrath and judgement…
[…]‘In the same way, after the supper (Jesus) took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”’ (Luke 22:20). ‘…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (Hebrews 10:10)
People would come under the protection of this new covenant, not by virtue of belonging to the nation of Israel, but through faith in Christ. In fact the function of the Old Testament Law (Sinaitic covenant) was to point to Christ as its fulfilment.
[…]So what then did Christ say about foods? He pronounced all foods clean for his followers to eat:
‘ “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:18-23)
Jesus was making that point that under the new covenant God required purity of the heart. Internal thoughts and attitudes were as important as external actions.
So, for Christians, the dietary / ceremonial laws don’t apply, but the moral laws do apply. Food is OK for Christians, but sexual immorality – which includes premarital sex and adultery – are NOT OK for Christians.
I think sometimes when you are talking to people whose motivation is just to get rid of any objective moral law entirely, they tend to ask questions without really wanting a good answer. This is especially true when it comes to the morality of sex. They ask the question not to get an answer, but to justify getting rid of the moral rules governing sexuality. The answers are there for people who are willing to respect God in their decision-making. The answers are not found only by people who have a reason to not want to find them.
10 thoughts on “Are Christians cherry-picking which verses to obey from the Old Testament?”
Jesus did not merely retain the moral requirements from the old covenant in the new. He intensified them. Thus under the old covenant, the act of adultery was a sin, but, under the new covenant, even the indulgence of lust for a woman is a sin.
Thus it is fair to say that in the transition from the Law of Moses to the law of Christ (i.e. from the old covenant to the new covenant), dietary requirements were loosened while moral requirements were tightened. This is consistent with God wanting worshipers who worshiped in spirit and truth, not in flesh and pretense.
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Good explanation. Thanks.
Really did Jesus tell you that
Many christians do cherry pick verses from the bible and when you challenge them they are then dumbfounded. You cant just read what you like from a book especially something like the bible and true to look like your a good christian cause you study just bits and pieces
Under this argument you, not God, are deciding which of the laws are ceremonial and not moral and vice versa. For instance why is it a ceremonial law that you should have a fence around your roof so that anyone who happens to be up there won’t fall and not a moral one? There are countless other ones that hang around in such an irritating fashion, that make me conclude that yes, Christians are in fact cherry picking when it comes to referencing OT laws in an effort to disparage homosexuality. Stick to the NT and just let the OT go. Let it be good for nothing aside from teaching, not the giving of rules.
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If we stick to the New Testament and completely ignore the Old, homosexual activity comes off just as bad. Paul speaks scathingly of it. Jesus defines marriage the only time he addresses the issue as one man and one woman for life and also speaks of sexual immorality (which the hearers would have understood to include homosexual activity) as sin. You cannot get away from it. There are no Scriptures that speak well of it. There are plenty that speak poorly of it. In order to make an affirmative case for gay marriage (or any homosexual behavior) as a Christian, you have to prove from Scripture that God has suspended His previous judgments against it.
Nothing about homosexuality precludes being Christian. Christians (real ones, not nominal) lie, cheat, steal, murder, get drunk, do drugs and all the rest of the things that everyone considers to be bad. You just can’t pretend you are following God’s will if you do those things. The same is true for practicing homosexuals – they are flatly and directly disobeying God by acting on their desires. I will note that a chaste homosexual (I have known a few) or one who decides to marry a person of the opposite gender and raise a family (I have known one) is in obedience to God. He is as merciful towards them as He is towards the rest of us, but you are lying if you say God is okay with you sinning deliberately.
One other thing. The whole issue about what from the Law a Gentile believer is to obey was dealt with in the book of Acts. If you’ve read the Bible, you know that. The conclusion of the Apostles was that Gentiles needed to avoid 1) meat with the blood in it; 2) things sacrificed to idols; 3) the meat of strangled animals; and 4) sexual immorality. Two of those (those about blood and meat), I have no idea why they are included. A third (the one about idols) is probably to avoid idolatrous or seemingly idolatrous behavior. That leaves the last, which is plain as day. There is a Biblical mandate telling us what we are to obey out of the Law and it includes avoiding homosexual behavior.
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Hi Benjamin. I don’t usually make it a point to respond on these comment sections on WordPress if it isn’t my post, but I felt it important to address something that you brought up. You asked how we can determine which laws are ceremony/covenant based and which are moral laws. This is a legitimate question and I think it is an important one to raise. If I may, I would like to offer a perspective on this that you might consider:
When one studies the entire Bible, it is always important to pay close attention to context and culture/historical background. As you become more familiar with these things and as you continue to study the entire Bible from beginning to end, the differences in these laws become clearer. One key thing to notice is that moral laws are consistently repeated throughout both the Old and New Testaments, clearly indicating that they are meant for all of God’s people. The covenant laws were meant for specific people groups and only for that specific time and covenant purpose, which is generally made clear in the text and especially by the establishing of the new covenant (which is about Christ). When Christ fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17), this means that He didn’t throw them out but rather that His sacrifice took their place. However, Jesus and the rest of the New Testament also make it very clear that the same morally based laws present in the Old Testament (such as murder and adultery in Matthew 5, or homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6) are still in place for everyone to abide by because they are a part of the fabric of God’s perfect and holy design for us all.
So while cherry-picking involves ignoring context and randomly selecting things to adhere to, following only certain laws (the moral ones) in the Old Testament is actually doing the opposite. As Christians, we are carefully considering and respecting the historical/cultural context that the covenant laws were bound to and, therefore, not cherry-picking which ones to follow but rather understanding them as they were intended to be. It is also important to note that some culturally bond rules exist in the New Testament as well, such as covering the head during worship in 1 Corinthians 11, not just in the Old Testament, so we must be able to distinguish between these types of rules from the moral ones in the New Testament as well.
I don’t want to assume you are a Christian, but going off of your last statement it would seem that you at least find part of the New Testament worth referring to (and perhaps following). Because of that I also want to caution you on your statement of letting the Old Testament go and sticking to the New Testament only. If we believe that Jesus and God are One as He says in the New Testament (John 10:30), and if we believe that Jesus is the Word as it also says in the New Testament (John 1), then we must believe that the Old Testament is of equal importance and authority as the New Testament. To say otherwise is to say that the entire Bible is not inspired by God and to say that Jesus is not God or the Word. If Jesus is truly who He says He is, then His teachings cannot stand in opposition to the Old Testament teachings because, as God, the Old Testament is His own Word. If we disregard the Old then there is no point in following the New, because the Old is just as much from Jesus and about Him as the New is.
I hope this provides some clarity on your question. I appreciate that you took the time to consider this important issue and raise a valid question about it. It is important for us all to think critically and truly understand what we believe and why we believe it.
Are the laws on lending money on interest moral laws?
No we’re not cherry-picking, and no we should not abandon the Tanakh!
Jonathan Klawans wrote /Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism/ that shows the Tanakh (the Christian Old Testament) itself distinguishes between Ritual Impurity and Moral Impurity. There IS a difference! It isn’t until the rise of Christianity that you see Jewish writers start to conflate the two. Moral Impurity includes idolatry, bloodshed, and sexual immorality. These stay active in both testaments, for Jews and Gentile Christians alike.
Further, as other commenters have noted, Acts 15 states which peculiarly Jewish rules apply to the new non-Jewish Christians. Sexual immorality is listed.
A commenter above said he didn’t know where the early Christians got these rules (ie not eating the blood of animals). The early Church got these rules from Leviticus 17-18 where the phrase “aliens that sojourn in your midst” is located. Non-Jews living in Israel were not required to become Jewish but there were still a few peculiarly Jewish rules that applied to them.
Israel is an imperfect (due to the sinfulness of mankind) reflection of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God on Earth (Lk 17:21), allowing the other nations beyond Israel to know YHWH as He promised Abraham (Gen 22:18), and these Gentiles were saved and received the Holy Spirit in front of the apostles without having to convert to Judaism first and therefore citizens of the Kingdom of God without being Jewish (Acts 11:18) the apostles looked at these verses and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit accepted them as criteria for Gentiles Christians.
Whew! Sorry I am so long winded… or… long scripted? XD
its annoying how Christians have rules and loopholes to rules and now different convenants for different people to follow. They will use semantics and tap dance and jump through hoops to make logic out the things from they hear from the pulpit and justify their beliefs . god forbid you consider the possibility that it’s all man made bs and that you are just plain wrong and that a god would never make such a confusing array of books that you have to believe inane make sense of to stay out of his perfect fiery oven he made