Never really considered myself an apologist… apologeticist… apologizer? Whatever. Then again, as a Christ follower we all should know why it is we believe what we believe.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience…” – 1 Peter 3:15
I was asked recently my thoughts on an open letter penned sometime around 2000 in response to something Dr. Laura Schlessinger said on her talk show. Not that this makes a difference, but I have no idea who Dr. Laura is or what she believes or doesn’t believe in. I’ve heard her name before, although I can’t imagine why, probably in the news. I’ve never listened to her show or read anything she’s ever written… if she’s even published. All that really doesn’t matter though, as the point of the letter is to attempt to show the hypocrisy of a Christian believer that picks and chooses what things are “truth” and applicable to their life, while systematically ignoring the seemingly insane Old Testament laws. And let’s face it, some seem pretty nuts. Most times these people do have a very legitimate point. Many Christians do, all too often, cherry-pick scriptures to fit their own personal beliefs.
The version of the letter that I’m addressing was posted on Facebook, although there might possibly exist others attributed to any number of people, as letters such as these tend to circulate with reckless abandon. The text is below in boldface type, in it’s entirety, and interrupted by my comments, and the comments I’ve read from other apologetics sites and study bibles.
For the record, I’m no bible scholar. I’m also no inbred, backwards-ass uneducated rube. I read and study the bible continually so that probably makes me just dangerous enough to irritate any number of people. I believe the bible to be the Word of God, written by men under the direction of the Holy Spirit. I believe that it should be read literally when appropriate and figuratively when obvious. No sense in gouging your own eye out or lopping off a hand. (Matthew 18:8)
Before I begin dissecting the letter it should be clear to most Christ followers that the person writing this letter has misinterpreted scripture, and is actually doing what he/she/whoever has accused Dr. Laura of doing… that is, manipulating scriptural meaning to further an agenda. The writer was writing from an uninformed vantage point, so what seems like a “dig” or “slam” on scripture or Christianity, is actually an indictment of the writer’s understanding of scripture. To put it plainly, I don’t make fun of physicists because I don’t understand physics. If I WERE to make fun of physicists I wouldn’t quote from a book I hadn’t read and didn’t understand. More likely I would secure a double-leg take down, work from side control into the mounted position and do the typewriter on their chest. I find humiliation a much more powerful form of abuse.
What? That’s what they deserve for being all smart and stuff.
Dear Dr. Laura,
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination … End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.
1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
First off, it’s important to understand that God didn’t create slavery and He didn’t command or ordain it either. We did. And back then it was definitely not the horrific version we’ve come to know in America.
“In the fallen world that mankind had created, slavery was a reality. God permitted its existence and worked within its system. Slaves were more domestic servants than oppressed field workers. Slaves could be the captives of war (Num. 31:25-47), subjects of debt to be worked off (2 Kings 4:1), born into slavery (Gen. 17:12-13), or entered into voluntarily (Exodus 21:5-6). In the Ancient Near East, some slaves were able to own other slaves and even conduct business and in Exodus 21:2 a slave was required to be set free after six years of service. Though slavery carries a very negative connotation here in America, it was not nearly as bad it was here in the first 100 years of our nation’s existence.
As I said above, God works within the fallen system to bring about His will. Slavery was permitted by God and rules of treatment of slaves were given so that they would not be mistreated.”
According to the MacArthur Study Bible, these slaves from surrounding nations “included people whom Israel was to either drive out or destroy (i.e. slavery was a humane option)”.
2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
The word “sanctioned” is off here. Sanctioning implies approval so “allowed” would be preferential. God’s seal of approval is not on this form of slavery or any other form for that matter. From the MacArthur Study Bible:
“The law of the slave guaranteed freedom after a specified period of 6 years unless the slave himself elected permanent servitude, but this would be service in a context not of abuse but of love (see verse 5). Any permanent, involuntary servitude for a Hebrew slave to a Hebrew master was obviously undesirable for Israelite society and was unknown in Israel. Provision was also made to ensure the proper treatment of female slaves, who could not deliberately be left destitute by wrongful action on the part of their master.”
It’s also very important to note that women in ancient Israel really had no rights at all. They were essentially slaves from birth… passed from a father’s control to a husband’s control… sold for a dowry. That’s on the people, not God. He didn’t command that. That wasn’t His plan. Again, He worked within the fallen system WE had set-up. If anything, some of these scriptures were actually beneficial to women of the time because they outlined how to treat women fairly in these matters.
3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
Ah yes, “ceremonially unclean” references. The other “red letters”. Oooooh, sorry. Tasteless.
Basically God requires perfection because He is perfect and holy:
“In all these instructions, God was showing the Israelites that they must have a profound reverence for holy things; and nothing was more suited to that purpose than to bar from the tabernacle all who were polluted by any kind of uncleanness, ceremonial as well as natural, physical as well as spiritual. In order to mark out His people as dwelling before Him in holiness, He required of them complete purity and didn’t allow them to come before Him when defiled, even by involuntary or secret impurities. And when one considers that God was training a people to live in His presence, it becomes apparent that these rules for the maintenance of personal purity, pointing to the necessity of purity in the heart, were neither too stringent nor too minute.” – The MacArthur Study Bible
Understand that these people believed (as do I) that they were literally in the presence of God… the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Creator of all things seen and unseen. To bring anything but the absolute best, the most pure and clean, would simply be insane. What girl would roll out of bed and have dinner at a 5-star restaurant in her jammies jacked-up hair and no makeup? It’s like that, only a bigger deal.
4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23
Can I answer scripture with scripture?
God is serious about sin, obviously, and He wanted us to know just how serious He was. Instead of killing us off immediately after sinning, he allowed for us to make atonement by sacrificing an innocent, spotless, for all intents and purposes “perfect” animal… a bull, lamb, dove, etc., etc. These sacrificial animals took OUR place on the alter and paid our debt, reconciling our relationship with Him.
Since the wages of sin is death, one day we all have to pay up. No escaping that. However, Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life and then sacrificed himself (hence the Perfect Lamb of God) in our place once and for all. He was the ultimate sacrifice. And in so doing this, He fulfilled the Old Testament law, which is why we no longer adhere to it.
5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
The command for the Sabbath is the only one of the 10 NOT repeated in the NT. It’s nullified in Colossians 2:16-17:
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
This scripture says plain as day (of course I paraphrase): “all that crap you had to adhere to way back in the day… ya, all that was a set-up for Christ. Get it now? No? You have freedom in Christ. Don’t miss out on His sacrifice by trying to somehow “earn” you’re way to God through ritualistic living.
6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there “degrees” of abomination?
Eating shellfish belongs in the dietary law for Israelites (see my notes below under number 9).
No degrees of abomination or sin… there are different types of sins that have different earthly consequences, but really a sin is a sin is a sin is a sin. And we have all sinned and missed the mark set by God. Every one of us. No exception. Not even you’re sweet old granny that never hurt a fly. Sinner. Just like you. Just like me.
“There is none righteous, no, not one.” – Romans 3:10
There’s God’s perfect standard, then there’s everything else.
7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God, if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?
God requires perfection because He is perfect and holy. Only a select few were ever allowed to approach the altar.
“Just as the sacrifice had to be without blemish, so did the one offering the sacrifice. As visible things exert strong impressions on the minds of people, any physical impurity or malformation tended to distract from the weight and authority of the sacred office, failed to externally exemplify the inwards wholeness God sought, and failed to be a picture of Jesus Christ, the Perfect High Priest to come. – MacArthur Study Bible
Again, God’s pointing us to Jesus. All throughout the Old Testament He’s pointing us to Jesus, we just have to take a closer look.
8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?
C’mon, the hair cutting, along with other rituals referred to in this scripture (cutting of flesh, pagan tattoos or markings, etc.) are a reference to pagan practices and idolatry, not simply just a haircut. There was a much deeper meaning behind these actions than just strolling into Great Clips for a trim.
9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football, if I wear gloves?
All these dietary laws were specifically for the Israelites, no one else:
“All of the reasons for the prohibitions are not specified. The major points were: 1) that Israel was to obey God’s absolute standard, regardless of the reason for it, or the lack of understanding of it; and 2) such a unique diet was specified that Israel would find it difficult to eat with the idolatrous people around and among them. Their dietary laws served as a barrier to easy socialization with idolatrous peoples. Dietary and hygienic benefits were real, but only secondary to the divine purposes of obedience and separation.” – MacArthur Study Bible
And to be clear… these groups that God wanted the Israelites separated from were pretty unsavory. Many worshipped a god called Molech, who required parents to sacrifice children by fire. These were not just good ol’ folks from the other side of the oasis.
10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14). I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.
The mixing of crops, threads and breeds was another metaphor for mixing with other people groups… namely the idolatrous douche-types that killed kids. The MacArthur Study Bible mentions that it may have been characteristic of some idolatrous practices as well. Either way, it only applied to the Israelites and doesn’t matter now.
This whole putting to death thing was harsh, no doubt, especially when placed in the context of present time. Back then, not so much. It served to illustrate the severity of violating God’s perfect and holy law.
Your adoring fan.
James M. Kauffman, Ed. D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education, University of Virginia
P.S. It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian
Old Testament law is exhausting. And reading Leviticus is an arduous, and often times boring, task.
Once again, the MacArthur Study Bible’s summary on Leviticus and Old Testament laws does more justice than I ever could:
“Leviticus is both a manual for the worship of God in Israel and a theology of Old Covenant ritual. Comprehensive understanding of the ceremonies, laws, and ritual details prescribed in the book is difficult today because Moses assumed a certain context of historical understanding. Once the challenge of understanding the detailed prescriptions has been met, the question arises as to how believers in the church should respond to them, since the NT (New Testament) clearly abrogates OT ceremonial law (Act. 10:1-16; Col. 2:16,17), the levitical priesthood (1 Peter2:9; Rev. 1:6, 5:10; 20:6), and the sanctuary (Matt. 27:51), as well as instituting the New Covenant (Matt. 26:28; 2 Cor. 3:6-18; Heb. 7-10). Rather than try to practice the old ceremonies or look for some deeper spiritual significance in them, the focus should be on the holy and divine character behind them. This may partly be the reason that explanations which Moses often gave in the prescriptions for cleanness offer greater insight into the mind of God than do the ceremonies themselves. The spiritual principles in which the rituals were rooted are timeless because they are embedded in the nature of God. The NT makes it clear that from Pentecost forward (Acts 2), the church is under the authority of the New Convenant, not the Old (Heb 7-10).”
“The sacrificial features of Leviticus point to their ultimate, one-time fulfillment in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:11-22).” – The MacArthur Study Bible
So in light of all these strict rules and laws, we get a glimpse of the mind of God… how perfect and holy and righteous He is and how far away from that standard we are. There’s no WAY we could ever live up to His perfect standard, or even live a life without violating even a third of the 10 commandments… and that’s the point He’s trying to make! That without some sort of help, or intervention, we would never, ever measure up. Those laws are suppose to point us to a savior… they’re suppose to point us to Jesus.
So there it is. Hopefully this sheds a small amount of light on the subject from the perspective of a professing Christ follower. I know others will disagree, and that’s okay. I welcome a discussion and comments from sincere, open-minded people, even if they completely disagree, and even if they are “spirited”. What I will not tolerate or allow in the comment section (assuming anyone actually comments) are condescending, mean-spirited or otherwise hateful remarks meant only to provoke a fight. I don’t want or need hate in any form in my life and I hope you don’t either.
Well written and well said. A little creepy, maybe, that I’ve gone back and read your archives, but if you remember me at all, you should remember me as a wordsmith, so I’m always intrigued by what other writers write. I wanted to commend this piece particularly, and let you know I’ve printed it out to share with my daughter (13), who goes to a classical Christian school. She has a friend who clearly one day will be a politician or, at the very least, a public defender; and this child likes to play the same game the writer of the letter to Dr Laura did – literally… she was debating the “don’t cut your hair; own slaves; no tattoos” thing the other day. My daughter did a good job of defending the Bible and what was going on with regards to the Israelites at that time , but your responses really are spot on and I think would offer even more clarity to the defense. So I am going to share them with her. Thank you for that.
And your writing is superb.
Thank you for your reply and compliments! Really appreciate it. And not creepy at all! That’s what the archives are for. My biggest hope/dream is that my writing will be read, perhaps one day on a much larger scale. So thank you for reading, and I hope your daughter enjoys too!