Monday, July 29, 2013

Youth Group Series, "F.A.Q." - Week 6 - If God doesn't change, why are OT laws different than NT laws?

Our question this week in our youth group's FAQ series was, "If God doesn't change, why do we have different moral laws in the Old Testament and the New Testament?" Another way you might see this written is: "The church teaches us to follow Leviticus 18's ban on homosexuality/fornication/etc, but we still eat shellfish and disobey other Leviticus commands! Isn't that hypocritical?"

This is a commonplace argument among college-aged youth and so an important one to discuss. Recently for example, a Christian apologist's daughter left the faith over this exact situation.

What is interesting is that this question really is hiding the true question, which is: "I want to have sex with my boyfriend/girlfriend, so why should I care what the Old Testament says?" Or another version: "I think gay people should be able to be married, so why do we follow Old Testament sex laws?" Every time you have this discussion, eventually it settles on sex.

So this week we got into the topic of morality in the OT and NT, specifically focusing on covenants.

Understanding Covenants

Understanding covenants is absolutely key to seeing how the OT fits together. If you have not read my series on suzerain covenants, then you should go do so, immediately. It will open your eyes to a new way of reading the texts which you might have missed in the past.

So we started our day by understanding covenants.

First, we needed a war--so we divided the kids into two armies. They played "Bear-Man-Gun" (basically rock-paper-scissors: "the bear gets the man, the man gets the gun, the gun gets the bear, if you tie, you die"). We played this until one team was the dominant 'army.'

Then both teams picked a Mediator who could represent them. They went to the center and negotiated a suzerain treaty. They had to tell the Historical Prologue as to why the lesser army owed them ("Because we kicked their butts," was the eloquent answer). They had to come up with Conditions and Terms of the treaty (the losing army had to provide a tax of 1 Twinkie per day). They had to establish Witnesses, and Curses/Blessings.

By doing this, the kids got a picture for what the form of the OT covenants looked like.

Then we acted out the history of Biblical Covenants. (The details of which you can find in the link above or the attached file.) At each step we described all of the aspects of the suzerain covenant made between God and that person:

  • One person was Adam, and enacted a covenant with God. All of the other people were his children than he signed up for the covenant. But of course, then he messed up the covenant and got kicked out of the garden.
  • So then we walked further and one of Adam's children became Noah. Everyone else but him dies, and Noah enacts a new covenant with God. All of the kids come over and now are Noah's children.
  • Then one of Noah's children becomes Abraham. He makes his covenant, and about 10% of Noah's children are descended from Abraham so they join him.
  • Then one of Noah's children becomes Moses. He makes a new covenant, and the Jews sign up for that.
  • Then one of Moses' children becomes Jesus, and makes a new covenant.
So at this point, we have two groups of people--those who stayed with Noah are the Gentiles: they are still bound by the covenant to Noah, but (as a non-descendant of Abraham) are not bound to the later covenants.

Jesus comes in and fulfills ALL of the covenants perfectly, and then makes a new covenant--one which broke boundaries of race, creed, and background.

By the time this exercise was finished, everyone understood how covenants worked and how to read large sections of the Bible. (For example, the key of the Flood account is not the flood, but the Covenant with Noah...the flood is the prologue that builds to it.)

The Sex Question

Then I rather surprised everyone by saying that this led to the sex question.

They didn't really see how until we acted it out.

Recall that at this point we have Jesus offering a covenant to both of the two groups: the crowd of Gentiles by Noah, and the Jewish crowd around Moses on the other side of the room.

So we had some of this Jewish crowd pretend to be Peter and Paul, converting the Gentiles.  They come back and this creates a big debate among the Jews: do these new, Gentile converts have to follow the Mosaic Law or not? In other words--is the New Covenant a subset of the Mosaic Covenant, or is it a new thing that affects all men?

I explained that this was precisely the first big debate in the early Christian church. The Council of Jerusalem was acted out, and the students saw how the great minds of Christianity--those friends and family who knew Jesus intimately--all unanimously agreed that Christians were bound to the covenant of Noah but not of Moses...but also that they added in a caveat:  sexual immorality was a universal command. So Leviticus 18 was not just part of Moses' Law, but a universal requirement.

Our council debated for a while before one of them read Acts 15 to illustrate the point. We went over this time and time again as a group, with me asking questions and us discussing it in many ways. The goal was to drive home the point:  the New Testament explicitly states that the OT Mosaic Law is not valid for Gentiles except for one part:  the sexual ethics.

So when our students are questioned on this (or question for themselves), they will remember:  Acts 15, Acts 15, Acts 15. Arguably the most important part of the NT for Christians other than verses about salvation! This passage explicitly answers the question of, "What part(s) of the Mosaic Law are applicable to Gentiles?" The answer--only the Noahic command (don't be a pagan and don't be a murderer), and the sexual ethics of Judaism (Lev 18). Otherwise, we are told, there is no "law" burden on Gentiles.


The reason I framed the discussion this way is because so many of the online debates and college challenges that our students will face are misunderstanding how the Bible is put together. They think that the Mosaic Law is a universal set of laws for all men, which Jesus then arbitrarily cancelled, but which the Church then cherry-picked parts of to still follow.

Thus, skeptics seem to tell our young believers that either they must reject all of the Old Testament, or reject none of it. Yet this is a false dichotomy. It is built upon the flawed assumption that if God makes a covenant with one group of men, He is somehow obligated to make that covenant for all men of all times!

Instead, I wanted to drill into their heads the answer to the question, "Why is it okay to eat shellfish but not be gay? Both are outlawed in Leviticus." And that answer is: Acts 15. Those who knew Jesus best confirmed that the Mosaic Law was applicable to Jews only and not at all to those of us who are Gentiles. But they also explicitly said that Leviticus 18 was a universal set of laws, not a Mosaic-only set of laws.

So I hope that as they reach college, this oh-so-common and oh-so-insidious question does not gain a foothold in their minds: sexual ethics in the Old Testament are universal descriptions of morality, and not limited only to those who were bound to the Mosaic Law.

Powerpoint here...

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