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Q14. Why does the Church downplay Hebrew Scripture?

Q:

I find myself short on biblical knowledge / wise counsel. Question at hand “Why does the church seem to ignore or downplay the HEBREW SCRIPTURE”? Messiah is foretold / promised there, God’s standard for living is there, Love God with heart, soul, strength and others as self, detailed / defined in Ten Commandments and further detailed in the alleged 613 standards. Ignoring these seems to throw Jesus on the scene from nowhere and ignores the basis for his being, along with downplaying / ignoring the Ten Commandments and 613 standards. Yes, SALVATION through faith in life, death, resurrection of Jesus alone, however the standards for living are restated in just the two great commandments. While the law does not save it does give the human mind the expectations of God and disallows our mind to determine what the two great commandments mean. I find the church’s downplaying / ignoring these standards has created many of today’s issues. For instance, slavery and perjury. If the church had pushed the standard from Deuteronomy on kidnapping/selling others slavery would have stopped in its onset. As well as standard for those witness that lie in court and convict the innocent. Court system would be a bit different today. So back to my original thought why does church downplay Hebrew Scriptures? It’s like denying gravity exists. Thanks for listening.

Gary L.

I would agree with you Gary, if that were truly the case. I don’t think that’s the right question to ask here, though. While there is a growing trend in Progressive Christianity (if you can call it that) to throw out the Old Testament –– which I agree with you, is like denying gravity exists –– this is a current trend with little historical backing (similar to the sharp spike of Gnosticism in the Early Church, which attempted to oust the OT and God the Father as well. I admit, I find we are in a social and cultural climate eerily similar to the apostles, but I digress).

Most, if not all, churches throughout history “up play” the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament, as it were. Perhaps not always in ways that we agree with, but the Reformers and Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox, all esteem the OT. Many have not heavily focused on the Law, the Old Covenant (i.e., circumcision, sacrificial ceremonies, etc.), since we are not bound to it and, therefore, does not hold us accountable or demand full authority over our lives. There is, indeed, practical value in it, as you mention, but it is not essential for the Gospel, Great Commission and other mandates given to the Church. Churches do, however, emphasize the moral importance, deep theological foreshadowing and rich narrative and relationship between God and humanity throughout the OT, especially as depicted in the Law (i.e., Abraham and Isaac sacrifice story, David as a type of Messiah, etc.). The Ten Commandments are often regarded, even by seculars, as the bedrock of Western civilization and its moral structure (the likes of which are slowly being tossed out, one by one, for hundreds of years. Again, I digress).

I think the deeper point you’re wrestling with here is why would we ignore so much of the Law in relation to civil or sociopolitical structures, since it offers very valuable, moral and practical insight in civil, social, cultural and governmental measures and regulations for punishment and prevention. This is a good question. Theologians, pastors, priests, scholars, you name it, everyone at some level has struggled with this very question. I’ve written responses related to your concern that may help: Q1. What does the Bible say about legalism? And Q3. Is the Sabbath a moral command?

There are three things to keep in mind moving forward: (1) Not all the laws are very practical or applicable; much of the Law serves solely as prophetic or symbolic foreshadowing. Take for instance, the ceremonial sacrifices that foreshadowed Christ (i.e., Passover, Day of Atonement, etc.), or the very specific regulations found in Leviticus 19 such as “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard,” (v.27) or “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” (v.19). These laws have cultural significance and serve as meaningful memory aids, but they are not universally applicable. Or even instructions for how masters should handle their slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46). Of course, today, slavery is not needed nor is it morally desirable. In the ancient world on the other hand, slavery was normal, widespread and not racially charged (not even Aristotle could imagine a world without slaves!), it was more like our modern concept of servants. Or consider the dietary laws and restrictions (Leviticus 9:10; Exodus 23:19), which were, more or less, abolished in Acts 10 when the New Covenant trumped certain laws in the Old in order that the Gospel and Great Commission be pursued without restraint. So, if the OT laws are not all equal, not all universal, and the Law itself is not essential, by what basis or method do we choose one law over another? If we pick and choose laws based on the purpose, moral ground and its universal applicability – which is what we’re doing now – then we’re back to where we are today.

(2) It’s important to remember God meets people where they are with the intention to spiritually grow them. God sent Moses to “stiff necked” Israel and He also sent Jonah to the morally depraved savages of Nineveh who could not “discern their right hand from their left” (Jonah 4:11), and yet, Jesus says the people of Nineveh are potentially saved in Matthew 12:41 because they repented (for further reading, check out: The Old Testament Missionary). And is it not true that we would be no different without Christ? (cf. 1 Peter 4:3; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 12:2; Ephesians 4:17-24) I believe God did the same thing with Israel and their laws. He met them where they were at, not only for them, but for the greater good of us all since the promised Messiah was to be born through them. This is, perhaps, why Jesus contrasts Moses to God’s initial creation when He says that “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8)

(3) If you take a step back and look at the Scriptures (including the Law) for what it is – one long progressive narrative – then, on this side of the cross, with more knowledge of who the Messiah is and what He has done and plans to do for the world, we are called to continue the purpose of the narrative. God is continuously and progressively working through humanity to restore all people to Him. This is testified to throughout the OT as well as the NT. He accomplished this mission through the tight-knit laws instituted for Israel. Christianity is not plan B or a sidebar to the mission of God, it is a continuation of the narrative from Adam to Jesus to use today – we have been grafted into that story. Praise God!

As Christians, we’re chiefly engaged in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:10-20), which has political consequences for sure, but it doesn’t begin there. So, I think, that is the main reason for not pursuing political ends to solve moral problems. Does the law actually transform people? No. But the Gospel does. Laws cannot justify, sanctify or restore people to God. They can help create habits, but laws do not actively change your heart. And if you change the heart, you change the habit. So, the battlefield shifted from political laws to the “Law of Christ”, as Paul put it (Galatians 6:2). We were grafted into the vine by faith, as sons of the promise (given to Abraham) as well as what Jesus calls the “weightier” or “more important” matters of the law: justice, mercy, faithfulness, love – against such, there is no law (Matthew 23:23; Galatians 5:22-23). So even if we did change all the laws of the entire world right now to Judeo-Christian laws, people would still be sinning, there would still be deep grievances, on-going iniquity, lawbreakers, and evil behaviour of all sorts. So, our mission is to not focus predominantly on the behaviour or habits, but to lead people to Christ to be born again and change their heart from the inside out. Before you can fully follow the Law, you need to be radically transformed by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

For further Scripture on this, I recommend reading Galatians 3 and 2 Corinthians 3. Hope that gives some perspective. Thanks for your question, Gary!

God Bless!

 

Matlock Bobechko | March 15, 2021 – 5:28 PM EST