One of the most common objections posed to Christians when discussing the Bible or homosexuality is, “Why do Christians eat shellfish and wear mixed fabric, but not stone homosexuals? Aren’t they just cherry picking which verses of the Bible they hold to?”
This objection comes up time and time again. The objection specifically refers to four verses. The first two are Leviticus 11:10-11 which says:
“But anything in the seas or the rivers that does not have fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you. 11 You shall regard them as detestable; you shall not eat any of their flesh, and you shall detest their carcasses.”
The next verse covered in this objection is Deuteronomy 22:11 which states:
“You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.”
The final verse mentioned in the objection is Leviticus 20:13 which says:
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
Here we see three separate laws given from God and yet Christians seem to hold to none of them. How can this be? How can so many Christians stress holding to the laws of God and yet completely disregard these three commands? The answer to this question comes from the same collection of books that the previous three commands were found in: the Bible.
Even though this objection incorporates four Bible verses, I can basically guarantee you that virtually no one that uses this objection has actually read the Bible with a significant level of thought. How can I say this? I can make that statement because if those people were to read further into the rest of the Bible, they would have their question answered.
That being said, in some ways, you can see the point the objection is making when you see verses like Matthew 5:18 where Jesus says:
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (NIV)
This Matthew 5:18 makes the objection of this chapter seem even harder to answer until you read the verses surrounding it. Let’s look at the passage as a whole (Matthew 5:17-20):
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (NIV)
Jesus has fulfilled the law with His death and resurrection. What people often fail to recognize is the fact that there isn’t just one type of law in the Bible that Jesus fulfilled; there’s three which are known as moral, ceremonial, and civil law. Let’s break these different types of law down to better understand their differences and why it’s important to make distinctions between them.
The moral law could be summed up as the Ten Commandments. These laws are ingrained into the very fibers of our being. This set of laws, unlike the other two types, is unchangeable. Jesus addresses this type of law in verse 20 of the Matthew passage above. He says that unless you can follow the law perfectly (“unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees”) you are unworthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. This means that in order for humans to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, something must cleanse us of our sin and fix our problem with the moral law. Jesus fulfilled this through His death and resurrection by paying for our sins and making us right with the law.
This type of law, like the civil law, is one that applies only to the nation of Israel. The ceremonial laws refer to laws like not eating shellfish or not wearing clothes of mixed fabric. These laws also include the sacrificial system set in place in Israel. These laws helped make the Israelites unique when compared to all other nations. God put these laws in place so that anyone outside of Israel could look at the Israelites and their behavior and immediately know there was something different about them. God was going to use Israel to bless every other nation on Earth. By seeing the stark contrast between the behavior of the Israelites and the other nations, a person was supposed to be able to say, “There’s something different about the Israelites and I want to be like them”
Then, the Israelites could have shown them who they followed and showed them how to follow God. After Christ rose from the dead, the nation of Israel was no longer God’s only chosen people. Now, anyone who repents of their sin and has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is considered a chosen one of God. Because of this, Christians don’t need to hold to all of the ceremonial laws given specifically to Israel because now to differentiate themselves they take after the actions of Christ and embody Him. This is their way of acting uniquely from the rest of the world. Also, the sacrificial laws aren’t needed anymore because Jesus Christ came as the final sacrifice when He died on the cross. He covered all of our sins by giving Himself up for us, so that, in part, we don’t have to sacrifice animals anymore to atone for our sins.
The civil law was meant to help the nation of Israel run their government. The nation of Israel was a theocracy, which is not the typical kind of government seen today. Because we aren’t the nation of Israel and don’t live in a true theocracy, we aren’t required to hold to the civil law. An example of civil law can be seen in Leviticus 20:13, which was included above. The command to put people practicing homosexuality to death was a civil law that helped lay out the proper punishment for the act when committed in the nation of Israel at that time. The part of the command regarding homosexuality is still valid because it is affirmed in the New Testament and reflects God’s plan in marriage for all of creation. See the distinction? The moral laws are upheld in the New Testament (Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:8-11) while many of the ceremonial and civil laws are not
Before you claim that it’s a cop-out to say that because we’re not the nation of Israel we aren’t held to this law, understand that we encounter situations like this daily. We see different laws applying to different people from different places all of the time. For example, California has very strict laws in regards to sustainability. I live in Missouri, and because of that, I don’t have to hold to the laws from California that aren’t also laid out in the state laws set aside for Missouri. But, Californians and Missourians both have to hold to federal laws that are meant to apply to everyone in the United States rather than just a single state. Think of the ceremonial and civil laws as state laws and the moral law as a set of federal laws. The civil and ceremonial laws, like state laws, apply to a very specific group of people while the moral laws, like federal laws, apply to a much larger group of people. I know that illustration isn’t perfect, but I think it gets the general point across.
All three types of law are important, but only the moral law must be held to today. The ceremonial and civil laws are important, not because we must hold to them today, but because they give us insight into God’s plan for Israel and His providential plan for the world. Understanding the ceremonial and civil laws helps us understand the culture that many of the Old Testament books were written to.
All of that being said, regardless of which type of law we discuss, Jesus came to fulfill it.
Jesus’ Fulfillment of the Law
Galatians 3:23-25 reminds us of Christ’s fulfillment of the law when it says:
“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian”
The moral law is the only law that Christians are specifically held to. Understanding this and the distinctions and purposes of the laws of the Old Testament, as well as how they apply to the New Testament are vital to really grasping much of the Bible. As a Christian, I can eat shellfish (although I never would because I don’t like eating fish bait) and I can wear clothes of mixed fabric because the laws prohibiting those things don’t apply to me. Understanding the context of the passages of the Bible that you read is imperative. Understanding context and understanding to read narratives can even clear up other objections like, “Doesn’t the Bible support polygamy?”
The answer to this objection is, of course, no. While the Bible mentions polygamy, it never endorses it. Just because a character in the Bible does something doesn’t mean that that particular action is good or approved of by God. If you read the Bible, what you’ll find is that anyone with multiple wives is always miserable or at least endures a good amount of grief because of it. God never once endorses polygamy. We make distinctions and realizations like this all the time when we read or listen to other things and we must make sure to do so when reading the Bible.
It’s imperative that we take the proper time and effort to actually process the verses and commands of the Bible. A flippant reading (or even more irresponsible, neglecting to read) what the Bible actually says can lead to unnecessary and harmful confusion. Christians and non-Christians are guilty of this. Don’t make proclamations about the Bible until you’ve actually read it. This isn’t asking more than what you would expect in any other situation for anything else. Understand the context and read the narrative of the Bible correctly and you’ll find that many of the objections you have will be answered coherently. Even more importantly, when you actually read the Bible and take time to process what it says, you cannot help but be put in awe by the wonder of a God and Savior who loves more than you could ever imagine.