A couple of great posts by Fred Clark about the mental gymnastics some people go through to live as they please, condemn who they want, and back it all up with the Bible. As one example, these people want to read certain passages from Leviticus and apply them to (or rather against) gay people, yet it would be inconvenient to have to abide by the adjoining passages. So they come up with an explanation: “Jesus abolished the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, but the moral law remains in full force.” BOOM! Take that gaybies! “The moral law against sex between two men or two women is constant and eternal. But we’re no longer bound by those silly ceremonial laws about not eating pork and the death penalty for adultery.”
Clark doesn’t buy it (and neither do I):
The problem is that this distinction between ceremonial and moral law in Leviticus isn’t actually a thing. It doesn’t come from Leviticus, but can only be retroactively imposed back onto it. And the text itself doesn’t welcome such an imposition.
The people who first wrote and compiled and read the Hebrew scriptures didn’t make such a distinction. Nor did first-century Jews, such as Jesus and Paul. The categories of “clean” and “unclean” in the Hebrew scriptures don’t really allow for this distinction either. It won’t let us treat those categories as merely “ceremonial” and somehow divorced from the matter of morality.
This problem becomes more acute when we actually try to apply this anachronistic distinction. The first step is, of course, to classify all the dietary stuff as “ceremonial” law and all the sex stuff as “moral” law. (Thus, shrimp is OK, but butt-secks is still bad.) But then it turns out we don’t want to keep all of the sex stuff, just some of it. So we have to sift through the sex bits, reclassifying the laws involving menstruation as “ceremonial” while still keeping many of the adjoining sex laws as moral.
Clark is writing in response to an earlier post by Tim Keller, who tries another tack: “Christ changed how we worship,” he writes, “but not how we live.” Clark responds:
That seems promising — until you start to look at the laws he consigns to the realm of worship rather than “how we live.” Eating shrimp? That’s worship. Menstruation? Worship. Promoting the welfare and prosperity of ethnic outsiders? Worship.
I love the tone of Clark’s piece, as well as the logical clarity with which he dismantles Keller. Read Clark’s entire piece at ‘Ceremonial law’ folklore is no substitute for an actual hermeneutic. His earlier post is also available at ‘God hates shrimp’: Picking and choosing among abominations.