Taking It Literally

Today I read a very interesting article on Relevant, which you can read here.  The author, AJ Jacobs, recently published a book called The Year of Living Biblically which chronicles his 12 months following ALL of the rules in the Old Testament.

Based on the gained insights he shared in the article, the book should be a good, thought-provoking read.  He followed everything from the Ten Commandments to laws forbidding him from trimming his beard or wearing mixed fabrics.  After reading his piece, I don’t think one could approach the book with the expectation of scholarly, informed ideas about the Old Testament.  He apparently did some research on the reasons behind the different laws, although his findings seem shallow.  When he discusses five of the “most baffling rules” and gives possible explanations, the explanations are his own speculation and not the result of even cursory study.  This kind of bugs, since I have a degree in Biblical Studies and it’s kind of like, Dude, know the basics before you pubish this ish, but whatever.

The book definitely brings up an important question though: which laws or rules from the Old Testament should we follow, and which should we chalk up to culture-specific guidelines or the “old covenant”?  Even ultra-Orthodox Jews do not follow every law in the Torah, such as sacrifing animals.  Sacrifices and offerings were a vital part of the Jewish faith from the time of the Tabernacle until the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D.  Jews today claim that the absence of the temple removes their ability to make sacrifices in accordance with the Torah prescriptions.  But what about the rest of the laws?  I know they don’t eat pork, but do they wear poly/cotton blends?  Do they stone adulterers? 

And what about Christians?  How should we approach the laws in the Old Testament?  The Ten Commandments are often associated with the religion, their presence in schools defended ardently by Christians.  But what of the other hundreds of laws God gave His people through Moses following the Ten Commandments?  It definitely seems like a smorgasboard phenomenon (which is nothing new to any religion) where people pick and choose what best fits their lifestyle and makes them feel “holy.” 

When I was in Australia, my friend Andreas shared an eye-opening insight with me.  We were discussing tithing, which is an Old Testament law held near and dear to every church’s heart.  This is the rule of giving ten percent of one’s gross income (be it in dollars or crops) to God.  Andreas is radical and inspiring in his devotion to Christ, and he surprised me when he said that he does not believe Christians are required to tithe.  He pointed out that many times in the New Testament it is made clear that Christ has fulfilled the law.  Christians usually apply this to the laws about sacrifices…yay, Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice so we don’t have to deal with the whole messy business anymore!  Indeed, a reason to celebrate.  But how does Christ fulfilling the Law and ushering in a New Covenant affect the influence of the other OT rules on our lives? 

Jesus upped the ante on some rules like “do not kill” and “do not lust” saying that if a man hates another in his heart he is guilty of murder, and if a woman lusts after a man in her heart she is guilty of adultery.  There are other instances like this, but he definitely does not mention every rule in the “old covenant” because it is precisely that.  Old.  Outdated.  The new has come!  And in the New Covenant, everything is summed up in two general commandments (you know them well): Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus pretty much said, “Hey, don’t worry about all the little things…if you devote your life to following these two big ones, which, trust me, are enough for an entire life’s worth of devotion, then everything else will fall into place.” 

So are there reasons for the other laws?  Of course.  Don’t gossip, it breaks up the best of friends (that’s in Proverbs somewhere…) but if you’re loving your neighbor as yourself, you naturally won’t be talking crap about her.  Don’t wear mixed fabrics…well, I learned that had to do with separating Israel as a nation from their pagan neighbors the Canaanites, who mixed seeds in their fields and fabrics in their clothes as a magical act to encourage fertility.  But if you are loving God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind, your resulting lifestyle will definitely set you apart from the rest of society and keep you from looking to ungodly sources to fulfill your needs.

I guess all that to say, I’m going to read the book because I find other people’s journeys toward God fascinating; and also thank you Jesus for bringing a New Covenant!


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