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How (Not) to Read the Bible

Crazy-sounding Bible verses all have backstories  that help us better understand what they meant to the people at the time they were given. God didnt want them to do certain things, practices that could have compromised their faith in God. Why did God allow some things and not others back in Old Testament times? If we believe some laws were specific for Israel and they made sense back then, why do we not still follow them today?

When Jesus came, everything changed, and from the time of Jesus onward, we have to look at everything in the Bible through a new lens of interpretation. In the Old Testament, we see God relating to people one way. In the New Testament we have a new covenant with God through Jesus, a new way for human beings to relate to God.

The New Testament writings tell us that the strange-sounding verses weve read—and all the rest of the 613 different Old Testament laws—were given to convict people everywhere of our inability to follow all that God requires for us to worship him and live in perfect harmony with him and one another. This inability is due to our imperfection and the fallout of sin, and it points us to our need for a Savior.

When Jesus came and died on the cross and rose again, it revealed a major shift in how we relate to God, and we see this change reflected in the teachings of the New Testament, which give us new guidelines. A new covenant, or arrangement between God and people, began. This new covenant is not limited to a particular people group. Now all can have forgiveness and be seen as holy and set apart by God, not through what we do, but through what Jesus did. We are set apart by putting our faith in Jesus, and this changes how the laws of the Old Testament function for those who follow Jesus.

The Old Testament is still extremely important for us today. By reading it, we learn who God is and all he did in times past, as well as our origins and why and how Jesus came. Its necessary for followers of Jesus to know and study the Old Testament. But we need to also understand why we apply or dont apply specific worship practices and dietary and civil laws today. We are now in a post-Jesus” time period in the storyline, and the way God related to people pre-Jesus” is different than the way God relates to us post-Jesus.”

Post-Jesus” there is no longer a need to sacrifice animals, like the Israelites did, to show our faith and devotion to God because Jesus was the final sacrifice for all people. There is no longer a need for the temple, as Gods Spirit now dwells in those who put their faith in Jesus. Collectively and individually, followers of Jesus are the temple.” There is no longer a need to be bound to the law” (the section that contains the Bible verses weve been looking at) because Jesus started a new covenant with God, and his followers follow the writings of this new covenant, the New Testament.

When Jesus came, there was something of a reboot, a fulfillment and expansion of the Old Testament that introduced a new and better way for us to relate to God. This was taught by Jesus and his followers, as we read in the New Testament. When Jesus died on the cross, he put an end to the Old Testament law and introduced a new law called the law of Christ.” For those who want to dig deeper, you can read about this shift in Galatians 3:23–24; 6:2; and 1 Corinthians 9:21.

The strange dietary laws and bizarre worship rituals and sacrifices and rules ended and are no longer required today. The new law, the one we are to obey today, is the law of Jesus.

What is the law of Jesus? Jesus taught that the greatest commands from the Old Testament were  to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . And . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we obey these two commands, we are fulfilling what God required of his people, the goal or ultimate reason why he gave them laws in the first place. As Jesus said, All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

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The New Testament Is a Fresh Start with God, but We Dont Dismiss the Old

Not everything is dismissed from the laws of the Old Testament. Many of the moral, or non-ceremonial, laws continue and are reinforced in the New Testament. For instance, the Old Testament says, You shall not murder,” and that doesnt come to an end in the New Testament. Many moral commands like these are repeated or affirmed in the New Testament. Jesus expands on many of the moral laws to clarify and strengthen their importance. He affirms what the Old Testament says about not murdering, but he draws attention to the underlying hatred that motivates murder, saying that murdering” or hating someone in your heart is on par with physical murder in Gods eyes. Jesus is concerned with our hearts, so he teaches the importance of looking behind the actions themselves to examine the motive or desire behind the action. Dietary laws and ritual instructions on how to worship God have changed, but most of the moral instructions on relationships and how to properly love others remain, even intensifying in their demands on us.

To know which laws still apply to us and which ones dont, we need to look at what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament say continued and understand why they said it. Only then are we prepared to decide which laws do not need to be continued. In general, laws regarding the ordering of the Israelite nation (civil laws), laws regarding temple sacrifice and worship (ceremonial laws), and dietary restrictions (some holiness laws) are no longer needed now that Jesus has come. In our Bible study, we have the amazing privilege of seeing how God has revealed himself through time to different people in different places, and we can use what God has revealed in the past to better follow Jesus today. The New Testament and Jesusteaching help us to know what it looks like to love and worship God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Wear Polyester Blends, Eat Shrimp, Enjoy Ham and Play Football

So when you hear or read a reference to verses telling Christians not to eat shrimp or pork or wear clothing made of two different fabrics, like polyester blends, you know why those rules are no longer valid. When people mock or seek to discredit the Bible by pointing this out, all they show is their lack of understanding. It is easy to grab bizarre verses from the Old Testament and claim Christians are breaking the rules by not following them. But what it really shows is a lack of understanding the Bible storyline and the difference between the original covenant God made and the new covenant.

 

Taken from How (Not) to Read the Bible by Dan Kimball. Copyright © December 2020. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

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