Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Orthodox Christianity and Mosaic law


Many Anti-theists see it as an easy attack on Christianity to pick up that we condemn many practices which are labelled as unclean by Mosaic Law, and are therefore must either accept all of Mosaic Law or reject it. The following note is taken from a response I gave to this very question earlier today and analyses the problem with this Straw Man attack on Christianity and its relation to mosaic Law.

A first key point is that the use of laws such as Leviticus’ condemnation of Homosexuality, as well as many others is a Protestant one, which also stems from a corrupted understanding of the Incarnation and the nature of the Church. it is also condemned in the New Testament by St Paul, though as Christians we would not punish it with death, as that is not the Law.

Firstly, the Old testament, from a Christian position, can only be understood through the New Testament. A Good example of this is the writings of the prophets which are understood only when looking at the Incarnation, since they foresee his coming. In his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, St Justin martyr demonstrates Jeremiah’s prediction of a New Covenant unlike the old, and explains how:
"the law promulgated on Horeb is now old, and belongs to yourselves alone” and that “law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one; and an eternal and final law—namely, Christ —has been given to us, and the covenant is trustworthy, after which there shall be no law, no commandment, no ordinance.”
The Law itself was created as a guide from God for people in preparation for this as well as practical of Ritual purity from the Jewish People in the temple Period, when Ritual Cleanliness was important. These examples include the consumption of Pork and Circumcision, both which regulated the cleanliness (Both Physical and Spiritual) of a person. Both were removed under the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem, as they were no longer needed and thus a Christian would not see it as an Abomination to Eat Pork when it is revealed that we should not. Regarding the need for them after, Saint Paul explains how:
“Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (Galatians 3:23-25)
With no Temple and God having become incarnate, this Ritual Cleanliness Law had become irrelevant and was already corrupt and used for separate purposes (people followed the Law for fear of punishment rather than Love of God) and were following it for the sake of the Law, rather than the original reason. Christ himself explains, in Matthew 19, this difference when he details the reasons for the allowance of Divorce in the OT. When a Pharisee Asks him
“Why did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus responds to him by explaining the Spirit of the Law, that
“Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
Here it is shown that it is not simply a matter of Moses saying they could, but there is a reason behind it which they have not grasped. Justin Martyr again explains this to Trypho, stating how:
“The new law requires you to keep perpetual Sabbath, and you, because you are idle for one day, suppose you are pious, not discerning why this has been commanded you.” This clearly demonstrates how the Christian view in the 1st Century shows a clear Separation between following the law and Discerning the Spirit of it.
This is support when Christ said he had fulfilled the Law in its purest form, which he explains in Matthew 22
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The Ten Commandments given to Moses all demonstrate these principles, giving to God what is his and not killing, stealing or offending your neighbour. These are the Spirit of the Law. The later Leviticus Laws were more about purity and impurity, rather than this. The problem faced is that many now followed this for no reason but the fact that it is the law. They forgot the meaning of it, as Christ constantly condemns the Pharisees for. This is not something to be celebrated as:
“No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)
So Paul here points out that it is not the idea of following the law that is important but the consciousness as to Purity and Impurity. He goes on to explain that:
“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-24)
As St Kosmas Points out, Christian living is different to Pharisaic understandings of Leviticus’ laws since Christians follow the Spirit:
“If a man insults me, kills my father, my mother, my brother, and then gouges out my eye, as a Christian it is my duty to forgive him. We who are pious Christians ought to love our enemies and forgive them. We ought to offer them food and drink, and entreat God for their souls. And then we should say: “My God, I beseech Thee to forgive me, as I have forgiven my enemies.”
This is certainly not applicable to Mosaic law as the Hebrews practiced “an eye for an eye..” in accordance with these teachings on strict purity. With Christ’s coming he explained that to kill is not the Spirit of the Law but the letter of it and Christ has come to fulfill the spirit. As Fr Laurent on OrthodoxAnswers explains:
“Let’s take a concrete example. A woman has a child and the Orthodox custom is to stay at home for 40 days, a custom that is informed by the Old Testament. Let’s say that this Orthodox woman is feeling great and wants to return to Church after 20 days. Should she do that or is she bound that the Mosaic model? The answer suggested here is that she is not bound that the Mosaic model but that she is bound by obedience to the leadership of the Church (Hebrews 13; Matthew 18; Acts 15). If the bishop says, “sure, you are blessed to return” then she may; but if he says “I want you to stay home according to the wisdom of this tradition,” she should stay home on account of obedience and humility.”
Some common statements and answers which can be used.

1) “I do not think that it is ignorant to expect Christians to follow all Mosaic Laws if they follow some.”

 But it is, as it presumes that all Christians follow an Ignorant Protestant model of theology based upon a warped understanding of the Old testament which goes against the teachings of the Earliest Church fathers and even of Scripture. This shows no respect or understanding of the Earliest Christian Tradition or the Theology of the Church from the 1st century onwards.

2) “Most Christians use an Old Testament passage (Leviticus 18:22) to critique same-sex marriage”

Most Christians would prefer to use St Paul’s condemnation which reiterates and verifies the teaching without the Letter of Law applied in the Pharisaic sense.

3) “The counter-argument can easily point to the fact that Christians would believe it abominable to abide by other Old Testament passages.”

Yet this does not work in the Framework of Christian Holy Tradition, as many things are again condemned by Christ and through The Apostles and their Successors. These again include such practices as Adultery, Murder, theft , Sexual Immorality, Homosexuality, the consumption of Blood and the Worship of Idols amongst others. When he condemns these he readdresses them in the context of the spirit of the Law (With an explanation as to the importance in our Spiritual Growth) and not the Empty Legalism which the Old Covenant had fallen into.

4) “Why do Christian Practices differ?”

The OT Laws followed Ritual Purity and fell into an empty ritualism. Christians are taught to follow the Spirit of the Law, which is supported by the Demonstrations and Words of Christ when he explained the ‘Fulfilment of the Law’ on key issues. The Apostles also did this in the Didache and Didascalia, explaining the tenets of the Faith by the New Covenant and their relation to the Laws given by Moses.

 5) “If the Incarnation didn’t occur, would living by Rabbinic law be ethical?”

It depends on whether you followed it by the letter of the law or the Spirit of it.

God Bless and keep you.
In Xto,

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