Podcast listener Luke writes in: “Dear Pastor John, I want to first thank you for the Ask Pastor John podcast and for your obedience and love for the Lord. One thing I have always struggled to communicate is the difference between the Old Testament Law and the fulfilled Law after Christ. I have many atheist friends who press me here, specifically when it comes to homosexuality. Why do we as Christians not believe practicing homosexuals should be killed for their sin if that is exactly the prescription in our Bibles in Leviticus 20:13? How would you answer this objection?”
This is huge and absolutely crucial. And we need an answer for it to those who ask. It is such a common response for somebody that has a smattering of knowledge or has just read that there are these verses in the Bible like that. And it is not difficult to answer this problem. It just takes a little willingness on the part of people to listen for a few minutes as we describe the nature of the Christian Bible.
So you have to ask for a few minutes. It might be helpful to start with an analogy. I think right off the bat this might be helpful. You might say to the person who is asking that question: Suppose a book is written for the military and in Chapter 1 it deals with how soldiers should relate to each other during basic training stateside. Chapter 2 deals with how soldiers should relate to each other and to their captured enemies on the battlefield. Chapter 3 deals with how soldiers should relate to each other and to their captors if any of them is taken captive and imprisoned. And the fourth chapter deals with how they should relate to each other and to the enemy if they are infiltrated behind enemy lines. Would anyone accuse a soldier of disobedience if while he is captured as a prisoner of war he obeys the instructions in Chapter 3 rather than the instructions in Chapter 1? No. Nobody would. That is the way the book intends to be used.
Now that is the kind of book the Bible is. It was written under God’s inspiration over a period of 1,500 years or so through various periods where God dealt with his people in different ways. Not everything that the Bible designed for God’s people Israel under the judges or under the kings or that God designs for Christians under the apostles in the New Testament is the same. Putting to death adulterers, putting to death homosexuals, putting to death the sons who curse their parents, all these penalties belonged to a particular season in the history of God’s dealings with his covenant people, and those dealings have changed dramatically with the coming of God’s Son Jesus Christ into the world. That is the basic nature of the Bible and of redemptive history that we need to get across to our critics.
Then if they are willing to take a few more minutes with us to examine the Bible, we can point them to the very places in the Bible where this becomes plain. So maybe it would be helpful if I just gave a few of those and this would be a guideline for what texts you could use if you sat down with your atheist friend who said: No, I think you Christians are inconsistent because you are not putting homosexuals to death, because it says right here in Leviticus that that is what you are supposed to do.
So here are a few. We see the first pointer of how things have changed dramatically in Matthew 5:17 where Jesus says, “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.” So all the Old Testament finds its completion and fulfillment in Jesus — and that is a basic truth that a person needs to understand. Everything in the Old Testament was pointing toward Jesus as the Son of God incarnate, dying and rising to save his people. And, therefore, in his person, in his ministry, the whole Old Testament reaches a climax and is dramatically altered.
Second pointer: The Bible spells out many of the specifics of this dramatic alteration. For example, the book of Hebrews is probably the classic place for showing how the old covenant has become obsolete with the coming of the new covenant. Hebrews 8:13 says, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” And, for example, the death of Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice for sins so that the entire Old Testament sacrificial system of offering animals comes to an end.