Christian Theology Tumblr Post?
November 26, 2016 9:06 PM   Subscribe

There's a viral Tumblr post that is going around about Christian theology and the Old Testament. I'm curious as to whether it is "valid" Christian theology. Text after the cut.

This is an enormous chain and I’m sorry, but I need to say this:

The laws in the Old Testament were set forth by god as the rules the Hebrews needed to follow in order to be righteous, to atone for the sin of Adam and Eve and to be able to get into Heaven. That is also why they were required to make sacrifices, because it was part of the appeasement for Original Sin.

According to Christian theology, when Jesus came from Heaven, it was for the express purpose of sacrificing himself on the cross so that our sins may be forgiven. His sacrifice was supposed to be the ultimate act that would free us from the former laws and regulations and allow us to enter Heaven by acting in his image. That is why he said “it is finished” when he died on the cross. That is why Christians don’t have to circumcise their sons (god’s covenant with Jacob), that is why they don’t have to perform animal sacrifice, or grow out their forelocks, or follow any of the other laws of Leviticus.

When you quote Leviticus as god’s law and say they are rules we must follow because they are what god or Jesus wants us to do, what you are really saying, as a Christian, is that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was invalid. He died in vain because you believe we are still beholden to the old laws. That is what you, a self-professed good Christian, are saying to your god and his son, that their plan for your salvation wasn’t good enough for you.

So maybe actually read the thing before you start quoting it, because the implications of your actions go a lot deeper than you think.
posted by WCityMike to Religion & Philosophy (17 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This is actually a perilous theological minefield, but it's fair to say that most Christians believe that in some sense Christians have been released from the necessity of strict adherence to Jewish ritual law (at least, in its conception by Christians). Whether Christ's death on the cross served to accomplish this, and the relationship between Jewish ritual law and original sin, is a matter of substantial dispute.
posted by praemunire at 9:15 PM on November 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

According to Christian theology,

There's no such thing as "Christian theology." You need to get a specific denomination and theological tradition here before you even begin to engage with this interpretation. Christianity is an incredibly diverse tradition, and there is little agreement on even some of the basic notions here.

This notion that Christ's sacrifice ended the requirements of Hebrew law is certainly a widely held Christian interpretation that figures in a large number of denominational perspectives. But the idea that it's "valid" or not is completely one of theological tradition, and those of us who identify as "Christian" don't all agree on that matter.
posted by Miko at 9:22 PM on November 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

I know every Christian is a special snowflake and yadda yadda, but wrt the question you're asking, yes, this is a "valid" interpretation of the OT/NT (i.e., people believe it, many books have been written about it, some pastors are taught this in seminary or in their informal training), and in my experience it's quite common in American Protestant churches, particularly the "non-denominational" or "Bible church" type, and often the ones that lean Calvinist (but aren't too fire-and-brimstone). As you can see, Not All Christians, but yes, it's a thing.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:39 PM on November 26, 2016

I have so few irons in this fire, but according to Paul's epistle to the Romans:

"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"

Is it "valid?" Maybe. The thing is: religious text is complicated.
posted by General Malaise at 9:40 PM on November 26, 2016

More or less, that would be correct. Also see the Ten Commandments vs The Beatitudes.

That said, the above posters have correctly stated that Christian denominations pick and choose what parts of the Bible they believe are valid. Arguing with a Christian that the Bible doesn't say what they think it does is a losing argument because it says whatever they want it to. You can find support for a number of contradictory positions, even within the New Testament.
posted by irisclara at 9:41 PM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, what I'm saying is: this is a contention that has been going on for more than two millennia and still goes on.
posted by General Malaise at 9:42 PM on November 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

It is also more of a Protestant thing than a Catholic thing to suggest that reading the Bible is the best way to resolve theological issues

Yes. The idea that the Bible is the sole source of God's truth (sola scriptura) is actually considered by Catholics to be a heresy. Catholicism has three avenues of revelation: sacred scripture, sacred tradition, and sacred magisterium (the clergy). These are even mapped explicitly to the three persons of God.

Exactly how Jewish Christians needed to be was a subject of debate in the early church. The availability of Christ's salvation to Gentiles is generally considered to be established by Peter's vision of the unclean animals in Acts 10 and is stated explicitly in Acts 28:28. The question of whether non-Jews need to adhere to the Torah is often considered to be settled in Acts 15. Paul expounded on the matter in Galatians and Romans, stating the Torah is a "tutor" to teach us of our need for salvation, which is no longer needed now that Christ has arrived. In Galatians 5:2-4 he states that if you accept circumcision you accept the whole of the Torah and reject God's grace, which has no need of the Torah.

So most Christians today do accept that they do not need to keep Jewish law. At the same time, however, there is scriptural support (also from Paul) for the view that the Torah teaches us what God considers holy and unholy and that Christians should strive for holiness as modeled by the Torah, even though they are not bound by it. This is why Christians often use accept from Leviticus, along with the Ten Commandments, as doctrine. Various parts of the Torah are held to have different purposes: to set Jews apart from other peoples, as practical rules for survival in the times, and as indications of what God considers holy and unholy. The latter are still considered by most Christians to still apply.
posted by kindall at 9:52 PM on November 26, 2016 [12 favorites]

A fundamentalist evangelical Protestant in the US who wanted to argue that homosexuality is a sin (I'm guessing this springs from someone arguing that it isn't because Christians aren't subject to Leviticus anymore) would respond to you that some parts of Levitical Law is "incorporated" into Christian teaching when it's referenced in the New Testament. Then they read the New Testament in specific ways (some traditional with a long Biblical-interpretive history, and some new and nutty; some probably relatively accurate to the original intents of the authors and others clearly completely invented) to incorporate "don't be gay" but leave out "don't eat shrimp." (It's pretty amazing how God handed out Leviticus but then completely changed his mind to totally accord with modern American fundamentalist's attitudes on which things they want to still eat, but I digress.)

So the more interesting and in-depth answer I would give you as a former theology student is that, yeah, there are a huge range of interpretations of this issue on a spectrum from "Christians must obey all Jewish laws" to "Christians must obey some specific Jewish laws that I will explain forthwith" to "Christians are freed from all Jewish laws but should take them seriously when thinking about morality and interpreting the New Testament" to "Christians are freed form all Jewish laws and it's sinful to obey those old Pharisaic rules when Jesus specifically said not to." All of these general interpretations can claim lines of theological support stretching back to the very earliest days of the Church (of varying validity that theologians would all love to argue about at great length).

But the place you want to start is the Book of Acts, specifically Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem. The first major theological dispute in Christianity, awesomely recorded right there in the New Testament (and referred to in the Letters of Paul as well, sometimes obliquely, so you can watch them argue! Try Galatians, it's only four pages.) is between the "Hellenizers" led by Paul and the "Judaizers" led by James. James (aka James the less, aka James brother of Jesus; not James son of Zebedee) is the leader of the early Christian congregation in Jerusalem, which was made up almost entirely of Jewish followers of Christ, and a handful of followers of Christ who converted to Judaism to follow this Jewish Messiah. Paul, whom you will recall was a Jew who was a Roman citizen and took great pleasure in persecuting the shit out of the early Christians before he got converted on the Road to Damascus; Paul, otoh, is running all the fuck over the ancient Near East converting everyone in sight and using his Roman education to talk to gentiles like crazy. He did not believe that gentiles had to become Jews to follow Jesus. So everybody bickers about this by letter and messenger until they all go to Jerusalem, in Acts 15, to hash it out.

Peter runs the meeting; Paul talks about his mission to the gentiles; James quotes the Tanakh; and they finally agree that followers of Jesus who are Jewish by birth must still observe the Law, but gentiles need not do so. (And the whole fight is all right there in Acts!) So they write a letter, as follows (Acts 15:22-29, NIV):
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
(This is also, the eagle-eyed observer will note, part of how Peter winds up "Pope," or rather how Peter's successors as Bishop of Rome claim the right to call ecumenical councils and mediate disputes among the local churches, because it's to Peter's authority the apostles turn during their first dispute.)

So the gentile Christians, for historically contingent reasons to do with the Roman Empire, end up as by far the larger contingent in the Christian Church; the Jewish Christians wind up a tiny rump who eventually basically disappear, but every couple of centuries either a bunch of Christians decide they read the New Testament wrong and really actually have to be Jewish first; or a bunch of Jews decide to be Jews for Jesus, and the Judaizer position reappears, more or less, in various forms.

(Now keep in mind when you read Acts that the author, believed to be Luke, refers to James's position perjoratively as "Pharisaic" because Luke is thought to have been ethnically Greek and to have spoken Greek as a first language, and would have been a gentile convert so on the Hellenizer side rather vehemently. So, you know, read James's position a bit more gently as it's his opponent writing it.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:55 PM on November 26, 2016 [44 favorites]

"Paul expounded on the matter in Galatians and Romans, stating the Torah is a "tutor" to teach us of our need for salvation, which is no longer needed now that Christ has arrived. In Galatians 5:2-4 he states that if you accept circumcision you accept the whole of the Torah and reject God's grace, which has no need of the Torah."

Although let us remember that in Romans 1, when Paul talks about sexual immorality, he's actually talking about Cybele worshippers who had ecstatic orgies where everyone had sex with everyone else and, in the most extreme cases, they cut off their own penises and threw them into trees (which was thought to give them the power of prophecy). When he talks about women having sex with women and men having sex with women in Romans 1, the complaint probably isn't homosexuality per se but Cybele orgies and ritual castration. With Paul writing to gentile communities you always have to do a lot of work disentangling when he's talking about sexual morality among the early Christians as a community, and when he's talking about sexual depravities among the Roman state religions that offend him to the depths of his ex-Pharisaic soul.

(Read moar Bible notes, there's orgies in them.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:04 PM on November 26, 2016 [30 favorites]

This is complicated, as everyone has pointed out, but I think the Tumblr post collapses a set of distinctions that many Christians recognise, ie that between ceremonial law (food law, circumcision, Temple sacrifice) and moral law (eg the Ten Commandments). Aquinas, Augustine and Calvin all held to the idea that this is the lens through which we should read the Old Testament: some parts of it prescribe the laws and customs of the earthly kingdom of Israel (suspended with the destruction of that Kingdom), some parts of prescribe rituals of sacrifice and affirmation of the covenant (superseded by the death of Christ), and some parts of it reflect the eternal and natural moral law (immutable then and now).

The hard question is knowing which is which. The Leviticus prohibition on homosexuality, for example, is embedded in a lot of rules about keeping oneself ritually pure. So is it a ritual rule or a moral one? That requires some reflection on what we think the moral thrust of both Testaments is, what the difference between morally just action and ritual impurity is, and (for Catholics anyway) some reference to what our natural reason tells us about the moral law. Just saying "it's in the Old Testament, so it no longer counts", as the Tumblr post seems to, is unsatisfactory. The Greatest Commandment is also found in the Old Testament, as are the prohibitions on killing, stealing, cheating, adultery, driving your neighbour into penury because of debt, and exploiting widows and orphans. No one believes that, because Christ has died and risen, we are now free to exploit all the widows and orphans we come across. The tough question is which rules we are free from, and the Tumblr post doesn't really address that.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:46 AM on November 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

I will add that a sharp distinction between the Old Testament and the New, and a belief that the God of the Old Testament is somehow a separate being with different demands from the God of the New, has been an ugly theme in Christian anti-semitism over the centuries. It's another reason why I personally am uncomfortable with this style of argument, or any argument that tells us to dismiss and ignore the books of the Old Testament. They often have been used to deny the Jewish roots of Christianity, and the Jewishness of Jesus Christ, for pretty unsavoury reasons.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:03 AM on November 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

Coming at it from a Jewish perspective, one thing is blatantly false:

The laws in the Old Testament were set forth by god as the rules the Hebrews needed to follow in order to be righteous, to atone for the sin of Adam and Eve and to be able to get into Heaven. That is also why they were required to make sacrifices, because it was part of the appeasement for Original Sin.

Nope, this is so wrong that I stopped reading immediately. Jews do not and have never had any conception of original sin; that's a purely Christian construction. The ancient Hebrews practiced animal sacrifice for a lot of reasons, but atoning for original sin was none of them (atoning for the people's sins more broadly was, especially for the Yom Kippur sacrifices) but Adam and Eve had nothing to do with it.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:29 AM on November 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

Thank you, everyone. I really appreciate the rich theological analysis you've provided here -- and find it both enlightening and fascinating.
posted by WCityMike at 8:54 AM on November 27, 2016

Jews do not and have never had any conception of original sin

Also, Judaism is not particularly concerned with 'Heaven' (in Judaism, Olam Ha-Ba, 'the world to come'). Mitzvot should be performed out of love & duty. The idea that mitzvot should NOT be performed out of fear of punishment/out of hope for reward is even the third saying in the Pirkei Avot. While sinful behaviour might be a problem for the Olam Ha-Ba (it... gets complicated), it's only your own behaviour you have to worry about.

If you want to know more about the early days of the Jewish-vs-Gentile-behaviour debate in Christianity, I strongly recommend looking for the terms "Judaizers" (what ancient critics called them), "Jewish Christians" (what contemporary scholars tend to call them), and "the parting of the ways" (the general term for the Jewish-Christian split, which has itself become controversial in the past 20 years, because the process is now seen as messier than previously assumed). There's a lot of theological froth and fighting in the early days of what we now call Christianity, with lots of different communities.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:08 AM on November 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

This might be of interest to you.
posted by 4ster at 4:47 PM on November 27, 2016

This is generally true of the sort of mainstream Protestant upbringing I had (I was Southern Baptist, but in the 70s and 80s there wasn't a lot of difference between them and Methodists or Presbyterians).

99% of the time, if a Christian-claiming person is citing OT verses as they relate to modern life, they're using them for "smiting" purposes, and doing so is more or less directly contraindicated by something Jesus said, or something one of his followers said subsequently in the epistolary books that follow the Gospels.

So yeah, it's mostly valid. But as others have noted, there's lots of variety in interpretation. Given that most Christian churches are working from the same text, though, it's super hard to reconcile a doctrinaire and rigid application of Leviticus with the "red letter text" in the Gospels.
posted by uberchet at 7:31 AM on November 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I started to explain, but Eyebrows McGee, Aravis76 and uberchet have summed it up well. It basically (to my knowledge) breaks down to whether or not the OT rules stated are ceremonial or moral. If it's something related to cleanliness, sacrifice, rituals for forgiveness, the basic assumption is that Jesus fulfilled all that with His death on the cross. If you believe that He died for your sins, you believe that you are seen as clean and spotless in the eyes of God. It makes no sense to avoid shellfish, not mix fibers, etc. On the other hand, there are still some OT moral imperatives we are to uphold to be good examples, and to live lives that glorify God. Those include the ten commandments and other moral laws in the OT, as others have explained.
posted by jhope71 at 9:56 AM on November 28, 2016

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