Law and Love

File:Moses at Sinai Mount-1.jpgLike most Christians, I eat shellfish. How can I simply ignore the Biblical prohibition? Here are two arguments from the Reformation- thanks to Neil Hart. For these thinkers, all of Scripture is the word of God.

The Westminster Confession of my beloved (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland divides the Law of Moses into Moral, Ceremonial and Judicial. The Moral law, for everyone and all time, is restricted to the ten commandments; the ceremonial law, on cleanness and sacrifice, is for the Jews alone, and the Judicial law is for the country as long as it exists as a temporal state. Their restriction of the moral law to the ten commandments surprised me, though going through the whole Torah and deciding which bits still apply would be a tough job. And- it includes “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”, which some Jews think means they cannot turn on a light switch, and we ignore, resting instead on the Eighth day of the week, the day of resurrection, when time meets Eternity.

Martin Luther says that Moses is not my Lawgiver, but my teacher. He counselled not creating a hierarchy of value of Scripture- the Words of Jesus at the top, the New Testament worth more than the Old- but the Law does not bind us. Paul said “Everything is permissible”- what an amazing, radical statement! Everything!- “but not everything is beneficial”, and if it upsets the pickier moral sense of others it may be better to avoid it. The New International Version, which I normally quote, makes “Everything is permissible” in 1 Cor 10:23 a quote: “Everything is permissible”, you say. Paul was writing a letter, answering another, and other things in his writings might be read to contradict that- but other translations do not do this.

Part of the Law which does not apply to us, is the greatest commandment: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ – Matthew 22 37-40. Most Christians would consider themselves bound by this.

So we are not bound by Leviticus 20. Thank goodness: where would one get the stones? The gravel on front drives is too small to have the necessary effect, and stones the size of an orange might kill too early, and spoil the fun. There is no reliable supplier of sufficient stones the size of a plum, say. In a nomadic or subsistence agricultural society, stoning is actually the most humane punishment. If a person is imprisoned, and fed, that is a holiday for him, an incentive to crime. If he is imprisoned and not fed, that might be the burden on his family which is too much for them to bear, and they starve too. If he shows that he cannot be trusted, and damages the community, the community cannot tolerate him- and if the whole community stone him, then the whole community is responsible for his death, rather than any individuals.

But now, stoning is not a humane punishment. We are not in a subsistence society, and have moved on. And if you want your long term relationship recognised, love your gay neighbour as yourself and recognise hers/his. Simple.

4 thoughts on “Law and Love

    • Thank you. That is interesting.

      If there are no resources to pay a fine, and exile is known to be a slow death sentence, or you fear that the now homeless thief will steal from other villages with whom you have some fellow-feeling, then execution is more humane.

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  1. One of the things I love about the Bible is its sense of growing awareness of the Holy One over time. We come a long way from the war deity at the end of Genesis to the Loving Father Jesus introduces or to the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit we have by the time we reach Revelation.
    The tradition of God-wrestling, or questioning each passage, is one I value — could the faithful be interpreting the Scriptures wrong, of doing something other than God’s will? Was there another way, a more loving way? Where do we stand, today, in that same setting?
    I do appreciate your perspective that some of the teachings/laws are for all time. But others, as you suggest, may have been there to keep the community of faith intact, despite all the pressures around it. Our own Quaker history shows times of strict enforcement of certain guidelines we no longer uphold, for whatever reasons.
    Some rabbis insist that the Sabbath is meant for family and friends — and, for couples, to enjoy the carnal pleasures of each other. That’s hardly the “don’t touch the light switch” constrictions you touch on.
    Now, off to Meeting!

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    • I hope you had a good Meeting. Thank you for your long comment.

      There are life-affirming or restrictive interpretations of many verses. “I desire mercy not sacrifice” is an innovation in the understanding of God. And- I go with the hermeneutic of suspicion- how is this patriarchal and oppressive?- as well as God-wrestling.

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