Have you ever heard someone say: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it”? It reminds me of a child responding to a parent’s instruction with “Why?” and the parent saying, “Because I said so.” That ends the conversation. But God wants us to pursue a better knowledge of him. God has authority over us, but what is he saying? Scripture is far from clear to sinful people living in a fallen world.
What God “says” in the Bible is open to interpretation. In fact, we need to interpret everything we read and hear. A literal understanding of Scripture is itself an interpretation. Jesus did not hesitate to give his interpretation of Scripture saying “You have heard that it was said … but I say to you.” (Mt 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43). Even the commandment on sabbath observance was open to revision by Jesus (Mk 2:23-28).
I know, Jesus is God, and he is qualified to reinterpret Scripture. But Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to help and teach us. Do we listen to the Spirit? In our sin, we think we can rely on our own reasoning. So, our default position is to take Scripture as read, right? This is the lazy and prayer-less approach to Scripture which will lead us to accept the laws of Moses as if they are commandments to Christians.
“It’s the law of God, right?” What about the Apostle Paul’s objections to the circumcision faction in his Epistle to the Galatians? Some think the laws of Moses comprise moral, ceremonial and civil laws, but only the moral laws apply to Christians. The Jews of Jesus’ time recognised no such division of the law. The New Testament speaks of the law as a unity (Mt 23:23; Gal 5:3; Jas 2:10). Christians do not live under the laws of Moses, but these laws are useful in that some laws, or principles derived from them, are reapplied under the new covenant (e.g. Gal 5:14; Eph 6:2; Jas 2:8-12). They also have a prophetic role in God’s plan.
Christians live under the new covenant of God where the Spirit lives within (Jer 31:33). This is how the law is “written” on the hearts of God’s people. God gave the old covenant laws because of transgressions (Gal 3:19) to restrain sin and point to the coming of Christ. The Spirit upgrades the law of Moses that says “you shall not commit adultery” to love your spouse. The Spirit overturned the food laws saying, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15). Christians, led by the Spirit, now abandon the Old Testament regulations about slavery. Likewise, the Spirit has led many Christians to see that the law to execute males who engage in homosexual intercourse (Lev 20:13), no longer applies. This last issue is still being processed by a church ever cautious to change its accepted Scripture interpretations.
In the meantime, Christians should respect each other’s opinions and together seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. He’s the Spirit of God, right?