“Christians pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to obey.”
Have you ever heard this claim? Have you ever made it? I understand why it might appear to be true, but it’s actually not. Let me explain.
The claim usually refers to an Old Testament law that God gave to the nation of Israel. There are hundreds that non-Jewish followers of Jesus do not obey today. Take eating bacon for example. That would have been prohibited for God’s people in Moses’ day. Deuteronomy 14:8 says:
“And the pig, because it parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, is unclean for you. Their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch.”
If footballs were still made of pigskin, I suppose this law would mean someone from God’s people couldn’t play football either, since that would be touching the carcass of a pig, technically speaking.
I just preached this past Sunday about the covenant of circumcision. God’s command to Abraham was very clear about what should happen if a man refused to be circumcised:
“Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Does this mean then that if you want to serve the God of the Bible then you must be circumcised? Does it mean that German people who want to follow Jesus must be circumcised before they do, and if they don’t, they’re either being hypocritical or aren’t true Christians?
Where I Think This Comes From
Before I get to the answer, let me share where I think this comes from. I have seen this argument in relation to someone arguing for the normalcy and acceptance of homosexual behavior. Usually someone quotes for them Leviticus 20:13, which states:
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
The person arguing for homosexual behavior as normative then comes back with another verse in Leviticus that most everyone clearly violates, like Leviticus 19:26:
“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it.”
“There it is, if you’ve had a steak cooked in any way except well-done, you’re sinning too! You hypocrite! You just pick and choose which parts of the Bible you want to obey!”
There are other examples I’m sure, but this is one I have read more than once.
The Reason We Aren’t Picking and Choosing
To put it as clearly as possible, the reason we don’t follow all of the laws in Leviticus and other parts of the Old Testament is because the New Testament tells us not to. And the reason we follow some of the laws of the Old Testament is because the New Testament tells us to. It’s really as simple as that. Here are a few examples:
- Regarding laws about food: Peter, a Jewish man who was raised to follow the Torah, had a vision when he was very hungry of all kinds of animals. Jesus then told him in the vision, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter bucked against it initially because the animals were unclean according to Jewish law. Jesus spoke to him a second time and said, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” (See Acts 10:9-23; also Mark 7:14-23.) Here we see Jesus telling Peter to violate the Jewish ceremonial law like the one I mentioned above in Leviticus 19.
- Regarding other parts of the Old Testament covenants: The book of Hebrews tell us that Jesus has enacted for us a new covenant, given to us by God. It then culminates in verse 13 of chapter 8 when it 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.”
Which covenant is the writer of Hebrews referring to when he says “the first one”? He’s referring to what’s called the Mosaic covenant–the covenant God gave to Israel through Moses–found in Leviticus, etc. It says right there in Hebrews that Jesus made the first covenant obsolete.
But like I mentioned, there are some things taught in the old covenants that still apply today. Jesus taught the 10 commandments, tithing, marriage between one man and one woman, and many other things originated in the Old Testament. Indeed, He said He did not come to do away with the Old Testament, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
In short, it’s best to think about the Old Testament in the way one of the writers of the New Testament described it, Paul. He said in Galatians it was like a Nanny and God’s people were like the child. If you have children then you know it’s best to have more rules and very specific rules for children when they’re younger and then to give them more freedom as they get older to make decisions on their own led by their own experience and conscience. It’s a similar concept for the Old Testament VS the new covenant of Christ. As God’s people were young, they didn’t have the Spirit of God in them yet, so they needed very specific applications of God’s laws for them to follow. But now, Jesus has come, and He sent His Spirit to live in the hearts of people who believe in Him. Some of the particular applications of the law of God were cultural (take tattoos for example) and are irrelevant now. But the principle of the Old Testament still applies, and we have the Spirit of the Law living in our hearts.
To obey everything in the Old Testament in the same way God’s people did when they were given is to actually disobey God, and might be fruit of a rejection of Jesus Himself. But to reject parts of the Old Testament that Jesus and the New Testament authors confirm? Well that’s just picking and choosing which parts of the Bible you want to follow.