(Note: As I catalogue the Laws of Jesus in the New Testament, I will “report” on my findings on my Saturday entries, so as not to bog down my weekday entries with statistics.)
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.
Matthew 5:17 (NIV)
This verse may not technically qualify as a “clobber passage,” but it has certainly been quoted to me as a biblical argument against homosexuality. Typically, this is the Christian way of saying, “Hey! The Old Testament still counts!” And for all the ambiguity contained within the pages of the Bible, this passage reads extraordinarily clear. Jesus even goes on to say “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (19).
Oof. That’s damning. Literally.
Reading this passage really bummed me out, particularly after a few days of categorizing the values that Jesus touts. You might (but definitely don’t) recall that I spent a little more than three weeks cataloging all of the Law in the Old Testament, ending up with more than 550 statutes spanning the five books of the Torah. With only Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount on record, I have noticed so far a stunning amount of behavior-based laws, almost all with positive language. This both aligns and contrasts with the Old Testament. While almost a fifth of those laws also concerned behavior, most of them utilized negative language in order to make their point. That tonal difference is important as a reader – it is much less aggressive to be encouraged to act well than blocked from so-called selfish behavior.
As I mentioned yesterday, the Old Testament rules were almost entirely aggressor-based, highlighting the wages of our sinful behavior and how we must atone for our actions. Jesus’ focus is much more victim-based. We must do better than our enemies, he says, and to live via the Holy Spirit means to forgive, forget, and love.
If his approach is so different, then why does Jesus affirm the Law? Why not “abolish” them?
This passage bummed me out because of its clarity. How can the most devout Christians use this to justify homophobic beliefs while simultaneously disregarding the less “sensible” laws – like keeping kosher and forbidding period-ridden women from walking in our presences?
I’m bummed out, because I’m irritated. I’m irritated, because I don’t understand. But what is new there?
Check out the new “Law of Jesus” tab, complete with my categorizations! 23 rules so far, most of which regarding God-like behavior in unfortunate situations. No sexuality laws yet.