Marriage and Sexuality According to Christ

While it has become a commonplace in modern rhetoric to minimize, or even deny, that Jesus himself had anything to say about sexual morality, this is simply not true.  In answering a question regarding divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, Christ directs us back to the first two chapters of the book of Genesis in order to illustrate God’s plan for gender, sexuality, and marriage in his creation.  By pointing to and reaffirming these passages, Christ in fact makes a strong statement which has consequences for the Christian understanding of issues as diverse as divorce, polygamy, and homosexuality.  Understanding this teaching of Christ presents an additional hurdle, however, as the Genesis narratives to which he points have themselves been the subject of…

St. Paul and the Law

As a conclusion to this series on the ongoing importance of the commandments of the Law in the New Testament and in the Orthodox Church, it is important to address directly St. Paul’s understanding of the Law.  It has become a commonplace since Martin Luther to read St. Paul as setting out a dichotomy between the Law on one hand, and the gospel which he proclaimed on the other.  This distinction has been read forward into the other New Testament writers, and also backward into the Old Testament.  That which is identified as Law, then, in the scriptures, or at least, portions of it, is allowed a continuing role in the life of the church and of Christians but that…

The Sacrifice to End All Sacrifices

As mentioned previously, the fact that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament are no longer observed within Christian communities, beginning with the apostolic community, has been used to marginalize the commandments of the Law regarding worship in toto.  While the idea that Christ’s offering of himself as a pleasing sacrifice to the Father means that all of the old sacrificial commandments are irrelevant is attractive in its simplicity, it grossly distorts the scriptural understanding of sacrifice.  Further, this idea has led the vast majority of Protestantism to question whether there is such a thing as a new covenant priesthood.  This blanket Protestant denial of ongoing sacrifice in the Christian community, particularly associated with the Eucharist, is itself a response…

Worship in Spirit and Truth

Worship, as an offering made to God, ought to be the offering which God wishes to receive from human persons.  This is seen immediately in Genesis, in the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, one of which is accepted by God, the other of which is rejected.  Consistent with this, extremely detailed instructions were given for the design of the place of worship, and the structure and patterns of worship itself, in the Law.  In terms of order, these commandments even take precedence over many of the moral commandments given in the Law.  In fact, the commandment to celebrate the Passover precedes the actual Passover in Exodus 12.  These commandments regarding worship are taken incredibly seriously by the text, with Aaron’s…

Cut Off from Among the People

One element of the Law which the vast majority of Christians see as being obsolete or annulled following the death and resurrection of Christ is the system of death penalties prescribed for a variety of offenses therein.  While there are still many Christians who see the death penalty as appropriate in cases of murder, or other very specific crimes, relatively few would argue for its application in cases of, for example, disrespect to parents, or the fraud of a woman being found not to be a virgin on her wedding night.  The fact that Christians do not embrace a literal application of these commandments from the Law is then often used in argument in an attempt to relativize the seriousness…

Why Don’t Christians Keep Kosher?

The most common answers to this question, that ‘that part’ of the Law doesn’t apply anymore, or that Acts 15 said that only four commandments apply to Christians, have been seen in previous posts in this series to not be valid from the perspective of how the New Testament understands the Law as applying to Christians.  Why is it, then, that Christians do not follow the kosher laws regarding food in the Old Testament?  In fact, many of the foods that Orthodox Christians in particular are allowed to eat during fast periods are food which were considered unclean under the commandments of the Law.  It must first be said that there is no good evidence that the Apostles, including St.…

Acts 15 and the Law in the Church

Acts 15, which presents the proceedings of what has become known as the Council of Jerusalem, that apostolic gathering which became the paradigm for future church councils, is considered to be the central passage in the New Testament to an understanding of how the apostles viewed the continued relevance, or irrelevance, of the Law to the life of the church.  A group of pharisees who had become embraced Jesus as the Messiah were putting forth the argument that the Gentiles who were by that time entering into the nascent Christian church should be subject to not just the Old Testament Law, but to their pharisaic interpretation thereof.  The gathered apostles, prominently Ss. Paul, Peter, and James, found against this party,…

Is the Law Abolished or Fulfilled?

The topic of the post would seem to be an easy question.  In Matthew 5:17, Christ states that he has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfil them.  Once this text has been quoted and the box has been checked, however, when the way in which the Law is interpreted, treated, and applied particularly in Protestant communions, the practical reality of this verse becomes more cloudy.  If what is meant by ‘fulfilled’ is ‘taken care of’ or ‘done away with’ on a practical level, if it effectively means ‘can be safely ignored’, then saying ‘fulfilled not abolished’ is a distinction without a difference.  Matthew 5:18-19 do a great deal to clarify what precisely Christ means…

Who Decided Which Books Would Be in the New Testament?

A previous post discussed the (loose) nature of the Old Testament canon in the Orthodox Church, but what about the New Testament?  Unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament as a canon of 27 books is agreed upon by essentially all groups which identify as Christian.  The way in which the New Testament canon came into existence, however, is the subject of an immense amount of disinformation and uninformed opinion.  When asked when these 27 books were ‘canonized’ as the New Testament, many will answer that that happened at the Council of Nicea.  Some will present this event as the bishops involved looking at a vast array of texts, including but not limited to the 27 which would be accepted,…

On Allegorical Interpretation

One of the temptations into which we frequently fall when seeking to understand others in our own time and in the past is that we begin with the assumption that they think and interact with a given set of ideas in the same way that we do.  So, for example, in interfaith discussions, Christians will from time to time refer to groups of Jewish and Muslim leaders holding councils.  Or Muslims will speak of the Torah or the New Testament as if it was viewed in the same way in which they view the Quran.  This immediately generates misunderstandings that then have to be overcome in order to truly interact.  Christians involved in these discussions need to understand how authority…