What do we do with the Old Testament? When we read about circumcision in today’s text, we have a hard time relating to it because that is not part of our spiritual life. We don’t require it in order to be part of God’s Family and we certainly don’t require it for church membership. In Acts 15 it was officially removed as a requirement for God’s People, and Paul talked about “circumcision of the heart”, so we see it as an Old Testament requirement, not a modern one.
And it doesn’t stop at circumcision. In our New Testament reading for today, Jesus changes many of the OT expectations, though in this case they are made more stringent, not less. What was a prohibition against murder becomes a prohibition against even being angry with a fellow believer. Adultery becomes even looking lustfully at another. Divorce, oaths, revenge, enmity… all of these are shown to be not just sinful acts but sinful attitudes LEADING to sinful acts. And it is the attitudes God wants to change in us.
So what do we do with the Old Testament? This is a huge question today as our denomination wrestles with it’s stand on the LGBTQ community. Many (but by no means all) of the arguments stem from Old Testament prohibitions like Lev. 18:22 or 20:13. They are almost never countered with Old Testament texts, but instead with New Testament texts like John 8:7-11 and Gal. 5:14. In this and so many other issues of righteous living, each of us has to come to terms with what we do with the Old Testament, whether it dictates our behavior, informs our New Testament teachings, or simply gives a historical background to the story of Jesus Christ.
In truth, every one of us draws a line through scripture. On one side are the passages we hold to as rules, stories, parables, and promises by which we live our lives as God’s people. On the other are rules, stories, parables, and promises which we see as timebound, cultural, or completed and so not binding for God’s people. The question for us today is which passages are on which side. This takes great wisdom, prayer, and grace for others and for ourselves.