The picture above is a classic example of the ongoing confusing issue of Scriptural validity for today’s culture. In other words, how do we know which verses in the Bible are still relevant for us today and which verses died out with a certain culture thousands of years ago? The reason the above picture is somewhat humorous is because the gentleman has Leviticus 18:22, a verse denouncing homosexuality, tattooed on his arm and is apparently not concerned with Leviticus 19:28 that forbids tattoos. Oops.
I get this question all the time. Since churches today do not require women to wear head coverings, no longer greet each other with a holy kiss, or do not preach against tattoo’s, why do we cling so tightly to other verses? It seems that if you keep one, you must keep them all. Is the only way for us to be Biblically consistent is for me to start laying a big, wet, sloppy kiss on the face of the next deacon I see at church?
This is a good question to consider and may, at times, be asked by people who are not believers and are genuinely stumped on this point. Here are a few points to consider along with a general method of analyzing the relevance of a verse.
First, a majority of the time this question will be raised by people who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, do not understand the Bible or how to study it. They do not understand covenants, genres, fulfillment, earthly vs spiritual kingdoms, etc. Therefore, this question can serve as a great discipleship starter for believers to begin explaining the process of how the Bible works and flows from one Testament to another. Some folks, who are just looking for another jab at Christianity, do not have any interest in learning more about the Bible and throw out these kinds of “the Bible is no longer relevant” statements to fan a flame or perhaps feel better about themselves. That kind of approach is of course worthless for any topic, not just the Bible. If we are going to condemn something, then we need to know and understand what we are condemning.
Second, every verse in the Bible still has ongoing meaning and relevance. There simply is no verse that has lost its importance. For some commands, however, the nature of their authority on New Testament Christians has been fulfilled or expressed in the person of Jesus Christ and we, in turn, must always interpret Scripture according to Jesus’ interpretation, as well as the apostles. Jesus speaks of this ongoing relevance of all Scripture and His fulfillment of it in Matthew 5. So, Christians should never say, “that part of the Bible no longer matters.” Far from it. Yet, some portions of the Bible help us to understand God and his redemptive purposes in ways that go beyond just merely “keep this rule.”
So, with those things in mind, the practical question still stands of how do we know what is binding today and what is not? Again, this requires ongoing study and growth in the Bible; there isn’t just a simple answer. Nevertheless, I typically like to filter these difficult verses through a series of questions. Perhaps these will be helpful to you as well.
1. Is the verse or command tied to creation? I can’t emphasize enough the incredible importance of Genesis 1-3 for a host of issues and concerns. If a verse is related to an issue that is in parallel with God’s creative activity, then we need to take a closer look. Marriage, roles of men and women, and sexuality, are all monster subjects in regard to this point.
2. Is the verse or command fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? The OT law and sacrificial system were the means by which a person was in good standing with God. The OT also points continually to a way that will be better, that will provide the needed sacrifice to God once and for all. So, when we read in Romans 7 that we “have died to the law through the body of Christ”, Paul does not negate the importance of the law, but demonstrates that its weightiness for the Christian is now in the person of Christ, not in the specific keeping of certain laws or rules. Thankfully, we no longer have to keep away from clothes that are blended with two kinds of fabric. That is not tied to creation and is fulfilled in the person of Christ.
3. Is the verse or command demonstrated over the entire council of Scripture? Although the repetition of a command does not grant it increased authority over lesser repeated commands, it can nevertheless serve to help us in answering the “culturally relevant” question, in conjunction with the above two criteria. If we find a theme appearing throughout all of Scripture, we would do well to take a closer look and not be too quick to dismiss.
So what about our tattooed friend from above? Well, I think he used poor judgment with his tattoo. Although the command to refrain from homosexual conduct is both rooted in creation and affirmed through the course of Scripture, I have to wonder if this gentleman is truly concerned with the gospel of Jesus Christ or just trying to make a point that he doesn’t approve of homosexuality. Having said that, I am not convinced of the legitimacy of tattoos (I say that with great sensitivity to many of my family members and friends who have tattoos and who love the Lord with all their heart). At the very least, I think a Christian should seriously and intently consider all the consequences of a tattoo. Anytime we “mark” or “cut” the human body which is made in God’s image (cue criteria #1 from above), we need to think carefully. The demon-possessed man in Mark 5 was rebelling against God by “cutting” himself, physically attacking the image of God. Even earrings should be carefully thought through before the piercing happens. Some day my little girl will want her ears pieced like mommy’s. I will be happy to oblige, but only after I sit her down and discuss with her the reality that her body is made in the image of God and that everything she does needs to ultimately be for the purpose of the supremacy of Christ Jesus. Our bodies are incredible gifts and will one day be glorified. Use caution.
So, this question of what verses are binding is not easily answered and should remain an ongoing point of study for diligent, growing Christians. There will be plenty of issues that will still be difficult to understand and interpret. For example, the issue of “keeping the Sabbath” is complicated because it seems to be affirmed by criteria #1 (tied to creation) but fulfilled in criteria #2 (death and resurrection of Christ). So, by faith we keep pressing forward and by faith we keep doing our best. God help us all.